—My BTS Epiphany—

I am an older (early 50s), baby ARMY. In fact, as I am writing this, I just celebrated my one month ARMYversary of officially joining the global fan club. I joined on December 4th, 2022, Jin’s birthday (more on this later).  I’d probably say I have been a casual fan for a while now, but only really recently fully fell down the wonderful, magical rabbit hole that is BTS and the ARMY fandom.

I first saw them when they made their American television morning show debut on “Good Morning America” back in 2018. Of course before this, I had heard of them—you’d have had to have been living in a cave not to have. But I knew really nothing about them and hadn’t listened to their music. At the time, I was a huge fan of an extremely popular Jpop group (also more on this later). I had dabbled in listening to Kpop a little, but because I’m Japanese American, felt more in my element listening to Japanese pop, even though I’m not fluent in the language at all. But I was curious about this particular Korean group, and why they seemed to have such a devoted worldwide fanbase.

The first person I noticed was Namjoon, probably because he was the only one who spoke fluent English. I admit I really don’t remember much about the rest of it, although since then I’ve gone back and watched the interview and performance on YouTube more than once. My thoughts were, OK, they’re cute, I still don’t get why all these people are so obsessed with these guys. (Please note, during this story, I will probably confess to saying and thinking things that I am profoundly sorry for now!) That was about it, I’m afraid, for that initial introduction.

However, as time went on, I seemed to catch them on various shows often, and while I still couldn’t name any of them (except RM, who I identified as “the English speaking one”), I began to be a little more intrigued by them. I remember watching the speech at the United Nations, and being very impressed by how insightful and well-spoken Namjoon was, and also what a great message they were hoping to convey to the world. Here and there, I would see little things on Twitter, or see them on a show again, but I still didn’t really seek them out.

In January of 2019, the Jpop group who had been my Big Thing and primary fan focus announced that at the end of 2020, they would be going on an indefinite hiatus. The entire fandom was shocked. I told my best friend that while this saddened me, I was determined to enjoy the next couple of years with this group. After that, I didn’t know what I would do. But no way, I said, would I become one of this BTS ARMY. I’d seen some of them on Twitter, and they scared me. Once the pandemic hit, things became a massive struggle for me, even worse than they had been for some time. I have been burdened with anxiety and depression for years. This became worse starting in 2012, when my mom got sick, and then in 2013, when she became completely disabled and mostly bedridden, and had been building and building, especially when I became her full-time live in caregiver in 2016. The pandemic increased everything I was fighting with and magnified it a thousandfold. 

While I was still trying to enjoy what my Jpop group was trying to give their fans for the remaining time left, BTS started increasingly getting my attention. The first song and MV I really listened to was “Dynamite”. From there, I really started liking every new song they came out with, although I still didn’t listen to their older music. 2020 came to an end, and so did the activities of the group I had been a fan of for more than 10 years. I didn’t feel that I needed to find another group to replace them, though, and I certainly wasn’t going to become one of those crazy ARMY people, though BTS did make catchy songs and they WERE cute. 

I’m not going to go into detail about what kind of started slowly happening with me being in the Jpop fandom over the next little while, but suffice it to say I have felt for some time that Japan is very protective of their artists and they don’t particularly place a priority on their accessibility in other parts of the world. Little things had been happening to slowly change this for a short time, but I started to get tired of fighting to simply watch the artists I loved on TV shows and see and hear their content, and also of being kind of made to feel like an outsider in my own fandoms. Everyone, please don’t be offended by my thoughts: this could possibly have just been my perception of things, especially with my anxiety and depression at a heightened level most of the time.

In late summer 2021 I got a new job and my very first day (I work from home) I had a virtual meeting with my new team. One girl told another one, “Hey, I found a BTS book for you.” The other girl, Paige, responded with such happy enthusiasm, and I thought, well, I may as well try to break the ice and get to know these people right away, and have them get to know me. So after the meeting, I tentatively messaged her on Teams. “Hey, I kind of like BTS.” She immediately started peppering me with eager questions such as “Who’s your bias?” and things I didn’t have answers to. I responded back with, “Well, I can’t even identify everyone from a photo…I just like those Dynamite and Butter songs, they’re catchy.”  She recommended I watch every video and listen to every song from the beginning, which at the time, I probably said something like “we’ll see,” and left it at that. She told me she loved Jimin. From time to time, we’d chat briefly on Teams about them, but I reiterated to her if you gave me a photo of them, the only one I could identify was RM, and eventually Jimin, as she kept sending me photos and GIFs of him. 

During the Vegas concerts, I was trying to talk her into going there to see them, since she was such a fan, even though I couldn’t go because of having to take care of my mother. We live only a few hours away by car. I remember I tweeted about it, and a couple of ARMY responded back giving advice on how she could still get tickets. She ultimately didn’t go, but I was fascinated by all the tweets and videos and photos the fans were sharing. It was beginning. I remember I was off work sick when BTS went to the White House, so I watched it happen live, and by now was trying to put names with faces. Again, they impressed me with their composure on the world stage, and their positive message.

On Labor Day 2022, I watched the latest episodes of Run BTS (“Telepathy”), again, because I was curious…and I think that’s when things really started moving rapidly. Their personalities captivated me. I loved how close they seemed to be and how they seemed to genuinely love each other as brothers and best friends. I watched several episodes that day, and I would definitely say I was a fan now. I even had a bias—Namjoon—and after hearing Taehyung sing in Run BTS episode 153, a bias wrecker. I went to a fan convention in mid-September with my best friend and went to a BTS panel, in which I surprised myself by knowing more than I thought I did about them. I even downloaded Weverse and the Weverse Store apps, so I could learn more about them. I was listening to their music nearly daily while I worked. Best of all, I could now look at a video or a photo and name everyone! I proudly told Paige I could freely discuss all things BTS with her, because I was finally part of ARMY, and I had a bias and a bias wrecker and everything, which I think has made her very happy since.

The real definitive turning point of no return was a week before the Busan concert. I was watching videos of them on YouTube, when my younger sister called and said my father had unexpectedly passed away that morning. I had been estranged from him for several years. He was divorced from my mom and we had fought when she got sick. Besides the shock, I had a ton of regret for things I never said and did. Still struggling with my mental health, it was a lot to deal with. I turned heavily to BTS for comfort during this time, they became my calm in the storm, the seven people I could depend on to lift my spirits and ease my hurt for at least the time I listened to or watched them. I started really reading the lyrics of their songs and their message had been right there all along, but maybe I had been initially just too enamored to hear it. I needed to love myself, and forgive myself for the mistakes and regrets in my life. My dad’s visitation was a day after the Busan concert, and surprisingly I felt peace. I felt that my dad loved me regardless of the estrangement we had gone through, and instead of dwelling on the painful things, I needed to focus on the special ones we’d had in our relationship.

The Astronaut came out, and I happened to catch the live stream of Jin leaving at the airport to go to Argentina to perform one last time with Coldplay before entering the military. I couldn’t go to see the Coldplay concert in a theater, but that night found someone who was actually live streaming it on YouTube while THEY were watching it somewhere, so got to see Jin performing it live—-and when I sat there with tears in my eyes afterwards, it hit me like a bolt of lightning: he was my true bias. For a while, watching videos, my eyes were always drawn to him, and when watching Run BTS episodes, I realized he was usually the one who made me laugh the hardest. Once I realized that, however, I also realized my time with him was extremely limited, as he was due to enter the Korean army very soon. I feel, in part because I learned this from losing my dad, I was able to (mostly) set aside my sadness at his leaving and concentrate on him and his laughs and his big heart for the remaining time before he left. Namjoon and Taehyung are my bias wreckers; although I joke, I have one true bias and six rotating wreckers.  But Jin has my heart, always. He is always unapologetically himself, in the best possible way. Hence the reason I chose to officially become an ARMY member on his birthday, to make it extra meaningful and special.

I love BTS and ARMY because I feel I belong and I genuinely feel they care about me, even though I still haven’t even seen them in concert, and we may never actually meet. They believe in my potential; why shouldn’t I believe it, too? I love how they are inclusive of their fans around the world. I love how ARMY takes care of each other. When I have expressed to them sadness about Jin leaving, they’ve always said, “We’ll get through this together.” Not you will, WE will. Together.

I still have big ups and downs, highs and lows, but when I need it, I can put on a song like “Epiphany”, “Magic Shop” or “Zero o’ Clock” and be gently reminded that they are here for me, no matter what, and when I can’t be strong for myself, the seven of them will support and nurture me until I can again.

Just the other day I was telling my best friend (who is what I’d call a fledgling ARMY) that I was somewhat sorry I didn’t truly get into BTS, their music, and their message at least two years earlier, when that other group who had been my focus was no more. And, I lamented, of course, I’d have to choose as my bias the first one to enter the military. Sometime earlier I told her the ARMY saying that BTS always finds you when you need them the most. She said very matter of factly, “I think you found them at exactly the right time that you needed to.”

No regrets. Love yourself. She’s right. The best is yet to come.

—by Lisa H, January 2023

  • United States