How Korean boyband BTS created a social movement


There’s an adage among the ARMY, the fans of Korean group, BTS,  “You only find BTS when you need them.” It’s something most fans connect with, especially the I am ARMY: It’s Time to Begin book contributors edited by Wallea Eaglehawk and Courtney Lazore. 

There have been boybands, groups and even fandoms throughout the ages. From Beatlemania, to the boy bands of the 90s and even more recently One Direction, there has always been an intensity around fandoms. But there is something different about BTS and their fanbase ARMY – an acronym for Adorable Representative M.C. for Youth. In the years since BTS has grown globally, books, research papers and even academic lecturers have explored their popularity. But now a group of ARMY have come together to write about why they think BTS and ARMY are creating a “revolution”. 

Why the book?

Speaking to The Daily Vox from Australia, co-editor of the book, Eaglehawk said she started her own publishing company and initially released Idol Limerence. The book explored the mass phenomena of the Korean idol, in particular, BTS and how it intersects with the psychological experience of limerence. Writing that book was important for her exploration of identity and she wanted to give other ARMY the same kind of process. 

But more than just giving people the chance to explore their identities, she wanted to build an academic scholarship. “I wanted to be able to contextualise these stories through a more political, sociological, economic, and environmental lens.” The book features ARMY from around the world, writing about their fan experiences. 

But the book is more than just about BTS. It’s actually about the fans themselves and explorations of their own identities. 

What stories were told 

Eaglehawk sent out a call on social media asking people to send in pitches. “I just said speak your truth knowing who you are as an ARMY and showing me all the different impacts and influences on your life,” she said. 

While the book features just eight stories including Eaglehawk and her co-editor Lazore’s stories, the remainder of the submissions have been published online

Practising Revolutionaries 

The ARMY are described as “practicing revolutionaries”. Eaglehawk says the term means “we all have a capacity for greatness and change as long as we work together.” She said: “They (ARMY) are really aligning themselves and preparing themselves to take up a call to be part of any social movement. They’re primed just by being in the fandom.” 

This is another thing that seems to emphasise how different BTS and their fans are. There is an intimate relationship between the artists and their fans. Earlier this year, when BTS donated $1 million to the Black Lives Matter movement, ARMY matched that in a short period of time. Within the K-pop industry which BTS has its origins in, there has always been a close relationship between artists and fans, seperate from the music. Inspired by their favourite artists and groups, fans often donate to charity and do good work. ARMY just takes it to another level by the sheer size of the fandom.

Power of fandoms 

For the longest time, the screaming teenage girl has persisted as the stereotype of a fan. The BTS ARMY and many other fandoms are actually more diverse than represented. But Eaglehawk says it’s important to acknowledge that within K-pop and BTS, women are the primary fans. 

“We need to be able to uplift those voices because actually young women are powerful and are making this decision to stand behind something that they believe in. It scares a lot of people that they’re able to show their love through the economy,” said Eaglehawk. 

More than that, the BTS and other K-pop fandoms are showing a decentralisation of power. The American entertainment industry and even their fans no longer hold all the power. ARMY is a global fandom, not constrained by any borders.

South African contribution 

Naazneen and Tagseen Samsodien are two South African ARMYs from Cape Town. They are the admins behind the @BTSARMYZA twitter account which has spearheaded many charity projects in the BTS name. They contributed to the book through the chapter called “Emerging victorious” 

Naazneen said they chose to get involved with the project because they love writing and storytelling and BTS. With the book, they joined two things they loved. When thinking about what to write, they wanted to represent the fact that they are older fans, which is a “novelty within the South African landscape.” Tagseen said they looked at how being a fan has made them rethink their ideas around masculinity from a cultural and religious perspective. 

The sisters said that while they’ve been fans of boy bands like the Backstreet Boys and others in their teen years, being an ARMY is something they’ve never experienced before. Through the group, they’ve been inspired to start community-based projects under the banner of “Loving Yourself”, the project started by BTS. 

For them, the idea of revolutionary links to how during BTS’ initial years, many doors were closed to them. However, fans refused to allow this to happen and worked hard to ensure the group got their spotlight. Along with speaking at the United Nations (UN) for the second year in a row, BTS made history as the first Korean artists to reach number one on the Billboard Hot 100. All of their success is intimately linked to the work done by their fans. 

Eaglehawk said while she sometimes struggles with being a fan while being anti-capitalist, she truly believes in BTS ‘message of creating positive social change. 

And it’s those words that were echoed by the group during their 2020 UN speech. Member RM said: “If there’s anything I’ve achieved, it was only possible that I have my other BTS members right by my side, and because of the love and the support that our ARMY fans all over the world make for us.”

The book will be launched October 4. It’s available to purchase via Amazon. 

Featured image via Wikicommons