Big Hit chairman shares his formula for BTS' success

South Korean boy band BTS (left) on the red carpet at the 28th Seoul Music Awards in Seoul last year.
South Korean boy band BTS on the red carpet at the 28th Seoul Music Awards in Seoul last year.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

SEOUL • Mr Bang Si-hyuk, chairman of Big Hit Entertainment, is best known as the mastermind behind global sensation BTS.

In a recent paper published by Harvard Business School, Mr Bang, 47, shared how BTS deviate from the typical K-pop idol system and have more autonomy than other K-pop bands.

During his interview with the authors of Big Hit Entertainment And Blockbuster Band BTS: K-Pop Goes Global, Mr Bang said the band's contract re-negotiations - a period when many stories of conflict arise among K-pop artists - took place without the intervention of lawyers or agents.

"We talked about whether we would be able to continue this success for another seven years," he said. "The members said, 'We will give you seven more years, but give us the acknowledgement we deserve for the successes we have achieved, and reflect it in the contract.'"

The septet and label focused on what they could do for their fans and their customers, which allowed for a rare peaceful transition and continuation of their trusted relationship. They supposedly did not talk about money during the negotiations.

BTS' month-long vacation last year, before concluding their concerts BTS World Tour: Love Yourself, is another deviation from common practices in the K-pop world.

Mr Bang figured that three to four days of rest would not help the members that much, even though it was the industry standard.

He knew the label would be taking a risk by letting the band go on an extended hiatus, especially at the peak of their popularity.

But the label's executives decided to push forward with the plan, keeping the big picture in mind as they recognised the traditional business model was not sustainable in the long term.

The members also freely post on social media without any intervention from their label. They do not have individual accounts on Instagram or Twitter, but they have set up separate profiles on Big Hit's fan community platform Weverse.

And there, Mr Bang clarified, they "manage their own accounts" and the company does not interfere unless they specifically seek advice.

Mr Bang Si-hyuk, chairman of Big Hit Entertainment

This laissez-faire social media strategy stemmed from Big Hit's 2011 workshop, a three-day event to reassess the company's direction as it was on the brink of bankruptcy.

It was through the workshop that the team realised many people feel more isolated than before, despite the advent of social platforms.

The label decided to use social media to "help, inspire and heal people" moving forward, and forge a genuine connection between artists and fans.

The latest paper also offers a clear sense that Mr Bang and his label did everything to support the band - to help them grow in the best way possible while embracing the risk that their unconventional methods might fail.

Big Hit focused solely on BTS since their debut in 2013 without introducing any new acts until last year with TXT.

It is very unusual in K-pop where companies quickly redirect their resources to a new group of trainees once they think the band have reached a certain level of maturity.

"We thought hard about shifting our resources to a new group," Mr Bang admitted. "But we felt BTS had too much potential still and decided to press on. That turned out to be a correct decision."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 08, 2020, with the headline 'Big Hit chairman shares his formula for BTS' success'. Subscribe