K-pop boy band BTS swept the American Music Awards last month, making history as the first Asian act to win artist of the year; they were also nominated for a Grammy for best pop duo/group performance for their single Butter.
The seven-member band has a huge global following and their fans, known as Army, are known for their passion and loyalty. Here Guardian readers, who are BTS fans, speak about why the band means so much to them.
‘After reading their lyrics, a weight seemed to lift’
I was struggling with adjusting to life with a toddler and a newborn; exhausted and feeling insecure. Finding BTS gave me energy on sleepless nights, comfort during isolation, and confidence when I felt like I wasn’t good enough. During a cycle of depression and anxiety, I felt like I was wasting my life. One day, while I was using a free moment of nap time to scrub the kitchen, I started to panic. Paradise began playing from a BTS playlist and the melody and tone of the song touched me instantly. I stopped in my tracks to find the lyrics, and the words to that song were exactly what I needed to hear that day. “It’s alright to stop / There’s no need to run without even knowing the reason / It’s alright to not have a dream / If you have moments where you feel happiness for a while.” After reading those lyrics, a weight seemed to lift from my heart.
I didn’t need to exhaust myself trying to prove my worth. I didn’t need to find a corporate ladder to climb or build a brand in order to feel happy. All I really wanted was a simple, comfortable life so my kids have a solid foundation. BTS taught me that I am enough; that I am worthy just by being 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 is at the core of everything they do and it shows fans what genuine love and friendship looks like. During this pandemic, I’ve found comfort in watching the members comfort each other. Ashley Briggs, 36, full-time parent and podcast producer/writer, Tucson, Arizona, US
‘BTS inspire me to love myself without feeling ashamed’
What sets BTS apart from other bands is their pride in being Korean. As an Asian, I find this inspiring. I was born in Sweden to two Vietnamese immigrants so the insecurities over my heritage have always been lingering in the back of my head. I adapted a western name because I didn’t want to be the odd one out. But BTS have normalised hard to pronounce names.
They proudly speak Korean during important award speeches (like their UN speech), wear hanbok (traditional Korean dress) and promote Korean culture. BTS represents those of us who had awkward lunch boxes at school, those of us who didn’t want to speak our parents language in public.
BTS made me realise that my failures do not define who I am. I’ve never been vocal about my emotions so for me to have seven people who sing exactly what I feel truly helps me understand myself and find new ways to evolve. BTS inspires me to love myself without feeling ashamed. Stephanie Le, 28, paralegal, Stockholm, Sweden
‘BTS helped with my perception of myself as an invisible older woman’
When I was at my lowest last year, staring at my own mortality after a heart attack, they came to the rescue. The message of loving yourself that pervades most of their music was what I needed to hear. To believe that despite my small, nothing-special accomplishments in life, I was still a worthy person – that was a revelation to me. They helped with my perception of myself as an invisible older woman. It seems minor, but my style has changed. I’m more confident in choosing a youthful style instead of safe, neutral clothes, and wearing makeup more often. They make me feel young.
Their humility and respect for all people, the politeness they always show was a lesson as well. It’s too easy at my age to think you’ve seen it all and have all the answers but nothing could be more wrong. I’m more open and accepting than I used to be but still have a long way to go.
Critical care nurses often say that dying patients rarely talk about the money or possessions they had but wish they had given more of their time to experiences, like falling in love, the birth of a child, travelling, escapades with their friends, etc. I know the BTS concert on 1 December will be one of the top experiences I’ll be reviewing on my deathbed. Sharman, 68, retired, Canada
‘I had the impression that all K-pop sounded the same – I was gladly proven wrong’
There’s a saying within Army that “you find BTS when you need them most”. Although I started hearing about them in 2016, I had never played their music because I had this impression that all K-pop music sounded the same: noisy EDM sounds, unstructured rap etc. I was gladly proven wrong when the Love Yourself album was released. At that time in my life, I had many new thoughts, emotions, and feelings that scared me because I couldn’t define them. I was unable to share my thoughts or feelings with anyone because I was unable to describe them or to find the words. BTS did that for me. Anonymous, 25, Agadir, Morocco
‘People often think I’m a metal head but I love K-pop so much’
I’m particularly fond of rap music and once my wife introduced me to BTS and I heard Cypher 4, I was won over. Their rapping and storytelling is next level. I’m a big dude with a beard and tattoos and people often think I’m a metal head. Whilst that is true, I love K-pop so much. The shows are a whole vibe, the music, the dancing, the theatrics and the fan engagement. It has everything that I feel Western music and artists lack. I think the reason BTS stands out to me so much is because of their genre-bending music. So much goes into their instrumentals that it’s easy for anyone to find something they like. Lyrically, their messages of self-love are very powerful and genuine. You can tell they’re not just singing them for the sake of it, you know? Rob, 27, works in insurance, Liverpool, Australia
‘We all love an underdog story that ends well’
I became a fan when I heard their song Dynamite on a Spotify 2010s playlist in June this year. I was demotivated with work and felt isolated during the pandemic. Dynamite sounded like pure happiness encapsulated in a song. I was searching for non-English songs or other new upbeat songs to add to my work from home playlist. 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 fellow Asians; it’s relevant that they’re not from the West. Not only are they super talented and professional, they obviously love what they do, love being around each other, and they’re loyal to their fans.
Despite their global success, they continue to be as hardworking, genuine, grounded, humble, and hilarious as when they started. They’ve been closely involved in the songwriting and production of their records from the start, and explore compelling themes in their songs. Also, we all love an underdog story that ends well, and BTS is one such story. Bernice Roldan, 42, gender consultant for a multilateral development bank, Manila, Philippines
‘I became a fan to heal my relationship with my cultural identity’
When the Atlanta shootings made headlines earlier this year, I realised that as an adult, I still had a lot of unresolved racial trauma. As a Korean-American who grew up in a predominantly white suburb of Chicago, I was always embarrassed about being different. I became a fan of BTS with the intention of acknowledging the shame I used to carry and to heal my broken relationship with my cultural identity. I love their music, performances, and personalities, but BTS’ breakthrough into 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, US
‘BTS gave me the opportunity to say my final goodbye to my friend’
I had a childhood friend who passed away when I was in middle school, and I could never come to terms with the situation. I had my emotions bottled up. After hearing BTS’s Spring Day, I broke down and cried hard for a long time and realised that I missed them more than I imagined. The lyrics, “bogo sipda” (I miss you) being repeated over and over again drew out these emotions that I kept hidden for a long time. So, I’m grateful BTS gave me the opportunity to say my final goodbye. Theresa Frimpong, 21, medical student, Ghana
‘BTS probably have the most diverse fan base in the world’
The first time I came across BTS was in 2018, when they were on the Graham Norton Show. The turning point for me was when I heard them talk for the first time in the United Nations in 2018. The Love Yourself, Speak Yourself campaign really resonated with me, as did their Map of the Soul era that delved deeper to our personas. Their music and messaging gave me hope to fight my own inner demons and love myself.
I’m a 31-year-old straight male who’s engaged. To some people, I’m not your typical fan of BTS. Everyone expects that boy bands only have screaming teenage girls as their fans but that is simply not true. I just wish that everyone understood that BTS actually has probably the most diverse fan base in the world. Eero Aleinikov, 31 years old, Finland
‘I have made countless friends being part of the Army community’
As a young Asian American, I was lucky growing up in an inclusive suburb, where although known to be predominantly Caucasian, all blends of cultures and ethnicities were embodied in the school populations. That said, the “K-wave” had not reached the depths of Naperville yet, and I remember K-pop lovers being perceived as outcasts all over the States.
As the pandemic hit and schools went on a break, I took a considerable amount of time, reflecting on my stressors, and learning how to value and love myself. This is when I became a BTS fan. I realised how the Army community carries a similar message as the members they stan. The countless friends I made and folks that reached out to send content, fangirl with, and later support my news account were so heartwarming, especially at a time where I needed the laughs and comfort. Zee S, 19, pre-med student, Naperville Illinois, US
‘What makes BTS stand out is their willingness to be vulnerable’
BTS gave my daughter and I a commonality that made it easier to navigate through that mother-teen daughter relationship. Now she is the founding member of our high school’s K-pop club and I’m the advisor. We’ve created a safe space that is so diverse but eclectic. There is a dance committee, a committee that focuses on the arts, and even one for conversations about cultural appropriation.
Their music was so powerful and uplifting and real. These seven young men are speaking to the world in a universal language that came right on time. How could I not appreciate that? What makes BTS stand out is their willingness to be vulnerable. Yes, they work hard but they also aren’t afraid to mess up and own up to 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 when you can’t figure it out. NaShonda, 46, educator, Raleigh, North Carolina, US