BTS’s “BE” Is A Testament To Their Connection With ARMY
BTS’s latest release is more than just a quarantine album — it’s a tangible representation of their unwavering connection with their ARMY.
On the day BTS released their fourth Korean studio album, Map of the Soul: 7, the world couldn’t have looked more different.
It was Feb. 21, 2020, and RM, Jin, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin, V, and Jungkook sat on a stage at the Today Show Plaza surrounded by hundreds of their fans, known as ARMY. It was freezing cold — they were all bundled up in coats, and clutching disposable hand warmers, and you can see their breath condensing in the air in photos and videos from the day — but for both the members of BTS and the ARMY who had slept on the street for days to catch even a fleeting glimpse of their idols, there was nowhere else they’d rather have been.
The release of MOTS:7 marked the beginning of what was expected to be a milestone year for BTS. It had been seven years since they made their debut as a scrappy hip-hop group from a start-up label, singing and rapping about the unjust pressures of Korean society on their teenage peers, and as a group of seven, the number was significant to them. The album existed as a comprehensive diary of their journey throughout the years since their debut, with tracks that detailed each member’s motivations, their dreams, and their fears. It explored their unshakeable relationships not only with each other, but also with their fans. It was, as the members themselves put it on the Today Show stage, a declaration of their belief that making music, as a group of seven, had always been their destiny.
The weeks leading up to the album drop had been jam-packed. The beginning of 2020 saw BTS launch Connect, BTS, a global project aiming to “redefine the relationship between art and music” and introduce visual art to new audiences. They had become the first Korean act ever to perform at the Grammys, as part of a collaboration stage with Lil Nas X, and fans tentatively hoped MOTS:7 would lead to a nomination for the group the following year. A little more than two weeks previously, tickets had gone on sale for the band’s Map of the Soul Tour, which was to see them perform in swiftly sold-out stadiums across North America, South Korea, Japan, and Europe. Talking to the Today Show hosts at Rockefeller Plaza on Feb. 21, the members joked about returning to play a concert that summer, when the weather would be more accommodating. But that would be one of the last times BTS was able to see ARMY in person. By the time they returned to Seoul a few days later, the world was already beginning to change.
Cases of COVID-19 were rising rapidly worldwide, and it would only be two weeks before the situation was officially declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation. For BTS and ARMY, that meant the concerts they had planned their summers around were indefinitely postponed, and the group’s music show performances were conducted in empty TV studios. (They have yet to perform the songs from MOTS:7 in front of an audience.)
In a livestream on V App in early March, their leader, RM, expressed his feelings of helplessness, frustration, and anger at the situation at hand. But, in the same breath, he explained he knew he had to keep going if BTS and their music could bring fans even the smallest comfort. To alleviate another person’s pain, he said, even if only by the slightest amount, was his “one and only reason.” It always had been.
And so, when they could easily have taken a break, and jumped at the opportunity for a well-earned rest, BTS began a relentless mission to provide comfort and entertainment and, most importantly, a distraction from the increasingly desperate situation happening around us. Their variety show, Run BTS, still aired weekly, and in addition to that the members would stream live on V App every couple of days, solo or in groups of two or three, doing crafts or playing video games or eating, all while talking to ARMY, for an hour at a time. Rapper Suga conducted a weekly radio show, with special guest appearances from the other members; for one episode, he asked ARMY to send in questions on Twitter, and spent an hour giving them advice. The weekend of April 18 and 19, when the Map of the Soul Tour was due to start, played host to a two-day event dubbed Bang Bang Con, during which ARMY could stream 24 hours of past BTS concerts and events on YouTube for free.
And that same week, in yet another live stream, RM made an unexpected announcement: They had begun work on a new album, and would, for the first time, be sharing every stage of the journey with ARMY. “We don’t know what direction it will go,” RM said in the livestream. “But we will work hard.” As it turned out, that announcement was the first stepping stone laid on a path that had never been in their original plan, but that would eventually lead BTS to achievements and accolades they had only previously dreamed of.
If “Dynamite” is the sweet summer pop song made to act as a momentary joyous escape from the world’s woes, then BE’s title track “Life Goes On” is its balancing force. As the members explained in a press conference to mark the album’s release, the song took its inspiration from the same place as “Dynamite”; like its predecessor, “Life Goes On” was made to provide comfort and companionship to fans by conveying, as RM put it, “the somewhat obvious but unyielding truth about life: That life goes on, regardless.” Everything in the world may have changed, but we are still here for you, the song promises. “Like an echo in the forest / the day will come back around / as if nothing happened.”
Of course, “Life Goes On” also debuted at No.1 on the Billboard 100, the first song sung predominantly in Korean ever to hold the position on the chart. For both BTS and ARMY, the victory was even sweeter.
BTS is often described as a phenomenon, and both the members and their fans are regularly asked what it is that has made them so successful. It’s an impossible question to answer — though many have tried to reduce it to an exact science — but undoubtedly, BTS’s sincere connection with ARMY is a huge part of it. They speak about their fans not from the vantage point of idols on an impossibly high pedestal, but as human beings on a level playing field, working towards the same goals. The music on BE is a testament to that mutual support and unwavering connection, and they see the accolades it’s received as not solely belonging to BTS, but also to ARMY. “It’s proof of what our fans’ energy and passion can do when they support us,” Jimin said of their Grammy nomination in a video with Vanity Fair in December.
“We were nothing special, really,” Jungkook told Weverse Magazine the month prior. “But they keep on liking us and supporting us, and the best way we can repay them is to give them our all through our music and our performances.”
That attitude couldn’t be more evident in BE. When listened to from top to bottom, the album offers a short-but-sweet cycle of necessary support and comfort in all its varying forms: Reassurance, optimism, understanding, companionship, love, encouragement, security, and to close out, the blissful momentary escape of singing a catchy summer bop at the top of your lungs while performing an uncoordinated version of BTS’s smoothly synchronized choreography in your living room.
If the last year has taught us anything, it’s that it’s impossible to predict what might happen next. The Grammys is less than three weeks away, and with a nomination for Best Pop Duo/Group, BTS has a chance of winning for the first time. (“It’s just me,” Jimin giggled during that Vanity Fair interview. “But I feel like we can win.”) Vaccines are being distributed, and the most optimistic among us may finally be feeling a glimmer of hope that things will, eventually, get back to normal. There are, after all, several hundreds of thousands of Map of the Soul Tour tickets still sitting, out of commission, in Ticketmaster accounts all over the world. Both BTS and ARMY are waiting desperately for the day they can be used again.
“I think it might feel like going back home,” Jin mused, when asked about that day, around the time of BE‘s release. “I think that’s how I’ll feel: Like I’m back where I should be.”
On Friday, BTS released BE (Essential Edition), a streamlined, slightly more wallet-friendly iteration of the original album, which came out in November. The music is the same, but the album itself is less expensive, and not marketed as ~deluxe~, so this version’s photobook consists of fewer pages, and there aren’t as many fun extras included in the packaging. There were a couple of notable additions to the album’s new edition, though, that got fans excited when it was announced: two stickers, placed smack-dab on its front. “Featuring Billboard Hot 100 singles ‘Dynamite’ and ‘Life Goes On,’” the first reads. “63rd Grammy Awards nominee,” says the second. So. I guess 2020 was a milestone year for BTS after all.