“No, BTS isn’t disbanding.” “They’re not breaking up, they’re just releasing more solo stuff right now.” If you’re like most ARMYs, you may have said this over and over again after BTS released their now famous 2022 FESTA video. When the members announced that their next chapter would feature new individual music, skepticism and misinformation abounded. Why is it so hard for the world to grasp that rest and exploration aren’t a breakup? Why are many marginalized people at the top of their fields doing the same, and what could this mean for creating healthier relationships with our passions?
When “Love Yourself” Requires “Tears"
In the age of the viral “wellness movement,” digital ads promise that the positive impacts of self-care can be obtained simply by buying the latest essential oils and treating yourself to a nice meal. However, as one powerful article points out, “self-care is often a very unbeautiful thing.” Taking active steps to truly heal often requires the types of changes that aren’t particularly easy, like rebuilding your schedule or quitting your job.
This is especially difficult for BTS; after all, the idol image relies on being effortlessly glamorous and popular, so making a choice that is neither, is practically unheard of. The stakes are even broader when it comes to BTS’ role as a trailblazer in the West, where mental health struggles for high-achieving individuals who identify as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) are enhanced by the pressure and discrimination of being marginalized.
GOATs Everywhere Agree: Things Have to Change
BTS have written extensively about how the pressure of their increased fame and success, along with long-term mental health conditions and burnout from such an intense profession, have hurt their health and well-being during their time in the spotlight. They are not alone. In the past few years, truly exceptional athletes such as gymnast Simone Biles and tennis player Naomi Osaka have also made the decision to take breaks when they seemed at the top of their careers. All of these young history makers have cited similar reasons for having to reorient their path, and all have faced similar backlash and skepticism from corporate media.
Why is everyone taking a break, and why have the reactions been so poor? Ultimately, it boils down to a toxic pattern that harms us all: larger systems that turn talent and passion into consumption for profit. RM directly addressed how the need for continuous musical production under the idol system has prevented him from maturing, the same way Naomi Osaka pointed out that the grueling schedule and “harsh scrutiny” of being in the public eye as an elite athlete made it difficult to perform at her best on the court.
While trolls and opponents might argue that “the grind” is the price of success, this growing trend of refusing to pay such a toxic fee for doing what you love at the highest level demonstrates that maybe none of us need to pay it. It’s more than unrealistic to assume that BTS, or anyone else, can retain success without changing, taking a step back, or needing to reroute their path; it’s actively dehumanizing because it denies one’s ability to grow.
BTS and Black Anti-Oppressive Traditions (Self-Care vers.)
Though there are gendered, racial, cultural, and occupational differences in how people have responded to BTS vs. Osaka and Biles, their similarities highlight an important pattern that illuminates the true importance and difficulty of self-care. When no one is given any time to breathe, people will navigate time to breathe anyway and receive backlash and skepticism for doing so. It becomes abundantly clear that self-care is powerful and threatening when it challenges other people’s profits.
These patterns instead illuminate the origins of the entire “self-care” movement: Black radical thinkers in the late 20th century who challenged oppressive living and working conditions (including artists who have inspired BTS’ rap music about societal issues). As queer Black activist, Audre Lorde famously wrote during this time, “overextending myself is not stretching myself. I had to accept how difficult it is to monitor the difference…caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” In other words, BTS’ hiatus challenges a lot of very powerful systems, which is on brand for the group and their fans but terrifying for everyone else.
Hopeful Changes “Yet To Come”
BTS’ decision to start a new chapter in their careers is sparked by their love for both art and each other, not in fighting or drama. They continually emphasize that each individual’s music inspires the entire group; the goal is to “spend time apart to learn how to be one again,” this time with far less pressure. Dismissing this new chapter as thinly veiled disbandment ignores issues of oppression and overwork that extend far beyond just music. Groundbreaking and successful figures everywhere are prioritizing care for themselves and their craft over profit and fame. As ARMY, our voice is powerful, and being supportive of these decisions can help change larger patterns in our society for the better.
Written by: Mariko
Edited by: Lisa
Designed by: Achan
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