Oxford dictionary defines a fandom as “the fans of a particular person, team, TV show, etc. considered together as a community”. ARMY is a community and their persons are BTS.
In “BTS and ARMY Culture”, Dr. Jeeheng Lee explores the relation between BTS and their fans, the evolution of both parties through the years, and the impact of their fame worldwide.
When put together, the two words BTS and ARMY, are made of seven letters; BTS are seven members, and as we speak, they have spent seven years together as a group. Built in seven chapters, this book seems immediately relevant to many ARMYs. Not only was it written by an ARMY adopting the fandom’s point of view, but it was created with the intention to provide a “work of criticism for general readers, written by an Aca-Fan (academic and fan) who lets her affection shine through”.
In this inspiring book, Dr. Lee uses perspective and compassion to persuade the reader to consider both BTS’ and ARMY’s influence in mainstream music. Throughout the 230 pages, she encourages a better understanding of how BTS has become such a phenomenon in the music industry.
K-pop similarities and differences
From the beginning, the reader is driven through the author’s reflection, developed on verified facts about K-pop. She explains the differences and similarities between ARMY and other fandoms, and between BTS and other K-pop groups. Of course, BTS meets most of the K-pop industry standards. They have been cast and trained, they live for their fandom’s satisfaction through an elaborate fan service system and depend a lot on the consumer’s voting culture. Yet, by being encouraged early on to write their own lyrics and to reflect on their mistakes (such as misogyny and cultural appropriation), BTS were able to walk away from several K-pop standards. Another noticeable difference is that they had to produce their own content, like the Bangtan Logs, because “unlike idols from large agencies, BTS barely benefited from broadcasting opportunities”. Dr Lee also evokes the need for BTS to please their huge international fanbase, whose approach to music, and specifically K-pop, is different from the Koreans’.
The complicated relationship between ARMYs
Every gender, generation and cultural background can relate to BTS. Therefore, there is not one but hundreds of types of ARMYs. Although ARMY is a unified fandom, its powerful diversity once had its flaws. In the chapter, “Fandom of Diversity”, Dr Lee states that: “They (ARMY) are convinced that tolerance and inclusivity are the best traits of the fandom ARMY”. We can agree that those traits are present. Despite BTS’ inclusivity, black ARMYs and Korean ARMYs, for example, argued on racist comments, highlighting ignorance about each other’s cultural backgrounds. However, the author underlines that “at the peak of the racism issue, ARMYs didn’t turn their back at each other but created group chats for both sides to conduct fair conversation and discussion”. BTS inspires their fandom to self-reflect, yet the analysis of Dr Lee smartly avoids any leniency in explaining so.
Defining the strong connection between ARMY and BTS
ARMY have always made social media their favorite playground to promote BTS and “help the group to reach new audiences”. They have successfully spread fan practices, such as voting for awards and trending hashtags, and created real-time communication worldwide. BTS themselves have frequently used social media to share their love for ARMY too. However, social media has also been a place where both BTS and ARMY have received thousands of hateful and petty comments from other fandoms throughout the years. ARMY has endlessly been “compromising and negotiating with mass media that hold cultural power”, to win acceptance in the absence of meaningful recognition. Hence, the two chapters, “Started from the bottom of K-Pop” and “ARMY, the best promoter”, set a sociological approach to fandom culture. They detail the hardships and frustrations of being an ARMY, including their disappointment at being constantly shut down by other fandoms and media. They also describe how BTS and ARMY have always been there for each other and the reasons why ARMY always protect BTS and fight for their recognition.
Cultural impact and opening barriers
When one asks ARMY the reasons why they love BTS without understanding their lyrics, the recurring answer is that in BTS, they find a way to love themselves and to cope with an ordinary and burdensome life. In the chapter, “Beyond the language barrier”, the author explores what she calls “western centric language”. With the high demand and reliance on fan translators to provide English translations for BTS' Korean content, it has reversed a long-established situation, where non-english speaking people occupied an inferior cultural position. Dr Lee acknowledges that “being an international BTS fan entails long waits, frustration, and the disruption of normal life patterns”. However, this sparked a new interest in the fans, which created a huge impact on BTS' international career. International fans started to learn Korean in order to communicate with BTS and, in turn, opened themselves to understanding other cultures. This realization was also tangible among Korean ARMYs. Those who had first been reluctant in sharing their group with westerners, eventually accepted BTS' worldwide fame as a great pride for Korea.
What about the non-ARMY readers?
Thanks to this book, ARMY readers can redefine themselves better, as well as self-reflect on their impact as BTS fans. Yet, one of the many values in “BTS and ARMY Culture”, is its accessibility to anyone interested in BTS and/or ARMY. As a matter of fact, non-ARMY readers might be the ones who could benefit the most from reading this.
Of course, it is easy to believe that the author, being a Korean ARMY herself, would create an overall biased message. Much to the contrary, reading this book sets you free from a priori about fandoms, K-pop, and boy bands. It gives everyone a chance to understand “the mainstream music scene” and the cultural impact of fandoms in our modern society.
Written by: Hel.B
Edited by: Sanam
Designed by: Judy