Opinion: Why the phrase "BTS paved the way" Discredits Generations of K-pop idols Who Came Before Them

Over the course of the last thirty years, the South Korean music industry has dramatically changed and been in a state of flux. From a nation of media censorship and government dictatorship to a land of commercialised entertainment and a society slowly making progress in rights for all, South Korea now is almost unrecognisable from days gone by.

In the media and entertainment landscape, this progression has been known as the "Hallyu wave" - the expansion and exportation of Korean culture to the outside world. It's not the first time a country has done this, either, with pop and rock bands from Britain in the 1960s marking the "British Invasion", or China's heavy influence on Hollywood in the late 2000's and early 2010's, to the global domination of Latin telenovelas and Turkish soap operas. In this globalising world, access to international media has never been so rampant.

Recently, the world's biggest K-pop group, BTS, were announced as honorary ambassadors to the Busan World Expo 2030. And, as is often the case, ARMYs (BTS' fandom) had their go-to phrase of "BTS paved the way" trending on Twitter within moments, much to the criticism of many other K-pop fans on the social media site.

But why does ARMY use the phrase "BTS paved the way"? And why does the phrase bother so many other K-pop fans online? Let's take a look at both sides of the argument below.

Arguments for BTS paving the way

It simply cannot be denied - even by members of the K-pop community who are not fans of the group - that BTS has made leaps and bounds forward in the Western world when it comes to the appreciation and acceptance of the "Hallyu wave" and Korean culture in general.

When BTS was named as the first non-western and non-English speaking artist to be named IFPI's Global Recording Artist of the Year, it's hard to deny that they're paving the way forward for future K-pop and non-Western artists. And when their sales account for almost half of all album sales in South Korea, their popularity simply cannot be understated.

For future South Korean idols and artists, BTS has been paving a path forward for them, making some of the first steps and breaking records when it comes to the success of Asian artists in an often Western- and American-dominated media landscape. So just why does the phrase "BTS paved the way" bother so many other K-pop fans?

Criticisms against the phrase

With the clear exception of antis (K-pop fans who specifically hate on a single artist or group), many fans criticisms of the phrase "BTS paved the way" is the way in which it disregards and even discredits the generations of South Korean artists who came before them, and paved the way for BTS to make the strides they currently do.

BTS have undeniably made leaps forward that other South Korean artists haven't done, but where would BTS have been if it wasn't for artists such as Girls Generation, EXO, BIGBANG and Wonder Girls bringing international recognition to the South Korean music industry to begin with?

And where would these artists have been if it weren't for groups such as HOT, SES, 1TYM, and GOD bringing K-pop to the forefront of the South Korean industry to begin with?

And where would these artists have been if it hadn't been for Seo Taiji and Boys coming last on MBC's talent show back in 1992, basically inventing the genre?

Recognition of the artists who came before, the artists who built K-pop from the ground up, the artists who ostensibly "paved the way" for BTS, is the single main and biggest criticism that so many fans have for the phrase.

How both of these arguments can be correct, and moving forward

Looking at the two arguments above, it's very clear that BTS have, in fact, been paving the way for future K-pop groups in making strides in this rapidly expanding and globalising economy and community, but that they clearly also cannot have paved the way for future artists if previous artists had not also paved the way for them.

So, moving forward into the future, how can ARMY express their gratitude for their idols without this being at the expense of the rest of the K-pop community and those who came before them? How can other K-pop fans accept that ARMYs aren't using the phrase to say that BTS are the only group making or to have ever made such massive strides before?

Both ARMY and other K-pop fans need to come to the recognition that the phrase "BTS paved the way" doesn't mean that they paved the whole way. It means that the group is still paving a way forward for K-pop and other Asian artists, and building on the path they walked to get where they are, built by the groups that came before them.

Ford Carter

Ford Carter is an online blogger studying journalism who's hundreds of articles across half a dozen fansites from the music and television industries have now been read more than 300,000 times. From his home in regional Australia, you'll often find him binging kdramas or rewatching old editions of the Eurovision Song Contest.

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