BTS's Hiatus Is Nothing Like One Direction's Split – Here's Why

Getty / Astrid Stawiarz

Image Source: Getty / Astrid Stawiarz

On June 14, a day after BTS’s ninth anniversary, the K-pop group announced they’re taking time off from making music as a group to focus on their solo careers. Unveiled during their annual FESTA dinner party, the big announcement comes on the heels of their latest, relatively dialled-back comeback – an anthology album called “Proof,” released on June 10. Though the group members made it clear they are not breaking up and will return to making music as a group in the future, the announcement generated mixed reactions from the audience. While fans were shocked initially, they largely welcomed BTS’s decision to reset. On the other hand, many media outlets blew the situation out of proportion, alleging the announcement might translate into the septet going their separate ways for good.

A few hours after the big announcement, investor panic caused the stock value of BTS’s record label, HYBE, to dip by 28 percent, sweeping away a whopping $1.7 billion of its market value. The entertainment company quickly set the record straight, releasing an official statement that clarified that BTS is not disbanding. “To be clear, they are not on hiatus but will take time to explore some solo projects at this time and remain active in various different formats,” one representative told Pitchfork.

While the original English subtitles for BTS’s FESTA dinner saw Suga say, “We’re going into a hiatus now,” they were swiftly adjusted to say, “We’re taking a temporary break now.” If you consult a dictionary, a “hiatus” is, by definition, a break. So why the handwringing over the word? The general uneasiness surrounding the term “hiatus” can no doubt be traced back to another influential boy band’s dissolution: One Direction.

After Zayn Malik left the band in March 2015, the group went on as a foursome and put out one more album before announcing an “extended hiatus” a few months later in August 2015, implying they would one day come back together. “They are taking a hiatus so they can work on individual projects for a while, but they are not splitting up,” a source informed 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 what they more likely meant by hiatus was “we’re disbanding.” So either they really did intend to reunite at some point initially and later abandoned the ideas as their solo careers took off, or they only used the concept of a temporary hiatus to soften the blow for their millions of fans. Another X Factor group, Fifth Harmony, would later seemingly follow suit using the same game plan in March 2018.

Considering the relatively recent evolution of the word “hiatus” in popular culture, it’s understandable why people outside the BTS fandom see BTS’s break as them going down the same road as 1D. But there are quite a few glaring differences between One Direction’s “indefinite hiatus” and BTS’s that should reaffirm anyone’s faith that BTS will be back.

The most telling sign that BTS’s break is temporary is literally in black and white: BTS is still under contract with their label, HYBE. RM, Jin, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin, V, and Jungkook renewed their contracts with the South Korean company in 2019 for another seven years – until 2026. One Direction’s contract under Simon Cowell’s now-virtually defunct record label Syco Music had already expired at the end of 2015, with every member apart from Louis Tomlinson signing with different labels shortly after they announced their “hiatus.” So while 1D certainly could have continued their activities under different labels, there was no longer any contractual obligation to. BTS, however, is still a group signed under the same label, so it’s hard to imagine they won’t inevitably deliver another album as a group when the time is right.

That’s not to suggest anyone is twisting BTS’s arm, though. When One Direction split in 2016, cracks within the group dynamic had long become apparent after Malik left the group a year earlier. “There was never any room for me to experiment creatively in the band,” he told Fader about his decision in December 2015. In a May 2022 no-holds-barred chat on the “Impaulsive With Logan Paul” podcast, Liam Payne revealed that the internal tension among One Direction’s members had reached a high point, making the idea of a reunion far less likely.

In comparison, BTS’s group dynamics and camaraderie appear inimitable. One Direction’s brief statement announcing their hiatus stands in stark contrast to BTS’s hour-long dinner, during which the members tearfully discussed why it’s time to take a break, all while reaffirming how much they will remain a part of one another’s lives until the time to reunite musically arrives. As the international news media spiralled, RM took to Weverse on June 15 to, again, insist BTS is not disbanding, criticising media outlets for misinterpreting BTS’s words. “As clear as it would have been to those who actually watched it, we explained throughout the whole broadcast that this is not the end for us – JUST like the title of the song ‘Yet To Come’ suggests,” he wrote, according to a translation by Koreaboo. Later, Jungkook filmed a VLIVE where – between bouts of karaoke – he reassured fans that “BTS is forever.”

Not only have the members already been spotted hanging out several times in their free time (J-Hope and Jimin were spotted enjoying a soccer match on June 14, while Suga and J-Hope recently visited HYBE Insight to meet up with artist Tom Sachs), but the members also committed to assisting one another with their solo ventures. (Jimin explicitly invited Suga to feature on his in-progress debut album during the FESTA dinner.) In, perhaps, the ultimate show of solidarity, at least five of the members have confirmed they’ve gotten a friendship tattoo in the form of a “7” somewhere on their body.

Moreover, BTS’s decision to put group activities on hold is not as sudden as it may appear. Group hiatuses are not uncommon in the K-pop industry. Fans are aware that, barring any significant changes to Korea’s mandatory military enlistment laws, BTS’s oldest members will soon have to enlist in the Korean military for around 20 months, as all Korean men between the ages of 18 and 28 must. A 2020 amendment to the existing Military Service Act allowed members of BTS to delay their enlistment until the age of 30. With Jin and Suga (both aged 29) approaching 30 soon, there’s a chance the “Butter” singers decided to put group activities on the back burner to not only allow each member to explore their artistry, but also to facilitate the members’ enlistment. Their break also makes perfect sense in this context.

Western boy band conventions generally dictate that group members tapping into their potential as solo artistry means the end for the group as a whole – especially if members find enduring success as a soloist (think Harry Styles from 1D, Camila Cabello from 5H, or Justin Timberlake from NSYNC) – but that’s not the case in the K-pop industry. It isn’t uncommon to see K-pop bands branch out into solo projects while continuing with intermittent group activities. Some K-pop groups who have ventured into solo activities (be it singing or acting) while continuing group activities include BLACKPINK, GOT7, Super Junior, and Big Bang, among others. BTS members have also already dabbled in solo projects while still producing music as a group, each having contributed to an original soundtrack, subunit collaborations, or mixtapes over the years. Following the latest 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 conversations was BTS getting candid about the burnout they’ve been experiencing working tirelessly to pump out original music as a group while fulfilling their tight schedules. BTS has released nine studio albums (plus six compilation albums) in their nine years together, on top of five concert tours (three of which were worldwide), countless endorsements, and press appearances – all while also releasing solo passion projects here and there. They admitted, however, that their artistry would likely take a hit should this pattern continue. As RM said during the FESTA dinner, “I want BTS to go on for a long time. We have to go through this to do that. I want it to last long, and for BTS to last long, I think I have to retain who I am.”

The bottom line remains – whether BTS decides to come back together as a group to make music in a month, a year, or even a decade from now, they are just as much a unit now as they’ve always been, albeit in a new form. Their downtime is an opportunity to slow down, allow themselves to approach things differently, and find themselves in a new light. While the decision may have invited many unwarranted comparisons to previous boy group separations, their emotional messages to ARMYs and sincere assurance that this isn’t the end of the road have only bolstered ARMYs’ belief that when they do come back, they’re going to be stronger, more mature, and even better versions of themselves as they strive to reach new heights still. After all, the best for BTS is yet to come.

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