BTS ARMY: Emma Discusses the Impact of Their Music & How Things Have Changed Since Their 2013 Debut
Updated: Sep 20, 2021
'For me, being an ARMY has led to my closest friendships, attending concerts at both the O2 Arena and Wembley, meeting other fans at documentary screenings, and having a soundtrack to map out my life since 2013. In a way, it is a bit of my identity, since their music has helped shape who I am today, my worldview and approach to life, and who I’m becoming.' - Emma
Hi Emma! Thank-You so much for taking the time to speak with us here at Fan Features and agreeing to share your journey as a BTS fan! I'm sure you'll agree that there's alot to cover on this topic so before we begin would you mind introducing yourself?
Hiya! My name’s Emma, I’m 22 and I’m from Scotland – I’m currently a postgraduate student and I’m studying linguistics!
Okay…so where exactly did your journey as an ARMY begin? How did you first discover BTS? What were your first impressions?
I was already fairly acquainted with K-Pop before I first discovered BTS; I first started to really get into K-Pop around 2011-12. Shinee, TVXQ, Shinhwa and Girls’ Generation were on repeat for me then!
I spent a lot of time around then on Tumblr, mainly for TV shows and films that I watched, but I also followed some accounts that posted about K-Pop. Someone shared this new MV from this small group that were just starting, and I went to check it out to see what it was like… it just so happened that the video they had shared was No More Dream by BTS, on their debut day. I didn’t know back then how lucky I was to have come across the MV right there and then…wow!
I was so surprised they were a rookie group – the energy they came out with was incredible, and their choreography and synchronisation was astounding! While someone watching them from 2021 might think it is a bit dated in terms of aesthetics, when it came out I thought No More Dream was one of the coolest things I’d ever seen. Once I’d found some lyric translations online, I was even more amazed: seeing them voice frustrations about academic expectations and the idea of losing your dreams due to pressures of others was not only deeply resonating with me, but was incredible to see from a group who had just debuted. The entire combination of choreography, lyricism, amazing music, and raw energy they came out with right from the get-go would have enticed anyone, and I knew they were something special.
BTS are world renowned artists and renowned for their music, performances and campaigns for mental health and self. I’m sure many readers are familiar with their image and public persona but I’m really keen to capture things on a deeper level so I wanted to ask from a fan’s point of view, what it is about BTS that makes them so unique and has ultimately built such a loyal fanbase?
From their debut, they set out to give their fans a voice – their very first album exploded onto the scene voicing concerns of the South Korean youth in the suffocating education system and job market. Since then, they’ve continued to explore themes such as identity, dreams (and losing them), and self-love, which have had a global reach and resonate with… everyone really. Their music is ultimately about life and living, and all of the highs and lows that come with being human.
There’s a sense of vulnerability and intimacy that is expressed through their lyrics, interviews, and livestreams discussing their creative processes… it’s something that I can’t quite put my finger on, but there’s a feeling of genuine openness when they chose to divulge their worries, ideas, emotional states, even small anecdotes through the various mediums they use. They seem to be very conscious of the fact that they have a unique position in which to share their craft and messages, and so they put in an incredible amount of thought and care into their music and performances. Ultimately, everything they do is for ARMY, and they put an endless amount of love, passion, authenticity and care into their work because of that.
You mentioned earlier that you’ve been a BTS fan since their debut in 2013 so it’s fair to say you’re a veteran ARMY. Are there any moments that stand out to you across the years? Any highlights?
There are so many, it’s so hard to pin down just a few! From their Rookie of the Year award in 2013, their first music show win with ‘I Need U’, their first daesang (grand prize/award) for Album of the Year in 2016 – the list goes on and on! There have been so many highlights over the last eight years, and it’s quite an amazing feeling knowing I was there to see them happen and share in those experiences with other ARMYs. I’ll chat a little about some of their more recent achievements:
BTS’ first (of many) Billboard Music Award (BBMA) show attendances was really exciting for me as a fan; the time difference meant that I was up right into the wee hours of the morning, but that didn’t bother me in the slightest. Their performance was electric, and the fans’ voices in the venue only amplified that. It was so difficult for me to not sing and cheer along given it was in the middle of the night!
BTS selling out Wembley is, undoubtedly, one of the most historic moments of their career, and one of the most defining for me as a fan. I’m forever grateful that I had the chance to be there in person to witness it – I do wax lyrical about it slightly later on so I’ll not give you my monologue about how incredible it was right now.
Their Grammy nomination and performance, of course, have to be talked about. Being the first Korean artists to perform at the Grammys was a thing to celebrate in and of itself, and they did not disappoint with their closing performance of Dynamite. Despite not winning the award they were nominated for (I could write paragraphs about how the Recording Academy hyped up both BTS’ nomination and performance, only to leave both BTS and fans alike waiting until the end of the show as a ratings bait), they took it in their stride, and have since said its given them a new goal to aim for with their new releases. I’m not sure if I’m speaking out of turn as a fan here but, to me, it feels that it’s not so much that there’s anything lacking in their performances or music that would merit them not winning, but instead an institution and industry that historically has failed to recognise their achievements and outstanding strength as artists. But that’s just how I see it.
I think the thing that really sums up BTS for me was them posting reaction videos receiving their nomination, and also posting a video of them finding out that they didn’t win Best Duo/Group Performance (captioned with “that moment 😂😂”). One of the first things they do after hearing the award winners is to turn round to each other, tell each other they worked hard and start sharing hugs. Whether they win or lose, they want to share it all with their fans.
Having been there since day one what has it been like to see the guys grow up? How have things changed since their debut?
Honestly, it’s felt like an honour being able to witness their growth, both as people and as artists. Seeing them constantly work hard from Day 1 through performances, album releases, concerts, interviews etc. while staying so authentic, genuine and passionate about their art is so… I really can’t put into words how the last eight years have been. I’m just extremely grateful I found them when I did.
In a way, I’ve almost been able to see myself growing up alongside them. I’m a year younger than Jungkook (the youngest member of BTS), so there isn’t a huge age gap between myself and the group, and I think that’s translated into how I map their music onto certain times in my life. In their earlier albums, a lot of the frustrations they showed about the education system and societal pressures on youths echoed how I was feeling in my mid-to latter years in high school.
Their “The Most Beautiful Moment in Life/HYYH” era started when I was transitioning from school into university, and the overarching theme and concept of “youth” really struck me when I was feeling like I was growing up a bit too fast. Life was getting a bit more “real” for me, and to see them discussing ideas like feeling unready for the reality of adulthood to hit, the instability and temporary nature of relationships and experiences in our youth, yet at the same time looking at the chaotic excitement that youth brings and the nostalgia that surrounds defining life events… it almost seemed like they were reading my mind then.
Following on from that, the “Love Yourself” series of albums were dotted throughout my university experience, and both provided me with some of my favourite BTS songs, as well as some lyrics that I continue to hold close to my heart to this day. I still was struggling to really find my place/niche at university, and was worried that I’d made the wrong choices, especially as I found myself getting more and more isolated from the people I’d originally met due to our personal and academic differences.
I could go through era by era, or album by album, and continue talking about where I saw the lyrical and thematic alignments between their releases and my life. A lot of these themes and issues they portray through their music seemed to echo what I was experiencing, and I know I’m not the only person who’ll say that. There’s a saying among BTS fans: “You’ll find BTS when you need them most.” I’ve yet to find someone for whom this doesn’t ring true.
For me, ARMY are one of the most unique and dedicated fanbases around, can you tell us a little about life as an ARMY? What sort of role does the fanbase play in your life?
I think ARMY as a fanbase has definitely evolved and changed over the years, matched with the growth in popularity with BTS and K-Pop in general. ARMY is quite incredible, not least because of the sheer scale of the fanbase, but also due to the amazing things that have stemmed from the fan-base. It’s quite an incredible phenomenon to witness the power an online-based community like ARMY can have – ARMY-based organisations like One In An Army (OIAA) have help raised incredible sums of money for a multitude of charities and organisations across the world, and there are language learning groups, tutoring groups, volunteering opportunities all stemming from ARMY-based accounts!
The dynamics have changed a bit over the years, especially as the amount of fans has grown exponentially, but I think the core reason for the majority of people calling themselves an ARMY has never really changed. We’re all here to listen to their music, enjoy their performances and shows, celebrate their achievements, and have fun connecting with other fans while we do so.
The idea of what it means to be an ARMY will differ for every person you ask. Being a fan of any musician can range from casually listening to some songs, knowing members’ names and watching some music videos to attending concerts, buying merchandise, theorizing about new albums, creating art, learning a new language to better understand lyrics, wallpapering your room with posters, running groups and online pages to allow fans to connect etc. For me, being an ARMY has led to my closest friendships, attending concerts at both the O2 Arena and Wembley, meeting other fans at documentary screenings, and having a soundtrack to map out my life since 2013. In a way, it is a bit of my identity, since their music has helped shape who I am today, my worldview and approach to life, and who I’m becoming.
Do you have a favourite BTS song? Is there a particular reason for your choice?
I definitely couldn’t pick just one! I’ve tried my best to narrow it down to a couple, but picking just one song out of over 7 years of music is just too hard, haha! Here are just a few of my top songs, in no particular order:
This song’s release came as a bit of a surprise to ARMY, as it was the beginning of the Love Yourself: Answer comeback. Whenever a new song or music video is released, I like to listen/watch them without lyrics or subtitles, both so I can pay attention to what I’m listening/watching without jumping between on-screen action and subtitles, and also so I can see whether there are lyrics I can understand without the aid of translations. Epiphany came at a point where I was starting to get to grips with Korean as language, and when I was also struggling mentally. Listening to Epiphany for the first time, watching the music video and understanding a large proportion of the lyrics without subtitles was an incredible moment for me. It was one of the first time’s I’d been able to instantly connect with the content of their songs, without the need of using subtitles or waiting on translations and interpretations. Understanding the lyrics (both from a language learning perspective and a thematic/lyrical one) was quite overwhelming; the lyrics to me felt like something I’d been waiting to hear without knowing, and were incredibly comforting to me. The lyrics “Now I finally realise, so I love me / Not perfect, but so beautiful / I’m the one I should love” are a gentle reminder that despite our perceived faults and flaws, they are still a part of us and we should learn to embrace them.
I should also say a small piece about Jin’s live performances of Epiphany; he portrays the emotions evoked by Epiphany so well, you can’t help to feel your heartstrings be pulled by his performance. While some of the other solo performances have striking choreography, Epiphany relies on Jin’s stage presence and vocal performance in place of the well-rehearsed dance routines…and he does not disappoint. For me, Epiphany is one of the most memorable performances of BTS that I’ve seen over the years; it’s an incredible and breathtaking thing to see such a raw, beautiful and emotionally charged performance, but especially with the combination of Jin’s astounding vocals, the co-ordinated lightsticks glowing in unison around the venues, and having tens of thousands of people singing along to “I’m the one I should love in this world”, it would take someone of a very strong disposition to not be moved by this song. I’m not ashamed to say that both times I saw Epiphany in concert, I was reduced to tears while trying my best to warble my way through the majority of the song.
I could have easily put the entirety of mono. in this list. Compared to RM’s eponymous first mixtape released in 2015, the softer beats, slower tempo and overall chiller vibe from mono. could not be more different from the powerful rap-focused pieces like Do You and Joke. RM’s 2018 mixtape offered a 7-song masterpiece that provided listeners with poetic lyricism covering themes of longing, loneliness, and dealing with the hardships that life brings. If you go to listen to mono. after reading this, I totally recommend listening to the entire album, in order, in one go. The songs merge beautifully into each other culminating in something almost like a narrative musical experience; it just elevates the listening experience this way, in my opinion.
The pinnacle of mono., for me, is everythingoes. The continuous refrain throughout the song – it shall pass, someday, surely, without doubt – is almost mantra-like, reminding us that the obstacles that come in our way, and our current situations, are always temporary, and with time will pass. The addition and layering of harmonies, instrumentals and lyrics throughout the first 1 minute and 40-ish seconds of the song make the song develop from the simple 4-word refrain to a chorus of “everything, everything, everything goes”, powered on by the addition of drum beats, and both higher and lower register vocals.
It’s almost halfway through the song where we encounter the two-verse rap section and…wow. These verses contain some of my most favourite BTS lyrics from the past 7.5 years (this is my favourite translation of the lyrics, check them out if you have a minute!).
The desperation that seems to find itself seeping out through the final few lines of the rap always bring a tear to my eye; the wish to tell you that, instead of giving you empty promises that things will get better, you just need to believe that whatever you’re going through is temporary; everything passes like the wind.
I think what RM says in his mono. discussion livestream really sums up what I love about everythingoes:
“We often say things like ‘It will pass’, ‘This too shall pass’; it’s a famous saying. […] I have this mentor, sort of like a counsellor. [They] told me the only way to relieve psychological pain is to think that it will pass eventually. […] I thought a lot about it. It’s sort of a mantra I keep repeating to myself, and the one I want to tell people I hold dear. […] It may sound as too simple or corny but sometimes something intuitive can help. Rather than giving logical advice, simply hugging and saying ‘You did a great job’ can be much more helpful. I hope this song gives you that comfort. So I named it ‘everythingoes’. This shall pass.” – RM, “RM Mono Behind” (2018)
I’ll be honest, everythingoes is probably the song I struggle with most in discussing why I like it. It’s such an experiential thing, and it’s really hard to describe why I like it without going into a deep-dive into all the life experiences that shaped why I resonate with this song so much. I just ask that you spend a little time out of your day checking out this song, and the lyrics, and just taking in the meaning and message of the song and how it can apply to your life. For me, everythingoes is one of those songs that tells me something I didn’t know I desperately needed to hear.
I’m not joking, my Apple Music stats tell me that I’ve listened to everythingoes over 600 times. I really love this song.
While Run, along with I Need U, are the quintessential HYYH Era songs, the Ballad Mix included on the HYYH repackage “Young Forever” is a stark contrast to the up-tempo rock-influenced 2015 release. Instead of the strong drumbeats and recurring guitar riff, we are introduced to a vocal-performance focused, instrumentally pared-down take on the original version. The ballad version takes the same lyrics and melodies, but attaches to them a certain melancholic, or almost nostalgic longing for an adventurous youth that seems to be slipping away. The vocal line’s abilities really shine through this take on Run, with some absolutely beautiful harmonies and solo moments; a favourite for me is Jungkook’s “Run” repetition at the start of the song, moving into RM’s much softer rendition of his opening lines which provide a dynamic punch to the start of the original Run, but now seem a lot more pensive and retrospective. Listen out for the beautiful background vocals throughout the song; they add so much fullness and heartfelt emotion, especially in the choruses!
Released on BTS’ Soundcloud page as part of their 2016 Festa (an annual celebration of their debut anniversary), this song is a new version of their song Young Forever, released earlier that year.
My personal opinion is that I feel that this version captures the essence of Young Forever in a way the original didn’t quite manage to – the minimal instruments and emphasis on vocals conjures up the image of the song being played (or performed) sitting around a campfire with friends on a cool summer’s evening. I’m not quite sure if it’s something that lacked in the original, or something special that was included in this arrangement, but the Unplugged Ver. really holds a special place in my heart.
I think a lot of ARMYs hold this song close to their hearts, because it has such a universal message of both regretting and embracing the fleeting nature of youth, as well as giving us an insight into BTS’ worries and regrets about making sure every performance is their best, because they know that what they have won’t last forever. A lot of fans will also approach this song with heightened emotions due to the surprise at Day 2 of Wembley: unbeknownst to BTS, the packed stadium planned to sing Young Forever to them near the end of the concert. It was very emotional, both for the BTS members and ARMY, and a moment many fans look back on with teary fondness. The immortal words “This wasn’t on the setlist!” will bring tears to any ARMY’s eyes.
I want to extend a huge thank-you to Emma for agreeing to share her story and taking the time to provide such an in-depth insight behind her journey as an ARMY! Be sure to join us next Friday at 8pm (BST) for part two of our interview with Emma who'll be sharing more of thoughts as we discuss one of the biggest bands in the world right now!