(FOX 11) - BTS! BTS! BTS! Just close your eyes and imagine the millions of BTS Army fans chanting this as I tell you just how the K-pop boy band grew so big, so fast.
The year was 2010. I was invited to cover the G20 Summit in Seoul, South Korea. The event that gathered world leaders also included a big concert. I got to interview countless K-pop stars including the headlining star Boa.
All of my coverage aired in New York (I was covering entertainment for FOX NEW YORK, WNYW at the time). My trip was sponsored by the Korean Government. In fact, many of the foreign press members there (if not all) had been invited by the Korean Government.
It's kind of crazy for us to think about The White House spending our tax dollars, to say, promote Taylor Swift, but that's exactly what was happening with K-pop.
The Korean Government was subsidizing and sponsoring countless K-pop events, all with the hope of making it a successful export. You see, Korea is a mountainous country with very limited natural resources.
The native Koreans know this, and thus, have mostly been very supportive of its government's efforts in pushing Technology and Entertainment as the peninsula's main exports. My reports that aired in the U.S. was just one of the government's many efforts to help K-pop cross over.
And guess what? It worked! Ellie Hong with the Korean Creative Content Agency (a Korean Government funded organization that helps brand integration) says K-pop is now a $5 billion dollar industry.
Meeting Rain and so many other Korean artists throughout the years, I knew that talent and work ethics were always there....but with their country backing them up, these artists were given springboards to launch into a very competitive space.
Then, BTS, upped the ante by singing candidly about very real things in young people's lives. They were one of the first pop groups to address heavy topics such as mental illness and bullying. We had a camera crew talk to countless fans in South Korea about why they love BTS (yes, fans from where it all started, 6000 miles away--oh, the power of TV!), and consistently they said it was BTS' powerful lyrics, in-sync dance moves, incredible live performing skills, amazing personalities of each of the band members, AND YES, because they're so good looking.
I'll be honest, even I, a very proud Korean, have been surprised by the speed and spread of K-pop. During my 2010 trip, all who I spoke with in the K-pop scene told me, "Just you wait, K-pop will cross over in the next few years."
But, I just couldn't see it happening. Most were not singing in English. Their fashion and makeup styles seemed too "animi", and even the way they performed felt, well, foreign.
But in the span of approximately 20 years, K-pop has become a global sensation. Case in point, Blackpink made history as the first all-female K-pop group to perform at Coachella this year! Korea, a tiny country with a population slightly larger than the state of California, now has the 6th largest music industry. And other billion-dollar industries such as K-Beauty, K-Food have piggybacked off of K-pop's success.
Suffice it to say, BTS has been the greatest K-pop story so far. The seven-member group became the first K-pop group to perform on SNL this year. They were at the Grammy's, the Billboard Music Awards, on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, and they now hold the record for the most amount of YouTube views in 24 hours for their video (featuring Halsey), "Boy With Luv".
And to think, their U.S. debut was just a few years ago at KCON LA 2014. Vanessa Augsbach, head of digital content at KCON, says she knew there was something different about BTS, "They were rookies in 2014, and yet, when we asked our fans online 'who do you want to see at KCON', everyone kept saying 'BTS BTS BTS!'. So, we listened to our data and invited them. The BTS Army lost it even before they took the stage!".
BTS will be front and center as they take over Rose Bowl this weekend. And before you complain about the $1500 floor-seat tickets, know that it took an entire nation to build such success.