BTS: How K-Pop Boy Band Became Among Most Popular

Charisma, unearthly beauty, unfading enthusiasm for performance, unflinching love for their craft, emotional intelligence, and critical awareness, have made BTS more than just another band and endured their parasocial relationship with their loyal global fanbase—ARMY

BTS fans at the boy band's 10-year anniversary celebrations in Seoul.
BTS fans at the boy band’s 10-year anniversary celebrations in Seoul.

By Anwesha Rana

South Korean boy band BTS has completed 10 years. Over the decade, it has released over 300 group releases, solo works, and collaborations and come to be hailed as the biggest boy band ever.

BTS has become an emotion. The love of ARMY, as BTS’s at least five million-strong fandom is known, for the K-pop band goes far beyond their songs. BTS continues to spark and sustain ARMY’s interest and love. Their oeuvre is not restricted to songs of romantic love. They sing daily concerns beyond the confines of heteronormative ideals of love.

The music of Kim Nam-joon (RM), the rapper, songwriter, and leader of BTS, and the bands’s six other members Kim Seok-jin (Jin), Min Yoon-gi (Agust D/Suga) Jung Ho-seok (J-Hope), Park Ji-min (Jimin), Kim Tae-hyung (V), Jeon Jung-kook (Jungkook) speaks of identity, friendships, family, love, loss, hope, youth, dreams, ambitions, fears, longings, greed, oppression, corruption, politics, and governance.

They write, sing, and perform with conviction believing in the messages they impart and in their craft. Their fans have been equally reciprocal but BTS has also been at the receiving end of mocking, xenophobic, and homophobic. 

The band has, however, gone from strength to strength, epitomizing the saying that music knows no boundaries. Enjoying their songs is hardly constrained if one does not know the language that BTS sings in. BTS has often emphasized music is a language unto itself.

Many BTS fans know the language. The depth of BTS’s music and message have prompted some to learn it by enrolling in Korean language classes. Some have taught themselves and others find their way through broken phrases and words.

Fans have been investing time in embracing Korean, shifting away from the drive to learn French, Spanish, and Italian in the countries such as India where English is widely spoken and is a symbol of upward mobility. 

Yet Asian art and culture may be exoticized and occasionally awarded on big platforms but the belief that the West is the real deal persists. The wholesomeness and softness of emotions of BTS’s seven men, who share a large part of their lives with each other and with ARMY, play games, and fight over rice cookers, help them tide over this prejudice.

Young women are the mainstay of BTS fandom. There are a thousand reasons to like BTS but perhaps the most compelling one is that they have brought women together as part of a hugely diverse and unique fandom, united in their experience as people existing across identities.

BTS’s three-day concert in Seoul in March 2022 underscored the extent of BTS’s fan following. It was their second performance streamed in movie theatres worldwide. The concert appeared like a lifeline following a third wave of the surge in Covid cases in India.

Many fans suddenly felt a sense of purpose. They thronged cinemas to watch BTS perform live in their homeland in person for the first time in two years, riding on a wave of emotion and euphoria.

The audience, reflective of the fandom, was mostly women. It was sheer joy and abandonment. BTS brought people together and allowed them unfettered joy and an occasion to be a part of an unfolding revolution.

For BTS’s detractors, they appear too perfect, setting impossible standards for the rest of humanity. They often resort to misogynistic and homophobic arguments to counter the insecurities that the assumption of perfection stirs.

The fandom has, meanwhile, maintained a parasocial relationship with BTS, investing emotionally in their well-being. BTS is a beacon. Fans describing BTS as a blessing are common results of a basic search for BTS on Google. They are a marvel.

Teenage girls are an unmistakable part of the fandom, but the composition of the ARMY is wide beyond what the norms have said about fans of boy bands. ARMYs come from all ages, nations, and professions bringing the sort of diversity beyond the grasp of many globally. ARMYs are fun and funny. ARMYs are sensitive and serious.

ARMYs help, have answers to everything and exist as much for BTS as for each other. They run charities such as One in An ARMY, translation accounts (Doolset Bangtan, Do You Bangtan, and @ryuminating), art accounts (BTS is/in Art, @kayyy_tae, and @thisiskeets), provide recipes at BTSARMY Kitchen & Bar, book recommendations at Nam-joon’s Library, and foster the love of plants at Bangtan Greenhouse. This is a few of many. For every profession, every hobby, and every curiosity, there is surely a Twitter ARMY account. Search, and you shall find—like BTS, like ARMY.

Leah Greenblatt, the critic at large at Entertainment Weekly, described BTS as a ‘tumbling-puppy cyclone.’ She wrote they are unfailingly polite and attentive in interviews and that there is a certain amount of contained chaos when they are all together—a sort of tumbling-puppy cyclone of playful shoves, back slaps, and complicated handshakes—but also a surprising, endearing sweetness to the way they treat one another in quieter moments.

Nam-joon’s poetic spirit, Seok-jin’s quiet wisdom and loud tomfoolery, Yoon-gi’s softness, Ho-seok’s thoughtfulness, Ji-min’s steadfastness, Tae-hyung’s soulfulness, Jung-kook’s maddeningly and endearing quirks individually as well as a group endear them to millions of fans, who dream about befriending them.

The seven share traits—charisma, unearthly beauty, unfading enthusiasm for performance, and unflinching love for their craft—that have made them the superstars they are. But it is also their emotional intelligence, critical awareness, and capacity to be a tornado of laughter, fast-spoken jokes, and faster-thrown hands for a game of rock-paper-scissors, and a constellation of smaller, individual quirks that make them more than just another band. Long may this parasocial relationship thrive.

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