BTS, the South Korean supergroup, is known for churning out hits and energising a growing global fan base.
Early in June, those fans - collectively called ARMY - put their energy behind an online campaign called #MatchAMillion to raise money for social justice causes in the United States. It hauled in $1 million in roughly one day, matching the donation of the band itself to Black Lives Matter.
This accomplishment, ARMY members say, shows that being a fan of BTS is about more than buying records. It also illustrates how the fan base extends into older demographics, tying their spending clout to a generation that is internet-savvy and able to harness the power of social media.
“We’re buying cars and selling out stadiums; you can’t just do that with some overexcited girls,” said Erika Overton, 40, one of the administrators of One In An ARMY, the fan group that organised the #MatchAMillion fundraising effort. “This is not just a fan group to enjoy music – it’s an economic force, and something you can’t really dismiss as something trivial.”
(Open tmsnrt.rs/309qC6P in an external browser to see an interactive graphic on how BTS ARMY raised money for social justice causes in the United States.)
Some Black ARMY members say BTS has a responsibility to continue publicly supporting the racial justice protests that affect them. And BTS has also publicly acknowledged their music is based on hip-hop and R&B – genres that were created and popularised by Black American artists.
But others are concerned the wider fanbase’s attention to these racial issues may be fleeting.
“When people care – like seriously care – they’re going to put action behind that and not just words. And to actually see action behind it? That made me wake up and have hope,” said Nico Edward, who runs a BTS reaction video YouTube channel.
“People lash out and do the hashtags and stuff and that’s fine to raise awareness, but it usually, historically, dies out and people’s attention moves to other things. But we’re still dealing with this every single day.”