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Humans Are Not Stock Market Commodities: A Look Into BTS

By Veronica Letourneau

June 22nd, 2022

Photo: BBC News- Source

The extremely popular Korean “K-pop Idol” group, BTS, made their debut nine years ago and celebrated that accomplishment on a YouTube video on June 14th that shocked fans and investors alike. During the video, the group announced that they would be going on hiatus, and would return “eventually”. While many were sad to hear this, including the stock investors of the boyband’s company, HYBE, (a deal reported to be worth $100 million), the group members do deserve a break.

According to Variety, around 28% of HYBE’s stock plummeted on Wall Street. While stocks rising and falling is a normal cycle within a more traditional setting, like for instance when dealing with a major hedge fund or technology company, the reason for why I found it fascinating in the case of BTS is that it depicts an underlying, toxic relationship that celebrities, who are also human beings, can have with their bosses aka label or other company executives. In this case, the company is losing stock because the band members, who again are human beings not robotic machines, want to take a break from the nine long years of performing as a group. Yet, it is as if the band is looked upon as a commodity for the sole purpose of being “bought and sold” for profit. It’s as if no one really takes a genuine interest in the artists’ well beings on top of everything else. How can one perform at the highest level when not being provided with the proper health resources and being overworked? The steep stock drop from the band’s announcement forced the band to have to clarify that they would focus more on solo projects instead. Suga even says in the anniversary video, “I should be writing about what I’m feeling and the stories I want to tell, but I’m just forcefully squeezing out words because I need to satisfy someone.” And that “someone” is likely the fans, but, most importantly, the greedy record label they work for.

CNN wrote a piece back in 2018, about the strict rules that idols have to uphold to keep up their image in order to be good for marketing. In their contracts, they cannot be caught drinking alcohol, doing drugs of any kind, or even dating. If this part of the contract is broken, the reputation of the star goes down and so does their stock value. As we saw with BTS’s announcement, the littlest thing the artist does, such as a hiatus, can make investors pull out and find a new idol to invest in. It’s funny how these double standards seem to work. BTS has for years worked hard on upholding the record labels’ “standards” of a successful boy band, never having a scandal and staying single throughout the whole nine years of being in the band. The band is such a highly valuable commodity that they were even exempt from the mandatory two-year military service that all South-Korean men must do. Jin, the oldest member of the band, even said that it’s in the hands of the agency whether they do their service or not, but they have stated that they are willing to go.

Being a commodity, which has been creatively stumped and overworked for nine years, has earned a much well-needed break - wouldn’t a rational music executive, Wall Street, or anyone else for that matter, agree? We as fans or observers of popular culture need to take a step back and have a better understanding that these performers are humans too who have creative blocks, burn-outs, and mental health struggles. We have seen many instances in the past of an artist’s mental health not being taken seriously and thus ending up hurting the person - one of the most recent people that come to mind is Britney Spears. I hope that the agencies and people in charge can also take on a better understanding of their clients’ limitations as humans. While I cannot speak to what is going on exactly behind the scenes for BTS, I do applaud them for taking a well deserved break - whether that be going on vacation, taking on solo projects or simply doing nothing at all. I only wish them the best.


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