How Mainstream Media Is Still Failing BTS: The Album Didn’t Flop, And We’re Not “Little Girls”
This article was originally published on TheBTSEffect.com
Two recent articles in mainstream media have severely missed the mark — but this will come as no surprise to most BTS fans.
If you’ve been around for a while, you know the struggle the fandom has had with some mainstream media outlets, journalists, and others in the entertainment and/or music fields. While BTS and the ARMY fandom do get better coverage than in the past, there are still instances of poorly researched, questionable pieces that pop up from time to time. When that happens, I believe it’s important to respectfully address the issues — if we’ve learned anything, it’s that the narrative will not shift unless we attempt to rectify it ourselves.
The first article, posted on Forbes with click-bait title “What Went Wrong With BTS’s New Album?” claims that BTS’s most recent release, Japanese album Map of the Soul: 7 ~ The Journey ~, was “not very impressive” in terms of its Billboard chart position. The album reached No. 115. Considering that BTS’s last four albums all hit the No. 1 spot, at first glance it doesn’t look very good. But this takes the album completely out of its intended context.
The album was released on a Wednesday, and the author notes that Billboard charts reset on Fridays, meaning MOTS: 7 ~ The Journey ~ only had two tracking days. The author goes on to say that with only two tracking days, its chart position isn’t all that bad, and that the album will likely go up in ranking after the next chart cycle. This is true — the album is likely to go up on the charts when it gets a full week to rank. I’d also argue that hitting the Billboard chart at all with only two days of tracking should still be considered impressive. So why frame the article as if this is something BTS should be embarrassed by? As if their new album flopped? There is no reason to write it this way, nor is there any reason to write from the perspective of the American charts, when this album was targeted at Japan.
That’s the main issue with this article: the author fails to realize the larger context. The album was released in Japanese, targeting the Japanese music market, which happens to be the second largest music market in the world. Billboard charts reset on Friday, but the Oricon chart (Japan’s music chart), resets on Wednesday. That Wednesday release date was on purpose, catered to the market it was designed for: Japan. The album was never meant to target the U.S. market or the U.S. charts. Localization has been around in K-Pop for decades; it’s why K-Pop singers release their songs in Japanese and hold special Japanese promotions. It’s a strategy that’s been both popular and successful for K-Pop acts looking break into Japanese markets. Why would they release a Japanese album on Friday, when that would hurt its Japanese chart position? A quick search of BTS’s previous Japanese albums reveals that their previous three studio albums (Face Yourself, Youth, and Wake Up) were also all released on a Wednesday.
So how did BTS’s album do on the Oricon chart? It debuted at No. 1 with around 447,869 units sold, now BTS’s best first-day Japanese album sale record. Not much a flop there, eh? The article sorely misrepresents the true context of BTS’s Japanese album, but it’s not really surprising. Oh, and the four albums that BTS previously hit No. 1 with on Billboard? All three were released on a Friday. Additionally, BTS recently announced a new digital single coming on August 21, which will be entirely in English. Columbia Records tweeted out a countdown website, and from that we can gather that the single will release at midnight on Friday, August 21, giving the track the most time possible to rank on the Billboard chart — because it’s in English and aimed at the U.S. market. BigHit and its associates aren’t new, they know what they’re doing and clearly have a strategy. Unfortunately, Forbes missed that memo.
The second article, published by Deadline, is perhaps the more problematic of the two. While the Forbes piece was poorly researched and misrepresentative, Deadline’s article helped perpetuate a longstanding narrative about K-Pop fandoms and women and girls in general.
Though the majority of the article was innocuous and just read as a simple press release, it’s the first two paragraphs that are an issue. First, the opening sentence is written in romanized Korean, and it’s not even correct. This is then used as a hook for the author to say, “What’s that, you say? You don’t speak Korean? Well, rest assured, the little girls understand.” It’s an attempt to be funny or edgy that simply falls flat on its face, not just because of its poor Korean, but because of its dig at the “little girls” they assume make up the BTS fandom.
Women and girls have long been culturally educated to believe that what they love or are passionate about doesn’t matter — that it’s somehow “lesser” than men’s passions. If you love sports or video games, then that’s cool (sometimes), because men do too, but if you love makeup or pop stars? Then you’re shallow and vapid. It’s a tired, tired narrative women are sick of hearing. What women enjoy is valid, just as what little girls enjoy is valid, and none of us should be made to feel like our interests aren’t important, just because society is often misogynistic as a whole.
But that’s only half of the issue here. The other half is brushing off a huge, diverse fandom as nothing but “little girls” — said almost in a sneering way, in an attempt to belittle both BTS and the fandom. Again, with some quick research, the author could have easily determined that BTS’s fandom is hardly made up of “little girls” (and even then, there’s nothing wrong with being a little girl who loves BTS!).
Let’s look at some data. In January of this year, I presented a paper titled “‘Artists for Healing’: Anxieties of Youth, Storytelling, and Healing through BTS” at the BTS Global Interdisciplinary Conference at Kingston University. Yesterday, I tweeted a graph I used in my presentation, which shows the age breakdown of ARMY members who participated in my survey.
From the graph, we can see the largest age bracket represented is the 18–24 group, with more fans in the 25–29 and 30–39 brackets than in the 13–17 bracket. Even if all of these respondents were female (which they weren’t), that’s hardly a majority of young girls. Looks more like adults to me.
Additionally, Gaon released some demographics on the audience that interacts with K-Pop articles on Naver. The gray bar represents BTS, showing a fairly even age distribution among people in their 10s, 20s, 30s, and 40s.
Brandwatch also looked at some BTS fan demographics and found that around 75% of the fandom identifies as female. Clearly, no matter the sample size used, BTS fans are not only female, and not only “little.” (And it deserves saying again: there is absolutely nothing wrong with being a little girl who is a fan of BTS). Deadline’s article was inappropriate on many levels.
Deadline has since edited their article to remove the first two paragraphs, leaving behind just the news (which is all it should have been from the start). So, thanks, I guess. But it really never should have passed by the editors in the first place. As a writer and an editor myself, and as a woman, I’m tired of it.
BTS and the ARMY fandom both deserve fair treatment and good research, not damaging articles with little to no depth. Mainstream media may change one day, but until then, it’s up to us.