An unlikely force for good

  • So Aunty, So What?
  • Wednesday, 08 May 2019

Here’s why the K-pop group BTs doesn’t deserve to be denigrated as a bad influence. 

TOMORROW is an important day as it marks the first anniversary of the day Malaysians voted out Barisan Nasional. But I am not writing about it today because it is a topic that has already been covered extensively and eloquently by many and I have nothing cleverer or more insightful to add.

Instead, I will follow up on my previous column in which I wrote about how I was nervously prepa­ring for a presentation in Seoul, South Korea.

Several readers very kindly offer­ed words of encouragement and I feel I should let them know how it went before moving on to what I really want to talk about.

It went very well, folks. At least that’s what I was told by colleagues and strangers who were present at the April 24 media forum organised by the Asean-Korea Centre.

All that practice paid off and I ma­naged to keep calm, speak clearly and engage my largely non-English speaking Korean audience. (Modest bow here.)

My session focused on the popularity and impact of the Korean Wave, or Hallyu, on South-East Asia. As I have admitted, I am no ex­pert but I keenly follow the deve­lopments of this South Korean soft power and shared that I am an avid K-drama and K-pop culture fan, in particular, the hugely successful all-male, seven-member group, BTS.

I wasn’t the only one who referenced the group in the forum. Prof Jang Won-ho from University of Seoul spoke of BTS’ role in spreading Korean soft power.

He used its massive international fanbase called ARMY as a prime example of how love for Hallyu content has created such a strong empathy among the fans that has transcended borders. And I would add race, gender, age and religion.

Jang also paid tribute to BTS for working with Unicef on the two-year “Love Myself” campaign to fight violence against children and teens. With support from BTS fans, the campaign raised US$1.4mil (RM5.8mil).

Which is not surprising because the ARMY clubs throughout the world pride themselves on supporting charitable causes that they be­lieve their idols would approve of.

Malaysian ARMY has supported causes like the National Council for the Blind, the Turtle Conservation Society and Mercy Malaysia.

The Philippine chapter has dona­ted rice to the poor, Russian fans have raised US$15,000 (RM62,200) for an organisation that helps youngsters suffering from serious illnesses, and US fans have donated blood to the Red Cross and food and clothing for the homeless at the group’s concerts in America last year.

Why am I gushing over BTS? Because they have been unfairly called a “demonic” group doing the work of Satan that should not be allowed to perform in Malaysia.

While BTS fans and netizens have condemned the attack, I have not seen anything in mainstream media. So here I am doing my part to speak up for my boys.

Yes, my boys because I have never been as interested in and entertained by a pop group the way I am by BTS. And I should know better at my age.

I have enjoyed songs by other artistes but never got curious about what made these people tick.

The first BTS song I liked was one for a Korean drama. Then as I heard more about the group, I checked out their music videos on YouTube. Three intrigued me: Dope; Blood, Sweat and Tears; and Spring Day.

I wasn’t thrilled by the title of the first song because to baby boomer me, dope is a bad word meaning “drug” like heroin and doping in sports is also a bad thing.

Ha, but what did I know? For millennials, dope is a cool word, like “wicked” and “sick”, all meaning awesome, great.

I found their dancing amazing in Dope but it was the Blood, Sweat and Tears and Spring Day MVs that blew me away. These are like beautifully crafted mini-movies with ear-grabbing music, amazing sets, concepts and imagery that I couldn’t believe were in K-pop music videos. What did it all mean?

Not being able to understand the Korean lyrics made me even more curious.

But enlightenment is made possible by clever fans who take great pains to examine every detail in the videos and lyrics for clues to explain the narratives and I am thoroughly impressed by how layered and complex the messages are.

I truly love the Spring Day MV, which fans believe is a touching memorial to the 250 schoolchildren who died in the terrible Sewol ferry disaster in 2014 as well as a searing indictment of South Korean society.

I have come to like many more songs just as I have come to see and appreciate the BTS members as individuals with different perso­nalities, interests and enormous ta­lents that are honed by great discipline and training that are clearly evident in their work and performances. Their sold-out concerts put Western acts completely in the shade.

Yes, they have had missteps and have even been accused of miso­gyny in some of the lyrics in their early songs written when they were teenagers.

But many of their songs have become lifelines to lost and disillusioned young people because the lyrics address their concerns and fears and encourage them to love themselves.

Many have said they were able to pull out of depression and suicidal thoughts thanks to BTS’ music. That sounds more like the work of angels than of Satan.

Their achievements have already assured them a place in music history. That includes being the first K-pop group to address the United Nations, where the world heard their inspiring message to young people to believe in themselves and to “speak yourself” which has become a BTS mantra. (The editor in me does wonder if it should be “speak for yourself” but the kids know what it means, so what’s a missing preposition.)

BTS is their nation’s treasure. Their presence is everywhere in Seoul – on billboards, products, advertisements and their songs are blared from shops. Fans like me happily lapped up all the BTS sights and sounds.

Ignoramuses may want to dismiss them but they have created a movement with their fans that has become a force for good. Even if the motivation is to please and imitate their idols’ good deeds, their charitable and fundraising activities have helped those in need and that’s what counts.

FOX 11 News managing editor Pete Wilgoren, a middle-aged ­parent who took his daughter to the BTS concert in the iconic Rose Bowl stadium in Los Angeles on Saturday, came away impressed by what he saw, heard and felt.

He wrote: “Even if you didn’t understand all the words to the songs (and there were many I didn’t understand), this was about how the music and the group made you feel. And the crowd, myself inclu­ded, was feeling really good.

“In between the songs, music vi­deos played, they put up the tour name ‘Love Yourself: Speak Your­self’. And it felt like that really WAS the message. The group from South Korea has been travelling the world, and building their fanbase army, on a mission of positivity.

“BTS addressed the Rose Bowl crowd for quite a long time at the end of the concert. They called this one of the most important nights of their lives. No doubt it was. I had the feeling that I just witnessed something big. Really big.”

Welcome to the club, Pete.

For what it’s worth, Aunty offers a toast of Milo ais to the Pakatan government for surviving its first year and generally keeping the nation safe and intact. Here’s to a better year ahead for Pakatan, Malaysia and BTS!

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