FASHION Korean boy band BTS has been firmly in the Zeitgeist for the last few years. Riveka Thevendran reveals more about their rise and the fashion sense of K-pop’s biggest force
First published in the February 2022 issue of Lucire KSA
Bang Tan Sonyeondan (BTS) is a Korean boy band consisting of seven band members. It includes leader, Kim Namjoon (RM), Kim Seokjin (Jin), Min Yoongi (Suga), Jung Hoseok (J-Hope), Park Jimin (Jimin), Kim Taehyung (V) and Jeon Jeongguk (Jungkook). Debuting under the entertainment company, Big Hit Entertainment (now known as Hybe Labels), in 2013, the band opted for a hip-hop look and sound. However, over the years their discography went through major changes as they redefined it to mostly pop instead, this being the break they needed to pave their way to success. Having said that, BTS’s music usually consists of a hybrid of EDM (electronic dance music), pop, R&B and more, making them unique in the K-Pop scene as most K-Pop artists stick to one or two themes per album.
BTS, arguably, became more well known internationally with their Wings album, particularly with the song ‘Blood, Sweat & Tears’, which inspired a lot of dance covers. On the brink of disbanding due to their company fighting bankruptcy in 2016, the unexpected fame boosted the band enough to give them the freedom to create the Love Yourself series that made them an international pop sensation.
The Love Yourself series consists of three albums, Love Yourself: Her, Love Yourself: Tear and Love Yourself: Answer. They depict the discovery of self-love following the ashes of destruction that triggers the much-needed healing and self-reflection process. The Love Yourself series was also an accompaniment of BTS’s collaboration with UNICEF to end violence (hashtagged #EndViolence) against children and teens around the world, aptly named the Love Myself campaign. Due to the overwhelming success of the album trilogy, BTS began to gain fans in the west and thus, be invited to multiple red carpet events in the US.
The first red carpet appearance by BTS in the US was at the 2017 Billboard Music Awards (BBMAs). Each member in the band is unique when it comes to his fashion sense, ranging from classy to eccentric when adorning fabric. However, during the first five years or so of débuting as a seven-member band, they stuck to coordinating their attire when making public appearances as a group. It was a comfort zone for the men and portrayed them as a united front when faced with new experiences. After all, it is well known amongst ARMYs (the name given to their fandom), how shy even the most outgoing members can be in real life. Thus, it comes as no surprise when BTS rocked up to the 2017 BBMAs in matching black Saint Laurent tuxedos. Nevertheless, the differing personalities of the men still shone in V’s striped coat, Suga’s ripped pants and J-Hope’s eye-catching silver boots.
After being received with the warmest welcome by fans at the BBMAs, BTS decided it was time to be a bit bolder and experiment with their fashion at the 2017 American Music Awards (AMAs). BTS wore an assortment of denim looks with no two members looking the same. Most, if not all, of the jackets the men wore were by Gucci. Suga was pulling off an oversized shirt paired with a loose tie around his neck and RM had on a graphic T, while a handful of members showed off multiple variations of statement jackets. Even with the colourful ensemble, the men made it work and still looked coordinated with matching distressed jeans as they performed at the 2017 AMAs.
Having said that, BTS were the wildest and most experimental with their red carpet fashion at the 2018 BBMAs. BTS were the first Asian artists to ever perform at the AMAs following their win at the 2017 BBMAs for Top Social Artist, breaking Justin Bieber’s winning streak. Fans called the win and the performance BTS’s first step to international takeover as their fan base skyrocketed within the year, allowing BTS the freedom to be less cautious and freer with their physical appearance, which is why they attended the 2018 BBMAs in seven distinct outfits. Fans often joked, when looking back at pictures from the event, that all seven members looked like they were attending seven different events.
The outfits were all by Gucci, which is not unexpected, as the men have long since declared their love for the brand. V and Jungkook adorned navy suits, though Jungkook looked more casual with his unbuttoned red and black striped polo shirt underneath, while V chose a high-collared polo shirt to accompany his suit. V also had an added purple cloth attached to his back right pocket from a Korean punk label, 99%is-, with the words nae mam daero (as I like, or my way), further asserting that they care not how the public perceives them and chose to focus on their personal fashion interests, even if it risked the cohesiveness of the band. Jin opted for a classic three-piece printed suit and a wide patterned tie, looking the most formal out of his bandmates.
Out of all seven members, Suga, J-Hope, RM and Jimin dressed the most casually, from Suga’s thin logo belt and cuffed jeans and J-Hope’s snake logo T and cap, to RM’s vibrant Hawaiian print shirt and Jimin’s silk ascot and bowling shirt. No wonder the fans had a hard time placing the members’ whereabouts with this ensemble! Joking aside, this red carpet appearance proved that not only can BTS pull off any and all outfits, but they started to feel at ease on US soil.
Over the next couple of years, BTS seemed to become more mellow and unified in their fashion, while still trying to stay true to their individualities by opting for minimal tailoring. One such event would be at the 2019 BBMAs red carpet where all seven members wore Alexander McQueen. Though they are known to be adventurous with their fashion, the member most known for being notoriously eccentric is V, which can be seen in his print ensemble, the only one with hints of colour in his outfit, while Suga and J-Hope chose exaggerated sleeves, the former preferring a polka dotted coat. Jungkook picked a longer coat while RM and Jin stuck to the classics, with all seven members matching each other’s colour scheme, more or less.
Similarly, BTS showed off Bottega Veneta at the 2020 Grammy Awards with a mixture of beige, tan, black and white colours, everyone pairing their looks with turtlenecks except for Jin. This time the band looked even more united in their fashion sense as they played off each other’s ensemble, be it in terms of sharing a colour palette or styling of the individual pieces.
Twenty twenty-one marked a new dawn for BTS’s red carpet fashion as they finally found a balance that took the term ‘fashion icons’ to unimaginable heights. BTS wore looks from Virgil Abloh’s autumn–winter 2021–2 Louis Vuitton collection to the 2021 Grammys. The members’ colour palette consisted of light and dark browns, black and white with a hint of green (we’re looking at you, J-Hope). While V, Jin and Jungkook kept it casual with light brown and traditional black and white tuxedos with varying styling choices respectively, Suga chose an all-black outfit with a buttoned-up shirt. Jimin modelled a dark brown, pinstriped suit and J-Hope’s black vest held an intricately designed, green flower. RM was the most casual of the members with a light brown hoodie and matching pants.
Following this trend, the seven men wore sharp suits to the 2021 AMAs in shades of grey and black, a pop of colour showing in the form of Jimin’s bright pink and J-Hope’s vibrant blue shirts that peek through. However, there is more than meets the eye with BTS’s red carpet appearance this time as the cinched waistline accompanied by long waist belts worn by some of the members tells a story. This design is an ode to Korean culture as it represented a Hanbok-style tie at the waist, which is a specific way ribbons are tied on traditional Korean clothing. The distinct knots are usually left with a long tail as seen in BTS’s outfits.
With their fame, a lot of anti-Asian hate followed the band as they found their bearings in the US, especially following the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout this tough period, BTS were not only trying to find themselves in the new environment known as the western music industry that they have been thrust into, but navigating the hate towards their race and nationality. More than anything, BTS’s 2021 AMAs red carpet look shows that they are proud of their roots and that they have come a long way from finding their footing in the US back in 2017 to the confident, young men they are today. Fashion is more than a piece of fabric, it tells a story. The evolution of BTS’s red carpet fashion in the US showed us their growing comfort under the scrutinizing eyes of the western media without compromising themselves. •
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