A few days ago I listened to every BTS song on Spotify and I felt my life change. I have been missing the excitement One Direction gave me. Being an original One Direction Twitter stan was a wonderful time in my life where many of my dreams came true because of the power of fandom community. I would not be the person I am today without having experienced the intensity of One Direction during their time together. But recently I found something that reminded me of the wildest moments of my teenage years. The global phenomenon of K-Pop finally broke through my screens and bonked me on the head. I started listening to BTS and learning about their fandom culture. I’ve been so wonderfully surprised by the music of BTS that I had no choice but to make a playlist of my favorite songs. This is my Spotify playlist titled:
as a former 1D stan from 2012, i have no choice but to stan BTS
I found the most perfect songs within the discography of BTS. Pop music has been integral to my life experiences. Before I even knew what pop music was, I was obsessed with Hilary Duff, Kelly Clarkson, and Avril Lavigne. I knew that the most bubblegum beats was the style of music that I would love for the rest of my life. After listening to every BTS song available on Spotify, I made a playlist of the most perfect bops I have ever heard. I hear these songs and I hear everything I’ve ever loved in music.
I’ve seen BTS perform live before. In 2017 I attended the American Music Awards. I bought my ticket the night before it was announced that BTS would be performing, and within a few hours the price of the tickets went from $180 to over $1,000. I had not heard any BTS song before or really seen their faces. When I got to the Microsoft Theater in downtown Los Angeles, the mob for BTS was huge. Any time there was a huge crowd roar it was because BTS was rounding the corner. I saw them perform “DNA” but I didn’t think much of them until three years later.
When BTS played the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, I was living in my hometown and working in the education industry. There was no time to check out bands I had almost no knowledge of, but I remember seeing my friends’ Snapchat stories of them getting HYPED to see BTS at the Los Angeles venues. I was nostgalic for the days where I got to attend the biggest concerts ever. I met so many kids wearing BTS merch at work and when I would tell them that I had seen BTS in concert without really knowing who they were, they would ask so many questions and tell me all about them.
So in the last few days, I needed to take a break. I had been listening to BLACKPINK’s album because their song “Sour Candy” with Lady Gaga is great and I wanted to know more about them. Then I decided to listen to some BTS songs. I listened to the song “Boy With Luv” with Halsey and my reaction was: “Oh my god, this song is great.” So I listened to their entire discography and I felt life come back into my fangirl heart. I knew BTS stans had power. I have witnessed several social media-based actions that have blown my mind, all because BTS stans and other K-Pop stans have so much power right now. I decided to pay them some attention since their fanbase is changing the world one hashtag at a time.
Reader, I felt life come back into my own. I thought I would have an easier time expressing how I feel about seeing the “stan culture” resurge in BTS over the last few years, but I don’t know how well words will justify my awe. The power that I knew I had within the One Direction fandom as a teenager is the same power within BTS stans right now. Knowing that makes me weepy. I had the time of my life being a One Direction fangirl as a teenager and I am so impressed that amidst the chaos of the real world, BTS is that group for millions of people right now.
More than one year ago, I wrote a blog post about the One Direction fanfiction After becoming a movie. In my post “The Invisible Literary Movement of One Direction,” I wrote:
Billie Eilish just said during her Coachella performance “We will never be in this moment again.” That is a thought I had earlier today when I thought about After being part of a literary movement that was basically invisible to everyone who was not involved in 1D internet culture. There’s so much that I was part of when One Direction was huge and I feel like it has so much meaning in my life than I am able to give it credit for. I didn’t write a major fanfiction story that spanned millions of views but I wrote some things online when I was fourteen, fifteen, and sixteen, and there were a few couple hundred clicks every time, which was so major to me when I had no idea what I was capable of. I was there during this literary movement of One Direction fanfiction where writers were churning out huge fucking books with real content in them, and because it’s little tween culture, it was invisible to everyone. And somehow After made it out of there and is here, six years too late from that time period for most people to understand the cultural importance of this.
It’s literally impossible to harness that kind of viral power right now (because One Direction is literally dead and no one at that level is looking for fics right now) unless you are in the biggest tween market, which has to be something like BTS’s fanbase. There are probably viral fics going around the BTS internet corner. And it’s probably multi-lingual! But I’m not part of that fan group right now.
I was right. There are not only viral fanfictions within the BTS fandom (Billboard.com wrote an article about the viral BTS horror fic Outcast), but some of the most popular BTS YouTube videos are tutorial-like lyric videos where viewers learn which member is singing the song, what the Korean characters are, and how to pronounce the Korean words. I shouldn’t be in awe that this fandom is powerful, but I truly I am surprised that I feel as if these fandom tendencies resonate with me because I knew this life when I was a One Direction fan.
I’m trying to incorporate what it means to be an online stan in my professional career. Of course there is an influencer industry that turned Instagram into a full-time career, but stan Twitter is so equally powerful and almost untouched by corporate entities at the core. Mostly it’s because when fans are really young they don’t have the financial opportunities to buy into a fandom experience, so they make their own for free (the Korean tutorial YouTube videos).
The push to make K-Pop accessible to non-Korean-speaking audiences is backed by fans doing this out of love for their band. That’s real. That’s unpaid marketing done by young fans who are putting aside their lives to be involved in this cultural moment. That’s power.
I’m late to this BTS party. According to Spotify, I’m seven years late. I’m sorry. I’m sorry I didn’t join ARMY or recognize that their stan power is parallel to the One Direction movement that I was part of in the 2010s. But that’s the beauty of stan culture. No one forces you into stan life. It hits you like a cheesy rom-com moment and time slows down. You begin to see something you were missing. I recognize that BTS’s model for fan culture is one million times more structured than One Direction’s was, and I invite it into my life.
I also know that within a huge fanbase there are always conflicts. Teen Vogue has a great article exposing the anti-Blackness attached to BTS’s popularity and fandom: The BTS Fandom Needs To Check Its Anti-Blackness. The power of stan Twitter is so big that it can sway into positive impact or negative impact. With so many people ready to Tweet at a moment’s notice, there’s no doubt that conflicts are going to occur in an unregulated space. When you have millions of people creating content based on their own worldview of a globally famous pop star band, people are going to use their own social experiences to express their relationship with their groups. K-Pop discourse literally uses the term “idol” and “fan-idol relationship” to describe the relationship between famous people and fans. KPOP is a calculated industry with the intention to provide the most perfect pop star experience to everyone it can reach. One Direction was also “created” but they are also defunct now.
It is best that we hold fandoms accountable for racism. If you’re growing up in an online community that can also physically manifest into a sold-out, highly-in-demand global arena tour, then you absolutely should acknowledge when something is not right. From a former 1D stan to the present BTS community, make your real life as important as your life online. Make this life experience useful in the long run. You won’t regret it.
I’m happy to be here. I have missed the sense of community of one major fandom. I’m so excited to listen to BTS bops for the rest of my life.
Their latest album “Map of the Soul: 7” was actually released on my birthday. That album is perfect. The song “Outro: Ego” is perfect. Prior to this week I had never heard a BTS song besides “DNA,” but their discography has revealed nothing but bops. Bop after bop. I can’t wait until 2021 when tours come back. I’ll be at the next BTS show.
Watch this YouTube video from their show in Chicago. That looks so fun.
And watch this one. I love this song. “Boyz with Fun.”
It’s been about three or four days since I published this post. I lost track of time and I’ve been stuck in a BTS wormhole this entire time. I’m catching up on seven years of content and learning about the KPOP industry through the hours of content BTS has given the world over the years. I Google every song’s meaning. I learned to identify each member and my bias is somewhere between Jin and Jimin. I’ve seen so much content and there’s still so much to go. Here are some of the most recent discoveries that flat-out made me scream upon realization.
The UCLA Marching Band recorded the band music for the BTS song “On” and one of my friends is in the YouTube video! I almost cried learning my alma mater did this. How exciting. I’m so happy that I’m a Bruin.
The song “Pied Piper” is arguably the best boyband song I’ve ever heard in my life. I’m going to leave this YouTube video here for you understand. If I heard this song in high school or even college, I would have lost my mind. This is like, everything. I’m at a loss for words that describe how culturally important this song is for the generations of life I have lived as a boyband stan. There is full acknowledgement of the life decisions stans make to follow a band until the end or not. If One Direction could have given me one ounce of what this song has, my life would be different. BTS broke barriers with this song. I was already convinced with the first few songs that I listened to on Spotify but “Pied Piper” sold me one thousand percent, especially with this performance.
I watch this music video every day. BTS didn’t have this on their Love Yourself: Speak Yourself tour setlist at the Rose Bowl last year so I’m glad I wasn’t around to be mortally devastated, but hopefully they will bring this song back for their Map of the Soul 7 World Tour. Even if I could get an ounce of this song in a mashup like Taylor Swift did with “You Belong With Me,” I could live with that. When I say that boybands have shaped my life, I mean that. Boybands a cultural phenomenon that have the ability to impact at a local level and it’s all because our brain chemistry recognizes this is something we want to be part of. “Pied Piper” is that song.
I have multiple playlists of BTS songs. I’m trying to remember them all. Will I ever get to a point where I can sing it back in Korean or will I just have to dance my way through their next tour? I’m thinking about what I would be doing right now if the pandemic hadn’t happened and I had the opportunity to hop on an airplane and see them live. I would go anywhere. Maybe it’s because the pandemic is so culturally devastating that I’m thinking about the extent I would go to feel this phenomenon as closely as possible, so if fate allows and somehow we miraculously find a cure for the pandemic, I’m going directly to a BTS concert.
I feel like my world has changed again. I was so busy trying to get through college that I didn’t recognize that the next big thing was right in front of me, already happening, and even more powerful than One Direction. I love every time this reincarnated Beatlemania happens anywhere. It’s so exciting. It’s so exciting to see this happen multiple times in my life. I feel so happy because this is what I love. This is what I missed so much in college and the last two years. Going to college without One Direction was devastating. There was nothing to look forward to and I felt so lost. But that’s the life cycle of a boyband. You have great years until it’s time to go away. People grow older and have to move on with their lives. Why did it take five years to find the next phase of my music-stanning life? Regardless, I’m here and I’m happy and I’m ready. My first BTS t-shirt is arriving in the mail today.