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On June 14, the day after BTS’ ninth birthday, the K-pop group announced that they were taking time off from making music as a group to focus on their solo careers. The big announcement, unveiled during their annual FESTA dinner party, follows their latest, relatively low-key comeback – an anthology album called Proof, which was released on June 10th. Although the group members made it clear that they will not break up and will be making music as a group again in the future, the announcement drew mixed reactions from audiences. While fans were initially shocked, they largely welcomed BTS’ decision to reset. On the other hand, many media outlets have exaggerated the situation, claiming the announcement could lead to the septet going their separate ways for good.
Hours after the big announcement, investor panic sent the stock value of BTS’s record label, HYBE, down 28 percent and swept away a whopping $1.7 billion of its market value. The entertainment company quickly set the record straight, releasing an official statement clarifying that BTS is not disbanding. “To be clear, they are not on hiatus but will be taking time to explore some solo projects and remain active in various formats at this time,” a representative told Pitchfork.
While the original English subtitles for BTS’ FESTA dinner saw Suga say, “We’re going on a break now,” they were quickly adjusted to say, “We’re taking a temporary break now.” If you consult a dictionary, is a “hiatus” by definition a pause. So why the hand-wringing over the word? The general unease surrounding the term “hiatus” can no doubt be traced back to the breakup of another influential boy band: One Direction.
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After Zayn Malik left the band in March 2015, the group continued as a four-piece and released another album before announcing an “extended hiatus” a few months later in August 2015, meaning they would one day get back together. “They’re taking a break so they can work on individual projects for a while, but they’re not parting ways,” a source tells E! News, adding, “They will remain together and plan to work together in the future.” But years and years passed and it became clear that by break, they meant more “we’re breaking up.” So either they initially really intended to reunite eventually and later scrapped the idea when their solo careers took off, or they just used the concept of a temporary hiatus to soften the blow for their millions of fans. Another X Factor group, Fifth Harmony, would later follow suit in March 2018, seemingly with the same schedule.
Considering the relatively recent development of the word “hiatus” in popular culture, it’s understandable why people outside of the BTS fandom would see BTS’ breakthrough as the same path as 1D. But there are some glaring differences between One Direction’s “indefinite hiatus” and BTS’s that should reinforce everyone’s belief in BTS will be back.
The most telling sign that BTS’ hiatus is temporary is literally in black and white: BTS is still signed to their label, HYBE. RM, Jin, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin, V and Jungkook extended their contracts with the South Korean company in 2019 for a further seven years – until 2026. One Direction’s contract with Simon Cowell’s now practically defunct record label Syco Music had already expired 2015, with all members except Louis Tomlinson signing to different labels shortly after announcing their “hiatus”. So 1D could certainly have continued its activities under other labels, but there was no longer a contractual obligation to do so. However, BTS is still a group signed to the same label, so it’s hard to imagine that they won’t inevitably release another album as a group when the time comes.
That’s not to say that anyone is twisting BTS’ arm, however. When One Direction disbanded in 2016, cracks in the group dynamic had long since become apparent after Malik left the group a year earlier. “There was never room for me to experiment creatively in the band,” he told Fader about his decision in December 2015. In a non-binding chat in May 2022 on the Impaulsive With Logan Paul podcast, Liam Payne revealed the internal tensions among the Members of One Direction had reached a high point, making the idea of a reunion far less likely.
By comparison, BTS’ group dynamics and camaraderie seem inimitable. One Direction’s brief statement announcing their hiatus stands in stark contrast to BTS’ hour-long dinner, which saw members tearfully discussing why it’s time for a hiatus, while also reiterating how much they’ve grown up until then remain a part of each other’s lives reunite musically arrives. As international news media went into a spiral, RM went to Weverse on June 15 to reiterate his insistence that BTS not break up and criticized the media for misinterpreting BTS’ words. “As clear as it would have been to those who actually saw it, we have been declaring throughout the broadcast that this is not the end for us – EXACTLY as the song’s title ‘Yet To Come’ implies,” he wrote aloud a translation of Koreaboo. Jungkook later filmed a VLIVE in which – between rounds of karaoke – he reassured fans that “BTS is forever”.
The members have not only been spotted several times hanging out in their free time (J-Hope and Jimin were spotted at a soccer game on June 14thwhile Suga and J-Hope recently visited HYBE Insight to meet with artist Tom Sachs), but the members also pledged to support each other in their solo endeavors. (Jimin specifically invited Suga to appear on his work-in-progress debut album during the FESTA dinner.) In perhaps the ultimate show of solidarity, at least five of the members have confirmed they got it a friendship tattoo in the form of a “7” somewhere on her body.
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Additionally, BTS’ decision to put group activities on hold isn’t as sudden as it might seem. Group breaks are not uncommon in the K-pop industry. Fans are aware that unless there are significant changes to Korea’s mandatory military enlistment laws, the oldest members of BTS will soon have to enlist in the Korean military for about 20 months, as do all Korean males between the ages of 18 and 28 have to. A 2020 amendment to the existing Military Service Act allowed members of BTS to defer their draft until age 30. With Jin and Suga (both 29 years old) turning 30 soon, there’s a chance the “Butter” singers decided to do group activities on the Backburner to not only allow each member to explore their artistry, but also to facilitate member recruitment. Her break also makes sense in this context.
Western boy band conventions generally dictate that group members who fulfill their potential as solo artists mean the end for the group as a whole – especially when members find enduring success as soloists (think Harry Styles of 1D, Camila Cabello of 5H, or NSYNC’s Justin Timberlake) — but that’s not the case in the K-pop industry. It’s not uncommon for K-pop bands to branch out into solo projects while continuing with intermittent group activities. Some K-pop groups that have ventured into solo activities (singing or acting) while continuing their group activities include BLACKPINK, GOT7, Super Junior, and Big Bang, among others. BTS members have also dabbled in solo projects while still producing music as a group, each contributing to an original soundtrack, subunit collaborations or mixtapes over the years. Following the recent hiatus, fans can expect full-length solo albums from each member, starting with J-Hope’s Jack in the Box.
One of the highlights of the ninth FESTA Dinner Talks was BTS speaking candidly about the burnout they experienced as they worked tirelessly to produce original music as a group while still meeting their tight schedules. BTS has released nine studio albums (plus six compilation albums) in their nine years together, in addition to five concert tours (three of them worldwide), countless endorsements and press appearances – while also releasing solo passion projects here and there. However, they admitted that should this pattern continue, their artistry would likely take a hit. As RM said during the FESTA dinner, “I want BTS to go on for a long time. To do that, we have to go through Who am I.”
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The bottom line remains — whether BTS decides to get back together as a group to make music in a month, a year, or even a decade, they’re just as much a unit now as they’ve always been, albeit in a new form. Your downtime is an opportunity to slow down, do things differently, and find yourself in a new light. While the decision has prompted many unwarranted comparisons to previous boy group breakups, her emotional messages to ARMYs and her heartfelt reassurances that this is not the end of the road have only strengthened the ARMYs’ belief that they will leave when they do come back to be stronger, more mature and even better versions of themselves while still striving to reach new heights. After all, the best is yet to come for BTS.