With the release of their newest album, Map of the Soul: 7, BTS once again solidified their status as global superstars. Upon release, the album shot to the top of music charts and set a new record for the highest first day sales in South Korea, selling a tremendous 2.6 million units in six hours.

Record-breaking sales, hundreds of sold-out shows and innumerable awards all speak to the magnitude of BTS’ success. Many have attempted to crack BTS’ code, usually overlooking a simple, but crucial, part of the puzzle: BTS’ ability to draw in fans. Time after time, passionate BTS fans, known as ARMYs, have helped BTS set and break records, achieving heights unseen not just in K-pop, but across the global music landscape.

Attracting and maintaining such an enormous, highly engaged fanbase is no easy feat, and how BTS manages to do so is an ongoing discussion. While the group’s promotional photos, cinematic music videos and intricate choreography provide visual appeal alongside catchy songs, these elements alone are not enough to sustain the level of devotion the band enjoys. Beyond BTS’ music-related output lie some imperative elements that help make and retain fans.

BTS’ ability to weave universal concepts into their work is a huge draw for many fans. Where most pop songs rely heavily on themes of love and heartbreak, BTS offer deep storytelling filled with a broad range of concepts. Societal pressures on youth, mental health, friendship, temptation, self-love and reflection are evident themes throughout much of their concepts and lyrics. The extended narrative of the Bangtan Universe, an alternate reality story that runs parallel to their other content and features characters based on each member, allows tie-ins to heavier topics like poverty and broken homes. This fragmented storyline, presented across visual- and text-based media, encourages fans to actively participate in piecing together the story.

Stories affect us, much in the way music does, and by encouraging fan participation and incorporating topics beyond commonplace complaints or celebrations of love, BTS are able to reach more people.

That’s not to say BTS avoid tackling the topic of love—far from it. However, their approach diverges from pop music’s sometimes two-dimensional examination of the subject. Rather than focusing on external love and relationships, BTS operates within the framework of self-love and introspection, themes that are realized in their more recent albums.

Fans are also pulled in by BTS’ cross-platform ventures that push the boundaries of the K-pop model. ARMYPEDIA, which ran in February 2019, is a digital archive that allowed fans to submit memories about BTS after scanning QR codes hidden in both online and offline locations. By the end of the four-week project, ARMYs had successfully scanned all 2,080 codes. ARMYPEDIA concluded with 10,000 fans in Seoul watching a pre-filmed BTS talk show while 130,000 fans watched via live stream—a number that cannot be understated, especially since BTS was not physically present.

Likewise, the CONNECT BTS project, which launched art installations including digital simulations, sculptures and a performance series in five cities across the globe—as well as a website where global fans could experience exhibits via photos and videos—highlighted artists whose philosophies complement BTS’ own messages. Some fans who lived far away from exhibits visited local art galleries instead, sharing their experiences online and encouraging other fans to do the same. By promoting art outside their own, BTS gained the interest of art-loving fans and motivated those unfamiliar with art to try something new. Both ARMYPEDIA and CONNECT BTS, though only extensions of BTS themselves, managed to engage and inspire thousands.

Perhaps the strongest pull between BTS and ARMY is the authentic, horizontal relationship BTS have consistently sustained with fans. Even as trainees, BTS directly updated fans through their shared Twitter account, a practice that helped them cultivate an organic, foundational fanbase that would have been difficult to achieve with individual or company-run accounts. Despite their current popularity, the members still actively post on Twitter and upload content to Weverse, a social media app for artist and fan communities. Utilizing social media allows BTS to both share their daily lives as well as interact directly with followers, bolstering the bond between artist and fan.

In the same vein, BTS continually makes an effort to communicate with fans by talking to them rather than at them; they speak sincerely through their music and stories but also through award speeches and mid-concert talks. No matter the achievement, BTS never lets fans forget that the glory is theirs too. This genuine attitude and active communication with the fandom build trust and appreciation, allowing fans to feel respected as individuals rather than treated as a monolithic consumer.

BTS’ attitudes and actions have inspired loyalty and dedication like no other. By putting the utmost hard work, passion and grit into their art while consistently providing ways for fans to engage with the group and their creations, BTS have ensured that as they continue down their path, fans will be right there with them.

Celebrity Fans of BTS

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