ARMY: An Innovative Fandom

At the 2019 IHeartRadio Music Awards, Halsey accepted her Fangirls Award with an encouraging speech: "It seems really fitting that the name of this award would be the fangirl award. I think that the word fangirl for a long time has been used in a very derogatory since. I think if a young woman likes something then in the eyes of the rest of the world that makes it stupid or it makes it unimportant or invalid, but as a former fangirl and as a person who is lucky enough to have fans of their own, I know that it is very much the opposite actually." She continued, "I have watched my fans and I have been a part of fandoms and I have seen people be motivated and be passionate and determined about something. In a time where it is so necessary to have feeling and to have empathy, so when I see a fangirl or a fanboy or a fan-anyone I see a person who is capable of feeling and capable of affecting change and that means a lot to me. So, thank you."

Young women are often targeted for their intense interest in music and fandoms, which garners unfavorable media play. Journalists often label fans as “rabid” or “crazed” instead of understanding the large impact fans have on the entertainment industry as a whole. Since the Beatles, girls and women have been a major part of shaping fan culture. These days, fandoms mobilize online through various social media platforms, working to promote their chosen artist’s music. While media still underestimates a fandom’s strength, fans create an online ecosystem providing data and original content that allow an artist or band to thrive.

One fandom re-defining modern music consumers belongs to BTS fans, ARMY. ARMY's creative contributions support the South Korean septet and subvert the stereotypical “fangirl” tropes. In fact, BTS attracts a diverse range of fans around the globe that isn't limited to a particular demographic. The fandom is a multifaceted ecosystem that thrives on social media. Although many platforms connect fans with BTS, most ARMYs mobilize on Twitter. Here, fans synthesize various fanbases to circulate specific information: translations, statistics, transformative works, and research. While painted “rabid” and “crazed,” ARMY’s fan driven labor and promotional activities are strategic and organized. Whether preparing for a BTS album release or voting for music awards, ARMY around the world unite to reach a common goal: supporting BTS.

Firstly, fan translators are strong contributers to the connection between BTS and ARMY. From lyrics to live feed, translators help close the language gap, allowing fans to understand their favorite band. Translators help non-Korean speakers relate to the members and their personalities, find comfort in their lyrics, as well as help fans stay connected to the group and their activities in Korea. The translators feel a responsibility to convey the correct message to fans and make sure nothing is misinterpreted. In addition, fan translators are not employed for their work nor receive payments. Instead, they choose to devote time to translations, which is a major undertaking. Not to mention, one must have a lot of passion for the band and the fandom to do so.

In an interview with Billboard, various translators had a chance to speak about their experience. Here "Peach Boy team" described the many reasons they decided to devote time to providing translated content to the global fan community: Peach Boy team (@peachBOY_0613) : “BTS is such a unique group, composed of talented individuals who not only produce, sing, rap and dance, but stand for such a meaningful message. Their lyrics talk about mental health, social issues, society, the economy and other topics that not many artists have addressed on a personal level through their music. Despite their success, they stay incredibly humble, down to earth, and continue to be hardworking. They are truly a group that can bring happiness, inspiration, and hope. Their influence shouldn’t be restricted to only one area. Therefore, we think it’s important for not only English speaking fans, but fans of all ages across the world to learn and grow from their stories together.

Not only do they produce and perform great music, they give back so much to the fans. Because of this, our team decided to start translating, to contribute to fans' support towards the group...Languages can seem like a barrier to many people, but translations break the wall down. Through translations, many more people can communicate with one another and share ideas and thoughts. Both the K-ARMYs [Korean ARMYs] and I-ARMYs [International ARMYs] continuously send encouragements and support to each other. It truly proves that love and support can surpass obstacles and be shared among people across the world, regardless of where they are from. It brings Korean fans as well as International fans together and bonds us as one family.”

Another important piece of the fandom includes fanbases such as @BTSChartData, @btsanalytics, and @BTS_Billboard. They are mobilizers for music streaming objectives and trending hashtags. As well as organizing comeback goals, circulating news, and setting goals for ranking on music charts. They support BTS by promoting their activties, encouraging fans to vote on music awards, and sharing information on how the Billboard charts work. This way, ARMY understands how their participation as fans contribute to the group's Billboard chart placement.

Focusing on research, Nicole Santero ( Research BTS 🔍 ) is a sociology PhD student who shares insight on data and trends from ARMYs global activity. In an interview, I asked a series of questions to better understand her work and the fandom:

Q. Does ARMY differ from other fandoms?

Santero: While all fandoms do share certain characteristics, ARMY has definitely separated itself from all others. Without a doubt, they are the most visible and active fandom on social media, especially Twitter, where BTS-related topics are a consistent and regular feature on the worldwide trending list. We saw the rise of the global, digital fandom in the early 2010s with the One Direction fandom (Directioners), and over time with the progress of social media, we saw ARMY progress along with it in a big way and take it to another level. Built upon grassroots efforts, ARMY has become smarter, savvier, and more strategic than any other fandom that exists. They are driven, goal-oriented, and impressively structured in their activities and ways of promoting BTS. Furthermore, one of the most special things we’ve seen is how diverse they are. Not only do they come from all over the world and are of different cultures and backgrounds, they span a range of ages-- from young kids and teenagers, to individuals in their 40s, 50s, and older. On top of this, the fandom is also made up of many male fans. I don’t think we’ve ever seen a fandom this large and diverse.

Q. How do your Trendsmaps reflect the global fandom and how they organize hashtags?

Santero: Even today, there is still a misconception among some of the general public that BTS isn’t as global of a phenomenon and that their popularity is only limited to fans in Asian countries. This is obviously not true at all, and we are able to see this through visualization data, like the maps I create through the analytics program Trendsmap. I often use this tool to get a sense of Twitter fan activity and where they are tweeting from. Occasionally, I will create maps when ARMY trends a hashtag or term worldwide on the platform. The maps light up with dots in locations where individuals are tweeting from (based on Trendsmap’s algorithm). Each time, not only do we see how quickly Twitter trends are created by the fandom, but we see how far and wide they spread around the world. This speaks to the organization of ARMY and how globally connected they are.

Q. Media is very useful to fans, can you give examples of how it strengthens global fandoms?

Santero: In the participatory culture of fandoms, we have seen the important role of content creation and how content is shared--especially through social media. BTS themselves release endless videos, pictures, and more that constantly capture and keep fans’ attention. But fans don’t just engage with official media from their idols-- they produce and share their own fan-made content that circulates within the fandom. Perhaps one of the biggest factors that has strengthened and grown ARMY into a powerful, global fandom is the translation of content by fans. This, coupled with the impact of social media, has allowed for BTS to resonate with people all over the world. You don’t need to understand Korean to enjoy BTS’ music and content. Fan translators have taken the initiative to ensure that everyone can experience the BTS world. No matter where ARMYs are from and what language they speak, they have been able to connect with each other in a powerful way.

Q. How has becoming an ARMY influenced your work, and why is BTS important to you?

Santero: ARMY is my inspiration, and I would not be doing my PhD and my research without them. After studying the One Direction fandom and getting my master’s in 2016, I went back to simply focusing on my career as a communications professional. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever go back to doing that type of research. But after becoming a fan of BTS and learning about ARMY, I--like many others--found something special. That lit a fire in me, and I knew I wanted to be a part of telling their story and continuing to shed light on the significance of fandom in our society.
Becoming an ARMY has also allowed me to dig deeper and understand the fandom in a way that a normal researcher wouldn’t be able to just as an outside observer. I’m also excited that through this journey, I’ve been able to connect with other ARMY researchers who aim to show the world the impact of BTS and the fandom in an in-depth and accurate way.

Outside of statistics and research, ARMY also dabbles in humanitarian work. Inspired by BTS' partnership with UNICEF in the "Love Myself" campaign against violence, fans created One in an ARMY as a global effort to raise funds for the caimpaign. The organization developed into a global project that works alongside other non-profit organizations. Recently, One In ARMY created "Match A Million," to meet BTS' million dollar donation to Black Lives Matter. Variety released information about BTS' donation on June 6th. On June 7th, One In ARMY’S funds already surpassed one million. The fans also donate to Funds For Bangtan, who recieves money for fans to purchase songs and albums for those who cannot afford it. The team behind the fanbase recieves hundreds of donations that provide music to fans in the U.S and Puerto Rico.

Lastly, BTS fans expresses their love for the members through their own creativity. Perhaps reimagining BTS music videos in video edits, writing analytical essays on lyrics, or creating artwork. The band’s creativity generates a domino affect, enabling fans to discover their own artistic expression.

After speaking with artist @arii_arts, she explained "[BTS] generally, they have a huge impact on my life since I started to support them and their music and become an army. I was having a hard time in my life and knowing bts have helped me a lot. They just make me so much happier and motivate me so much. It also has an impact in my art too, the fact that they really care about art and artists really makes me happy. Even some members are pretty good in art is so inspiring, since I started to paint bts I faced many new challenges and I tried to chance my style and try new different ideas and it helped me to improve a lot in art. Not to mention it also helped me to make money too. their music videos / the concepts that they use in their photoshoots or the messages in their songs always give me new ideas and inspiration to make paintings too. As an adult that is going through many things in life I’m really happy that i got to know bts and their music and I will always be grateful for that."

Fans are the powerhouse behind any good artist. And the BTS ARMY prove how capable a devoted fandom can be. ARMY has supported BTS with strategic planning, thorough research and data, as well as art and translations. Around the world, people of various backgrounds, languages, and ethnicities connect through their enthusiasm for BTS.

Obviously I'm a writer; I rip my hair out to form stories from my imagination for fun | BTS ARMY 아미 | lover of YA fiction and music | Anime nerd.