[FOCUS] BTS agency leagues with Universal Music to launch new K-pop band in US music scene

By Park Sae-jin Posted : February 18, 2021, 16:28 Updated : February 18, 2021, 16:28

[Courtesy of Big Hit Entertainment]

SEOUL -- Big Hit Entertainment, the creator of K-pop wonder BTS, forged a strategic alliance with Universal Music Group to launch a joint venture label that will create a new band targeting American fans. The romance underlines the growing power of K-pop artists in the global music scene.

Through the joint venture set up by Big Hit and Geffen Records, a major music label of Universal Music Group (UMG), a survival music audition show will be held in 2022 to select members of the new K-pop band. "The two companies that continuously pursued innovation will create a synergy which will open a new era in the world's music history," Big Hit chairman Bang Si-hyuk said at a live online media conference on February 18.

The genius producer who catapulted BTS to global fame said that Big Hit and UMG share the same value and vision about the global music industry. UMG's chief executive Lucian Grainge expressed excitement, saying Big Hit has become one of the most dynamic companies in the music industry by adopting an innovative artist incubation program and new technologies. Grainge said the new joint venture would help K-pop cement its status as a new global cultural trend.

Big Hit and UMG will utilize Bang's know-how and unique incubation program that has given new examples and directions to other labels in South Korea. Under Bang's strong leadership and strict codes, BTS members were nurtured to house skills and discipline while maintaining their unique characteristics.

[Courtesy of MAMA2020]

A trainee becoming a K-pop artist is like being born into a new life. There are thousands of trainees being incubated in South Korea, but many never gain a chance to show off their potential after years of training and become forgotten. Earning a spotlight through their debut is the only way to gain fame in the domestic music scene. Being globally acknowledged is the next wall that experienced K-pop artists have to face. Only a few selected artists garner the favor of global fans.

In the mid-2000s, major labels such JYP Entertainment, SM Entertainment and YG Entertainment have adopted systematic nurturing programs to send their artists abroad. Some artists such as BIGBANG, Girls' Generation and Wonder Girls have succeeded in creating fan bases in Asia. Going beyond was a tough challenge and required bone-cutting efforts.

The U.S. music scene had been an impenetrable fortress for K-pop artists until rapper Psy knocked down the gates. The rapper shook the U.S. music scene in 2012 with his global hit "Gangnam Style," a funky electronic rap song with a unique hook. It was the first K-pop song to win the favor of global fans.

BTS had walked a similar path as any other ordinary K-pop group. Since its debut in 2013, the band had beefed up performance skills and released songs that depict stories of sympathy, common problems experienced by teenagers and young adults, and hope. To gain acknowledgment, members reached out to fans through social media including YouTube, sharing their ordinary lives through video logs (vlogs) and communicating with fans through comments and Twitter.

Now, BTS is mentioned as the first K-pop band to create a strong cultural and emotional bond with about 40 million members of ARMY, an unrivaled global fandom organization that transcends different races and ages. Each year, ARMY members organize local meetings as well as real-time online meetings with BTS members. The fan club also forms movements such as charity events and volunteer works to help local communities.

Bang and his crew started a new challenge in 2019 with Weverse, an online fan-based community app, to put together ARMY fans who are scattered across the web. The app provided similar features to that of other social media services as well as dedicated channels of artists while offering an online store for fan merchandizes and reservation service for concerts. Artists can communicate with fans and deliver exclusive content.

BTS and TXT, a brother group formed by Bang, were the first guests in Weverse, followed by other K-pop and global artists including former girl band 2NE1 member CL, solo singer-songwriter Sunmi, American singer-songwriter Gracie Abrams and British band New Hope to open dedicated channels. Big Hit said that more artists under UMG's labels such as British singer YUNGBLUD will join Weverse.

Amid a COVID-19 pandemic, Big Hit paved a new road by holding paid online concerts for BTS and other artists via Weverse. Fans enjoyed wonderful performances and visual effects from their quarters using smartphones, computers, and connected TVs. To bolster online concert capabilities, Big Hit has partnered with American cloud-based video streaming company Kiswe and set up a joint venture to launch VenewLive, a 4K multi-view live video streaming platform that drew investment from K-pop powerhouse YG Entertainment and UMG.

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