Telling the Story of BTS

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The writer E. Tammy Kim recently published a piece about how BTS became arguably the most popular band in history. The newsletter editor Jessie Li spoke to Kim about what it was like to report on the Korean boy band and the thrill of seeing them live at their final concert before they announced, on June 14th, that they were taking a break.

What was your first introduction to BTS? What made you realize that this was a story you wanted to pursue?

I started noticing a few years ago that K-pop fandom was being eclipsed by a more specific BTS ARMY—which stands for “Adorable Representative M.C. for Youth”—fandom. But I sort of ignored it—thinking of myself as someone who reported on more “respectable” Korean topics—until I realized how silly that was. This is the biggest band in the world!

Devoted fans describe BTS as a form of self-care and therapy; they talk about how the band “saved” them, and how they “do so much for us.” How would you describe the special allure of BTS that distinguishes them from other bands, including other Korean boy bands?

There’s an intensely felt reciprocity between BTS and its fans. The members produce daily content, and shout-out and interact with fans on a very emotional level, which leads fans, in turn, to want to give back.

In April, you attended the final performance of the band’s “Permission to Dance” tour, in Las Vegas. What was the most surprising or unexpected moment you experienced when you attended the concert?

I’d never been in a concert attended by sixty-five thousand people—and then to have all those people, of every stripe, singing in Korean, my household tongue. I was overwhelmed!

If you had to devise a mixtape of just three BTS songs or music videos for a novice listener, what would you pick and why?

The music videos for “Black Swan,” “IDOL,” and “ON” are aesthetically thrilling and convey the band’s musical and choreographic range.


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This content can also be viewed on the site it originates from.


This content can also be viewed on the site it originates from.

Having finally delved into the world of BTS (as you write, “nine years of music, dancing, articles, and tweets”), do you now identify as a member of BTS’s ARMY, as fans call themselves? And do you have a bias—a favorite member of the band?

ARMY’s devotion is such that I wouldn’t dare call myself ARMY! In terms of a bias, I can’t say for sure, but I really dig SUGA’s candor and appreciate the fact that, very early on, he wrote a song commemorating the Gwangju uprising of 1980, a key moment in South Korea’s democratization.

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