Sitting at a table resplendent with Korean dishes, bottles of whisky and wine and their signature purple balloons, K-pop global sensation BTS gathered for their FESTA dinner, an annual celebration of the group’s inauguration almost a decade ago.
Filmed over an hour and posted on their YouTube channel on June 14, the dinner delivered shocking and emotional news to the boy band’s millions of fans.
In raw, heartfelt statements, the group that turned Korean pop music into a global economic powerhouse revealed their exhaustion, and a need to take time away from performing as a group as they head into their 30s.
Initially, the boys were all upbeat – laughing and reminiscing about sharing small houses together, and reflecting on their amazing career trajectory.
And then the mood changed and they turned serious.
Known to 40 million Twitter fans and another 65 million Instagram followers by their stage names – RM, Jin, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin, V, and Jung Kook – the band spoke candidly about the massive impact K-pop and the “whole idol system” had had on their personal and professional growth.
“The problem with K-pop and the whole idol system is that they don’t give you time to mature. You have to keep producing music and keep doing something,” said RM.
“We’ve lost our direction, and I just want to take some time to think.
“The group has definitely changed … I don’t know what sort of story I should tell now.”
Jimin also spoke about losing direction. The 26-year-old said: “I think, now, we’ve come to think about what kind of artists we each want to be remembered as to our fans … I think that’s why we’re going through a rough patch right now.”
J-Hope said the group needed “some time apart to learn how to be one again”.
But that break is unlikely to be void of BTS music.
Jung Kook suggested the band would explore individual projects during their time apart: “We’re each going to take some time to have fun and experience a lot of things … we promise we will return someday even more mature than we are now.”
Like RM, Suga said it’s “aways painful trying to squeeze out ideas” and he now feels he doesn’t have “anything to say”.
“We’re taking a temporary break,” he said.
Sounds like the band is breaking up?
Although Suga said it’s a temporary break – or a “hiatus” as had been reported in an earlier English translation – a spokesperson for the band told Rolling Stone magazine: “To be clear, they are not on hiatus but will take time to explore some solo projects at this time and remain active in various different formats.”
In what appears to be a sign of the pressure the band is under to continue performing, a BTS representative told Rolling Stone in a later statement that the band “will not be disbanding or going on hiatus but will stay active as a group even as individual members work on their own projects”.
BTS made its debut in June 2013 and became a worldwide sensation with its upbeat hits and social campaigns aimed at empowering young people.
The group released its new album, Proof, last week.
The video announcement came after J-Hope was revealed as a headliner of the Lollapalooza festival in Chicago next month, and also coincided with the release of Jungkook’s solo single, My You.
Although the band members each earn $8 million a year, their home country South Korea earns much more from the group.
According to a Hyundai Research Institute report in 2018, BTS generates an estimated 4 trillion won ($3.54 billion) in economic value for the country each year.
Meanwhile, Statista’s analysis of 2018 company revenues report found BTS’ contribution to South Korea’s GDP was almost comparable with Korean Air’s.
And their impact is not only financial.
BTS’ social causes
Last year, BTS became the first Asian band to win artist of the year at the American Music Awards.
In September, the Korean Herald reported they were named “special presidential envoys for future generations and culture” by South Korean President Moon Jae-in, and were gifted a diplomatic passport and a fountain pen.
Later that month, they accompanied Mr Moon to the United Nations headquarters in New York City to attend the 76th United Nations General Assembly, where almost one million people tuned in to watch the live stream.
In his remarks introducing BTS, Mr Moon called the band “the artist that is most loved by the people around the world.”
In addition to singing one of their hit songs, the group delivered a stirring speech about the pandemic, vaccinations and climate change.
Then, in May, the group met US President Joe Biden at the White House to discuss hate crimes targeting Asians.
“A lot of our Asian American friends have been subject to real discrimination,” Mr Biden said.
“Hate only hides. When good people talk about it, and say how bad it is, it goes down. So thank you.”
At the end of the YouTube video, as band members wiped away tears, an emotional Jung Kook said he just hoped his fans would give them their “blessing” about the future: “I’ll do my best … We’ll be a better version of us … please look forward to that day”.