On Friday, May 21, 2021 the global entertainment powerhouse BTS will release its second all-English song: Butter. following Dynamite, their Grammy-nominated single that’s dominated the Billboard Top 100 since its debut in 2020. (And they’ll do a debut performance at the Billboard Music Awards May 23rd).
This group of seven young men has transcended its K-Pop categorization and is claiming higher ground in global engagement, messaging and fandom. Full disclaimer, this author is #ProudBTSArmy with absolutely no apologies. What makes them so special?
BTS is a Korean national treasure redefining entertainment and engagement with audiences in deep and meaningful ways. A fan starts by enjoying the group’s songs and performances. Transitions to a Stan, supporting causes BTS supports. And morphs into Army when the music, mission and message (that YOU are who you should love in this world) transcend narrow definitions like K-Pop and become something precious and worth protecting for itself.
BTS’ 7 idols defy stereotype – and illuminate some as having become ‘outdated concepts.’ Here are a few to consider – feel your own reaction and consider why you have the feelings you do.
- Fashion: All 7 wear makeup, jewelry, regularly change hair color and rock fashion they like, regardless of what gender modeled it originally. (why can only women wear pearls? Color hair? Wear makeup? Take care of their skin?) and it’s constantly changing, reflecting continual transformation, growth and evolution of the human beings they are. ‘People change,’ said RM succinctly, with pink hair despite saying years ago that he wouldn’t do pink.
- Expression / Emotions: They cry on stage or in interviews when hit by the power of Army’s love, how far they’ve come. They cry to express gratitude or when moved by a memory, thoughtfulness or someone’s hurt; they take the time to define and articulate feelings in interviews, deeply and from vulnerability; they show compassion and care for each other, lovingly tender, strong and unconditionally supportive. An Army posted that ‘BTS in interviews be like, ‘my favorite color is green, and I’d give myself and all my worldly possessions for the man seated to my left.’
- Love is Love: Western culture, movies, books are centered on a (heterosexual) romantic version of love, to the exclusion of or at least overpowering other kinds of love. BTS’ message centers self-love and the struggles and insecurities that make it hard. They’re clearly a family, having lived together for the 8 years of Korean idol training and demonstrate unconditional love and acceptance for each other that is refreshing and inspirational to this Westerner’s eye! Questions about sexual orientation and gender presentation just seem ‘off the mark’ and irrelevant to what’s important here. A key lyric in their global hit ‘Idol,’ is “You can’t stop me loving myself.”
- Authentic & Pure – you recognize American cynicism by its absence in these boys’ response to interviewer questions. As Taehyung answers an interviewer question about what kind of trouble he gets into or RM is poked with a ‘tell me the worst fan harassment you’ve suffered,’ one expects tongue in cheek tattles. And instead gets honesty from an open, vulnerable heart in the case of Taehyung (Jungkook and I would get into trouble together more than prank each other) or loving care of Army from RM (Our fans don’t hurt us, I tend to -clumsily- hurt myself). They defuse the negativity and seem not to have even perceived it.
- Acceptance, Exuberant, Unconditional – BTS does TV series in Korea (Run BTS, In the Soop) with silly contests competitions, games, overnights. They compete, they laugh at failures and stumbles, their own and each other’s,’ encourage each other with no animosity, just loving acceptance and appreciative celebration. What can seem arrogant in a western TV show interview is so endearing to Armies who know the BTS member speaking and all this context. I remember my initial Western-rootbound perception of Jin when he said “I’m Worldwide Handsome,” on late night American TV. Much different now, as I hear it as an Army would, in the context of ‘knowing’ how sweet, clumsy and caring he is, how he sings his heart out, showing his understanding of hurt and insecurity. How he coaches us to better love ourselves, leading by example. (and also, multiple authors have analyzed his bone structure and declared him to be an example of perfect configuration in a human being!)
- Duality – human beings are complicated and changing. These boys are both handsome, hot guys in their 20’s that sing, dance and entertain. They’re idols: sculpted, fit and breathtakingly beautiful. And they’re silly, clumsy, preciously adorable boys that get into trouble, break things, trip, fall off chairs, lose things, get lost and confused. They laugh at themselves and at each other, always in unconditional love. They write, produce and perform award-winning music and lyrics that comfort, inspire and feed a global army of fans, stans and Army. They are a reset. Both and all of this.
- And ARMY: it’s a new level of engagement by fandom. It’s no longer clear if BTS is a separate entity or if BTW + Army is the entity sweeping the globe with its music and message that transcends language. Many of us shifted from fan to stan when BTS gave a million dollars to Black Lives Matter in 2018 and Army matched that money within 25 hours, becoming an example of using a platform to effect change in the world.
CEO Bang Si-hyuk, who has said he was just hoping not to go bankrupt when he took on BTS 8 years ago, has parlayed tiny Big Hit Entertainment into the newly rebranded HYBE Corporation, redefining entertainment fandom, global engagement and platform messaging. So much to admire and emulate. I’m hoping my fellow citizens can unlearn some stereotypes, toss those outdated concepts of what is ‘manly,’ and see these men for the wonder they are: the wholly positive global phenomenon that is BTS.
Butter comes out tomorrow and the teaser seems like excellent advice: Get it. Let it Roll! #JustLove