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BTS: The Review

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What Sets BTS Apart? The Music Behind BTS' Phenomenal Popularity.

What is the secret to BTS' exceptional worldwide popularity, referred as the "BTS Phenomenon"? Is it because of the seven members' X-factor, their amazing talent and explosive energy on stage? How can they be understood within and without the context of K-pop? What do the ARMYs, their loyal brigade of worldwide fans, mean by "BTS-Pop?"

Youngdae Kim, a seasoned critic of Korean popular music, boldly tackles an unprecedented task: an in-depth review of BTS' entire discography. After all, the proper approach to give musicians their due respect is by listening to their music--it's the heart of their message and their route to the top.

334 pages, Paperback

First published March 20, 2019

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Youngdae Kim

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Displaying 1 - 25 of 25 reviews
Profile Image for Lise.
Author 22 books9 followers
December 21, 2019
I expected quite a lot of this book as Youngdae Kim is a noted music critic and author who serves as a member of the Selection Committee for the Korean Music Awards. He is born and raised in South Korea but completed his Ph.D. in ethnomusicology at the University of Washington and is currently living in the USA where he is a critical column writer for MTV and Vulture by New York Magazine among other things.

He has always been interested in and proud of BTS and I thought that with this book BTS would finally get what they deserve: a serious, scholarly look at their music from their debut in 2013 up onto early 2019 when the book was written. With the subtitle “A Comprehensive Look at the Music of BTS” that was what the book seemed to promise its reader, but I must say that I was somehow disappointed.

Yes, Kim does review every single BTS album and solo albums of the different members too, but the reviews are short and mostly concentrated on the ballads as that seems to be the genre that Kim prefers. By doing so, he neglects to give in-depths analyses of the backbone of BTS’ music production as BTS started out as a hip-hop team and it is still the three rappers who write the majority of songs that also include funk, r&b, jazz, Latin, EDM and many other genres. In the same way the rappers take a backseat to the vocalists in this book which is quite strange as the rappers are the fundament of the band that existed as a trainee group before any of the vocalists were added.

As you can probably see, I’m not that thrilled with the reviews, but then again, the reviews only make up a small part of the book. Most of it are interviews with people in and around the Korean music industry, whereof most of them have nothing to do with BTS. There is an interview with the Korean hip-hop journalist Bonghyeon Kim, the Literary Critic Hyeongcheol Shin, the Chairman of the KMA Selection Committee Changnam Kim, the popera tenor Hyungjoo Lim and Billboard’s K-pop columnist Jeff Benjamin who more or less backstabbed BTS as soon as he was paid to promote another Korean band. Also the composer brother Su is interviewed and at least he worked with BTS especially in their early days, but he also worked with many other k-pop acts. Of course, the people interviewed mention BTS, but most of the interviews are about K-pop as such or about the interviewees. There are no interviews with BTS themselves, with the founder of their company Big Hit, Bang Sihyuk (Hitman Bang) or with their main producer Pdogg, which is very disappointing. After having read the book, I think the subtitle should have been, “A Comprehensive Look at K-pop and how BTS fit into it” instead. At least, that would have been closer to the truth!

Youngdae Kim also mentions the very unique relationship between BTS and their fans, ARMY, but throughout the book he insists that their fans are teenagers or people in their twenties and that they are all girls. In the last chapters of the book, he finally acknowledges that the band has middle-aged fans as well, but not that they have male fans. Seeing the latest Korean statistics that have been widely quoted in the western press too, at least 55% of BTS fans are 30+, and these statistics don’t include fans over 70, so the true number is probably 60%, which makes the core audience quite different from the general audience of other K-pop acts. Besides, about 20% are males of all ages, but for some reason they are hardly ever included in statistics!

All in all, I have to say that I think “BTS – the Review” is a rather misleading description of BTS. Of course it is not as bad as what we are used to see written by people who don’t know anything about BTS, but at the same time it is also more annoying as the author should have know better than painting a picture of BTS as a band that is mostly carried by their ballads and their vocalists and that has mainly female teenage fans. I was very disappointed, even though Kim in the epilogue correctly concludes that the BTS phenomenon is a movement that BTS and ARMY created together.

Profile Image for Lily.
151 reviews7 followers
April 27, 2019
This is a must read if you are a. a fan (but an older, more intellectual one) or b. interested in pop culture/musical from an analytic/critical framework. As someone who is both, I loved it!
Profile Image for ANKO.
106 reviews7 followers
March 8, 2023
At first I understand that this book will be about business things or business ways how to make BTS success

But this book will explain to you about BTS song
How they become a famous
How was Army impact to BTS

Also included many interviews with experts of music industry

(I read it in Thai language)
Profile Image for Wei Ning.
7 reviews1 follower
May 27, 2019
I really recommend this book to ARMYs and even those who are interested in music culture. Diving into the BTS Phenomenon, Kim showed insightful analysis and in-depth views on BTS music and their art. This book is really interesting in a way that nobody(so far) have ever written such a comprehensive book solely focusing on the success of BTS through their music. Kim was able to portray and explain his view, as a music critic on why BTS became successful and his views were truly eye-opening for me. I highly encourage everyone who is interested in BTS to pick up this book!!! Being an ARMY and a book lover, this book truly made me fall in love with BTS all over again!
Profile Image for abel660660.
10 reviews2 followers
September 9, 2021
김영대씨 writes a powerful and in-depth look at BTS’ history and discography from their debut through the Love Yourself trilogy. He is clearly deeply knowledgeable in music, the music industry, and the spread of Korean culture through the Hallyu wave. He breaks down his reviews album by album and then song by song and brings in guests for further and more specific commentary. For somebody like me who obsessively wants to learn every detail of something I’m interested in - even diving into jargon and technicality beyond my scope - this book was the hit to the sweet tooth. I learned so much! And I loved every second.
Profile Image for Haira.
Author 3 books14 followers
February 18, 2020
I finally finish this book and get the answer of the reason for the BTS phenomenon in the popular music industry.

It is obvious and may not be easily accepted by the general population who are into pop music and fandoms. But it is what it is.

I am glad that I am part of this exciting world.
Profile Image for Alexandra.
20 reviews
May 23, 2021
Very good overview of the BTS phenomenon from 2014-2019

For those starting out in this rabbit hole that is becoming a BTS fan, this is a very good overview of where BTS fits in musically in the history of pop music.
Profile Image for Tu Cam.
12 reviews2 followers
February 25, 2021
a nice overview of the group's musical progress. it's interesting to both hear the changes in their direction as a fan and read about it from the view of an expert
Profile Image for Teresa.
690 reviews
September 1, 2019
This book is in my opinion a very interesting, and as it says, comprehensive review of the 'BTS phenomenon'. The author goes through BTS's career and rising fame as well as takes a look at their albums and solo mixtapes. It's already been outpaced by BTS's accomplishments however, being finished before the release of Map of the Soul: Persona, BTS's worldwide stadium tour this year, which included two historic nights at Wembley stadium, and BTS's wins at the BBMAs this year in the Top Social Artist and Best Duo/Group categories. Overall, I quite enjoyed this overview of BTS's journey; the various interviews and insights were interesting too. Now I am obviously biased but I think this book is an interesting read for not only BTS fans but also anyone interested in musicology too.
Profile Image for ren.
104 reviews30 followers
May 6, 2022
it was alright. i was expecting more in-depth reviews on the individual songs, or at least on the themes of each album. there are some nice tidbits here and there about the industry's past and the context in which bts debuted and gradually worked their way up. most of what is said here is quite commonly known within the fandom, though, so i suppose this would be more helpful to someone who's new and doesn't really understand the hype behind bts. youngdae kim does have the prestige and merit to back up his commentary, so if anything, this will be a nice, "legit" source for future bts academic analyses! :)
Profile Image for Earl.
749 reviews13 followers
August 9, 2022
Kim Youngdae's review just fall short of being a Bangtan apologist, but he really knows his stuff regarding K-Pop and its reception in the United States, and how it paved the way for BTS to become a global phenomenon that it is at present.
80 reviews
December 31, 2022
"What is the essence of the BTS phenomenon?" This is the question that Kim Youngdae poses at the beginning of his book. He pulls together a collection of his articles, talks, interviews, and album reviews that follow his interest in BTS over the years, starting with his first time seeing them at KCON in the US. He also delves into the history of K-pop, boy bands, hip-hop, and the way the lines between musical genres have increasingly blurred. Kim finishes his book with a chapter on how domestic (Korean) media has covered/responded/not responded to BTS.

I found the history and evolution of K-pop and boy bands interesting, since I'm a late-comer to the former and generally not a fan of the latter, K-pop or otherwise. (Rock tends to be my most preferred genre.) I learned that of the defining characteristics of boy bands is that they have little to no say in their music, and that a manager or producer calls all the shots and shapes the band to their vision. I vaguely remember hearing about the issues surrounding a boy band producer a while back, but this made me go 'aha'.

This is probably a book for people who are fans of BTS and have some familiarity with their music and history. One of the things that draws me to BTS is the academic side of their fandom: the author references "The White Paper Project" (2018) that ARMY academics put out in response to an incident that occurred. Both Kim and the person he was interviewing agreed that it was very well done, and I really want to track down a copy and read it.

My biggest criticism is a pet peeve of mine: I don't know who proof-read this book, but there are errors in spelling, lyrics, and words throughout the work. It's not constant, but there are just enough to be jarring and irksome when reading. Other than that, this was a light, enjoyable read to end 2022 with.
Profile Image for Marissa.
87 reviews4 followers
July 25, 2020
An analysis of BTS that puts its money where its mouth is by looking at their music all the way from debut up to the conclusion of their Love Yourself series in 2018, including the rappers’ individual mixtapes.

I enjoyed it, particularly the columns on BTS’ integration of their Korean roots with a Hip-Hop sensibility, and the conclusion that rather than hail from a long line of Boy Bands, BTS is more on par with the likes of yes, The Beatles, but also Michael Jackson and Freddie Mercury for their synergy of explosive performances and musical experimentation. BTS is a cultural shift.

I highly recommend this book. I must note though, that the translation is a little clumsy in some parts and it could have done with one last round of proof-reading, I say this only as some of Kim’s wonderful sentences when describing the music are muddied. The translation in the essays is fine, it gets the point across.

On a personal note, in 2018 for a course on Performance and Theatre I did an assignment on the diverse masculinities that BTS present, coming to the conclusion that they coalesce and deviate from both conventional idol masculinities as well as hip hop masculinities, and I looked back at it now and saw that I had used an article by Kim. Y (his thoughts on Idol)!
Profile Image for the theo chapter.
31 reviews10 followers
October 3, 2021
I suppose I expected more from this book, maybe too much.

The interviews offered different perspectives on the "BTS phenomenon", but personally I didnt learn much or gained a whole lot of new insight.

I'd say it's probably a good read if you are interested in the music industry and curious about the "BTS phenomenon" or if you are a newer or huge fan of them.

The book was repetitive at times, which while understandable - seeing as it is basically a collection of interviews, articles, and short album reviews - is still bothersome if you read more than a couple pages per day.
I also had some issue with the way certain aspects were presented and phrased. Yes, the book is obviously focused on BTS and aimed to highlight their success, but it still seemed unnecessarily biased at points. If this was intentional or just the way it came across to me, I can't fully say, especially considering I read the English translation, not the original Korean text.

All in all an okay read, but it sadly didn't live up to my expectations.
Profile Image for Mary Kate Heaton.
86 reviews2 followers
October 23, 2022
I really enjoyed this. I think my only qualms about this book is that I wish it focused more on the actual music of BTS and didn't so heavily feature the critic's essays and the interviews. I also noticed when discussing the rappers he usually primarily focused on RM and Suga, which I found a little odd since j-hope is the third rapper and contributes just as much. Overall, one of the better books on BTS that I have read.
Profile Image for samantha ♡.
397 reviews
July 4, 2019
I liked the idea behind this book - track by track reviews of BTS’s discography? Interviews and in-depth discussions about BTS’s success? Sign me the fuck up!

The actual execution was great too, I liked the pretty illustrations and although it’s basically a fact-based book, something I usually find boring, this wasn’t too dry.
Profile Image for Joy Jenkins.
Author 3 books211 followers
February 14, 2023
I thought it was a fantastic view on BTS and their growth seen through their music.

Along with their album breakdowns there were interviews with a wide range of people in different parts of the industry that I thought were insightful and fascinating.

Highly recommend it if you like analytical view of things.
Profile Image for Huaaa97.
39 reviews
September 22, 2020
Recommended for New ARMY! It would help you to appreciate each era of BTS and album by understanding the story behind each production, development of the artist capabilities in producing music along with insight of those who have been working with them.

Profile Image for Ning.
15 reviews1 follower
June 9, 2020
Youngdae took us on a ride through Bangtan's discography up until mono. Really enjoyed an academic/critic's perspective on the BTS phenomena.
Profile Image for Evita Yudistianti.
12 reviews1 follower
July 21, 2020
I'm an ARMY but most of the contents in this book are just like a compilation of news articles that continuously just praising BTS. However, the interview parts with the music producers, the Grammy voting member, etc. are what makes the book good.
20 reviews
May 24, 2020
Nếu là fan âm nhạc của BTS hoặc có hứng thú với tìm hiểu hiện tượng thiên nga đen của kpop và rộng ra là ngành công nghiệp giải trí hàn quốc trên cả khía cạnh dấu ấn nghệ sĩ cá nhân và đặt trong dòng chảy của kpop nói chung (như mình) sẽ thấy nội dung cuốn này không có gì mới lạ lắm.. nhưng với fan mới muốn tìm hiểu về nhóm hay cần một chiếc beginner's guide khi nghe nhạc BTS (một điều hay ho so với hầu hết các nghệ sĩ kpop khác là các album khá xuyên suốt và liền mạch cho thấy sự trưởng thành dần lên cả về mặt prod và nhất là thông điệp) và cả các mixtape solo của 3 thành viên rapline (mà mình vẫn chưa nghe hết...) thì quyển này nên đọc ạ hẹ hẹ, review ngắn gọn cả nhạc lẫn lời... Cơ mà thích đọc nhất chắc vẫn là các chuyên mục phỏng vấn của tác giả với các nhà phê bình văn hóa/nhà báo cũng như bài viết của tác giả về hiện tượng BTS (in context of Kpop) ạ..
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Bungluna.
1,126 reviews
February 5, 2023
I enjoy reading about pop culture but too often it is either sensationalized or trivialized by the so-called critics who write about it. Fortunately, this book did not fall into either category.

This was an interesting book which looked at the BTS phenomenon from a more critical pov. The author made a valiant effort to review every single track in every single album put out by BTS and its members, tough not all of it in great detail, (imo that would have been nigh impossible.)

There are also essays and interviews which attempt to place this group's success in some kind of context. I really enjoyed these and will make it a point to try to find the original source material.
Displaying 1 - 25 of 25 reviews

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