That Time BTS Almost Visited The University Of Hawaii - Honolulu Civil Beat

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About the Author

Victoria Fan

Victoria Fan is the interim director and associate professor at the Center on Aging at the University of Hawaii. She is chair of the Hawaii Pandemic Applied Modeling Workgroup.


One September morning, just as I was headed into a Zoom meeting from my office at the University of Hawaii, I got a text from my co-worker: “BTS may be on campus!”

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When my Zoom meeting ended, I stepped out of my office. Immediately, two more of my employees, both in their early 20s, squealed in delight: “BTS may be on campus!”

I was doubtful. BTS was very busy being the South Korean president’s special envoy. They had just been invited to speak and perform at the United Nations. Why would they visit the University of Hawaii?

“They may be part of the president’s delegation, which is visiting the university,” my employees excitedly explained.

One of the perks of working at a university is that the younger generation’s fashions are top of mind. When I first joined UH, I realized that my students’ favorite movie was the “Harry Potter” series, which I forced myself to watch in order to better understand my students. In the same way, as BTS fever spread, I forced myself to explore: What is it about this South Korean boy band that has millions of people under its sway? Warning: Curiosity of BTS can lead to interest — and even appreciation.

“Shall we walk over to the Korean Studies Center to see if we can catch a glimpse of BTS?” I invited my two young employees.

“Yes!” The joy from their response was better than any Christmas present I could ever give them.

“And in the worst case, we’ll see the Korean president, right?” I said. “Do you know his name?”

They shook their heads. They could rattle off the names of each of the seven BTS members, ages, personality traits and key skills, but they did not know the South Korean president’s name.

President Moon Jae-In and the South Korean delegation depart the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Center for Korean Studies on Sept. 23, 2021.
President Moon Jae-in and the South Korean delegation depart the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Center for Korean Studies on Sept. 23. Victoria Fan/University of Hawaii/2021

“Moon Jae-in,” I said. “We should at least know his name.” They giggled. Anyway, we were soon to be just 2 degrees of separation from BTS. As President Moon had just hung out with BTS, he must have gotten exposed to some of that BTS fairy dust, which seems to make anything they touch magical.

We walked over to see a crowd gathering across the Center. We stood next to the “Korean Unification Society” members in their uniforms, waiting to catch a glimpse of anybody.

After about 10 minutes, President Moon was about to leave campus. But instead of getting into his van, he unexpectedly walked over to this row of bystanders (likely against the advice of his security guards), and began fist-bumping bystanders. We ended up being among the lucky few.

(“Ahnnyeong haseo!” I practically shouted. It was probably not the right thing to say to a South Korean president. The more Korean I learn, the more I realize it is like a very sensitive fiddle that is easily out of tune depending on social context.)

‘For The Love Of BTS’

Of course, it turned out that BTS was not on campus. They were still in New York.

But the stardust of President Moon’s fist bump lingered (even after hand sanitizer), and I could not help but be amazed at the unabashed enthusiasm for the South Korean president whom my employees would never have heard of, let alone be interested to meet — but only for the love of BTS. It was remarkable.

That love for BTS would inspire them to learn Korean, the language of their beloved band — and apparently one of the most popular foreign languages studied on campus. One student of mine took an extra year just so that she could take more Korean classes at UH, which boasts one of the best Korean-language programs in the nation.

It also helps that Honolulu has one of the nation’s highest densities of K-Pop streaming music popularity, indicating the level of fervor for all things Korean culture and people.

But you may still be asking — what is it about BTS that is so special? Isn’t it just another boy band?

After examining it for a few years originally out of my own curiosity, I think the answer lies in the group’s message, which can be summarized in two words: Love yourself. Their music shares ideas that counter negative stereotypes against youth, mental health, self worth and image, etc. That you are invincible and bulletproof, no matter when the world tears you apart. That you should love yourself just as you are, contrary to modern consumerism that perpetuates a deficiency mindset that we are missing something.

Fans vicariously enjoy the caring, spontaneous, and fun brotherly bonds.

The motto of BTS’ music label was “Artists and music for healing.” Fans rely on the artists, their music and their communications for healing. Fans develop a bond, however imagined, with this group of seven members, each with distinct personalities yet collectively forming a cohesive team.

Fans vicariously enjoy the caring, spontaneous and fun brotherly bonds, streamed live. BTS also reciprocates affection to their fans, named ARMY, whom BTS never fails to acknowledge at every opportunity. They constantly acknowledge their success is dependent on others, resulting in a seemingly endless vat of humility.

Recently, another co-worker — white — confessed to me that she and her daughter had gone to a K-Pop concert in Virginia.

“There, I realized that the solution to world peace is K-Pop,” she said with the straightest face.

She went on to explain, “I have never seen such a diverse group of people — whites, Muslims, blacks, Asians — all gathered to celebrate music.”

Perhaps the entire industry has taken to heart the South Korean national motto: To broadly benefit humanity (홍익인간). K-Pop and BTS can be a source for the spread of good ideas that benefit people and bring joy to millions.

The K-Pop industry is not without criticisms. Even the founder of BTS, Bang Si-hyuk, once said that he started his work because he was angry at his industry, which is known for the exploitation and mistreatment of young artists. BTS has always focused on the message, the values and the ideals.

This kind of good idea, it turns out, is profitable. So do enormous profits mean it is wrong to appreciate BTS? As a friend once told me, is there any difference to listening to Sanskrit chanting, Christmas music, or BTS? I think, if as a result of your love for BTS or any other music, you get the courage to love yourself and love others, too, then it’s all good, profits or not.

Perhaps, this concept of “Love yourself” is not so different from Hawaii’s concept of “aloha.” This shared human value of universal love — which transcends language, culture, race, religion and any other narrowing human concept — is worth contemplating more and more, no matter what format it arrives in.

Universal love includes love for yourself, but also love for the unvaccinated, love for anyone on the political spectrum — and even love for your worst enemy.

BTS may not have come to the University of Hawaii this year, but their message has long been with us. If we analyze and reflect on such timeless human values, perhaps we may uncover the space in our hearts to erase our worst fears and to love even those who seem unlovable.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to news@civilbeat.org. The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.


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About the Author

Victoria Fan

Victoria Fan is the interim director and associate professor at the Center on Aging at the University of Hawaii. She is chair of the Hawaii Pandemic Applied Modeling Workgroup.


Latest Comments (0)

The University of Hawaii at Manoa School of Pacifican And Asian Asian Studies, Asian Studies Program offers a course every summer on Kpop, Jpop and society. Among the many subjects we cover, we also attempt to answer the question of the popularity of BTS. 

fountainpenfan · 3 weeks ago

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