What can the chart-topping K-pop group BTS teach us about how to advance our own careers?
On the surface, that might sound like a silly notion — at least if you’re not aspiring to a career as a member of a globe-trotting boy band. But as I learned from reading the newly published book, “Beyond the Story: 10-Year Record of BTS,” the seven-member group’s rise to stardom offers some invaluable lessons that can be applied to just about anyone making their way in the work world.
And let’s not forget that BTS must have done a lot of things right to get where they are. After all, they’ve sold more than 100 million albums to date, according to the ChartMasters website. They were the first K-pop group to have a No. 1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. And they now have apparently conquered the publishing world: “Beyond the Story” has an initial print run of 1 million copies.
So, here are seven career lessons we can take away from the book…
Dare to be different
BTS didn’t invent the K-pop “idol” genre (or the boy-band genre, for that matter). In fact, when the group debuted in 2013, there had been other K-pop boy bands going back at least 20 years. But BTS brought a different energy and vibe to the scene — specifically, by daring to infuse hip-hop into the genre. As the book states, “If the world of idols is a fantasy genre, [BTS] brought in the rough, raw, and wild essence of the more dramatic hip-hop genre, without compromising their identity as idols.”
Embrace new technology
When BTS debuted, K-pop groups relied heavily on South Korean television to promote themselves. But BTS realized there was a new — and arguably better — way to reach an audience. Namely, through a livestreaming platform called V Live. As the book explains, “With the emergence of V Live, the generation in which [K-pop] idols would shroud themselves in mystery offstage, restricting their content and releasing it little by little to fans, had come to an end.” BTS used the platform to build a bond with their “Army,” as fans of the group became called.
And embrace the diss
A key moment in BTS’ early history involves the time the Korean rapper B-Free insulted the group for being idols instead of true rappers. But in the book, the group says the diss ultimately proved helpful in giving them a firmer resolve to keep doing what they were doing, even as there was more hate along the way from others. As BTS member RM says in the book, “I looked up and studied so much about insults and hurts, and I got even more passionate.”
“Beyond the Story: 10-Year Record of BTS” has an initial print run of 1 million copies.
AFP via Getty Images
Practice, practice, practice
And you think you work hard! For BTS, the training regimen in the group’s early period often involved grueling, 12-hour (or longer) workdays. Sleeping and eating sometimes became luxuries as they practiced songs and worked out dance routines (in K-pop, precision movement is critical). BTS member j-hope puts it thusly: “The alarm goes off at 10 a.m. and we grab a salad, some bread and chicken breast and go to the practice studio. Then we practice and review ourselves as we keep screaming “Argh!” and start all over again and then it’s “Arrrgh!” again and all of a sudden, it’s 10 p.m. Then we go back to the dorm and sleep. Ad nauseam.”
Learn what you don’t know
Some of BTS’ members were strong rappers and some were strong dancers. But ultimately, they all had to learn from each other so they could be on somewhat equal footing. “I felt like the first thing we needed to do was to help the other members find dancing fun,” says j-hope, a key dancer in the group. Meanwhile, members RM and SUGA provided rapping/hip-hop lessons to those who needed help with that.
Don’t pay too much attention to the numbers
Music groups live and die by the numbers — their album sales, their touring grosses, etc. But BTS member Jung Kook makes the case that you can’t pay too much attention to the figures while you’re charting your path. As he says, “I had to keep improving, and I was working hard to keep releasing albums one by one…So I just felt like, ‘I guess I’m doing all right.’ I didn’t want to focus on the numbers, just keep doing what we always did.”
Don’t let a dumpling dispute stand in your way
If you’re working as part of a team, disputes inevitably arise, but the key is getting past them. Take the “dumpling incident,” as BTS refers to one of the odder scrapes in their decade-long history. It had to do with a disagreement between members V and Jimin as to when eat dumplings, with “V wanting to eat during choreography practice and Jimin after practice,” as the book recounts. (V had been busy shooting a television project on the side, so he was trying to fit in food whenever he could.) Eventually, the pair resolved the matter and learned the value of maintaining a good relationship under challenging work circumstances.