How America is Handling BTS

If you’ve been on the internet lately you may have noticed all of the buzz about BTS’ time in the United States and their performance Sunday night on the American Music Awards.

If you find yourself asking, ‘who is BTS?’ I recommend reading my article about them here. Otherwise, read on.

Ever since BTS were announced to be on the AMA’s (and Jimmy Kimmel and the Late Late Show and the Ellen Show) my roommate and I have been hyped to see what mainstream America’s reaction to these Korean boys would be.

As any fan of BTS knows, our boys are beautiful, generous, funny and talented. There was never any doubt that ARMYs would rally to support them, but I wasn’t exactly sure how the media would receive them. I hoped that the boys would get the support and respect they deserve, and that the interviewers would do some research beforehand.

Unfortunately, my hopes were a bit too high.

My roommate and I have been watching every YouTube video posted of interviews and interactions that BTS has had with media during their time in LA. And the results have not been ideal.

Most interviews ask the same bland, generic questions, like “who is your celebrity crush?” and “will you be releasing a full album in English?,” “What American artists do you like?” You can clearly see the frustration in Namjoon’s expression in some of these interviews.

A slightly cringy, but telling compilation:

These interviews are annoying, but harmless. However, some of these are also hosted by people who are straight up condescending to BTS. Take the Ryan Seacrest interview, for example, which is peppered with Seacrest being a dick. Most major entertainment-focused media outlets are also offenders.

Though also repetitive, this interview with Mario Lopez is much more wholesome.

The main problem with these interviews is that they only acknowledge the superficial aspects of the band. They fail to show BTS as more than just pretty Asian boys. They fail to showcase them as the talented, multifaceted artists they are. Few interviews mention the depth of their song lyrics, the members’ contribution to the production of their albums, the message of self-love they advocate or their charity work with UNICEF.

However, they weren’t all bad. The interviews that occurred before and after the AMA’s generally did a better job of acknowledging different aspects of the band’s success. This one, by Zach Sang is particularly good. You can see how happy Namjoon is about some of the questions that were asked.

I’m sure no malice was meant toward BTS in any of these interviews. I simply believe that American media had no idea how to handle a band like BTS. Idol groups in Korea are very different than music artists here in the U.S (and the West in general) and the differences in which Korean artists come about and function were not really taken into account. For example, many interviewers asked about how the boys got together, but it’s basic Kpop knowledge that groups are put together from trainees signed to an entertainment company. These media outlets suffered from a lack of background research and cultural sensitivity, which is disappointing, but curable.

My hope for BTS’s time in the U.S was that it would present a typically marginalized and stereotyped group in a more positive, dynamic light. And despite Americans’ general ignorance and insensitivity, I believe that was accomplished.

If their enthusiastic reception at the AMA’s and their status as the most Googled term immediately after the show are any indication, they at least sparked a conversation.

I hope that this is the start of something bigger and greater for Asian pop music in the West. I hope that BTS is the first of many Kpop (and Jpop and Cpop, etc.) groups to appear on American television. But most importantly, I hope this opens the door for Americans to think about different cultures in a new light.

Maybe we’ll have some better questions for them next time.


On a different, but related snote, I believe this picture is a perfect example of Americans not thinking about cultural differences before acting:

bts,rap-monster

Please note: it’s not nearly as okay in South Korea for a girl to sit on some dude’s lap as it is in the States though Namjoon’s face makes it totally worth the weirdness.

On the other hand, I’m sure she meant no harm, and doesn’t deserve the crazy backlash she got. Not malicious, just insensitive.

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