BTS’ Leader, RM, Speaking at the White House in May 2022 Alongside His Group Members. [Image: The White House]

Celebrations Across Borders: BTS Turns 10 and America Takes Notice

Korea Asia

K-pop phenomenon BTS, also known as Beyond the Scene, recently hosted the closing event of their annual FESTA in Seoul in celebration of their tenth anniversary. This milestone involved many festivities, including a brief fireworks display, a performance by BTS’ leader RM, and some of Seoul’s most iconic landmarks being lit up in purple. BTS’ hometown was not the only city honoring them—the excitement and pride of their tenth anniversary took root in the United States, as well.

Across the U.S., the septet’s fans, the Adorable Representative M.C. for Youth, or ARMY, organized local events to celebrate the milestone. While ARMYs in Seoul were attending BTS’ official FESTA—including international fans that traveled to South Korea—ARMYs in San Antonio (Texas), Lilburn (Georgia), and San Francisco & Los Angeles (California) were dancing and singing at celebrations of their own. These unofficial events were bolstered by BTS’ temporary Proof exhibition in Los Angeles, named for their anthology album, that ran through the start of June 2023.

These celebrations are unsurprising for anyone privy to BTS’ growing popularity. BTS has been setting and breaking records for Korean musicians in the U.S. since 2016, when their album Wings became “the first K-pop project to crack the top 40 of the Billboard 200.” In 2022, their anthology Proof sold just under 422,000 copies, bringing BTS their sixth No. 1 on Billboard’s 200 chart and coming in third for sales in the U.S. last year. Beyond album sales, BTS’ multiple Grammy nominations, j-hope's headlining of last July’s Lollapalooza, SUGA’s tour as Agust D, and Jimin's debut album emerging as “the highest-charting release in U.S. history on the Billboard 200 by a South Korean solo musician” are other recent tangible examples of BTS’ success.

BTS’ achievements have both increased and been influenced by American interest in Korean culture, as outlined by The East-West Center’s Korea Matters for America publication. Supply chain collaboration, student exchange programs, and over 100 sister-city relationships ensure U.S.-Republic of Korea (ROK) ties that are meant to last. American consumer interest in Korean cosmetics and food has bolstered BTS’ popularity, in turn increasing interest in Korean culture. Of the one million US citizens that visited South Korea in 2019, 13% cited Hallyuor K-pop, K-drama, and other pop culture exports—as a reason for their visit. BTS also has a unique status as special presidential envoys of the ROK, testimony to the group’s relevance to the ROK’s soft power.

“We still feel surprised that music created by South Korean artists reaches so many people around the world, transcending languages and cultural barriers,” BTS’ Jung Kook said when the group spoke at the White House in May 2022. Their visit to Washington made it clear that the relationship between BTS and the U.S., and by extension the relationship between South Korea and the U.S., will only grow stronger as the group moves into their second decade.

As ARMY’s own 10th anniversary is on July 9th, fans are using the occasion as another chance to commemorate a full ten years with BTS, including in Massachusetts and New Jersey. With US fan engagement holding strong after BTS’ hiatus announcement, ARMYs around the country can rest assured that there will be plenty of opportunities to celebrate BTS’ future successes for years to come.

Sarah Pratt is a participant in the Young Professionals Program at the East-West Center in Washington. She is a graduate student at the Fletcher School at Tufts University, where she is focusing on Comparative & Regional Studies and Human Security & Humanitarian Affairs.