If you weren’t already familiar with BTS, the global K-pop sensation likely came blazing onto your radar this past June. When Donald Trump planned to hold a campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma merely one day after Juneteenth, fans of BTS, better known as BTS ARMY, got to work. As Trump bragged about expecting one million attendees, BTS ARMY jammed the signal by RSVPing in droves for the event, seemingly resulting in a sparsely filled auditorium with less than 19,000 attendees. If you’re surprised to learn that K-pop fans could humiliate the leader of the free world, then you don’t know much about the seismic power of K-pop.
Members of BTS ARMY aren’t the first group of fans to find community through their shared passion, but they are uniquely organized into harnessing that passion into real social and political action. ARMY isn’t just a fanbase—it’s perhaps more accurately described as a global social justice movement, responsible for everything from regrowing rainforests in the band’s name to raising money to feed LGBTQ refugees. In our Winter 2020 cover story, the stars of BTS sound off on their deep devotion to their fans, who have channelled the band’s message of positivity to become a worldwide force for social good.
“We and our ARMY are always charging each other’s batteries,” RM told Esquire. “When we feel exhausted, when we hear the news all over the world, the tutoring programs, and donations, and every good thing, we feel responsible for all of this.”
The news of ARMY’s good works is profound. Through small, grassroots donations, ARMY has adopted endangered whales, funded hundreds of hours of dance classes for Rwandan children, and raised money for digital night schools to improve rural children’s access to education during the COVID-19 pandemic. The members of BTS describe these good works as their highest calling—more important even than the music itself.
“We’ve got to be greater; we’ve got to be better,” RM said. “All those behaviors always influence us to be better people, before all this music and artist stuff.”
Since time immemorial, fans have crushed hard on the celebrities they admire, even fantasizing about romantic encounters with the objects of their affection. The members of BTS are all single, meaning that hope springs eternal for ARMY members with major crushes—especially given that BTS welcomes the affection.
“Our love life—twenty-four hours, seven days a week—is with all the ARMYs all over the world,” RM said.
BTS and ARMY are pioneering a new dynamic of fandom—one where instead of sending teddy bears or postcards on the occasion of their idols’ birthdays, fans instead pour donations into worthy causes, remaking the world one day at a time in the name of pop music. If ARMY can damn near run Donald Trump out of Tulsa, there’s no telling what they’ll accomplish next.
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