Twenty-four hours isn’t a lot of time in the grand scheme of things. What did you do in the past day? However, twenty-four hours is all it took for South Korean boy band BTS to rack up 45 million views on YouTube for their music video for the single “Idol.” That surpassed the previous record for view in the first twenty-four hours of a video’s existence on YouTube, held by Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do” video, which had 43.2 million.
A caveat: YouTube’s demographic isn’t exactly the same as the wider music world, it tends to be on the (much) younger side. But they’re still eye-popping numbers regardless. And unlike Ms. Swift, BTS may or may not be a name that’s familiar with the average North American listener. The K-pop group is certainly popular (obviously), but to some observers, their record-breaking moment came as a bit of a surprise.
And even though we’re talking about one group’s numbers over a very limited amount of time, it is a noteworthy moment for a number of trends that have been emerging in popular music recently. While BTS is massively popular in their native South Korea, numbers like this aren’t driven solely by that locale. For many artists, the North American market remains the holy grail, and it is clearly ready to elevate K-pop artists to the very upper echelons of popularity.
In fact, while the music video does include English language lyrics, that has long been true of K-pop and isn’t really something they did to have crossover appeal. We’ve moved towards loving the music of other countries and in other languages more than BTS tried to appeal to English speakers.
That hasn’t always been true. But as the growth of Spanish language music and Latin-inspired beats has shown, the tastes of Americans (and Canadians) has grown and changed to fit a more globalized and interconnected world.
And that trend will continue. Although, as I mentioned before, YouTube represents a younger demographic and this kind of popularity won’t fully translate to the traditional pop charts, it’s also showing where music tastes are going. Check out the top viewed videos of all time and you’ll see a lot of music videos. YouTube has fully embraced its role as a tastemaker in the music world and you can see its strategy adjusting to embrace that with services like YouTube Music. YouTube and other streaming services now represent a sizable chunk of how the traditional charts like the Billboard 100 build their formula.
Of course, the changing way we listen to music may make it seem like there are undeserving record-breakers. The old record was held by a song only a year old. Or the song holding the consecutive week’s record on the country charts is “Meant to Be,” another year old song, this one by country music purists’ nemesis Florida Georgia Line and relatively new pop star Bebe Rexha, breaking a record held by a two-year-old song.
Nevertheless, as a younger and more diverse audience comes of age, it will change what music is popular. And how they consume music will also become the main drivers of what’s popular, no matter how much people may complain about the actual metric and markers of that popularity. Nobody is saying that the Taylor Swifts of the world are done, but they may need to make room for the proudly Korean-speaking BTS.