SEOUL – In the nine years of their record-breaking career, BTS has spoken about their personal struggles with unusual candor, an anomaly in the highly groomed world of K-pop.
The group’s shocking announcement Tuesday during a livestream dinner that they were indefinitely ceasing activities to pursue solo projects was no different. BTS members went so far as to criticize the K-pop idol system they developed for not giving them enough room to breathe and “time to mature.”
The news of their “hiatus” left many people around the world stunned — so much so that a representative for the band and their agency, HYBE, later released a statement rejecting the term, and member Jungkook attempted to tell fans during a Live streams to clarify that the group is not disbanding. But the writing hung on the wall for at least three years, and the seven members increasingly spoke about the challenges of fame and their non-stop schedule.
Here are some of the warning signs surrounding BTS over the past few years:
Public expectations of success sparked a collapse on stage and health concerns
At the 2018 Mnet Music Awards ceremony, Jin tearfully admitted that the group had discussed disbanding them in an internal meeting. As their continued worldwide success catapulted them to unprecedented heights, the band members felt burned out and crumbled under the pressure to produce hits and break chart records. In conversation with billboard Last year, Suga compared himself to an Olympic athlete vying for a gold medal and public recognition. Lead singer Jungkook also narrated billboard: “It is safe to say that I am so blessed, but the journey to get here has been difficult. It’s taken a toll on my health and I think we’ve put all our youth and more into it.”
The financial pressure for BTS to push HYBE forward was on them.
While HYBE has become less and less dependent on BTS as its top earner in recent years, the group still generated more than 80% of the company’s revenue as of 2020. After HYBE (under its previous name Big Hit Entertainment) became a public company on the Korea Exchange in October 2020, the pressure to act as a profit engine continued. RM tells billboard He was excited about the $1 billion acquisition of HYBE Scooter Brown‘s Ithaca Holdings. “The music business is risky to say the least,” RM said at the time. “If someone quits or something goes wrong between members… it’s a high-risk business. We managed to get this far as a group but maybe someone could be sick. We don’t want the world to change just because of what’s happening to us.”
There was disagreement about the future direction of the group
As English-language singles like “Dynamite” and “Butter” broadened their mainstream appeal, BTS members said they were divided about recording in English. In one of the first public acknowledgments of discord within the group, RM recounted billboard last year “there was no alternative” but to release new music to keep the buzz alive. However, in Tuesday’s livestream announcement, he admitted he felt lost in the band’s direction after “Dynamite.” “I didn’t know what kind of group we were anymore,” he said.
You are threatened with conscription
After BTS became a household name around the world, some South Korean politicians discussed exempting K-pop stars from military service, which would require each member to retire from their music career for at least 18 months when they turn 30. Jin, who will turn 30 in December, is due to be drafted next year under current rules. The controversial issue — attempts by entertainers like Steve Yoo and MC Mong to evade or delay the draft have irreparably ruined their careers — has haunted the band since at least 2018, and members have said they’re ready to serve.
Some politicians now see them not as typical celebrities, but rather as cultural ambassadors who help the economy and bolster Korea’s soft power. BTS made appearances at the United Nations and just last month at the White House, where they spoke out against racism and anti-Asian violence. In May, Lee Ki-sik, commissioner of the Military Manpower Administration, said at a National Assembly hearing, “Perhaps there is a need to reconsider the system, taking into account the issue of fairness and public opinion.” A legislative attempt to pass the law to get it put to the vote in November, however, fell short due to disagreements across the political spectrum. The then Department of Defense called the move to extend exceptional rights to K-pop stars “a difficult decision that requires caution.”
They are late in entering adulthood
From the beginning of their careers, the band and HYBE placed a high value on BTS’s unity, but the agency let the public see little of their lives as individuals outside of the group. Members previously had no way to express themselves on social media channels not controlled by HYBE until late last year when the agency finally allowed them to sign up for individual accounts. On Tuesday, they said they gave up their shared apartment and live separately. Last year BTS said billboard that they had little understanding of personal finances and delegated that responsibility to their families – a common occurrence among young Korean music stars. But disregard for such worldly obligations resurfaced in April, when the government seized Jimin’s home for unpaid health insurance premiums. The HYBE subsidiary Big Hit Music accused its employees of negligence.
Output of group music slowed down
In the first few years after their debut, BTS had released several EPs and albums alongside mixtapes and tracks on Soundcloud. Even during the pandemic in 2020, the band released a Korean full-length album, a Japanese new music album, the English single “Dynamite” and the Korean EP Be. But in the past year and a half, BTS has only released seven new songs, including “Butter”, “Permission to Dance” and “My Universe” with Coldplay. Before the pandemic, fans could count on at least two EPs of music from the band a year. The group admitted at their livestream dinner that the pandemic that brought them down in Korea forced them to reconsider their release strategies, but the output still felt significantly quieter.
There were more opportunities to do solo music and outside collaborations
Over the past two years, as their international fame has increased, BTS members have taken more opportunities to work outside of the band. Suga has written and produced for several artists in Korea, Japan and the US including PSY and Juice WRLD. Meanwhile, Jin, Jimin, V, and Jungkook all released their very first solo songs, which were singles for various soundtrack releases: Jin’s “Yours” acted as the main theme of the Korean mystery drama Jirisan and Jungkook’s “Stay Alive” was used in the BTS webtoon 7FATES: CHAKHO. (A poll conducted by billboard which closed early Wednesday indicated that fans are most excited to see solo projects from Jimin, Jin and V.)