Take a fanatical worldwide following that’s no less fervent in America than anywhere else, add a peppy song that will serve as the group’s first single recorded entirely in English, map a clever way to deliver it to radio, top it with a performance on MTV’s Video Music Awards and you’ve got a recipe for “Dynamite,” the latest win by BTS, the South Korean pop sensation.
But the most significant ingredient this time is one that had eluded the group to this point: big Top 40 radio play in the U.S. Assuming “Dynamite” stays on the game-changing roll it’s on, that difference is likely to take RM, Jin, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin, V and Jungkook to even greater heights in America than before.
Co-written by British hitmaker Dave Stewart (not the Eurythmic, but the younger Stewart who has written for the Jonas Brothers and Hailee Steinfeld) and singer/actress Jessica Agombar, “Dynamite” only needed one full day of airplay to achieve the highest ranking first week at Top 40 in BTS’ career. Officially released at midnight on Saturday, Aug. 22 — although a few stations had leaked it as early as Thursday — that single day’s worth of airplay had the song entering the Mediabase-powered Top 40 chart on All Access at No. 32, which is higher than some of the group’s previous releases charted during their entire runs at radio.
“Dynamite” wasn’t just a one-day wonder, either. In its first full week at radio, “Dynamite” rose to No. 20, making it only the fourth song in 2020 to reach the top 20 in just two chart weeks. Ed Brown, Top 40 radio editor for All Access, points out that the prior acts to achieve that feat are big names with long track records at the format.
In January, Justin Bieber’s “Yummy” started at No. 22, jumping to No. 14 in its second week, while that same month saw the Jonas Brothers’ “What A Man Gotta Do” (also co-produced and co-written by Stewart) jumped 29-19. The last song before “Dynamite” to scoot that fast belonged to Lady Gaga, whose “Stupid Love” made a sophomore-week leap of 32-20 for the chart that closed on March 7.
In its first chart week, “Dynamite” grabbed 2,128 plays from 162 monitored stations, essentially one day’s play. Most Top 40 stations from three radio chains — industry leader iHeart, along with Entercom and Cumulus — gave the song “world premiere” treatment, many of them playing the BTS track hourly or every other hour. When it rose to No. 20 in its second week, and its first full week of activity, it garnered 4,019 plays from 180 stations.
If “Dynamite” continues growing at its current pace, Brown says it will reach No. 16 by the time its third chart week ends at 11:59 p.m. on Saturday. Of the five previous BTS songs to reach the Top 40 chart, the group’s prior best rank had been No. 20 for “Boy With Love,” a collaboration with Halsey that only charted for nine weeks.
“Make It Right,” featuring Lauv, charted longer than “Boy,” but peaked at No. 23. Two other collaborations fell shy of the top 40, as “Idol” with Nicki Minaj stalled at No. 42, while “On,” featuring Sia, hit the wall at No. 49. “Fake Love,” which, like “Dynamite,” did not feature a guest artist, peaked at No. 33.
“That’s a terrific thing to reach the top 20 in two weeks’ time,” says Joel Denver, president and publisher of All Access. “Big applause to Columbia Records and their team and to BTS for cranking out a very commercially viable single.”
Even prior to this radio love, BTS had lured U.S. fans into its “army.” In February, the group’s fourth studio album, “Map of the Soul: 7,” debuted at No. 1 on Rolling Stone’s Top 200 Albums on 218,000 project units (sales plus equivalent value from song sales and streams), a bulk of those coming from sales of 152,300 copies.
The septet’s U.S following was also proved by two platinum albums certified by the Recording Industry Assn. of America, “Map of the Soul: Persona” and “Love Yourself: Answer,” plus three platinum singles for “Boy With Luv,” “Idol” and “Mic Drop” and a pair of gold singles, “Fake Love” and “DNA.”
TV bookers embraced BTS much faster than radio did. The group made noise for such shows as “Today,” “The Late Show,” “The Tonight Show” and “Ellen,” while its stop on MTV’s Aug. 30 VMAs was one of that night’s most talked-about appearances. Thus, it was safe to assume that “Dynamite” would blow up here, with or without radio.
Indeed, the song debuted at No. 2 on Rolling Stone’s Top 100 Songs, almost overtaking the chart-topping “WAP” by Cardi B featuring Megan Thee Stallion. It’s BTS’ highest rank on that list, which reflects song sales and equivalent value of streams.
Most of “Dynamite’s” 290,800 song units in that ranking came from sales, including more than 166,000 digital downloads, the biggest song total clocked this year by music tracking service Alpha Data.
The song’s rank also reflects 16 million on-demand U.S. audio streams from all services. Globally, “Dynamite” clocked the biggest one-day take of any song in 2020 for Spotify, garnering 12.6 million streams on Aug. 21.
While streaming has taken over radio for many U.S. consumers, it’s still an essential ingredient to build an artist’s popularity. But how do you deliver a priority single to programmers during a pandemic that eliminates the types of events labels staged before March of this year? For Columbia, which promotes the Big Hit Entertainment septet in the U.S., the answer rolled up into two words: road trip.
The label rented tour-style buses, large enough to accommodate socially distanced seating, and took the music to programmers with regional swings throughout the country.
“I think radio is looking for new stars and they’re happy to see this group succeed,” says Denver. “There’s a lot of people who want to be naysayers, but there’s no denying BTS has a huge legion of fans. Providing the right song that’s exciting like this is a great step. ‘Dynamite’ is a terrific single.”
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