What the world’s youth might learn from BTS, the K-pop stars who spoke at the UN

The Sunday Independent - - FRONT PAGE - | The Wash­ing­ton Post AMY B WANG @amyb­wang

THE SEVEN young men of the Korean pop group, BTS, stepped up to a mi­cro­phone on Mon­day, look­ing fa­mil­iar but not im­me­di­ately place­able. They had traded in their flashier stage out­fits for fit­ted suits. And when the leader of the group opened his mouth, he spoke rather than sang.

The block­buster K-pop boy band was in New York to speak at the UN’s “Youth 2030” event to launch Gen­er­a­tion Un­lim­ited, a new UN ini­tia­tive with Unicef “that aims to en­sure that every young per­son is in ed­u­ca­tion, learn­ing, train­ing or em­ploy­ment by 2030”.

BTS’s mes­sage for the world’s youths that day, how­ever, was less about vo­ca­tion than in­spi­ra­tion and self-ac­cep­tance.

Kim Nam Joon – bet­ter known as BTS lead singer “RM” – opened by talk­ing about his child­hood in Il­san, a city near Seoul.

“It is a re­ally beau­ti­ful place with a lake, hills and even an an­nual flower fes­ti­val,” RM said. “I spent a very happy child­hood there.”

His days were filled with a fan­ci­ful imag­i­na­tion, in­clud­ing the thought that he was a “su­per­hero who could save the world”.

When RM was 9 or 10 years old, how­ever, self­doubt crept into his thoughts.

“In an in­tro to one of our early al­bums, there is a line that says, ‘My heart stopped when I was maybe 9 or 10’. That’s when I be­gan to worry about what other peo­ple thought of me and started see­ing my­self through their eyes,” RM said.

“I stopped look­ing up at the night sky, the stars. I stopped day­dream­ing. In­stead, I tried to jam my­self into the moulds that peo­ple made. Soon, I be­gan to shut out my voice and started to lis­ten to the voices of oth­ers. No one called out my name and nei­ther did I. My heart stopped and my eyes closed. Like this, I – we – all lost our names. We be­came like ghosts.”

RM found his sanc­tu­ary in mu­sic.

“There was a small voice in­side me that said, ‘Wake up, man, and lis­ten to your­self’. But it took me a long time to hear mu­sic call­ing my real name.”

Formed in 2013, BTS is K-pop’s most suc­cess­ful group, sell­ing out sta­dium shows where they are usu­ally greeted with a fren­zied en­ergy not seen since Beatle­ma­nia. They have been pop­u­lar in South Korea and other parts of Asia for sev­eral years but re­cently made great strides in break­ing through to the US mar­ket as well.

BTS was one of the first K-pop acts to per­form at the Amer­i­can Mu­sic Awards in Novem­ber last year.

The group also made his­tory as the first in the genre to take home an award at the 2017 Bill­board Mu­sic Awards. BTS be­came the first Korean band to per­form at the 2018 Bill­board Mu­sic Awards.

RM ac­knowl­edged the group’s suc­cess but said he was “an or­di­nary 24-year-old guy”.

He cred­ited their achieve­ments to the sup­port of his band mates and be­cause of the love from their fan base, who have dubbed them­selves the “Army”.

“Maybe I made a mis­take yes­ter­day, but yes­ter­day’s me is still me. To­day I am who I am with all my faults and my mis­takes,” he said. “I have come to love my­self for who I am, who I was and for who I hope to be­come.”

It’s not the first time BTS has spo­ken out about the im­por­tance of lov­ing one­self. The group has re­leased al­bums, videos and “cre­ative projects” that have been part of its Love Your­self se­ries. Last year, BTS part­nered with Unicef to launch a cam­paign called “Love My­self” with the same mes­sage.

“Those sto­ries re­mind us of our re­spon­si­bil­ity. Let’s take one more step. We have learnt to love our­selves, so I urge you to speak your­self,” RM said.

“No mat­ter who you are, where you’re from, your skin colour or gender iden­tity, speak your­self, find your name and find your voice.”

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