The BTS Era Before 2016
Learn about the history of the Bangtan Boys’ (BTS) debut days.
South Korean group BTS debuted on June 13, 2013 under Big Hit Entertainment in South Korea. The septet came from a cutthroat music industry and generally groups belonging to big agencies would take the upper positions in charts, awards and sales. It was hard for groups from smaller agencies to compete because the competition was (and still is) vigorous.
But, as an adult fan who loves to monitor and read their history and data, it makes me feel proud that BTS was attaining a steady growth in the early years despite the early obstacles.
A lot of new fans don’t know about the growth of BTS around the time period of 2013–2015. Maybe because a lot of fans came around 2016 - current date? I don’t know but it’s nice to see fans willing to learn about their early days, their growth, what achievements they got around that time etc. Also, from the historical records, it is true that BTS was no stranger in the music charts of US and Japan. Their popularity was growing from the start without any tactic promotions and marketing strategies.
There are areas which we can explore about their growth around their rookie times. With the help of a fellow friend, I will show you figures and tables to present the growth in a visual style.
So, by using old news articles and data chart archives online, I will present you a report of BTS achievements and growth around 2013–2015 in different countries.
Gaon is the official music chart in South Korea which tracks the rankings and sales/digital points of songs and albums. The yearly Gaon album charts were used since they give the yearly performance of the albums and singles.
2013: The above figures show that in 2013, the two albums gained some good physical sales for a debut group with O! RUL8 ,2? (34,030 sales) and 2 Cool 4 Skool (24,441 sales).
2014: Dark & Wild made impressive sales with 100,906 and debuted at #14 which is a good score for a rookie group. What was also intriguing was that BTS charted 4 albums in the Gaon Year-End 2014 Albums chart, making BTS having the 2nd most entries in 2014.
The Gaon Chart’s Overview of 2014 also revealed that BTS occupied 3.6% of the physical albums sales out of the Top 100 albums in Gaon 2014. This made BTS the 6th best selling artist of 2014 in Gaon in terms of total album sales.
2015: This year was indeed the turning point for BTS. Their two albums HYYH Pt.2 (The Most Beautiful Moment in Life, Pt. 2) and HYYH Pt.1 (The Most Beautiful Moment in Life, Pt. 1) managed to grab 274,135 and 203,664 physical sales respectively. They also managed to chart 6 albums in the Year-End 2015 Albums chart, again making BTS having the 2nd most entries in 2015.
If we compare the total yearly sales, the sales in 2014 increased 6.4 times the sales of 2013. The total sales in 2015 increased 2.6 times the total sales in 2014 which proves that the growth in Gaon was steady and upward. Also, the rankings of HYYH Pt.2 and HYYH Pt.1 (#5 and #6 respectively) shows that they were catching up, becoming one of the top selling groups in South Korea.
The Gaon Chart’s Overview of 2015 revealed that BTS occupied 7.8% of the physical albums sales out of the Top 100 albums in Gaon 2015. This made BTS the 2nd best selling artist of 2015 in Gaon in terms of total album sales. BTS outsold some of the top groups in K-pop. A report also revealed that Big Hit Entertainment had a total of 563,022 BTS albums sold in 2015, outselling two major agencies (YG Entertainment and JYP Entertainment) in South Korea.
2013: BTS made their first entry in the Gaon Digital Weekly Chart in 2013 with “N.O” debuting at #92.
2014: Overall, three BTS songs debuted in the Gaon Digital Weekly Chart in 2014: #45 Boy In Luv; #43 Miss Right; #58 Danger.
2015: BTS started to chart multiple songs simultaneously in the Gaon Digital Weekly Chart in 2015.
BTS debuted 6 songs simultaneously from HYYH Pt.1 with “I Need U” at #5 while all songs from HYYH Pt.2 debuted simultaneously in the Top 50 (excluding the Skit) with “Run” entering at #8. This proved BTS’ potential in terms of digital performance.
In the Gaon Digital Monthly Chart, four BTS songs entered the monthly chart in 2015: #12 I Need U; #99 Dope; #89 Butterfly; #27 RUN.
As for the Gaon Year-End Digital chart, BTS made their first entry in the Yearly Chart with “I Need U” in 2015 at #90.
Hanteo chart is not available for public to view for free so I searched for old available articles and old Hanteo archives to get some information about BTS’ charting. I only found this information regarding their charting performance in Hanteo.
2015: BTS took the top spot in Hanteo chart with HYYH Pt.2 where it was #1 in Real-Time, Daily and Weekly charts with nearly 86,000 copies sold in the first week of release. According to an article, BTS became the only group that didn’t belong to SM Entertainment to enter the top five sales figures in 2015.
BTS also topped the Hanteo Chart with their DVD BTS Memories of 2014 in 2015.
(The Hanteo section is under construction. I will update this part when I find more data)
- Concerts, Showcases and Fan Meetings
For the concerts and fan meetings in South Korea:
- June 12, 2013: BTS had their Debut Showcase (Single Album ‘2 Cool 4 Skool’ Debut Showcase) at Ilchi Art Hall, South Korea with 400 attendance.
- March 29, 2014: BTS had their first Fan Meeting MUSTER at the Seoul Olympic Hall, South Korea with 3,000 fans.
- Feb 11, 2014: BTS held their 2nd Mini Album ‘Skool Luv Affair’ Showcase at the Lotte Card Art Center, South Korea.
- August 19, 2014: BTS held the 1st Studio Album ‘Dark&Wild’ Showcase at the Blue Square Samseong Card Hall, South Korea with 1,000 attendance. The number of hits on Melon (which live broadcasted the showcase) exceeded 700,000, causing the app to crash due to a lot of visitors.
- Oct 17, 18, 19, 2014: BTS started their “BTS Live Trilogy Episode II: The Red Bullet” tour with their first solo concert at AX-Korea, South Korea with 3 sold-out consecutive shows and more than 5,000 fans, including fans from Europe, America, Japan, and China. Fun Fact: The first two shows were sold out within 2 minutes, prompting the addition of a third show.
- Nov 9, 2014: BTS held a mini fan meeting near the SBS broadcasting building with 800 fans to end their official promotions of Dark & Wild.
- March 28, 29, 2015: For “2015 BTS Live Trilogy Episode I: BTS Begins”, the boys held a 2-day sold-out concert at the Olympic Hall, South Korea for 6,500 fans.
- May 23, 2015: BTS was part of the line-up for Dream Concert in 2015 which is annually hosted by the Korea Entertainment Producer’s Association (KEPA) since 1995.
- October 11, 2015: BTS was part of the line-up for 2015 Asia Song Festival which was held in Busan. It is one of Asia’s biggest music festivals since 2004 which is co-sponsored by Seoul Metropolitan Government and KOFICE.
- Nov 27, 28, 29, 2015: BTS held a sold-out 3-day concert in South Korea at the SK Olympic Handball Gymnasium gathering 13,500 fans for “The Most Beautiful Moment in Life On Stage”.
- Other Work
- BTS designed their first doll characters called “Hip-Hop Monster” in 2014.
- In 2014, BTS had a collaboration with CeCi Korea & Swarovski to celebrate CeCi’s 20th anniversary. BTS participated in the design consultation for a Swarovski bracelet & RM made the sketch for the design. The bracelet which the boys designed included a crystal from Swarovski Elements. BTS posed with the bracelet in the 20th anniversary CeCi Edition.
- BTS became the spokes models for Puma Korea in 2015.
Let’s check BTS’ progress in terms of Billboard chart. The Billboard’s official BTS archive was used to collect the rankings and data. As I focus on the main charts below, it will validate the fact that BTS’ popularity was growing from the start in the United States.
2015: BTS entered the Billboard 200 for the first time in 2015 with HYYH Pt.2 at #171. BTS was the first Korean Act to enter the Billboard 200 chart who were not under the two of the “Big 3” Korean agencies (SM and YG). No JYP artist entered the chart that time.
2015: HYYH Pt. 2 debuted at #1 in the chart and charted for 5 weeks, keeping the record for the most charting weeks in Heatseekers Albums for a Korean Group from 2015 till 2019.
One thing that spiked my interest regarding the World Albums chart is the number of weeks albums spent. When an album is charting for weeks, then it means that the album has a good increase of new buyers and fans, indicating growth and demand. It is not easy for Korean artists to gain longevity in the Billboard charts. With each new album, BTS gained growth in terms of ranking and weeks in the World Albums as shown in the figure above (#3 Skool Luv Affair for 1 week; #3 Dark & Wild for 11 weeks, #2 HYYH Pt.1 for 14 weeks; #1 HYYH Pt.2 for 22 weeks).
According to Billboard, BTS became the first Korean Act to spend more than one week at #1 in the World Albums chart with HYYH Pt.2. The album stayed at #1 for four weeks with no official physical sales in the US and no one outside BTS reached such level yet. It is also rare to see Korean albums charting for more than 10 weeks in the World Albums and BTS has been showing such strength since Dark & Wild era.
World Digital Song Sales
While BTS’ albums started to chart in Billboard from Skool Luv Affair, the songs were already charting since debut. As the above table shows, BTS’ debut single “No More Dream” debuted at #14 in the World Digital Songs Chart (it later peaked at #2 and 2 Cool 4 Skool also finally debuted at #12 in World Albums in 2020 as a part of the plan for ARMYs’ April Fools event).
Looking at the charting weeks, it shows that BTS’s singles were gaining new fans, popularity and interest as time progressed e.g. “I Need U” debuted at #4 and charted for 121 weeks while “Dope” which debuted at #11 (peaked at #3) is currently the longest charting song for a Korean Group in the World Digital Song Sales with 139 weeks.
Another thing which proved BTS’ strength was their number of songs charting simultaneously: BTS charted 6 songs simultaneously (all new entries from HYYH Pt.1). Months later, they charted 10 songs simultaneously (8 new entries from HYYH Pt.2 with “Dope” and “I Need U” currently charting from HYYH Pt.1). Charting 10 songs simultaneously was a rare feat that time.
- Sales for 2 Cool for Skool, Skool Luv Affair and Dark & Wild are unknown in the US.
- The Most Beautiful Moment in Life, Pt.1 debuted with 2,000 copies sold in the US.
- The Most Beautiful Moment in Life, Pt.2 debuted with 5,000 copies sold in the US.
Regarding the concerts in US:
- July 14, 2014: BTS scheduled a free concert “BTS 2014 Show & Prove Concert” at the Troubadour, West Hollywood LA, USA for 200 fans. This was BTS’ first concert in USA. Fun fact: Only the first 200 fans were allowed to get in and fans were not allowed to line up before the event. Despite the rules, fans camped out as early as 8:00 PM the prior day and more than 400 fans reached the area.
- August 10, 2014: BTS was the youngest artist in the line-up of the KCON 2014 in USA. Their presence in the KCON USA was a hit among the audience as LA Time said, “the group made the strongest impression of all the U.S.-debuting acts”. They were one of the most highly anticipated groups, with fans waiting for BTS at the LA International Airport. According to KultScene, it seemed like half of the audience was there to see BTS and they looked more like a leader of Hallyu rather than a rookie group. Even a Mnet employee said that “American Hustle Life” was one of Mnet’s most popular programs in the USA, as reported by moonROK. (Check out the fan engagement at KCON).
- July 16, 18, 24, 26, 2015: The US leg (concerts in NYC, Dallas, Chicago and LA) of their world tour “BTS Live Trilogy Episode II: The Red Bullet” was sold out in minutes. It catered over 12,500 fans alone in the US. This further proved a strong fanbase in the US.
- Other Work
- In 2015, BTS collaborated with New York based clothing brand Community 54.
- BTS held a photo-shoot, an interview and a small performance for Billboard Studio in 2015 after they gained immense popularity in the US.
- HYYH Pt.1 was the only Korean album in the “Fuse 27 Best Albums of 2015 So Far”.
- Oricon and Japan Hot 100
Oricon is the standard music chart in Japan while Japan Hot 100 is operated by Billboard. The Oricon and Japan Hot 100 charts are available for the public to view.
Through the analysis of BTS presence in the Japanese charts, anyone would be able to recognize that BTS was gaining a fast following in Japan since 2014. Their first song to chart in both Japan Hot 100 and Oricon Weekly chart was the Japanese version of “No More Dream” which charted straight into the Top 10. They also got their first #1 in Japan Hot 100 in 2015 with “For You”.
According to the BTS’ Oricon singles archive, the Japanese singles were charting for more than 1 week in Oricon Singles chart e.g. “No More Dream” was charting for 8 weeks, “For You” for 5 weeks and “I Need U” for 6 weeks. It shows organic growth and an active fanbase in Japan.
The albums have also been charting in the Oricon Albums Chart since 2014 as you can see from the figure below. Wake Up and HYYH Pt.1 (Japanese version) entered the Top 10 of the Oricon Albums Weekly Chart.
Oricon also reported that “For You” was the first single by a Foreign Hip-Hop Singer to go #1 in the Oricon Weekly Single Ranking since the ranking by genre was announced on April 30, 2001 (YOUTH which was released in 2016 also became the first album by a Foreign Hip-Hop Group to go #1 in the Oricon Weekly Album Ranking).
The above figures are shocking because majority of the people (especially the Korean media) didn’t focus on these achievements.
Their growth in Japan is astonishing and it shows they were gaining loyalty from the beginning.
- Japan’s Tower Records
BTS took all the top 3 spots in the Japan’s Tower Records in 2015. According to Soompi, Their DVD “BTS MEMORIES OF 2014” took the first spot, the Japanese version of the same DVD took second place while “For You” took third place.
- Concerts, Showcases and Fan Meetings
BTS had a lot of events in Japan e.g.:
- Dec 7, 2013: BTS held their first “1st Japan Showcase” in Tsutaya O-West, Tokyo, Japan.
- Jan 6, 7, 2014: BTS completed their “1st Japan Showcase — Next Stage” in Zepp Tokyo, Tokyo and Namba Hatch, Osaka with 6,500 fans. One report stated that 46,000 people applied for the showcase even before their official debut in Japan.
- May 31, 2014: BTS held their first Japanese fan meeting, the “Japan Official Fan Meeting Vol.1”, at Tokyo Dome City Hall, Japan with over 5,000 fans and reporters from over 30 Japanese media outlets. The fan meeting was originally scheduled to take place in one round (7:00 PM) but due to high demand, one more round (3:00 PM) was added. Both rounds were sold out.
- June 21, 2014: BTS was the headliner at the “AEON Dream Gate Festival” in Makuhari Messe, Tokyo where they performed their first Japanese debut “NO MORE DREAM - Japanese Ver.-”.
- Nov 13, 14, 16, 2014: BTS gathered 10,000 fans in Japan alone for their tour “BTS Live Trilogy Episode II: The Red Bullet”. BTS held a 2-day concert in Kobe Kokusai Hall and one concert in the Tokyo International Forum.
- Feb 10, 11, 13, 14, 17, 19, 2015: BTS arranged their first Japan Tour 2015 “Wake Up: Open Your Eyes” selling out 6 shows in four cities: Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya and Fukuoka. This tour gathered around 25,000 fans. For their final performance on Fukuoka, those who couldn’t buy the tickets were offered to view the concert live through theaters around Japan, gathering 6,000 fans.
- August 13, 14, 18, 19, 20, 2015: The “Japan Official Fan Meeting Vol.2 -Undercover Mission” was held where BTS sold out 5 fan meetings for 18,000 fans in Tokyo and Osaka. BTS originally planned to hold 2 fan meetings but due to fans’ requests, more dates were added.
- August 16, 2015: BTS was part of the line-up for the Summer Sonic Festival 2015 in Japan (it is an annual rock festival held at the same time in Osaka and Chiba which has been going on since 2000).
- September 13, 2015: BTS was part of the line-up for “SHOW CHAMPION” Special KMF 2015 at Yokohama Arena, Japan to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations between South Korea and Japan.
- Dec 8, 9, 2015: For the 2015 BTS LIVE “The Most Beautiful Moment in Life On Stage”, BTS held a 2-day concert in Japan at Yokohama Arena, Japan, gathering 25,000 fans.
- Other Work
- On April 2014, BTS became the first Korean Act to be interviewed “locally” by JUNON (a monthly Japanese fashion magazine since 1973). The JUNON team came all the way to Korea for BTS’ interview & photoshoot for the July issue of JUNON.
- BTS appeared on the cover of the Japanese magazine “haru*hana” vol.24 on May 2014. It was reported that it was unusually fast for artists to appear on the cover in less than a year after their debut in South Korea.
- BTS collaborated with manga artist Mitsuta Inoue to release the jacket photo of BTS’ 3rd single Japanese single “Danger -Japanese Ver.-”.
- To celebrate their first anniversary in Japan, BTS released a collaboration product with BE@RBRICK in 2015. The 100% size of the “BTS × BE@RBRICK” was released in June which was sold out immediately after it was released. Due to a huge demand, a 400% size model was released later on.
- The first Korea-Japan joint magazine project called the “AJ× THE STAR” Magazine was launched in 2015 between THE STAR magazine published in South Korea and AJ magazine published in Japan. The cover model for the issue was BTS with an exclusive interview. On February 9, 2015, a sold-out BTS autograph session was held in Tokyo with 200 attendance to commemorate the launch of the visual magazine “AJ× THE STAR” for the Japan-Korea collaboration which was a big success.
- Nov 30, 2013: BTS was invited by Channel 7 to perform at the “7color Concert” in a shopping mall in Thailand. Over 8,000 Thai fans gathered to see BTS perform for the first time in Thailand.
- June 14, 2014: BTS was the only K-pop Act to perform in the Bridge to Korea festival in Russia in front of more than 10,000 spectators. According to the journalist, when BTS came on the stage, the “shouts and cheers from the audience reached their highest pitch”.
- July 27, 29 and August 1, 2014: BTS held their 1st Fan Meeting in South America and Europe named RWeL8?. The sold-out events were held in Berlin (Germany), Stockholm (Sweden) and São Paulo (Brazil).
- Oct 30, 2014: BTS was part of the line-up of KBS’ “Music Bank” in Mexico City at the Mexico City Arena.
- Dec 7, 13, 20, 2014: BTS had successful concerts in the Southeast Asian regions for “The Red Bullet Tour”: Philippines (Mall of Asia Arena); Singapore (The Star Performing Arts Centre); Thailand (CWN Hall).
- March 8, 2015: BTS had their first solo concert in Taiwan at the New Taipei City Exhibition Hall with 3,500 attendance.
- June 6, 2015: For their “The Red Bullet” world tour, BTS held their first concert in Malaysia at the Mega Star Arena with 3,000 fans attending the show.
- July 10, 12, 2015: BTS had their first concert in Sydney and Melbourne, Australia for the “The Red Bullet” world tour. According to an interview with BTS, The AU Review reported that BTS had sold-out concerts in two cities (Melbourne and Sydney) that “traditionally doesn’t experience that level of success when it comes to selling out venues for K-Pop acts”.
- July 31, 2015: BTS made the record for the biggest concert stage for a K-pop idol group in Brazil for their “2015 BTS Live Trilogy Episode II: The Red Bullet” at Espaço das Américas, São Paulo with 6,000 attendance. This was the first time for a K-POP idol to hold a solo concert at this venue which is the largest concert venue in São Paulo with a 40-year history of accommodating up to 8,000. An article also reported that the initial venue was the Audio Club, but due to high demand, the concert was transferred to the larger venue.
- July 29 and August 2, 2015: BTS had successful shows in Pabellon Oeste, Mexico with 4,000 fans and Movistar Arena, Chile with 7,000 fans for their “2015 BTS Live Trilogy Episode II: The Red Bullet”. Attendance not confirmed.
- August 8, 2015: BTS gathered 5,000 fans at Thunder Dome, Thailand in “The Red Bullet” tour. In addition, the 80-minute special V-Live show “Run! BTS Live in Thailand”, was also held which achieved 25M hearts, the highest ever since the launch of the V-Live app that time.
- August 29, 2015: BTS had their first show in Hong Kong at the AsiaWorld-Arena with 4,000 fans for “ The Red Bullet” tour. The merchandise was all sold out in less than an hour.
- The “The Red Bullet” world tour covered 5 continents: Asia (South Korea, Japan, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong); North America (USA); South America (Brazil, Mexico, Chile); Oceania (Australia), bringing an audience of 80,000 worldwide.
Reception at K-CON (2014)
KOFICE’s “2014 Hallyu White Paper” report acknowledged the fact that BTS was gaining huge popularity in the US for their hip-hop genre, unconventional music videos and intense choreography due to the huge positive response at K-CON 2014.
Consumer Survey on K-Pop in the U.S. (2014)
According to a 2014 report “Consumer Survey on K-Pop in the U.S.” by the Korea Creative Content Agency (KOCCA) and 2014 Hallyu White Paper by Korean Foundation for International Cultural Exchange (KOFICE), BTS was the most popular K-Pop artist of 2014 in USA, beating well-established K-Pop artists. A survey was conducted where 1,540 respondents (K-Pop fans) participated in the survey from all over the USA. BTS was overall the #1 K-Pop artist. When dividing the popular K-Pop artists per survey participants’ age, those in their “Late Teens” to “Late 20s” voted BTS at #1. BTS came at #3 in the “Early 30s” age group while BTS came at #8 in the “Late 30s” age group. In the “Early 40s” age group, BTS was at #6.
In terms of the most popular K-Pop songs in USA of 2014, two BTS songs entered the top 10 list with “Danger” at #4 and “War of Hormone” at #6. In terms of the most popular K-Pop music videos, “War of Hormone” came at #3 while “Danger” came at #5.
The results was shocking because BTS was a rookie group that time who was already gaining the most popularity in USA and they were getting attention from almost all age groups.
Popularity in Europe (2014)
KOFICE’s “2014 Hallyu White Paper” report also pointed out that groups like BTS were loved more in Europe than in South Korea e.g. Germany’s leading K-pop communities, “Remarkable” and “So-Loved” held their own award ceremonies where BTS was considered one of the musicians who led K-pop in Germany in 2014. BTS was also selected as one of the notable musicians in 2014 announced by UK’s Hallyu community “Beyond Hallyu”.
Hallyu White Paper (2015)
KOFICE’s “2015 Hallyu White Paper” mentioned BTS’ growth in different regions in the following points:
- BTS made their first entry in US Billboard 200 with HYYH Pt.2 at #171 while also spending 4 weeks at #1 in Billboard World Albums chart.
- Two BTS singles entered the Japan’s Oricon 2015 CD Single Top 100 Ranking with “I Need U” at #67 and “For You” at #83, proving BTS’ growth in Japan.
- There was a demand for BTS in Latin America e.g. BTS had a successful concert at the Pabellon Oeste, Mexico with 4,000 attendance while BTS had the biggest concert in Brazil for a K-Pop idol in Espaço das Américas with 6,000 audience. Local media reported that fans set up tents around the concert hall and stayed outside for 20 days before the performance.
- For the opening of the “2015 Latin American K-Pop Contest” which was held in Buenos Aires, videos of BTS and actress Ha Ji-won were played to lighten up the crowd.
- BTS was at #11 in the “Male Category” in the biggest fan clubs for K-Pop groups in Poland (#13 overall for a K-Pop group), as of June 2015.
- Official fan club of BTS also started to grow in China.
Tumblr’s “Year in Review”
According to Tumblr’s “Year in Review”, below was BTS’ ranking on Tumblr proving that BTS was already getting attention and popularity in Tumblr from 2013. In 2015, BTS took the#1 spot and became the most reblogged K-Pop artist on Tumblr.
- 2013: Most Reblogged in 2013: K-Pop Groups (#8)
- 2014: Most Reblogged K-pop (#2)
- 2015: Most Reblogged K-pop (#1)
- BTS became the first Korean group outside the “Big 3” Korean entertainment agencies to get 100M views for Dope in 2015.
- According to Latin media, BTS used to have the record for the most users in the first 24 hours in the Spotify official playlist (“This is BTS”) in 2014. It was later broken after 6 years by Mexican group RBD (“This is RBD”) in 2020.
The following table shows the list of wins and nominations which BTS received in some major award shows around 2013–2015.
Looking at the data above, it was obvious that BTS was making a strong progress. They were meant to gain organic growth especially outside South Korea. The sad part is that a lot of attention was not given to their achievements at that time (I am looking at you k-media and haters) because they belonged to a small company. But despite the obstacles, they managed to move forward and gained success. Their success around 2013–2015 is what sets a whole game change for BTS in 2016.