Swaggin out activism: A look into BTS


Illustration by Rachel Edelstein

Rachel Genthe, Staff Writer

“Kim Namjoon! Kim Seokjin! Min Yoongi! Jung Hoseok! Park Jimin! Kim Taehyung! Jeon Jungkook! BTS!”

Fan chants overwhelmed Microsoft theater when BTS, also known as Bangtan Boys or Beyond the Scene, hit the stage at the American Music Awards this year. The mainstream music scene introduced the Korean boyband back in July at the Billboard Music Awards when they won Top Social Artist, beating Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez.

BTS recently performed on “The Ellen Show,” Jimmy Kimmel’s outdoor stage, met James Corden and multiple radio shows within a week of the AMA’s.

But this is not the first time they have been to the U.S. Before their fame skyrocketed, they visited Los Angeles back in 2014 when rappers Coolio and Warren G mentored the wide-eyed youngins in their reality show “American Hustle Life,” Billboards did a small feature with them in New York in 2015, and they had three tours in various metropolitan cities.

They’ve now become more known due to their unavoidable online presence from Twitter, with 10 million followers and utilizing YouTube for anticipated music video releases. The reason they are unlike other Korean pop groups, who are essentially cash cows for large corporate companies, is the freedom their record label, Big Hit Entertainment, allows them.

The seven members: RM, Suga, Jin, J-hope, V, Jimin and Jungkook all have individual talents to bring to the group like dance and choreography experience, music producing and lyrical writing. Because of this BTS has talked about young adult struggles with education, mental health and the economics of society as well as politics.

From an interview with Rolling Stones India, RM (previously known as Rap Monster) said the band’s popularity grew because their music tell personal stories. Thus BTS created a world for fans to theorize the meanings behind music videos and lyrics regarding topical situations that resonate with 21st century youth.

In the beginning of the group’s career, most of the music had an adolescent vibe. The two EP’s  “2 Cool 4 Skool” and “O! RUL8,2?” introduce songs with lyrics about the pursuit of happiness versus societal expectations and school bullying. After slowly evolving from young men who rap and sing about “big cars and big rings,”  “The Most Beautiful Moment in Life” album series set a different tone for the group.

The music videos started to show how BTS grew from a bud into a flower. Many viewers express how the use of visuals portray universal meanings throughout the videos, which are all connected. Other music videos show choreography that contain sensual, affectionate and powerful dance moves with precise execution. The lyrics break away from masculinity into an openness of intimacy between friendships, self-love and the battle of loneliness.

Suga, one of three rappers in the group, dropped a solo mixtape in 2016 titled Agust D. He opens up about his battle with depression and sociophobia along with the hardships of becoming famous.

As inequality in politics and economics emerge, BTS start to communicate its opinion through music and Twitter. In 2017, RM collaborated with hip-hop artist Wale to rap about how people need to stand together in order to change government injustice and find peace. The song “Not Today” responded to police brutality with visuals and lyrics relating to protesters being shot. The latest album “Love Yourself: Her” contained music produced from The Chainsmokers and later an English remix with edm Dj Steve Aoki and rapper Desiigner from the song “MIC Drop,” inspired by former U.S. President Barack Obama after his mic drop at the White House Correspondents Dinner. “Go Go” and “Silver Spoon” discuss income inequality through musical parody. The group also released a song, “Spring Day,” where fans suggest it’s a tribute to the 2014 Sewol ferry disaster.

In multiple interviews, the group continues to send the message: “We write about things people don’t want to say.” Simply put, BTS found music to be their form of activism. In only four years they have accomplished what other Korean pop artists couldn’t. They are a new voice for the younger generation. Get ready to see them more in American mainstream.