The views, information, or opinions expressed in this essay are solely those of the creator(s) and do not necessarily represent the official policy or position of The Rhizomatic Revolution Review  or its members.
There’s a proverb amongst ARMYs that says you find BTS when you need them the most. Looking back on 2020, I have to say that BTS saved and continues to carry me through the pandemic. Before the pandemic, I didn’t even know who BTS was. What started off as mere curiosity about the popularity of K-pop and this group in particular led me to find what has kept me going through this pandemic life, helped me realize what I truly value, and inspired me to do as RM prompted us — to speak yourself and manifest your authentic self into existence. This is an open confession of love, adoration, and deep appreciation to Big Hit and BTS for being artists for healing. This is my “pandemic-ARMY” journey.
Global Social Responsibility
When the pandemic started, everything else stopped. Life outside our houses stopped. Seeing people outside of our houses stopped. However, this suspension of “normal life” afforded all of us the opportunity, time, and space for self reflection and growth — at least for those that had the courage and drive to do so. We are now more socially aware than ever before, but many of us are unsure of how to create change in the world. This heightened awareness in social consciousness felt incredibly distressing and stressful to me and led me to seek for something that would uplift my spirits and keep me going day after day. This led me to BTS.
Even the most casual glance can give the impression that K-pop is just a whole lot of fun. BTS had been gearing up for another world tour when the lockdowns started in the spring of 2020. For many of us, we began by casually wondering, “Well, just who is BTS? Maybe I should learn who is who.” The music of BTS is undeniably catchy and makes me feel happy whenever I listen to it. The kind of happiness that is like a secret you just can’t keep to yourself, like a smile that cannot help but shine through your face. Arguably, this was exactly the kind of music we were all in need of when we went into lockdown, and BTS has a tremendous discography with hours of uplifting music. But it was a combination of BTS’s expression of social responsibility and the fandom’s reciprocal activism that made me pause, reflect, and choose to be an ARMY.
When I watched the speech BTS gave at the United Nations back in 2018, I realized that this was no ordinary music group. RM passionately delivered the message of BTS’s Love Myself campaign, which is, “true love first begins with loving myself.” The campaign partnered with UNICEF’s #ENDviolence program to protect children and young people worldwide from violence. In his speech, RM said, “Tell me your story. I want to hear your voice, and I want to hear your conviction. No matter who you are, where you’re from, your skin colour, gender identity: speak yourself. Find your name, find your voice by speaking yourself. What is your name? Speak Yourself!”
This message is significant on so many levels but it struck the most resounding chord with me as a woman, as an Asian American, and as a queer person. I felt seen and heard by someone I hadn’t even met in person. BTS brings a much needed light to social issues and elevates social consciousness through their actions, music, message, and being. Unlike some American celebrities who only pick up charities after they are famous, BTS has been a voice of social awareness since day one of their career. Even the name BTS means Bulletproof Boy Scouts and their motto is to stand to prevent oppression and prejudice against youth. We can clearly see that BTS is unafraid to address social topics pertinent to Korean youth like depression, pressure on the “Give Up” generation, and speculatively, the Sewol ferry tragedy where many children died because of the grossly negligent decisions made by adults and the government.
This commitment to social change was further seen when BTS donated a million dollars to Black Lives Matter in 2020. In support, their international fandom, ARMY, matched that donation in less than 24 hours. If this wasn’t impressive enough, hitting closer to home is the fact that K-pop stans took down the Dallas iWatch snitch-on-protesters app and disrupted racist hashtags on social media. I felt HOPE — hope that the people I identify with can create change from around the world through digital activism.
BTS is authentically and consistently involved in social causes. When the terrible Atlanta shootings that targeted Asian women happened, BTS released a message addressing the hate towards Asians and it made me proud to see Asian voices speaking up for Asians and Asian Americans.
I feel like I learned how to be true to my values through BTS’s and ARMY’s actions. I feel a camaraderie with these fellow humans in both my heart and mind. In addition to being a fan of BTS’s music and talent, this is why I chose to be an ARMY.
You Never Walk Alone
Throughout this pandemic, BTS has literally gotten me through the isolated lifestyle of strict physical distancing. Transitioning from an extroverted life where I was always surrounded by people 90% of my day to 0% overnight was a harsh adjustment that took several months to settle into. Going from a daily hug quota and being energized by those around me to only seeing these people through little boxes on a screen meant adapting to the change of feeling a connection to people only in your mind. I began to question how friendships should feel and why each person was a part of my life. I started to collapse my social circle to focus on those who resonated with me. Meeting new people was a different kind of challenge in this context. As BTS became my daily soundtrack routine, I found myself drawn to their inspirational vibe. During my early ARMY days, I got to know seven distinct people over seven years of their public life.
RM’s leadership, intelligence, and artistry inspires me to strive to find the artist within myself, to share it with others, and to amplify that in others. Jin’s easy-going attitude and undeniable confidence makes me make that “kkhhhhh” sound of awesomeness-approval; I’m constantly impressed by Jin. SUGA taught me how to simultaneously be full of passion and vigor and be still as a rock. J-Hope is my dance leader, too. He is a god of dance technique. He also exemplifies how someone can be the pacesetter for the mood of any room. Jimin is where I take stylistic cues and draw dance goals. He is also the one I most identify with in terms of how he cares for his members. V feels like the physical embodiment of my heart if it had jumped out of my chest and became a human. V’s unapologetic uniqueness is very precious to me. Watching Jung Kook grow up makes me understand how he is literally the amalgamation of all 6 of his hyungs. I cannot wait to see what JK will continue to surprise us with in the future.
During 2020, I grew to really appreciate how Big Hit gives us a cadence of contents to expect every week. My days were really blurring together without scheduled landmarks in time, like leaving the house to go to work or to visit friends on game night. But ARMYs know it’s Tuesday when there’s a new Run BTS! episode! We know it’s June when Muster is celebrated and a new set of family photos come out. We know it’s winter when we see award show performances and the promos for Winter Package and Seasons Greetings. These milestones created anchor points for me throughout the year, and through this, I felt grounded in this timeline.
BTS makes sure that ARMY’s appetites are always stimulated, full, and left wanting for more. When we’re preparing for a comeback, online concert, or other promotion, Big Hit releases a promo schedule so that ARMY could know that delights awaited them. For example, for “Butter,” BTS drip-released four concept clip events, five teaser photo events, and one official music video teaser over the course of twenty days in May, all ahead of the release of the song and the music video and the release party on V LIVE. I loved the mystery of all these hints pointing to something that we still haven’t largely figured out, and it made us hungry for “Butter”! The momentum was further maintained with performances of “Butter” on shows around the world, the releases of the “Hotter,” “Cooler,” and “Sweeter” remix versions of the song along with additional music videos, photo shoots related to the “Peaches” and “Cream” versions of the single’s album, culminating in a new song to be released with the “Butter” single in July on ARMY’s birthday. Dare I say we’ve been bombarded with too much goodness?
At the same time in June, in preparation for Muster, there was an advent-style calendar available for purchase in the Weverse shop. I have deep regrets about not getting this Muster calendar. I mean, counting down each day to find little surprises from photocards to a BOARD GAME is just plain genius!
Big Hit, now HYBE, has nurtured ARMY’s past, present, and future as much as they cultivate BTS’s career and artistry. There is almost always something to look forward to, be it merch to treasure as momentos or candid content that makes you feel like you’re right there with the members even in mundane moments. Every day, I’d check the official and fandom Twitter feeds for updates on new messages from BTS to ARMY, albums, songs, BangtanTV behind-the-scenes videos, photoshoots, episodes of their variety show Run BTS!, surprise V LIVEs or YouTube lives, appearances on shows around the world, new docuseries, official and collab brand merch, brand ambassadorships, games, seasonal content, and more. All this and more makes BTS so accessible to anyone around the world with an internet connection. “Learn! Korean with BTS” and the recently released “Learn! Korean with Tiny Tan” stand out to me, because HYBE is acknowledging the hard work international ARMYs put into crossing the language barrier and is meeting us at the beginning of our journey to learn the Korean language.
BTS is a source of daily comfort. I have to say that the “In the SOOP” series where the members go to vacation in a forest during the pandemic brought me and likely many other ARMYs great comfort in times of stress. I rewatch it any time I need some calm. It’s this kind of storytelling and getting to know the members that make us feel close to them and let us feel like our lives are so relatable. Knowing that BTS made “Dynamite” and the BE album to comfort us and infuse us with hope and happiness during the pandemic is so meaningful and touching. Their capacity for empathy as well as the fact that they’re never hesitant to show their compassion is key to their connection with ARMY and people all around the world. This also makes BTS special in our hearts, which in turn drives our loyalty to them, and we know that they appreciate it, too.
As the members say, “You never walk alone.” Because of the members of BTS, this rich history of video content we have at our fingertips, and the social network of ARMY, I never felt lonely.
Speaking myself through dance
BC — “Before Covid” — I had already been utterly fascinated by random dance events held in Korea where anybody who knows the choreo jumps in to dance the chorus of a random playlist of K-pop songs. I remember watching videos of fun K-pop choreos and how the fast wiping-like motions of the “ON” chorus can double as a speedy cleaning technique. The pandemic brought challenges of living only within your own four walls, so to speak. While I was involved in contemporary dance for a year before the pandemic, dance has now become my cardio and exercise to replace all the steps I’d normally take at work. Coming into the BTS world during the Map of the Soul: 7 comeback, I gravitated towards the chorus of “ON” without knowing that BTS choreos are considered to be quite “advanced,” but that’s how I started K-pop dancing.
I had always felt unsure of how to express myself physically. I had a physical discipline through yoga and acroyoga, but these practices do not involve storytelling or emoting. I prefer BTS choreo for the athletic ability, strong shapes, and powerful movements involved in them and because of the requisite amount of confidence and swag you need to pull it off. That last bit, turns out, is still the hardest to achieve!
As 2020 progressed, my living room turned into my dance studio — I cleared the floor of furniture and set up the two large, leaning mirrors I had and lit them with string lights in the shape of the BTS logo. I started with tutorials on YouTube, but eventually figured out that I preferred to learn in ways in which I understood the emotional link between the movement and the lyrics and to learn phrases as coordinated motions of arms AND legs together instead of separately. Tutorials can only teach you a few cues about the movement but not details of the expression, texture, or how to best transition between movements or between phrases. As I know enough about movement to break down and analyze the choreo, I now teach myself the choreo by mirroring and slowing down the dance practice videos. I look to Hobi for technique, Jimin for expression, JK for power vibe, and SUGA for economy of motion.
BTS choreos taught me how my petite frame could have a larger physical presence; my mother even said I carried myself taller now, and believe me, I have not grown in years! I learned how to be okay with laughing at myself and started to feel out how to speak myself through dance. Within the last year, I’ve learned about a dozen BTS chorus and dance break choreos, but with “Butter,” I really started to express myself. It’s clear that both BTS and ARMY were to feel smooth like butter and celebrate each of our unique hotness with this song. With “Butter,” I’ve finally broken out of “dance-face” (the face you wear while dancing because you’re thinking about dancing). “Butter” is so fun that even my not-yet-ARMY friends want me to teach them the chorus choreo.
Dance has kept me active and happy, and it’s now a part of my lifestyle. Dance has become a visceral connection to my emotions. Through BTS choreos, I’m finding out what types of dynamic movements feel the most natural to speak myself through my body. I feel freedom in this type of mind-body connection. As we emerge from the pandemic precautions, I’d love to begin sharing my love for BTS choreos and learn from K-pop dancers in person, and maybe in the future, know enough choreos to participate in a Random Dance event. I feel like BTS has made me feel more comfortable about calling myself a dancer and using dance to give form to emotion.
Speaking myself through voice
Throughout the pandemic in America, race and the coronavirus have been hot topics on people’s minds. As an Asian American, I had been living a white-adjacent life, guided by the falsehood of the model minority myth. Learning about the model minority myth was like a slap to the face — the false perception that Asians are somehow people of higher racial, social, and economic status than other people of color was used to pit Asians against other people of color, namely black people. I was disgusted and dismayed to realize that this was the role Asians had played in American culture thus far. And still, I wasn’t Asian enough to be Asian and wasn’t American enough to be American. Before 2020, I never gave much thought to the part Asian Americans, as a collective, played in American culture. I realized that we hadn’t been actively participating in writing our own story.
BTS are ambassadors of Korean culture and introduce and promote it to the rest of the world through music, language, performances and videos, all of their reality programming, just to name a few of the obvious methods of outreach. They demonstrate a modern love and appreciation for their cultural heritage. The music video and performances for “Idol” feature traditional Korean hanbok and dance, while “Baepsae” addresses the challenges the current generation of Korean youth face. RM’s lyrics often make brilliant use of wordplay both in Korean and in English and weave in clever Korean references. Jimin’s fan dance at the 2018 Melon Music Awards was honored by the Korean Fan Dance Conservation Society, and BTS was honored by The Korea Society with the James A. Van Fleet award in 2020 for their contributions to US-Korea relations. Even through the games they play on Run BTS!, we learn second-hand about Korean everyday culture, Korean food, the fondness for acrostic poems in Korea, just to name a few.
Seeing BTS being so proud of their Korean heritage made me curious and desirous of understanding and connecting to the “who” and “where” my family is from. Assimilating into American culture effectively equated to orphaning myself from my Asian lineage. I only felt Asian on the cover . . . or so I thought.
As I began looking into my own family history and Taiwanese cultural history, I realized how much of my cultural heritage was alive in the values that I have, in the food that I love, and in my newfound love for C-dramas set in a fantastical martial arts world.
BTS inspired me to speak my story. For AAPI month in 2021, I spoke my story at my workplace to share my family’s immigrant experience and how family and culture shaped my Asian American experience. I found that understanding my parents’ immigrant story helped me to understand the choices they made for their children so that we could more easily navigate the difference in cultures. Through this talk, I reframed what being Asian American means to me — living our parents’ American dream but actively making it ours using a modern melding of our cultural heritage and new culture as Asian Americans. The act of speaking my story in front of others helped manifest my identity as an Asian American.
I’m pleased to say that my story has inspired others to speak their immigrant stories in this diversity series I’ve kicked off. The group I work within will now feature one of our own every month to share their story. Quite a few co-workers have thanked me personally for giving this talk. I feel like Namjoon at this moment — asking others what their name is and inviting them to tell their story.
Connecting with ARMY
At first I was cautious to identify with fandoms because American boy band fandoms had a reputation for being made up of screaming teenage girls and I am a full grown adult. Nonetheless, there was something delightful in liking a boy band, like a giddy reminiscence from girlhood. I was also pleasantly surprised to discover that ARMY is made up of a vast diversity of fans across age, ethnicity, skin color, and gender identity.
When I was just beginning my ARMY journey, I saw someone I know post about BTS on their feed. I was so excited to know that K also loved BTS and I wanted to know everything they knew about them. Through K, I slowly got introduced to V LIVEs, BangtanTV dance practices, fan fiction, the Bangtan Universe, and the Jungian and literary themes that run through BTS videos. We shared an appreciation for BTS’s style, choreography, and storytelling (and no, our biases are different). We have become besties and have committed to seeing BTS in concert together. And it wasn’t just a common love for BTS that made this friendship remarkable, it was also because we both had a common understanding of BTS’s impact in the world and what they mean to so many people. K really felt like a lifeline during this pandemic time and I will be forever grateful.
There is a wealth of ARMY groups and events worldwide, and the following are just a few Twitter accounts that love and provide perspectives on BTS that I am drawn to. For dance appreciation, there are dance analyses threads by @jiminuncut, while for art education, there is @artansonyeondan, who draws parallels between art and BTS from BTS’s latest photoshoots, which feels like the ARMY extension of BTS’s worldwide art project “CONNECT, BTS.” For keeping up on all things BTS, including fan activity like voting periods, there’s @usbtsarmy with a comprehensive calendar of events. To contribute to ARMY-voted charities for each of the member’s birthdays, there’s the @oneinanarmy account. The scholarly research about BTS presented by academic ARMYs around the world through the BTS Global Online Conference and the Rhizome Connect conference held online this past year tickled my brainy side. Together with online crews like @OurMagicShop and @BTSPurpleLights, I counted down to “Dynamite” promo events and watched the Grammys. I’m relieved that there are indeed plenty of adult ARMYs that I can share BTS with.
Now that the US is emerging from the pandemic safety measures, I’ve been able to attend some in-person events and have been able to meet the members of the BTS Purple Lights crew in person as they conduct a series of fan events both on- and offline. I’ve just met a few local ARMYs who have banded together as the “Bangtanketeers.” I expect the transition back to an extroverted social life to be a gradual process, but I’m grateful for the opportunity to look for new friends to go Namjooning with.
BTS is a beacon of light and hope. Their light is connected to ARMYs’ hearts all around the world (by lightstick!). For me, BTS played an instrumental part in my growth into the next best version of myself. They have led by example and helped me set what I believe in and my boundaries so that I can protect and defend my values. BTS revitalized my spirit and kept me company through the isolation of quarantine as an indisputable continuum and as a content juggernaut that creates an immensely full and utterly delightful fan experience. BTS has shown how they will stand with ARMY through thick and thin. I am living the motto of speaking myself — through dance as a way to unabashedly bring out my inner self and through my own voice to inspire others to share their stories in order to educate and enlighten others.
In difficult times, you must find different ways to fill your cup. Life is never on hold. As SUGA said in his part of the graduation speech at the Class of 2020 commencement ceremony, “Take your hands off of what you can’t control, and get your hands on what you can change. As you and I continue on in life, we will find ourselves in so many situations out of our grasp. The only thing we can control is ourselves. Get your hands on the changes you can make, because your possibilities are limitless.”
— Lillian Y. Lin
Lillian is a digital product designer, diversity activist, and Asian American artist/ storyteller who came to find BTS during the pandemic. Instagram: @zenbitch_actual (USA).
Illustration By: MALVIKA, @malvikonga
Lin, L. Y. (2021). BTS: My Pandemic Panacea. The Rhizomatic Revolution Review , (3).https://ther3journal.com/issue-3/bts-my-pandemic-panacea.
Lin, Lillian Y. “BTS: My Pandemic Panacea.” The Rhizomatic Revolution Review , no. 3, 2021, https://ther3journal.com/issue-3/bts-my-pandemic-panacea.
BTS: My Pandemic Panacea by Lillian Y. Lin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
@Lillian Y. Lin, 2021