Look at any photo or video of the band BTS and one person usually catches everyone’s attention first: Jeon Jung Kook. Known to U.S. fans, who just discovered BTS, as the world’s Sexiest International Man (thank you to People Magazine for that last title), Jung Kook always stands out. Jung Kook is the most searched K-pop star on Google for 2018, 2019, 2020 and still ranks as number 2 most searched worldwide Kpop idol for 2021 and 2022 (while still ranking number 1 in United States as of 2022), the most popular K-pop star on Tumblr for 2018, 2019 and 2020, as well as the most viewed person on TikTok with over 156 billion views under his name hashtag, and ranking 1st as South Korea’s Most Loved Celebrity for 2018, 2019 and 2020.
In 2020, it seemed like the whole world had just discovered Jung Kook. His magazine covers sold out in minutes, requiring second and third and sometimes fourth reprinting. His solo songs skyrocketed up music charts in every country around the globe. During every performance, tweets and social media lit up as women clamored to know who the raven-haired hunk was and began searching the entire internet for information and photos about the man who had captured their heart with an eye-wink, finger-heart, or seductive move during BTS’ performances. It only takes one song or one performance, and suddenly everyone wants to know who Jung Kook is and where he came from — and women are not the only ones noticing. Men are also taking note of the young singer/dancer who can sell-out products (Jung Kook is known as “The Sold-Out King”) and sets fashion trends for men that capture female attention, making Jung Kook one of the best-dressed advertisements for some of the world’s best designers. Everywhere you look on the internet, the name Jung Kook is there: from covers of the Wall Street Journal, Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, and TIME Magazine, who just named BTS as Entertainers of the Year for 2020. (BTS performing “Dynamite” for TIME’s Entertainer of the Year.)
Center of BTS
It may seem like Jung Kook appeared out of nowhere in 2020, but in reality, his rise to super stardom and capturing the attention of the entire world was a carefully-crafted career and image-campaign that has been 10 years in the making. In 2011, when Jung Kook was only 13 years old, Jung Kook was recruited and signed with Big Hit Entertainment as a trainee for a new rap/hip-hop band. (Note: Most idol and band trainees in South Korea undergo a 2-to-3 year rigorous training program where they are trained in dance, movement, choreography and receive extensive vocal training, all while still attending school classes). So, when BTS debuted officially in May 2013, Jung Kook was only 15 years old with his 16th birthday a few months later on September 1st (which is actually considered 17 years old in South Korea due to the fact that you are considered 1 year old at birth).
Astoundingly, by BTS’ May 2013 debut, Jung Kook had already been selected as BTS’ Main Vocalist, Lead Dancer, Sub-Rapper, and Center — and, it should also be noted that as of today, Jung Kook’s responsibilities for BTS have expanded to include: song writer, composer, video director, and music producer. BTS performance director/choreographer Son Sung-deuk has described the BTS “center” responsibility as: Jung Kook acts as representative face of the group since he is one of the core vocals who sings most of BTS’ song high notes and also helps keep the band’s balance as singers rotate positions and to provide a solid vibe during dance performances. Son Sung-deuk also observed that Jung Kook’s movements are “neat, decisive and beautiful,” which also contributed to why Jung Kook was selected early on as BTS’ “center”. Recruited at 14, debuting at 17 (Korean years), and already the “center” of a band that had a steady rise to be now the most popular and most sought-after band on the planet. Jung Kook has led a charmed life and he epitomizes the saying that “some people are just destined for greatness.” (BTS performing “Black Swan” at MMA 2020 and “Black Swan” at SBS K-Pop Awards, December 2020 and “Black Swan” for The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon, September 2020 and “Idol” for The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon, September 2020 and “Dynamite” for The Late Late Show With James Corden, November 2020.)
Yet, that is just the beginning. In 2013, BTS released its first single album titled “2 Kool 4 Skool” on June 13, comprised of seven tracts and two additional songs only available on the physical album, and 4 videos to promote the album: BTS’ debut video followed by two teaser videos, Teaser 1 and Teaser 2 introducing the seven members, followed by the official music video for “No More Dream”. Then in July 2013, BTS released its second official music video for “We Are Bulletproof, pt. 2” and a third video for the song “N.O.” in September 2013. All the videos depicted the seven band members as teenage boys in sports attire and/or gangsta-rap clothing and seemed to want to portray them as rebellious youths ready to take on an oppressive cultural system. Looking back to their origins nine years ago, it is a vivid contrast to who the BTS band members are today.
In spite of the attempts to dress the BTS members up as hard-core rappers and rebellious youth, the more playful personas of the band members still came across on screen. Thus, it was difficult to believe that Jung Kook at 17 years old was that street-hardened. In fact, Jung Kook could not help smiling throughout the videos. It is one of his most endearing traits, which can been seen in the earliest BTS videos. Surely, Big Hit Entertainment and its cinematographers and video editors saw the same thing: Jung Kook was a kid who was so happy to be dancing and performing that he just smiled naturally while performing. Jung Kook was probably told repeatedly not to smile so much, but all those glimpses of his personality was too winning to completely eliminate from the videos. Similarly, there were signs of the rest of the band members personalities shining through as well, and all those personality traits are exactly why fans love each of them today.
From Jung Kook’s natural exuberance and unrestrained joy, to Jimin’s natural flair and graceful dance moves, to J-hope’s (Hobi) quick hands and flexible leg movements, to RM’s fondness for putting his hands in front of his face and adopting a narrative posture, to Taehyung’s (V) reliance on exaggerated eye winks and hiding under his hair, to Suga’s (Yoongi) ease and heightened-awareness of the camera, to Jin’s confident posture and willingness to let his young teammates undertake the riskier dance moves, each BTS band member’s personality was showing up early on in the BTS music videos. Whatever the original intent was in creating BTS as a hip-hop/rap band, BTS quickly began to shift away from the heavier hip-hop and rap-personas that were visible in the 2013 videos, and in early 2014, BTS was morphing to allow the band members to wear more casual school-wear and athletic-wear to convey that the image that they were still in school, perhaps courting young female fans with a friendlier “boyfriend” style and look for the band. Likewise, the BTS sound began to shift to incorporate more melodies and ballad-style songs and lyrics. BTS’ first music video “Boy In Luv” (released February 2014) presented the new look and sound for the band, followed by “Just One Day” (released April 2014), “Danger” (released August 2014) and “War Of Hormone” (released October 2014). In my previous article, “The Future Is Female: The Surprising Convergence of BTS and Feminism (Equal Rights For Women)”, I explained in detail how BTS’ music lyrics and songs evolved significantly during that critical time period of 2014 through 2016 to secure a larger female fanbase.
2014 turned out to be a pivotal year for BTS, as the band and its management company Big Hit Entertainment reflected how to better showcase the natural abilities and personalities of the band members. While RM, J-hope, and Suga all came from a very strong rap/hip-hop background and were determined to keep that as an essential part of their music and sound, the musical talents of Jung Kook, Jimin, Jin and Taehyung were better served if they could show off more of their natural vocal ranges. With Jung Kook, Jimin and Jin’s voices as tenors and Taehyung’s voice as a baritone, adding a bit more melodies and ballads into the BTS repertoire of songs was smart since each of them has a voice that makes you stop and listen. The combination of naturally beautiful voices with some strong vocal training probably led Bit Hit Entertainment to realize that it would benefit the band to show off Jung Kook, Jimin, Jin and Taehyung’s gorgeous voices. Plus, the 2013-2014 releases of the heavier rap/hip-hop songs were not drawing in the female audience as easily as the male audience. That changed the moment that BTS unveiled the melodious voices of its tenor vocal line of Jung Kook, Jimin, Jin and the sultry baritone of Taehyung. Suddenly women everywhere were paying a lot of attention. Combined with the fact that all the band members began experimenting with various hair-color and colored eye-contact lens combinations to attract more visual attention, in both performances and in the band’s videos, and suddenly women and men were listening to the songs that BTS were creating and performing with more interest.
Thus, when BTS debuted the official music videos for “I Need U” (released May 2015), “For You” (released June 2015), “Dope” (released June 2015), and “Run” (released November 2015), the social media realms lit up like a firestorm with interest. Whereas, BTS’ first four album releases: “2 Kook 4 Skool”, “O!RUL,2?”, “Skool Luv Affair,” and “Dark & Wild” had sold from 230,000 to 350,000 albums, it was their 5th album release “The Most Beautiful Moment In Life, pt 1” that began to show significant sales, nearly doubling albums sales. The key difference was that for “The Most Beautiful Moment In Life, pt 1” (released April 2015), the songs and lyrics were aimed at winning over women — and it worked. The target audience was acquired and it showed BTS that they, as a band, needed to lean more in that direction. Previously, the only BTS single that lit up the charts was “Boy In Luv” (released February 2014), but sales for the singles of “I Need U,” “Dope,” and “Run” from “The Most Beautiful Moment In Life, pt 1” tripled and quadrupled. Sales clearly indicated a strong, vibrant and growing interest by women.
Early fans recalled that it was the video release of “Run,” when Jung Kook turned 19 (Korean years), that women became instantly smitten by the youth who was suddenly no longer just the “maknae” of BTS — the youngest member or “child” of the group. Once Jung Kook reached adulthood, his looks were capturing a lot of attention. BTS has always has strong visual representation of young men who are considered good looking and handsome. In fact, that was the primary reasons that Taehyung and Jin were recruited as they were considered to have the ideal facial features for male handsomeness and Big Hit Entertainment wanted to ensure that BTS had strong “visual” appeal. What was previously unknown simply because Jung Kook was so young when he began as a trainee at 13 years old, and only 17 years old when BTS debuted, was how striking and attention-grabbing Jung Kook’s “visuals” were going to be once he turned 19 years old. It is also worth noting that Jimin, J-hope and RM also seemed to grow into their “visuals” during the same time period and were also visually striking by mid-2015.
By the time that BTS debuted its music video “Blood Sweat & Tears” (released October 2016), the visuals of all seven of its members were at peak visual-attraction. Taehyung was almost unrecognizable as an ash-blonde with vivid blue eyes with a wicked come-hither look. Jin, Jimin and RM all had light blonde hair, while Jung Kook and J-hope had a lighter-shade of red hair. All seven were attired in brocade jackets and were dressed-to-kill in the BTS video. Ask any female fan, and 99% of the time, “Blood Sweat & Tears” is going to be the video that they say caught their attention. Women may have been drawn in by the earlier 2015 videos, but the 2016 release of “Blood Sweat & Tears” was akin to a volcanic-eruption of attention — resulting in the “Blood Sweat & Tears” single selling over 2.5 million copies. Accordingly, sales for BTS’ release of the album “Wings” (October 2016), which included “Blood Sweat & Tears” blew right past the 1 million mark, and its follow up album “You Never Walk Alone” (released 2017) continued that rapidly-rising sales trajectory.
The strategic roll-out of individual videos featuring each band member and giving each a solo to showcase of their on BTS’ “Wings” album was brilliant: “Begin” featuring Jung Kook, “Lie” featuring Jimin, “Stigma” featuring Taehyung, “Awake” featuring Jin, “Reflection” featuring RM, “Mama” featuring J-hope; “First Love” featuring Suga. Also, the teaser video promoting the “Wings” album as a whole was just as stunning and also emphasized the new thematic visuals and sound for BTS: “Boy Meets Evil”.
While 2015 showcased the transition of BTS from the hard-hitting rap/hip-hop sound of the band’s first 4 albums to showcase the wider range of singing abilities of its seven members and tone-down the harsh “street gangsta style” visual image in favor of a more globally appealing “boyfriend” look of the members in the videos and for performances, 2016 was an even bigger change for BTS. Leaning into mystical themes and featuring deeply introspective and self-reflective songs was a completely different music offering by the band. Fortunately, the transition was timed-perfectly and fans in Korea, Japan, China, and the United States were only too happy to embrace all the musical and style changes that BTS adopted.
Recruiting BTS’s ARMY
Another key development that arose in 2015-2016 was BTS’ launch of into weekly videos on Vlive and YouTube, as well as making regular television guest appearances to help build up their band profile and individual band member name-recognition among a larger audience beyond the music realm, which had embraced them earlier in 2013-2014. The Vlive/YouTube presence and other televised appearances helped endear each of the band members to fans and audiences globally. Big Hit Entertainment had encouraged the band to have a joint Twitter account early on to establish a rapport with the band’s fanbase. What Big Hit Entertainment perhaps never envisioned was how quickly the BTS fanbase would bond with the band members and created their own subset fandom called ARMY (which is an acronym for Adorable Representative M.C. for Youth). By the time that BTS established their Vlive videos and their Bangtan Bomb videos for YouTube, an exponentially growing, global fanbase was taking root in countries across the globe. (The rise of social media in 2013-2015 as well as advancements in smartphone technology, interconnected wifi, and internet access, lent itself to the proliferation of fanbases that were stronger, larger and more deeply connected than any time in prior music history.)
Golden Maknae’s Spell
That 2015 through 2016 time period was essential. It established social media presence with connected and highly-motivated fans, and created a pipeline for BTS to get their music out to wider audiences. So, as BTS’ sound and visuals grew and the individual band members grew into their looks and Jung Kook reached the age of adulthood, it made 2016 a perfect year of synergy and convergence. Jung Kook, himself, was determined to make his presence known in the world at large and signed up to appear on the South Korean television series “King of the Masked Singer” in August 2016. During his time on “King of the Masked Singer,” where Jung Kook was known as Fencing Man, Jung Kook sang the G-Dragon song “If You”, and his rendition of the song remains a marvel to listen to even today. If young teens and twenty-something women were not already a fan of BTS yet, after that appearance, they were. The 20-year old Jung Kook was not only swoon-worthy in looks, his voice was so sweet, soft and warm that it seemed to cast a spell over any woman who heard him sing.
From the very beginning, Jung Kook was the focal point for many of the BTS music videos (see “N.O.” September 2013, “Boy In Luv” February 2014, “Just One Day” April 2014, “Danger” August 2014, “War Of Hormone” October 2014, “I Need U” May 2015, “For You” June 2015, “Dope” June 2015, and “Run” November 2015, “Save Me” May 2016, “Blood Sweat & Tears” October2016, “Begin” September 2016, as well as recent videos “Black Swan” March 2020, “ON” February 2020, “Dynamite” August 2020, “Life Goes On” November 2020). While the rest of the BTS band members are featured just as prominently in all the BTS music videos, a lot of the camera focus and fictional character storylines throughout the videos show Jung Kook at the “center.”
Being the “maknae” of BTS was a beneficial position for Jung Kook. At first, it was just due to his young age and how his older bandmates looked-out for him and protected him. But, when Jung Kook reached the age of 20 (Korean years) in 2016, his position became more of the “Golden Maknae” as everything Jung Kook did, what clothes he wore, or products that he promoted quickly sold out. Thus, anything Jung Kook did seemed to turn to “gold” since he had the “Midas Touch.” There was an ever-increasing interest in who Jung Kook was and BTS and Big Hit Entertainment were quick to capitalize on that. With BTS still vying to secure a strong foothold in the music scene in South Korea and expand that into the nearby Asian countries, and expand overseas into the United States, the United Kingdom and European music markets, anything that could help the band was encouraged. So, while RM was the one who typically did all the talking as the leader of the band and who could speak English easily when interviewed by foreign press, Jung Kook found himself more in the spotlight in social media, fan interactions, live performances and anywhere where his “Golden Midas Touch” could benefit the band.
Jung Kook was already in the unique position of being the “center” position of BTS for performances and was utilized heavily in all the band’s songs as he could seamlessly shift between his position as Main Vocal and sub-rapper while harmonizing perfectly with every member in the band. Jung Kook had also begun working on some of the bands song lyrics, and received writing credit for his contributions in songs like: “We Are Bulletproof, pt. 2,” “No More Dream,” “Outro: Love Is Not Over,” “Dead Leaves/Autumn Leaves,” “Love Is Not Over,” and “Run.” Jung Kook would have also gotten writing credit for his solo song “Begin,” but Jung Kook ended up asking for RM’s assistance with the song lyrics to better convey what he wanted the song to express about his gratefulness to his bandmates when he first joined. Since 2016, Jung Kook has received additional writing credits on BTS songs such as: “Magic Shop,” “My Time,” “Still With You,” “Your Eyes Tell,” “Outro: The Journey,” “Telepathy” and “Stay”, as well as production credit for “Outro: Love Is Not Over,” “Love Is Not Over,” “Magic Shop,” and “Skit” from the “BE” album, as well as video director credit for the four “Life Goes On” promotional videos. Currently, Jung Kook has the longest charting K-pop idol song on the Billboard World Digital Song Sales list for his solo “Euphoria” reigning for over 88 consecutive weeks with over 4 million in download sales, followed by Jung Kook’s solo single “My Time” which tied for the 2nd place with Jimin’s solo “Filter”, both charting for over 42 consecutive weeks (as of end of 2020), with Jung Kook’s “My Time” currently ranked as the best selling BTS solo song on iTunes for 2020. (NOTE: Jung Kook has been credited for writing and performing chorus sections of least 107 of BTS’ songs — and that is probably a low estimate of Jung Kook’s actual writing, composing, producing and singing contributions to the entire BTS discography.)
The 26 year old has had quite the music career over the past 10 years. Jung Kook has achieved a level of success that most artist only dream of, and it yet did not happen easily or right away. Instead, Jung Kook undertook extensive dance training and vocal training to secure his spot on BTS and has worked steadily to maintain his physical skills, slowly increasing his physical abilities, vocal range, and dance capabilities each year. In August 2012, nearly a year before BTS made their debut, Jung Kook traveled to Los Angeles to participate in training at the Movement Lifestyle to help build up his dance skills and ensure that he was ready to continue his trainee classes prior to BTS’ debut in May 2013. It is noteworthy that even at the age of 16, Jung Kook was able to lift his bandmate Jimin to perform a lift-maneuver in the 2013 music video “No More Dream” that should have taken a person twice his size. Jung Kook most recently performed another complex lift-maneuver lifting Jimin seamlessly during the “Black Swan” dance performance at the Mnet Asian Music Awards in December 2020. Another time that Jung Kook managed to lift a bandmate during a video is in “War Of Hormone,” where Jung Kook lifts his bandmate Suga up and then easy sets him down, almost as if Suga weighed nothing at all. The physical abilities and prowess that Jung Kook demonstrates for complex dance and performance choreography, and how much his bandmates trust him to lift them, without a second thought, is remarkable. Think about it: Jung Kook was recruited for his dance skills in 2011 and in the intervening 10 years is now one of the world’s most accomplished singers and dance performers. That takes dedication and tenacity, as well as many hours of physical training to get into that kind of shape in order to sing and perform complex choreographed dance at that level.
Special achievement: In November 2022, Jung Kook was invited to perform at the Opening Ceremony of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 debuting his new song “Dreamers“, which he performed with Qatari singer Fahad Al Kubaisi. “Dreamers” was an immediate success as, within a few hours, it reached #1 in 100 countries on iTunes, making it the first World Cup song ever to hit number one, and reached 5 million streams on Spotify within 12 hours — making it a record breaker for UnitedMasters and the World Cup. “Dreamers” is also featured on the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 soundtrack.
In addition, 2022 has been a break-out year for Jung Kook, with the release of his solo song “Stay Alive” (written and produced by his bandmate SUGA and the music team Arcades and Gabriel Brandes) and his collaboration on Charlie Puth’s song “Left and Right”, both songs setting records across the Billboard charts and dominating all year on Spotify, Amazon Music, Apple Music and iTunes.
BTS’s Music Dominance
When BTS was initially conceived of around 2011, it was the dream project of “Hitman” Bang at Big Hit Entertainment (now known as HYBE Corporation) who thought he was creating a South Korean rap/hip-hop band. What BTS is today, after 10 years of evolution, is entirely different. The music that BTS creates now has been dubbed as “fusion music” or “the BTS sound” as it pulls from all genres of music to create their songs. It is impossible to call BTS’ music as K-pop since it is not simply pop-music. The most beautiful ballads that BTS performs tend to weave in elements of rap, hip-pop and just about anything else that sounds great in the mix. After BTS began accumulating award recognition starting in 2016, BTS has gone on to receive 450 additional award nominations, winning over 300 of those awards. Doing the math, BTS has won an average of 60 awards per year for the past 5 years. What other band on the planet can boast that achievement? In addition to its award-dominance, BTS has gone on to break world records and music chart records with seeming ease over the past 5 years. Once the floodgates opened, it seemed like nothing could touch or beat BTS’ rise to super-stardom. Performances and venues sold out within minutes, additional concert dates were added and still sold out. Anything and everything related to BTS seemed to skyrocket in interest, demand and sales. It was not just the band that was in demand, BTS’ music was reaching an exponentially larger audience year-after-year, creating an even bigger fanbase and audience, creating a demand for more appearances and performances.
Concert Strategy & Supremacy
Not even a worldwide pandemic could slow that momentum. In 2020, BTS was about to embark on an 18-city, 35-dates worldwide tour for their new album “Map Of the Soul: 7” (released February 2020). Yet, with countries around the globe going into lockdown and closing borders from international travel, and concert venues closed due to the pandemic, the BTS worldwide tour had to be cancelled. It was a crushing blow at a pivotal time when the band really wanted to promote their amazing music and songs showcased in “Map Of The Soul: 7.” But not even a pandemic was going to slow down the momentum that BTS had built up. Just because the band was not able to travel to see their fans, this did not mean that they could not perform for their global audience, and Big Hit Entertainment quickly found an online concert site from which BTS could host virtual performances, resulting in the June 2020 Bang Bang Con: The Live virtual concert and the October 2020 “Map Of the Soul: 7” ON:E virtual concert, hosted by Kiswe, with both virtual concerts selling out in record time, with over 756,000 fans logging-on for Bang Bang Con and another 993,000 fans logging-on from 191 countries for “Map Of the Soul: 7” ON:E two-day virtual concert.
In addition, BTS did not waste any time after the cancellation of their world tour and went right back into the recording studio for BTS’ next big hit and to record a second album to release in 2020. In August 2020, BTS released its first all-English song “Dynamite” that skyrocketed up music charts securing the Number 1 spot on the Billboard Top 100 Hot List in its first week and kept that spot during its second week, and has maintained a spot in the Top 10 on the Billboard Top 100 Hot List for the remaining 4 months of 2020. “Dynamite” not only dominated U.S. music charts, but also international music charts around the globe. The BTS fanbase ARMY had been busy over the past 9 years and had steadily recruited from every nation on the globe, so ARMY was poised and ready to ensure that every music chart would hold a spot for “Dynamite.” Yet, not even ARMY could have predicted that BTS would end up securing the Number 1 spot on so many global music charts.
Commitment to ARMY
Just one of the many reasons that Jungkook had the initials ARMY tattooed on his right hand is that Jung Kook knows how much he and BTS owe to the passionate fanbase that has been with BTS since 2013. ARMY is organized, as well as passionate, and has an extensive network across social media platforms that would make a public relations company envious. The relationship between ARMY and Jung Kook is legendary. Jung Kook makes a point of dedicating everything he does to ARMY and thanks them at every award show and public appearance. Jung Kook, as well as the rest of the BTS members, are acutely aware that ARMY was there for them and their music even before the band made adjustments to their sound, songs and appearance. That dedication has earned BTS’ respect and gratitude. So Jung Kook made sure that recognition of his gratitude is visible during BTS performances, as the tattoo can be seen every time he extends his hand to wave, toss an air-kiss, or point to the ARMY fans in attendance. Not every singer or performer is willing to tattoo their hand so visibly to thank their fans, but Jung Kook did. Just as the fans are committed to him, Jung Kook has made a commitment to BTS’ ARMY fans.
This is another reason that Jung Kook is so immensely popular: he knows that his career is owed to the fans. Having a heart full of gratitude and thankfulness endears him even more to the fans. Other BTS members may toss out air-kisses, make finger-hearts or use their arms to create a heart overhead, but Jung Kook literally had his gratitude tattooed where everyone in the entire world can see it. That bond between Jung Kook and his fans is a tether that keeps him and his fans connected, even when he retreats from social media to focus on training and creating more music as the fans have faith that Jung Kook is doing everything possible just for them. Jung Kook is also the one BTS member who frequently says how devastating it is for him to not be able to see his fans in person. It is not just for show either. Jung Kook is genuinely happiest and most at ease when he is performing live for the BTS fans and ARMY. It is his life-goal to continue that symbiotic relationship for as long as he can, if not for the rest of his life. Pure joy and happiness in his relationship with the fans is what motivates Jung Kook and drives him.
That is one of the more curious aspects of BTS: their fondness and reliance on live performances. I attribute this need to the fact that BTS struggled to succeed for such a long period of time, that it was those live performances that made it worthwhile for them and kept them motivated when it seemed like their band was destined to fail in its first 3 years. The 2013 through 2016, 3 year period, was not an easy time for BTS. They were struggling financially as Big Hit Entertainment had limited financial reserves to fund the necessary housing, training, travel and living expenses of the seven BTS band members, in addition to other musical artists that Big Hit Entertainment was promoting during that time period. With the BTS band members dedicating all their waking moments to their craft, learning, recording and performing, it was a financially difficult time period. In addition, the peer and critic recognition that BTS sought was slow to come, and the award recognition BTS received was mostly in the form of recognizing them as the new rookie band in the South Korean music scene. It would be 3 long years before BTS began to see a glimmer of the award recognition and peer-critic approval for their music.
Bonds of BTS
Since 2016, BTS has alluded to the struggles and crisis of faith that they experienced in those first few years as a band, with Jin and Suga being the most candid and admitting that the band nearly gave up and called it quits on one or two occasions during that time period. At one point, J-hope (Hobi) even took some time away from the band and had to be coaxed to return. The emotional toll and mental stress that each of the band members endured was probably more intense than anyone from outside the band could ever imagine. Thus, it had to be a great comfort and source of solace that BTS had their small, but devoted ARMY out there encouraging them at their performances and on social media. When a band goes through that kind of intense stress for such a long period, those that go through the hard times with them are the ones that the band members remember the most. So it really is not too surprising that, to this day, Jung Kook feels the need to let ARMY fans know that they are always in his thoughts and that he is performing for them.
Similar to “trial by fire,” the bonds between the BTS band members have been “forged in fire.” While there are likely many factors that led to the global success of BTS and the worldwide demand for their music, it is my impression that it was the seven band members’ determination to succeed, no matter what obstacles or trials that they had to endure, that pushed them to stick by each other, work together, and find the magic combination of sound and appearance that would ensure their success and longevity as artists. Clearly, the years of 2015 and 2016 reflect BTS’ willingness to change, adapt, explore and transform in order to find their collective voice, sound, and presence in the global music scene. The summer of 2016 was nearly a breaking point, especially if you talk with some of the hardcore ARMY fans, as the fanbase and BTS endured harsh media criticism and social media “troll” attacks that lasted months. Yet, enduring and pushing forward in spite of the stress and pressures ended up rewarding BTS and their fans many times over. Stepping out solo into the limelight in 2016, Jung Kook appeared on “King Of the Masked Singer,” gaining more popularity and respect from the music industry in the process, and serving as a beacon for new fans to set aside their preconceived impressions about BTS and discover the band’s new music.
The turning point was in late 2015, when BTS won a Melon Music Award for Best Dance for the song “I Need U,” followed by a Daesang win at the 2016 Golden Disc Awards for BTS’ album “The Most Beautiful Moments In Life: pt. 1” and 2016 Melon Music Award win for Album of the Year for BTS’ “The Most Beautiful Moment In Life, Young Forever” and 2016 Mnet Asian Music Award wins for Artist of the Year and Best Dance Performance for “Blood, Sweat & Tears”, as well as 2016 Gaon Chart Music Award nominations for Album of the Year for both albums “The Most Beautiful Moment In Life, pt. 1” and “The Most Beautiful Moment In Life, pt. 2” and winning the Asia Artist Awards for Best Artist and Best Icon in 2016.
The accolades and awards just continued from there as BTS won its first Gaon Chart Music Award in 2017 for Album of the Year for “Wings” and nominations for Album of the Year for “The Most Beautiful Moment In Life: Young Forever” and Song of the Year for “Blood Sweat & Tears.” After that, it was as if the floodgates for awards and nominations just opened as the wave of popularity and award-recognition only grew more each year in 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020 earning the band over 300 awards for their next 7 albums: “You Never Walk Alone” (released February 2017), “Love Yourself: Her” (released September 2017), “Love Yourself: Tear” (released May 2018), “Love Yourself: Answer” (released August 2018), “Map of the Soul: Persona” (released April 2019), “Map of the Soul: 7” (released February 2020) and “BE” (released November 2020).
In 2020, the most recent award recognition has been for BTS’ first all-English, Grammy-nominated single “Dynamite.” Not only has “Dynamite” broken chart records, landing at the Number 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 and staying in the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 for 18 consecutive weeks straight, “Dynamite” is dominating music charts in virtually every known country around the globe. Sales of the single for “Dynamite” are in the multi-millions globally and that number keeps on climbing every day. Just as noteworthy and significant was that as major cities rang in the New Year, many played “Dynamite” in celebration. BTS has performed no less than a dozen different variations of their “Dynamite” dance routing in the past 4 months alone, which were shown on television shows like The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon, The Late Late Show With James Corden, TIME Magazine’s Person of the Year special, Good Morning America, the 2020 MTV Movie Music Awards, the 2020 American Music Awards, the 2020 Billboard Music Awards, the 2020 Melon Music Awards and Mnet Asian Music Awards, BTS Holiday Remix, CDTV Live! Christmas Special “Dynamite”, and Big Hit Entertainment’s New Years Eve Live virtual-concert.
Not even content to rest on their achievement with “Dynamite,” BTS also released their second album “BE” in November 2020, simultaneously releasing the single “Life Goes On,” which has also gone on to land on the Number 1 spots on U.S. and global music charts everywhere. One of the most noteworthy aspects about “BE” is that the songs are still primarily in Korean, so the fact that “Life Goes On” and the other songs from the album, such as “Stay” and “Blue & Grey” and “Telepathy” have also landed in the Top 10 lists of U.S. and global music charts is significant. It really speaks to the popularity of BTS, that no matter whether BTS releases songs in English or Korean, that the entire world is not only listening to their songs, consumers are buying their music in record numbers. (“Map of The Soul: 7” sold 6,475,00 albums in 2020, and “BE” sold 3,197,000 albums in 2020.) This demand has not only been limited to BTS’ recent 2020 songs and albums, the wave of BTS-fervor has extended to the entire discography of albums and songs that BTS has released since 2013. The media plays, streaming, and sales for BTS’ prior songs and albums is increasing exponentially every day since millions of new fans discovered the band in 2020 and that has led to a huge demand for the band’s earlier work. That demand has resulted in sales and streaming numbers that are truly impressive and competitive with other artists’ newly released music. In fact, “Stay” and “Blue & Grey” were the Number 1 and Number 3 best selling songs of 2020 on Amazon Music, with “Filter” from the earlier 2020 album “Map Of the Soul: 7” occupying the Number 2 selling slot. BTS also secured Song of the Year nominations at 10th Gaon Chart Music Awards for “Black Swan”, “ON”, “Zero O’Clock,”, “Friends”, “Filter” “Eight” by IU (featuring Suga), “Dynamite”, “Savage Love” (BTS Remix).
Jung Kook’s Contributions
With all this attention on BTS’ music, what role did Jung Kook have to play? The band’s “Golden Maknae” not only helped write, compose and produce a number of BTS’ songs, in addition to his singing and dancing, Jung Kook managed to complete his high school education in 2017, and then began taking college level courses to maintain his education while simultaneously performing with the band (including international concerts), attending promotional and press appearances, and participating in extracurricular activities like boxing, painting, playing the guitar and playing competitive video games, as well as doing weekly videotaped segments for Vlive (or more recently WeVerse) to keep the fans actively engaged with BTS’ personal and professional lives as the band’s career continued to rise to new levels of popularity. In the past 5 years, it would seem that anywhere you looked online or entertainment media that BTS and its “Golden Maknae” were everywhere.
The more the world saw of Jung Kook, the more they loved him. Jung Kook’s global “Q Score” is off the charts. From the age 20 to 25 (for the years 2016 through 2020), Jung Kook has been a worldwide phenomenon. It is as if the entire world is obsessed with Jung Kook’s incredible and versatile good looks, especially as he continues to grow into his natural handsomeness and embraces his sex appeal, which has become more evident with each passing day. You do not have to take my word for it, just take a look at his most recent photo shoot for DICON and FILA (also for FILA), as well his performances for “Black Swan” and “My Time” from BTS’s “Map Of The Soul: 7” ON:E virtual concert, or any other BTS performance in the past 5 years (nearly all can be found on YouTube, including this clip from BTS’s fantastic “Dynamite” dance-break from the 2020 Melon Awards and FMV “Don’t Fall In Love With Jung Kook Challenge”).
Beyond his extraordinary attractiveness, what makes Jung Kook so special is his unique gift for making any BTS song or band member sound amazing. Jung Kook is not just a gifted vocal talent, he has a great ear for harmonizing for melodies and ballads, and he can modify his voice to add in rich layers and textures to all the BTS songs, not just his own solo songs.
Jung Kook also sings covers of other artists songs that will leave you breathless.
Jung Kook seems to be keenly aware that the seven BTS members succeed or fail together and he is determined to do everything in his power to make sure that every BTS song and performance is perfect. If Jung Kook has one fault, it is that he has an intense desire to perfect his skills, craft and product. That perfectionism and personal drive is a bit intense for his fellow bandmates at times, but they also seem to appreciate that he is doing it for their benefit. This one quote from an interview with Jung Kook sheds a bit more light on his own awareness of his passionate drive:
Q: “How would the 15-year-old debut Jung Kook feel about seeing his artistry evolve in this way, seven years later?”
Jung Kook joked: “I’m not sure 2013 Jung Kook would want to see himself now. If I knew myself today, I wouldn’t have tried as hard.”
(“BTS Helps The World Feel A Little Smaller — & We Need It More Than Ever”)
As seen in the choreography and performances, Jung Kook’s perfectionism has paid off. I have dubbed him a “black jaguar” on and off stage as Jung Kook movements are deliberate and calculated to have a maximum effect. Jung Kook is hyper-aware after 9 years of public scrutiny that literally every move he makes is being watched, assessed and valued — by either fans, his bandmates, or others in the entertainment industry. So Jung Kook trains harder and longer and takes the extra time to ensure that his body movements (from foot placement and dances steps, to arm and hand placement, to head angles, and ensuring that every strand of hair on his magnificent mane of black hair) is exactly where he wants it. Jung Kook knows that the camera is always there and he wants his ARMY fans to know that every move he makes is for them. Just go back and look at any of the BTS music videos or videos of the band’s various performances over the past 9 years and you will start to see how much Jung Kook performs for the camera. He smiles more into the camera and looks directly into it during his performances. Jung Kook knows instinctively that eye-contact through the camera lens is how he connects to the larger audience and he is in constant “wooing-mode.” Every smile, every head tilt, every side glance is to remind the audience that he is doing all this for them. It feels intimate whether you are there in-person or viewing the performance through a screen.
Jung Kook has what is commonly called the “It Factor” in Hollywood. Jung Kook was born with the ability to charm, seduce and make each person in his orbit feel special and desired. It is probably what Bit Hit Entertainment saw when they selected him at 13 years old to join their trainee program and why he was chosen from the start to be BTS’ “center” and Main Vocalist and Lead Dancer. When someone comes along and has that “It Factor,” you hold onto them and make sure you do everything possible to showcase that raw and natural appeal. Add in Jung Kook’s natural happy persona that leads him to smile throughout his performances and seek out approval and attention from those around him, and you have the makings of a perfect “celebrity cocktail,” that if given room to grow, will bring in opportunities and rewards that have no bounds. The sky is the limit when you find someone with the “It Factor.”
That is exactly what happened with BTS. Big Hit Entertainment pulled in the most talented young men it could find to craft a band, which included three rappers and 4 singers/dancers and one with the “It Factor” — the one that no one can take their eyes off of. In the intervening 9 years, Jung Kook has surpassed all expectations. Even his bandmates recognize it and have frequently commented and laughed appreciatively about the “Jung Kook-effect” as they see it opening up opportunities and securing attention for the band that may not have ever have happened if Jung Kook had not been selected to be a part of BTS. The young 13 year old with a quick smile, fast feet, and a willingness to take on any task and to make his work-product the best that it could be, proved to be the “Golden Maknae” that won hearts across the globe. I suspect Jung Kook is also the “glue” that holds BTS together through the tough times and that his natural affection for each of his bandmates has won their hearts too. It takes a lot of love and perseverance to survive 9 years of trials and tribulations. The “Golden Maknae” not only helped deliver the attentive worldwide audience, Jung Kook also helped BTS form themselves into a family-unit that has struggled, fought, grown, and survived, to the point where they can now enjoy and appreciate their success.
(This article was first published at Seat4F.com, January 5, 2021.)
Related article: The Art and Artistry of Jeon Jung Kook
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