Damage Control: BTS Walks Back K-Pop Industry Complaints After Rant Costs Record Label $1.7 Billion

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 31: BTS and Post Malone attend Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve With Ryan Seacrest 2020 on December 31, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for Dick Clark Productions )
Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for Dick Clark Productions

Korean pop sensations BTS adamantly rejected reports the band is breaking up on Thursday – reports fueled by the bandmates themselves confessing they felt like “machines” and “exhausted” and expressing a desire to engage in solo work – after their initial comments cost their record label nearly $2 billion in stock value in one day.

BTS is an international sensation and history’s most successful Korean music act. Their label, Hybe, generated nearly 90 percent of its profits from BTS alone in 2020, according to South Korea’s JoongAng Ilbo, and that number has likely grown since BTS made its English-language debut in the second half of that year. The band has also found itself involved in politics, from outraging the Chinese government by praising the U.S. military to receiving an invite to an anti-racism summit at the White House with President Joe Biden less than a month ago.

On Tuesday, during a livestreamed dinner held in celebration of the anniversary of their debut, the members of BTS spoke openly about their grueling work schedules, a growing feeling of emptiness, and the hope that they could work on solo projects to better understand their own identities.

“They don’t give you time to mature. You have to keep producing music and keep doing something,” RM — often described as the leader of the group because he typically offers most of the band’s English-language statements — said during the livestream. He lamented that the record label made them release “Dynamite,” “Butter,” and “Permission to Dance,” and he said that the English-language pop hits made him feel like he “didn’t know what kind of group [they] were anymore.”

“There’s no time for me to grow. Not just in terms of my skills, but as a human,” RM continued, according to translations in Korean media. “I’m a very different person from who I was 10 years ago, and I need time to think and be on my own, so those thoughts can mature into something uniquely mine.”

“We’re going through a rough patch right now, we’re trying to find our identity and that’s an exhausting and long process. Our fans know us and we know us,” Jimin, another bandmate, agreed. Jimin recently had his home seized

Other members of the group also stated they felt “exhausted” and that they were working on solo projects. The livestream translated one of Suga’s comments as saying that the band would go on “hiatus” – a translation Hybe has challenged – triggering global reports of disbandment, even as Suga himself said in the livestream, “it’s not like we’re disbanding.”

BTS released an album, Proof, on Friday, adding to the confusion regarding reports of disbandment.

Hybe issued a barrage of public statements following the livestream that contradicted his bandmates, insisting that no “hiatus” was scheduled and that BTS would continue churning out content at a breakneck pace. On Thursday, RM joined the label in insisting that the band was not breaking up.

“I’ve received the most contact since I debuted after the broadcast aired. Seeing the captures and the article headlines that were sent to me, there were many stimulating and fragmented keywords such as ‘disbandment,’ ‘declaring a stop on promotions,'” RM wrote on the fan messaging app Weverse on Thursday, adding that he was “very bitter” over coverage of Tuesday’s remarks.

“It’s not like I didn’t know this would happen or was prepared for this to happen, but it’s still very bitter,” RM’s message read. “The BTS ‘dinner’ is an occasional content format that was aired on June 13, which was a significant date … It was time when we were able to confess our true feelings to the fans who have been connecting with us.”

“People who saw the video would know, but the message that we truly wanted to convey was – just like the song title ‘Yet to Come’ [their latest single] – that this is not the end,” the message continued.

In a livestream on Wednesday night, Jungkook, another band member, also insisted that the group would never “quit working as BTS.”

“We have no intention to quit and still have many group plans left. BTS will be forever,” Jungkook said.

The latest comments differ significantly from the original remarks band members made during Tuesday’s dinner but align much more closely with the brand message spread by Hybe in the fallout after the livestream.

“The team never said it was taking a break,” a Hybe spokesperson told JoongAng Ilbo on Wednesday. “They made the announcement because BTS had always released albums as a group and they didn’t want to worry or startle the fans when individual releases start coming out.”

“To be clear, they are not on hiatus,” another statement, this one to Billboard, read.

A Hybe statement published by the Korean pop (K-pop) news site Soompi similarly insisted that the band was entering a “new chapter,” but not breaking up.

“BTS will start a new chapter in which they will simultaneously carry out team activities and individual activities. This will be a time for each of the members to grow with their diverse activities,” the statement read, “and we anticipate that this will foster BTS into a long-running team. The label will actively support this.”

Hybe Co. has lost $1.6 billion in market capitalization since Tuesday, at one point dropping $1.7 billion, or about 25 percent of its value. The company’s value went up about two percent on Thursday on the back of insistences from both the band and the record label that they will remain together.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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