BTS performed in London at the O2 for the first time on Tuesday, the first of two sold out shows. Two hours before it started, it was announced that Jungkook (my fave) was injured after sound-check and would not be able to participate in choreography but that he would instead be seated on a rolling chair that, throughout the show, his bandmates would move from one side of the stage to the other. Near the end of the concert, Jungkook broke down in tears, either overcome by encouragement or disappointment at not being able to join in. Everyone else rushed to comfort him. And there was comfort coming in from around the world too, well-wishes pouring immediately on social media as the BTS Army felt the sads collectively online and tried to uplift themselves and their beloveds.
Despite the setback though, it’s been yet another week of domination for one of the most successful acts in music right now. In the last few weeks alone, they’ve sold out shows across North America, including four in Los Angeles, three just outside of Toronto, New York, New Jersey, and New York City, addressed the UN General Assembly, appeared on American morning television for the first time. And now they’ve made the cover of TIME for the “New Generation Leaders” issue. Remember, they’re doing this on the strength of three back-to-back-to-back chart-topping albums, K-pop albums, not English-language albums. As they have said, repeatedly, there are currently no plans to sing in English. Why would they have to? They are successful BECAUSE they are who they are. Per RM:
"As a Korean, we love our country and we're proud of our country so much. And it's even just an honour to be called an ambassador of Korean K-pop."
My dad sang along to Beatles songs before he moved to Canada, before he became fluent in English. All around the world, in countries where English is not widely spoken, people know the lyrics to Beyoncé’s songs, to Britney’s songs, to Taylor Swift’s songs. It shouldn’t be remarkable that in North America and in the UK, people are singing along to every word of BTS. It is, of course, because of an institutionalised acceptance of a creative hierarchy – which the band seems to be challenging over and over and over again. Which their fans are challenging every single day.
As Alex E Jung writes in a new Vulture piece about BTS and their recent show at Citifield, “40,000 BTS fans can’t be wrong”. In his essay, Alex explores the relationship between BTS and its Army, and why the BTS + Army message is resonating so hard right now, especially now, proving once again that timing is an essential ingredient of fame.
Still, as Alex notes, despite the sales and the sellout shows and all this publicity, the Army considers itself an “underdog”. Because despite the sales and the sellout shows, the status quo remains. They are not the default. And as we’ve seen, time and time again, things that teens love, teen girls in particular, are never taken seriously. What is the generally accepted benchmark for being taken seriously?
During their interview with TIME, Suga made an interesting remark:
“I’m just throwing it out there but maybe we could perform at the Super Bowl someday.”
I understand why he’s saying that – because for a long time, being the Super Bowl halftime headliner was considered THE all-time sh-t for an entertainer. But if we’re actively confronting symbols of a status quo that has never been truly representative, maybe in the process of that interrogation, those symbols will have to yield or move? BTS, whether intentionally or not, has been shifting the nucleus of fame and celebrity. What are the limits to the distance that nucleus will travel? Is there a limit?
Yours in gossip,