Our theme for the month of June is “Celebrities and Me.” Writers were asked to select and write about a celebrity with whom they feel some connection.
Unlike a lot of people so far this month, I never knew or really cared about the names of the artists whose music I listened to. I don’t know who the members of Two Door Cinema Club or Bombay Bicycle Club are, I can’t remember how many people make up Lord Huron, and although I’ve listened to them since high school, I keep mixing up the Haim sisters’ names.
Although I use music as a way to introspect and express myself, I didn’t give a lot of thought to who was actually making the music I was relating to.
I first encountered the seven-member South Korean group BTS (short for Bangtan Sonyeondon) in 2018, and after watching two music videos that could double as art films (Blood, Sweat & Tears and Fake Love), I looked them up, but only so I could learn their names.
Instead, I found myself falling for their personalities, their charismatic dancing, their effortless performance, their stage presence, their soulful singing, and their complex, beautiful and fun lyricism. I fell further down the rabbit hole and found myself scrolling through fan translation blogs to better understand the context of their lyrics and watching their variety show Run!BTS, their concert documentary series Burn the Stage, and countless other music videos, stage performances, and dance practices.
At every turn, there was more to be impressed with and inspired by. Here were seven artists—Kim Namjoon, Kim Seokjin, Min Yoongi, Jung Hoseok, Park Jimin, Kim Taehyung, and Jeon Jungkook—modeling levels of passion and discipline that I wanted to achieve in my own life. I knew that I had found something special. In other words, I knew I was in this Bangtan Sonyeondan shit for life, as the fandom, named ARMY, often says.
Within a few months of discovering them together, my friend Anya and I went to our first BTS concert in Hamilton, Ontario. It was so unreal that I can’t remember most of it. So we saw them again in concert in Chicago in 2019. And we would have again in May 2020 if it hadn’t been for the pandemic.
In the wake of their canceled world tour, the members decided to release a self-produced album titled “BE.” It traced the turmoil of emotions caused by the pandemic, examining the pressure to be productive in “Dis-ease,” acknowledging feelings of depression, burnout and helplessness in “Blue & Grey,” and offering comfort in “Life Goes On.”
Comfort and consolation are two themes that crop up often in BTS’ discography, and the members use their own experiences to inform the songs, making them blisteringly relatable. In the limbo following graduation during a pandemic, I felt seen by “Tomorrow” (“24/7, every moment that always repeats itself / An ambiguous life of mine / A jobless twenty-something is afraid of tomorrow… I wanted to be happy, I wanted to be perseverant, but why do I keep becoming weaker?”), consoled by “Paradise” (“It’s okay to stop and stand / You don’t need to run without knowing the reason at all / it’s okay to not have a dream / if there are brief moments when you can feel happiness”), and encouraged by “ON” (“Bring the pain on… Even if I fall, I get back up, scream… Where my pain lies, let me breathe.”)
Suffice it to say, I could go on and on about BTS’ lyrics for weeks (plus the fact that their discography honestly has no skips). But the most important part is the intention behind it. It’s common in K-pop for idols to have an image of accessibility to the fan, but over their eight-year career, BTS has formed a genuine bond with ARMY, rightfully recognizing that music has no meaning if no one listens to it (they wrote a song about that, too). And the relationship goes even a bit deeper than that. At the end of one concert in 2017, group leader Kim Namjoon said, “If we helped your dream and your life a bit by our existence, our music… if we could reduce your pain from one hundred to ninety-nine, ninety-eight or ninety-seven, that makes our existence worthy.” At the end of a concert in 2019, he said, “It’s never intended, but it feels like I’m using you guys to love myself. So, I’m going to say one thing… Please use me. Please use BTS to love yourself. Because you guys taught me how to love myself.”
Yep. I’m in this Bangtan Sonyeondan shit for life.
Lauren Cole (’20) graduated with a major in English and minors in French and psychology. She grew up in Grand Rapids and wants to live as she wants to die—surrounded by trees. She loves adding books to her TBR, but actually reading them is another matter.