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In the summer of last year, music business executive Scott Cohen realized that Korean boy band BTS had awakened a passion in their fans unlike anything the music industry had seen before, as seen with their recent win of multiple MTV EMA awards.

Cohen was in a company meeting in the U.K. headquarters of The Orchard, the digital distribution company he co-founded in 1997. The atmosphere was tense, he recalls, and heads were about to roll.

“I came into the office, and everyone was freaking out because there was this billboard in London announcing BTS. We didn’t have the budget authorized, so the question was asked, ‘Who spent all that money on billboards?’ But no one would admit to it!”

Scott Cohen
Scott Cohen

A billboard for The Orchard’s clients BTS had been posted using different fonts and artwork to their current campaign, and this was in a big-budget prime location in London.

The penny dropped for Cohen later that day: “It wasn’t until lunchtime that we figured out who had put up the billboards, it was the fans. They got together and said, ‘We love BTS so much, let’s show the world. How much does a billboard cost-and how many of us would need to chip in some money-because there are thousands of us?’ So they put in a few quid each, and they started putting billboards up around London.”

The band’s fans, more widely known as the BTS ARMY, had pooled their resources and designed and booked the posters themselves.


It is a measure of their global popularity that the band today won both the “Best live” and “Best group” categories at the MTV Europe Music Awards (EMAs), while the devoted BTS ARMY won the award for “Biggest fans.”

The tour in question is the blockbuster LOVE YOURSELF: SPEAK YOURSELF tour, which reached an audience of over 2.06 million fans across 62 shows. Their concerts in Japan—held in Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, Fukuoka and Shizuoka—reached an audience of 590,000 over 13 dates.

Other cities the band visited included Los Angeles, Oakland, Fort Worth, Newark, Chicago and New York in the U.S., Hamilton in Canada, and the Seoul Olympic Stadium in South Korea. Paris, London, Berlin made up the European dates, with Sao Paulo, Riyadh, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taoyuan remaining.


Their tour was the top-grossing of May 2019 according to Billboard Boxscore, who dubbed the tour “the most influential in the world” after BTS grossed a total of $51.66 million and sold 384,498 tickets for eight shows. The band also topped the Pollstar LIVE75 chart for average ticket sales in July after selling an average of 51,106 tickets for each concert.

The band released a statement celebrating the ARMY at the end of their tour last week in the Korean capital. “The tour we started last year in Seoul met its end again in Seoul. It feels like it was yesterday we performed at the Seoul Olympic Stadium, but it’s already been a year. Meeting ARMY in all these cities and performing on big stages like the Wembley Stadium, all of this was possible because of you who have waited for us and recognized us. We shine the brightest and are the happiest on stage when we are with you. Thank you ARMY for making our experience on stage spectacular. Thank you again for enjoying our performances whenever, wherever.”


The band has also been nominated in the “Tour of the year” category at the 2019 American Music Awards, the results of which will be announced on November 24 from a ceremony in Los Angeles. The other finalists in the category are heavyweights Elton JohnPinkEd Sheeran and Ariana Grande. The band is also shortlisted in the “Favorite social artist” and “Favorite duo or group – pop/rock” categories.

BTS has consistently broken new ground with their live appearances. They are the first Korean act to hold a stadium concert at Citi Field in New York, in October 2018, the first Korean act to hold a stadium concert at the Wembley Stadium in London, in June 2019, and the first non-English speaking act to sell out two shows there. BTS are also the first Korean act to host stadium concerts in all of the world tour regions in North and South America, Europe, Japan, Korea and the Middle East.


The three MTV EMA wins and the three American Music Awards nominations are a measure of the respect and admiration that the band has earned after many years of hard work. But there is another vitally important factor at work. Their relationship with the BTS ARMY is fundamentally one of empowerment.

Scott Cohen, now chief innovation officer at Warner Music Group, believes that this is the way forward for the industry at large, adding: “I am a firm believer in not just enabling fans but in creating an environment where they can self organize like the BTS ARMY.”

One might assume that many BTS fans all over the world, delighted with their idols’ wins and nominations tonight, would agree with Cohen’s analysis.

Originally published in Forbes.

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