Could there be a Pinoy BTS?

DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco - The Philippine Star

One of my daughters has always been fond of boy bands. In my past visits to her home in California, it was the Backstreet Boys for so many years way after they were all grown up. This time it is BTS, a Korean boy band that is electrifying the world.

My daughter has never been as obsessed with a boy band as she is now with BTS. Last week, she watched all four days the band was performing in Los Angeles.

The four concerts last week were titled ‘BTS PERMISSION TO DANCE ON STAGE’ that was held at the SoFi stadium, which has a capacity of 70k to 100k!

I am told the tickets for the concert are not cheap and are also hard to get. Premium tickets cost as much as $10,000 in the secondary market and there are takers.

My daughter was telling me that some of her friends from Manila flew in for the concert and the folks behind her seat were from Peru. Some of her friends from the Bay Area and from Florida also flew in just for it.

BTS fans call themselves the ARMY (a.k.a. “Adorable Representative M.C. for Youth”) and there are variations like ARMY of Moms and ARMY Over 40. My daughter said the crowd in the four evenings she was there were mostly female.

Apparently, BTS is a Korean national treasure. NPR.com quotes the Hyundai Research Institute, which said BTS is bringing an estimated $5 billion to the South Korean economy each year. According to a businessinsider.com article in 2019, BTS was projected to bring in an economic value of $37 billion over the next 10 years.

BTS increased South Korea’s popularity, contributing to a surge in tourism. An estimated 800,000 tourists reportedly chose South Korea as their travel destination because of BTS.

“Their popularity also boosted the appeal of South Korean products, such as clothes, cosmetics, and food. eBay, in particular, saw an increase in merchandise sales thanks to BTS. eBay Korea said in April 2019 that sales had risen by more than 50 percent since the previous April. The country now has at least $1 billion worth of consumer exports associated with BTS.”

No wonder my mentor, economist Bernie Villegas, was dreaming of what a Pinoy BTS can contribute to the economy. Dr. Villegas thinks this should be possible because “person for person, Filipinos are more creative than practically every Asian country, including South Korea.”

That was also my impression, which was why I asked in the headline if there could be a Pinoy BTS. In all my international travels, Pinoys are known for our musical talent. Almost every hotel lounge and cruise ship I have been abroad inevitably has a Pinoy band and singer, and we are more culturally attuned to the West than the Koreans. But we don’t think big. Kanya kanyang sariling sikap.

So I asked my friend, Lisa Guerrero Nakpil, who once managed a band called RiverMaya, what she thought:

“I have studied this for several decades ever since the Korean juggernaut first reared its head. BTS is just the FINAL/latest flowering of South Korea’s efforts.

“This is grounded on the following:

“1. Long term planning: cultivation of talent over a 10 to 15 year horizon. Talents are picked, trained from ages eight to 12 and kept in almost military boot camps.

“2. Support of government in creative industries – tax breaks, travel, training.

“3. Korean people’s own character of hard work and perfectionism.

“I’ve had to perform with a Korean boy band and they do not quit, they keep rehearsing and working.

“I’m not surprised. Not at all accidental.

“But it also needs megabuck private initiatives. That kind of operation is like launching a multinational BRAND. For that is what they are. As I said, investment without return for five to 10 years. And then boom!

“So you have several groups in incubation… sounds like fun yeah?

“Filipinos take their talent (which is IMMENSE) for granted. Imagine where we could go with proper backing. You see it with Olivia Rodrigo (half Pinay), but with international backing.

“South Korean artists have the backing of the private sector, government, and most importantly their home market. The third is key. The Filipino market rarely supports their own. No support from Filipino radio, TV, media – who all prefer foreign acts.

“Sokor is above all patriotic. They do this not just for profit, but also for the country. And you can see it pays off! Is the missing ingredient patriotism? I don’t know.

“So it’s a big thing that Filipino talent emerges against all odds. We need a department of creative industry … not just tourism. Because our biggest asset is not locations, but the people! O di ba!!”

I also asked actress Pinky Amador what she thought:

“We need to start planning and INVESTING with government in our creative industries. The entrepreneur behind BTS took 20 years. Government initiatives and funding started WAY back. And, of course, their success translates to tourism and other cultural interests like food, fashion, etc.”

Indeed, no one can say BTS was an overnight Korean success story. Businessinsider.com reported in a December 2019 story that “back in the late 2000s, before BTS debuted, many groups were slowly paving the way for the genre’s growing popularity.

“BTS was formed by a company called Big Hit Entertainment. But in 2007, Big Hit almost went bankrupt. CEO Bang Si-hyuk managed to keep the company afloat with the success of previous K-pop groups he had managed.

“He formed BTS in 2010, and the group officially debuted in 2013. Because BTS struggled with media exposure in South Korea, they took a nontraditional marketing approach by connecting with their fans through social media, and they slowly built up a dedicated fan base known as the ARMY… Thanks to BTS, Big Hit Entertainment is worth an estimated $2 billion. And Bang alone is worth $770 million.”

Can we develop a Pinoy BTS? We can if we get our act together. That’s the tough challenge for individualistic Pinoys with little sense of the common good.



Boo Chanco’s email address is [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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