Just last year, BTS debuted their first number one on the Billboard Top 100 with Dynamite. This year, they spent seven weeks being number one with their hit single, Butter, replaced themselves at number one again with their single Permission To Dance only for Butter to go number one again.
This set of events have undeniably raised much attention from people all over the world. From fans and critics alike, many have come to understand, determine, and question just how BTS have seemingly defined so much history in such a short span of time.
As a fan myself, I understand. While BTS themselves have been treated as some form of phenomenon, something untouchable, so have their fans — affectionately called ARMY by BTS themselves. The fandom is a powerhouse with millions of fans spread across the world from all ages, races, spaces, and communities cementing in the idea of how music does indeed transcend language.
It comes to me with no surprise how so many, outside this space, do their best to understand how we work together. To people outside, the fandom themselves remain almost untouchable as BTS. Many have tried to side wide well with the fans while the fandom embraces genuineness and love with open arms.
To many outside of it, BTS and ARMY are an undeniable force to be reckoned with — something untouchable. But just as there are people who admire this space, there are many who don’t maintain a favorable reputation around us either.
While many try to understand who we are, there is an equal side of community where people try to pathologize our behavior and determine it as something that’s not.
The purpose of this article is not to determine whether toxic fans exist or not. So much has been said about it. So much has been spoken already. Toxic fans exist everywhere, just as toxic people do because — surprise — fandoms consist of human beings. However, it is undeniable just how the BTS fandom and BTS themselves have been treated differently and how this behavior has worsened within the last year.
This treatment could be brushed off or at least understood if it was the same reactionary movement to any other rising artist with a passionate fan community. But we know it's anything but.
There are many elements that play around the ridicule surrounding BTS and their fandom. Much of it has to do with racism, sexism, and discrimination. It's also important to understand that misogyny has always played an important role in the criticism surrounding fan spaces.
However, the ridicule against BTS and ARMY is not rooted in the idea of simply embarrassing someone or a different taste in music, it is simply not just misogyny — it has the potential to be something much more sinister and twisted.
I wrote a little earlier this year about how much of the disdain surrounding BTS wasn’t actually just disdain but a veil to protect the underlying racism and xenophobia. I still stand by it. In fact, it has gotten worse.
Two years have gone by since the beginning of the global pandemic. The Asian community, the East Asian community, in particular, have been a direct target of racism all over the world. BTS being the world’s biggest band in the world and simultaneously East Asian have not been spared the brunt of such racist takes — instead, they’ve become a bigger target.
It is not something new to wake up to an array of racist tweets against BTS. Just as BTS have acclaimed success and praise, there is an equal opposing reaction against them. Just as BTS have done marvelous things, there has been an equal wave of hate for what they do.
We have many questioning who BTS are, what they do, and how they do things. It is not new to wake up to another white man hilariously pissed, cursing at the sky, in the name of protecting the sanctity of the Billboard Hot 100 Chart.
It is not new to have many question and try to understand just how fans have come together to raise funds or organize themselves to break records for BTS. Some say we’re money laundering. Some say we’re secretly manipulating the charts. There are many who scratch their heads trying to understand how and why BTS continue to achieve the impossible.
And for such a complicated answer, the answer is incredibly simple.
The BTS fandom remains untouchable for a reason. There is so much of it that cannot be understood by any outside of it. And it is solely because they’re not a part of it that makes it difficult for them to understand. It is no secret society. There is no manipulation. No bribery. Every week someone gets canceled for saying mango isn’t an elite fruit. You’ll always find someone saying something questionable. You’ll find fans crying over a new photocard, dissecting and interpreting lyricism, or making art.
The reality is that the BTS fandom are driven by something incredibly powerful and incredibly unifying. And it is their love for BTS and BTS' music. It is as simple as that.
The need to discern and understand different human experiences has always been something that I’ve never understood. (And this is coming from a Psychology student who writes). It frustrates me how so many try their best to understand the inner workings of a space without having an ounce of empathy at the beginning. You cannot understand what you don’t want to.
There has been much discourse surrounding BTS, their music, sales, and streaming. From the very beginning, many have done their best to refute the possibility of millions coming together to simply celebrate BTS and their music. How fans come together to give BTS something that was long denied by the industry. “Manipulation!” They cry in outrage. The fans just shrug their shoulders. BTS get another number one.
At the end of it, the denial surrounding BTS and their success exists because many find it impossible for a South Korean band to do what they do. To many, the idea of a largely feminine space coming together, organizing themselves to support BTS' music and simply being fans, is just impossible.
There has to be something behind it. Something twisted. Something sinister. There must be some dark tale. Perhaps, we are simply brainwashed. Perhaps, we know nothing else. But the reality is this — BTS have been taking the world by storm. And the thunder doesn’t look like it’ll stop anytime soon. Like RM said, it’s best we wait for the hurricane to pass to truly understand it all.
Perhaps we’ll understand it, perhaps we won’t. The reality is this; you cannot understand what you don’t want to. And your denial doesn’t matter. BTS have already changed the world and created history — long before their first number ones.