WEST FARGO - While being honored by the biggest fandom in the world is “Dynamite,” the process for getting there is hardly "smooth like ‘Butter.’”
If you don’t understand those two lyrical references ("Dynamite" and "Butter") you're probably not a huge fan of the No. 1 pop group in the world.
BTS, the South Korean pop group, continues to dominate the charts. In the last year they've been named "Entertainers of the Year" and "Global Recording Artists of the Year" all the while shattering records held by The Beatles for more than 50 years. While sales records can be quantified, what can't be measured is the impact the group is having on young fans around the world – not just giving them something to listen to, but something to aspire to. West Fargo’s Eden Smith knows all about that. The 18-year-old's essay about the group is being honored by the popular website “The BTS Effect.”
The website was created by writer/editor/researcher Courtney Lazore as a place to share BTS-related content which examines the group’s significant impact and achievements in music and beyond. (For example, group members have become outspoken advocates for teenage mental health and self esteem, as well as, working to end violence against children and teens. They've spoken twice at The United Nations). Lazore sought submissions from around the world asking BTS fans, known as ARMY, to write a 1,000 to 2,000 word essay on “life lessons” they’ve learned through BTS. Lazore’s work is also shared on the popular site Medium.com.
Smith was named a finalist - meaning her essay was chosen for the top five in the world. The Forum first interviewed superfan Smith in March when the seven-man group became the first K-pop group nominated for a Grammy. The recent Sheyenne High School graduate and incoming Concordia College freshman agreed to answer a few more questions following her recent honor.
Q: The essay asked you to write what life lessons you’ve learned from BTS or their work. What did you concentrate on?
A: I wrote about how BTS’ hard work, determination and friendship taught me how to conquer mountains in my life. Using the essay itself as an example of a mountain in my life, I compared my path to BTS’. I explained how it would take many revisions to perfect the essay like how BTS had to, and still has to, practice until every detail is perfect. BTS taught me hard work pays off so, I was willing to put in the effort. I also included how I may not succeed but, that’s okay because BTS taught me how to keep my head high and keep climbing. They’ve never let setbacks keep them down so I shouldn’t either.
And lastly, I discussed how having caring people around you and letting yourself be vulnerable can lessen the damage when you fall down. The members of BTS ask for help and pull each other up just as every friend group, team or family can. I laced the mountain climbing metaphor throughout, trying to use as much of the vocabulary and imagery as I could. The metaphor was to show how climbing the mountain, writing the essay, would take a lot of hard work, determination and support. But, I have BTS’ path to follow so I know what to do. They have taught me the skills I need to make it to the top.
Q: What was your reaction when you found out you were a finalist?
A: I was so happy when I read the email saying I was a finalist. Seeing as I was chosen by a member of Bangtan Scholars, I was very honored. One thing that I think is less known about the fandom is how it is extremely organized. There are programs where ARMYs (BTS fans) can connect with tutors who are also ARMYs for help in science, math, language, etc. ARMY Academy is another tutoring service run by the fandom. There are charity organizations, accounts for ARMYs aspiring to be lawyers and doctors, research accounts, data accounts, magazines, and more. I like to think of it as our own little society. Bangtan Scholars is a place for scholars within the fandom to connect and inspire each other. They run a site that functions as a library for BTS-related content and a place to find other researchers and students who are fans (this site was made with the help of another fan run group, BTS Syllabus). Bangtan Scholars is a prominent member of the fandom and they help a lot with fundraising for charities and educating the fandom. I was astounded that my writing not only reached such a high place but was deemed by them as good enough for a reward. Honestly, my first thought was about how I couldn’t wait to tell Mr. Kauk. (Her English teacher Bernard Kauk) I knew it would make him happy, too. I also told my parents right away and they were proud.
Q: Since we last spoke, BTS released two more monster-smash English language hits to follow up on last year’s “Dynamite” which as of this writing has more than one billion hits on YouTube. “Butter” has held the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart since its release six weeks ago. It currently has approximately 447 million views on YouTube. “Permission to Dance” released just last week already has 123 million views on YouTube and was voted as "Favorite new music release of the week," in a Billboard poll. What do you think of these songs?
A: I love "Butter." I remember immediately texting my friend “I wish it was longer!” when I first heard it. When the teaser came out, I recognized the beat from "Another One Bites the Dust" by Queen and that made me very excited to hear what they would do with it. BTS is known for their teasers never sounding like the actual song. It’s a perfect summer song. I feel like it perfectly conveys my happiness about being done with high school.
I loved "Permission to Dance" after the first listen. It sounded like something I’d hear in "High School Musical." It has a great message too, with the purple balloons signifying the end of the pandemic and all the other Easter eggs hidden in the music video. They also made sure to highlight people who were impacted the most during lockdown like children and servers. The song has such a happy and carefree vibe that gives energy and hope for this all to be over soon. I smile every time I hear it.
Smith’s full essay can be found here.