Today, I Am Outing Myself As A Fan of BTS (Don’t Judge Me)
I know some of you might be a little surprised to hear this, but I am a massive nerd.
Shocker, I know, right? Well, that's just the way I am. If I find something that I like, I have to go full throttle every time. It's been the same way since I first discovered music in my early teens. When I like something, whether it's a book series, a band, a movie, a tv show, anything - I have to know every little single thing about it. I go through these phases where I find something, I obsess over it for a bit, and then it goes into rotation with the other stuff I like.
But this.. is different. Since about September of last year, I have been a reluctant at first fan of BTS. What is BTS, you may ask? I'm not here to judge, everybody likes different stuff, it might not be your thing. BTS is a pop group from Korea. BTS literally means "Bulletproof Boyscouts" in translation, but they choose to say the acronym stands for Beyond The Scene in English.
They are seven members (which sounds like a lot to us, but it's not over there. Some groups have four or five, some have nine, there's one that even has thirteen). Their names are Kim Namjoon, Kim Seokjin, Min Yoongi, Jung Hoesok, Park Jimin, Kim Taehyung, and Jeon Jungkook. Over there they put their surnames first, so there aren't three dudes all named Kim. Kim is a common last name over there, like Smith or Jones is to us. Some of them have stage names. Kim Namjoon is also known as RM, Min Yoongi is called Suga, Jung Hoseok is J-Hope and Kim Taehyung is also called V. They sing, rap, and dance, and it's something I really enjoy. A good 90% of the time, they sing in Korean. Occasionally you will hear a phrase or two of English (which again, is not uncommon in the genre, other groups do it too), and occasionally you'll hear something that SOUNDS like English, but isn't.
They're often referred to as a "Boy Band", but I don't think that moniker really is accurate. There's so much more to what they do than anything we had in boy bands when we were kids. I've always had a soft spot for pop music, heck, even my favorite band of all time, The Beatles, definitely could be considered pop music. But pop music hasn't always had a lot of meaning behind it. The deepest thought we got from pop music in my day was Nsync dressing up as marionettes and then cutting the strings, because they're not puppets anymore! And even further back, the other groups like New Kids, New Edition, Backstreet Boys, Boyz II Men, they rarely used their platform, In My OpINiOn, to the full potential like BTS does.
So, here are a few reasons why I like them, maybe you'll understand my nerdery, maybe not. Maybe you'll think I'm a freak. That's possible, people have thought that about me plenty of times. I hope that you'll hear me out and see where I'm coming from.
1. The Music Itself is Diverse.
I like all sorts of music. I always had a theory that you could find a good song from any singer, whether they wrote it or not. Everybody seems to have at least one. I've liked bands and groups in country music, latin music, metal, rock, rap, r&b, all over the shop. Sure, I have seen some groups who are diverse, but BTS really are different in that respect. You can listen to a BTS song and it will not sound like any other song they ever did (with the exception of "I'm Fine"/"Save Me", but that was a bit of a trick). There have been bits of gospel, rock, r&b, latin, rap, balladry, and jazz in several different songs of theirs. I like not knowing what to expect from song to song. It doesn't hurt that they're amazing singers - one of them I've heard go from a low baritone to a high tenor in the same song. And often times, they'll do this while performing truly intense choreography. And what's wrong with a catchy song? Nothing.
2. The Lyrics Are Generally Reflective.
Sure, it's in Korean, but this is the age of the internet. You can easily find translations anywhere on the internet. And yeah, not every song is super serious. They have what I refer to as "ooh giiiirl" songs, ""I Rock, You Suck" songs, and "Let's Go Out And Be Stupid" songs. But for the most part, a lot of their lyrics are about self reflection and trying to find happiness, either in love or in oneself. They had an entire album series (three records) called Love Yourself, trying to explore what it is to truly accept yourself with your good and bad sides. They've reached out to their audience and asked them to love themselves for who they are, and who they want to be. I think in a world where teenagers are literally killing themselves over internet comments,.... that's important.
That's something they need to hear, from people they admire. Heck, we all need to hear that every now and then, don't we? What did the New Kids ever tell us? That we're hanging tough? Not that it's a bad thing to be the New Kids, don't get me wrong. This is just an entire different level.
And one important part, at least for me, is that these are coming from the group themselves. Yes, they have production people, but they are all involved in making the music in different ways. Some work on music, some work on lyrics, some work on themes, some work on all of it. They're not just taking someone else's song and singing it, they're making their own music and collaborating on it.
3. The Music Videos are Complex.
And don't worry, I know what you're going to say - "you just like the videos because you like the way they look". Sure, they're cute. But this more than that, definitely. There's a plot line that runs through many, but not all, of their music videos. And they've been doing this for Years. At least four or five years worth of music videos have been following this plotline or alluding to it in some way or form. Sometimes you just get a reference, sometimes it's a full plot point, sometimes there's nothing at all. And the plot line isn't just "I love a girl and she doesn't love me". They deal with topics like domestic violence, mental illness, poverty, parental neglect, peer pressure, alcoholism, suicide, classism, arson, depression, vandalism, drug abuse, vehicular manslaughter, murder, and Freaking Time Travel.
I know, it's a lot. And it's not just me/the fans reading into this. I'll give you some examples from one video alone, okay? Let's look at "Fake Love".
One aspect of Suga's (fictional, remember) plotline involves the death of his mother. Growing up, they bonded over playing the piano (that part is real, Suga does play the piano). One day while he was out, his house burned down, killing his mother and leaving only the piano behind. So in the videos, you'll Suga often followed by or surrounded by musical instruments/fire. Sometimes it comes to him, sometimes he sets the fires, but he's always around fire.
Here he is with the piano.
And there he is, sitting in front of a huge explosion. You can't see it until the next shot, but he almost looks comforted by it.
Then we have J-Hope. In his storyline, he was abandoned by his mother as a child. She took him to an amusement park, gave him a Snickers bar and told him cover his eyes and count. Then, she promptly left him there. Alone. For good. So in his storyline, you'll often see amusement park details and candy.
Yes, he is literally lying on a bed of Snickers, surrounded by amusement park toys. If you just saw that and didn't know there was something behind it, you'd think it was just insane. But it's not, it's showing you the literal manifestation of his trauma. He tries to hold the door back, but the Snickers flood into the room.
And then there's Jimin. Some aspects of Jimin's storyline are not finished yet. A lot was explained/confirmed by their webcomic, but some parts of Jimin's storyline aren't clear. Basically what we know is that he went on a field trip as a child to an Flower Arboretum (which I think is kind of like a botanical garden), separated from the class, and saw or did... SOMETHING that traumatized him. Some people think he saw someone commit sexual assault, or that he was in fact assaulted. Some people think he saw a suicide, but there's been no confirmation. That part is just fan speculation for now. What we do know is the nature of whatever he saw gave him seizures and severe depression/mental illness to the point that he tried to drown himself in the bathtub. Therefore, Jimin in the videos, is often around water or the sea.
And yes, that effect is practical (not CGI) - you can see Jimin's shirt move up a little bit as the water rushes in. In the previous part, he had tried to shut the water off, effectively symbolizing him trying to deny/forget what he's dealing with. And of course he can't, so the water comes rushing in.
And that's only three of the seven members. The other four have their own problems, too. RM deals with poverty (he lives in a shipping container) and drug abuse. V comes from a family with an alcoholic father who beats his sister. So of course, V MURDERS HIM in one of the videos. And there's consequences for that later in other videos, as well. Jungkook comes from parents who neglect him and so he is often left to his own devices, basically being corrupted by the others and their problems, always watching the bad examples they're setting. Jin is the oldest, and he's the one trying to solve all their problems. He travels through time, over and over and over again, to try to save them. And believe me when I tell you, that's the simplified version.
Not only do they have the plotline, they also have direct references to art, sculpture, and books in other videos, most of which make contributions to the story. There was an entire series inspired by a book from a hundred years ago called Damien by Hermann Hesse. A lot of what happens in that series of videos that relates to the plot line is also a reference to or a scene from Damien. And I'm really not making that up either - RM reads passages from the book before the videos.
Don't give him a hard time about pronunciation. He taught himself English by watching Friends on DVD.
The new album is called Map Of The Soul: Persona, which is named after a book analyzing the works of Carl Jung. Carl Jung felt that human psychology could be broken down into three parts: the persona, the shadow, and the ego. So... yeah, we're getting another three part series of albums.
4. They Genuinely Seem Like Good Dudes.
In Korea it's pretty common for their K-Pop favorites, or "Idols" to appear on television regularly. Many groups have separate internet or television shows where they do any number of things - compete with each other, go on trips, etc. BTS definitely has a LOT of content in that regard. There's a website/service in Korea called VLive. It's basically kind of like a Facebook live thing. Idols can get on Vlive, their fans tune in they can ask questions and leave comments in real time. BTS are very genuinely invested in reaching out to their fans on Vlive and Twitter. After they presented at the Grammys, did they go to the after party and whoop it up with Post Malone (you know, the guy with tattoos on his face)? No, they went back to their hotel and got on Vlive to tell their fans how it went, and thank them for their support in getting there.
They're also very serious about charity work. They work with Unicef right now on a campaign called "Love Myself" where they're working all over the world to end violence against children and suicides. A lot of their music sales, merchandise sales, and personal donations go to the campaign. It's very important to them to keep that going, and to make more and more people aware of it. They're also very supportive of LGBT causes, and they try to help lessen suicides in Korea connected to that. That's pretty brave of them, considering most of South Korea is generally dis-favorable of LGBT people. Sure, we have bigots here, but you can talk about being gay or be a gay person openly and most people will just let you do you. It's not something most people in Korea talk about.
And, for all of this, all of how seriously they take their music, their performances, their media.... they're also complete and total goofballs.
They solve every problem by playing rock paper scissors. They are constantly laughing about something or other. They compete with each other constantly - and there can't just be a winner that gets rewarded, there has to be a loser that gets punished. And usually that punishment is either eating something gross or getting smacked on the butt. I'm sure some aspects of what they do on camera are exaggerated, but they genuinely seem like they care about each other. And they love smacking each other's butts. Like, a lot. Basically any opportunity to cause each other pain,(not like serious injuries, but you know, just slaps or whatnot) they will take. They have a few reality shows that follow them around while they're working or on vacation, and it's so funny.
Getting to know the personalities of each one (well, as best as you can, you can only see what they want you to see, after all) is just fascinating. They're very different, yet they all kind of blend together and balance each other out. While sharing one braincell.
So, I think you've got a little scrape of the surface of my nerdery. I am attending their concert on May 11th in Chicago. It was a very stressful experience getting tickets, and a little pricey, but worth it. I was panicking because so many other people were trying to get tickets - the Chicago show is 60k seating and sold out in about forty five minutes. In fact, they all sold out within an hour or so. Think about that. Wembley Stadium, that's ninety thousand people. That show sold out in ninety minutes. So that's a thousand tickets a minute. They had to add dates to each stop, and those promptly sold out, too. So... you might not be familiar with it, but I'm definitely not the only one who loves them. And I like to think I have good reasons why.
So from now until the day I leave, I will be telling you about something else I love about BTS. Favorite songs, favorite videos, favorite member, whatever I feel like talking about, because I AM TOO EXCITED. I know some people will judge me and say, "Eugh, aren't you too old for this", but I say, no. I am not too old to enjoy music and art and actual thought in pop music. And one interesting thing about BTS fans, (aka ARMYs) is that they really are people of all ages. Young kids, teenagers, adults, I've even seen elderly fans of BTS. I think they give us all plenty of reasons to love them.
Hopefully you read this, understood it, and appreciated it. Maybe it'll inspire you to become an ARMY, too. Or maybe it'll just inspire you to check out a couple music videos. That's enough for me.