When you get mentioned in the same breath as The Beatles and Michael Jackson, you know you’re a heavy hitter in the music world. In 2020, Korean band BTS was — without a shadow of a doubt — the absolute heaviest.
The group has shattered countless records and was named Time’s “Entertainers of the Year.” And just days ago, they were named “Global Recording Artists of the Year” by global music organization IFPI. They have enthralled young people all over the planet with great vocals, on point dance moves and unwavering commitment to lifting their fans self-esteem.
Yet walk down any street in America and ask anyone over the age of 30 about BTS, and you might get “B-T, what?”
On Sunday, March 14, the group that has been together for eight years was up for “Best Pop Duo/Group Performance" for the monster hit “Dynamite,” which had a record breaking 101 million views on YouTube in just 24 hours. At the publication of this story, it’s up past 902 million. Less than 100 million more views and they’ll hit one billion.
'Where has this been my entire life?'
Seventeen-year-old high school senior Eden Smith of West Fargo was a fan long before “Dynamite.” She says she first discovered the group as a 7th grader.
“The first time I clicked on it (on YouTube), I don't even remember the song. I just remember being like, ‘where has this been my entire life?’” she said.
And there’s no turning back. Like many BTS fans around the world, Smith is a diehard devotee, but oddly enough, not just for their music, but for the way they live their lives and encourage their young fans to live theirs. She was so inspired, she wrote an essay of appreciation to the group for an advanced English class that teacher Bernard Hauk will never forget.
“I think primarily for the tone that she had. For someone to offer up that kind of appreciation and shine the spotlight on someone else is an incredibly mature thing and intellectual thing to do,” Hauk said.
Read Smith's essay in full below.
So what exactly is BTS giving to its fans besides good music?
One fan summarized it this way:“They talk about mental health, loving ourselves, running towards our dreams and working hard. In these days of toxicity, they spread love,” Lovkya Sushya said on the website “She the People.”
In fact, in September, the group, led by its most proficient English speaker, Kim Namjoon or “RM", spoke to the United Nations to promote its “Love Yourself” campaign.
Smith said some members of the group, which in addition to RM includes, Kim Seokjin (Jin), Min Yoongi (Suga), Jung Hoseok, (J. Hope), Park Jimin (Jimin), Kim Taehyung (V) and Jeon Jungkook (Jungkook), have been open about their own struggles with mental health, which resonates with millions of their young fans from Generation Z — a generation born between 1997 and 2012 — plagued with higher levels of depression and anxiety than previous generations.
“They talk about mental health, loving ourselves, running towards our dreams and working hard. In these days of toxicity, they spread love,”
—Lovkya Sushya said about BTS on the website “She the People.” .
She said the inspiration comes from the story of the group’s underdog origins in K-pop.
“They were also told ‘your concept is stupid,’ ‘you’re not going to make it.’ But they just kept working until they worked their way here,” Smith said.
Smith, who currently ranks second in her class of more than 400, has already been accepted at Concordia College, where she plans to study neuroscience and eventually go to medical school. She balances a heavy load of advanced placement, college-level courses at Sheyenne High School, while also running on the school's track team. She says BTS's message of positivity and perseverance has gone through her mind when she's stressed.
“They’ll say to never give up and fight for what you want, but they’ll also say to be kind to yourself and to not wear yourself down,” she said. Smith points out that the message applies not just to BTS’s young fans, but the group’s many older fans, too.
A Musical Escape
It was concern for mental health that led the group to release the upbeat and very infectious (in a good way) “Dynamite” last summer. The goal of the group was to put a smile on the faces of a COVID-weary public, even for a couple of minutes. It's the group's first song sung entirely in English, which helped it popularity in the United States.
Even their name is part of their message. BTS, translated in English, means “Bulletproof Boy Scouts,” and according to member J-Hope, signifies the group's desire "to block out stereotypes, criticisms, and expectations that aim on adolescents like bullets.”
And BTS fans, known as A.R.M.Y, which stands for “Adorable Representative M.C. for Youth,” are their allies in the fight.
A boy band on steroids (not literally)
As altruistic as all of this is, no doubt part of BTS’s appeal isn’t just the social message they preach. The men, who range in age from 23 to 28, are all what most would consider good looking, but they don’t rely on that. It’s not just crooning into a microphone and looking cute on camera. The members of BTS write and produce their music and spend hours on intense choreography. In an interesting nod to the group they are most compared to, BTS honored The Beatles in song and dance on Stephen Colbert’s show.
A little respect for the fans
Smith said while people might think BTS’s fan base is solely teen girls, she believes 20-somethings make up the largest demographic and the entire nation of South Korea, men and women, have their back. However, she says even if it were “just a bunch of screaming teen girls”, that doesn’t mean the music should be dismissed as unimportant or silly.
“In terms of not liking someone because their fan base consists of girls is very misogynistic,” Smith said, “Just because they're young girls doesn’t mean what they like shouldn't be taken seriously.”
Those are thoughts echoed by One Direction’s Harry Styles, who once slammed a “Rolling Stone” reporter who suggested Styles might want a different fan base.
“Who's to say that young girls who like pop music have worse musical taste than a 30-year-old hipster guy? That's not up to you to say. Young girls liked The Beatles. You gonna tell me they're not serious? How can you say young girls don't get it? They're our future. Our future doctors, lawyers, mothers, presidents, they kind of keep the world going,” he said.
“Who's to say that young girls who like pop music have worse musical taste than a 30-year-old hipster guy? That's not up to you to say. Young girls liked The Beatles. You gonna tell me they're not serious?"
—Harry Styles to reporter who suggested he'd rather reach a different demographic than teen girls.
Fans like Smith aren’t out to convert anyone to being BTS fans, but if you happened to see them on the Grammy’s this weekend and liked what you saw and heard, great. Or if you just appreciate the message they're sending to your children or grandchildren, all the better. The A.R.M.Y can always use more soldiers, no matter what your age or gender. The good news is, thanks to her school essay, Smith has already enlisted one recruit — her teacher.
Kauk said, “I did not know who BTS was until I read her article, and she made me a fan.”
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