ARMY is the collective name for fans of the k-pop group BTS.
To be ARMY is to be part of a community, and that community is made of love. To be ARMY is to have a constant source of hope and joy, and also to feel seen and comforted in your darkest moments.
ARMY fans can be found in all countries, in all languages, of all ages, of all races, of all genders and identities. I am 68 years old, bisexual and married, in rather poor health, with a long life behind me as a progressive activist. I have lived in the United States all my life and I have seen a lot of ugly things here in that time.
While struggling with hard times myself these past few years I discovered this young band, in surface ways completely unlike me, whose music literally made me want to stand up and dance again, a feeling I hadn’t experienced in a long time. I got more and more involved in viewing their body of work (nine years now they’ve worked together), mostly watching the vast store of videos on YouTube.
And I did the thing we always say no one should do: I read the comments. In those comments I found something unexpected. I found ARMY, in all their purple-hearted glory.
Do read the comments under BTS videos. You will usually see two, three, four or more different languages. In and among the vast quantities of fangirl (and fanboy) love for any one or maybe all of the seven members, you will see new fans being welcomed profusely. “Baby ARMY!!” is the cry, and it has nothing to do with age. ARMY just loves new fans to join in the fun. You rarely even see anyone get cranky, which is some sort of Internet miracle. There is a source of light and energy here unlike anything I’ve known.
Again and again in those threads, I’ve seen people cautiously enter saying, “I’m in my 50s” or “I’m in my 60s” and “I just discovered these guys and their work and I love them so much. Is that okay?” I’ve never seen anyone pushed away. No one says “You’re too old.” No one says “You’re too late.” No one plays gatekeeper, as happens in so many types of fandom. All are welcome so long as they radiate the respect and love for BTS and their work which is the hallmark of ARMY fans.
By the time BTS was scheduled to visit the White House, and to speak from the podium in the Press Room, I’d found ARMY on Twitter too (and boy did that change my experience of the platform). But on all platforms, as BTS arrived at the White House, ARMYs everywhere were watching intently, and talking with each other.
We exploded with love and pride on first seeing these beautiful young men, so tall and elegant now, looking serious as they must in such a place, talking about serious matters. We also could see, as we pointed out to each other, the moments where their innate kindness and Kooky humor still shone through. And as always, BTS in the form of our beloved J-Hope acknowledged ARMY, showing respect and appreciation for our mutual adoration.
But there’s more. To be ARMY is to take action too. White House Day was a day of love but also a day to keep doing the work. Our guys had set the agenda with their own words — a movement for cultural solidarity, against the anti-Asian hatred and violence that they themselves have experienced and that has been rising so fast in US society.
In that moment, BTS was doing the work for change in the way only they could, within the very severe constraints any activism on their part must be bound with. But ARMY listened, and ARMY heard them, and spontaneously ARMY started to organize.
“Let’s do fundraising!” was the call, and fans said “Okay.” Twitter is a perfect platform for organizing in its own way, and soon I saw links to web pages listing organizations who were dedicated to these issues, who fought against violence, who provided support to Asian people, who worked for cross-cultural exchange and respect. Long threads appeared aggregating more such groups.
This isn’t an area of activism I am familiar with, so I can’t say whether these groups were large or small, unknown or famous. But I could feel it as small waves of energy and change moved out into the world, unseen and unnoticed by the world at large, with no one measuring their impact as they accomplished whatever they accomplished. With other fans, I joined in and did my part.
Having worked with many community groups, I know that even a small shower of money can make a difference when you’re working with scraps. Maybe it was a large shower, or a tsunami. I have no way to tell. But I saw many ordinary people lifting each other up and using the perfectly high vibe of the day to do good in the world. It was a wonderful sight.
I spent that day and the next feeling as if I were wrapped in velvet, soft and warm and very, very happy. How could that be? I mostly spend time in political Twitter, and even though I curate my feed carefully, we all know political Twitter can be a cesspool.
But that day, reading with ARMY, sharing with everyone that pride and wonder as we watched these men representing the best of humanity on the largest stage in the world, I felt hope. Like maybe all was not yet lost, like maybe we could still make things right.
Thank you, ARMY everywhere, and thank you, BTS.