Struggles of an International A.R.M.Y

As the most famous K-pop group in the world, BTS has to have just as big a fandom for support as well. A fandom that continuously goes above and beyond for their boys from winning them American awards to allowing them the opportunity to present a Grammy. There is no end to their devotion, and there is a reason for that. All seven of the boys (V, Namjoon, J-Hope, Jimin, Jungkook, Suga, and Jin) made being part of such a diverse community worth it, despite all the cons we K-pop fans have to endure. For instance, as an OG ARMY (since 2013), I have witnessed all of this fandom’s skeletons in the closet. This included, intense rivalries with the EXO-Ls (EXO fandom) and crazy saesangs (stalker fans), but nothing compares to the stigmas and comments we I-ARMYs (international fan) receive as a non-Koreans.

For example, how from the moment we expose ourselves as K-pop fans, we are instantly considered as “koreaboos” (people so obsessed with Korea they denounce their own culture). This is why unless a person is very confident with their identity, you would never know someone is actually a secret K-Pop stan (a strong supporter). They would sometimes never play their music out loud, hide their screens when watching certain shows, and struggle to understand some American pop references. All because almost everything they listened to was in Korean. This, unfortunately, is the secret life of an internationally ARMY. To avoid people thinking of them as obsessive fans that fawn over aegyo (cute facial expressions), we give ourselves the burden of anxiety by keeping our guilty pleasures to ourselves.

I, for one, have to admit that I used to implement this practice for the vast majority of my life. Ever since 2008, I had been a closet kpop fan because of comments such as “you can’t even understand them” and “they all look like girls.”  They made me want to keep my musical choices to myself. No one knew, including my friends and family, about the real me until I officially came out as an ARMY in 2016. That was when I was instantly bombarded with racist remarks about my favorite idols (Korean celebrities) and considered weird for liking something not typical for Chicago. The only thing that kept me going was the music itself. I didn’t need to know Korean to immerse myself with the tracks on the BTS’ albums. Somehow, the boys’ voices, along with the melody,  always resonated with my body and soul without translated lyrics. Also, when it came to BTS, I never felt alone because they had ever made their fans (despite being from another part of the world) their #1 priority. They shared lives (live-streaming app) and tweets that allowed fans to see their real personalities, struggles, and flaws while practicing other languages in an attempt to connect with fans. This made being an international ARMY worth it for me because it showed how they actually cared and how, in reality, they were truly weirdos like me. Therefore, it didn't come as a shock that I quickly fell for the seven oppas (flirty way to refer to older boys in Korea) despite not speaking the same language or being in the same time zone.