By Ambar Chatterjee
Sometime in 2018, my friend Ruchika asked me to accompany her to a film called “BTS: Something” at PVR Cinemas Guwahati. Initially, I took it to be a documentary that dwelled on some band of boys as they took a musical tour. I believed that it would be about what went on behind the stage, the lives of the members involved, etc. I wasn’t actually brimming with excitement but thought that it might be a good idea and welcome change from the films that I generally watch and review. Every time, I expressed my opinion about what I thought the film might be about on our way to the theater, Ruchika would giggle in a mysterious fashion indicating that I was in for a surprise.
As we waited for the film to begin in PVR’s lobby, I could hear boisterous audiences from the previous show leaving the theater shouting emphatically “BTS! BTS! BTS!” They are called the BTS army, quipped Ruchika, leaning towards me and trying to avoid being heard by the huge number of girls who had already gathered for the next show. Many of these exiting audiences just went down a floor and re-climbed the stairs to make their way back to the lobby. Apparently, they were about to watch the show again. I was perplexed. Soon the door to the theater opened and we were led in with all the others. As I walked up to my seat, all I could see around me was a sea of girls dressed in every possible variation of attires in vibrant colors and complete with interesting add ons. They were aged between 15 to 30 years and were of all ethnicity. The North East Tribals (Naga, Mizo, Arunachali, Manipuri, and Khasi) outnumbered the other emphatically but there still were Marwaris, Bengalis, and Axomias in the audience.
The show hadn’t even started and the audiences were already creating an atmosphere that gave a feel of being in an actual concert. I could barely hear what Ruchika was telling me from time to time. The screen wasn’t even showing anything and the theater was booming with the re-sounding cheers of BTS! BTS! BTS! Within moments a logo appeared on the screen that read “Big Hit Entertainment” the crowd simply erupted. I had never seen an audience go this crazy at the sight of a logo. Not even at the Yashraj Logo in Salman Bhai’s Sultan. There the audiences waited for Bhai to appear in his undies. After that, it was just sheer hysteria. Gradually I was introduced to the stars of BTS short for Bangtan Sonyeondan. The names Jin, Suga, J-Hope, RM, Jimin, V, and Jungkook started to make sense. I was beginning to get an idea of their reach and impact. Every member of the audience had a specific favorite and they went ballistic whenever that particular star got the center stage in the performance.
Oh! Before I forget, what we were watching was nothing but a highlights video of an actual concert that had happened somewhere in South Korea sometimes back. This video is available online to watch for free but still, the crowds came in huge numbers to enjoy it on the big screen. It was also shocking for me to notice that what we were paying more than the usual film ticket and still the theater was full. This was unprecedented even for a Salman Khan film.
It was a spectacle like no other spectacle. Seeing Assamese girls sing along Korean lyrics at the top of their voices was nothing short of incredible. It was as if the whole theater was transformed into a massive stadium where the BTS was performing and their loyal fan’s army was holding grounds and cheering their every move. It was also interesting to note that probably I was the only male in that whole audience. Later on in the show, maybe I caught a glimpse of another guy but that is something that I don’t remember clearly. As the show progressed, the atmosphere got more and more euphoric. There came a time when everyone in the audience was on their feet and me along with my friend was probably the only one sitting and we could no longer see the screen.
Forced to stand up, we obliged and I am thankful to God that we did. Within moments I heard a thud even in all that noise and as I looked up, I realized that a huge girl from one of the rows above us had literally jumped into the seat where my friend was sitting out of excitement. Going by the look of craze on her face as she lay tangled in her own body parts, I was sure that she wouldn’t mind jumping on my friend seated in her chair as she didn’t know which planet she was on. She might have hurt herself too but was euphorically shouting Jimin! Jimin! Jimin! I was astounded at what I was seeing.
This was just one of the many instances of unheard-of craze that I saw among the audiences and it just forced me to research what this BTS phenomenon was all about and how it had come to envelop audiences in my city without me even getting an air of its existence.
BTS or Bangtan Boys or Bangtan Sonyeondan is a Korean all-boys Pop band that is part of the larger Korean Pop (K-Pop) phenomenon. According to VOX, K-Pop is a blend of addictive melodies, slick choreography, production values, and an endless parade of attractive South Korean performers who spend years in grueling studio systems learning to sing and dance in synchronized harmony. Its inception can be traced back to 1995 but it was only after Wonder Girls first cracked the Billboard Hot 100 in 2009 with their crossover hit “Nobody” that K-Pop has transformed South Korea’s music industry to an impressive $5 billion industry.
Today there are hundreds of aspiring K-Pop bands and thousands of young Korean kids line up outside the studios every year hoping to make it big in the Industry. The top bands in 2019 are BTS (Big Hit Entertainment), GOT7 (JYP Entertainment), Blackpink (YG Entertainment), Stray Kids (JYP Entertainment), and Twice (JYP Entertainment). The names of the companies running them are integral to the gig because it is these entertainment firms that actually call the shots and make the big money. The stars, in this case, are not born though they must be gifted to an extent. They are manufactured from an ever-increasing pool of kids who are willing to sign off their lives for a chance to be a K-Pop Star. The companies train these kids for 4-5 years before they can even think about debuting. Many never debut. The ones who do may become successful stars or not.
K-Pop as a phenomenon cannot be ignored anymore. It has not only brought South Korean to the notice of the whole world but has also shaped the imagination of the youth of the country and gave them a specific parameter on which to judge themselves. This is a country that has the 10th highest rate of suicide and is known as the plastic surgery capital of the world. It has earned those titles for interesting reasons and the distinct influence of the K-Pop phenomenon cannot be ignored in all this.