In this post, I’m not going to get into the details of who BTS is or what’s the whole concept of ARMY. I believe there’s plenty of content already published online about the k-pop legends that is BTS (hint: try searching for them on YouTube or Twitter and be prepared to be dazzled!). This post is about my journey as an i-ARMY (or international fan), how I discovered them, and how they inspire me and my life.
In a universe (or multiverse, if you believe in Bangtan Universe) where BTS literally has millions of fans, I am just another soul. My story is as special (or ordinary, depending on your perspective) as that of every other ARMY who discovered BTS and has been inspired.
So, brace yourselves for a long post but I promise every minute you spend here will be worth it!
I first learned about BTS when I landed in Toronto in March 2018. It all began mid-April when Toronto was hit by an ice storm. [I promise I’m not adding this for dramatic effect]. I was stuck indoors for an entire weekend without anything to do. I asked for suggestions on my Instagram stories and friends from all over responded with a variety of things. One among them was a new immigrant from Brazil (now, one of my closest friends here) who I’d connected with on Facebook. She suggested watching a k-drama – Scarlet Heart Ryeo. I am a huge American/British sitcom buff but at that time, I had no idea what a “k-drama” even meant. So she educated me that k-dramas are Korean Dramas. I was all like… “okay, let’s do this!”. She was kind enough to share her login credentials to a paid site – DramaFever for me to be able to watch it (note: the site has now shut down and cannot be accessed). I didn’t realize that watching a k-drama meant watching it with English subtitles. 😟 Personally, I prefer watching content/media without subtitles so I wasn’t sure how this was gonna go. But since my friend had been so generous about sharing her credentials, I wanted to at least TRY to watch it. During the first 2-3 episodes I kept wondering why I was watching it but then slowly, I got sucked into the wormhole that was Korean entertainment. So much that I finished watching 20 episodes of 1 hour each in the next 2 days!
Little did I know that was just the beginning of the entire mania that was to follow. Later, I spent most of my free time reading up on the actors from that drama, watching behind the scenes footage, and checking out any other related content that I could lay my eyes/hands on. I was so amazed by the production, cinematography, acting, direction, music, songs, background scores, and storytelling in general that I wondered how I hadn’t explored this genre before. Coincidently, the day I finished watching that drama, it was the birthday of the lead actor – Lee Joon Gi so in my mind, it seemed like a ‘meant-to-be’ experience. Anyway, that’s not the point here. One of the other actors was Byun Baekhyun – who made his debut as a supporting actor in that drama. I liked the title track of Scarlet Heart very much and ended up learning it by heart.
This performance is the most memorable for me and will stay in my heart forever. It was the first Korean song I learned and till date, it remains my all-time favourite, sort-of an anchor, that reminds me why I got into k-pop and k-dramas 🙂
Because I liked the song so much, I looked into the singers and realized that the debutant actor – Baekhyun – was one of them and that he belonged to a band called EXO-CBX. CBX has 3 members (viz., Chen, Baekhyun, and Xiumin, see video above) and is a sub-unit of the larger band EXO. So obviously, I had to read up on EXO! 😀
I spent the next few days listening to songs by EXO-CBX specifically and liked quite a few. That drove me to watch some music videos (MVs) by EXO and started to like their songs too. It was during that time that I first came across BTS. Many of the articles I read compared EXO with BTS and based on my limited understanding at that time, I figured that the fandoms of EXO (EXO-L) and BTS (ARMY) were the largest in the world of k-pop. Being a newbie in k-pop fandom, words like “stan”, “fan cafe”, “comeback”, and “fan chants” were very new to me. But I think I was most surprised (borderline shocked) by three things –
- The various hair colours that each of the members, across groups/bands sported
- The fact that they were just so ‘perfect’ in every aspect
- The number of members in each group
I had not seen anything like it before. I grew up listening to bands like Westlife and Backstreet Boys that had no more than 5 members so this was different. BTS seemed like a more popular group to me at first glance but I didn’t understand why. I like listening to vocals a lot and BTS was more into rap and hip-hop so EXO was more “my type”. I still wanted to know what all the hype was about so I decided on a little experiment: I decided to listen to each and every song released by EXO and BTS.
Eventually, I ended up with a list of 24 EXO songs that I really liked and about 51 BTS songs. This was purely based on music; I had not looked into the lyrics or their translations or even their MVs yet. Most people who end up following and liking BTS, start off with their MVs. That was not the case with me.
I did not understand what was happening… I thought I liked EXO more because of the vocals but BTS had a lot of songs that were more up my alley. I had no idea how on earth I ended up liking almost double the number of songs by BTS. By then I had already seen some of the MVs by EXO but hadn’t seen any by BTS. So I felt like maybe I should see what their videos look like. That was when I officially fell down the rabbit hole! 🙈
On May 20, 2018, BTS won an award for the Best Social Artist at the Billboard Music Awards. I watched that event live on TV from start to end. They performed Fake Love for the first time at the Billboard Awards and I was so mesmerised to see them perform that I cried. It was the first time I was seeing them do a performance after being ‘educated’ about them, as a group and learning in-depth about each of the members.
At the end of May, when I flew back to India, I started my quest to find other ARMYs closer to home. Once again, I was surprised to see so many fans in India. I connected with a few groups on social networking sites and felt so happy to be a member of this so-called ‘cult.’
Between June to September, what followed was countless days and nights of watching Bangtan content on their YouTube and V Live channels and that’s when I learned about the philosophy behind their lyrics and the songs they produce. It was during this time that I discovered the Bangtan Reddit group and joined their Discord server as well. I spent any available time on hand watching literally ALL of BTS’ content. Most people take over a year to go through it since there’s so much. But not me. I finished watching/listening/reading all of that in 3 or 4 months. And somewhere in between the laughter and tears shed while watching the videos, I had turned into an ARMY!
I still vividly remember when I saw one of their MVs for the first time and thought to myself – “what have I been doing in life so far?! why haven’t I seen this before?! what kind of sorcery/witchcraft is this?!” After that, the natural progression, obviously, was to learn the life details of all 7 members. I then proceeded to look into the lyrics’ translations. I was stunned by how many BTS-dedicated translators were out there and the fact that they do the translations purely out of love for the band was mind-boggling.
One of the things that got me hooked into BTS was the theories/storyline of Bangtan Universe, also popularly known as BU (a fictional story that flows across albums, their concepts, the characters in the MVs, the MVs themselves etc. – basically there is a reason to everything you see in most of their MVs). I remember pondering over it for days, creating a spreadsheet to map out the entire timeline of events, and staying online on Reddit for hours at a stretch to discuss the details with other ARMYs.
The more I read the lyrics, the more songs I ended up liking. I never thought I would say this but now, I actually like listening to rap, only Korean rap though. BTS, with their concentrated efforts on social causes, have shown me that music can mean much more, that it holds the power to heal, to transform, to live on in someone’s heart forever, and that true hard work and dedication will never go in vain! BTS’ music has given me hope when I was in doubt, it has made me happy when I was sad, it provided calmness and serenity when my mind was in chaos, and it helped me find meaning when I was lost.
I love all BTS songs but some of my top picks are (in no particular order): Gil/Path, Born Singer, MIC Drop, Sea, Spring Day, 2! 3!, Her, Fake Love, Tear, Epiphany, Begin, Serendipity, Euphoria, 134340, Love Maze, House of Cards, I Need U, Run, Tomorrow, Blood Sweat & Tears, and HYYH Pt. 1 Intro.
Many times, BTS members recommend music by other western or Korean artists. Through them I’ve come to know so many other Korean singers and thanks to them, I now actually like Korean rock! Kim Yoon Ah from the band Jaurim is my favourite. A few months ago, if you’d asked me whether I like rock music, my answer would have been a strong “No.” But so much has changed since BTS! 🙂
While I was exploring BTS, I also watched a ton of other k-dramas recommended by my friend and ended up becoming a k-drama addict. I don’t think I can recover from it anytime soon!
I also have a very deep interest in languages. Korean is said to be one of the five most difficult languages to learn for native English speakers (the others being Arabic, Mandarin, Cantonese, and Japanese). The fact that I had to wait for k-drama subtitles to be released before I could watch them (which involved waiting time for dramas that were currently on-air) coupled with the want to gain a deeper understanding of BTS’ lyrics motivated me to learn Korean. I started teaching myself Korean through online videos, various mobile apps, and tutorials that I could find. Since January 2019, I hired a tutor to formally learn Korean and I’m completely invested in mastering the language 🙂
One of my other quests was to level up on the official fan cafe so I could write notes to BTS (which they occasionally read and respond to). To me, doing this meant more of an assurance of being a step closer to the members. I had to read up a lot on the process because everything on the fan cafe is in Korean. Once I had the process figured out, I thought this would be easy but NO. It only took me about 6 months and 12 failed attempts before I could finally ‘level-up’.
I moved to Toronto mid-October, just after BTS finished their 3-day concert in Hamilton. I’ve never had an opportunity to go to a BTS concert, but my first experience of being among many other ARMYs was when I went to watch Burn The Stage at the cinema. My next memorable event was when I camped out for 6 hours to get the BT21 merch at the pop-up shop in Toronto. After I’d purchased my merch, my friends and I met a lady outside the store. She must have been in her 50s or 60s and she was inquiring about the pop-up shop. My friend started to explain that BT21 are characters created by a k-pop boy band called BTS. The moment she said BTS, the lady was like “Oh! I know BTS. They’re huge!”. We all smiled at that response. It was the best thing that happened that day!
2018 has been quite a year for BTS and it overwhelms me every time I think about it! I still cry while watching their old concert DVDs and fan cams and whenever I hear their speeches. From the Billboard Award to the Love Yourself World Tour to the Grammy interview to Namjoon’s speech at the United Nations to their appearances on talk shows like Jimmy Fallon, Good Morning America, and Graham Norton to a sold-out show at Citifield stadium in New York. From the rookies (or fetus Bangtan, as we fans call them!) that they were in 2013, they’ve grown up so well and come a long way!
Personally, although I became an ARMY and learned about BTS during the Fake Love era, I feel like I’ve known them and been with them since the beginning. Yes, they are incredibly talented and unique and they produce great music and write equally amazing lyrics BUT what attracts me the most to them is their humility and how they still manage to have their feet on the ground while soaring the skies!
Growing up, my teachers and professors have always appreciated my talent for writing biographies/autobiographies. I guess that’s why it is my secret wish to be able to do biographies for each of the seven members. I even have the whole concept of how it would look ready in my mind. I know, it’s a bit far-fetched but I just wanted to put it out there in the universe. 🙂 Who knows, maybe, just maybe, someday it might come true?!
If you’ve made it to the end of this super long post, thank you. 🙂 So, whether an ARMY or not, I feel like I should ask you again – “You know BTS?” 😀 and I hope, your answer is a very certain – “YES”!
I’m curious to know your stories too! How did you become an ARMY? I am so excited and happy to be a part of this fandom. Sending purple love to all other ARMYs out there! And remember… it doesn’t matter whether anyone else does or not, Joonie always believes in our galaxy! 💜