What Does It Take for a K-Pop Band to Blow Up in South America?

May 7, 2017



South Korea’s music craze has taken most of the world by

storm, but Chile represents a somewhat unlikely conquest.

If you were watching Chilean TV on a Friday morning last month, you might have encountered a surprising scene: the interruption of a newscast in the name of pop coreano.


The Chilevisión reporter was inside Santiago International Airport, trying her best to get a glimpse of BTS — an abbreviation for the Korean term Bangtan Sonyeondan, or “bulletproof boy scouts” in English — one of K-pop’s most famous boy bands, arriving for its sold-out March 11 and 12 concert dates at the Movistar Arena. She couldn’t get a comment from the group, but her cameraperson did get a good shot of them as they and their huge entourage passed hordes of screaming and banner-toting fans. She also found a young woman whose gleaming smile appeared to be on the verge of breaking into fan-girl tears. “Was it worth the wait?” the reporter asked. “It was,” the girl replied with a happy crack in her voice. “The wait, the whole night.”

K-pop has taken most of the world by storm, but Chile represents a recent and somewhat unlikely conquest. None of the traditional radio stations have shown any interest in playing it. Until now, the nation’s musical imports have tended to be Latin-inflected — sounds like reggaeton and hip-hop — or American-bred pop. Then there are the eclectic homegrown sensations like Mon Laferte (known for her experimental mix of blues and electronic rock), Camila Moreno (an alternative-pop singer-songwriter) and Gepe (a New Age Chilean folk singer who blends, among other influences, ’60s and ’70s Andean music with electronic pop).

So BTS and its peers have been forced to sneak in via the internet. One important entry point has been Coca-Cola FM, the soda giant’s online radio platform, which is largely unknown to American audiences but popular in Chile, with an estimated daily listenership of 40,000. Every Friday, the network runs a K-pop program hosted by a Chilean D.J., Rodrigo Gallina. Social media has played a tremendous role, too: BTS has more than five million Twitter followers, and to date BTS has spent 22 weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s Social 50 chart, which ranks the global online activity of artists’ social-media fan pages and weekly song plays. A dedicated BTS Chile Twitter account, run by three fans, regularly posts Spanish translations of news articles about the band and of the band’s own posts on social media. Some Chilean fans tune in directly to Korea’s popular V app, where artists hold live-streaming broadcasts that fans anywhere in the world can join and ask questions (BTS’s channel has more than 4.7 million followers).

The band’s online popularity had become so entrenched in Chile that tour promoters didn’t even bother with a traditional media push. Fans waited outside the arena box office to purchase tickets, which ranged from $38 to $212, for up to a week in advance. All 12,500 tickets for what was supposed to be just one show sold out in a record-breaking two hours. “The speed of those sales made us immediately begin preparations for a second show,” says Gonzalo Garcia, the C.E.O. and founder of NoiX Productions, which focuses strictly on bringing Asian artists to Chile and other Latin American countries. Eventually, NoiX ran eight days of print ads in the daily newspaper La Tercera, but simply as a thank-you to fans who had bought tickets.

The Backstreet Boys, One Direction and the Jonas Brothers have all played in Chile, but Korean boy bands are a recent phenomenon, having begun to visit the country only since 2012. Before its performances last month, BTS did play a show in Chile on its last tour in August 2015, but promoters booked only about half of the Movistar Arena. In the months since, though, the group’s popularity has skyrocketed in the K-pop world — the “Wings” album was South Korea’s best-selling album of 2016 — with fans worldwide seeming to connect with the band’s increasingly polished sound and relatable-yet-hopeful messages. “We talk about our own turmoil and mental breakdowns as honestly as possible in the music and [how] it grows with us as we get older,” the band member Rap Monster says. “We believe Chilean fans tend to connect to those values, maybe a little deeper than fans in other countries,” he added.

The band’s delighted handlers struggle to find adequate metrics to capture the extent of BTS mania in Chile. There is money, of course; Garcia says ticket sales from this year’s two-day concert series “exceeded the $2 million mark,” and this figure doesn’t even include revenue from the enormous amount of BTS merchandise (like a $45 glowing light stick or a hand-held fan with the members’ faces printed on it for $9) sold at the arena. For BTS’s South Korean record label, Big Hit Entertainment, the most remarkable measure is online engagement, which it seems to monitor very closely. “We crosschecked with social-media-channel statistics to confirm the level of loyalty and fan base in the country,” says Yandi Park, a concert business manager for Big Hit. “We did expect to have good ticket sales because the promoters were also confident … but did not anticipate the sellout in minutes.” Then there are the organic expressions of fan fervor: In parks and public sites throughout Chile, thousands of fans have begun to gather frequently to learn K-pop dances together.

Perhaps the most impressive metric, though, is also the most alarming one. Owners of the Movistar Arena told Garcia that the audience screams alone during the BTS concerts this year — that is, at moments when the band was not even performing — reached an earsplitting 127 decibels, well past the noise level at which permanent hearing loss becomes a serious concern. The promoter proudly reports it as the loudest ever recorded at the arena. “Audience screams alone,” Garcia repeats, a note of awe creeping into his voice. “It was madness.”


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    May 8, 2017 at 2:32 AM

    South Korea’s music craze has taken most of the world by storm! Though, Im not really into Kpop music

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    June 4, 2017 at 11:38 PM

    Good article, but it would be better if in future you can share more about this subject. Keep posting.

  4. K-pop band is one of the best in business, globally they are rocking with the brand of music they are making, it tells how committed they are towards their professions

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    August 17, 2017 at 3:41 AM

    Well south america is a destination which every one should visit once in their lifetime, people holds a very bad perception of this particular region, i think its a beautiful place with beautiful people, would love to visit this place hopefully.

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    October 9, 2017 at 3:00 AM

    Yes this is definitely a fact that South Korea have a great interest in music and they enjoy their music rigorously, I hope that they also make music which other language, so that we can also listen to their music.