If there was ever a doubt that music transcends language – there’s not a chance for that now. Record-breaking Korean pop sensation BTS has not only caused a fracture in the hesitations towards non-Anglicized music, but have completely shattered it altogether, redefining and reimagining what it means to be an entertainer in the modern age. From performing numbers complete with dazzling costumes, show-stopping vocals and perfectly-in-sync choreography, to becoming the first K-pop group to earn a Grammy nod, to showing their infinite love for their devoted fans, it’s no surprise as to why BTS owns the throne.
BTS, a Korean boy group made up of seven members, has quickly become a household name for many across the globe. Since their debut in 2013, Kim Seokjin (Jin), Min Yoongi (Suga), Jung Hoseok (J-Hope), Kim Namjoon (RM), Park Jimin, Kim Taehyung (V), and Jeon Jungkook have broken numerous records: the first Korean act to debut at No. 1 on Billboard Hot 100, the first Korean band to be nominated for the Billboard Music Awards, and now the first Korean group to receive a Grammy Nomination for the Best Pop Duo/Group Performance category with their song “Dynamite” on November 24th.
With all the success BTS has achieved since their debut, it is not unusual when people question why they have such a large following and millions of fans. There may have been a stigma surrounding K-pop in Western society, due to the seemingly impenetrable barrier of a foreign language, which leads to unfamiliarity and skepticism as to why these “little boys from Korea” have been so heavily ingrained into popular culture. Sure, they’ve got the whole superstar package – good looks, insane talent, personality – but what makes them stand out? How did they become a worldwide phenomenon? The answer is not so simple.
“As an army myself, there are many reasons why I decided to become a fan of BTS three years ago, and the gratitude and love I have towards them cannot be easily put into words.”Fer P, writer for Zenerations
They are idolized for many reasons, and some of them might not be so obvious. Acknowledging their music and stage presence is a vital part in understanding their rise to stardom: their breathtaking dance moves, complex choreography, meaningful lyrics, and the diverse themes found in their music make them relatable to their young audiences and create an undeniable appeal. The themes found throughout their discography range from elitism, to self-love, to school and bullying, to loneliness, and to so many more deep and powerful topics. In their debut song “No More Dream,” the group brings to light the mindset of dreaming big and the pressure it places on young people;we’re often told we should dream big and have high standards, yet once we age and mature our dreams are often shot down as unrealistic, not profitable, etc. “Adults and parents tell us the same dream. Future job number one, public officials?” In “Silver Spoon,” they use the “spoon” metaphor, in which people are born with spoons that represent their socio-economic status and mention how many young South Koreans feel that previous generations have left unstable environments for the current generation to inherit.
“Loving myself might be harder than loving someone else, let’s admit it the standards I made are more strict for myself…..Now let’s forgive ourselves, our lives are long, trust yourself when in a maze when winter passes, spring always comes…It’s just that loving myself doesn’t require anyone else’s permission I’m looking for myself again but I don’t wanna die anymore. Me, who used to be sad. Me, who used to be hurt. It’ll make me more beautiful.”– Love myself: Answer
“All of the sadness and scars Became an old memory now So let’s smile and let go…Our future will only have happiness So put away your fear Enjoy it, you worked hard”– I’m Fine
Not only does BTS incorporate diverse topics into their songwriting process, but their bond with their fanbase (referred to as A.R.M.Y.) is far from your run-of-the-mill, one sided fan to celebrity relationship – instead, it’s human to human. The seven members interact with ARMY the way they would their closest friends – going live to share moments from their day, anecdotes from their childhood, making their favorite Korean delicacies, crafting friendship bracelets, and more from an endless archive of content cultivated over the past seven years. They’ve developed phrases and sayings exclusive between BTS and their ARMY, such as “I purple you” and go out of their way to emphasize that the group and the fans are one, and that they paved the way to success together. It’s an undying love, one that provides comfort and solace to the youth who might be overwhelmed with the intensity of navigating one’s adolescence. Through BTS, a sense of euphoria is found, a calming, brilliant light that you can drift towards during your darkest days.
It’s not uncommon for the group to inspire and encourage their young supporters, not only through their music but through social media challenges, like their “Persona” challenge in which they asked and empowered fans to open up about personal growth, or their “Life Goes On” challenge, in which they talk about how “One day, the world stopped without any warning,” referencing the global pandemic. This challenge encourages people to create a video expressing what “Life Goes On” meant to them—some fans showed their artistic talents, while others talked about the hardships they have been through.
“Like an echo in the forest, the day will come back around as if nothing happened. Yeah, life goes on like an arrow in the blue sky”– Life Goes On.
Another thing that is appealing about BTS is the members’ different personalities. “Run BTS” is a variety show in which the members compete in different games and activities, ranging from learning how to make pottery to running away from zombies.Through this show, fans have been able to gain a deeper perspective into the lives of the members, and truly gauge their authentic and fun personalities via watching them play games, compete, and act as true friends. The true appeal surrounding Run BTS is how it shows us a side of BTS that audiences don’t get to see during their performances.
“How long do I have to wait and how many sleepless nights do I have to spend to see you, To meet you.”– Spring Day.
BTS’ impact goes far beyond their songwriting and connection with their fans; their contribution to charitable causes plays a role as well. In 2018 Suga celebrated his birthday by donating Korean beef to 39 orphanages under the name of ‘ARMY’ after promising fans at a fan signing event in 2014 that he would one day make enough money to buy meat for them. In June, the group donated $1 million to Live Nation’s Crew Nation campaign along with their management company Big Hit Entertainment—Crew Nation was created to benefit live events staffers who suffered from the postponement of all concerts due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. That same month, they also donated $1 million to the Black Lives Matter movement, and made a statement against racial discrimination, tweeting “We stand against racial discrimination. We condemn violence. You, I and we all have the right to be respected. We will stand together. #BlackLivesMatter” Within about 24 hours, fans matched the donation.
Not only do they donate to different causes, but in 2017 they entered into a partnership with the Korean Committee for UNICEF, in an attempt to sponsor a campaign called #ENDviolence—UNICEF’s global campaign aimed at ensuring children and teens in the world lead safe and healthy lives without the fear of violence. In 2018, BTS spoke at the United Nations to encourage people to love and forgive themselves by saying “Today, I am who I am with all of my faults and my mistakes…I have come to love myself for who I am, for who I was, and for who I hope to become.”
There is no doubt that the South Korean group has faced many battles of Xenophobia and disrespect towards their appearances and talents. Despite their hardships, there is no denying that BTS has made a huge breakthrough in their dismantling of the cultural language barrier between Korea and Western Culture. Kim Namjoon, who goes by the stage name RM, opened up about music lacking transcendent power, particularly as the group’s Korean language within their music has received less support from the Western radio. BTS has changed a cultural perspective for many young generations within their music. They put their own twist on these often gendered, tried-and-tested musical aspects, emphasising them as storytelling devices, and directly involving their fans in shaping these narratives. With top chart hits, US appearances on the TV, sold out stadium tours, and much more, BTS has truly boomed in Western Culture.
With all the love and positivity they spread, it is no wonder how people look up to them and find comfort in BTS. To fans, Namjoon, Hoseok, Yoongi, Jungkook, Jimin, Seokjin, and Taehyung are more than just members of a band, they are the people who unconsciously helped their followers when they needed them the most, motivating them to love and accept themselves and share that love with others.
Fer is a high school senior who is passionate about drawing, learning languages and writing on The “Mexican Chronicles”, a blog she created to bring awareness to the issues mexicans currently face and to share the stories of mexican youth. Through zenerations, she hopes to write about her passions and current world issues.