“Does that mean I need to get a real therapist now?” ARMY Nikko Dizon quotes another ARMY’s post on Twitter after BTS said during their annual Festa—last June 13, celebrating their ninth year after their debut in 2013—that they’re taking a break from their group engagements and will focus on solo acts.
Who crossed my mind that instant were a friend, an ARMY in her 70s, who could go through her MRI every time (she’s beating cancer) by just asking the staff to play BTS, and countless other friends and acquaintances who watch BTS to fight depression or when they need to laugh at the end of the day. There’s a reason BTS is called the happy pill.
And still you wonder why after the BTS’ candid announcement during its even more candid Festa (yearly dinner of BTS livestreamed worldwide to celebrate its debut date June 13, where they eat, eat, talk, talk before a highly engaged fandom) last June 13, the world got hiccups—especially the Hybe shares in the stock exchange and the Korean economy itself.
Mainstream media, including the New York Times, Bloomberg News, lost no time in reporting this development: Hybe (the firm that manages BTS through BigHit Music, as well as other boy and girl bands, and which had one of the most successful IPOs during the pandemic) saw its stock plunge by 28 percent, the lowest since it went public two years ago, or $1.5 billion in market value. New York Times story quoted Hyundai Research Institute’s finding that in 2020, BTS contributed $3.5 billion to South Korea economy, and also, that one BTS concert could generate $500 million or more.
The BTS’ announcement of a respite from group performances/projects/appearances impacted on the Korean entertainment industry, including KPop and even KDrama, and as it turned out, even global streaming platforms such as Netflix and YouTube.
Those are objective data, but for ARMYs and the BTS global fandom that numbers, arguably, hundreds of millions, BTS is more than those financial figures combined. This past decade, BTS has become a 24/7 digital companion, especially during the lockdown years, in a way no other world celebrity or leader has done. Its vast digital content, accessible on demand, has kept and continues to entertain, amuse many, if not leave them in awe.
When they started on Twitter as a ragtag idol group resorting to social media because they couldn’t get time slot in mainstream broadcast stations in Korea, hardly did they know perhaps that they would not only rule the digital space, but also alter the digital experience for millions of people worldwide. Today, in 2022, even world bodies like the United Nations, Unicef, country leaders like American President Joe Biden, use BTS to engage people on the digital platform; brands, from luxury to the home-grown, queue up to put their names on their brands. BTS showed institutions, brands, influencers how to use the digital space—they redefine the digital platform. A pundit even quipped that BTS could be resuscitating single-handedly the print medium—by having sold-out issues for such media icons as TIME magazine, Wall Street Journal, Rolling Stone. (Why BTS—today’s success story—are incredible yet real)
How did BTS do it? By just being themselves—in a digital aquarium
Why did all this happen, or better still, how did BTS do it?
By just being themselves—in a digital aquarium. Raw and candid. Authentic. Honest and humble. Unpredictable. Fearless (like their generation) to try anything. Funny without trying. Did we mention, good sons?
BTS isn’t only about relatable music (especially their early compositions), jaw-dropping performances, lung-busting choreography, highly evolved stage styling—BTS is an experience, right in your home.
BTS have been living in a digital aquarium (body mic, handheld or room camera) since their debut in 2013, so that people—across ages and social status—have seen them grow up before their very eyes, from the time Jin would drive the youngest JK to school, when they’d endure mosquito bites in their dorm (“Are they breeding mosquitoes in the floor below us?”—translated subtitle in their early Festa), to today when they have their own digs but still live together once in a while. No pop star or world celebrity has braved such rawness and unscripted moments (certainly not the Kardashians).
It became our end-of-day habit to watch: (Send us your favorite BTS moments.)
The Bon Voyage series—RM losing his passport; Jimin leaving his luggage on the tourist bus because he was awestruck by the scenery in Sweden when they landed; Jin walking the streets of Malta dressed in hilarious mix-match and asking people, “Do you know BTS?” (some didn’t, although they were already making waves in Twitter and YouTube then).
American Hustle Life and Rookie Kings—the early days of BTS, when they first flew to LA to experience the hip hop culture, where they distributed flyers on the street to get people to watch their “concert,” where V, not speaking English, said yes when he was asked by the rapper if he was the group’s “dumb blonde,” when RM and Jimin had to clean the toilet. These two series can make you laugh every night.
Run series—hard to choose which is our favorite episode (tennis match where V got “CPR”?), because every episode is.
In the Soop—this is where you realize these boys can cook, JK paints and draws really well, they chafe at plugging their sponsors when they wake up—in short, they’re digital rulers of the digital world.
So you know, BTS has gone way beyond music and celebrityhood. Their enormous digital content (more now in Weverse) turns them into your home buddies (sons to moms like us) whose unpredictable zaniness you want to see. The world can’t seem to have enough of them—their burnout was only a matter of time.
So you still wonder why we look around when they go missing for a day?—Thelma Sioson
‘If you love something, set it free’
I say, let them go—for as long as they need.
That adage that “If you love something, set it free” has never proven more true or been more difficult to accept for ARMYs, fans of BTS, than during this past week, when, for their ninth anniversary, the Korean superband announced what was translated as a “hiatus” from group work.
I was in the middle of the ocean when Yet to Come dropped, and I heard it only when the internet signal returned five days later, alongside the announcement. No, I didn’t panic; I read “hiatus,” defined by Merriam-Webster as “a pause or break in continuity in a sequence or activity,” so the key word is “continuity”; there will be something to continue. I was actually more pissed off at how every news outlet and their uncles jumped on the news, of course, with some—including American media—employing tabloid tactics with declarations like it was the end of BTS, the boys were sick and tired of Hybe, there were harsh words and slaps exchanged, ad nauseam.
And then I saw that Festa 2022 dinner, where RM said he felt like he was letting fans down if he took time off for himself. “The thing I want to do and the thing I wish continues is that we’ll be together and be sincere when we perform on stage, and when we gather and talk like this, that we could talk and be happy without thinking about the rules of the world,” said a visibly tipsy RM, in unabashed tears. “I want BTS to go on for a long time. We have to go through this to do that. And for BTS to last long, I think I have to retain who I am.”
Thus did the new song hit harder—despite the sophisticated, upbeat touch of having Anderson .Paak as their drummer in one version—and the depth of RM’s feelings, and the way he beautifully articulated them, brought tears to my own eyes, as well.
But RM, Jin, Suga, j-hope, Jimin, V, and Jungkook are human, even if their talent and beauty often make us forget; they have worked their asses off for nine years, and reached greater heights than any of the them probably ever dreamed. Their breaks—one month? A couple of weeks?—have been drops in an ocean of relentless work. And yes, something had to give.
Humility to the end—and this is why they will be missed
I’m just grateful there was not a hint of bitterness or sense of self-entitlement. There was no demand to be left alone, and JK even asked for the fans’ blessing—superstars politely asking their worldwide following to please let them go for a while. Humility to the end—and this is why they will be missed; it just can’t be helped. “The rules of the world,” unfortunately, apply to BTS, too.
So when Hybe stocks plummeted the next day and a collective ARMY wail was heard worldwide, the boys had to take to social media and say they would still be doing some stuff together. There was nothing permanent about this break, although when it would end was not specified. Already, as I write this, individual plans—JK collaborating with Charlie Puth, j-hope heading for Lollapalooza—are being announced.
“For BTS to last long, I think I have to retain who I am.” Couples, siblings, even seven Korean boys who grew up together to become a global phenomenon and a force for good—every person needs space to figure things out and gain a new perspective. It’s not a practical decision, but definitely a humane one, and it had to be made.
I’m also one of those fans who think they should definitely enlist, even if just to prove to their countrymen that they will fulfill their duty. I keep thinking of Yoo Seung-jun, the South Korean rapper who dodged the draft in 2002 by becoming a US citizen—and never got his career and fan base back.
So I say, let them go. As my fellow BTS tita Nikko said, this will also weed out the shallow fans, the ones who stan only one BTS member at the expense of others, the unreasonably demanding ARMYs who don’t believe the boys deserve their own lives.
Let’s let them go. They have left us with so much to sustain us, anyway.
If you love something, set it free. Saranghae. We’ll be here when you get back, BTS.
– Alya B. Honasan
Flips hair, exposed forehead…🥰
— BTS V Canada (@TaehyungCanada) June 13, 2022
— BTS DINNER: FESTA (11) 💜
— 𝙹𝚊𝚎𝚛𝚒𝚗𝚔𝚑𝚘𝚜𝚞⁷ᴵᴺᶠᴼ | Bea 아포방포 💜 (@Karda_BTS13) June 14, 2022