BTS And The Power Of Loving Yourself

BTS’ Love Yourself era has empowered a new generation of fans to strive for self-acceptance, writes Sevana Ohandjanian.

There’s a moment during BTS’ Wings tour, when leader RM performs his solo track “Reflection”. He stands alone on the stage, swathed in darkness aside from a single spotlight and the thousands of ARMY bombs around him. He repeats the final lyrics of his song: “I wish I could love myself”. And the crowd chants back over and over again, in unison: “We love you”.

It’s a tender moment of artist and fan sharing energy, coming from a place of deep understanding in the shared human experience. It perfectly encapsulates the symbiotic relationship between BTS and their fans, and the ongoing journey they’re on to love themselves.

When you think of pop music, there’s no denying that love is the thematic bread and butter of the genre. BTS have certainly released their fair share of songs focused on romantic love. But when they launched the Love Yourself era (alongside their Love Yourself Campaign with UNICEF) they began exploring the multiple facets of what love can mean. Falling in and out of love is one perspective often sung about, but more than that, BTS looked at the value we attach to ourselves through the love that we receive from others. How some of us are more likely to give love than to accept it, or to see it in ourselves.

Boy band music has often honed in on the weaknesses that plague much of girlhood. In these songs, women are often portrayed to need men to confirm their beauty or self-worth. If they’re not these paragons of feminine virtue or humility, then women are the instigators of heartbreak or deception. It’s a simple dichotomy that erases the complexity of young adulthood. There aren’t many boy groups who dedicate themselves to uplifting fans by sharing their own struggles with self-acceptance, and offering a hand to grasp on the road forward together, like BTS.

This is what makes BTS’ music feel all the more necessary. It fills a void for fans seeking reassurance from the music they listen to, all the while managing to have fun. BTS’ music is often about confronting failings and feelings of doubt. There’s a common phrase used by Korean idols when giving thanks to fans during award shows particularly, which roughly translates to “though I am lacking...”. Much of BTS’ music is finishing that sentiment with hope and positivity. Though I am lacking – I am proud of who I’m becoming. Though I am lacking – I love myself.

The Love Yourself era, consisting of the albums Love Yourself: Her, Love Yourself: Tear and Love Yourself: Answer, stands out for being remarkably innovative lyrically and musically. During this period, BTS’ music drilled into all the little doubts that resided in our minds. In “Fake Love”, they explore what it is to change yourself for love, wearing a mask and moulding yourself to others’ expectations. In “The Truth Untold”, they mourn the person they’ve become and how easily they can transform and hide behind that mask.

But further along, there comes “Epiphany”, and the self-awakening of valuing yourself. When Jin sings, “I’m the one I should love in this world/shining me, this precious soul of mine”, he’s reminding fans to think this way of themselves too.

In 2018, BTS were invited to the United Nations, and RM gave a speech about the impact of the Love Yourself movement. In it he said: “Today, I am who I am with all of my faults and all of my mistakes. Tomorrow, I might be a tiny bit wiser and that’ll be me too. These faults and mistakes are what I am, making up the brightest stars in the constellation of my life. I have come to love myself for who I am, for who I was, and for who I hope to become”.

That transition into self-assurance is best seen in their music with “IDOL”, where BTS proudly claim their mantle as top idols. Suga and RM rap: “You can point your fingers at me, I don’t care at all/Whatever reason you have to denigrate me/I know what I am/I know what I want/I never gon’ change/I never gon’ trade”. It’s a battle cry for the members, but more so it’s an encouragement to their listeners and their lingering thoughts of self-doubt. Their boldness has come from the fans backing them every step of the way, and BTS want their fans to empower themselves too.

Fans enact the messages of love shared by BTS in ways big and small. There are the local fan-organised birthday events at cafés, where they meet other fans and share hand-made BTS photocards. There are global charity efforts, raising millions for causes like Black Lives Matter and the Australian bushfires. There’s the frequently trending hashtags on Twitter, with fans making sure BTS receive the message loud and clear. That through BTS’ music, they’ve learnt to see themselves in a new light, and to become braver in their own skin, whoever they may be.

Perhaps the best way to display BTS’ impact in encouraging self-love is in the song, “Answer: Love Myself”. BTS are singing it to fans, but it’s a direct mirroring of how fans feel for BTS, and these lyrics resonate: “You’ve shown me I have reasons, I should love myself”.

Sevana Ohandjanian is a writer who wants to talk to you about K-pop. Find her tweeting into the abyss @ichbinsev.

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