“What is your deal with BTS?” My recent journey into joining ARMY

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From left to right: Kim Namjoon, Kim Seokjin, Min Yoongi, Jeong Hoseok, Park Jimin, Kim Taehyung, Jeon Jungkook (BTS!!!!)

Hello. My name is Lee Ngo, and I may or may not be addicted to BTS.

What’s BTS?

(WARNING: YOU ARE AT THE EVENT HORIZON. DO NOT READ ON IF YOU DON’T WANT TO JUMP INTO THE BLACK HOLE.)

BTS stands for 방탄소년단 (romanized as Bangtan Sonyeondan), which roughly translates to “Bulletproof Boy Scouts,” but they’ve adopted multiple aliases such as Bangtan Boys and Beyond The Scene.

At first glance, they look like yet another boy band from South Korea comprising of seven spritely young men between ages 22 and 26 (in 2019, international ages): four vocalists, three rappers, all dancers.

Such a description is insufficient. This video, however — pretty thorough.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock these last six years, you’ve probably already heard of them. They’re the biggest music group in the world. I am not even speaking hyperbolically. You can look up their performances easily online, but it’s not just a music act.

There’s also:

  • Hundreds of hours of online content where it’s mostly them vlogging, ripping on each other, playing child games, or just straight-up crying.
  • A cinematic universe where they act as alternate versions of themselves, tackling heavy issues e.g. youth disillusionment, mental illness, domestic and child abuse, and even suicide.
  • An entire universe based on animal-like avatars that they themselves designed loosely based on their own personas.

In a few words, they’re a worldwide cultural phenomenon, often compared to the Beatles(!) in terms of their potential pacts, transcending languages, barriers, and politics. They even spoke at the UN — really.

And I’m in deep.

When did this all begin?

If I had to pinpoint the official start of my journey into ARMY (the term for hardcore BTS fans, but I’m not to the cultish point where I’m manically inflating likes and views … yet), it would be around July of 2019.

On a whim, I decided to fly up to Edmonton, Canada to be with my “brother” Tony to celebrate our birthdays together. (He’s actually my oldest best friend, and we share a few cousins by blood. As far as I’m concerned, he’s my brother and confidant in perpetuity.)

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Me on the left, Tony on the right.

In my mind and heart, Tony is one of the smartest and coolest people on the planet. A critical thinker by nature, he studies multiple languages, repairs things intuitively, acquires new hobbies constantly, and has a general cultural sensibility that could be best described as “rigidly alternative” or “fundamentally indigeneous to Portland.”

In short, he’s way too cool for Kpop … right?

“Dude, BTS is awesome,” he replied to me when “Boy With Luv” popped up on his TV.

“What? You’re into BTS?” I replied, quite nonplussed.

“Yeah.” Tony stares at me directly. He wasn’t messing around.

“But… how? Why?”

“My friend broke it down to me. They have an amazing message.”

I kept looking at him incredulously as he got up and synced up a few dance moves with theirs. I don’t honestly remember the last time I saw him dance, much less do freaking K-pop choreography.

He then showed me this video, breaking down the sophistication of some of their lyrics. Even then, however, I wasn’t convinced.

Over time … I was watching video after video on YouTube, almost on a daily basis. Suddenly, I was in, and it wasn’t because of the music at first.

It was them. They’re incredibly charismatic, well-intentioned, talented young men. They all have wonderful senses of humor, put their heart and soul into every note and movement, and they support each other like a family.

Allow me the honor to introduce them according to three categories that also require explanation.

Also, yes, I drew every single photo in this post.

It’s that real, people.

My biases

What’s a bias, you ask? Quite simply, it’s your favorite member — but this is a challenging order, given that there are seven great options to choose from.

It took a while for for me to realize who mine are, but I’ve narrowed it down to two, and for good reason.

Jeong Ho-Seok aka “J-Hope” — The Cheerful One

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Known for his relentless positivity and superior dancing skills, J-Hope is vital to the egoless culture of BTS. He’s faced a lot of anti-sentiment for not being a traditional musician or sporting the typical look of an idol. ARMY responded with an outpouring of love rallied around the hashtag #jhopeyoureperfect.

Because he is.

My favorite clip of him is his reaction to a video made by his bandmates, management company, and a few surprise guests. (Warning: you’ll need tissues. A lot of them.)

Min Yoongi aka SUGA aka AGUST D — The Bad-Ass One

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On the other end of the emotional spectrum is SUGA (a portmanteau of “shooting guard” the position he plays in basketball), BTS’s rapid-fire rapper and notoriously the most intimidating member of the group. There are so many videos that cover his ferocity, but I’d say this one encapsulates it best.

What draws me especially to SUGA is his honesty and vulnerability. His rap lyrics often explore his own struggles with mental illness, poverty, and the pressures of stardom.

He’s unafraid of his own weakness. F*** yes, SUGA.

Yet even though he’s considered the polar opposite of J-Hope emotionally, they incredibly close to one another on BTS and complement each other well, so much so that they’ve even formed their own pseudo-subgroup / fan ship.

Combined, they make the perfect human to me, but things are further complicated when considering other members of the group.

My bias wreckers

I love this concept — in Kpop, the “bias wrecker” is the one that has the potential to upset the status quo of your attachment to your bias. In other words, you won’t admit you like them publicly, but you can’t help it.

My bias wreckers are the entire “maknae” lineup. (Maknae is Korean for the youngest member of the group. The three youngest members of BTS are roughly the same age and are often grouped together for reasons I can’t get into right now — it’s complicated.)

Park Jimin — The Sexy One

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Oh, this dude…

When I first saw “Boy With Luv,” my eyes fixated on Jimin immediately. Androgynous, like a nymph emerging from the simmering pond, his counter-tenor vocalizations and fluid movements are alluring to say the least.

When he’s not performing, he’s struggling to contain his raging sexuality and cuteness, charming the hell out or everyone. Considered the most effeminate member, he’s often the subject of crushes … from other bandmates.

But… I can’t. I must resist…

Jeon Jungkook — The Perfect One

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“The Golden Maknae” as he’s often called, Jungkook is the youngest member of BTS and, by all accounts, the most talented. His abilities are freakishly off the charts: he’s their main vocalist, part of the primary dance lineup, demonstrates abilities in rapping, and … well, this video says it all.

In spite of this, the other members remain supportive towards him, knowing that his efforts help everyone else around him. That might not be demonstrated by their mutual savagery towards one another, but (shrug).

He’s just too …. hnnnnnng.

Kim Taehyung aka V — The Quirky One

At first I wasn’t sure about V… but I came around. I mean… LOOK.

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The concept of V (a weird nickname that stands for his quest for “victory” for BTS) was a little hard for me to accept. He’s often considered physically the “prettiest” BTS member (I don’t agree with that), and he’s also know for his quirky behavior on and off stage. In short, he’s weird.

But that voice. Unlike the rest of the vocal lineup, V sings mostly baritone (my singing range!), but his is like buttah.

(dabs beads of sweat off my brow)

These three combined are pure temptation. They’re just little babies full of hormones, ready to seduce anything around them. I sit on the event horizon constantly with them, wondering… no… resist…

Not sure what to do with these two…

This is going to get a little mean, but I guess I’ll explain it when a lovely friend of mine (someone I converted into ARMY with just a single video) asked me recently this horrible question:

“If you could get rid of two members, who would they be and why?”

I already had an answer — and it was the same as hers.

Kim Namjoon aka RM — The Smart One

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Gosh, it’s so not personal. RM (formerly “Rap Monster” — a name he’s abandoned because by his own admission it’s stupid) is the leader of BTS. Near-native fluent in English and frequently the group’s spokesperson, he is their anchor, their unofficial big brother and father figure.

RM is cool as hell, and after BTS ends their run (eep), he’ll likely go on to be a major music producer for years to come. Despite all of this, he just doesn’t match the charisma of the other five to me.

The other guy, however, I’ve got some “real” issues with.

Kim Seokjin (aka Jin) — The Dorky One

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This guy. Man.

I don’t hate him, I swear. I know he’s the oldest and as the madnae (aka “oldest member”), he owns up to his responsibility and treats everyone like the big brother that he is.

He’s just a bit much for me at times, on three distinct levels:

  1. He jokes way too much about his good looks. “Worldwide Handsome” is mean to be a self-ascribed ironic nickname, but it ends up being a nuanced recursive narcissism that falls apart.
  2. His singing voice is … odd. He’s also a counter-tenor like Jimin, but it comes off squeaky and over-pitched, further made uncanny given his towering 5'11" frame.
  3. He tells terrible jokes. Dad jokes. Puns. Stuff of my nightmares.

Yes, BTS is incomplete without all seven members. But if Jin had to go… would it really be all that bad? (I’m sure I’m going to face a storm of hate with that rhetorical question, so I’ll just say for the record — YES. Jin forever.)

Seriously, what’s the deal?

Again, my name is @Lee Ngo. As of writing this article, I’m 36 years old. I was kind of into the boy band craze of the late 90’s, but only because I could dance like them in high school, and girls seemed to like that.

Otherwise, I’m into two genres in particular:

  • 1990s alternative rock
  • 1980s synthpop.

That’s the apex of cool music to me, especially in the karaoke rooms.

How the hell does a group like BTS captivate me this way?

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Most conversations with me in 2019 and beyond.

Is this a sexuality thing? Are you saying …

Let me stop you right there.

My sexuality (and sexuality in general) is a pretty personal thing, and for a myriad of reasons, I’m not going to associate it with that. There’s this obsession people seem to have with uncovering queerness in others, as if it’s a social witch hunt of sorts. I’m not going to engage that invasive curiosity to suit some heteronormative narrative you might have towards me.

That’s not really how I think you should understand my fandom.

It’s really more about my ideals.

BTS stands for a lot of really great things, including but not limited to:

  • Self-acceptance: Be who you are. Especially if you’re weird.
  • Follow your passion: Each of us followed our team and struggled, even while we were starting out. Work hard, sometimes putting in 16 hours per day, but make it happen.
  • Mental wellness: Don’t be ashamed if you are broken sometimes. We all deserve a bad day, and we hope you’ll find a way to get better.
  • Brotherhood: Support each other unconditionally. Feed each other before feeding yourself. Put a blanket over them when one is sleeping. Dry someone else’s tear or give them a hug if they want it.
  • Benevolent masculinity: You can cry. You can express love, even to another man. You can be cute, pretty, even feminine. It’s all good, if not encouraged in a time where toxicity is still rampant.
  • Relentless positivity: investing cynicism, hate, and problematization gets you absolutely nowhere in life. Fight for your happiness and, more importantly, those around you.
  • Gratitude: Recognize that you are where you are because someone taught you, fed you, paid for you, supported you, and believed in you.

… But it’s also exactly what I need right now.

As I wrote in my last post, this year has been pivotal for me in every respect. It’s weird to say them, but I have to spell out the negatives right now.

I’m divorced. I’m unemployed. I don’t even have an official home right now. I struggle with mental illness. I get lonely very easily. I sometimes feel bullied by people I love and care deeply about. I don’t know who to go to if I need help anymore. I make mistakes that I really shouldn’t. I don’t know what the future holds for me — even in a few months.

Life, from one angle, is pretty tragic. Much of it by my own doing.

Perhaps I’m making a plea…

I should be depressed, angry, or … worse. Indeed, I do have those low moments, and then I decide to pull up a video like this:

It’s just a video of V laughing uncontrollably because RM is acting a little extra than usual during dance practice. Plus, Jin throws a Mario doll intended to be a rose. It cracks me up every time and makes things a little sunnier for me.

And then I’m reminded that I actually have a lot of great things going for me.

  • I’m in Hawai’i at the moment. Really.
  • I’ve made a lot of wonderful friends in a very short time.
  • I’m financially okay (and even have a fun short-term job that is in-line with my passion).
  • I’m healthy. Not Jungkook healthy, but I’m doing better than I have in recent years due to exercise, decent sleep, and better eating.
  • I’m loved. Maybe not entirely the way I want to be, but I do feel it.

In other words …

Gosh, even the switch from minor to major is *chef’s kiss*

All because I chose to emulate a seven-member boy band a little more and turn my negative lot into a positive for others.

Yep. I’m ARMY. BTS … Fighting!

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Me at the Busan Cinema Center doing the BTS heart. About as Kpop as it gets.

Thanks for reading.

— Lee

Write with intention. Think with compassion.

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