To be a fan: ARMY

As I reminisce about the PTD concerts in LA, the shows feel like a dream set in a perfect pocket of time. I hope they continue to be a reality for BTS and other fans, with more in-person concerts in 2022. If there is one thing I hope to see change this year besides more live concerts, it’s the narrative surrounding BTS and ARMY. The constant labeling of ARMY as mass buying bots or mindless toxic teens while overlooking the real stories behind the fandom is exhausting and, at this point, lazy research. I am an ARMY, and I’ve felt and seen how diverse, intelligent, impactful, and accepting the fandom truly is.

ARMY is not a monolith. The fandom comprises individualistic people with unique perspectives creating a dynamic community. They are fans of all ages, identities, and backgrounds with a myriad of stories to tell. To hear these stories from ARMYs themselves, Fave hosted fan-to-fan conversations with fans like Rosan, Ikran, US BTS ARMY, Mae, Julia, Daezy & Delilah, and Euphoria Dance. Discussions ranged from discovering BTS’s music to the perception of BTS and ARMY in the media to resources for fans to meet other fans. Each conversation was distinctive; however, the consistent theme was their passion and love for BTS and the ARMY community. When you actually listen to a fan on why they love BTS and ARMY, you’ll find the answer to be straightforward and quite simple.

Bangtan DNA

Thanks to Fave, I attended the American Music Awards and witnessed BTS bag all three awards, including Artist of the Year. The show felt like a mini BTS concert, with the majority in attendance being ARMYs. Fans were hosting meetups, handing out freebies, and overall being excited to be at a live event once again. One fan approached Dani and Nicole (ARMY Fave influencers) inside the Microsoft theater lobby after recognizing them from Fave’s PTD discussion series. They expressed how elated they were to see them and how the tips Dani and US BTS ARMY provided in the video were helpful. These kinds of fan interactions are fervent and irreplicable online. The absolute thrill, when surrounded by fans, has to be felt in person.

I sat by myself during the AMA’s, but I initiated a conversation with the woman next to me after noticing her mang facemask. I learned that she and her son were both fans who flew to LA for the concerts but decided to attend the AMAs last minute. They became fans of BTS during the pandemic. Like many, they found comfort and solace in their music and wanted to be a part of history AMAs night. I bonded with her as we screamed the fanchants, sang along to My Universe & Butter, and became emotional over the Artist of the Year win. It’s one thing to witness these moments in your room; it’s another to ride this rollercoaster in a space with other fans.

BTS winning and accepting Artist of the Year was long overdue as they are often underappreciated for their impact on music because they are a Korean boy group with a predominately female following. As RM stated in his speech, “nobody could have ever bet on the odds of us standing here receiving this award. Except. Except, y’all, ARMY.” The absolute whiplash from euphoric cheers to the waterfall of tears can only transpire when you stan an artist like BTS. BTS did not walk along this path alone. It is why BTS will always acknowledge ARMY first. They know their fans have supported them throughout their journey and will be forever grateful for that community.

Spring Day Has Arrived

Microsoft theater was frankly a pregame for SoFi. As fans arrived in LA, tweets were flooding in. This didn’t feel like a concert, but a whole event with lots of anticipation. Stories of ARMYs catching other ARMYs on the same flights, TSA agents asking fans if they are going to see BTS after noticing their ARMY bombs at security, flight attendants fully aware of all the fans on board as they played BTS music over the intercom, and even hotels welcoming fans with signs like “Welcome ARMY!” as they checked in. LA literally became a purple hub of BTS fans. Articles have even stated the economic impact these shows had on the city. Not surprising, just BTS things.

It was hard to keep up with everything, but nothing could compare to the absolute restlessness for concert day. I went to SoFi early for all the free sponsor gifts and activities. One of the most heartwarming moments was seeing fans handing out freebies, dancing to BTS’s music, and working on fan projects for the concerts. Fans were beyond eager to be in the presence of BTS and ARMY again. Sharing the excitement through these small interactions reminded me how BTS’s music brought people from all over together.

I met fans who traveled from Brazil, Germany, and Australia. I spoke with a 68-year-old ARMY who spoke passionately about the backstory of every BTS track. I interacted with a young five-year-old ARMY who gave out tiny scrunchies to fans in line. One fan gave me a pin as we waited to pass security, all because I let her put her stuff in my bag for a few minutes. The diversity of the fandom makes it incredibly inclusive. I feel safe and welcomed, knowing that those around me know what it feels like to be different. This level of passion and tenderness is not familiar to every fandom.

There are not enough words to adequately convey the intense and confounding emotions I went through during the actual shows. Inside the stadium before the show, you could feel and hear ARMYs doing the fanchants and singing along as SoFi played BTS’s older MVs on the screen. Once the lights dimmed and BTS came out on stage, I completely lost it. Hearing On while looking out at the sea of ARMY bombs encompassing the stage felt unimaginable. It was magical. You could sense the ground shaking, spirited cheers from every section, and the palpable energy from BTS’s performance. 2021 was really tough for me, but watching BTS perform in a stadium with 50,000+ ARMYs made me feel, as many would say, at home again.

Post concerts were just as lively. After every show, BTS would go on vlive with their fans to chat. You could hear a fan scream, “YOONGI IS LIVE,” and immediately, everyone would whip out their phones to tune into the same video while simultaneously leaving SoFi. If you planned on catching a quick bite, expect to see some fatigued fans with broken voices still processing the 3-hour concert. Events and activities were going on before, after, and between the shows. For ARMY, these shows in LA were something to commemorate and celebrate to the fullest extent.

A Mikrokosmos of Fans

Outside of the concerts, fans also hosted birthday events for BTS member Jin, held BTS dance nights, ate together in Koreatown, and much more. Fans invested a lot of their own time and money to hold these events. They were opportunities to celebrate and reunite with other fans who just wanted to have fun.

Fave partnered with Euphoria Dance and We Are Boba BTS ARMY (WABBA) to host a PTD Welcoming Party in the middle of the concert days. The event celebrated the PTD concerts with BTS themed cupsleeves, freebies, decor, photo op, music, dance, and a marketplace where fans sold their unique fan creations. It was an opportunity to talk about Fave and chat with ARMYs in real life. It was also an in-person reunion with the team behind Euphoria Dance and WABBA. Fave has partnered with Euphoria and WABBA for events in the past, but we never met in person until PTD in LA.

In August 2021, Fave and Euphoria Dance collaborated to host a virtual online dance class to celebrate the one-year anniversary of Dynamite. Fans tuned in from all over, including Germany, South Africa, and Argentina, to learn the choreography of Dynamite taught by Mehak (one of the dance instructors for Euphoria Dance NY.) Making the class virtual allowed Euphoria to expand their audience reach and provide a different experience beyond the borders of New York. Euphoria Dance hosts many interactive events, such as dance classes, boat nights, and cupsleeve events for fans. These meetups are an opportunity for fans to meet other fans in a space where they will feel welcomed for who they are.

Also, in August, WABBA hosted cupsleeve events to celebrate RM and Jungkook’s birthdays in three different locations in California. Fave partnered with WABBA to provide the cupsleeves and photocards to fans who attended the event. Cupsleeve events are held at small cafes where fans support small businesses and ARMY creators vending their creative products at these locations. WABBA hosts these events to give smaller and new ARMY shops a platform to build their audience while simultaneously giving fans a fun time to celebrate BTS through freebies, photo ops, and music.

All these events are a celebration of BTS and a chance to see the creativity and support from ARMY. Though WABBA and Euphoria Dance are on opposite sides of the country, they worked together for the PTD Welcoming Party so ARMYs could interact and meet as they celebrate seeing BTS in person after two long years in LA. Both teams are hardworking and passionate fans who spend months organizing and planning events throughout the year in their respective cities. They are committed to creating a safe space for fans and sharing the happiness that comes with celebrating the things you love. These spaces reminded me of friendships and relationships formed when you find a community with shared interests and passions come together.

Make it Right

These concerts and events prove BTS is not just another boyband, and ARMY is not just another fandom. ARMYs are not just teenage girls or little kids (nothing wrong with either) whose sole personality is BTS. It’s easy to target ARMY by calling them “crazy” or “obsessed” based on senseless Twitter beef. Fun fact, every fandom across the board can be “toxic” online. It’s not exclusive to ARMY or pop fandoms. Welcome to the internet. If people really want to know why BTS is so beloved and why ARMY is so impactful, then instead of formulating dense assumptions, maybe focus on listening to fans, observing what happens at these concerts/events, and paying attention to BTS and the fans’ positive influence.

A common phrase amongst ARMY is “you find BTS when you need them the most.” I found their music when I was struggling in my life with direction and identity. BTS opened a door where I felt heard and understood through their lyrics. I found comfort in being me. I found happiness in the little things. I learned to love myself a little more. Every fandom is different, but if you are lucky, you can call yourself an ARMY.

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