BTS Army Portraits: The Fandom Is Not a Monolith
BTS’s momentum never once slowed during the pandemic. After a monumental 2020 packed with record-breaking hits, virtual concerts and a Grammy nomination for the summer anthem “Dynamite,” TIME’s Entertainer of the Year for last year continued to dominate the charts—and the Internet—in 2021. The group released three number one singles this year, and in September accompanied South Korean President Moon Jae-in to the United Nations General Assembly, where the members delivered a speech about how today’s youth is embracing change amid the challenges wrought by COVID-19. As BTS’s long-running list of firsts and bests grew in the months since the pandemic started, so too did the size of its passionate and devoted fanbase, the ARMY. With a series of concerts in Inglewood, Calif., this week the triumphant return of BTS to live performances is imminent.
Much has been said about ARMY: their online campaigns to support BTS’s music, their translation work, their philanthropic efforts. But perhaps less has been said about ARMY’s diversity, though anyone who is a part of the community knows it’s one of the fandom’s best qualities. In the general public’s eyes, ARMY is often flattened into a stereotype of teen girls, whose musical tastes have for decades been unfairly looked upon with derision despite the clout they hold as consumers and taste-makers. (Case in point: James Corden’s foot-in-mouth moment when referring to ARMY on his show as “15-year-old girls.”) And while teen girls certainly do make up a sizable portion of BTS’s fanbase, its demographics are in fact much more varied, diverse in age, gender, race, ethnicity, geography and more.
Sub-communities like “Bangtan Moms & Noonas” (Noona is the Korean word used by men to address older sisters), “ARMY MÉXICO” and “Bangtan Egypt,” which are location-based, and “BTS ARMY Medical Union” and “BTS ARMY Bar Association” which are profession-focused, all highlight the colorful and textured identities represented among ARMYs. “Many younger fans talk about their impact, but as an older fan who’s already lived at least two-thirds of my life, I think BTS has had an even more precious impact in many ways,” says Marilyn Schenk, 64. Schenk is a Provo resident and claims that BTS has encouraged her to rekindle past hobbies, such as painting, or create new ones like YouTube videos. BTS has inspired Dan Camp (47), a character effects artist. “I respect that they are humble and always have an ‘I can do better’ attitude,” the British Columbia-based fan shares.
Hannah Yoon was a photographer who set out to capture the diverse faces of this fandom. They are located in South Korea, The U.S., Uganda, The Netherlands, The Philippines, and The UAE. Their love of BTS is shared with their children, partners and parents. They are all ARMY members and, no matter how or when they first fell in love, have become part of an international community which spans multiple continents and has been around for generations.
Jackson (left) & Charlotte
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