When Billboard came out with “The K-Pop Issue,” it featured the most notable K-pop acts today. They mentioned BTS and BLACKPINK members’ solo endeavors, along with a dozen more “rising acts to know.” Out of all their mentions, more than two thirds were girl groups. It seems that the U.S. market shares Korea’s views of girl groups faring better in the current K-pop market in terms of popularity. This is another unique characteristic of K-pop considering that historically boy bands have had stronger fanbases in the western mainstream pop scene. It has now been 10 years since BTS became the most successful K-pop act. Their success has become more than an individual incident and now has become general knowledge in the field. Let's consider a few more examples of boy groups making their way to securing their places in the U.S. market.
Enter SEVENTEEN. Debuted in 2015, their most active years coincide with the period in which K-pop enjoyed a sudden rise in popularity in the American market. Roughly speaking in terms of the Billboard charts, landing on the World Album chart by selling a few thousand albums wasn’t enough for them anymore, and they were hungry to enter the main charts. This can be translated as a migration from a niche market to the mainstream. The day SEVENTEEN began to gain prominence in the U.S. was when they landed on the Artist 100 chart in 87th place before releasing YOU MAKE MY DAY in July 2018. They were the 8th K-pop act to do so. Your Choice topped the Top Album Sales chart in the first week of July 2021. All their subsequent albums topped the Top Album Sales chart: Attacca in the first week of November, Face the Sun in the third week of June 2022, SECTOR 17 in the first week of August, and FML in the second week of May 2023. Five albums made it on the Billboard 200, with each album ranking 15th, 13th, 7th, 4th, and 2nd, consistently working their way up the ranks.
Now, let’s take a closer look at what happened after Face the Sun became one of the top 10 on the Billboard 200 chart. Right before its release, they dropped their first English single “Darl+ing.” In the week Face the Sun and SECTOR 17 debuted, they recorded 44,000 and 34,000 album-equivalent units respectively. They begin the BE THE SUN world tour in North America in August, planning to put on 12 rounds of concerts. They held eight concerts including in Japan after November. Their total concert sales ranked 27th, and the number of tickets sold ranked 19th on the Box Office chart from November 2022 to April 2023 according to Billboard. They were the first and only K-pop act to achieve such feats. FML sold 135,000 album-equivalent units this year in May, with plenty of eyes and ears on them. They ranked first on the Artist 100 in the same week. They were the seventh K-pop group to do so. In essence, SEVENTEEN is a part of the large wave that is K-pop, but they also built a strong fan base over their long career that eventually led to album and concert consumption. And in the end, they rose to the top. This is doable within the K-pop current, sure, but not every K-pop group can catch that perfect wave.
And then there’s TOMORROW X TOGETHER. They debuted in 2019. They were the group that experienced the K-pop boom during the COVID-19 pandemic firsthand. The incredible buzz of being the “younger brother” group of BTS catapulted them to the focus of the K-pop community. Their universe and concept of chapters were very well received. Their genre of choice for conveying teen sensibilities was rock, instead of hip hop. They were based on original K-pop methodologies, but with added pop market flair. “Valley of Lies (feat. iann dior)” that was co-released with iann dior symbolized that TOMORROW X TOGETHER was well within Gen Zs’ preferences for genre crossovers. All seven of their albums landed on the Billboard 200, and their first world tour in 2022 included the U.S. And finally in the second week of February this year, their album The Name Chapter: Temptation topped both the Billboard 200 and the Artist 100 charts. They saw all the success that a K-pop boy band could see in four short years. Releasing their new track entitled “Do it Like That” with the Jonas Brothers on the 7th of this month and headlining the Lollapalooza this coming August will be yet another turning point for them. We have here, a boy band that has no plans to slow down anytime soon.
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