BTS is one of the biggest music acts in the world right now.
Yes, they are on a break from group activities. The seven members — RM, Jin, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin, V, and Jungkook — continue to release individual work to record-breaking results, but they plan to come back as a group in 2025, after they’ve all completed South Korea’s compulsory military enlistment.
Despite this, the question that seems to constantly surround BTS is: why them? What makes BTS so popular? What is it about these seven guys from Korea that has literally tens of millions of people in a chokehold and devout members of their fandom, which is appropriately named ARMY? As a member of said ARMY, I can say that the answer is simple: because they’re BTS. But it’s also complicated: there are many, many layers to being BTS. For new fans or the purely curious, a good place to start is BTS’ documentaries, which provide insight and a behind-the-curtains perspective on the performers and their art.
Years of the group’s existence have been documented and packaged into films and TV series, so if you want to get to know them or understand what makes them so popular and enduring, there are many, many hours of footage which showcase just that. My own fan journey started exactly four years ago with the release of “Boy with Luv”, a bright, boppy pop song with Barbiecore aesthetics and fun choreography featuring Halsey. It felt exactly calibrated to my interests and sensibilities, and I immediately became obsessed.
Still, I might have remained a casual listener if not for the vast array of video content that was recommended to me after watching the “Boy with Luv” music video 37 times in a row. And while BTS’s variety show Run BTS made me laugh and endeared the members to me, it was in through documentaries that I got to know the group better. I saw their joy in performing, their love for fans, and their difficult moments. Most of all, I saw their emotional intelligence and their openness and vulnerability.
Perhaps it shouldn’t have, but it felt like a tiny revelation to see grown men so eloquently and willingly displaying and discussing their feelings, providing an all-too-rare antidote to the toxic masculinity present in so much popular culture.
Ahead of the release of the latest doco in the BTS Cinematic Universe — Suga: Road to D-Day, which focuses on the creation of rapper Suga’s solo album and premieres April 21 — here’s a look at their documentaries so far, and what they reveal about the supergroup…
‘Burn the Stage’
Burn the Stage comes in two forms: movie and series, and while each differs slightly in content, if you only have the time for one, the docuseries is the way to go. Over eight episodes, it takes viewers behind the scenes of BTS’s life in 2017 — the year of their Wings worldwide arena tour, the year they began to break through in America, and the year that, according to the members, was one of the most difficult for them and which led them to consider breaking up.
While we don’t get to see all the ins and outs of that painful point, the docuseries does give a sense of why it might have happened with a warts-and-all look at the brutalities of performing and the pressure of enormous success. But what the series highlights most of all is what helped the group get through it all — how they stayed together, and why they went on to even more dazzling heights.
The interviews with the members showcase their individual attitudes and personalities, but what’s really special are the moments that highlight how well they work together as a group. In fact, one of the most memorable scenes is a moment when everything is not going well — two members, Jin and V, have an argument about some choreography before going on stage — but the way all seven members of the group get together afterwards to discuss and resolve the issue demonstrates a healthy and mature approach that speaks volumes about their dynamic.
If I had to name one specific moment that made me an ARMY to my core, it would be Jin telling V, “you see the bright and funny side of me, but I also get depressed very often”.
‘Bring the Soul’
While Burn the Stage showcases a band on the verge, Bring the Soul explores what it’s like for this group of young guys to embark on the Love Yourself tour in 2018, which included their first ever stadium concert. Again coming in both docuseries and movie form, Bring the Soul also covers the pressures and challenges of touring, but really hones in on the exhilaration of it all. It’s more joyful than Burn the Stage, without glossing over the difficulties.
Indeed, if Burn the Stage examines the “how” of BTS, then Bring the Soul delves into the “why” — what drives them, and why they work so hard to push through enormous physical and emotional pain. What emerges is a clear picture of their passion for the stage, their dedication to improving themselves, their connection to one other, and their devotion to their fans. The part that perhaps best exemplifies this is when Jungkook, the youngest member who was 21 at the time, injures himself while rehearsing and is unable to perform choreography for several shows. The toll this takes on both him and the group in general, and the way they overcome it, makes it clear just how much the group, the stage, and the fans mean to them. It’s heart-wrenching viewing that certainly made me as a fan appreciate them even more.
While the docuseries version of Bring the Soul goes more into depth, the movie is definitely worth a watch — it’s beautifully put together, with clever editing. The tour footage and individual interviews are intercut with scenes from a group dinner in France. It’s a warm, funny and moving conversation that provides insight into their dynamic.
‘Break the Silence’
Break the Silence, another docuseries-movie combo, makes for somewhat bittersweet viewing. Filmed primarily in 2019 — but released in 2020 — the documentary follows BTS as they prepare for and embark on their first ever full stadium tour, Love Yourself: Speak Yourself, as well as the release of their album Map of the Soul: Persona (which features the “Boy with Luv” track that captured my own heart and soul). Here, the group are bigger than they’ve ever been before — wondering if they’ve reached their peak (of course, they went on to become even bigger over the following years) — and reckoning with their past, present, and most of all, their future.
What makes it extra emotional is the fact that the tour was obviously important and significant for the members at the time, but became even moreso in hindsight — when their subsequent tour, Map of the Soul, was cancelled because of the pandemic (as someone who skipped the last Love Yourself: Speak Yourself shows in order to save for the upcoming Map of the Soul tour, this footage cuts DEEP). Indeed, four years later, Love Yourself: Speak Yourself remains the last full tour all seven members have done together. They did perform brief concert stints in Korea and America in 2022, but we’ll have to wait for 2025 for the full experience. (Excuse me while I go sob in the corner).
In terms of insight into the group and individual members, Break the Silence picks up the themes BTS were exploring in their music with Map of the Soul, and gives the members space to reckon with their persona in contrast with their private lives. They also speak of wanting to have a “gentle landing” and not a freefall in terms of their careers winding down, demonstrating their emotional growth and, once again, their bond with one another.
‘j-hope IN THE BOX’
After BTS announced they were taking a break from group activities (but not breaking up), rapper and dancer J-Hope became the first member to release an official solo album and feature in a solo documentary. j-hope IN THE BOX focuses on J-Hope’s journey as he creates his debut album Jack in the Box and prepares for its release as well as his headlining spot at Lollapalooza. The documentary goes deep into J-Hope’s sunshine persona. It shows his everyday life (including some very cute interactions with his family and dog) as well as his fierce professional self, from his arduous creative blocks to his commitment to choreography.
For BTS members, being one of seven has been the defining factor of their lives since 2010 and to step out alone for the first time would naturally be a daunting prospect for any of them. That J-Hope led the charge, and did so in a way that was completely (ahem) out of the box creatively and personally, highlights his bravery and strength. You finish the documentary with a deeper understanding of him as an individual, and a more nuanced appreciation for his importance within BTS as they move forward in their self-proclaimed “Chapter Two”. Like J-Hope proclaims in his first solo single, you can’t help but want “More”.
Suga: Road to D-Day will be another solo documentary, exploring Suga’s attempts to find inspiration as a soloist by going on a road trip and connecting with artists he admires.
Later in the year, a new BTS documentary focussed on all seven members will also debut on Disney+. It’s called BTS Monuments: Beyond the Star and will cover the last nine years of BTS’s career – as well as their plans for the next chapter.