The Community Speaks #6: BTS & the Right to Speak Up


Trigger Warning: This roundtable discusses issues of mental health and suicide. Please read with discretion.

Oh, the never-ending battle between BTS, their ARMYs and their antis.

It’s a tale as old as pop music time. Pop stars always try to find ways to make their music and fame account for something. Those who hate them always find something wrong with that. In this episode of BTS and their antis, we have someone who argues they’re essentially profiting by talking about taboo issues such as depression, anxiety and mental illness. The OP casts a scathing eye at the pop industry in general and BTS in particular for the sin of using their platform to talk about tough topics. Then getting paid to do so. 

Needless to say our participants this week had quite a bit to say on the topic!

Wendilynn: Spare me the social justice warriors who try to segregate who can and can’t talk about certain topics by some perceived bias on their part.

One of the things that have always set BTS apart is that they talk about their real lives. They shed the veneer of fame and talk about how rough it can be fighting for your dream. From Yoongi’s depression, to Jimin’s fear that he just can’t ever be good enough. From RM’s fight to be seen as more than just the stereotypes applied to him, to the social pressures to excel in the most difficult education system in the world, I think they have proven they can talk about what all of us face in our lives.

We all deal with depression, feelings of inadequacy and feeling like we aren’t living our real lives. To say that you are worth love despite your feelings of inadequacy is a great message. 

Jess: I have seen when celebrities have given their support or comments on controversial subjects without seeming sincere. At best, it sounds like an obligatory act of fanservice and at worst, something damaging to the fandom. BTS, however, has consistently talked about mental health and walked the walk. Their work with UNICEF, having a three-part album series titled “Love Yourself” and them talking about their own struggles has proven that this isn’t about a check for them. 

Publicly talking about mental health is a difficult thing to do, especially with people who want to sweep it under the table. For BTS to do it as unabashed and poignant as they have is something to be applauded. Over the past few years, I’ve seen a shift of more artists doing the same, be it with taking breaks or writing songs about accepting yourself. Because of groups like BTS and BAP, who deserves a mention in this, people can feel more secure in getting the help they need. 

Cy: You do bring up an interesting point, Jess. OP markedly did not mention any other idol group or artist using their platform to talk about mental illness in particular. Bang Yongguk has been very open and adamant about making music that talks about his struggles with anxiety disorder. Going as far as making his own sort of take on Kendrick Lamar’s “u” (which you so brilliantly wrote about).

However, it’s BTS specifically who are just cashing in on the “hot topic” of the day? As Wendilynn said, spare me. OP really disregards the decades of artists who’ve been talking about mental illness, issues concerning gender identity, self-medication.

Listen, I’m not even a big fan of BTS. But I can easily recognize when someone’s reaching because they really just don’t like someone. To coin a phrase: Just say you hate BTS and move on. If you’re gonna hate somebody, own it. Don’t punk out by pretending you’re overly concerned about the impression it leaves with those who struggle with issues you only deign to use as an argument for your obvious disdain for a friggin’ boy band.

You’re allowed to dislike anything you want (to any degree you want to use your energy on). But don’t hide behind false concern. Take a page out of your own book and stop using real-life issues people have to live with for your advantage.

Take that fake wokeness to illiterates. I like to read, and you’re an open book, hun.

Jess: This reminds me of all of the people who look down on pop artists for not being so called “real artists” and who are supposedly just corporate puppets. The ones who only listen to indie artists or music that “says something.

First of all, all artists are real artists. Whether they’re good or not is completely subjective. Second, “pop” is short for “popular”. It’s not some sort of official rules to what makes pop music. Acts such as The Beatles, Bowie and Madonna are all pop artists and all have songs in their discography that talk about heavy subjects.

You can’t proclaim a whole genre as shallow and hollow just because you see it that way. That’s being a gatekeeper and as someone who loves a wide variety of things, I’m so tired of that noise. 

Ashley: I tweeted about this on my Hallyu-focused account, and it’s likely easier to just place some of that thread here? Don’t mind the spelling errors too much! The thing that stood out to me most, beyond the fact that the OP is possibly a foreign consumer like we are, is that the OP spoke as if they know the scope of BTS’s or other entertainers’ experiences in their home country. 

To clarify, when I say “foreign consumer (like we are),” I mean non-native of Korea and/or ethnically not Korean or directly associated with its media in a way that either dictates its development and distribution, or individually profiting from it. (Understand that this doesn’t relegate someone to liking or disliking the content associated with their culture whatsoever.) We live where we live and with our own experiences influenced by where and how we live. This is the same for BTS and any other entertainer in Korea or wherever. So how can we say with so much authority that we just know they’re out here money grubbing?

I said it once and I’ll say it again: Most who genuinely don’t care about something don’t give an explanation. You don’t seek a cosign or “understanding” from an audience, especially the audience associated with what you don’t even like. You wouldn’t even allow the thing you don’t like to be on your radar. The waste of energy alone wouldn’t be worth it. So, what’s really the deal here?

Cy: I genuinely have the same question. Who are you campaigning for? Why are you so hellbent on proving that BTS are money-hungry demons using lived experiences to profit from their followers? Like I said before, this just sounds like someone who’s genuinely got a hard-on for BTS and their fanbase. Sloppy as ARMYs can be (this is coming from a Cassie; trust I know sloppy), this sort of absolute and unwarranted disdain just sounds like someone with a grudge. For what, I have no idea.

As Ashley said, there’s no way you as a non-native consumer can judge the climate of a country you either a) never lived in, or b) never visited and spent a notably amount of time in. That said, let’s not pretend the issues BTS and literally every pop artist who exists speak about aren’t universal experiences. So much of us live in a country that doesn’t recognize mental health as a necessary topic of concern. Where the powers that be have a keen hatred for non-white (particularly brown and black), non-cis-hetero, female (and female-identifying) citizens.

Every single artist has the right to gear their art toward their experiences. Every one of them has the right to create art that reflects their belief system. That speaks up for those who really can’t speak for themselves. In fact, I’d argue they have a duty to create art that stands for more than glitz, glamour and bubblegum. More so than the so-called “deep” artists (anyone who doesn’t align with pop music)

Doesn’t matter how often they speak on it. At some point every so-called pop artist has to stand for something. Considering their monetary pull and commercial appeal, who better to speak out against certain evils? Speak up for the humanity of others?

Tl; dr: OP has an axe to grind, and she’s decided declaring BTS the scions of everything corrupt and unholy is her way to do it.

What are your thoughts? How do you feel about pop artists using their platform to speak on certain issues while still being compensated for their art? Let us know in the comments!

And finally, if you or anyone you know are having suicidal thoughts or struggling with any sort of mental strain. Or if you or anyone you know just need someone to talk to, please call Suicide Prevention Lifeline or any of the hotlines available all over the world. Also, try 7 Cups, a community for those who might feel alone, and also a safe space to talk to professionals for free.

(Instagram, Soundcloud, YouTube [1][2][3].)

About MACG Staff 138 Articles
MACG Magazine is a digital hub for media on Music, the Arts, Creativity, and Gaming of our generation. We are interested in sharing engaging content with our readers and encouraging them to explore the world around them.

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