Sabrena Khadija realized just how much of a BTS fan she was one freezing morning in Times Square back in 2017. A friend invited her to stand in line at 4 a.m. to be one of the first people to buy the seven-member band from South Korea’s BT21 merchandise…and she didn’t say no.
“That’s when I was just like, I might be ARMY,” Khadija said.
Her relationship with K-pop goes back well over 10 years.
“The inspiration and influences pulled from Black music and culture were so obvious, but I always noticed the exclusion of Blackness that came with it,” said Khadija. “I kept feeling like I was trying to love something that didn’t love me back.”
“BTS have had their fair share of cultural appropriation when they first debuted, but their Western fans quickly shut that down and educated BTS. And BTS immediately apologized for it,” said college student Beyonce’ Watson.
And it is the seven-member supergroup’s massive fandom of over 40 million strong (called ARMY)—and Black members of ARMY in particular—that has pushed them to evolve over the last few years. In fact, BTS donated $1 million to the Black Lives Matter movement last summer, and ARMY turned around to match their contribution within a matter of days.
“I was one of the people at the forefront of that too because I was like, this makes me so proud,” said college student and five-year ARMY member, Aisha Odusanya.
“Whenever you see documentaries and things about BTS, you rarely see a Black ARMY. And we want to show that we’re here,” said college student Glory Ngwe. She’s been a fan for over seven years.
That’s what led to the monthly #BlackOutBTS movement on Twitter designed to provide representation and show love to the Black ARMYs that support BTS by being a space for supporters to post matching pictures of themselves and BTS members.
And despite being one of the best-selling artists of 2020 and the biggest boy band in the world, fan Dajnae Doss—who has stanned the group since 2016—believes BTS remains underestimated in the music industry.
“They’re very known, but like they’re very underrated at the same time,” they said referring to the group’s Grammy nomination for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance but not other top categories.
For these fans, seeing BTS progress and grow in their work is what will keep them committed.
“Like me and many other ARMYs love to say, as long as they decide to be here, we will be here,” said Odusanya.
These five Black members of BTS ARMY open up about stanning the group, share who their bias and bias wreckers are, unpack the line between cultural appreciation and appropriation in K-pop, and more in the video above. You’ll purple it.
Additional reporting by Maritza Moulite.