By: Mie Murasa
What can we learn from BTS’s time
in the UK?
Over the last few years the popularity of K-pop in the west has skyrocketed and as a result Asian culture has received a more prominent spotlight in mainstream media. Now, after BTS’s sell out 2 days at Wembley Stadium, what can the Asian community in the UK learn from their time here?
BTS are undoubtedly one of the biggest musical acts in the business right now. Their fan base – also known as ARMY- grows on a daily basis and as the band themselves rightly put it (in their song Mic Drop) their success is “already so golden”. With their growing international fandom, BTS embarked on their world tour LOVE YOURSELF: SPEAK YOURSELF and performed in the UK on the most recent leg. Many UK ARMYs including myself were naturally thrilled to see BTS visiting the UK for a second time. After reports surfaced that Simon Cowell himself invited BTS to perform live on his prime-time show “Britain’s Got Talent”, things seemed too good to be true.
Last Thursday night, BTS performed their newest smash hit “Boy with Luv” on the talent show and of course many fans tuned in solely for the performance. However, scrolling through the BGT2019 hashtag at the end of the show, it was hard to ignore the tweets dotted in between those of excited Armys. Tweets that seemed to throw insult at the band because of their ethnicity.
This wasn’t the first time that BTS had been subjected to racism online. Only a few weeks before, Min Yoongi a member of BTS’s rap line, visited the Los Angeles Dodgers Stadium and fans were compelled to call out “closed minded” twitter users who attacked Yoongi as being “just another rich Chinese kid”. Similar examples of outdated racism were carelessly tweeted after the BGT performance. One twitter user said, “This boyband should be called copy and paste. They all look the same.” When called out on their racism, the user went on to justify that the implications of their tweet weren’t racist but based on the boy’s hair being similar. Some fans may have found this difficult to believe, after seeing the various different hair styles and colours being sported that night. Comments like these and a number of slurs on BTS’s appearance were also tweeted, shining a light on the racist stereotypes still held by some in the UK. To me what was most shocking was the way in which many users felt comfortable in tweeting such hurtful comments. Even if they claimed they were not linked with racism, they were loaded with stereotypes that members of the Asian community are all too familiar with. It felt as though racism towards Asians wasn’t being taken seriously. These people attempted to play their racism off as a joke that some were too “sensitive” to understand.
Despite the negativity, the response to the show was overwhelmingly positive. The fact that in a country where Asian representation is so scarce, just seeing Asian faces on the TV screen felt like enough. Often in the UK, you may only see one or two Asian faces in commercials at a push. In truth much of the Asian community has been badly portrayed in the news and media, inciting stereotypes and hatred. This has meant people across the Asian community have been poorly portrayed making us targets for ill will. We are all familiar with the way Hollywood has often promoted images of hyper sexualised Asian women and infantilised Asian men in the past. In a sense, this has led to negative and false perceptions remaining prevalent within the UK. Recently in the UK, representation in some areas of TV has improved. With Asian women like Nadiya Hussain (a popular cooking and travel show host) and Gemma Chan (cast in the main role of Humans) representation on TV seems to be heading in the right direction. However, Asian representation still remains few and far between. Undoubtedly, what can be learnt from the BGT performance was the fact that Asian representation of all kinds is still desperately needed in the UK.
As always, the support of BTS in their ventures dramatically dwarfs any negativity they receive. Tickets for BTS’s first night at Wembley sold out in under 90 minutes, leading to the added second day. Hundreds of loyal Armies flocked to Piccadilly Circus to see Hyundai’s promotional video, which featured the band. For BTS and ARMY the growing popularity is nothing but positive. But what does this do for the Asian community? It seems on the whole that the K-pop industry is introducing the West to Asian culture which would otherwise have gone unrecognised. BTS’s immense popularity stands as testament to the growing acceptance of diversity in the UK. However, it is still challenging to be Asian here. Some people still question your place in society and see you as separate and “foreign”. BTS themselves are helping to break down barriers within the West by destroying misconceptions of Asian men and being positive rolemodels for Asians, who had no one to look up to in their own country.
Perhaps without even realising it, through their music and preaching of self-love and acceptance, BTS are a positive force of change for Asian communities not only in the UK but across the world. In the words of their leader RM, “the world is gonna change”. Let’s hope so.
Mie is a Japanese-English Sixth Form student (and BTS fan) living in the UK. She enjoys writing so aspires to be a Journalist after going to University. In her spare time she enjoys travelling and learning more about her two cultures.