During the Covid-19 outbreak last year, when the world was grappling with diminishing businesses and financial losses, K-pop band BTS released their biggest hit ever. Dynamite, dropping on August 21, 2020, became the most viewed YouTube video in 24 hours, garnering over 101.1 million in the first day. Dynamite debuted at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, becoming the band’s first number-one single in the US and making BTS the first all-South Korean act to top the Hot 100.
Released to uplift the mood of their fans during the pandemic, Dynamite has proved to be more than just a happy hit for BTS. On Spotify, it debuted with 7.778 million streams, marking the biggest opening-day for a song in 2020. Additionally, it peaked at number one on both the Billboard Global 200 and Billboard Global Excl. US charts, topping the latter for three consecutive weeks. But bigger things were yet to come.
In December 2020, BTS secured their first Grammy nomination, for Best Pop Duo or Group Performance, because of Dynamite. The music video garnered a billion views on April 12, 2021, and the Guinness Book of World Records tweeted on April 16 that the song has broken two more records - most weeks on the US Hot 100 by a K-pop track and most weeks at No.1 on Billboard’s Digital Song Sales Chart.
When asked the reason why the song has performed so well in America and in the world over, group leader RM said last year, “It’s not an easy question to answer. It’s not just No. 1 on the Hot 100, the Billboard chart, it’s not something you can achieve with only fan support. It could be our performances, our behind the scenes, and what we said, what we did, what we showed.”
Credit will also have to be given to the song’s ’70s disco-pop feel, a familiar genre for the English speaking audience. Till the time Dynamite came along, BTS included only a few lines of English in their lyrics, and had no prior plans to release a full-fledged English track. It also sounds very different from BTS’ music so far, which is mostly written and produced by the band members themselves. Dynamite was written by Jessica Agombar and David Stewart and produced by the latter. The single, later included in their 2020 album BE, also doesn’t quite fit in with the other tracks like Blue and Grey and Life Goes On.
RM also acknowledged that the English lyrics and disco-pop genre made the song more accessible for casual listeners. “I think ‘Dynamite’ was more familiar because of the language as well as other elements. The language and the disco-pop were familiar to the American public. Something that’s easy to sing and hum along with. It doesn’t have an overarching macro-level message. Sometimes, simpler messages really get across. I dare say that all these factors came together to create this achievement.”
The ‘macro-level message’ point is important here – anyone new to the BTS world will be overwhelmed by the themes and patterns of their albums. There is a thought flow from the music their initial days – the School series, the Most Beautiful Moment in Life series, Love Yourself series, or the Map of the Soul series.
Many critics also pointed out that the song isn’t entirely K-pop in its feel. The lyrics are not typical BTS, either. “Dynamite is an interesting crossover gesture from BTS because it correctly identifies breezy disco-pop as the path to a hit single in a year where Harry Styles’ Watermelon Sugar, Doja Cat’s Say So, and Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande’s Rain on Me took the sound to the top of the Billboard Hot 100,” Vulture said in its review. Rolling Stone rightly called it “one of the poppiest songs the group has released to date."
K-pop has long struggled to win mainstream American acceptance. Despite being one of the most sophisticated and compelling genres of music, Korean pop, apart from a few viral hits like ‘Gee’ and ‘Gangnam Style’, has been unable to break into the landscape of American pop music, majorly because of lack in airtime on American radio. BTS’ far superior songs from earlier albums couldn’t gain ground there because of the language barrier. An English, rather ‘American’ sounding song, made that feat achievable, giving BTS their biggest success worldwide.
On TVN’s You Quiz on the Block last month, band member Suga acknowledged that it was the ARMYs requesting for BTS songs on radio that made all the difference. “In the American music market, radio play is important. Our fans opened that gate for us," he said. Dynamite sure opened several gates for BTS in their path to global domination, threatening the West’s dominion over pop music in the world.
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