Global fame turns into a rollercoaster ride for boy band BTS

South Korean group hits the wrong note in China despite cashing in on Big Hit Entertainment’s IPO

Boy band BTS might be a global sensation, but they can still hit the wrong note.

In a week when shares in the group’s management agency almost doubled, controversy was just a semiquaver away.

Kim Nam-joon, known as RM to his legion of fans, created a social media maelstrom in China after receiving an award to honor relations between South Korea and the United States.

His remarks that both nations shared a “history of pain” during the Korean War triggered an online backlash among the band’s five million Chinese fans on the Twitter-like Weibo.

Twenty-four hours later, the initial public offering of Big Hit Entertainment increased the personal wealth of the band with the company now valued at close to US$8 billion or nearly nine trillion won. 

So, what was the row about?

It involved the touchy subject of the Korean War. 

The conflict between 1950 to 1953 pitched the South and a United Nations force led by the US against the communist-run North and Mao Zedong’s China.

Offending passage

Up to 200,000 South Korean soldiers and 36,000 American soldiers died during the war, as well as millions of civilians. At least 180,000 soldiers from China also lost their lives, according to Chinese state-run media.

What did RM have to say after receiving the band’s award?

Well, here is the offending passage: “We will always remember the history of pain that our two nations shared together and the sacrifices of countless men and women.”

At first glance, his remarks hardly appeared explosive. But that did not stop the Chinese state-owned Global Times from lighting the blue touchpaper.

How would you describe the reaction?

In one word, incendiary.

“China’s netizens said the band’s totally one-sided attitude to the Korean War hurts their feelings and negates history,” the newspaper said. 

To put that into context, the tabloid is run by the People’s Daily, the official mouthpiece of the ruling Chinese Communist Party.

Still, it set the tone for Weibo followers. “They [BTS] should not make any money from China. If you want to make money from Chinese fans you have to consider Chinese feelings,” one person said as reported by the Reuters news agency.

Will this affect album sales for BTS?

Probably not. By April of this year, the group had sold more than 20 million physical albums in less than seven years. Moreover, they are now the country’s best-selling act of all time.

Global audience 

Of course, BTS also has an amazing global audience. In August, they made pop history after becoming the first Korean band to have a number-one single on the US Billboard Hot 100 with their English-language single Dynamite.

They later went to the top of Spotify’s Global 50 after jumping to number one on the iTunes chart in more than 100 nations. The official Dynamite Music Video racked up more than 500 million views nearly 102 million in just 24 hours.

Pure gold. Is that why Big Hit Entertainment went public with an IPO?

It has to be one of the main reasons.  

On the opening bell, Big Hit shares initially jumped to 270,000 Korean won ($235) before slipping back to close at 258,000 won. Even so, that was 90% higher than the initial IPO price.

Bang Si-hyuk, the entertainment company’s chief executive, instantly became a billionaire. As for BTS, the seven band members cashed in after receiving 490,000 shares, earning them $13 million each.

“Although offline concerts are impossible for the time being, Big Hit’s results in the first half of this year show that the content and merchandise made profits; it was hardly affected year-on-year,” Nam Hyo-ji, an analyst at KTB Investment & Securities in Seoul, said.

For BTS, whose acronym stands for “Beyond the Scene,” read AMM, “A Money Machine.”