K-pop fans are obsessive. They’re in it for the looks, not the music. They’re all teenage girls who don’t know a thing about politics. These are common conceptions that circulate about K-pop stans. But time and time again, these fans have proven their ability to be smart, proactive, and forward-thinking. So, is a $1 million donation to Black Lives Matter enough to make people take BTS ARMY seriously? ARMY is the massive global fanbase for the seven-member South Korean boyband BTS. Though ARMY has always done work for charities, it’s especially crucial that they’ve stepped in now to contribute to Black Lives Matter. The month of June was horrible, and for many it highlighted the scope of racism and for some privileged folks it even introduced the gruesome reality of Black death in America. For many Black ARMYs, the K-pop industry’s overall silence in the first few days after George Floyd’s death was worrying. K-pop idols benefit from Black culture; from clothing to music styles, African-American cultural products and ideas have been used as inspiration for K-pop. BTS isn’t exempt from this, which is why on June 5th, many Black fans were pleased to see the members and their company, BigHit Entertainment, donate $1M to Black Lives Matter. BTS has donated to various causes in the past; most recently, SUGA, a rapper from the group, donated $83,000 to the Hope Bridge Korea Disaster Relief Association for COVID-19 relief efforts and rapper J-Hope posted a photo with a figurine from Kaws, a company whose profits from those pieces are going toward Black Lives Matter.
Though there are no doubt restrictions in place for what they can and can’t say, BTS hasn’t shied away from politics in the past, even if their stance has often been subtle. Much of their music’s message is about championing the next generation and subverting the harmful structures of capitalism and work culture. Lyrics of songs like “Baepsae (Silver Spoon)” and “Paradise” comment on the harm that capitalism has caused Korean youth. The message is relevant across the world and also relates to racial capitalism. BTS’ messages of love, non-violence, and human connection have certainly contributed to the passion we see from groups like One in Army, the team of stans that matched BTS’ million-dollar donation in just 25 hours and also put together a wide variety of funding efforts in the past toward things like climate change and COVID-19 relief. Their most recent goal is “One in Army for Clowns Without Borders,” an effort to support a charity that helps children dealing with psychological trauma in Ecuador. One in Army—and other volunteer K-pop activists—are examples of how collective subversion can topple power structures when people don’t pay attention. K-pop stans’ reputation as a bunch of screaming teenage girls is harmful, but in many ways it enables activism. Activism and charity work like this cannot be reduced to a singular moment. Many stans understand the scope and endurance of harmful forces like anti-Blackness. Many combat it within their own circles and fandoms. Black fans have also made their own space within ARMY with hashtags like #BlackoutBTS and #BlackARMYBeauty, which feature selfies of Black stans alongside a photo of their bias (their favorite member of the group).
Throughout June, stans flooded white supremacist hashtags with fancams of their favorite artists. It’s pleasing to wake up to #whitelivesmatter trending and find the hashtag flooded with fancams from various concerts. For the #bluelivesmatter tag, I similarly found dozens of BTS photos. Young people mobilized on social media with inspiring breadth and power.
At the end of the day, fandom is imperfect. Black K-pop stans have had an especially hard time dealing with anti-Blackness from idols and their fandoms alike. ARMY, like any other social group, isn’t exempt from racism. There’s always work to be done. Looking at the fandom as it stands during this time of social change, it’s clear that many more fans understand the impact of anti-Blackness and are willing to call upon their governments, spread petitions, and address anti-Blackness in their comment sections. It’s important to remember that many of these stan accounts have thousands of followers. Stanning is serious labor. Participating in fandom is work, especially if you’re Black, Indigenous, or a person of color. But like BTS, many stans understand that popularity means little without helping others and disseminating the information that can help those most oppressed by white supremacy. Many of these stans are teenage girls, but many are young adults, older adults, men, nonbinary people, and trans people. ARMY is incredibly diverse and profoundly savvy. As BTS heads into another comeback era, this is the kind of thinking and community-building that must continue within fanbases everywhere. As a fellow ARMY, I can assure you that we will never give up.