If you haven’t heard, BTS is a seven-member South Korean boy band that’s also the biggest group in pop music right now. Wallea thought her idol worship days were over, then she fell. Hard.
Growing up, my identity was heavily defined by what music I listened to; from The Used in my early teens to Enter Shikari in my early twenties. As I grew older I felt this influence fade away while self-actualisation rolled in.
By the time I was 25 I was almost certain I had this adulating thing on lock. I was wrong. On a warm summer day earlier this year, my world was turned upside down by a heavy dose of Korean culture. It came to me in the highly polished singing, dancing and rapping form of BTS. Otherwise known as the formidable K-pop group who deal out lingering eye contact like it’s no big deal. Does anyone else think it’s weird that Voldemort had as many Horcruxes as BTS has members?
While I watched BTS dance around in the technicolour glory of their clip for Idol, I was transfixed by the endless possibilities their existence provided. Here were people my age that lived on a whole different planet, so close yet so far from me. They looked different, yet familiar.
I had no idea what they were saying, but it all made perfect sense to me. At that moment I fell in love. I felt guilty; ashamed for loving something so morally questionable. To me, it felt like BTS were capitalism incarnate, that they represented mass-made music and culture. That by liking them I was sticking my middle finger to the independent scene.
Conflicted by my overwhelming emotions for seven Korean strangers, I delved deeper into the phenomenon of the most popular group on the planet. I used my title of sociologist as an excuse for starting every day with a BTS playlist. ‘It’s for research!’ I’d exclaim to my wolfhound, Winnie. I don’t know why, she’s profoundly deaf after all. But what I discovered was that my feelings of love were very much legitimate, despite BTS not knowing my name.
The exact term for what I was feeling was originally limerence, but I refer to it as idol limerence now. Limerence is a one-sided unrequited love which is all-consuming, defined by ruminative fantasies, depression and anxiety. Where limerence is experienced between two people known to one another, idol limerence refers to unrequited love between a fan and an idol, where one party is unknown to the other.
Born of capitalism, idol limerence is the almighty driving force behind idol groups such as BTS. It’s where true-love relationships are intentionally fostered with fans who reciprocate with votes for Top Social Artist at the Billboard Awards, record-breaking YouTube views and even billboard ads. I had merely fallen into a larger K-pop scheme, just another cog in the machine. But somehow that didn’t make me love them any less.
Not only does BTS provide an offer of safe-love, the kind that can’t reject me because it doesn’t even know my name; BTS transports me to a world that isn’t suffering. Each time I watch a music video it’s like I’m nowhere, but the urgency in which they speak reminds me that it’s very much now. I often go there, to the fantasy place in between worlds with BTS, so that I can get perspective on my own life. BTS hold space for ARMY (their official global fan group) to escape, heal and envision a better world.
BTS creates momentum which we can all follow to start a new revolution. I think that’s why I love them. In a world where BTS exists, we can all be revolutionaries.
Image credit: CNN