Dancing to the BTS beat and what the Church can Learn from it

July 19, 2021
By: 
Lesley Anne A. Rosal

It was a sunny afternoon on August 19, 2020 when I came across the music video of the current juggernaut of the global music scene, BTS (Bangtan Sonyeondan). I’ve heard of them before, having been egged on so many times to check them out. Before the pandemic hit, I had a friend who was so insistent that I listen to their album Map of the Soul 7. “You would be head over heels to know that the album is based on the archetypes of Carl Jung!” he exclaimed so convincingly, knowing that I am a huge Jungian fan and that I use Jungian psychology when I teach spirituality. It piqued my interest for a moment until my former judgmental self whispered, “K-Pop? Sheesh.”
 
One afternoon, as I prepared my modules for Theology 13, I chanced upon their video Fake Love and got mind-blown when they used Etruscan masks at the end. It dawned on me that they were not just some K-Pop group or a band of boys who all looked good and sang about the pains and joys of love. For someone who has voraciously read Carl Jung, it is hard to unsee the reference. I searched for their Map of the Soul albums and was surprised to find songs entitled Persona, Shadow, and Ego. That was the clincher. I messaged my BTS fan friends and said, “Welcome to ARMY, I guess?”
 
ARMY: More than Just Screaming Fangirls
 
The next months after that, I found myself gaining new friends from all walks of life. The fans of BTS are called ARMY, which stands for “Adorable M.C for Youth.” Unbeknownst to a lot of people who think that BTS fans are composed only of screaming high school girls, one will be surprised to find that the fandom is very diverse.
 
From July 9 to September 30, 2020, a group of ARMY members who do BTS-related academic research released a fan-driven census, which gathered 400,000 participants from all over the world. Around 46 translators worked together with the academic scholars to distribute the questionnaire online. The full results can be found on their website, http://www.btsarmycensus.com. On it, the team describes the project as providing “a snapshot of the BTS fandom, while also helping to showcase how fans are far Beyond The Stereotypes placed upon them.”
 
The results? The data gathered shows that ARMYs come from more than 100 countries all over the world, with 4.5% of the respondents coming from the Philippines. Since 2013, the year when BTS debuted, the fandom has grown exponentially. Over the years, BTS’s stadium concerts during world tours would be sold out in less than ten minutes. One live video by a BTS member would gather millions of fans simultaneously viewing and interacting online. The latest online concert that they held last June to celebrate BTS’s debut anniversary gathered 1.33 million viewers worldwide.
 

While the census demographic shows that 50.31% of the fandom is composed of 18-year-olds and below, 42.59% of the respondents range from 18 to 60 years old (and there are those I personally know who are above 60!). While almost three-fourths are females, there are also males and participants from other genders.
 
An interesting aspect of the census is that it revealed that 21,450 respondents claimed to be ARMY parents. On educational attainment, one out of five respondents has a college degree, 8,712 are master’s degree holders, and 2,278 have PhDs.
 
The undeniable power of ARMY, however, does not just stop there. Through the years, fans all over the world have celebrated BTS’s milestones through charitable endeavors. When BTS donated $1 million to #BlackLivesMatter, the worldwide fandom pooled funds that matched BTS’s donation in just 24 hours. Locally, the Filo ARMY has been actively involved in organizing community pantries and building a BTS park by planting more trees on a mountain in Nueva Ecija; indeed, the list of ARMY involvement in endeavors related to social justice goes on and on.
 
The BTS Effect
 
The charitable endeavors of fans and the constant engagement on social media pertaining to issues of social justice actually come from the fact that BTS dared to put out songs with messages that touch the core of every human person. A thorough look at their discography is like finding a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. A BTS album, according to the members, will never be complete without songs that serve as social commentaries on issues that truly matter today. In both the group’s albums and individual members’ released mixtapes, BTS would touch on issues of mental health, the social relevance of anger, loving and accepting the self, politics, capitalism, materialism, discrimination, etc. The latest album they self-produced, entitled Be, was BTS’s message to the world during this pandemic. They became raw and authentic in talking about the effects of quarantine and isolation and how “Life Goes On.” For a time, “Life Goes On” became an anthem of hope.
 
What actually endeared a lot of fans to BTS was that they went beyond the usual narrative of love, loss, and lust that dominated many of the songs of their Western contemporaries. BTS digs deep into the human psyche and explores how it is to be human in the songs they personally write, produce, and release. And, take note, the songs are mostly in Korean. Despite the language barriers, BTS has risen to be something universal that binds together people of different ages, genders, and nationalities. Music has become the medium for people to come together and steer the culture slowly to one that is more inclusive and humane. Ask any ARMY member what made them a fan of BTS and one will be given a personal account of how their songs became avenues for self-awareness, self-acceptance, and healing. Ask any ARMY member what made them love BTS and they will describe how they find BTS raw and authentic, how they are so personal with the fans by allowing their stories and struggles to be known, as if saying, “I get it. I get you. Let’s do this together.” People may argue that the fanaticism is just an escape from facing one’s issues but I have heard so many stories of how BTS has changed people’s lives for the better. One needs to immerse in the fandom to get “it”—that thing they call the “BTS effect” which has led these 7 Korean men to seeming world domination.
 
What the Church Can Learn from BTS
 
As a Catholic and a theology teacher, this actually got me thinking. If we take a closer look at the BTS effect, it seems to have some parallels with the charismatic movement of Jesus as we can read it in the Gospels. Jesus delved into humanity’s wretched condition by walking with us. This reminds me of a favorite BTS song that they composed for the fans, its lyrics tugging at every fan’s heartstrings: “For we are together here. Tell me your every story. Tell me why you don’t stop this. Tell me why you still walkin’, walkin’ with us?”
 
Jesus’s words and deeds sparked a revolution of change and challenged the existing oppressive systems of His time. He liberated people from sin and shame and led everyone to table fellowship. The early Christian communities flourished from the love that radiated from their members. They grew in number simply because people found a family where they were accepted and loved.
 
Isn’t that what the Church needs to be today? Authentic, active in the work of social justice, and inclusive? Prophets proclaiming the Good News of faith, hope, and love? Of messages that heal and liberate instead of sowing division and hate?
 
While I continue to work to bring the Church to how Jesus envisioned it to be, I’ll also stay in this beautiful rabbit hole where the dynamic of BTS and ARMY and ARMY towards humanity gives me hope that the Church can also be the same way. One day, I pray that the Church can freely dance with the Spirit in unison so that we can finally see our prayer, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done,” fully realized in this world that longs for communion.
 
When that happens, no one will need “Permission to Dance.” “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28).
 
Cover image by Pablo Heimplatz on Unsplash
 
BTS (방탄소년단) 'Permission to Dance' Official MV https://youtu.be/CuklIb9d3fI

 
The views expressed in this article do not represent the School of Humanities, Ateneo de Manila University.