When it comes to the K-pop supergroup BTS, it’s hard to imagine that the band that managed to historically shatter multiple records on Billboard and Spotify can ever place rank among a « least popular » list for — well, anything. But according to a number of polls, there’s at least one member of the boy band phenom that has indeed done so, and not in a way befitting of pop music royalty, to say the least.
According to at least two widely circulated polls within the span of two years, one member of the K-pop sensation BTS — among which include crooners RM, Jin, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin, V, and Jungkook — has frequently ranked the most unpopular among the septet. While there might be a number of reasons for this, which may or may not have to do with factors relating to some of the more unsavory aspects of the K-pop industry or South Korean culture at large, the question still remains: Who is the least popular member of BTS? Dear reader, the answer — and more so the reasons behind it — are sure to surprise you.
J-Hope is the least popular member of BTS
It turns out that the least popular member of the K-pop band BTS is none other than J-Hope — and unfortunately for the South Korean native, there’s data to back up that claim. As The Blast noted in their own breakdown of the rapper and songwriter’s purported popularity level among fans, a poll conducted by Tumblr in 2019 (via Koreaboo) found that J-Hope ranked seventh among their list of top 100 K-Pop stars — with J-Hope’s fellow bandmembers Jin, RM, Suga, V, Jimin, and Jungkook leading with slots from sixth to first. Another survey, this time a 2019 Gallup poll (via AllKPop), found that participants in between the ages of 13 and 29 listed J-Hope as the least popular member of BTS out of an extensive list of Preferred Korean Idols, with Jimin topping out at number one for both the 2019 and 2018 lists, respectively.
While Jimin, followed by Jungkook, V, Suga, RM, and Jin all placed within the top 20 bracket of Preferred Korean Idols, J-Hope was far from the least popular out of all idols ranked. But the fact that J-Hope consistently ranked lower than his six BTS co-members on two separate 2019 polls — one of which is most notably used as a metric and analytical tool in U.S. presidential elections — has left some to speculate the reason for the marked popularity gap.
J-Hope’s looks and personality might be the issue
According to The Blast, reasons for BTS member J-Hope’s relative unpopularity compared to his bandmates run the gamut, from the K-Pop idol’s personality, which the outlet described as « bubbly » and « energetic, » to his looks, which are purportedly « not conventionally attractive by East Asian standards. » When it comes to the aforementioned masculine standards of beauty in « East Asia, » (or more specifically, South Korea), this simple detail is a little more complex than meets the eye.
In 2018, the BBC explored the advent of the « flowerboy, » a South Korean idiomatic term that describes a masculine gender presentation that aligns with ways that are not typically ascribed to more traditional forms of Korean masculinity. The article also cited BTS as a revolutionizing force behind pushing the acceptance of soft masculinity, from which the abstract of the « flowerboy » originates, into the mainstream. In an interview with the BBC, scholar Joanna Elfving-Hwang from the University of Western Australia called Korea « a trailblazer in men’s beauty culture, » as well as an international one in Asia and beyond — and specifically pointed at K-Pop as a dynamo.
« The way they [K-pop stars] play with masculinity, what it means to be a beautiful man in a heterosexual or non-heterosexual way, it opens up possibilities for men on the street and eventually makes it more acceptable, » Elfving-Hwang added. And she’s hardly alone in this estimation.
J-Hope’s unpopularity might be culturally symptomatic
As AllKPop reported in September 2020, Lim Sung-Soon, the director of the Korean Language Research Institute, expressed how BTS has (and currently is) « [redefining] hegemonic/westernized beauty standards, » but singled out Jungkook specifically as the new « James Dean » of the masculine beauty paradigm.
According to KPopMap, however, it’s BTS member Suga who most prominently defies standards of beauty within the K-Pop industry, which typically idolizes « pale white skin and large eyes with double-eyelids. » Indeed, the lionization of these homogenized features, which the South China Morning Post and myriad postcolonial scholars have ascribed to a glorification of Western (read: white) beauty standards are part of the reason why cosmetic surgery has become an institution in South Korea, where cosmetic procedures are also seen as a means for garnering social capital.
Still, J-Hope’s non-adherence to these beauty standards doesn’t provide a clear-cut explanation as to why he’s been consistently ranked as one of the supergroup’s least popular members. (Aside from Suga, only fellow BTS bandmate Jimin has been prominently regarded as another member of the troupe who goes against general Western, masculine beauty criteria, at least in publications readily available in English.) But while the definitive reason for J-Hope’s comparative lack of popularity might remain elusive, it’s safe to say that understanding the historical forces that have rendered it might help us all reconsider these standards to begin with — if anything, at least it’s a start.