I became a fan of K-Pop in 2009 when groups like Girl's Generation, 2NE1, Super Junior, Big Bang, 2pm, and SHINee were in their glory days. Back then, the fanbase in the United States was minimal and spread out. Living in the Pacific Northwest, not that many people knew about it, let alone liked it.
People would often say that it was weird and foreign, and had the usual questions of "Why do you listen to the music when you don't even speak the language anyway?" and "Why do they look like girls?"
I was amazed by the level of production that went into their choreographies, stage productions and concepts, yet the "idols" remained so humble and relatable. As a Khmer-American middle schooler, I remember searching for something like K-Pop in Cambodia so that I could practice speaking, singing, and listening to Khmer. I was not able to find modern artists at the time but noticed that there were some K-Pop concerts held in Cambodia! This meant that other Cambodian teens also liked the same music and I could relate to them in that way.
It was and still is refreshing to see K-Pop as a form of Asian representation in the media. Even though I am not Korean, I can still appreciate how Korean culture has a huge influence on trends in music, skin-care, make-up, dramas, and fashion. I find that there are things that I identify more with in the Korean/Asian culture than in the Western culture.
Pictured from left to right: Kim Seokjin, Jeon Jungkook, Min Yoongi (Suga), Kim Taehyung (V), Park Jimin, Kim Namjoon (RM), Jung Hoseok (J-Hope).
Being a K-Pop fan for eleven years now, I understand the dark sides of the industry. After my favorite SHINee member, Kim Jonghyun, took his life in December 2017, I seriously considered to stop supporting K-Pop because of how much the idols have to sacrifice in order to live out their dreams. Luckily, things are changing for the better and BTS is leading the way. They have become my top favorite group. You might be wondering, why is BTS such a big phenomena?
BTS uses their platform to spread positivity and awareness on personal and social issues.
From their early days in 2013 to the present, BTS' discography as a group and as solo artists captures the essence of finding yourself and experiencing various hardships in life. As someone who is a similar age as the members, I feel like I am also growing up with them and through their music.
Their music and music video "universe" touches on a variety of issues, such as the misuse of power/class in our society, the school system, pressures from older generations, mental health, loss, and staying young forever. They also share positive messages about working hard for your dreams, the importance of confidence and female empowerment, accepting your deepest flaws, and countless others. This may come as a surprise to people who think of K-Pop as only catchy and popular.
BTS continues to engage in ventures to give back through their music. One example of many is their Love Myself campaign that started in 2017 with UNICEF's Korean and Japanese Committee. BTS and their team dedicated and used the proceeds from their Love Myself albums towards the cause of ending violence among children and teens around the world. At the same time, they stressed the importance of mental health and self-love through songs like Epiphany and Answer: Love Myself.
In an industry perceived as forming highly manufactured music groups, BTS is beyond being just a K-Pop group. They defy all standards by creating their own music and path as true artists.
They had humble beginnings and were considered the underdogs. As a K-pop fan in 2009, the three companies that dominated the scene were SM, YG, and JYP Entertainment. BTS' label, BigHit Entertainment, was not widely discussed and BTS faced adversities and mistreatment over the years because people did not believe in their potential to make it big.
What has always remained the same about BTS is their genuine love and passion for what they do and for their fans. This is what has pushed them to become the biggest music group in South Korea and the entire world. BTS fans, also known as ARMY, consist of people from all different races, ethnicities, nationalities, genders, and ages.
BTS does not want to be known as K-Pop idols but as true artists. The leader of the group, RM, is inspired by literature and psychology which is reflected in their recent installments of albums - Wings, Love Yourself Speak Yourself, and Map of the Soul 7. The members are highly involved in their music production, even having complete creative control over their newest album, BE, that will release this Friday. They put this album together to help people cope and stay hopeful during this COVID-19 pandemic. BTS also breaks the stereotypes of masculinity from the way they rock any look and outfit to the way that they sing and dance.
BTS are role models and inspirations to the world.
No matter how many achievements BTS earns, they always stay true to themselves and their distinct personalities. They are not afraid to be silly and weird with their fans, even live broadcasting their day-to-day activities like eating, playing the piano, and painting. BTS just sees themselves as regular people who are pursuing their passions. They are honest and real about their struggles which makes you relate to them on a human level, almost like you know them as friends.
Each member of BTS is inspiring in their journey of how they got to where they are today. They are constantly learning and growing to better themselves. They inspired me to go after my own dream of becoming a teacher. Whenever I hear about young students and family members who love BTS, I get so excited because they can look up to these seven individuals who work extremely hard towards their goals and urge others to figure out how we can make this world a better place for everyone.
"I’m Kim Namjoon, RM of BTS. I’m a hip-hop idol and an artist from a small town in Korea. Like most people, I made many mistakes in my life. I have many faults and I have many fears, but I am going to embrace myself as hard as I can, and I’m starting to love myself, little by little. What is your name? Speak yourself."
- United Nations Speech 2018
I first learned about Chadwick when he was announced to be casted in the movie, "Black Panther," as King T'Challa. Even before seeing the movie, we could feel the power of how amazing it was to have HIM be the first person of color - the first African American male - to lead a movie in the popular cinematic universe of Marvel Studios.
Movies bring people of all ages and backgrounds together and "Black Panther" was more than a movie. On and off screen, Chadwick was a superhero: Centered, resilient, and used his position to fight for what was right for everyone, especially his people. It was only yesterday when I realized that he was battling cancer over the past four years and through his filming projects. I am amazed by the strength he had while continuing to pursue his passions and making his growing impacts in film, activism, and beyond.
His role in "Black Panther" was symbolic on many levels. This movie depicted an African society, Wakanda, that presented itself as a third world country to the rest of the world, but was highly rich and advanced in culture, leadership, research, and technology. It also touched on the identity of being African American. Our community of African Americans/Blacks have complex and unfair experiences living in the United States. Their ancestors were forcibly and brutally taken from their countries to live as slaves who were stripped from their homes, families, cultures, names, rights, freedoms, and so much more. Being Black is still considered inferior by the rules and ways of our society. Some African Americans/Blacks feel closely linked to their African roots, while others do not.
For me, this movie celebrates the beauty of African cultures and inspires African American/Black people to take pride in who they are, where their families and ancestors come from, and what they stand for as a collective. Chadwick played an important part in the success and authenticity of the movie, such as urging his producers that he needed to act with an African accent rather than a British or American one.
The power of Chadwick's role spread throughout the world - from the Oscars to our public schools. For Halloween, many students, African American/Black or not, were excited telling me that they wanted to be Black Panther. Chadwick has been and will continue to be a role model for many of our youth, especially our African American/Black boys, and stood for the fact that being Black is powerful and brilliant. That they can be superheroes, too. That they can change the world.
I am thinking of him and his family during this time. I know that he will live on through his legacy. I will definitely be honoring him by exploring his other works, such as starring as Jackie Robinson and Thurgood Marshall, and learning more about the causes that he was involved in during his time with us.
Thank you, Chadwick, for being a superhero as an actor and as an individual.
May you rest in power,