Fandoms are built and sustained because of the meaning that they bring to fans lives. K-pop groups have some of the most ardent fan bases around the world. The artists have often been quoted saying they would be nowhere without their fans. There is no more passionate fanbase than the BTS ARMY (Adorable Representative M.C for Youth) You wouldn’t say but ARMY in South Africa is growing quite rapidly. SHAAZIA EBRAHIM and FATIMA MOOSA chatted to some SA ARMY to find out why they’re obsessed with the seven Korean Bangtan Boys.
When and how did you get into loving the amazingness that is BTS?
It was July 2015 because that is when I started trying to avoid my thesis. A friend on Tumblr was really into K-pop and showed me a dance practice video. I was like, oh I think I love all of these boys, what do you know about them? She made a whole primer for me with descriptions, links to videos, a list of music videos. She was very serious. That was the beginning of the end. Ndapwa, 29
One day I was on YouTube and their Fire MV [music video] popped up and I said this looks cool. So I went and researched their lyrics and saw that they had a lot of songs that had meaning. And I thought this is an amazing group. Nduvho, 16
I got introduced to BTS by my 14-year-old daughter during the AMAs. I was thankful she had moved off the Dolan twins. I think what really got me was their clean image and the message they send through their music which is not all about sex and drugs. They still celebrate who they are and haven’t changed to fit the Western image. Beth, 48
I saw them from a YouTuber called Lilly Singh. She made a reaction video called My Parents React To BTS in 2016. Ketsia, 22
I checked out the K-pop chart in January 2017 and I saw Not Today which is one of their songs. I really liked their choreography and the actual song so I decided to check more of their songs and their bangtan bombs – and I was hooked. Shabnam, 28
I remember I was having a bad day. I just closed my essay and went online and saw the Serendipity trailer. It was just such a calming, relaxing and beautiful music video. I felt so at ease at the end. And I was like this is my escapism. It was a happy mistake. Tasha, 23
Three years ago I was scrolling through YouTube and I just saw Jimin dancing and I was like, wait who is this? I started researching more and that’s how I discovered BTS. Zanele, 15
It was during prelims in August last year, I watched South African YouTuber Riley Vahed’s reaction to them and I was like damn, what is this? I need to be involved. So I researched them, got into them and introduced some of my friends as well. Wafiqa, 17
I was watching one of those react videos and the one episode was Teens React to K-Pop and they had BTS in there. It was 2016 and I really liked it. They don’t make the generic pop music. They make upbeat music which I can dance to and relate to. They talk about things that I think are important. Amena, 18
Okay here comes a difficult question. Who is your bias (favourite group member) and why?
V because I find him optimistic and unique. He never conforms, if he wants to do something and it’s going to make him happy he just does it no matter what other people think. It sets an example because I want to live that kind of life where I don’t really care what other people think. Wafiqa, 17
Suga. He has a carefree attitude, he’s been through a helluva lot mentally which I think resonates with me. I like that he’s caring but doesn’t show it. Shabnam, 28
V which is Kim Taehyung. The other members are just as cute and warm-hearted but there’s something about his crazy personality and that he can remain the way he was before he got famous. He hasn’t forgotten the meaning of family and his voice is just amazing. Deerushka, 16
I look at them from a totally different perspective than a lot of ARMYs look at them. I don’t look at them and say, ‘oh he’s cute or look at his abs and stuff’. I like different parts of their different personalities. But obviously the older ones like Jin and RM. Beth, 48
I can’t choose between Yoongi and Taehyung. I really like like Taehyung’s voice and I like Suga’s lyrics. Also just the way they interact with each other and with fans is cute. Ketsia, 22
Tae is my bias because I can relate to a lot of the things he has gone through. I know for the last couple of years he has been dealing with a lot of things emotionally similar to Suga as well. The whole message of BTS is to love myself love yourself. It seems simple but people forget to love themselves. Luke, 20
I love all seven of them equally because the unit will not work without just one but my favourite is Jimin. He seems like a soft, beautiful boy and he exists in the same world as me! His face scrunches up when he smiles, he makes me so happy. He’s determined and a responsible young man, he loves his friends and parents. His voice is so beautiful, he’s a technical master of precision when he dances. He is the most inspirational person of 2016 to me, he got me through some things. I don’t think I could physically love someone more unless I gave birth to them. Ndapwa, 29
I have a holy trinity that’s j-hope, Suga and Jimin. Of the three, Jimin was the first member I was exposed to and because of that I’ll always have a soft spot for him. I love how outspoken Suga is in his recent Billboard interview where he empowered Korean people to unite and stand up for what they believe in and also about gay rights. He’s really quiet and reserved and a little mean but he’s a sweetheart. Out of all of them j-hope is the one I idolise the most and wish to emulate. He is so talented in almost every sphere of the music industry. Tasha, 23
My bias is Jungkook. First of all, he is beautiful. But also he is an amazing singer like seriously good. He is super hard working and he tries really hard to do it to the absolute best of his ability. Amena, 18
What does BTS mean to you?
They’re a bit of escapism. They’re a place when I’m feeling down need a break from life I can listen to their music and I feel at ease. The coolest thing is they’ve exposed me to a whole other culture. It’s made me interested in something other than my little world. Tasha, 23
When I look back I don’t think I’ve ever loved and cared about another artist as I do them. I feel like they care about their fans and they’re constantly putting out content that allows us to connect with them. Them spreading the message of loving yourself has really helped me to become so happy. Lavonne, 19
You can see how the group has grown and become closer friends. They can make anyone feel like they belong. They push their fans to follow their dreams. Monique, 17
If I had to describe them in one word it would have to be family. They give so much to the fans, more than I’ve seen any other group do. I’ve met the most amazing people in my life through them. They speak about things like mental health issues. That really changes the game for K-pop. Mymoena, 19
BTS is a refuge, a sanctuary. They are entertainers but they provide you with relief, that there’s actually people who understand what you’re going through and help you get through your problems, encourage you even though they’re thousands of miles away. Wafiqa, 17
BTS are absolutely kind, mature, fun-loving, and hilarious. They’re talented and the rap and vocal line is amazing. Their songs are relatable, they’re very open and personal, and share lots with us. They’re very close with each other and their brotherly love is everything to them which is amazing to me. Deerushka, 16
BTS is my safe space. As a student I have a lot going on but when I get to listen to BTS and watch their videos I just feel relief in some way. Ketsia, 22
They came into my life at a point where I was at perhaps at my lowest. When I was introduced to them I felt like hope and healing was brought into my life. It’s amazing to see how BTS has united so many people from all different backgrounds. And it is promoting this idea of diversity, unity, and equity. Luke, 20
BTS means love, caring and family – because they’re so close to each other and it feels so genuine. They’re really confident and they’re always trying to spread a message with what they love doing. Zanele, 15
Besides the fun and music, I love that they play a significant role in people’s lives and that they try to change people’s lives. Its different from other K-pop artists. They try to change society, they make you question a lot about yourself. You get a lot of motivation to work harder and question the wrongs of society. Shabnam, 28
I was attracted to Jimin’s visuals. I admired his dedication and hard work. In a lot of videos, they often talk about how hardworking he is and he goes the extra mile. I feel like he is striving for perfection, he wants to make us proud and himself proud. His high notes make me weak. In the videos we watch you can see how caring and genuine and thoughtful he is. Lavonne, 19
The content they produce is such a gift because of the work it must take to present every aspect of yourself to people for their enjoyment – even though I understand K-pop is a machine in a capitalist industry. The relationship between the members also makes me love them so much, it feels so beautiful and genuine. These seven young Asian men relate to me in my context as an almost 30-year-old *gasp* black woman in South Africa and Namibia. The idea of feeling stuck and feeling misunderstood and struggling with mental health and society – and even just having fun and wanting dreams to come true. Itâ€™s has opened up so many communities and spaces: online friendships, important conversations on race and gender, and the infantilisation of women. Itâ€™s made me a better and happier person and that is just so pure. Ndapwa, 29
Join SA ARMY.
Check out this rest of our K-pop coverage here:
Eleven reasons to stan K-pop sensations BTS
Redefining masculinity the BTS way
Hixtape is the lituation we never deserved
6 K-pop groups that are a must listen
Voxes have been edited for clarity and brevity.