BTS is one of the biggest bands in the world right now and have amassed an international following dubbed BTS ARMY. We hung out with the Adelaide faction to learn how obsession nurtures community across the Pacific Ocean and within the CBD.
How to worship a K-Pop boy band 8000km away
In case you missed it, BTS are a huge band.
The South Korean tour de force has obliterated Billboard Charts with their K-Pop singles, sold out United States stadium shows in mere minutes and won a swag of MTV VMA awards recognising their industry success.
In other words, the gargantuan seven-piece who hail from South Korea’s capital, Seoul, have transcended to the highest wrung of superstardom.
They are big.
And with this kind of success comes passionate followers. The BTS ARMY are international admirers of the group, and though they may be separated geographically, they are bound by their worship and knowledge of BTS and their members: Jin, Suga, J-Hope, RM, Jimin, V and Jungkook.
They know every musical release, every tweet and every fact about the band, and one international BTS ARMY member even wrote that the fans were responsible for the musician’s mortal wellbeing.
“We, as ARMY, act as followers of our leader and we will protect them to the end because we love them,” the post reads.
To see how this fandom plays out in Adelaide, South Australia – over 8000 kilometres away from where the music is made – CityMag found BTS ARMY Adelaide, a local contingency practicing their obsession through meet-ups, memorabilia and dance routines.
“Our Festa event had 200 people, it was massive,” says a BTS ARMY Adelaide organiser, Megan Yarwood, recalling Festa, the anniversary of when BTS “debuted” in 13 June 2013.
“People who have been fans for years were like ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe we’re finally doing stuff’ and ‘It’s so good to meet all these people’ and ‘I didn’t realise how many fans they were in Adelaide.’
“While it’s big it’s still a fairly niche thing, Korean pop music, and you don’t really hear it on the radio so much – so being able to find people who share the interest with you is really cool and you can bond over that.”
Although Megan has been an ardent follower of bands like One Direction and Panic! At The Disco in the past, she says her love for BTS is different.
“A lot of people say ‘BTS are my happiness, and they saved me’ and that kind of stuff, but for me BTS is fun music [from] really admirable people who do it because they love it.”
And unlike most members of the South Australian chapter, Megan says she has only been a BTS buff for a year but that she’s making up for lost time by helping organise BTS ARMY Adelaide meet-ups, which celebrate important anniversaries such as Festa or a BTS member’s birthday, and the occasional dinner out.
CityMag visited Rundle Mall on a Saturday morning to see how BTS Adelaide’s infantry celebrate the birthday of the boy band’s leader, RM. We spoke to another organiser, Millie Hay, about how this fandom manifests itself within the CBD and what to expect.
“People make stickers and key-chains and little printout things and badges and it is insane,” says Millie.
“We will give out freebies, cupped sleeves and a lot of the people who come learn the dances from the music videos and do them together in the mall.
“There’s even going to be an Adelaide-based dance group, ABK Crew, who will perform their dance cover of BTS’ most recent single Boy With Luv!’”
ABK’s dance cover of Boy With Luv clocked-in more than eight million hits on YouTube and even captured the attention of the South Korean Government, which flew seven of the performers to Seoul, in the middle of the year, to take part in a national tourism campaign.
Although South Korea and Adelaide are seemingly worlds apart – and most of the BTS songs are written in Korean – Megan says BTS has made its presence felt here because of the band’s prolific online activity and commitment from fans.
“You could watch hundreds of hours of BTS content and still not be through it all,” says Megan. “They film their entire lives so it’s so easy to engage with.
“Fans are also writing English subtitles, and RM speaks English, which is really handy and I would say is a big part of their success in the West.
“That’s not stopping me though, I’m learning Korean!”
She says the median age of a BTS fan is 16 to 18 years-old, which is around the time when a young person is establishing who they are as a person. A recent study explored how the way a fan interacts with a text, in our case BTS lyrics, can help establish identity and community.
Pink Vannolath and Chau Nguyen – two fans who woke up at 6am because they were excited about the meet-up – say they’re drawn to the band because as well as the boys being “talented” and “handsome” they “inspire us to be better people.”
Father and daughter duo Chelsea and Darrin Goodwin are both obsessed with BTS and flew to Las Vegas just to see them perform at the Billboard Music Awards. Chelsea says that as well as the music being “catchy,” BTS is admirable because of their charity work.
In July, BTS teamed up with UNICEF to launch a campaign aiming to end bullying in schools, and in September last year RM gave a speech at the United Nations to urge young people to end discrimination and poverty.
But to Millie and Megan, the BTS Adelaide ARMY is about community and nurturing a niche passion.
“We get a lot of people on Twitter that say ‘I want to come but I don’t know anyone,’” says Millie.
“So many people come here by themselves, and they leave with friends.”
Follow BTS Adelaide on Twitter to be notified of the next meet-up.