My journey to BTS started like many others, I needed to find out their names. Specifically I needed to find out the name of the one with the floppy, slightly curly hair because I was almost certain he was the most good looking man I’d ever seen. Once I knew their names there was no turning back. It’s the process of it that draws you in. To learn their names you end up watching interviews and the interviews are so wholesome and make you feel so good inside that you want to watch more and more. In no time at all you’re knee deep in Run BTS episodes and have a BTS only Twitter account, also that one floppy haired one that was your bias is still you bias but you can’t decide if you don’t just love them all. This is the slippery slope into BTS fandom, and it’s a joyous ride down let me tell you.
Someone once said there’s no right time to get into BTS, you find them when you most need them. In my case it was because my cousin loves them and I wanted to learn about the thing that made her so happy. I had tried to get into BTS in 2019 when we accidentally were downtown on the same day BTS were playing Soldier Field and there were just girls everywhere looking stoked on life. I tried to give their music a go but I don’t think I found the right song to kick it off and didn’t feel it. But then my cousin showed me some videos on YouTube and Boy With Luv was too catchy. I couldn’t get it out of my head and slowly but surely all of their songs started to just take up residence in my brain. The great thing about being new to BTS is that I discover a new favourite song all the time. Right now Magic Shop is my jam, it’s a positive vibe about finding your happy place and dealing with your anxieties and as a key worker working in the middle of COVID infested London it is one of the things that keeps me sane on my commutes. It offers an instant hit of calm and is like a hug, something I am missing since COVID took over our lives.
Love yourself is BTS’ ethos and it’s one that really pulls you in. In their music, in their interviews, in their WeVerse and VLive videos they are always talking about learning to love yourself and how this process is hard. They don’t shy away from talking about their own mental health issues. Jin’s recent solo track Abyss goes into this. The song is about burnout and self-doubt, Jin had been struggling in the last year and didn’t know how to deal with the overwhelming negativity inside his own head and was encouraged to put it into his music. Taehyung did something similar with Blue and Grey on the Be album. That song is so lyrically complex in describing feelings of isolation and depression especially the line “I just want to be happier, but do I deserve it?” tapping into that feeling that at times when you’re low you can’t see better days because your own self-worth is so low. I love this song but can’t listen to it often because it hits at feelings inside of me that I used to have when I was at my lowest, I’ve been teary eyed on trains because of this song. But this is why BTS has this huge fanbase, the honesty they put into their songs is sincere and crosses language barriers. When BTS sings “You can’t stop me loving myself” you feel like they are yelling at you, pushing you to do your best. It’s infectious.
The past year specifically has shown how much we need BTS. The Be album was written with the pandemic in mind as an album to soothe fans going through a rough time. It provides joy in tracks like Dynamite, which are so catchy without being annoying even after the 100th play through. You get hope and comfort in Life Goes On and a hug and understanding in Blue + Grey. Each track holds its own purpose and has its own style, which is one of the things I love about BTS. There’s no one style of music they stick to. They take influence from all over and create dynamic, interesting pop music with albums that bounce all over but stay interesting. A lot of the times I listen to the songs without any translations first, and I come back to songs again and again because of the beat or the instrument arrangements or just how on point Suga’s rapping is. A wonderful example of this is the orchestral version of Black Swan. Black Swan itself is a massively dramatic track from BTS with dance routines to go with that are sweeping and flowing. Sticking the vocals with soaring strings was a perfect pairing, and that’s all it is. This string section and BTS rapping and singing over the top but it led to the iconic dance of Jungkook and Jimin at the MMA awards which was a dream of ballet. BTS take risks and they mostly pay off. I do totally understand how they must be frustrated about being underrated in Western music scenes because they are written off as another K-Pop band or under the dreaded “world music” genre (that genre is stupid, imagine putting all music from other countries under this one term but this is a rant for another post). That grammy nomination this year meant the world to them, but they had to release an all English song to get it. I love Dynamite, it’s a song that warms your heart, but there are so many clever and well thought out lyrics in their Korean songs, it’s a shame they had to release an English track to get that nomination they so wanted. That we can’t look past language barriers and use Google to find translations.
The music is a huge part of why I love BTS obviously, but the other half of this is that all seven of them just come across as really nice, down to Earth, humble, friendly people. When you watch In The Soop or any Run BTS episodes you can see that they love each other so much. There so much compassion and care between them. When one of them is sad they all rally around to help them feel better. There’s this video of J-Hope being sad because he had no fan letters and then Jimin coming over and handing him a small bunch and J-Hope’s face just looks shocked and happy. As someone who is trying to be less reserved and learning to let go and be less self conscious watching BTS just be has been a total inspiration for me. Especially members like Taehyung and Jin who just are so free spirited and in the moment (which also makes the so very funny). You see their wit and humour in interviews, my favourite is the Carpool Karaoke where Jin, Taehyung and Suga are right in the back of the car just making remarks like “I don’t know what he’s saying let’s all just laugh anyway” and “I watched Friends too and I didn’t learn any English”. It really does make it hard to like one member best, because all seven of them are so awesome. Yeah, okay, maybe this is how they were trained and taught in the Big Hit bootcamps, I know K-Pop idols are well prepped about how they should be and things they should say, but also I don’t think BTS always do follow those rules.
Even things like their fashion choices endear them to you. They make statements against toxic masculine personas and are openly vulnerable and emotional on stage and in interviews. They are affectionate with each other, they wear all kinds of clothes, they love wearing makeup, they cry all the time and they do all of these things and are never ashamed. When I first started to talk about BTS a lot people would say to me “but they are all really feminine looking, they aren’t handsome” but what are we measuring this on? What is being handsome? I think the duality of all the members is something to talk about, they are so fluid in their looks. They rock three piece suits but also skirts and heels. They’re redefining what masculinity is. Suga talked about it in their excellent interview with Esquire where he said “There is this culture where masculinity is defined by certain emotions, characteristics. I’m not fond of these expressions.” I still personally think that BTS are seven of the most handsome and well dressed men I have ever seen. Up there with Riz Ahmed, Donald Glover sort of ultimately good looking dudes. It’s never crossed my mind that they aren’t ‘manly’ but that’s just because I don’t think in those sort of boxes. Mostly I just think about how much I want all of their wardrobes and wish I could go shopping with Jimin and J-Hope. RM sums up how they feel best I think when he says “There’s no need to live your life based on the standard of others.” BTS do their own thing, not because Big Hit trained them to do so but because they are trying to be the best they can, and work on their flaws and do their best for their fans. I think that part of them is honest, and I respect that a lot. I love how three of them are total introverts, but they don’t shy away from that. Suga will literally sit and do a puzzle instead of getting up and interacting with everyone else and that’s fine. They are allowed to be who they are and in turn inspire their fans to do the same. When the pandemic hit they donated over a million dollars to help people in the music industry who had lost their incomes, they donated a million dollars to Black Lives Matter when other artists weren’t even speaking up in support, and when they do stuff like this their fans follow. They raise money for charity for members birthdays, they fought facism online through fancams and takeovers. BTS are activists and proud of it. They aren’t children of privilege, they are seven people from normal backgrounds who got to do something amazing, and they continue to push themselves to achieve more every day.
As a first gen immigrant kid in the 90s most of the bands I liked were white people singing in English. A lot of us were shying away from our cultural backgrounds and wishing we could just fit in back then because we didn’t have the resources that Gen Z do now to connect to so many people all over the world and experience art and culture in the way that we do now. I never saw myself in music in the 90s and that contributed to why I always felt out of place. I’m not Korean now, obviously, but there’s something amazing about the biggest band in the world being a band from South Korean who make music that’s not in English. The fact they have a huge fanbase worldwide shows that you can cross language barriers easily and music doesn’t have to be in English for it to have the connection and resonance with fans. I think it provides some hope for all the immigrant kids now, who are struggling with their identity in their own ways. BTS are proud to be Korean, they always talk about it and to see people proud of the culture they are from and celebrating it makes you see the beauty in your own. We are the product of the influences around us, the cultures we grow up in and we make our identities are own by mixing all these things together, much like how BTS creates their music. I love the internet for being able to make the world more accessible in this way, it widens our horizons and makes life more dynamic. Also as a person who believes we are world citizens it promotes a connection to that too.
Music to me is about lyrics and being able to feel a connection to it. That’s why I love punk music so much and why I was so involved in that scene. Punk spoke to me, and it made me emotional and provided me with an outlet for my own thoughts and feelings. This is also why I love BTS. Again Suga says “The reason I started making music is because I grew up listening for lyrics that speak about dreams, hopes, and social issues,” which is what the best music should do and which is what BTS’ music does. My own creativity has been pushed by watching what members of BTS do outside of music, their video making, photography, painting, learning new instruments. They don’t stop trying to push their creativity and it pushes me to do more. It makes me no longer afraid of failing, and more confident in putting myself out there. If you don’t know where to start with BTS I really do recommend the This is BTS playlist on Spotify, it’s an excellent jumping off point. You’ll find yourself like me, finding a new favourite song every couple of weeks and dancing all the time. It’s a happy place to be.
I did end up learning the name of the floppy haired one in the end, he was Kim Taehyung. But I also learned about Kim Namjoon, Kim Seokjin, Park Jimin, Min Yoongi, Jung Hoseok and Jeon Jung-Kook and I’m glad I fell down that slope into BTS’ world. There’s nowhere I’d rather be.