Review: ‘Beyond the Story: 10-Year Record of BTS’ gives singular access to the world’s biggest band
LOS ANGELES — Like most releases from the world’s biggest band, the debut memoir from the seven-member K-pop group BTS, “Beyond the Story: 10-Year Record of BTS”, was a smashing success from moment the public learned of an anonymous, forthcoming text.
But unlike most BTS drops, the 544-page book became a bestseller before the subject matter was even revealed, thanks in large part to Taylor Swift fans.
In May, a listing for “4C Untitled Flatiron Nonfiction Summer 2023” inspired online speculation from Swift’s cohort: an author and title was going to be revealed on June 13, and they believed the popstar was leaving them numerical easter eggs, or hints, as she often does in her rollout campaigns. Thirteen is Swift’s favorite number. The page count, 544, when added individually, equals 13, like in the equation 5 + 4 + 4 = 13.
But there was a more obvious connection to be made. June 13, 2013 was the day BTS debuted, sharing their first ever single, the rebellious trap-pop, “No More Dream.” So, when it was revealed that the text was actually an oral history of the band, written by journalist Myeongseok Kang with the members of BTS (RM, Suga, V, Jung Kook, Jin, Jimin, J-Hope) to celebrate their 10 years together, enthusiasm shifted to the K-pop audience.
And the excitement is warranted. “Beyond the Story: 10-Year Record of BTS”, is an exhaustive archive of the boy band, a definitive document for diehard ARMY, the name of BTS’ fanbase.
Translated into 23 language and released on July 9, or “ARMY Day” for BTS fans, the book details the band’s entire career chronologically, leaving no moment unexcavated.
Kang serves as the reader’s guide, offering necessary context to BTS’ revolutionary approach to the culture of the K-pop idol industry. At each turn, the band speaks from a personal perspective, outlining their hopes, thoughts, feelings, and experiences — the unrivaled access that sets this official biography apart from the countless unofficial others. Many of these stories will be familiar to ARMY, but the band’s personal recollections provides a feeling of freshness.
More often than not, BTS’ quotes lead with a waited emotionality, though there’s quite a bit of humor as well. Fans will surely react when reading Jin describing Suga’s 2013 dietary habits, which included blending chicken breasts, grape juice, and bananas for quick protein.
Throughout “Beyond the Story” are 330 QR codes to inspire fans to pause their reading and reacquaint themselves with a video’s choreography or re-listen to a single, like after learning Suga cried while writing and recording “Outro : Tear.” It might not be the prettiest feature of a book filled with glossy images of the band throughout their distinct eras, but it does solve a problem unique to pop culture books. How can a reader experience the subject while learning about it?
For the casual and curious fan, “Beyond the Story” may present a few challenges. It requires some familiarity with the mechanics of the idol industry to fully appreciate how BTS challenged those expectations. As an example: the reader must understand that before a K-pop idol group is put together and presented to the world publicly, or “debuted,” they enter a training process and are labeled “trainees,” who live in dormitories together, where they are educated on dancing, singing, speaking to the media and beyond.
Only then can they appreciate BTS’ unique approach to the formulaic star system: That the band held their own “classes” for each other; Suga, RM, and J-hope teaching the others about hip-hop.
At one point, they were only trainees at their company HYBE (then known as Big Hit Entertainment), which limited networking opportunities and mentorship typically necessary for success. They focused on an American music market early on in unexpected ways, laying the foundation for their success in this country. They embraced YouTube, Vlive, and vlogs over traditional reality competition shows, like other K-pop groups. They chose to dance in an individual hip-hop style instead of kalgunmu, or “razor sharp group dancing.” There are endless examples, presented through Kang’s expertise of the industry.
Clearly, this is a book for BTS’ fans, a love letter to the community that made their career and a reminder that there is always more to learn about them.