Fox News host Tucker Carlson couldn’t have been aware of just how deep BTS Army rolls when he criticized the Biden administration for inviting the world-famous seven-member K-pop boyband to the White House to address hate crimes against the AAPI community on Tuesday. Or that’s the only logical explanation.
There’s a reason BTS’ K-pop fandom is such a force: when we need them, they’re there for us.
Carlson appeared to take issue with both the fact that BTS is a “Korean pop group” addressing anti-Asian hate crimes in the United States, and that the Biden White House has on occasion looked to pop culture to disseminate public health and safety messaging. (Carlton also cited a 2021 TikTok collaboration with comedian Benito Skinner and then-White House press secretary Jen Psaki in a skit created to encourage people to get the Covid vaccine).
Here’s where Carlson went wrong: As the kings of K-pop, BTS commands a powerful entity in its fans, known as the BTS Army (which stands for Adorable Representative M.C. for Youth) for a reason. BTS is a group that provides a safe haven for so many people, including myself; so when they make a public appearance at the White House, people around the world listen — and clearly someone at the White House knows that.
In the U.S., K-pop fan bases have a history of coming together to counter far-right efforts, whether co-opting hashtags, thwarting police surveillance efforts during the Black Lives Matter protests or essentially shutting down a rally held by then-president Donald Trump. And in response to Carlson’s derisive comments Tuesday, the Army assembled and mercilessly trolled the Fox host on Twitter.
There’s a reason BTS’ K-pop fandom is such a force: When we need them, they’re there for us. BTS provides a refuge for us. The group shows vulnerability, speaking openly about the pressures of stardom and the importance of mental health. At a recent concert in Las Vegas, a sign reading “BTS Saved Me” was frequently spotted. They group has an entire album themed around loving yourself, in partnership with the Korean Committee for UNICEF.
Last year, members of the Army told The Guardian about how BTS’s lyrics spoke to their hearts during the hardest moments. “When I was at my lowest last year, staring at my own mortality after a heart attack, they came to the rescue. The message of loving yourself that pervades most of their music was what I needed to hear,” one reader shared.
At one point during the pandemic, I found myself in a rural part of Virginia, having escaped Brooklyn with my cat Michael to avoid Covid. One night when I was extra bored, I stumbled upon a Blackpink video. And the rest, as they say, is history.
As someone who came of age during the height of “Rhythm Nation” and “Thriller,” dance videos have always been a popular feature of my YouTube algorithm. The instant I clicked on K-pop, I couldn’t look away. The precision of the synchronized choreography almost makes you think that somehow the performances are computer generated — but the fan-centered content of K-pop online means you get to see all of the “Blood, Sweat & Tears” that go into what we see on stage.
The days during this pandemic have been long and they have been hard, especially for people who are often the targets of discrimination and hate.
The days during this pandemic have been long and they have been hard, especially for people who are often the targets of discrimination and hate. But whenever I turn on K-pop, the music instantly provides a safe space to check out from all of the chaos.
On my SiriusXM radio show we have an entire day dedicated to K-pop (it’s Tuesday, in case you’re wondering) and our listeners report that it does indeed add a little pep in their step before they face the rest of the week.
That is why BTS at the White House is a moment of celebration for people of all backgrounds who want us all to be a little more compassionate, leading with empathy, not egos. The group, like many of us, is devastated by the uptick in hate crimes, specifically against the Asian American community.
So say what you want, Tucker Carlson — but when the group that you look to in times of emotional need needs you, you sit up and take notice.
At the end of the day, that is the very least each of us can do, and because I don’t want to let the maknae Jungkook down, I will act accordingly and let my empathy and BTS bops lead the way.