This content is lifted directly from the newsletter issues in which they appear. I wanted to have a single archive for all of the explainers and links. Easier to share with others too. It’s arranged in chronological order, so you’ll see me getting deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole… if you want to go straight to the newest one, that’s available here.
Volume 01, Issue 02 (Explainer 1)
Falling down a BTS-shaped rabbit hole. The obsession started this week under my friend Ishy’s tutelage, but Christine and Des (friends from a different circle) set up a group chat with me and a fourth friend Lilia, where we now talk about BTS and send each other clips all day long. Richelle (another friend from a third circle), just sent me a breakdown of the different kinds of video content available for consumption. Ang dami! I’m excited!! LOL. If you’re a fan, share your favorites with me please! I’m playing the Dynamite rehearsal video on loop in between other BTS videos -- It’s mesmerizing and Taehyung (stage name “V”) is stupid hot in it. Christine said “Think of BTS as self-care” and she’s right! I had migraines all week but still felt lighthearted this weekend because of BTS. I also spent the past few days backreading my number one gossip columnist Lainey’s catalog of BTS posts. I had underestimated how big BTS is -- they’re responsible for a % of South Korean GDP! -- bigger even than some of the Western chart-toppers we’re familiar with; Lainey always teaches me to think critically about entertainment (like this analysis of Dynamite), especially about what gets covered in Western media and how, what doesn’t get covered and why that could be so. Lainey calls out how subversive it is that BTS is the antithesis of toxic masculinity. They talk about their insecurities and worries, preach self-love, wear makeup and color their hair, make adventurous fashion choices, are affectionate and tactile with each other, and cry openly. I love an emotional man, what more seven of them?! My bias is V, but honestly, they’re all attractive and charming and have their own appeal - walang tapon - and there’s something special about their chemistry as a group too. The Carpool Karaoke episode is a good starting point, and please message me if you are curious and want more, I will forward you the guides my friends have sent me. Hihihi.
Volume 01, Issue 03 (Explainer 2)
Last week I was on day 3 of my journey into becoming ARMY, and it feels like since then I have done nothing but consume BTS content in my waking hours. I listen to their music during my daily yoga practice and while working, sneak in their shows during meals and before sleeping, and chat with friends all day long about them.
To the friends who read last week’s newsletter and started your own journey, thank you for joining me and also, YOU ARE WELCOME. Hahaha. It’s been so great to connect with old friends in an intense way about BTS. I’m good at staying connected to people over chat, but the specific focus of my BTS chats have brought such happiness.
Another of the greatest joys BTS has given me in the last two weeks is that every day I wake up happy and excited to consume BTS content. I wish somebody had told me in April “Hey, you feel like shit? Here! BTS!” Things have been so bad, I’ve tried to hang on to the littlest joys, and now every day the joy I feel is quite intense at some points. BTS is truly getting me through it.
It’s been helpful for me to have friends acting as guides, giving structure to the vast library of content. Shoutout to Ishy who keeps me clued in to ARMY things (jokes, memes, trending topics) and Christine and Des who share the must-watch clips and strategies to consuming content. I am now passing on their wisdom to you, dear readers! Hopefully next week this section won’t be as long, once we’re done with all this guidance.
To those like me who need the big picture first: this video helped me grasp the scale and economic impact of their success; this video helped me distinguish who’s who (v important - I feel you need to cross a threshold of consumption before you can really tell them apart); this video shows their journey from zero to hero. The videos that really won me over are the behind-the-scenes videosfrom American award shows, where they’re so kilig to be in the same spaces as their favorite artists, and they try to speak English. It’s so charming, and I hope they dominate the Grammys. Their songs are legit bangers; they’re doing so much more than Western artists right now and just aren’t being recognized for it. I’m looking forward to seeing how they break more barriers.
There are some baby ARMY who start by hopping around Youtube. A quick primer on the types of content: Aside from official music videos, their channel BangtanTV uploads “Bangtan Bombs” which are behind-the-scenes clips. The channel Bangtan Subs is doing the Lord’s work by uploading subtitled versions of what BangtanTV uploads. “Run BTS” is their variety show where they try new things, do skits, play games. I watched the first season of their travel show “Bon Voyage” this week, and last night I started watching their “In the Soop” travel show that they filmed this past May. ITS is currently airing in Korea so I look forward to understanding all the jokes about it with every new episode. Though BTS posts most of their content on an app called Vlive, inevitably those clips make their way to Twitter so I recommend following @bts_twt and @bts_bighit. The translations come from ARMY within minutes so just look at the replies to the new tweet.
There are other baby ARMY who prefer to listen to the music first before getting to know their personas. I recommend this: a compilation of all their music videos with subtitles, making it easy for us to appreciate the meaning of the songs and their killer dance moves at the same time. They uploadHDdancepracticevideosofalltheirsongs on BangtanTV - these are mesmerizing to watch. It’s through this approach that I picked a favorite song (Just One Day) and BONUS FOR ME: the dance practice video is extra joyful because my bias, Taehyung, can barely keep his shit together and likewise, I cannot contain myself while watching it. I love this song so much I even found a video that shows Romanized versions of the Korean lyrics so I can learn to sing along - thank you, ARMY!!
There are so many good videos on Youtube; here are some of my favorites just from this past week, lol:
RM gave a speech at the United Nations General Assembly in 2018. I was not prepared for how philosophical and profound his speech would be!! And the behind-the-scenes video is so sweet too, especially Jungkook teaching the UNICEF Secretary General how to make a Korean finger heart. LOLLL
Taehyung (stage name “V”) and Jin getting into an argument is required viewing!! They articulate their frustrations clearly, and reconcile through an honest conversation first in the presence of their other bandmates, but later on, just with each other. Jin refers to his own emotions with “Pridefulness is good for nothing.” Taehyung cries and nobody makes fun of him for it. Both of them are vulnerable and open with each other! I don’t wanna give away too many spoilers because it’s really so good. I am so weak for emotional men. This is a masterpiece of a video; you gain insight into their dynamic as a group and how they deal with conflict. There are many more videos about how fun and chaotic they are (in a good way) but this glimpse at their serious side is so fascinating.
This video about the Wooga Squad - V’s barkada with Park Seo Joon (my #1 Kdrama oppa) and Choi Woo Shik - brought so much joy to my heart.
I appreciated this video of J-Hope being strict about choreography. They are excellent dancers and their routines are so intricate and precise; you know they pour hours and hours of work into that.
My reward after a long day at work this week: this 17-minute video explaining why Jungkook is the golden maknae (baby) who is good at everything. Truly mindboggling that he was still in high school when BTS started.
They gave an interview with GQ Japan this week where they discuss their style idols. Again, so impressed by how profound they are. There are a lot of stilted English-language interviews on Youtube; the interviews where they can speak Korean are so much better and more insightful. (Also, this is the perfect hair for V.)
I am honestly not even touching 1% of the content available. The most comprehensive resource is a site called Kweendeoks, but it’s password-protected so that only ARMY can access. Try “chicken” / “hoodbyair” / “yes” (the questions rotate). If that seems too complex, I highly recommend this Excel file that’s a masterlist, easy for even the babiest of baby ARMY to navigate. Someone actually made this and shared it for free! Long live ARMY!!
I would be thrilled to hear if any of this was helpful to you. Or if you’re already ARMY - send me your fave clips! I will watch them! Tell me who’s your bias and why! I will gobble it aaaall up.
Volume 01, Issue 04 (Explainer 3)
Immediately after sending last week’s newsletter, I spent the rest of Sunday evening learning the choreo to Dynamite. It’s supposed to be one of the “easier” ones to learn but nope. LOL. I thought I was done with explainers after posting two weeks’ worth of context and baby ARMY guides to BTS [explainer 1, explainer 2] but I have come to realize there is another important aspect that I have yet to cover in full: ARMY.
ARMY is the name of the BTS fanbase. Here are two good articles about ARMY -- Vox and the New York Times -- but basically, ARMY stans BTS and, equally important, BTS stans ARMY right back. Watch any award acceptance speech; they never fail to thank ARMY. Jungkook has ARMY tattooed on his knuckles! (This link also taught me that it’s a tribute to his hyungs; I’m crying...) BTS shares so much of their “real lives” on apps like WeVerse (replying to fan posts or sharing their own thoughts) and Vlive (for vlogs and other videos) because it helps them cultivate such a deep relationship with fans. In return, ARMY rewards them with non-stop streams and new purchases of music, boosting BTS to the top of the music charts, helping them win metrics-based awards. ARMY understands how the different platforms’ algorithms work -- for example, that streams on Spotify get disqualified if you’re looping a track or album, because that’s bot behavior -- and puts together guides for baby ARMY to “stream like a human.” Pro tip from Ishy: If you wanna help, stream Dynamite from the official artist page (the music video on Youtube, or official track/remixes on Spotify), twice a day. Other videos/accounts/tracks don’t count towards Dynamite’s official numbers. Or look for a playlist that says “Dynamite Streaming” so it’s already optimized. Don’t loop! More info in the guide above, it’s honestly so fascinating. These people are obsessed with metrics and strategy.
As far as I can tell, there’s no “leader” - ARMY operates via some sort of hive mind. Upon advice from Ishy and Mara, this week I revived an old public Twitter account to officially join “ARMY Twitter” to get more insight and see the jokes. How do you know if an account is ARMY? One of the clues is a little superscript 7 on the display name, because there are 7 members. I would literally have never noticed it, but then Aidz called it out, and so I immediately changed my display names. HAHA. I changed the heading of this section, too, so you can see what I mean.
A few early observations about ARMY: there is a concerted effort to stan all 7 members (“OT7”). It is okay to have a bias, but not socially acceptable to choose one member and bash the others, or wish the group disbands so that your bias can go solo. ARMY takes their role very seriously; I see reminders like, "Don't spread negativity under any Grammys post. Don't forget, we are responsible for the boys' reputation. Be as polite as you can." (Suga has announced that they want to win a Grammy. So far, every goal Suga has declared for them has come true. But Grammys nominations and winners are voted on by the Recording Academy, and therefore fans can’t influence it either way.) ARMY translates every tweet, every post, every appearance, every interview, every video that gets uploaded. These translations are the reason that ARMY is global, that a K-pop band can go on a world tour with songs that, before Dynamite, have been partly or fully in Korean!
BTS would not be as big as they are without ARMY, and they consider every new milestone they reach as a shared success. Reacting to their Dynamite #1 on Billboard, they posted a screaming video with the hashtag #OurARMYreceivedanaward and RM tweeted “Teamwork makes the dream work” - a statement he tweets for every big success. They had to cancel their world tour this year, and one of their early big appearances was the Youtube Class of 2020 event in June, where they shared their message for graduates. (Jimin’s made me cry: “I hope you are all doing well, but if things are not okay, even in the slightest, we send you our most sincere consolation with all our hearts. Remember there is a person here in Korea, in the city of Seoul, who understands you.”) One of the songs they performed was Spring Day, a song about the grief of missing someone; yearning; longing to see them again once winter is over. They performed Spring Day a second time at the iHeartradio music festival this week. They haven’t performed this song in years, and now they’ve chosen it for two performances in the span of a few months! Talk about a message to fans! I keep saying BTS is so profound, but it’s really true. They’re so chaotic on some shows like Bon Voyage and Run BTS, but then turn around and deliver such a heartfelt and meaningful message like this. I love it. The duality!
Also, BTS donated $1 million to Black Lives Matter, and ARMY matched it within 24 hours. (Here’s an explainer with infographics about how exactly they did it! Fascinating. It also includes a map of the ARMY Twitter ecosystem, which is wonderful to see laid out like this.) ARMY is also responsible for that Trump rally that nobody went to. You’re probably familiar with these headlines already; I heard about these before I knew what BTS was. I just knew “random kpop band’s fans.” But I -- and now you, too -- have a better idea of who exactly ARMY is and how they wield their power. Anybody can be ARMY, by the way. As long as you enjoy the music, you’re already baby ARMY.
Videos I enjoyed this week:
Aia and I have been on a “Kookie binge” this week (Jungkook is affectionately known as ‘Kookie’ among ARMY). My favorites are Jungkook and his hyungs at his entrance ceremony and his high school graduation, and two videos from the event where Jungkook dueted with Charlie Puth on “We Don’t Talk Anymore.” In the first video, Jungkook pulls aside his (young, female!) English tutor because he was panicking about needing to make small talk with "Puth-hyung" (!) in English (7:55). I immediately started writing a romance novel in my head about a young K-pop idol falling for his English tutor. It also puts into context why #JungkookEnglish trended on Twitter when they guested on Fallon earlier this year: because he answered the Q&A in full sentences in English!! (5:18) (Aside: Lainey Gossip has an excellent analysis of the BTS takeover of Fallon’s show — the entire hour! That’s huge! — highly recommend.) The second video from the Charlie Puth event shows a lot more of the behind-the-scenes, including the moment the hyungs cheer him on with silent fist pumps from off-camera (23:55) , and RM exclaims “That’s our kid!” with such pride in his voice (26:21). I dieddddd and then rewatched these videos multiple times. I also love that on In the Soop, their current reality show where they’re on a staycation (yes, really) Jungkook talks to inanimate objects like he’s a Disney princess.
This clip from the Bangtan bomb/stagecam of their iHeart Dynamite performance where V “acts normal” while Jungkook does his part. What a dummy, I can’t resist him lol.
This behind-the-scenes of them getting ready for the VMAs Dynamite performance. V has the nerve to look the hottest he’s ever looked and then comment on his “puffy face” because he ate black bean noodles at 3:00 a.m. Rude! He also plays with Jungkook’s hair and earrings; it’s super cute.
The recent America’s Got Talent Dynamite performance might be the best yet, because the camerawork shows them at their sparkliest, most attractive, most talented. I’ve heard of multiple people starting their baby ARMY journey because of this video!
This week, they gave a Message to the Young at Korea’s first Youth Day and presented the South Korean president with a time capsule to be opened 19 years from now. I was taken aback by how openly they confessed to their feelings of inadequacy, vulnerability, self-doubt. I keep feeling panicky when I watch videos of them talking this way, I think just because it’s so unusual. Zayn leaving One Direction was traumatic as hell and I am terrified that the same thing is going to happen again with BTS, but acknowledging their feelings is a healthier way for them to deal with the tough aspects of their fame. The speech itself is beautifully written, too. So profound!
I have watched this V/Taehyung WAP edit a creepy number of times. We’re still in the middle of a pandemic, I NEED THIS. Leave me alone!
Once again, I have gone on for too long about BTS. Will next week’s be shorter? Who knows! Basta masaya ako, yun na yun!
Also on Monday, in the span of 8 hours, Kuatro came home from the hospital, my mom’s dog passed away, and then BTS held their NPR Tiny Desk concert which was very chaotic and joyful. What a rollercoaster of emotions. To share her condolences, Cam sent me a link to Tonight, a song Jin wrote about his pets. The lyrics were perfect and just what I needed as I said my emotional farewell to Stella.
This was the first week I felt ‘settled’ in my fandom, like I wasn’t frantically trying to catch up. Of course, there’s still so much past content to consume, but I finally felt I had a firm enough grasp and could keep up with what’s currently happening. Their UN General Assembly speech was *chef’s kiss* and made me cry (again, what’s new) but it also spawned a controversy that’s been not at all surprising. Highly recommend this article by Brian Rolli for the context, followed by this old article by Aamina Khan. ARMY has been highlighting comments on the NPR Tiny Desk concert where the viewer realizes they had preconceived notions about K-pop that are now being challenged because of this performance. It’s been the same for me - I was not at all a fan of K-pop and brushed it off as a niche interest; and then vaguely knew about BTS but didn’t pay attention or grasp their impact, until Ishy led me very gently and securely down the BTS rabbit hole around a month ago. Now look at me. Look at this! LOL. It seems to be a common trajectory, as I have learned from this article “What It's Like to Become a BTS Fan Overnight” by Lenika Cruz, which is so spot-on I’m quoting it below:
“For Korean people and for fans, they’re more like a hip-hop group with vocal abilities who can also dance supremely well. For a lot of people, ‘boy band’ would automatically discount their musical ability and authenticity. Because that label is so limiting, I tend to explain BTS’s appeal like this: Imagine if the players on your favorite sports team (the members train like athletes, after all) were also your favorite musicians and the stars of your favorite reality-TV show and you also thought of them as family members.”
Another level of fandom got unlocked for me this week when Ail and Raissa sent surprise BTS merch ayuda that arrived by some miracle on the same day. When I tell you I screamed… LOL. I parceled out some of the face masks as surprise ayuda to Reese, Christine, Lilia, and Aia, making sure to send their biases as applicable - and they all reacted with the same extreme happiness. BTS joy shared is joy multiplied!
Resources and content I enjoyed this week:
Spotify came out last week with a 24-minute podcast episode that is a pretty good high-level explainer about BTS, meant for non-fans as a way to “Meet BTS.” If you have friends who don’t have the patience to read this newsletter and/or watch the videos I’ve linked, this is a good resource to share with them as a “BTS 101” quick guide.
I missed sharing this last week but it’s so funny it’s worth carrying over - I died laughing at this Four Sisters and a Wedding crossover with BTS.
There was a rollicking discussion on the Titas of BTS Facebook group about #Taeconda that I will leave to your imagination. The incriminating photos have been deleted from the thread, but not before I saved them to my camera roll.
Rica and I had many discussions about the relationships between members, who is closer to whom, etc. These are my favorite compilation clips under that bucket: Taehyung and Yoongi; Taehyung and Jimin. (Teka, ba’t puro si Taehyung? Sobrang biased lol) This fan-made video of Friends (with subs), the song Taehyung and Jimin wrote about their friendship, makes me weepy! I expect to come back to this theme often; with 7 members there are so many potential combinations to explore.
I haven’t been watching a lot of concert clips because I want to watch the full concert/s only when I’m more familiar with their songs. But Rica and I watched this medley from the Love Yourself Speak Yourself tour and were shookt at their collective sexual energy. They’re all so … hot...??? I’m used to them being chaotic, attractive in a soft/tender/cute way, but their stage presence (individually and as a group) is beyond. So electric, I lost my damn mind. Kings of the stage!
I saved this 37-minute MMA performance as a weekend treat for myself and it did not disappoint. I don’t know how anyone can watch this and not respect the artistry, talent, and hard work that goes into such a production. It’s a freaking award show and they were allotted THAT much time to perform at that level of spectacle. Grammys could never.
Jungkook’s self-directed and self-edited travel videos, released as “Golden Closet Films” because he’s the golden maknae and used to edit his videos in a closet. The link contains the playlist on the right side so they should play in order. Is there anything he can’t do? On this week’s In the Soop he paints some Bob Ross-level landscape of the mountain view after saying he “wasn’t good at painting” as a child. It is just staggering how talented this guy is.
In the course of writing the above bullet, I discovered that there is a BTS Wiki! *bookmarked*
Sometimes I marvel at how much my mindset has changed these past few weeks thanks to BTS — seriously! — because every day, I am happy. I am not consumed with depression and despair over the state of the country/world; anxiety over the upcoming US elections or potential disasters that may befall my friends and family. I still feel all those emotions, I’m just not crippled by them. I consider myself a political news junkie and used to enjoy staying plugged into daily news but something broke in me this year. It was just too much.
I recognize this is a privilege in itself, that I’m able to tune out like this. I didn’t watch the debate nor scroll my regular Twitter feed. Instead, I spent the week on my ARMY Twitter account, which was great for mental health; 10/10 would do again. Thoughts and prayers for anyone trying to get through 2020 without BTS, because ARMY Twitter is the party I never want to leave. It’s all joy, all the time.
With their takeover of The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon this week, every morning (Manila time) was a celebration. John Cena did a wonderful job articulating what makes BTS worth stanning. My favorite was their performance of IDOL at Gyeongbok Palace - it is just so, so major that these boys performed in modern hanboks at one of the historically significant and top tourist destinations in Seoul, with such an unapologetically Korean song! Kings of cultural ambassadorship! Also Jungkook’s manbun and exposed chest... WHEWWWW. I may have watched this ten times in one day.
The Black Swan performance was also gorgeous. The set! The dancing! Jungkook’s manbun again! With bonus sheer shirt! I wish all their performances had subtitles because it’s even more powerful when you know what they’re singing about. I want to quote Lenika Cruz of The Atlantic in her (very long, but WORTH YOUR TIME) post reviewing each song on Map of the Soul: 7:
I’ve commented before on how impressive I think it is that “Black Swan,” to the casual, non-Korean-speaking listener, sounds like a gleaming-black, emo-rap-infused pop groove with its “nah nah nah”s and “yeah yeah yeahs.” But as soon as you read the lyrics (YES, THE LYRICS MATTER!), “Black Swan” is crushing. It’s a dirge dressed up as a dance track. The song is a eulogy for the love of one’s craft — imagine a dancer whose body moves out of habit rather than ecstasy. The audience might not realize it, seeing only beautiful movement and utter control, but the dancer feels that creeping rot in every vein. The lyrics, pulsing with a sense of depletion and exhaustion, read at times like a horror story: There are violent waves, a monster grabbing at one’s ankle, soundless screams, dreams of drowning.
When you read the lyrics of Black Swan, you realize they’re singing about their fear as artists that they will someday lose their passion for music, and the song revolves around a quote from dancer Martha Graham: “A dancer dies twice — once when they stop dancing, and this first death is the more painful.” The performance for the Tonight Show was set in an abandoned, overgrown cathedral, with the members dressed in all black. They move in perfect unison; Jimin skimming the surface of the concrete lake as their mourning attire literally makes them seem like black swans. It’s similar to the music video which they performed barefoot in an empty theater. So good, so beautiful, so haunting, so layered with meaning.
I could go on for much longer about how much joy BTS week brought me but I will leave you with this article: “BTS's "Tonight Show" Takeover Was A Guide To Why They're So Beloved” by Ellie Bate of Buzzfeed:
"What began with a performance of the group's...arguably most English-friendly song became a weeklong celebration of their craft, their raw talent, and their artistry, as well as their connections with each other and with their fans."
Resources and content I enjoyed this week:
Chuseok (like a Korean equivalent of American Thanksgiving) was also this week and BTS dropped so much content on their YouTube channel that it was hard to keep up. What I love about their content strategy and focus on fan connection is that they put just as much work into showing what’s going on behind the scenes, leading the viewer to a deeper appreciation for that music video/performance/etc. You also develop personal ‘relationships’ with each of the members as you get to know their personalities and their ‘real’ selves. Of course, still putting these into quotation marks, since everything online is arguably a performance, but they seem so humble and accessible and that’s really at least half the charm. They are such good boys.
I’ve been listening to Map of the Soul:7 while working and two songs particularly stand out to me: Friends and Zero O’Clock. I already wrote about Taehyung and Jimin’s friendship last week and linked to this fan-made video set to Friends, and the same creator made another excellent video for Zero O'Clock that also makes me feel emotional, especially after reading the lyrics. They’re singing about feeling depressed and regretting the day; holding 00:00 as a moment to exhale, a reset button to try again for a happier day tomorrow. Once again, Lenika Cruz’s review is worth your time. So is this reaction video from psychiatrists who talk about how important it is that the boys are singing about mental health and acknowledging difficult emotions. OK, I’m crying again!
I have had many conversations about Yoongi this week (stage name: SUGA; rapper name: Agust D) but the one that made me laugh the most is when Ella told me that 90% of her friends have Yoongi as either their bias or bias breaker. NINETY PERCENT! Gotta say, I went on the same journey: obsessed with V, with Jungkook close behind, but then suddenly, I was feeling a certain type of way towards Yoongi the more content I watched. Rica and I call him Grumpy Cat but he is secretly so soft and so considerate towards the other members. I already linked to this last week but this video of him and Taehyung — especially the clip that starts 7:29, when Tae won’t leave his office until Yoongi says I love you back — kills me. This other video of Yoongi being “savage” (this term makes me feel old) makes him seem like a bitch, but it’s okay because ARMY knows Yoongi’s real love language is acts of service for the other members. And lastly, I really enjoyed this video explaining the historical references in Agust D’s Daechwita video. Our boy is a *genius* genius!
My bb boi Jungkook singing “You don’t give two fucks” in the Savage Love remix has me playing it 20 times a day. Add in the fact that they made it gender-neutral and that in the rap portion SUGA reflects on love being a collapsing sandcastle and j-hope still thinks love is still worth trying despite his doubts, and you’ve got a stan in me. I also found a great thread by the designer who worked on the typography for the lyric video. I adore things like this! Lainey points out what a flex it is that they made an already hit song into an even bigger hit, especially since Jason Derulo used Jawsh 685’s beat without permission at first (not cool) … I only wish they could make a version that’s just BTS and Jawsh 685; “South Auckland to South Korea” is a great article about why this collaboration means so much to the Polynesian community.
I enjoyed this article about the Twitter account @Bangtan_Style07, which is so quick to identify what clothes the members are wearing. I follow style accounts like this for Meghan and Kate, too. So fun to see how adventurous the boys are in fashion choices. Ishy posed a question in our group chat this week: Pandemic aside, would this have been the year they’d have been invited to the Met Gala? My guess is yes.
I’m learning a lot from journalists who are also ARMY. Because of the mess of the Variety roll out, there is some discussion going on now on the merits of tapping an “impartial” writer vs. one who is a fan; my take is that partiality won’t detract from the value of the piece but rather enhance it. This article, “How BTS are Breaking K-pop’s Biggest Taboos” by Jae Ha Kim, initially published in Rolling Stone, is a good example of how being a fan of something doesn’t diminish journalistic integrity or quality.
On the Titas of BTS Facebook group, my new friend Ashley kindly shared her public Google calendar for BTS engagements. So convenient that it syncs to our local time, so now I check it to see what new content might be incoming. The link will work on desktop; if you’re on mobile, you need to DM her so she can grant access.
I did not understand why ARMY Twitter was clamoring for Dionysus and We Are Bulletproof part 2 to be performed on the Tonight Show, but after watching those links, I absolutely get it now. Hot as hell.
Thanks to my friends who have let me know this section has been really helpful for them on their own baby ARMY journeys. I found a way to archive all the BTS stuff together so that it’s a single shareable link. Feel free to share the BTS joy using that link; may our joy (and baby ARMY) multiply.
This was the most fun weekend I’ve had since the pandemic started. All in all, I watched the concert (Day 1 and Day 2) a grand total of six times. If that seems insane to you, from Saturday evening to Monday morning, I was messaging non-stop in a group chat with Cam, Ishy, and Raissa because we were all watching the live streams and replays at the same time. So much fun! On top of that, I had side chats with Christine, Des, and Lilia; Rica; Aia; and Trish, who were watching “with” me at one viewing or another. And of course, ARMY Twitter, the party I never want to leave.
There will be write-ups from entertainment journalists about what a feat this was for BTS, that they delivered a virtual concert -- that was not just “almost as good as a live concert” but actually a kind of concert they’d never be able to do live! -- to close to one million paying customers across 191 countries. (BTS world domination!) The innovative and groundbreaking use of augmented reality and extended reality technology they used. How genius and special it was to raffle off tickets to be “live on air” to ARMY - so that the boys could at least hear and see the crowd’s energy, if not feel that in person. The setlist that was a gift to quarantine ARMY like me, a journey through their discography starting with a taste of their early work, to their individual solo performances of songs on the latest album. That they think of everything, literally everything, down to the smallest details like the backup dancers wearing masks 100% of the time in a way that makes sense for the performance; you don’t even really notice that it’s for COVID protection. How powerful and thirst-inducing it was to see them perform old hits with new (hot!) looks.
What I want to remember is how I felt watching it: how devastated I was for them, going into Day 1, that they wouldn’t experience the high of performing for a crowd. How impressed I was that they killed it, absolutely smashed the choreography and vocals, made our brains leak out of our ears with the visuals. And then how Jimin broke down in his final remarks about why this pandemic is the way it is, why is this happening to him - and that we cried tears of frustration along with him. He put into words the helplessness a lot of us have been feeling in our own lives, and that moment was so raw and honest. What other artist would end a concert like that? Only BTS would dare to be so human and deeply vulnerable.
The members must have seen from online chatter how happy ARMY was with Day 1, because Day 2 concert felt a lot looser and brighter. They seemed more relaxed and confident. The production quality went up a notch, too - better lighting, better audio, better camera work, and Jungkook’s outfit change that broke the internet.
For me, the most moving part was Day 2’s final remarks. Jin’s really struck me, because on Day 1, he mentioned feeling it was only 50% fun because we were connected to them through a screen, not in person. On Day 2, he flipped it to: “Next time we see each other again, we’ll be two to three times happier.” It’s a subtle shift, but says so much about what they value, how they hope to inspire us. We can be happy now and look forward to being two to three times happier in the future, instead of living half-lives today. Incredible.
They must have talked as a group after Day 1 about wanting to end on a hopeful note - because all of their speeches on Day 2 focused on how much they missed ARMY so much but, as RM said, “At least, we can do this.” When speaking about how grateful he was for the technology that enabled us to experience the concert without latency, RM continued, “I’m so happy. I have no religion, but I thank God we are living in 2020.” What a subversive, inspiring thing to say about a year we all want to move on from. “We are literally strong. We’ll find a way, we always have. If there’s no way, let’s redraw the map, the whole map, again.” This is some true leader energy. Kim Namjoon, I would follow you to the ends of the earth.
My chats were flooded with worry for SUGA during the opening number on Day 2, because he clearly had a problem with his left shoulder. Sure enough, the first chance he got, he reassured us that he was fine now, nothing to worry about. How do they always know what we’re thinking? The artist-fan connection between BTS and ARMY is so strong; I have never seen or been a part of anything like it. Aside from ARMY on screen and singing along, their last song had ARMY in floating AR cubes filling the stadium. They ended the concert with a title card saying: “We are together/We are forever/We are not seven/With you.” I sobbed! They miss us so much!
Two insights on Twitter resonated with me after we left Day 1 concert broken:
@MicheBangtan: “It almost feels weird to cry over someone else’s dream. I’m crying because BTS didn’t get to do the tour THEY wanted to. I’m crying over THEIR dreams and losses. But they became my dreams FOR them so they’re my losses too I guess. Maybe that’s why it hurts this much.”
@gigglygukk: “Someone said that when we miss BTS, we watch vlives, old videos, compilations, etc. But when they miss us, what have they got to do? … I’ve never been in this much pain.”
We’re used to consuming BTS content through our own devices, seeing them through a screen. But they’re not used to seeing ARMY through their screens. I hope they’re able to let go of their regrets and frustrations about the concert and rest well knowing that they were able to make almost a million paying customers (not counting watch parties and illegal streamers!) feel alive, happy, and hopeful again, if only for a brief weekend.
Everything they do is for ARMY, that much is evident in every decision they made for this concert. I’ve been a big fan of a couple of artists in the past but have never felt that they thought about us, cared about us, took what we wanted into consideration. I’ve never felt that my participation mattered in some way to their success. In my experience, fandom has always been a very passive consumption-type of relationship. BTS hits different though. I must have streamed Dynamite and Savage Love Remix 200 times the past week - because ARMY wants to give BTS that achievement of a simultaneous #1 and #2 on the Billboard charts. They got it late last night - the first Asian act to do so ever, and one of only five acts in history. And today is Jimin’s birthday! Since Dynamite came out, all the boys were at #1 on their birthdays; it’s ARMY’s birthday gift to each of them. If they’re happy, we’re happy. This relationship and this connection is real, both for them and for us. That is so wild and thrilling, and I’m so lucky to be a part of this community. Anyone who isn’t yet a fan is missing out, for real. This weekend confirmed it: I’m in this Bangtan Sonyeondan shit for life.
Aia and I had a passing conversation this past week about our shared urge to consume BTS content chronologically. We were talking about her playlist of “all BTS songs” on Spotify and I was begging her to add the mixtapes for ~comprehensiveness~ and so that I could listen either newest to oldest, or the other way around.
I still think there’s no “right” sequence to consume BTS content. But for people like me and Aia, diving into a fandom that is by now seven years old is a jarring experience. I also mentioned before that ARMY Twitter operates on a hive mind, and that means the timeline swerves from one topic to the other - interrupted only by a fresh BTS content drop. Many times this week, I have hopped on to ARMY Twitter and not been sure whether people were discussing a clip whose events happened five months ago or five years ago. Frequently, the only clues are the member’s hairstyles and varying degrees of babyfaced-ness. I’m learning to just roll with it and enjoy the clip for what it portrays, even when I don’t understand the bigger picture or context behind it.
Sometimes I wonder though, how it feels like to have your past selves so accessible to the world. I don’t think I would be able to handle people “getting to know” me by watching footage of me from seven years ago. I’m not that person anymore! It also must be strange to be known in such a deep and intimate manner by millions of people. The BTS Twitter account posted something the other night without a name attached to it (usually they write their names in the hashtags) -- literally it was a reply containing OP’s name and emoji -- but ARMY could tell it was Taehyung posting. Isn’t that wild? That their tweeting styles are so recognizable? I never even thought of a person’s tweeting style before.
Although it is nice that all their quirks and habits are joyfully embraced by the fans, I imagine the lack of privacy and sense of responsibility to be a good role model weigh heavily on their shoulders. I wonder, too, how much they think about their public personas vs. their private selves. (Probably often, given the Jungian themes of Map of the Soul.) I suppose this is what it means to be a public figure, regardless of industry. That people will always have a relationship with the idea of you, and how you are received by others is under your control only to a certain extent. Also something I picked up from that h***y boybander book I read this week!
I do think that them being so themselves regardless of what they’re taping - variety show, travel show, game show, concert documentary, random Vlive - has made me reflect on their overarching message of “love yourself, speak yourself.” There is peace in being vulnerable, authentic, and so comfortable in your own skin; showing all your weirdness to the world; and being loved for everything that makes you “you.” The adoration I feel for them grows deeper the more I get to know them, even when the picture being built in my head about each of the members is not coming together chronologically. Everything is endearing, and nothing has turned me off, not even Taehyung’s weird toe heart picture?!? Their brand of authenticity has made me reflect: “What if someone loved me the way I love BTS?” What if someone was obsessed with my nose scrunch, the way I cover my ears when I’m shy, my head tilt when I’m confused, with my highest levels of happiness laugh, with my fearlessness? (These are from a video called “What does ARMY love about Jungkook?” lol) What a hopeful line of thinking. It’s nice to think about!
It’s worth noting that when I talk to my longtime ARMY friends, the intensity of their gigil is still the same as mine. Surely the members have changed as people throughout the years, but ARMY loves these more grown-up versions just as much as they did the baby versions. It makes me eager for my ever-growing list of old content to watch, and hyped up to be along for the ride as they continue to evolve as artists and as human beings.
Resources and content I consumed the past two weeks (excluding the MOTS:7 ON:E concert - my thoughts on that can be found here):
I found a 62-page (!) PDF starter guide for baby ARMY, made by @armydutchies on Twitter. Useful for people who need visuals! It is very comprehensive and I wish I had found this two months ago.
Thanks to the link above, I found out that Bangtansubs the website is waaaay more comprehensive than Bangtansubs their Youtube Channel. Look at their progress tracker! I am in awe of these fans’ dedication. ARMY really is like a company, as that one person in the NYT article said.
Also thanks to the PDF above, I finally found the video where Suga says “What a relief we are seven. What a relief we are together.” <333 I love him. Yoongi is the most husband material of them all! Ella was right, I also see 90% of my friends having him as their bias or bias breaker.
It’s a big deal that Jimmy Fallon’s team has updated all the BTS Week performances to include subtitles after much petitioning by ARMY. Huge win for inclusivity!
The last episode of In the Soop was a joy to watch. The whole series is great and I have been raving about what a genius idea it is, but the last 30 minutes in particular -- when they’re recording the theme song in the studio -- made me smile from ear to ear. I realized I haven’t seen much footage of them doing the actual work of creating music. This was such a treat. Note that this link above isn’t the full clip. Ask me where to watch it if you need help!
This video of Jin saying he’s not as good as the others and Tae immediately refuting the statement was extremely moving to me, especially in the context of their fight! Huhu <3
Christmas season is my season, and Tina alerted me to BTS performing a Christmas carol medley at a music festival last year. Whoever came up with this idea: thank you!! Inject this directly into my veins, because I AM LIVING.
Dr. Colette Balmain’s review “BTS’ “Map Of The Soul ON:E” Online Concerts Worthy of a Las Vegas Residency” on View of the Arts is one of the best I’ve read. She goes deep into the symbolisms and visual elements and I’m a huge nerd for that kind of stuff. She also put together an academic conference all about BTS and reading this article made me sad I wasn’t a fan yet then.
ARMY is extremely discerning about which articles are good. This one is good: BTS’s Loyal Army of Fans Is the Secret Weapon Behind a $4 Billion Valuation by Ben Dooley and Su-Hyun Lee of The New York Times.
There was an overwhelming and highly unusual period last week when Jimin, Jungkook, and Yoongi went on live back to back to back in a span of about 18 hours. As a new fan, looking at BTS’ vast catalog, their past live vlogs had ranked pretty low on the list of content to prioritize. But these three were the first lives -- not just pre-recorded drops -- of this comeback season, and I was lucky enough to catch all of them.
I thought there was something beautifully unpolished and intimate about the experience, even though I was only one out of 9 million other fans watching. Yes, 9 *million* - compared to about 6.4 million who had tuned into the VMAs a few months ago. 9 million people dropped everything to watch Jimin speak to the camera in Korean -- which most of us probably don’t understand anyway -- for thirty minutes on a random Tuesday evening! And then Jungkook did a live the following afternoon and Yoongi came on five minutes after JK ended. (What were they trying to do to us?? Productivity killers!)
Two days later, I attended a webinar by Dr. Candace Epps-Robertson called “BTS and ARMY: A Synergistic Experience in Transcultural Fandom.” She’s a scholar specializing in rhetoric and her talk was very baby ARMY friendly (I’ll share the recording once it’s available). She tried to answer this central question: “How are these 7 people able to connect millions around the world?” One of the things she said that stuck with me is something that’s come up in her research, speaking to other ARMY: “BTS has never stopped trying to build a connection between themselves and their fandom.”
This idea that BTS is eager to connect with us, just as much as we are with them - I find it endlessly fascinating. Shortly after her talk, I saw this tweet translating an interview in July where Taeyhung said: “One time, I saw an ARMY write, maybe as a joke: ‘Bangtannies have become so high, (wrt to their fame) I feel far and apart from them now, they feel so far away’ and I got a lump in my throat. That’s why I want to be close friends with ARMY. Even if we keep moving higher or stay the same, I don’t want to grow apart from ARMY.”
That’s why they do these lives, even though their schedules are jam-packed. Of course, there’s a business strategy to the timing of all of their content releases, including live chats. Jungkook hasn’t done a live for over a year, but this week he came on to clarify his role as project manager/director of the soon-to-be-released music video, and he clearly had talk points he needed to cover. But then he laughed and said, “Oh, that didn’t take up much time, I can talk about other stuff too, right?” and went on to share about how the concert and seeing ARMY had given him back a sense of meaning in his life after he had been feeling lost.
Biggest band in the world, and yet each of them sat there and thanked *us* for how *we* calmed *their* anxieties, boosted *their* moods, gave *them* a sense of hope. Excuse me Tannies, that’s exactly what you’ve been doing for us this whole time! They sincerely asked how we’re doing, saying “It’s so good to see you again.” They responded to questions like “What are you wearing today?” (Jimin was wearing a sweater he’d purchased to show ARMY at the airport, but since they’re not traveling, he wore it to the live so we could still see it! Huhu) Suga played fans’ song requests during his guitar practice, and every time he scooted closer to the camera to read the comments, I drew back from my screen a little bit. That’s how intimate it felt. They comforted and encouraged us -- Jimin said in response to someone who said they’d had a tough day: “Great job hanging in there! Let’s all clap for ourselves for doing a good job today.” They shared their frustrations and worries, not to seek pity or praise, but as simple statements of fact: This is what I’m thinking about. This is what I’m feeling. Each live this week ended with a promise: “Next time I come back, I will…”
Rica and I often have long conversations on topics like what Hogwarts houses we’d sort the members into, what we think their love languages might be. We’ve plotted fun date ideas with each of them. (We’d take J-hope with us to the club, because he’d be the best hype man.) How are we able to make these assumptions, considering we’re both baby ARMY barely two months into this journey? I think it’s because BTS lets themselves be deeply known to us through their reality shows, their responses to fans on Weverse, and their live vlogs. They show us who they are, what they value, how they care for each other. In allowing us to be so intimate with them, I also see an implicit invitation to follow their example and be like them: kind and generous human beings who show up and seek connection through vulnerability, authenticity, and tenderness. Is it working? Well, I started this newsletter with the intention of not letting it get too personal, and look what happened. (They made me have too many feelings; I needed an outlet. LOL.)
Brene Brown, in her book The Gifts of Imperfection*, defines connection as “the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive strength and sustenance from the relationship.” This 1000% describes the BTS-ARMY relationship. It’s this connection that fuels the fans’ passion and drives us to stream, buy, chart, vote, organize for charity, and act as an extension of the band and an equal partner in their ambition and success. With every new experience I have on this baby ARMY journey, I’m shocked by the intimacy the band not only allows to happen, but actively pursues.
*By the way, this book changed my life. Highly recommend!
Resources and content I enjoyed last week:
The Bangtan TV episode of the Grammys this year finally dropped, the same day as JK and Yoongi’s lives. Bawal magpahinga. I’ve been waiting for this since the first week I got into BTS, not only because this is my #1 Taehyung look, but because they’ve been vocal about how much they want to perform and win at the Grammys. RM says “We didn’t get to sing our song, but we’ll do our best with the 46 seconds that we’ve got. I think that’s our job.” Huhu <3 They worked so hard for those 46 seconds! Kakaproud.
I watched a couple of RUN BTS episodes that were going around Twitter: episodes 47-48 (Protect BTS village) and episodes 87-88 (Hangul Day scavenger hunt/assassin game). Both strategy games that involve deception and secrecy. So elaborate! So fun! I’m enjoying watching Run BTS now because my TV can play the show using the Vlive app.
I’ve grown to really love fancam threads like this one of Yoongi’s dancing skills - not because I agree that a member is the main vocalist/dancer/whatever, but because these individual member-focused clips help me gain a deeper appreciation for their talent and hard work.
A user named Baepsayed posted the pre-debut history of BTS on Reddit and it was so informative. I’m a chronology and context-lover! I devoured this!
BTS put out something like 15 performances of Dynamite over the past 3 months, each of them unique and fresh. The level of thought and care they put into planning is detailed in this article on Weverse (Big Hit’s app for fan community and connection). Galing talaga!
This video of Mikrokosmos from the stage made me so sad that they can’t experience this right now.
I often think of this clip: "Taehyung, CEO of pulling /that/ face from Yoongi"
Thread about Taehyung’s photography; this one is my favorite.
Last week, I wrote about attending a webinar called “BTS & ARMY: A Synergistic Experience in Transcultural Fandom.” The recording is now available at this link. I do encourage you to watch it especially if you don’t know much about BTS and ARMY because it’s very friendly to baby ARMY.
One of the things Dr. Epps-Robertson talked about was that ARMY often gets dismissed as a homogenous entity of teenage fangirls, but the reality is that the fanbase is incredibly diverse, spanning genders, age ranges, backgrounds, areas of expertise, etc. The barrier to entry is low -- you only need to like the music, really -- and anyone can hop onto ARMY Twitter anytime and start engaging with the community. (There are also ARMY on IG/FB and other platforms, but the algorithms make feeds work a certain way, so it’s a little harder to engage.) Anyone who decides to join the conversation brings with them their own individual talents and experiences. “[The fans] are here to support BTS, but can choose to express that support in any number of ways.”
I feel like I found my corner of ARMY Twitter this weekend when I attended the 2020 ICAMA-KAS International Conference. One of the tracks was specifically focused on BTS, co-hosted by the R3 Journal, an academic journal that’s focused on BTS. (Here’s the list of topics covered that day.) It was a delight to listen to around 20 speakers go deep into how they’ve applied their skills and talents into professional research about BTS. I’m not even in marketing, but I am a big ol’ nerd who loves learning, and this weekend I was virtually surrounded by like-minded fans who have taken their fandom back to their areas of expertise. I’ll try to share the recordings if they’re made available, too. My favorite talks were by Sharon Blady on mental health (“From N.O. to On and Beyond: BTS’s Journey of Innovation in Mental Health Discourse and Modality Modeling”); Tvine Donabedian on fans paying back the band’s intimacy through purchasing (“I Do What I Can, I Do My Part: Participation in Fan-organized Marketing as a Form of Community Engagement and Individual Responsibility Surrounding BTS’ Musical Releases”); and Nicole Santero on fan voting (“Competition and Collaboration of BTS ARMY on Twitter”).
Another section of ARMY that I’m really enjoying is video editor ARMY. These fans churn out montage video after montage video, usually centered around a particular bias or pair. When the new album Be was announced (coming November 20!) ARMY editors published comeback goals videos. Basically, ARMY sets goals for pre-sales and streaming on different platforms (Spotify, Youtube, etc), different goals per country, and shares guides on how to purchase the album so that it counts towards local charts. It’s so strategic and impressively organized; one ARMY even bought a domain to centralize the action plan. My favorite comeback goals videos are by RedmontxBTS (a Pinay! She’s a med student!) and Ben_UGH. Truly blown away by the talent and effort that’s gone into these, and the montage clips are a daily (and sometimes hourly) source of joy. Thank you, ARMY!
Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t call out a spectacular essay I read called “Like Dionysus” by Yung In Chae, published on Eidolon. I mentioned it in part 1 of my newsletter, but wanted to mention it again in part 2 as another example of an ARMY using her skills to make a powerful product: an essay on BTS and their reception by the American music industry, Western imperialism, her Korean-American identity, the struggle to assimilate, and her own field of study (ancient Roman and Greek literature, known as “Classics”). I’ve read it three times and have highlighted so many sections. It’s a masterpiece, and I think valuable even for non-fans. Just trust me on this one. There seems to be a practice of not letting ARMY journalists cover BTS, for the sake of impartiality. I’ve seen a debate about the merits of this approach, but I think the resulting story would be so much richer if a writer like Yung In Chae was holding the pen. I hope she gets that chance. I loved reading about the art referenced by BTS in their videos and would love to read more articles like that. There’s a great Twitter account called @artansonyeondan that compares BTS visuals to art. Amazing.
Other resources and content I enjoyed last week:
The timing and transitions on this edit (BTS through the years) are top-notch.
So random but Jungkook’s off-screen rant about uncooked steak is hilarious. He cares about his food, ok?? “Can’t even fork it.” He’s known for snacking throughout award shows even when they’re seated in the front row. This boy loves food. LOLOL all this while Jimin’s showing off how flexible he is on camera. As a person with tight hamstrings forever and ever, this was amazing.
I love this thread about Yoongi’s generosity towards the other members. I love everything about him. Ella’s “90% of my friends have him as their bias/bias wrecker” comment is accurate! Everyone I’m chatting with loves him!
Glamour released a video of BTS watching fan covers this week. First of all, they picked great covers that really showed originality! Second: how sweet is it that their reaction is “We’re motivated to work harder” ?? Third: Ysabelle Cuevas (Pinay!) who sang the Boy with Luv cover kept it real with her strangled screaming/ shaking and crying reaction. Same, sis. Taehyung is her bias daw. Can you imagine being a YouTube artist and then learning that your bias watched your work, liked it, and said he’d look for it again? Living her best life!! This was yet another romcom I started writing in my head immediately.
When I wrote about intimacy in the last newsletter, I did not expect the boys to drop handwritten postcards as part of their teasers for Be a few days later. Huhuhu. So personal and heartfelt, and always inviting a response. It’s never just them talking to us. Actively pursuing an intimate connection with fans!
Currently… marveling at how creative, introspective, and intimate the teasers for BTS’ upcoming album have been. Every night this past week, each member dropped the photo of his room along with audio notes for why he decorated it that way, what he wanted to convey; asking us what we thought about it. It feels like we’re inside their heads. The latest teaser that dropped just now is extremely my vibe, musically. The album comes out November 20, and yes, I have already filed for a leave. I didn’t get to watch BTS content this week because of the aforementioned all-consuming anxiety, so it’s just a one-part newsletter this time around. And not many longreads below either!
Currently… watching the episode of Immortal Songs featuring Pdogg, the producer behind many BTS hits. Also happy to report I finished BTS’s travel documentary Bon Voyage season 2 this weekend. Comeback season is almost here: The new album BE is out this coming Friday! They won an award this week - Wall Street Journal Magazine’s Music Innovator award - and the accompanying video is so good. Can’t wait to get my copy of the magazine.
Currently… enjoying the quote replies to this question “What’s a BTS moment that doesn’t feel real?” I feel like ARMY brought out their best answers for this one, and as a baby ARMY, I learned so much…!
Aia and I have a running joke:
She covered up my face with Jungkook’s for her own newsletter, but I don’t mind revealing to you that that’s me. HAHAHA.
I took two days off from work this week for the BTS comeback (new music release) but enjoyed having so much free time to laze around the house, babysit my nephew, and generally chill out. I used to pressure myself on weekends to make the most of the days off from work so I’d schedule back-to-back meet-ups with friends and godchildren, with yoga classes and errands in between. Now that all of those things are off the table, there’s so much more free time to just… read or watch whatever I want whenever the mood strikes. (Perks of being single!)
Currently… listening to the new BTS album “BE” on repeat. Yes, I will have a part 2 all about this, but just give it a chance even if you’re not a K-pop fan! (I wasn’t, as recently as when I launched this newsletter.) Every song is a bop. There are fan translations that help give the songs a deeper meaning, but even before understanding the lyrics, the vibes are already so good. It’s short — 28 minutes — but they did so much with it. I am begging you: help me out by streaming it kahit one time lang on Spotify, ARMY’s trying to break our own records here!
On Sunday morning after BE dropped, I woke up and my first thought was, “I’m so lucky, I get to love Bangtan for a long time,” and I got very overwhelmed. LOL. As mentioned in part 1 of this newsletter, I took two days off last week for the comeback: Thursday, to emotionally prepare, and Friday, D-day (BE-day?).
Part of it is that I wanted to be active on ARMY Twitter. I don’t like the feeling that I ‘missed out’ on something, even though my group chats are pretty good at keeping me updated on the big things. I’ve been a fan of other bands and artists before, but this is the first time that I’ve really felt part of a fandom, and I wanted to soak it all up.
As with most other BTS events these past few months, my group chat with Ishy, Cam, and Raissa, and my chat with Aia were my stream of consciousness thoughts, and Twitter was the afterparty. The day started with a press conference at 10:00 AM, then a Youtube live countdown at 12:30 PM, the music video premiere and album drop at 1:00 PM, then a live special on Vlive app at 4:00 PM where they discussed the album.
I knew it would be a full day, but what I didn’t expect was that the events of the day were just a kick-off. What I had thought would be a party with people tweeting their reactions to the songs was actually more like a study group all-nighter. ARMY had goals and strategies for every platform (Youtube, Spotify, Shazam, Apple Music, etc.) and everyone was streaming and buying hard, and cheering each other on. I bought music for the first time ever, and have been making the most of premium accounts to maximize my streams. Don’t get me wrong, my group chats and Twitter feed were still like a big party, but interjected with metrics updates. It was exhausting but fun, and the puyat was well worth it. It’s still ongoing, by the way! Stream the album with us! Watch the two versions of the music video! Let’s get them the Billboard Hot 100 #1s for Jin’s birthday! They worked so hard for us; we’re working hard for them too.
While most of my friends immediately cried at the music video directed by Jungkook, my first tears came while listening to the album. Raissa and I were listening on a shared Spotify session because neither of us could be alone with our feelings, and I appreciated ‘having her with me’ even as she’s thousands of miles away in California. I was overcome with emotion and broke down in sobs -- which was so strange to me because the lyrics are in Korean, which I do not understand -- but I had started thinking about how grateful I felt to be listening to a new album of a group that had brought me so much joy the past few months. Literally my lifeline during such a dark and uncertain time. Somehow, even before I started looking at the lyrics translations, just by the vibes of the songs, I felt seen, understood, and spoken to. Once I started reading the lyrics* while listening, that feeling intensified:
Just like me, they also feel despair and grief and a weird pressure to be productive (Blue & Grey: “I just want to be happier, would this also be greed?” | Fly to my Room:“Feels like it’s still day one, somebody please turn the clock back, the whole year got stolen” | Dis-ease: “24 hours, I have so much time, even if I sleep all day long, there’s no problem now, it feels like I should be doing something to the point my body shatters”).
They also feel comforted that our connection will remain even if life isn’t the way it used to be (Life Goes On:“People say the world has changed, thankfully between you and I, it’s still the same” | Telepathy: “In the days that feel the same, I’m the happiest when I meet you” | Stay: “Like a crazy person, I keep sayin’, wherever you are, I know you’ll always stay”).
And somehow, they’ve managed to articulate what they are to me: a joyful and hopeful escape from all this anxiety (Life Goes On: “Close your eyes for a moment, hold my hand here, let’s run away to the future” | Telepathy: “Meaningless worries, lay them down for a moment, let’s enjoy it among ourselves, the little island in the middle of the blue ocean that we reminisce about together” | The entirety of Skit celebrating their first Billboard #1, the gift ARMY and BTS have given each other).
Also, did I mention that these songs are bops? As @prodynks tweeted, “First part of the album sad as hell then next thing you know you’re in the club.” Telepathy is my favorite song on this album, and now that video editor ARMYs are churning out edits left and right, I watch all the Telepathy edits that come up on my feed for a quick serotonin boost.
BE is a walang tapon, no-skips album. It acknowledges the difficulty of our reality and yet remains hopeful and comforting. They live-vlogged so much of their album-making process in the months prior to release because they wanted to remain connected to ARMY despite the canceled world tour, which is so perfectly BTS. The members stepped up with more hands-on creative roles for this project, and all the output is so much more personal to them, which makes me want to work harder for this to succeed. It’s so special, and it gets better with every listen, with deeper appreciation of the lyrics. I’m sad that I don’t speak Korean and totally get why so many fans have taken the plunge to learn. I’m planning to spend a lot of time this holiday season with the lyrics to their older songs. I want to give them everything I have, because they’ve given me so much!
I want to quote two reflections; the first is from @Aesopsfablefly which was posted the day before the comeback:
whew bangtan feelings hitting me hard man. bts really got me thru this yr. the countless ways they came online to help distract us & brighten our dark days was a lot. its been hard but their music/lyrics got me thru so much.. BE is coming & i just wanna give my all in return. like just sit and think about how much they did for us when they had absolutely no reason to. they could’ve done what many other artists/celebs did and just sat down, chilled out, not done anything to help anyone and took 6+ months out till their next album but no. bts’ album promo got cut short, their tour got cancelled and you could just tell they just weren’t in a good place after everything but bts gathered themselves & said ‘everyone’s struggling rn, what can we do to make it better’ they were donating so much to multiple charity organisations for covid relief, helping out staff who were left without work due to no touring, made a sht tonne of FREE content just to help distract fans who were stuck at home feeling scared & anxious cause of the pandemic like??? & then BTS were in the studio one day, heard a track that made them move and filled them with a spark of joy & their immediate thought was ‘we NEED to share this so others can feel the same too’. that’s it. that’s how we got dynamite cause they legit just wanted ppl to feel that. and even now they been going hard recording, writing, producing, practising so they can give us a piece of their heart & soul with BE. because music has always their way of healing, not just themselves but others too and they wanna give that, they wanna share that. the list just goes on & on tbh cause BTS really did not stop thinking abt how to help ppl despite struggling themselves how do i say thanks to that? how do i let them know what a huge source of comfort they been? idk. i’ll just give BE my all & hope they can feel it in return.
And the second is from @ETRNALGOO right after the album dropped:
‘BE’ feels like the tightest hug after the worst day ever, the warmth of a blanket after being in the cold, the scent of a freshly lit candle in the winter, the grip of a warm hand, the sun appearing after a long day of rain... comfort defined
I really feel sad for people who aren’t BTS fans, because life and 2020 is so much better with BTS. I would be miserable right now without them. Yoongi once said “You’ll like BTS music if you listen without prejudice” and I think it’s so true. They have such a rich and deep catalog of music, different genres pa! (The genre is ‘BTS’ haha) We’ll find out this week if the Western music industry will validate what ARMY already knows: BTS is one of the best artists in the game right now.**
I feel so grateful to have found them when I did — the ARMY saying is “you find them when you most need them” — and I’m so lucky I get to love them for a long time. As another famous ARMY saying goes, I’m in this Bangtan Sonyeondan shit for life.
* All translations are lifted from Doolset Bangtan. Do check out her lyric translations, she adds contextual notes that are very helpful.
** Read the post on Weverse magazine “BTS and the Grammys: Why now?” The tea is served hot! Weverse is owned by their label Big Hit Entertainment. I think this was such a ballsy move to post this before the nominations came out.
Currently… staying up late celebrating BTS’ first Grammy nomination for a music category on Tuesday night. I think I slept at 4:30 AM, so pumped full of adrenaline. I made a halfhearted attempt to remedy my insomnia earlier in the week but that didn’t take. I’ll try again once we’re out of crisis mode.
Volume 01 Issue 15 part 2 : Reflections after 3 months of being baby ARMY (ONLY? Has it been so short?)
Over the weekend, my friends and I watched back-to-back K-pop award shows - MMA and MAMA. Coming into the experience with zero K-pop background apart from BTS, it was interesting for me to be exposed to other K-pop groups and enjoy the spectacle. MAMA was six hours okay!! With no subtitles! How did I survive? Lainey Gossip’s write-up of the weekend was really great, definitely worth a read; I was particularly struck by her insight that BTS puts in just as much effort into their stages on Western TV appearances (BTS Week on Jimmy Fallon’s show; Life Goes On + Dynamite on James Corden’s show) as they do for their Eastern appearances. The Black Swan part of their MMA performance blew my whole dang mind, and they backed it up with a Michael Jackson-inspired dance break for Dynamite? Come on now. Then the next day: the MAMAs performance with of ON marching band version and Suga appearing through augmented reality, Avengers portal style; it’s absolute madness. They’re just killing the game at this point.
I keep thinking back to the Esquire write-up by Dave Holmes (also very much worth your time):
Sometimes there is a whole universe alongside your own, bursting with color you’re too stubborn to see, bouncing with joy you think is for someone else, with a beat you thought you were finished dancing to. BTS are the biggest thing on the planet right now, yet the job of introducing them to someone new, particularly in America, seems like it’s never done. Maybe it’s because they are adored by screaming teenagers and we live in a society patriarchal enough to forget that screaming teenagers are nearly always right. Maybe it’s the cultural divide, in a moment when our country is unashamed enough of its own xenophobia to get openly bent out of shape when it has to press 1 for English. Maybe it’s the language barrier, as though we understood a single word Michael Stipe sang before 1989.
Whatever the reason, the result is that you might be missing out on a paradigm shift and a historic moment of pop greatness.
Becoming a baby ARMY last September felt like stepping through the wardrobe into Narnia for me: suddenly, I realized that some of my friends have been posting about them for ages. BTS had been under my nose all along. All this joy had been right there for the taking, waiting for me; I only had to open my mind to it. Sometimes I wish I found them much earlier, so that I don’t constantly feel like I’m behind and need to catch up. But a specific and significant component of the joy is how thrilling it is to be hand-in-hand with Aia, Rica, Trish, Raissa - all friends I now talk to daily, who started their baby ARMY journeys at around the same time as I did, who fell hard and fast for BTS with the same intensity and velocity as I have. Being a baby ARMY has also given me avenues to bond with acquaintances and make new friends, especially on ARMY Twitter. Aia’s newsletter talks about the same thing (because we are the same person):
There is so much joy. And I think that for me, a big part of it is really being on this journey with Pinky and fellow baby ARMYs on stan Twitter. It’s not without flaws, but I didn't have this kind of community through all the other artists that I have obsessed over. My small and precious group of mutuals on stan Twitter are so engaging, and it's more than enough for me to really give into my full blown joy and excitement without being shamed for being too loud or annoying. I will really never shut up about the things I love and everyone on stan Twitter is exactly the same way. They just get it. This mix of old online friends and new acquaintances seem to understand me best. It’s so hard to explain BTS and kpop outside of this bubble. And it's so fun because we are a mix of new and veteran fans, so it feels like we're virtually holding each other's hands as we experience this new chapter of Bangtan. I love this for us. We all share the same level of enthusiasm for our faves. And even though it's technically new, it still feels very, very familiar. We’ve been here before. Only it was 2008. And it was Tumblr. I am home.
(Except mine was Livejournal!! I was too old when Tumblr happened! LOL.)
The other day, I randomly saw a post by author Matt Haig that I haven’t stopped thinking about since:
It’s not an official therapy and I don’t know the science to back it up, but never underestimate how much being INTO STUFF can help anxiety. Find a passion the size of fear. Movies, music, books, whatever. Be a geek. I find digging deep into an interest is a tunnel out of fear.
Being enthusiastic and unapologetic about what brings me joy, even when it may seem frivolous to others: that’s something that I’ve always tried to live by. This was so difficult to practice with intention this year. There’s so much weighing us down. I don’t always succeed at looking at the bright side. But discovering BTS and ARMY was the life preserver I needed when I was drowning. This universe continues to be an easy escape from the mundanity (and yet.. relentlessness) of 2020. With just a few clicks, I’m consuming BTS content again; I’m laughing my head off; I’m smiling, silly and smitten; I’m with my people. I am home.
A few decades from now, God willing, this pandemic will be a blip in our memory. I’ll be able to look back on this year with some fondness and remember that I was happy and I survived thanks to BTS. For that, I am already so grateful. I wish this joy for everyone.
I told myself last weekend that I wouldn’t put out a part 2, but realized I’d shared four great BTS articles in the span of a single week. There have been so many good ones lately! What I hear from longtime ARMY is that it wasn’t always like this. ARMY has standards for what a “good” article is - one that treats the boys with fairness and respect, doesn’t diminish them and their accomplishments, and cares what they really think about music and issues. I thought I’d share a round-up of seven of my personal favorites from the past few weeks. If you have to ask why seven and not ten, I can only assume you’re not (yet) baby ARMY, and hope one of the links below intrigues you.
The Boundless Optimism of BTS — Dave Holmes, Esquire.
IMHO this is the one against which all write-ups should be measured. It’s comprehensive and chronological, but easy to read; gives enough of the big picture, but also zooms into the details. It captures their chaotic vibe, but also showcases their thoughtfulness and how seriously they take their craft and their place in the world. This and the Carpool Karaoke video are what I send when I’m sneakily trying to convert someone from GP (general population) to baby ARMY.
I Wasn’t a Fan of BTS. And Then I Was. — Lenika Cruz, The Atlantic.
This is from last year, but I recently reread it, and it still hits just as hard. “For me, the journey into BTS’s genre-bending oeuvre and their community of fans has produced a joy and intensity I never thought I’d experience as an adult listener. At times, I felt like I was violating some sort of social boundary. I’ve learned, though, that being a fan of BTS means becoming intimately familiar with the many prejudices and hierarchies of taste that casually belittle the thing you love—and then deciding that none of it has any real power over you.”
Like Dionysus: BTS, Classics in K-Pop, and the Narcissism of the West — Yung In Chae, Eidolon Journal.
I’ve shared this before, but it makes my top 7 list because it’s so masterfully written. “In my mind, the story of BTS is the story of a K-pop group that, out of a necessity constructed by history, went after Western validation and in the process became something greater, for BTS’s influence goes beyond the West, and their legacy will be about more than collecting its rewards. In the end, the people who lose out will be those who were fortunate enough to live through a moment of significant cultural change but were too mired in narcissism to see it, let alone appreciate it.”
BE was my first comeback, and my first experience of what that “comeback season” actually means: active participation and hard work streaming and buying, to make sure the song charts. ARMY is serious! I was exhausted (in a good way - read more here): “A largely Korean-language song debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with virtually no radio play, no remixes and no bundles. The song’s stratospheric debut offers unimpeachable proof of BTS's popularity and the dedication of their fans. Together, they have subverted a Western music industry whose archaic practices are often rooted in racism and xenophobia and redefined what a Korean pop act can achieve on the U.S. charts.”
BTS: TIME’s Entertainer of the Year — Raisa Bruner, TIME.
This is a big one. I’m so proud and I love them so much. They deserve the world. (There’s a video too - the power of the exposed forehead is so strong!) “They have been open about their own challenges with mental health and spoken publicly about their support for LGBTQ+ rights... They’ve modeled a form of gentler, more neutral masculinity, whether dyeing their hair pastel shades or draping their arms lovingly over one another. All this has made them unique not just in K-pop but also in the global pop marketplace.”
How the biggest boy band in the world is changing the mental health conversation — Jenna Guillaume, ABC Life.
Of the many things I like to think about when it comes to BTS, their approach to mental health and masculinity is high on the list. I love the way the author framed this. “In other words, [BTS] consistently display [...] in every possible way, what being a man can look like when removed from toxic masculinity and the repressive stigma attached to it.”
Band of the Year BTS Rewrite the Record Books with Dynamite 2020 — Mary Siroky, Consequence of Sound.
"There is a certain, specific kind of joy that comes with watching people do what it seems they were put on this earth to, and that magic shimmers around the members of BTS when they are performing seated on stools with a small backup band just as brightly as it does when they are executing a dance break in an Olympic-sized stadium. There’s another kind of joy that comes with watching people who have worked tremendously hard to become masters of their craft achieve groundbreaking success, who then receive every victory with boundless ecstasy. It’s good to have something to root for these days.”
Late one night this week, while watching a random BTS video they posted on Twitter, I realized I’ve been pressuring myself to watch all of these holiday movies, because that’s what I’ve been doing every Christmas season for the past five years. I felt so relieved when I finally acknowledged that my heart isn’t in it this year, that all I really want to do -- if I’m truly being honest with myself -- is watch BTS all day every day. I spent much of the last quarter ranking BTS content on a priority list, promising myself I’d get to the less urgent items when I found the time. Well, now I have nothing but time! I have time for the next two weeks!
Currently… marathoning inter-connected BTS content this weekend: the Love Yourself: Speak Yourself concert video, the Break the Silence movie about this concert, and the BTS commentary of the movie. It’s so sad. When will live concerts come back? :(
BTS really can do anything. Now it's got print magazines flying off the stands -- Kerry Flynn, CNN.
Considering how hard my friends and I have been hustling to get these magazines, this is extremely satisfying to read.
Currently… watching BTS’s shows In the Soop (while baking, since I’ve seen it before; it’s the ultimate comfort show), Bon Voyage Malta (the first few days after Christmas when there was nothing else to do but lay wrapped up in a blanket on the sofa), movie Burn the Stage and concert Love Yourself Speak Yourself: Sao Paulo (to put the baby to sleep - he loves their performances).
The Astonishing Duality of BTS — Lenika Cruz, The Atlantic.
I’m a big fan of Lenika Cruz and her BTS content — her MOTS:7 album review, in particular — and I’m so happy she got this opportunity to interview them. “With BTS, the only constant is their duality—they’re “local” yet global, industry outsiders on the inside, equally skilled at intimacy and pageantry.”
This will get updated weekly with whatever BTS content I’ve consumed for the week. If you’re interested in receiving the newsletter weekly (also contains other stuff I’m enthusiastic about), the subscribe button below will make sure the newsletter lands in your inbox. Thank you!
I purple you,