To the surprise of many, K-pop group BTS has managed to become one of the biggest musical acts in the world without making an English-language song, instead sticking to Korean and Japanese. In a new interview for Entertainment Weekly, the members of BTS discussed why they’ve chosen to remain true to their K-pop roots instead of looking to cross over with an English hit.
“We don’t want to change our identity or our genuineness to get the number one,” RM, the group’s leader, explained. “Like if we sing suddenly in full English, and change all these other things, then that’s not BTS. We’ll do everything, we’ll try. But if we couldn’t get number one or number five, that’s okay.” (RM is also the only of the seven who speaks fluent English.)
“So what’s important for us is just to make good music and good performances and have those elements come together,” added rapper Suga. While the group’s album and song titles are mostly in English, and they incorporate a few English words or phrases into songs, the bulk of their lyrical content is in Korean.
Recently, non-English music — in particular Latin pop and hip-hop — has found its way to the top of the mainstream charts. (The best example is most likely “Despacito,” the Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee hit given a boost with a Justin Bieber remix, which ascended to song of the summer status in 2017.) Industry insiders like international DJ Steve Aoki have told TIME that “[music] doesn’t have to be English to be a global phenomenon.”
But BTS believes they could still face an uphill battle by choosing to stick to Korean. “You know, Latin pop has its own Grammys in America, and it’s quite different,” RM told EW. “I don’t want to compare, but I think it’s even harder as an Asian group. A Hot 100 and a Grammy nomination, these are our goals.” The last big Hot 100 hit from an Asian artist was PSY’s “Gangnam Style,” the 2012 viral track boosted by its comic aspects, which reached number two. BTS’s Hot 100 peak was last summer’s “Fake Love,” which came in at the tenth spot.