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.
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).
In 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.
2015 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.
In 2016, a report 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).
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.
- Concerts, Showcases and Fan Meetings
For the concerts and fan meetings in South Korea:
- BTS had their Debut Showcase in 2013 at Ilchi Art Hall.
- BTS had their 1st Fan Meeting MUSTER at the Seoul Olympic Hall with 3,000 fans in 2014.
- In 2014, BTS had two showcases: 2nd Mini Album ‘Skool Luv Affair’ Showcase and 1st Studio Album ‘Dark&Wild’ Showcase.
- BTS had their first South Korean concert for their “BTS Live Trilogy Episode II: The Red Bullet” in AX-Korea with 5,000 fans in 2014.
- In 2014, BTS held a mini fan meeting with 800 fans for their ending promotions of Dark & Wild.
- For the 2015 BTS Live Trilogy Episode I: BTS Begins, the boys held a concert at the Olympic Hall for 6,500 fans.
- In 2015, BTS held a 3-day concert in South Korea at the SK Olympic Handball Gymnasium gathering 13,500 fans for the “The Most Beautiful Moment in Life On Stage”.
- More Moments
- BTS designed their first doll characters called “Hip-Hop Monster” in 2014.
- 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.
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.
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:
- In 2014, BTS scheduled a free concert at the Troubadour, West Hollywood for over 200 fans. The boys were distributing free flyers to passerby in their TV show “American Hustle Life”. The location is historical because many legendary artists performed there.
- In 2014, BTS was the youngest artist in the line-up of the KCON 2014. Their presence in the KCON 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 hours under the hot LA sun to grab a spot with the best view”. (Check out the fan engagement at KCON).
- In 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 proved a strong fanbase in the US.
- Other Events & Achievements
- 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.
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.:
- BTS has their 1st Japan Showcase — Next Stage in 2014 for 6,500 fans.
- BTS held their first Japanese fan meeting with over 5,000 fans and 30 Japanese news media in 2014.
- BTS gathered 10,000 fans in Japan alone for their tour “BTS Live Trilogy Episode II: The Red Bullet” in 2015. The two concerts were held in Kobe Kokusai Hall and Tokyo Kokusai Forum Hall A.
- BTS arranged their first Japan Tour 2015 “Wake Up: Open Your Eyes” in four cities: Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya and Fukuoka. This tour gathered around 25,000 Japanese fans.
- For the BTS Live Trilogy Episode II: The Red Bullet, BTS held a 2-day concert in the Kobe Kokusai Hall and one concert in the Tokyo International Forum for around 10,000 fans in 2015.
- For the 2015 BTS LIVE “The Most Beautiful Moment in Life On Stage”, BTS held a 2-day concert in Japan at the Yokohama Arena gathering 25,000 fans.
- The Japan Official Fan Meeting Vol.2 -Undercover Mission was held for 18,000 fans in Tokyo and Osaka in 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).
- In 2013, BTS performed at the “7color Concert” in a shopping mall in Thailand with around 8,000 Thai fans attending it.
- BTS were the only K-pop Acts to perform in the Bridge to Korea festival in Russia in front of 10,000 spectators in 2014. According to the BTS Memories DVD, they also participated as judges for a K-pop cover dance competition in the event.
- BTS held their 1st Fan Meeting in South America and Europe called RWeL8? in 2014. The events were held in Berlin, Stockholm and São Paulo.
- In 2015, BTS stayed at #1 for 2 consecutive weeks in the Gaon Weibo Chart (Chinese Chart).
- 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.
- BTS had their first concert in Australia in 2015.
- 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.
- 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.