Photo by Lior Phillips
BTS Shine At GRAMMY U SoundChecks In Chicago
"When we think of painting, artists just describe how it looks. As time passed, Picasso came and started to express image and feeling. And now with social media, we can communicate through the painting. We can think of the image, talk to it and ask questions." -BTS
While the ecstatic, eager crowds gathered in hungry anticipation around Soldier Field prior to BTS' second night in Chicago, there was a serene, enchanting aura inside the pop sensations' forum with GRAMMY U Chicago students at a SoundChecks event on Sunday, May 12.
The afternoon began with the students getting a bird's eye view of BTS' soundcheck, looking down as the Korean septet performed two songs for the sea of about 2,000 members of the ARMY (as fans of the group are known). Though the fans toting hand-painted signs and wearing bedazzled cat ears at the front of the stage screamed for joy at every evocative dance move and flutter of confetti, the GRAMMY U students took in the big picture, learning how such a big show is produced.
When BTS and the students were ushered into a private room not long after, the group shared details on all of the hard work that goes into making a performance seem so effortless. "We work around the clock, and technology has developed that allows us to collaborate with people around the world," BTS told the Recording Academy prior to their Windy City event.
As GRAMMY U is designed to celebrate music's future, it seems fitting to give the students access to one of the most groundbreaking artists of today, a group that strives to redefine the way in which artists interact with their fans and bring their music to life. "Our music and performance receiving so much love from so many people around the world is proof that the language and borderlines in music are diminishing, and we hope that we can continue to remove those barriers," the band said. "We always try to communicate with the audience on stage. Although the venue has grown in scale, we will continue to pour our passion and energy as we always do."
K-pop phenomenon BTS (Beyond the Scene) formed in 2013 as Bangtan Sonyeondan, which translates roughly to "Bulletproof Boy Scouts." Together, Jin, SUGA, J-Hope, RM, Jimin, V, and Jung Kook have quickly catapulted to a massive worldwide fandom comparable perhaps only to Beatlemania, a comparison born out by the fact that, with MAP OF THE SOUL: PERSONA, BTS charted three Billboard number one albums in less than a year, a feat the lads from Liverpool achieved in the mid-'60s. Though proud of that fact, BTS aren’t focused on the past, but always working hard to build something new for the future. "It’s such a great honor to be mentioned alongside The Beatles, but BTS is just BTS," RM said.
The fact that the day’s event was connected to GRAMMY U naturally brought to mind the critical appreciation growing to match the worldwide K-pop phenomenon. Multiple students expressed curiosity regarding the differences between international markets, asking questions about BTS' experience breaking into the American music scene. And though they've become easily the biggest group from Korea, BTS wanted to make it clear that they remain focused solely on themselves. "We aren’t the representatives for K-pop," the band said. "We can’t define or say what it is, but these days, thanks to social media and fans, we’re lucky to have the opportunity to share our words with the world."
The other major difference the group noted relates to the ways in which labels work and the very size of the industry itself. In the U.S., they explained, there are many discrete teams that interact and work together, whereas in their home country, the label might be bigger and more all-encompassing. "I think this is quite interesting: In Korea, there’s a big label that gets young talent and they help bring everything together for them," they said. "It’s like a year-round song camp."
Though all the moving pieces may be arranged under one tent, as with BTS' home Big Hit Entertainment, artists and label representatives alike need to develop strong communication skills—something the group stressed as important for anyone aspiring to join the industry. "Each artist has their own preferences and pace, and each sound engineer has their own sphere of artistry," SUGA said. "Every venue is different, so we sit down and meet with engineers and make sure we communicate. The most important thing is to be sensitive."
While they’ve been focused internally on their music, BTS have also been incredibly outward-facing socially, making an astonishing impact as philanthropists. In 2018 alone, the group’s "Love Myself" campaign raised more than $1 million for UNICEF. Beyond those charitable acts, countless ARMY fans look up to BTS for guidance or positivity. That can be a difficult task, but one the group are ready for. "It would be a lie if we said we didn’t feel pressure, but it’s always great to hear from our fans all over the world that our music changed their lives," the band said. "It makes us think more deeply about what we do and our music and puts even more responsibilities on our shoulders."
The group's rapid ascent has been dotted with exciting performances and recognition. BTS presented the award for the best R&B Album at the 61st GRAMMY Awards in February, and made their SNL debut in April. In all these experiences, the group explained, they remain focused on the fans. “While achievements are important, we hope to give our fans happiness above all else," BTS said. "In fact, [Map of the Soul: Persona] is also made to enjoy with fans, so as long as we can enjoy and be happy, I don't think there is a better achievement."