South Korean boy band BTS sells out Citi Field


On a cold Saturday evening, BTS burns the stage with dazzling performances and becomes the first ever Korean artist to perform at a U.S. baseball stadium.

Becky Han and Rachel Kim

A sea of color-changing light sticks amasses thousands of seats in a baseball stadium in Queens.  The show is packed with over 40,000 attendees, consisting of fans of all ages and races.  Many are avidly singing along to the performers’ songs from their seats, though the lyrics are in a language that is foreign to most of them.  Yes, this is a BTS concert.  And yes, they have sold out Citi Field.

BTS is a South Korean boy band that debuted under an agency called BigHit Entertainment in 2013 with their first studio album, Dark & Wild.  The members, known by their stage names, are RM, Jin, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin, V, and Jungkook.  The boys are well-known for their vibrant stage performances, which include rapping, singing, and dancing, and for frequently incorporating multiple genres, including hip hop and contemporary R&B, in their music.

The band is currently on their third world tour and is set to visit a total of 12 countries so far, which includes stops being made at sold-out venues in Germany, France, Canada, Japan, and the United States. The band recently sold out their first-ever U.S. stadium show at New York City’s Citi Field just minutes after tickets were released, joining big-names like Lady Gaga and Paul McCartney for having a sold-out concert in the location.  Prior to the show, hundreds of fans camped out in the parking lot of the stadium to get closer to the stage for general admission, and some even began lining up as early as one week in advance.

During the much-awaited two-and-a-half hour show, BTS performed music from their “Love Yourself” trilogy albums.  Performing hit tracks such as “Idol” and “Fake Love,” the group showcased their talents and proved their versatility yet again throughout the concert.

“Saturday’s night’s vibrant, sometimes seismic concert, with a sold-out crowd of about 40,000, was a sort of dialogue between artists and fans, a collaborative exercise,” said pop music critic and journalist Jon Caramanica in an article from The New York Times.

The fans in the audience were fully immersed in each and every performance by the band, and their passion demonstrated just how relevant the concept that music is capable of transcending both linguistic and geographic barriers truly is.

“The concert was amazing.  Even though I couldn’t understand the lyrics, it didn’t matter because I still had a blast with my friends,”  said senior Angela Lopez.   “The way they sang touched me the most during one of the ballads.”  

With nearly 17 million followers on their official Twitter page, BTS has a huge presence on social media.  In fact, the group claims almost a third of the top 50 most-liked tweets of all time.  Their fans, known as ARMY, have nominated the group for music awards internationally through hashtags and online votes via social media platforms.  This led the band to win awards like Top Social Artist at the 2017 and 2018 BBMAs and Favorite Social Artist at the 2018 AMAs, beating runner-ups like Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Shawn Mendes, and Demi Lovato.

In addition, over just this past year, the band saw major successes with their new albums, with their “Love Yourself: Tear” album topping the Billboard 200 and their single “Fake Love” surpassing 35.9 million views in a single day, breaking the record for the biggest 24-hour debut of 2018.  So far, the band has also collaborated with well-known artists such as the Chainsmokers, Nicki Minaj, Steve Aoki, and Desiigner.

So, you may be wondering, what’s up with all of the hype? What makes BTS stand out so much from other singers and bands that causes them to have such a huge and loyal following?

The band gained extreme popularity in South Korea for self-producing tracks with underlying political and socio-economic meanings, and their hit songs often included socially conscious criticisms of Korean society.  BTS does not hesitate to incorporate topics that are surrounded with a great deal of stigma into their lyrics, with member Suga’s self-produced 2016 mixtape titled “Agust D” addressing his lifelong struggle with mental illness, namely depression.

“When I was young, music was a way to escape and reassure,” said member Suga in an interview at the GRAMMY Museum.  “All around the world, people face these struggles.  That’s why we sing these songs.”

The lyrical messages in the band’s music therefore resonated with the social issues faced by young teenagers and adults.  In addition, in 2017, BTS announced their collaboration with UNICEF for the #ENDViolence Love Myself campaign, which seeks to make the world a safer place so that children and teenagers alike will be able to live their lives without the fear of violence.  Being a group with such progressive and open-minded agendas, on top of their musical talents, is what drives so many fans to support the band.

During the leg of their 2018 Love Yourself North American tour, BTS was also invited to give a speech at the United Nations General Assembly in New York City, making them the first K-pop artists to do so.  In his speech, group leader RM spoke about the group’s struggle with handling fame while focusing on the premise of self-identity.  

“No matter who you are, where you’re from, your skin color, gender identity: speak yourself,” said RM.

Just this past month, BTS was featured on the Oct.  22 cover of Time magazine, with the publication naming the band as “Next Generation Leaders.”   Moreover, BTS released their most recent collaboration with Aoki, titled “Waste It On Me,” on Oct. 26. On the morning of its release, the song topped the iTunes Top Songs chart in 66 countries, including the United States, Russia, Denmark, Bulgaria, Greece, and Israel.

No one needs to be Korean in order to love or understand K-pop, and that’s what millions of BTS fans around the world have been doing proving for years.  The loyalty shown by their international fanbase has brought the boy band to previously unimaginable heights, and the band’s efforts have opened incredible opportunities for other Asian artists.

“We live in the United States where the primary language is English.  There’s never been a K-pop artist that has crossed over and have been requested and had sold out stadiums across the United States – when their language is not English.  This is one of those phenomena that doesn’t happen all that often,” said Aoki.  “It’s an incredible thing to see and to be part of and watch.”