During a candid YouTube video showing them eating dinner while chatting in Korean, K-pop megastars BTS dropped a bombshell announcement on their global fans: the supergroup were taking a break.
Their record label quickly clarified that the megastars would still work together, but the entertainers’ emotional pleas for time off to focus on solo projects quickly won fan support online.
Here’s what we know about the group’s decision:
Who are BTS?
They’ve been called “icons of progressive globalism” and have been said to embody the 21st century zeitgeist, but at heart, they’re just entertainers.
The Grammy-nominated septet are the first all-South Korean act to dominate the US and UK charts, raking in billions of dollars and building a global fandom, known as ARMY, in the process.
Their embrace of social media meant they barely missed a beat during the pandemic, using direct engagement with fans online to cement their position as the world’s biggest and most influential boyband.
Despite earlier breakthrough hits like Psy’s Gangnam Style, BTS are also widely credited with bringing K-pop into the mainstream in the US.
Have they split up?
The band, who are known to be extremely hard working and have maintained a relentless pace of new release in their nine years on top of the charts, said Tuesday they were “exhausted”.
“We’re going into an off phase now,” said Suga, 29, who confessed that he found writing lyrics to be a huge grind and no fun.
The English-language captions to their announcement video used the word “hiatus” but their label HYBE quickly pushed back, saying they would still work together, in addition to pursuing solo careers.
Member RM said the K-pop industry — known for its cut-throat competition — was not allowing him to mature as an artist, saying he felt like a “rapping machine”.
The group told their fans they would take some time apart, but hoped to come back stronger and recharged.
How long will it last?
Some experts have blamed South Korea’s mandatory military service for the septet’s break.
All South Korean able-bodied young men under 30 must perform around two years of military service, largely thanks to nuclear-armed North Korea, with whom the South remains technically at war.
The spectre of conscription has long hovered over BTS, with their seven male stars ranging in age from 24-year-old Jungkook to Jin, 29 — who must sign up by next year or risk jail time.
Local media say the break may take as long as seven years if the septet decides to wait until all members to complete their military duties.
So what’s next?
In the YouTube video, band member Jin hinted that he might have some interest in pursuing an acting career.
The band also announced that J-Hope — who is slated to headline Chicago’s Lollapalooza on his own later this summer — will be the first member to release a solo album.
But given the emotional video, the group’s main aim seems to be to have time to learn about themselves, away from the K-pop industry.
“Becoming an idol is a process of making a person into a commercial product,” CedarBough Saeji, a professor at Pusan National University, told AFP.
“BTS members are asking for time to explore who they are, not as a group and not as idols, but as individuals, after all the years of pressure to meet expectations of their huge fandom and their company and the world.”
What about their activism?
Aside from music, the band long championed global progressive causes, from the Black Lives Matter protests to anti-Asian racism in the United States.
The group themselves have found themselves on the receiving end of racist mockery and jokes in western media, Jiyoung Lee, a professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, told AFP.
This adds “symbolic meaning” to their campaigning against racism in the US, she added. And experts say their work on such issues is likely to continue.