The septet BTS has explosively driven Western awareness of Korean popular music (K-pop), building on the success and popularity of previous groups. Before the dominance of BTS the arguably best known boy group, internationally, was the quintet Big Bang. In this paper I contrast the celebrity images of success performed by members of both BTS and Big Bang. Specifically I argue that the exposure of bad behavior and even crimes by Seungri of Big Bang, a scandal often referred to as "Burning Sun" after the club where the first wrong-doing was uncovered, initially seemed like an opportunity to reduce fan expectations that idols be perfect. One approach to the scandal would have been to underline human fallibility and challenge demands for perfection. However, the opposite occurred, leaving idols if anything under greater pressure than before. I attribute this to timing—the scandal broke just as BTS truly took off in the West. The enormous BTS fan club or ARMY, BTS's company Big Hit and corporations BTS represents, and the Korean government cooperated to distance BTS from Burning Sun and preserve K-pop (and Korea's) image. To that end ARMY promoted the idea of the idol as perfect to a growing audience, while media play in Korea sought to paint Burning Sun as a case of bad apples using obfuscation, and misdirection—an approach that worked on some international audiences but widened a rift between domestic and international fans who found pleasure in fantasies of perfection and exoticism.
CedarBough Saeji is a visiting professor in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures at Indiana University.