Smells Like BTS Spirit – The Tale of One Small Tweet and One Giant ARMY

It’s been a strange week for me on Twitter. I only signed up last month after years of avoiding it. I didn’t really fancy another social media commitment, knew I’d quickly become addicted to checking it and, having read Jon Ronson’s excellent book So You Been Publicly Shamed, didn’t fancy any potential hassles that might spring from an ill-judged or misinterpreted tweet. However, after setting up this philosophy blog (Being and Niceness), I thought a Twitter account might help to share my work, and I was keen to get the thoughts of like-minded people. And I have to admit, it’s proved a worthwhile decision – I’ve had some wonderful, positive comments on my work from various people, not just with a love for philosophy, but impressive qualifications and bodies of work, too. I like to tweet little portions of the things I read that make me think or smile, as well as my blog posts, and that works well enough for me. And, occasionally, I find myself trawling through the vast stream of content out there (some of it relevant, most of it cat pictures) and I’ll drop a silly comment or joke here or there.

More layers than meets the eye

I dropped one of those comments this week when looking through tweets about #NationalRelaxationDay. Here is it…

Despite the fact I use Twitter at work occasionally, I still consider myself a bit of a newbie and am not always entirely sure what I’m doing (or seeing). And on this occasion I thought I was looking at some kind of appreciation group for the brilliant satirical US media group The Onion. I saw the post above mention Nirvana and assumed that the music video attached to the tweet might be something by the (again brilliant) Washington grunge group – the joke being that Smells Like Teen Spirit is about as far away from relaxing as it gets. What unfolded was unexpected say the least.

It turned out that @TheOnionBTS (the clue clearly in the handle!) is a parody account for fans of the Korean pop group BTS; a boy band formed in 2013 which has a Twitter account with a head-spinning 15.8 million followers. It wasn’t long before my comment was swarmed upon by the ARMY (this is what the incredibly committed and passionate BTS fans call themselves). As I mentioned before, my account is very new, so it’s fair to say I’d never experienced what was to come next – which was basically an endless stream of notifications as ARMY members had a little laugh at my silliness and offered me explanations as to what I’d unwittingly wandered into.

At the request of the BTS fans, I watched the video from the original tweet (BTS (방탄소년단) LOVE YOURSELF 結 Answer ‘Epiphany’ Comeback Trailer) and really enjoyed it. I then (foolishly) commented that I’d like to know what the message behind the lyrics was, as I didn’t speak Japanese. (By the way, I’m actually a football journalist, so I’m well aware of the difference between Ki Sung-Yueng and Shinji Kagawa, for example, so if I’d actually properly examined the text, I’m sure I would’ve realised it was Korean and not Japanese!). But rather than chastise me for my ignorance, the ARMY were entirely forgiving, and kind, and sought to furnish me with information and answers about their beloved group.

More than just a pop group

I must say, I was bewildered by what I found out next – it turns out that BTS are a far more sophisticated pop group than the likes of, say, Take That or One Direction. BTS, and the art they produce, has more depth than an outsider like me could ever have imagined – each new project has a concept that follows a progression in time, telling the stories of each member and how they deal with issues that affect all young people; like self-worth, anxiety, love and general growing pains (I’ll add here at the request of many ARMY members, that these issues of course affect people of all ages). They create stories which link to their videos, featuring fantasy and sci-fi elements using various forms of symbolism and artistic devices such as dream sequences. The ARMY then try to figure out the hidden messages and meanings contained within these narratives, offering up different theories as to what each song and video is trying to convey. Each member (character) explores their own coming-of-age issues in the songs, with some songs offering multiple meanings, while others are open to the interpretation of the listeners; who are actively engaged in the production and composition of the tracks. (I’d like to just add here, that having read many kind and insightful responses to this piece from ARMY members, I am now aware of just what a diverse age and cultural range they have among their followers – from teenagers up to people in their 70/80s, which is quite remarkable).

I have to say, I was blown away a bit by the immense scale of what BTS are trying to do – I’d never come across a pop group with such a wide-ranging and diverse artistic project. The issues they deal with are clearly very important to their listeners and I think it’s admirable that their fans are (mostly I believe) out there trying to help each other deal with the difficulties of adolescence by sharing their thoughts and experiences in a positive way. While these guys are of course still regular pop stars who model clothes, star in reality TV shows and engage in other such pursuits you’d expect from seven young lads living the K-pop dream, they also reference philosophy and Korean culture and history in their lyrics. Plus, their latest Love Yourself Series project appears to be partly inspired by their work with UNICEF on an anti-violence campaign dealing with issues such bullying, domestic violence and sexual misconduct.

Thank you

So I have to say thank you to the ARMY for their kindness – and for not getting upset or annoyed with me for not knowing anything about them or BTS. It was a real eye-opener and I can really appreciate now why they’re all so fervently passionate about the group. I hope you all enjoy the new album Love Yourself: Answer when it is released on 24 August – I will of course be giving it a listen.

I’ve since put together some of my own BTS covers and taken part in some fun ARMY projects. Take a look right here

Read more on my experiences with the BTS Army here

Read my review of Love Yourself Answer right here

Also, thanks to @EtoileLoba, @LoneCat3, @simmiryeon and @Carapheonix for providing me with the BTS information presented in this post.

101 thoughts on “Smells Like BTS Spirit – The Tale of One Small Tweet and One Giant ARMY

  1. Thank you so much for this! I think it is very well written and also a great representative of my beautiful family and the boys we have united over. Additionally, I hope you stay with us for a long time and continue seeing what BTS has to offer. We purple you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a lovely read! Don’t worry, a lot of people mix up the languages when they haven’t encountered it before, and in this fandom everyone gets used to repeatedly and patiently saying “click CC for English subtitles” haha. This kind of blog entry is so precious to the fandom and I hope everyone reads it. I’m happy if you found BTS interesting, and hopefully you won’t get tired of us theorizing over the album for the next while. Looking forward to reading your other blog posts about philosophy too!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for being open minded with overwhelming excitement of ARMY and Thank You so so much for writing such an awesome article. As an ARMY above suggested please do consider helping us solve the mind boggling messages in bts’s concept (*˘︶˘*).。.:*♡

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you too for giving time to know more about BTS..Welcome to the fandom called A.R.M.Y and Thanksnto yhe article too..Much appreciation from us..ARMY from PH

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This was such a nice read. I’m glad you had a positive experience with us.
    It’s true we try to always support each other and set up initiatives to help others. @OneInAnArmy and @BTS_AHC are just two examples out of many.
    We are also very diverse with age range from toddlers to people in their 70s and 80s even.
    We really appreciate bts’ message and what they stand for, as often recited by Hoseok (J-Hope) “guarding against prejudice and oppression against the youth in their 10s and 20s” while offering consolation and hope as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. It’s absolutely wonderful that your new trip to Twitterland has brought you to good places. The reason BTS resonates with so many is because they tackle these issues that humans of all ages have. This was a great article, thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I have to say this is refreshing to read. Many articles in the media seem to contribute to the crazed, young passionate fan-girl narrative. It may be true to some extent however, BTS’ fanbase (ARMY) are also highly versatile, diverse and have created an online community that supports and promotes BTS’ values of self- worth, social enigmas and mental health. BTS’ creative narrative that runs throughout their albums absolutely blew me away. I am 28 years old, responsible, have a good job and appreciate a well-rounded piece of writing. I researched writing after writing per fellow fan translators, You Tube fan-made theories, literary and social references and became more entranced with each new discovery. I respect their work, their artistry and the members’ chemistry with each other. BTS’ rags-to-riches underdog story in South Korea (with a highly controlled entertainment industry) is worthy of Hollywood. Thank you for this.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. You have no idea how happy your article made me feel. There are people out there who try to discredit BTS without even listening to their music. As BTS member SUGA once said, “You’ll like BTS’ music if you listen without prejudice.” Your article serves as evidence that if people listened to music with an open mind and heart, good things can come out of it. I also think you did such a wonderful job in describing the true kindness of our fandom. The media always describes us as ‘crazy’, ‘delusional’, and ‘obsessed’ fans. Thank you for understanding that we are so much more than that.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thank you so much for this article! BTS means a lot to us ARMY. They are not your average boyband, just as you mentioned. It’s sad that outsiders often jump into the conclusion that they are like any other boyband or pop artist out there. The truth is, BTS is unique and very different from any kpop or pop group. They are musicians who make their own songs that carry highly inspirational messages that never fail to comfort us.They motivate us to read books on philosophy, psychology and sociology, and also prompt us to think like a detective. If you dive in further and get to know each member, you would soon realize why we love them not as celebrities/idols but as best friends. They have such endearing and genuine personalities which are very relatable. I’m really grateful that you checked their music out. The world needs more open-minded intellectuals like you.
    By the way, Welcome to the BTSxARMY family!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. This is one of the most beautiful things I’ve read about bts and us army , I cried while reading this becouse he understood so well everything and even feel interest in bts and instead of just saying what was on his mind at the moment he Ashley took time and search bts and study all of this ,and even became an army , I cried while I read about how he feels about us army and the fact that he also got the comsept about bts overcoming these things is teenager overcome and face in our daily lifes

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Hi, I am happy that you went above the entire “Kpop” stereotype and gave them a chance. However, you’ll be amazed to learn that most people behind these fan accounts are not teen. There sure are a few of them, but an overwhelming amount are people above 20! There is saying “you find BTS when you needed them the most”. As you said, they talk about important social issues that makes many of the fan relate to them

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Omg thank you for writing this.
    So you are a football journalist that’s cool. Sports in general has took an almost wild turn but I’m kinda not surprised cuz players are people too with various backgrounds. Anyway it was a great read and welcome to the fandom.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Hi, I am happy that you went above the entire “Kpop” stereotype and gave them a chance. However, you’ll be amazed to learn that most people behind these fan accounts are not teen. There sure are a few of them, but an overwhelming amount are people above 20! There is a saying “you find BTS when you needed them the most”. As you said, they talk about important social issues that make many fans relate and emotionally connect with them. Many of us had the chance to go outside and experience the world and were faced by something we were unable to blossom in. For me BTS, were for exemple the first to reassure me about my perpetual emotional ups and downs and to bring me somewhere I fit in. I purposely created a twitter account (newbie on the bird app too) to interact with other fans. I guess we are all so emotionally involved with them because it is where we were initially touched by them. I sometimes think that BTS has the realest ( and most depressed) fanbase ever ahaha. There is no age limit or gender in the Army. We all speak the universal language of being confused by the life.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Hi Joseph!
    I enjoyed your blog post about stumbling upon BTS. I found out about them last year after they were on the Jimmy Kimmel, Ellen & James Corden talk shows. I’m 39, and I have NEVER considered myself a “fan” of any artist before. However, something is very different and special about BTS. At first, I wrote them off as caricatures with cotton candy hair and feminine clothing. Yet, for some reason I kept watching their music videos. Then I discovered their dance practice videos, followed by episodes of their ‘Run! BTS’ variety-type show. I was hooked. I fell down the rabbit-hole, and I have no intention of getting out. I’m old enough to be some of the members’ mother, but they never cease to amaze me or teach me things. RM, the leader, is a certified genius with an IQ of 148. He is wise beyond his years, and he writes many of the lyrics for BTS. He is an avid reader and draws inspiration from the stories he has read, observing others and of course, his personal experiences. He is a gifted linguist who picks up languages easier than most, and he is known for his ingenious word play. BTS have many younger fans, but they also have a lot of fans in their 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond. They have fans from every nationality, every gender, every sexuality, and many different religious backgrounds. I’ve never been part of a “fandom” before, but I am so impressed with the diversity, sense of humor and intelligence of A.R.M.Y. The fandom reflects the artists, and BTS is an exceptional group of seemingly ordinary boys who came together to achieve extra-ordinary things. You mentioned that you have a sports background. BTS has a fantastic underdog story. The K-Pop industry is dominated by 3 major companies, and BTS was a total outsider. The group’s management company was very small and didn’t have a lot of money. They were not supposed to succeed. No one expected this. Companies have tried to break into America to no avail. America is more rascist than it would like to admit, and the lack of Asian representation in Hollywood & the music industry is evidence of that. So, for 7 guys from S. Korea to be viewed as sex symbols by women and men (gay & straight) of every color is truly amazing. They are game-changers that still have a chip in their shoulder. I liken them to Tom Brady. In light of all his success, rings and accolades, he still remembers being a late-round draft pick, and that motivates him to prove all his doubters wrong. I sense that from BTS as well. They are on top of the world right now, but they are still humble and work their tails off to prove their worth. I could talk about them all day, but I just wanted to let you know that this group is special. You already recognized that, but I encourage you to explore the group and there fandom more. They aren’t perfect, but they are incredibly loving, beautiful people that want to change the world through their music.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Gosh I’m reading all the comments on this article and I’ve got tears welling up in my eyes. I’m 30 and thought I was crazy when I started to go down the BTS rabbit hole. On the surface it’s easy to see the makeup and the videos and music as superficial but after a bit you start to realize how much merit and humility is actually there. There are so many themes that apply to adult life and seeing them overcome hate to be as successful as they are now – I can’t help but feel immense pride for them.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. What a lovely read! Thank you! I’m so glad to hear what occurred piqued your curiosity and that you took the time to look into them further. It’s actually quite similar to how I (a professional adult) fell into BTS in 2016 and then became an ARMY (although my slip into it was on YouTube rather than twitter).
    I appreciate that you so quickly picked up on the universe and narratives they’re creating. Because my slow slide didn’t involve twitter, it took me a lot longer to begin to understand that aspect of their work. Their music and stories they create within and around their art is fascinating and rich with literary and other art references (Hermann Hesse’s Demian, Kafka, and more). The lyrics of seemingly light hearted songs are peppered with astute, subtle, and clever observations and comments about society. The layers of subtext in lyrics and imagery and sound is astounding, as you rightly pointed out.
    My one nitpick would relate to the fact that, because they astutely have picked to address themes and issues that resonate with people regardless of their age, ARMY is not only teens. With honesty and vulnerability, BTS tackles (through music and the other mediums you touched on) universal struggles and questions about identity, emotion, purpose, and expectations placed on us by society, none of which end when we become adults. It’s not surprising that a significant portion of the fandom (in the west and in Korea) are well into their twenties and older.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Hi, this is one of the most thorough article I’ve read regarding BTS. Thank you for this and yes, they are very unique and we love them. They have good hearts, they truly care and it shows in their music. Thanks again. Ps. Enjoy your journey into sound of Bangtan💕

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Thank you sooooo much for this well-written piece on the significance of BTS and the humility of ARMY. I think most of mainstream media tends to reduce BTS’ success to just having a fanbase of rabid teenybopper fangirls without taking the time to explain why so many people—young and old— are unbelievably devout to them for reasons besides the obvious and superficial. The themes they take on can be heavy, but it’s so important that they address them. The amount of people who say that BTS and their music gave them hope, who say that BTS even saved their life, is a testament to the boys’ characters as people who just want to help the youth heal in today’s world. I think this notable facet of BTS’ success is largely underlooked and, once again, and I couldn’t be more happy that you covered it. In any case, welcome to the ARMY! We hope you stay to watch our boys grow even bigger ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I 💕 loved your article and the comments about it. As some replies noted, not all of BTS Army are teens. If you check their demographics you will find that there are more people in their 40s who love BTS than young fans. I fall into older generation grouping. I am a retired teacher and found BTS over 2 years ago. I love the symbolism, theories and lyrics with deeper meaning. (As well as the insane dancing and astonishing visuals of the group.) It has been so much fun reading books that they reference in their songs…what other musicians do all that. I found them when my nephew talked me into watching KDramas…another rabbit hole!!! Many of the actors are also involved in creating OST songs for the Dramas. I started looking for their music on YouTube and found BTS. It has been so much fun following their growth and finding out more and more about these 7 amazing boys.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. I really like how you wrote this piece! Thank you for shedding light on why us ARMYs support and protect BTS. And thank you for having the time and patience to dive into our realm haha.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Thank you for this article. It’s refreshing to see people not seeing us as the “obsessed and passionate Army” but seeing why we really stan them. Again thank you for being open minded and taking the time to check on the boys even if you must be busy!
    Have a good day!

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Thank you so much for appreciating the artistry of BTS and for giving them credit for it beyond just marvelling over their huge following. I hope you enjoy delving into the meaningful allusions to come and finding something that relates to you and your personal experiences 😊 I know this is completely random, but I just want to recommend my favourite song by the band: Young Forever. It’s really beautiful and gives me a sense of bitter sweetness about being a teen.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Thank you for this piece of blog entry. We, ARMYs can be relentless when it comes to promoting BTS because that’s what we are trained to do as soon as we decide to become one. BTS started from a humble beginnings and they themselves passed fliers on the streets of LA 1 year after their debut yo promote a small concert in a bar with a capacity of just about 300.

    And so, we’ve always promoted them the same way…person to person. We used to also print and pass fliers ourselves on the streets to promote them. These events were done by cities until we graduated to better methods as we gained ARMYs who are better in planning, marketing and penetrating the US market.

    We actually do the grunt work that their company Big Hit should be doing but don’t have the know-how as they used to be a really small company. Not so anymore, though.

    Anyway, thanks again for giving BTS’s music a listen. We always appreciate anything done for them and give something back in return as a token of appreciation, whether it’s a click, a tweet or retweet. 💜💜💜💜💜

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Thank you for your hard work doing this article! Thank you for your patience with our family and Thank you for being such a lovely person with us and the boys! I hope to see you appreciate the next album 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Hi! I am a 55 year old Spanish woman, fortunate mother of a beautiful daughter of 15 years. Thanks to her I knew about BTS and I started to following , respecting, and loving them.

    Thanks for your kind words about BTS and about ARMY.
    I see that you have learned many things about the valuable contribution of BTS to this crazy and too often unfriendly world.

    Every one of the members of BTS are genuine and charming human beings.

    One of them, Kim Tae Hyung “V” (22 years old), coined some time ago a beautiful expression “I Purple You” that, according to his own word means: “Purple is the last color of the rainbow colors so it means i will trust and love u for a long time. ”

    The leader of the group, Kim Nam-joon “RM” (23 years old), in an interview a couple of months ago asked the question “What is your goal?” replied:
    “Personally, my goal is to love myself to the fullest before I die It’s one of my biggest goals with in my life Through this idea and process the aspect of Loving Yourself will be thrown out by our voices till it’ll be heard with the many people in this world we want to spread what is to love ourselves, and what is love with this heart we want to spread this through our music and our performances and it will be a honor if you would understand that our aim ”

    I should not extend more but I recommend you listen to the acceptance speech of the Top Social Artist Award at the 2018 Billboard Music Awards.

    Really worth what this guys have to say.

    I really purple these guys.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Oh jeez, I almost cried reading this, and I’m at work right now. heh

    Thank you so much for the article, and while twitter can get crazy on the stan side of things, you can always find someone willing to help lol ❤

    I found this article because someone posted it in the r/bangtan subreddit, and that's a bit of a smaller pool of ppl, but we're super helpful there too if you have any questions!

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Thank you for your open minded and willing approach to BTS and their motley crew of ever growing fans.
    We honestly appreciate anyone that just takes the time to listen first before they judge BTS based solely on the genre of their music… and if said person likes what they discover, then even better.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. I loved this so much! It’s nice to know you took your time to check their ouevre. You’re more than welcome to check their next album! Thank you for being nice with our fandom and I’m glad you felt well received! I really liked what I’ve seen from your blog, btw… You nice, keep going!

    Liked by 1 person

  28. It was very refreshing and fun to read. I’m happy that you find us and we find you.

    Because I have been in the fandom for quite some time now, I wonder from time to time what does it look like from “the outside”. Also because some people tend to focus on the negative and toxic side of the fandom (that most fandoms have) or stereotypes, I sometimes forget that people that are not familiar with this “world” can come to us without any ulterior motive and actually enjoy our company (I do believe the majority can and will be welcomed by us).

    I’ve been part of a lot of fandoms and I’ve never seen something like this before (I’ve never been that invested in a fandom either, I surprise myself!). Sometimes we joke about the fact that we could create a country full of ARMYs because the fandom is so organized.
    I don’t want to spam you but here are some Twitter accounts and links if you’re interested in the different facets of the fandom.

    [School: @armyacademics (with @armytutormath, @army_language, @armyscience, @armytutorscs & @army_learning)

    Health: @BTS_AHC (help available in English, French, German, Portuguese, Spanish, Turkish, Russian, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Arabic, Malaysian, Indonesian, Filipino & Hindi), @Spread_LP, @fabfitarmy

    Charity: @OneInAnARMY (#AnpanARMY)

    Security: @report_army, @ProtectionArmy, @PurpleRibbnARMY (project available for Amsterdam, London, Paris, Los Angeles, Oakland, Newark, New York City, Chicago, Hamilton & Fort Worth).

    Art & Culture: @BTSBookClub_twt, (the hashtag #BTSARMYcultureDay or #ARMYcultureDay by @armyxculture), @btsarmycinema, (here are some very talented ARMYs: @peacheschild, @gagaonhope, @seiyoko_, @vulpae, @Tracyjleeart, @btscberry, @orbitmap, @heygentlyplease‏, @Affordance_ARMY, @yourhobi, @francheii, @RM_rapmonster, @st_sseuregi, @Yimei_Zhu).

    Cooking: @BTSARMYKitchen

    Fashion: @GetOnSwag

    Projects: ( by @BTSARMY_Guide), @ArmyGotTalents, @ArmyTruthUntold

    BTS Promotion: mostly every BTS related account on Twitter]

    Anyway, thank you for your kindness regarding BTS & ARMY.

    💜 We purple you 💜

    Liked by 1 person

  29. This is exactly what I needed to read as I woke up this morning. Thank you so much for that amazing and accurate description of who BTS is and what they’re trying to do. Their music has helped me so much and I love seeing others appreciate it! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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