K-pop sensation BTS were releasing their highly anticipated new studio album on Friday, following the historic success of their all-English single "Dynamite".
The trailblazing septet cemented their prominence in the world's biggest market in August, becoming the first South Korean act to top the US singles chart -- with "Dynamite" entering the Billboard Hot 100 at number one.
They are credited with generating billions for the South Korean economy, and last month their label Big Hit Entertainment made a high-profile stock market debut.
Their latest effort, titled "BE", was to be given a simultaneous worldwide release at 2 pm South Korean time (0500 GMT).
The new, eight-track record is the group's fifth Korean-language studio album, and "contains the most 'BTS-esque' music yet," Big Hit said in a statement ahead of the release.
"BTS have been on an explosive trajectory this year -- an amazing feat considering how much they've been continuously attracting new fans for years now," Jenna Gibson, a researcher at the University of Chicago, told AFP.
"Before this year, some sceptics may have still had doubts that BTS were just a fad, that the growth would drop off. This year has clearly, firmly, put those doubts to rest.
"It's hard to overestimate the anticipation for this album."
The English single "Dynamite" is among the tracks on the album, and the first number, "Life Goes On", aims to deliver a "message of healing" in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, Big Hit said.
"Our goal with the music on 'BE' is that it can be a comfort to a lot of people," member Jimin told a press conference Friday.
"If many people can relate to it, I will be really thankful."
Since their debut in 2013, BTS have ascended to global superstardom, holding a string of sold-out shows in Los Angeles, Paris and London last year.
Their lyrics are often socially conscious -- themes include societal competition and the ills of consumerism -- and they consistently engage with fans at home and abroad through social media, having accumulated 30.7 million followers on Twitter.
"What this album needs to do is to persuade the sceptics who have more recently heard about BTS that their work is powerful, original, and deep," CedarBough Saeji, a visiting professor at Indiana University Bloomington, told AFP.
"If this album can demonstrate that loyal fans exist in large part because of phenomenal artistic offerings, the critics who attribute BTS's success only to loyal fans will be forced to reassess."
The megastars are scheduled to perform "Dynamite" and "Life Goes On" for the 2020 American Music Awards on Sunday in Los Angeles.