Arts, Culture, and Entertainment

How BTS helped fans find community throughout the pandemic

Relatable songs and abundant content led to an increase in fans seeking comfort in the K-pop group despite COVID-19.

Photo of fans wearing masks and wearing various BTS fan merchandise while in a very large stadium.

BTS is one of the biggest musical artists in the world—and while COVID-19 put many things on pause, the group’s popularity only grew bigger.

Research shows the taxing effects the pandemic has had on the U.S. population. Between January 2019 and January 2020, U.S. adults were four times more likely to report experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Sixty-one percent of those aged 18 to 25 reported high levels of loneliness in Oct. 2020.

Many found solace in baking sourdough. Some took up hobbies like running. For others, comfort came in the form of seven Korean men singing about self-love.

“It was hard to get excited about things happening because we were stuck at home. We couldn’t leave,” said Kaitlyn Kim, a high school student who graduated during the pandemic. “[BTS] spreading the love, continuing to put out music at this time and hosting online concerts definitely raised my spirits.”

Over the course of the pandemic, lockdowns across the world offered a unique opportunity for newborn BTS fans to take a deeper dive into the group. BTS’s extensive repertoire of content reaches as far back as 2012, when they first began releasing songs before their official debut.

Today, they have more than 230 songs under their belt, many of which spoke to ARMY—which is the official name for BTS’s fanbase—over the past year and a half. Their fifth and latest album, “BE,” reiterated what many fans were feeling at the time of its release.

“We created and released songs that tried to express our frustrations as authentically as possible and about the thought and consolation that we hoped to give to people, about how we can overcome the situation together,” said Jungkook, the youngest member of the group, at a press conference on Sunday. His words resonated with longtime fans Bora Park and Bethany Bloch, who have loved BTS since 2015 and 2017, respectively.

“They were obviously experiencing the same thing that we all were,” Bloch said. “They’ve been quite candid about it in interviews and through the music, as well. At the same time, they were trying to give solace to the fans.”

BTS’s variety shows, including “In the Soop” and “Run BTS,” also provided fans with comfort during a tough year through episodic videos of BTS enjoying each other’s company while relaxing in nature and playing games.

Jennifer Sun, a fan of BTS since early 2020, said these shows were what initially drew her to the group.

“I was kind of living vicariously through that. Even if they were all pre-pandemic, it just reminded me how fun it is to do stuff and be with your friends,” said Sun, who moved away from her community of friends in Irvine to return home when the pandemic began.

Still, nothing is quite like seeing the group perform in real life. BTS returned with their first in-person appearance in the U.S. in two years with the Permission to Dance on Stage concert at SoFi Stadium—and with a whole new set of fans.

“I’d say nearly half of the people I met [at Permission to Dance] became fans or superfans during the pandemic,” said Ashley Laub, who became an ARMY in 2017. “Many of them were older, too—moms or older siblings of people who were already listening to BTS.” Laub has attended both Saturday and Sunday of the four-day concert so far.

Kim also said she saw a difference in the audience from previous BTS concerts she’d attended, including the group’s performances at the Staples Center in 2018 and the Rose Bowl Stadium in 2019.

“I noticed that there’s more of a range in their demographic,” Kim said after attending the first day of the concert on Saturday. “It was pretty huge. I saw little kids there that looked like they were about 5-years-old, and I saw some grown adults there. It was just amazing.”

One particular fan, who sat next to Laub for Saturday’s show, was introduced to BTS by her 10-year-old daughter. When the time came for the Permission to Dance concert, she attended the show alone on “mommy’s special trip” while her child stayed home.

Above all, each fan emphasized the strong friendships they made thanks to the concert series, social media and BTS themselves. The group’s power to bring people together is what brought smiles to people’s faces and what helped people feel less alone throughout an incredibly lonely year and a half.

“I would say it wasn’t always easy in the beginning because before [BTS] skyrocketed into popularity, people wouldn’t have the nicest things to say,” Kim said. “But over time, it gave me a sense of community. It gave me friends. It gave me a closer kind of bond with myself.”

Considering the popularity of the Permission to Dance on Stage concerts, it’s safe to say that being a BTS fan gave at least 280,000 people the same feeling, too.