The smash song “Dynamite” by the K-pop group BTS was one of the most popular songs in 2020. It set a slew of records, including becoming the first K-pop song to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song became the first K-pop song to earn double-platinum status just days after BTS played it at the Grammys in March.
“Dynamite” cleared the way for another BTS smash, “Butter,” a breezy ballad that just spent a record-breaking six weeks at No. 1 following its release. Only another BTS single, “Permission to Dance,” which debuted at midnight on July 9, 2021, may bring the song’s chart dominance to an end.
These achievements have allowed BTS to make remarkable inroads into US radio, although they remain the only K-pop group to do so thus far. Despite their streaming dominance, the majority of K-pop artists have received very little airplay on mainstream Top 40 stations over the last few years, according to the analytics platform Soundcharts, which tracks radio play across 400 US stations daily and collects data from several on-demand streaming platforms.
I spoke with a variety of professionals, ranging from radio station programmers to chart analysts, in an attempt to figure out why so much fan passion and global interest hasn’t made it to the US airwaves.
As one might expect, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for what makes a definite hit, especially as the music industry evolves thanks to on-demand digital music platforms like Spotify. Listeners can self-curate and be algorithmically steered to music that suits their tastes on such platforms, and they also have easy access to a plethora of musicians that aren’t generally heard on conventional Top 40 radio.
Although artists have more means to reach listeners than ever before, radio play remains the most important statistic for determining mainstream success, at least in the United States. Radio airplay helps artists climb the charts, establishes brand recognition, and increases their overall earnings.
No surprise BTS’s major objective for years was to reach No. 1 on the Hot 100 — until, after years of hard work to break into the US market, the band eventually fulfilled that goal four times in a row with its most recent four singles.
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