Entertainment Weekly


In 2018, K-pop superstars took America by storm. Now they’re ready for a victory lap. We head to Seoul for a look inside their world.

MAYBE YOU SAW THEM PILED ON THE KLIEG-LIT COUCHES of Ellen DeGeneres and Jimmy Fallon, trading light bilingual banter with their starstruck hosts. Maybe it was when they spoke solemnly on mental health and self-love at the United Nations General Assembly last September, or when a wall of dolphin-like screams greeted them as they rolled into February’s Grammy Awards in trim matching tuxedos, their hair tinted various shades of pastel macaron.

Or maybe the cover of this magazine is the first time you’ve truly noticed BTS. (Stranger things have happened in 2019.) But it seems indisputable to say that sometime over the past two years, the septet have taken over the world: two No. 1 albums on the Billboard chart in the span of three months; more than 5 billion streams combined on Apple Music and Spotify; a string of sold-out concert dates from the Staples Center in Los Angeles to London’s famed Wembley Stadium.

That hardly makes them the first boy band to dominate a cultural moment, but the fact that they are all Korean-born and -raised, singing Korean-language songs only occasionally sprinkled with English, feels like something brand-new. And it speaks to an unprecedented kind of global currency—one where pop music moves without barriers or borders, even as geopolitics seem to retreat further behind hard lines and high walls.

On a blindingly bright March day in Seoul five weeks before the release of their upcoming sixth EP, Map of the Soul: Persona, the band is holed up at their record label Big Hit Entertainment, preparing. Buildings like this are where much of the magic of the phenomenon known as K-pop happens, though Big Hit’s headquarters on a quiet side street in the city’s Gangnam district (yes, the same one Psy sang about in his 2012 smash “Gangnam Style”) looks a lot like any other tech office: sleek poured-cement corridors and glass-box conference rooms scattered with well-stocked mini-fridges, plush toys, and the occasional beanbag chair. Only a display case stacked with a truly staggering number of sales plaques and statuettes, and a glossy large-scale photo print of BTS at

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