K.-pop band BTS won the American Music Awards last month, making history as the first Asian band to win a year; they were also nominated for a Grammy for Best Duo / Pop Performance for their single Butter.
The seven-member band has a huge fan base around the world and its fans, known as Army, are known for their passion and loyalty. Here, Guardian readers who are fans of BTS talk about why the band means so much to them.
“After reading their texts, the burden seemed to lift up”
I struggled to adapt to life with an infant and a newborn; exhausted and insecure. Finding BTS gave me energy for sleepless nights, comfort during isolation, and confidence when I felt I wasn’t good enough. During the cycle of depression and anxiety, I felt like I was wasting my life. One day, as I was taking advantage of my nap time to scrub the kitchen, I panicked. Paradise started playing from a BTS playlist, and the melody and tone of the song immediately touched me. I paused in my songs to find the words and the lyrics to that song were exactly what I needed to hear that day. “It’s okay to stop / No need to run without knowing the reason / It’s okay not to sleep / If you have moments where you feel happiness for a moment.” After reading these texts, it felt as if a weight had dropped from my heart.
I didn’t have to bother trying to prove my worth. I didn’t have to look for a corporate ladder to climb or build a brand to feel happy. All I really wanted was a simple, comfortable life so that my kids had a solid foundation. BTS taught me that enough is enough; that I am worthy just to be myself.
I think what sets BTS apart from other artists is their friendship. They are the definition of friendship goals. Their love and respect for each other are the foundation of everything they do and show fans what true love and friendship looks like. During this pandemic, I found comfort in watching members comfort one another. Ashley Briggs, 36, full-time parent and podcast producer and writer, Tucson, Arizona, USA
“BTS inspires me to love myself without feeling ashamed”
What sets BTS apart from the other bands is their pride in being Korean. As an Asian, I find it inspiring. I was born in Sweden as two Vietnamese immigrants, so the uncertainty of my heritage has always been in my head. I adapted the Western name because I didn’t want to be weird. But BTS has standardized hard-to-pronounce names.
They proudly speak Korean during important speeches (such as the UN speech), wear hanbok (traditional Korean attire), and promote Korean culture. BTS represents those of us who had awkward lunch boxes at school, those of us who refused to speak our parents’ language in public.
BTS made me realize that my failures don’t define who I am. I’ve never talked about my emotions, so seven people singing exactly what I really feel help me understand myself and find new ways to evolve. BTS inspires me to love myself without feeling ashamed. Stephanie Le, 28, Legal Assistant, Stockholm, Sweden
“BTS helped me see myself as an invisible old woman”
When last year was my worst, staring at my own mortality from my heart attack, they came to the rescue. The message of self-love that permeated most of their music was what I needed to hear. To believe that despite my small, nothing special achievements in life, I am still a worthy person – it was a revelation for me. They helped me see myself as an invisible old woman. Kind of minor, but my style has changed. I am more confident in choosing a youthful style over safe, neutral clothes and I wear makeup more. They make me feel young.
Their humility and respect for all people, the kindness they always showed was also a lesson. At my age, it’s too easy to think you’ve seen it all and know all the answers, but nothing could be more wrong. I am more open and accepting than I used to be, but I still have a long way to go.
Intensive care nurses often say that dying patients rarely talk about their money or possessions, but wish they had spent more time on experiences such as falling in love, having a baby, traveling, escapades with friends, etc. And I know the BTS 1 concert December will be one of the best experiences I will review on my deathbed. Sharman, 68, retired, Canada
“I had the feeling that all K-pop sounded the same – I was eagerly wrong”
There is a saying in the army that “you find BTS when you need it most.” Although I started hearing about them in 2016, I never played their music because I had the feeling that all K-pop music sounded the same: noisy EDM sounds, unstructured rap, etc. I was gladly proved wrong when the Love album came out Yourself. At that time in my life, I had many new thoughts, emotions and feelings that terrified me because I couldn’t define them. I was unable to share my thoughts and feelings with anyone because I was unable to describe them or find the words. BTS did it for me. Anonymous, 25 years old, Agadir, Morocco
I especially like rap music and when my wife introduced me to BTS and I heard Cypher 4 I was convinced. Their rapping and storytelling is the next level. I’m a big guy with a beard and tattoos, and people often think I’m a metal head. While it’s true, I love K-pop so much. The shows are full of atmosphere, music, dance, theater and fan involvement. It has everything that Western music and artists lack. I think the reason BTS stands out so much for me is because of their genre-bending music. He puts so much into their instruments that it is easy for anyone to find something they like. Lyrically, their message of self-love is very strong and authentic. You can say they don’t sing them just for that, you know? Rob, 27, works in insurance, Liverpool, Australia
“We all love a poor story that ends well”
I became a fan when I heard their song Dynamite on the Spotify 2010s playlist in June this year. I was demotivated by work and felt isolated during the pandemic. Dynamite sounded like pure happiness in a song. I was looking for non-English songs or other new optimistic songs to add to my work from a playlist at home. It was my first time hearing BTS or K-pop; I was surprised that Dynamite was in English and sounded like a Bruno Mars song. I ended up going on a five-hour BTS deep dive right after that.
I love that they are Korean and Asian colleagues; important that they are not from the West. Not only are they super talented and professional, they obviously love what they do, love to be together and are loyal to their fans.
Despite their global success, they are still as hardworking, honest, grounded, humble and fun as they were when they started out. From the outset, they were closely involved in songwriting and the production of their CDs, and explored fascinating themes in their songs. Plus, we all love the underdog story that ends well, and BTS is one such story. Bernice Roldan, 42, Gender Consultant at Multilateral Development Bank, Manila, Philippines
“I became a fan to heal my connection with my cultural identity”
When the Atlanta shootings hit the headlines earlier this year, I realized that as an adult I still had a lot of unresolved racial trauma. As a Korean American who grew up in a mostly white suburb of Chicago, I was always ashamed to be different. I became a fan of BTS with the intention of recognizing the shame I was carrying and healing my broken relationship with my cultural identity. I love their music, performances and personalities, but BTS’s breakthrough in mainstream media means so much more to me – it helps me believe that voices like mine matter and deserve to be heard.Ashley Cho, 30, School Counselor, Seattle, Washington, USA
“BTS gave me the opportunity to say goodbye to my friend”
I had a childhood friend who died in junior high and I could never come to terms with the situation. I suppressed my emotions. After listening to BTS Spring Day, I broke down and cried for a long time and realized that I missed them more than I imagined. The repeated text “bogo sipda” (I miss you) brought out those emotions that I had hidden for a long time. So I am grateful that BTS has given me the opportunity to say goodbye one last time. Theresa Frimpong, 21, medical student, Ghana
“BTS has arguably the most diverse fanbase in the world.”
I first encountered BTS in 2018 when they were on the Graham Norton Show. The turning point for me was when I heard them speak for the first time at the United Nations in 2018. The Love Yourself Speak Yourself campaign really applied to me, as did their Map of the Soul Age, which has delved deeper into our personalities. Their music and messages gave me hope to fight my inner demons and love myself.
I am an engaged 31-year-old heterosexual male. For some people, I’m not your typical BTS fan. Everyone expects boy bands to only have screaming teens as fans, but that’s just not true. I just wish everyone would understand that BTS actually has arguably the most diverse fanbase in the world. Eero Alejnikow, 31, Finland
As a young Asian American, I was fortunate enough to grow up in an inclusive suburb where while known to be predominantly Caucasian, all mixes of cultures and ethnicities were embodied in school populations. That said, the “K wave” had yet to penetrate the depths of Naperville, and I remember that K-pop lovers were viewed as outcasts all over the States.
When the pandemic broke out and schools were on hiatus, I spent a lot of time reflecting on my stressors and learning how to value and love myself. Then I became a fan of BTS. I realized that the military community was carrying a similar message as its members. The countless friends I have met and people who reached out to post content, fangirl, and later support my news account have been so refreshing, especially in times when I needed laughter and comfort. Zee S, 19, medical student, Naperville Illinois, USA
“What distinguishes BTS is their willingness to be vulnerable”
BTS gave my daughter and me a common trait that made it easier to navigate this mother-teen relationship. Now he is a founding member of the K-pop club in our high school and I am an advisor. We have created a safe space that is so diverse but eclectic. There is a dance committee, an arts committee, and even a committee to talk about the appropriation of culture.
Their music was so powerful, uplifting and true. These seven young men speak to the world in a universal language that has come on time. How could I have underestimated it? What sets BTS apart is their willingness to be sensitive. Yes, they work hard but are also not afraid to screw up and admit it. They let the world know when they need a break from it all and come back stronger. You can always find a BTS song that explains how you feel, even if you can’t figure it out. NaShonda, 46, Educator, Raleigh, North Carolina, USA