The rise of K-pop in Brazil

. May 25, 2019
k-pop bts in brazil BTS in concert

Forty thousand tickets sold out in two hours, an extra concert announced, social media chaos, people camping outside concert venues. This treatment is usually reserved for when Paul McCartney, Madonna, or U2 hold concerts in Brazil. This week, however, the target of Brazil’s adoration and obsession is BTS: the K-pop band taking the world by storm.

The band’s members—RM, Jin, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin, V, and Jungkook—have become global phenomena, with the international press drawing comparisons between them and The Beatles. In fact, the boys are the first to have three albums at the top of Billboard 200 ranking in less than a year since the Fab Four—not to mention they are the first K-pop artists to ever reach the top of the North American Billboard list. Still in their twenties, BTS also became the first K-pop group ever to win a Billboard Music Award prize and the youngest people ever to receive the fifth-class Hwagwan Order of Cultural Merit from the Korean Popular Culture & Arts Awards.

</span><span style="font-weight: 400;"><br /> </span><span style="font-weight: 400;"><br /> </span><span style="font-weight: 400;">On social media, their fanbase reaches 20 million followers on Twitter, 18 million on Instagram and 8.6 million on Facebook—which explains how they won the </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">Favorite Social Artist award</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> at the American Music Awards. On </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">Spotify</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">, they reached 18.5 million monthly listeners and got the second spot on the list of </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">Global Recording Artists of 2019</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> in industry association IFPI&#8217;s Global Music Report. Not bad for a group that has only been around for six years.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The Love Yourself: Speak Yourself tour kickstarted on May 4 at the Rose Bowl stadium in Pasadena, and has sold out tickets in every North American venue, as well as Wembley Stadium in London and the Stade de France, in Paris. So far, tour revenues </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">are estimated at USD 72 million.</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> São Paulo will be the second stop of the tour—the only one in Latin America—and promises to be remarkable.</span></p> <p><iframe title="BTS OFFICIAL LIGHT STICK VER.3 (ARMY BOMB) - Stage Production" width="1200" height="675" src="" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">So far, </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">375 tons of lighting and sound equipment have made it to the city</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> for two three-hour concerts on May 25 and 26. They will perform at Allianz Parque, the home stadium of São Paulo football club Palmeiras, with the responsibility to match the concerts presented there by artists such as Rod Stewart, Muse, Iron Maiden, Coldplay, Maroon 5, Bruno Mars, and Paul McCartney.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In order to live up to the billing, the BTS boys will have at least four wardrobe changes, flamethrowers, lavish set equipment ranging from Greek columns to staircases and even an inflatable toy. Jungkook is also expected to fly over the audience using a zip line, while Jimin will perform the band&#8217;s hit “Serendipity” from inside a globe.</span></p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="ko">가자 브라질로!!!!✈️??? <a href=""></a></p> <p>— 방탄소년단 (@BTS_twt) <a href="">May 23, 2019</a></p></blockquote> <p><script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script></p> <h2>A global ARMY</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">This effort in show design is only surpassed by the level of expectation of BTS’s obstinate fanbase, the &#8220;ARMY&#8221;—an acronym for the confusing title &#8220;Adorable Representative M.C&#8217;s for Youth.&#8221; For many of them, BTS is more than just music—which may explain the sacrifices and level of loyalty seen among the fanbase.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">According to </span><a href=""><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">UOL</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;">,</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> BTS loyals have been camping outside of the Allianz Parque for months, having to deal with rats, floods, and even reports of child abuse, due to the presence of minors at the camp. Some of the fans came from other Brazilian states, while others traveled from neighboring countries. Online funding campaigns were set up by some fans to afford tickets, transport, and lodging.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Part of this adoration may be explained by the band’s exploration of topics which are appealing to young generations, such as self-esteem and mental health—especially considering that, in South Korea, youngsters face enormous pressure in studies and professional life.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">K-pop artists themselves are no strangers to these pressures. The idols are expected to sing and dance perfectly, record dozens of songs and often release complete albums in the space of months—all while having their &#8220;private lives&#8221; exposed in reality shows and social media. The standards for K-pop celebrities is extremely high, demanding a perfect image, far from scandal, drugs, and often even romantic relationships. This push to perfection has understandably taken its toll on people inside the industry, with the most tragic example being singer Jonghyun, from the band SHINee, </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">who committed suicide at the age of 27</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Both BTS and their record label, Big Hit Entertainment, decided to open up about topics that had not yet been properly addressed by the industry, turning it into part of the band&#8217;s message. Many of their songs discuss mental health and BTS has even joined some United Nations projects, such as Generation Unlimited, an education and employment program for young people, and UNICEF’s End Violence campaign, which aims to raise awareness and protect children from violence.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“I started to hear remarkable stories, from our fans all over the world, about how our message has helped them overcome the hardships in life and start loving themselves. We have learned to love ourselves, so now I urge you to speak yourself. No matter who you are, where you’re from, your skin color, your gender identity, just speak yourself,” said the group’s leader, RM, to an audience of UN members and authorities.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The Love Yourself: Speak Yourself tour is connected to the band&#8217;s entire movement of promoting mental health, and it has resonated deeply around the world, including in Brazil. For 24-year old psychology student Lívia Montes, the band&#8217;s activism and the fact they are so connected to their fanbase are one of the reasons she is a fan.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“It is very important for me that they talk about [mental health], as well as their partnership with UNICEF. They think a lot about the youngsters in the fanbase, they are very good role models in this sense,” she told </span><b>The Brazilian Report.</b></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">For Lívia, following BTS started as a way to strengthen ties with her friends and girlfriend, who actually introduced her to the band in 2016. But now, the boys from Seoul have become a major part of her entertainment interests. “Before knowing BTS I didn&#8217;t get involved in K-pop content. After that, I started listening to other bands and genuinely developed an interest in their songs, lyrics, and the boys&#8217; personal character.”</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">At BTS concerts, this connection between the band and its ARMY is never more apparent that when the fans light up their &#8220;ARMY Bombs&#8221;—which are the band&#8217;s official light sticks, controlled by the concert production team via Bluetooth, creating impressive and colorful displays. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The ARMYs are also preparing their own surprises. On Twitter, profiles </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">have put together tutorials</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> to prepare the Brazilian ARMYs for the “fanchants”—which are choreographed chants or displays performed by the fans at specific moments of the concert. Again, the idea is to promote the feeling of belonging and the connection between the band and its loyal footsoldiers.</span></p> <h2>K-Pop, politics, and economy</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">However, besides the positive messages and obsessive fanbases, K-pop is an industry just like any other. ARMY bombs, for example, are mainly sold at concerts and, in Brazil, will cost BRL 250 each. This is only an example of the endless kinds of BTS merchandise being sold by Bih Hit and other groups.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In fact, the very origins of Kpop are said to be economic and political.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">According to Martin Fryer, British Council Country Director at South Korea, K-Pop is part of a “charm offensive” nicknamed </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">Hallyu </span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;">(or Korean wave) that began in 1998, after the Olympic Games in Seoul. It involves an opening of Korean culture to the world through TV dramas, movies, games, and, of course, K-Pop.</span></p> <div id="attachment_17904" style="width: 1010px" class="wp-caption alignnone"><img aria-describedby="caption-attachment-17904" loading="lazy" class="wp-image-17904 size-full" src="" alt="k-pop bts in brazil" width="1000" height="750" srcset=" 1000w, 300w, 768w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 1000px) 100vw, 1000px" /><p id="caption-attachment-17904" class="wp-caption-text">Coca-Cola BTS in limited-edition collection</p></div> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“This was all done with the full support of various governments to show a side to South Korea which is particularly appealing to other Asian countries. These sectors (&#8230;) are now billion dollar businesses. Such success, alongside the rapid rise of the country to become a world leader in business, education, and technology, has transformed the country’s image,” he wrote in an </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">article for the British Council</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">As a result, South Korea is now the sixth largest music market in the world, according to 2019’s Global Music Report. And BTS is directly involved in that rise, according to Dr. Wantanee Suntikul, an Assistant Professor at the School of Hotel and Tourism Management at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“As the most successful Korean pop culture producer, BTS has demonstrably contributed considerably to the South Korean national economy. In addition to music sales, merchandise, and concert tickets, this figure also reflects the added number of tourists who will visit South Korea because of their interest in the band.&#8221;</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">&#8220;In 2017, it was estimated that around 800,000 tourists to South Korea, or about </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">7 percent of all arrivals</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">, were motivated to visit the country because of their interest in BTS,” </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">he wrote in an article on The Diplomat</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> news website, quoting a study by the Hyundai Research Institute.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The same research puts the band&#8217;s overall contribution to the Korean economy at USD 3.6 billion—“equivalent to the contribution of 26 mid-sized companies”. Judging by the major commotion, it looks like Brazil is about to make that even bigger.

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Natália Scalzaretto

Natália Scalzaretto has worked for companies such as Santander Brasil and Reuters, where she covered news ranging from commodities to technology. Before joining The Brazilian Report, she worked as an editor for Trading News, the information division from the TradersClub investor community.

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