Friday, May 24, 2019

A Totally Random, But Completely Sincere Letter to New American Fans of the Best Boyband Ever, BTS.

Cosmopolitan published a piece yesterday titled, “A Totally Random, But Completely Sincere Love Letter to the Best Boyband Ever, BTS” and it probably wasn’t worth taking the time to write this since most of the fans who think like that will move on as soon as the next shiny bobble appears but I am weak and I love a good TL;DR.

In that spirit, I present “A Totally Random, But Completely Sincere Letter to New American Fans of the Best Boyband Ever, BTS.”

Wow, hello new fans! Welcome! So, how long have you been into BTS? A month? That’s so exciting! There is so much good content waiting for you to discover. (Like check out their reality travel show Bon Voyage!!)

And while I’m so glad you’re here (I really am!) can we just talk just fan-to-fan, woman-to-woman for a minute?

Okay, cool.

I was kind of concerned when I read the Cosmo love letter because it sounds like you kind of just think they’re cute and fun and wear good clothes? And they are, don’t get me wrong, but BTS is a lot more than that.

Let me explain.

BTS are a Korean idol group. That’s different from a boy band like One Direction or New Kids on the Block.

For one thing… they’re Korean and sing in Korean. And they do write a lot of their own lyrics, which means a little extra work for those of us who don’t speak Korean. Their songs aren't just nonsense syllables set to catchy tunes, which is kind of what it sounds like you’re saying here?

Oh, you haven't tried listening to K-Pop yet because you don't understand Korean? Trust me, that's a non-issue. I know that "music is a universal language" is a cliche cheesy enough to be a high school yearbook quote, but it's true. Listen to "Idol," and hit me up in two weeks when it's finally unstuck from your brain.

“Idol” is super catchy but it’s also about BTS’s own struggle in coming to terms with their own status as… idols. And how they’ve stopped caring about what the critics have to say about them not producing “real” music.

And I’m not trying to tell you how to listen to the song. I mean, there are plenty of songs I just like without thinking too deep about the message but I also don’t necessarily consider myself a fan of those artists, you know?

BTS put a lot of thought into their lyrics and a lot of us ARMY enjoy engaging with their music on that level. I hope you’ll also find it rewarding!! Plenty of lyrics translations are floating around so just google the song title and stick a “English lyrics” in there and the results should pop right up.

And there’s a lot more too!

Asian idol groups have a long history dating back to the 1960s in Japan. (listen to my podcast if you want to hear more!! Start with Episode 8-10 for just a BTS-focused mini-tour.) An idol group is more than cute boys singing a catchy song. An idol group is performance art intertwined with an interactive fan culture.

For a single performance the idols have to balance choreography, vocals, stagecraft, costuming, camera work, hair and make-up, and audience interactions. If any one of those is off, it can tank the song.

In concerts, the stakes are even higher because it’s not just about working with a small TV studio audience but bringing in fans sitting hundreds of feet away, far out of reach.

So, like, definitely this kind of fan service is part of it and it’s a super fun one:

Seriously, even when you're a zillion rows away from BTS in an arena with 100,000 screaming fans, a wink from Jin or a Jimin lip bite will make you feel like the only person in the whole world. It's almost like a solar eclipse. Except, instead of risking permanent eye damage by peeking, you risk becoming ridiculously obsessed with this boyband.

But that’s only one piece of the whole puzzle.

When you are in that arena, no matter which seat you are in, you are part of the show. Every fan will have her lightstick (or penlight) and every fan has her voice to sing along and cheer. Those two things magnified by 100,000 create a very unique and special atmosphere. You may be sitting on the 3rd floor in row ZZ seat 999 but the light you hold is important. And your voice singing the fanchants or calling out the lyrics when it’s time for a singalong is important.

BTS concerts aren’t supposed to make you feel like the only person in the whole world but like you are part of something bigger than yourself.

A single ARMY bomb is just a lightbulb. 60,000 ARMY bombs coming together is a movement.

I saved their good looks for last even though the love letter puts it first because… well, I don’t really feel comfortable highlighting it. They are handsome men. They really are. All of them. But here’s the thing. They’re a Korean idol group. Which means they’re Korean and that label comes with a lot of baggage over here in America.

There’s a long history of East Asians being fetishized and exoticised and otherized by, well, white people.

I mean, I’m white too. And there’s definitely nothing wrong with white people enjoying East Asian pop culture. Just… think a little bit before jumping in. Never forget that there are real human beings--real men--behind the make-up and stage outfits. They aren’t dolls. They aren’t walking memes. They aren’t anime images on a screen. BTS are real people with real parents, real families, and real friends. They have whole inner lives, dreams, goals, disappointments, ambitions, talents, and personality flaws. They work really, really hard to put out the best music and performances they can and they take pride in their work.

So, like, yes, “Jung-shook” memes are funny and Taehyung is impossibly gorgeous and RM for President but if you never go further than that you are missing out on most of what BTS actually is.

Anyways, I really am happy you’re here and I wish you the best in your fandom journey!!

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite television performances where you can really get a feel for how the audience and BTS come together to create something special.

Much love,

Filmi Girl

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