K-POP BOY BAND BTS ROCKS THE UNITED NATION
What the world’s youth might learn from BTS, the K-pop stars who spoke at the UN
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.”