The Korea Herald


Jungkook bolts beyond BTS, cements 'pop star' persona

By Choi Ji-won

Published : July 26, 2023 - 17:55

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A promotional image for BTS member Jungkook's solo single A promotional image for BTS member Jungkook's solo single "Seven." (Big Hit Music)

Jungkook is the sixth member from BTS to come out solo, and the most successful so far, experts say.

His solo single "Seven (feat. Latto)" soared to the top of the most recent Billboard Hot 100 chart, marking the second time any South Korean solo song has nabbed a Hot 100 No. 1 spot on the prestigious US singles chart.

The first was by his bandmate Jimin's "Like Crazy."

"Seven" is also the 68th song in Billboard's history to enter the Hot 100 at the top.

While all BTS members have seen success on global music charts with their solo work, experts say that Jungkook's could be considered exceptional.

"The number of (online) streams turned out really high. This is the highest tallied by any (K-pop) song so far," Jung Min-jae, a music critic based in Seoul, told The Korea Herald. "This is a clear indication that the song has landed well with a general audience, and not just fans."

The number of online streams is one of the data points compiled for the Billboard Hot 100, along with combined digital downloads and physical CD sales and radio airplays in the US. "Seven" had garnered 21.9 million streams in the first seven days since its release on July 14, which is more than double that of the 10 million streams drawn by Jimin's "Like Crazy" when the song hit No. 1 in April.

Jungkook's breakthrough in the US music scene was perhaps to be expected, Jung explained.

"All of the BTS members have their own style. For example, RM and Suga were strong in hip-hop, and Jimin in R&B. In the case of Jungkook, it was pop. He has a character that can appeal to a broader listenership, and 'Seven' was a song that reflected his strengths well," the music critic added.

Kim Do-heon, another local music critic, noted that Jungkook has been building a certain "pop star" persona with his past works, such as his collaborative single "Left and Right" with Charlie Puth and the 2022 FIFA World Cup song "Dreamers."

Breaking past his identity as the youngest member of BTS, he came to cement his own singularity as a global pop musician with "Seven."

"Jungkook's music style and persona takes very much from what we usually expect from Western pop stars. He's challenged himself with many new approaches that he hadn't taken as a BTS member," Kim said.

The selection of the UK garage genre for his debut single was one such bold attempt to reveal Jungkook's new sonic style.

Backed by BTS' solid fan base in the UK, plus the nostalgia brought out by the trendy sounds, "Seven" struck a chord with British listeners, ranking at No. 3 on the Official Singles chart -- the second highest reached by a Korean soloist.

"The song was well received in the UK. It resembles the nostalgic sounds of 2000s British R&B and pop singers like Craig David," Kim explained. "There aren't many young male pop singers who are influential and capable of doing trendy music now, and it seems like Jungkook was just the match," he added.

The song's lyrics were in English, and its overall production was conducted in the US. Jungkook teamed up with Bang Si-hyuk -- the executive producer and founder of Hybe, the parent company of BTS' label Big Hit Music -- and Grammy-winning producer Andrew Watt in making his single. Bang is credited with creating BTS from scratch.

Such strategic advancement into the American market was also possible thanks to the support of Hybe America, the American arm of the multilabel entertainment company.

In a press release about Jungkook's chart success released on Wednesday, Big Hit Music credited Hybe America's CEO Scooter Braun -- also the founder of Ithaca Holdings and a renowned producer in his own right -- as one of the main players in Jungkook's solo project who was involved in many stages from the song selection to marketing. The collaboration with Billboard-charting rapper Latto was also spearheaded by Braun, the agency added.

Critics also attributed Jungkook's global success to his unique image.

On top of his pop star persona, he has built a macho image that sets him apart from a typical hip-hop artist or tender, boyish type many boy band members opt for in the K-pop scene.

While BTS also maintained a clean and pure image as a group overall, Jungkook -- who started off with a "pretty boy" vibe -- grew into more of a “hot guy” through his fashion shoots and other solo projects, Jung noted.

"The cultural expectations are different. The Korean audience prefers a more 'nice guy' character, whereas in the US it's more about the masculine appeal. This also shows in Jungkook's lyrics, which talk more about instinctive feelings. It's not something we’ve seen from any BTS songs," added Jung.

This is just the start, and fans are excited for what else Jungkook will bring to the world. The singer continues to roll out different versions of his single, and has hinted of a tentative album release.

While "Seven" had marked the singer's official solo debut, Jungkook already has under his belt a Guinness World Record for amassing a billion accumulated streams on Spotify -- the world's biggest music streaming platform -- in the shortest time for a K-pop male solo artist with just three songs.

With "Seven," he also set a record on Spotify by soaring straight to its Daily Top Song Global Chart, becoming the first K-pop solo song to enter the chart at No. 1.

Along with topping the Billboard Hot 100, the song led other major Billboard charts, the Global 200 and Global 200 US excl. It also landed second on the Digital Song Sales and fourth on the Streaming Song chart.