I am a lifelong music lover (and sometimes a singer too). I studied and adore opera, I throw myself into the blues, I grew up on The Eagles, James Taylor, Van Halen and Willie Nelson. But last year, on August 13, to be exact, I found BTS. I was at Oracle Park for post-baseball Fireworks Night. When BTS’s Dynamite played over gorgeous bursts of sparkling color, I was filled with transcendent joy, an essential nutrient that had been absent for far too long in 2020 and 2021.
After that night at the ballpark I couldn’t let go of the pure and powerful happy feeling that song gave me. So I downloaded a BTS playlist and found that there’s so much more to this group of seven than that one pop confection. I looked them up on YouTube and found a 2018 UN speech that moved me to tears. I downloaded their entire catalog, listened on a roadtrip to and from Lake Tahoe and was gobsmacked. At that point I realized – I am ARMY. Most of my friends (fellow adults pushing 50 or 60) think I’m crazy, and that’s OK.
Here’s why: In November I was lucky enough to be at BTS’s first post-pandemic concert. Near the end of a ravishing show, the whole stadium lit up with the words “Love Yourself.” It took my breath away. I grew up with musicians who smashed and tore down and disdained. Pete Townshend, Axl Rose and Kurt Cobain weren’t concerned with our self-esteem. But BTS is. BTS’s love and gratitude for their fans is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Their music drew my attention, their message earned my admiration and gratitude.
I love BTS because their exuberance is a courageous, considered choice. When you dive into their lyrics you see that their brand of hope is informed by the obstacles and pain in life. I feel their optimism, their refusal to surrender to darkness, every time I hear them sing or see them speak, including at the White House this spring.
Finally, after a spectacular nine-year run, BTS recently announced a hiatus to rest, to think, to work on solo projects. When the team’s leader Kim Namjoon (stage name RM) spoke about needing time to find his voice again, I saw an artist who feels compelled to create, but who knows he must dig deep to find his own unalloyed truth. I saw a leader who honors the responsibility that comes with the platform that global stardom creates. What BTS says and does in the world matters so much to each of its members because they know how much it matters to us. If a choice to step back and think about that message means forgoing some revenue, so be it. That kind of artistic integrity is rare and ravishing.
As an aspiring writer, I could not love BTS’s commitment, energy or purpose more. I want to be like Kim Namjoon when I grow up!
Image: Meta Menning