Chances are you or someone you know is familiar with boy band BTS, who rock award shows and the Billboard charts. New York Times bestselling author and biographer Marc Shapiro recently participated in a Q&A with us about his book, Burn the Stage: The Rise of BTS and Korean Boy Bands (Riverdale Avenue Books, December 2018).
So Booking Cool: When and how did the idea to write a BTS biography come together?
Marc Shapiro: The idea for Burn The Stage came together midway through 2018. As often happens both my agent and I saw the handwriting on the wall. BTS was catching fire on an international level and the timing seemed right for a BTS book. For me, what stood out was the idea of creating a hybrid pop culture biography, one that told the group’s story but also enlightened readers on the rich history of the K Pop genre and just how K Pop groups like BTS are created.
SBC: What were some of the challenges you had to overcome with writing Burn the Stage?
MS: The biggest challenge is always research, tracking down the facts, the names, dates and places and being spot on in terms of accuracy. Easily the biggest challenge was the fact that the vast majority of the group’s early press came out in Korean outlets and in the Korean language. Fortunately, computers these days have a translation option so it only took one hit on the translation button to change Korean to English.
SBC: What kept you going when writing Burn the Stage and who were your biggest supporters during the making of the book?
MS: Writing the best book possible was always the driving force. Of course there is always the reality of deadlines to push you along. As I progressed with the book I found myself increasingly enthralled by just how K Pop works and how it has an impact on the lives of so many young people. Outside of my agent, publisher and my wife, nobody knew it was being written. But I could always count on them for support and encouragement.
SBC: Did anything surprise you about K-Pop?
MS: The main thing was how the K Pop industry has turned into a thriving, and yes calculating, bit of music business. Given all that I was intrigued by the chances that very industry has taken numerous creative chances that flew in the face of preconceived notions and the result has been wide ranging success on a global level.
SBC: Why do you think BTS has also resonated in the states?
MS: It’s a simple formula and one that has been around since pop music began. Cute guys or girls presenting straightforward and heartfelt music that touches on the hopes and dreams of young, largely, teenage girls. It’s a concept in the states that’s been around forever. Anybody out there remember The Monkees?
SBC: In your opinion, what makes an artist(s) the next big thing?
MS: Talent. Luck. Timing. Charisma. Good songs. It’s like the pop culture equivalent of E+MC2. It’s a universal equation.
SBC: You’ve written countless biographies. Are there any artists who come to mind that remind you of BTS? How so?
MS: I’ve written two books on Justin Bieber. He’s probably the closest modern day counterpart to BTS. But then there was always The Beatles who were probably the next big thing that went on to become the biggest thing in history.
SBC: As a journalist, what questions would you ask BTS?
MS: The fan magazine line of questioning has pretty much run its course. The questions I would have would be just how they are handling the success. Are there good days or days you just want to chuck it all? My guess is the answer to those kinds of questions would bring a whole different facet of BTS to light.
SBC: What do you want readers to take away from Burn the Stage? How about BTS fans?
MS: I always want the same reaction for anybody who reads my books. Be entertained. Be inspired. See these people in a way you may not have expected.