Why 2019 Was BTS’ Biggest Year Yet

Oh my my my! From the giant stages of a sold-out stadium tour — including two nights at London’s 90,000-capacity Wembley Stadium — to the intimacy of a “Saturday Night Live” performance, BTS was everywhere in 2019. Consistently reaching the top of the U.S. charts singing in their native Korean, band members RM, Jin, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin, V and Jungkook made pop culture history on their own terms. At the same time, through their music and work with UNICEF, the group has helped pave the way for other K-pop acts while making a priority of advocating for the world’s underdogs. And for all this, the septet has earned the honor of being named Variety’s Group of the Year.

The metric milestones are many: with the group’s 2019 release “Map of the Soul: Persona,” BTS joined the Beatles in a record-breaking run of three No. 1s in one year. Of the BuzzAngle Music year-end data (through Nov. 13), BTS ranks second in album units (1.4 million and climbing) and No. 1 in song sales. On YouTube, their videos have logged more than 11 billion views.

The group has also been gearing up for its “comeback,” in K-pop parlance, or release of new material. On Oct. 18, they dropped a reworked version of “Make It Right” with “I Like Me Better” singer and songwriter Lauv. Shortly after the single’s release, it hit No. 1 on U.S. iTunes, making it BTS’ fifth track to top the tally.

In their home country, BTS has made the journey from an unknown band on a small label (Big Hit Entertainment) since debuting in 2013 to generating $4.65 billion of South Korea’s gross domestic product. It puts the group on par with conglomerates like Samsung and Hyundai.

Recognition in the U.S. ramped up after they won the Billboard Music Awards’ Top Social Artist prize in 2017, which Justin Bieber had owned for the previous six years. BTS would go on to win the award again in 2018 and 2019, and they also won three top honors at the recent American Music Awards.

Though BTS’ collaborations with Western artists such as Halsey, Ed Sheeran and Steve Aoki garner a lot of attention, the group’s most personal and sometimes biting songs are ones where they collaborate with their in-house Korean team, which includes producer Pdogg and “Hitman” Bang (i.e. Big Hit founder Bang Si-hyuk). Music aside, BTS creates unique video content for V Live and takes part in the interactive game BTS World. The band personally responds to fans’ comments on the Weverse app, which is also where members aired episodes of their docuseries, “Bring the Soul.”

And even when they lose, they win. At this year’s People’s Choice Awards, BTS was up for three categories (music video, favorite group, concert tour) but left empty-handed. Their fans were disappointed. But dismissing the awards as not being prestigious enough to worry about, the ARMY (as BTS fans like to call themselves) proceeded to buy all of the group’s catalog, resulting in another record broken when 14 of BTS’ albums made it onto the Top 200 on U.S. iTunes, the most to ever simultaneously chart by any group.

In their 2017 hit single “Mic Drop,” BTS metaphorically flipped the bird at their detractors, singing about filling their bags up with trophies. It turns out, they weren’t wrong.

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