#BTSxCitifield Part 2 – Finding BTS + Joining the ARMY = Going to Citi Field

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This post is part of a series, see #BTSxCitifield Part 1 – The Backstory: How Trump and #MeToo led to finding #BTS and joining the ARMY to start from the beginning.


 

Remember when I said I wasn’t sure if I even remembered how to blog since it’s been so long?  Well, I managed to misconfigure an IFTTT trigger and caused an endless loop of alerts about the new blog post being posted to Twitter, which posted a blog post on here that I had tweeted, which triggered a new tweet.. lol.  Like a noob all over again!  Thank goodness a RL friend texted me to let me know about the problem.  Thanks Phil!


 

So back to the story.  Exactly how did a middle-aged (!) white lady living in suburban Cincinnati, Ohio get into a Korean boyband?  In the last post, I talked about my unexpected reaction to the election of Trump and the #MeToo movement, and how my inability to cope with the endless cycle of upsetting news led to an American media/internet blackout.  Shutting off the information flow opened space for new interests and hobbies at a time when I was in need of distraction, and that was the context in which I discovered BTS. [1]

I also mentioned that the first BTS songs to catch my ear were Save Me and Dope, but I’m trying to remember what it was exactly that prompted my deeper dive into BTS.  In the beginning, it was hard to distinguish one boyband group from the next, EXO, Winner, GOT7.. The whole K-pop genre was a stretch for me musically, and I found the “super innocent yet super sexy schoolgirl” vibe of the girl groups especially disturbing.

K-Pop girl group AOA in what appears to be typical “sexy school girl” styling.

Even if they produce a catchy tune, I have a hard time supporting an industry that over-sexualizes young women like that.  I suppose the boy bands are not so different, since sex sells the world over, but it feels somehow less in your face with the men than it does with the women.  I’d say BTS in particular seems to dress fairly conservatively these days, though there are shirt-ripping and belly-showing dance moves from their earlier videos.

BTS in school uniform styling, not sure what year this is from though.

Digging around in my YouTube history (yikes, not recommended!), it looks like a fan-made video I stumbled upon about the BTS “alternate universe” story might have been an early hook.  It’s basically a short film explaining the fictional universe that connects many of their albums and music (sort of like a rock-opera). It tells the story of 7 high-school friends who drift apart, facing their various painful childhoods and personal demons as they grow into adulthood.  But one member, Jin, has the ability to time travel, and as he watches his friends meet one tragic fate after another, he rewinds time searching for what to change to bring them all happiness, failing over and over again in each alternate timeline.

The time-travel story arc crosses several album cycles and if you search for “BTS storyline” on YouTube, you’ll find a plethora of fan-made videos with theories about what all the clues mean.

As a newcomer to the BTS scene, I think it was the fans’ obsessive attention to detail and endless theorizing as much as the storyline itself that caught my interest.  Over the next few months, I began to realize that it was a truly global phenomenon.  Europe, Asia, South America, Africa, North America, all around the world there were crazed passionate fans following these guys’ every move.  It made me wonder how this baby-faced K-pop boyband had somehow developed a following that was so intense it crossed time zones, national boundaries, language barriers, cultural differences, age, sex, gender.

Korean fans (or fans who speak Korean) translate their work into English, and other fans translate it from English into other languages.  On Twitter, which seemed to be the preferred social media channel, there were endless conversations, in every language you can imagine, at any time day or night, sharing, arguing, debating, writing fan fics, producing their own videos, explaining, theorizing, analyzing.  (Look at the live, global BTS feed right now, how many languages do you see?) [2]

And the band was producing a near continuous stream of new content themselves, releasing their new album Love Yourself: Her in September 2017, with new videos, new theories, new tweets and posts.  The synergy between the band and the fans was.. well, crazy.  It sucked me in.

It was like watching a reality television show unfold in real time, except instead of seedy cat-fights and endless love triangles, you had these innocent, hardworking Korean guys from an underdog small-time record label trying to beat the odds, and fans from all over the world cheering them on, and over and over again, I had the thought that the international dialogue happening between BTS fans was so different from the hate-filled “us vs. them” rhetoric happening in the US.  I’m not sure how to describe it, but it felt like… the exact opposite of the toxic brew of ugly Trumpist nationalism.

BTS performing “DNA” at the American Music Awards, November 2017.

By the time they came to the US and performed at the American Music Awards in November, I had passed the threshold from casual observer to proto-fan, and by May of 2018 when Love Yourself: Tear was released (which went on to break a zillion records including landing at #1 on the Billboard charts), I could have passed any “You’re an ARMY If..” quiz.  I even had a handle on all this newfangled fandom jargon (wow it made me feel old) of stanning and biases and ships and K-Diamonds and I-Lovelies.  It wasn’t just the band.  It wasn’t just the music.  It wasn’t just the fans.

The real catch is the thing that unites the fans and the band, an infectious hopeful optimism that crosses every language, cultural, or age barrier.  Even though they are so young, their music tells the story of a group of boys growing up and trying to discover how to live a meaningful life in a world of such disparity.  And even though I’m 42 years old, I’m still trying to figure out how to live a meaningful life in a world of such disparity, too.  Their solo albums and side projects delve into how hard it is to overcome anxiety, perfectionism, and depression, and through their music and countless interviews, it’s clear they’re figuring out that fame and fortune don’t buy happiness if you don’t like yourself.  And here it took me 30-some years to discover that.  How wonderful would it have been if I had realized it in my 20s?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m as cynical and jaded as the next gal. Yes sometimes the lyrics are cheesy, and yes sometimes the music is pure pop syrup, and yes the K-pop machine has an ugly underbelly including sexual abuse, suicide, and contracts that aren’t far from indentured servitude, and yes the band is a commercial, capitalist enterprise making zillions of dollars with their $50+ t-shirts, and lightsticks, and this, that, and the other.  BTS and BigHit Entertainment is a business, BIG business, and they are monetizing the passion of their fans to make a killing (Forbes reported in March 2018 that Big Hit Entertainment was valued at 783 billion KRW, or $687 million USD, I’m sure that’s only gone up since then).  That’s all completely true.

BTS ‘Fake Love’ dance practice session.  Even if you don’t like the music, you can’t tell me that isn’t art.

And.. somehow I don’t care.  Somehow, I’m glad for them.  Somehow I still find sincerity in their finger-hearts and silly smiles, earnestness in their practice videos and sweaty concert performances, optimism and a refreshing naivete in their lyrics and rap wordplay.

Why not a bunch of young guys from Korea who have still have the unbelievable youthful audacity to think they can change the world? 

Ultimately, that’s what turned me into an ARMY.  Adorable Representative MCs for Youth.  At a time in my personal life when I felt despair, I happened upon a global thread of hope through BTS and their fans, a reminder that young people all around the world are struggling, thinking, hoping, trying to find a way to live and move forward, and that the way forward is as it has always been, one step at a time, to just plain not give up.  To not let cynicism win.  A reminder of the joy of music, the release you feel dancing to a good beat, and the inspiration that came from seeing the often smiling, sometimes tired, but still hopeful faces of 7 Korean boys who aren’t yet ground down by the machine, the world, life itself.


A favorite tweet from a few months ago..

As the last album of the Love Yourself cycle came out in August 2018, Love Yourself: Answer (which also went on to break a bazillion records including #1 on the Billboard charts again), BTS and the Adorable Representative MCs for Youth became (part of) the antidote to my Trump depression.  BTS and ARMY culture shows that there are other ways to to respond to the challenges the world faces other than tribalism and building walls, and that good music, good art makes us think, feel, reflect, absorb, change, and no joke, it can be healing.

Anyone who has watched a BTS video has seen the Big Hit Entertainment intro: “Music & Artist for Healing”.  Indeed.

So after all that, I did what every other self-respecting ARMY (who could afford it) did, and started planning a trip to see them live when they came the States for their globally sold-out Love Yourself World Tour.

Coming soon, #BTSxCitifield Part 3 – The fans, the show, the experience – so awesome.

 


 

[1]  My rekindled interest in Korean culture was not my only new diversion.  During an unusually long power outage in November, I dug through the closet and found my guitar, and have been faithfully teaching myself to play (again, but kind of for the first time).  I took piano lessons as a kid, and played clarinet very badly in grade school, but this is the first time that I’ve passed the threshold of playing an instrument well enough to really enjoy it.  And practicing requires a level of obsessive repetition that feels almost meditative, it’s given me an enormous amount of solace.

Don’t make fun, I know I’m not very good at singing OR playing, but that’s the first song I learned after picking a guitar up again for the first time in 20 years. (I’ll say it again, Music for Healing!)

[2] BTS landed in the 2018 Guinness Book of World Records for having the most Twitter engagements, apparently more than Trump and Justin Bieber combined.  I find that really funny for some reason.

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