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What does BTS’ extended break mean?

By Ahn Sung-mi

  • Published : Sept 1, 2019 - 11:35
  • Updated : Sept 1, 2019 - 11:35

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After six years of nonstop singing and performing, BTS is taking a long vacation for the first time since its debut in 2013.

For the seven members at the top of their game -- breaking records with new releases, snagging prizes at major music awards and an ongoing stadium tour across the globe -- it didn’t seem an easy decision to make.

But the band’s label Big Hit Entertainment said the members need time to rest and recharge. It will also give them a rare chance to enjoy ordinary 20-something lives, the label added.

“BTS is on vacation to create a vision and design its next step as creators and artists,” said Big Hit CEO and founder Bang Si-hyuk. “Big Hit will fully support the vision they are creating.”

While Big Hit has declined to reveal the exact date when BTS’ break will be over, the hiatus won’t be longer than two months, as the band is scheduled to perform in Saudi Arabia on Oct. 11, followed by the finale of the “Love Yourself: Speak Yourself” stadium tour in Seoul on Oct. 26, 27 and 29.

This means fans won’t be able to see the band onstage for a while. But BTS fans, known as Army, are more than happy about the bandmates’ well-deserved holiday, saying it was overdue.

Immediately after the announcement was made Aug. 11, hashtags like #RestWellBTS and #HappyVacationBTS were trending on Twitter.

“BTS has been constantly working, releasing albums back-to-back, dropping self-written songs, going on a world tour, appearing on live broadcasts as well as its own programs like ‘Run BTS’ and ‘Bangtan Bomb,’ and fans have always wondered how members manage everything,” said professor Lee Ji-young, who teaches philosophy at Sejong University.

“Members weren’t getting enough rest and fans are glad Big Hit is taking their health into account.”

Lee, an ardent BTS fan who recently published the book “BTS, Art Revolution,” says while the band needs a break to unwind from the pressure of being a superstar, it’s not always an easy decision to hit the pause button.

“They are the stars that shine,” she said. “But it’s difficult for celebrities, in general, to halt activities even for a brief period because they don’t want to be forgotten, or fall behind.”

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In the fast-paced K-pop industry, bands are often required to work around-the-clock to stay in the game.

Ever since music streaming became mainstream, bands tend to drop singles and EPs as frequently as possible.

Gone are the days when artists took years to release a full-length album and all the songs at once. Bands now return with new music constantly, sometimes more than thrice a year, to remain on listeners’ playlists and stay relevant in a market where new idols debut every month.

Each release -- even a single -- requires promotions, TV appearances, photo shoots, videos, fan events, concerts, interviews, showcases, media events, concerts and more.

That means when an act releases an album, it is busy promoting, and when it is offstage, it is preparing for the next project -- which requires an entirely different concept, new choreography, style and songs. Technically, K-pop groups never rest.

BTS is not an exception. It has rolled out six studio albums, four compilation albums and five EPs, while launching four world tours in just six years.

Therefore, BTS, known for shattering records, has made headlines by announcing its long vacation -- the first K-pop group to do so in the era of streaming.

Bands have previously gone on breaks, but they usually did so between album releases and the hiatus was more implied then declared.

“In the past, singer-songwriters and bands like Seo Taeji and Boys took a break because they had to write new songs. But in this ‘idol band era,’ this is unprecedented,” said Lee Taek-gwang, a culture critic and professor of global communication at Kyung Hee University.

“Idol bands do have a short break between their comebacks, but not this kind of extended period. Partly because bands have to constantly release new songs and promote these days. BTS, which writes and composes its own songs, needs this recharging time after such a fully packed schedule.”

Industry watchers say BTS’ vacation sets a positive example for bands in the cutthroat industry.

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“It’s a good start giving K-pop bands an opportunity to rest and remind everyone that they are human beings just like us. They need to rest and have fun, in addition to living in the public eyes all the time,” said professor Lee.

“Many view K-pop singers as subjects to be consumed, and set rigorous standards that they have to behave or dress a certain way. That’s very stressful for the artists.”

However, it is uncertain if other bands in the industry will start going on long vacations.

“For BTS, it has such a loyal fan base and established fame that enables it to take some time off,” the critic said. “Not all bands can afford to disappear from the spotlight, even briefly. Besides, it’s not solely decided by the band. The agencies have to be willing to allow that break.”

Meanwhile, BTS’ hiatus could give fans a chance to catch up on the sheer amount of content BTS has released on its YouTube channel “Bangtan TV” and V Live platform.

“We can’t and don’t want to rest,” said one BTS fan, who asked to remain anonymous. “I need to vote for award shows, and there is lot of content that I need to catch up on. I think this is a great time to watch all the shows I have missed before they start their activities again.”

BTS may have stepped away from official events, but it is still active on social media, keeping in touch with millions of fans around the world.

The bandmates upload photos from their vacation spots on Twitter, make surprise live broadcasts on V Live and appear on the BTS fan community Weverse to chat, causing the app to crash at one point when members showed up.

Furthermore, Big Hit revealed at a Aug. 21 corporate briefing the production of a new BTS-themed TV drama slated for the second half of next year, as well as another BTS mobile game from Netmarble.

By Ahn Sung-mi (sahn@heraldcorp.com)