In September of 2018, a 24-year old Kim Namjoon of BTS (often known by his stage name RM) stood before the United Nations General Assembly and delivered a speech in partnership with UNICEF, notecards held in shaky hands. The speech was in English, and the leader of the seven-member Korean group concluded by saying: “I have many faults and I have many more fears, but I am going to embrace myself as hard as I can, and I’m starting to love myself gradually, just little by little. What is your name? Speak yourself.”
Things have changed a bit since then — BTS addressed the UN again virtually in 2020 with all the members giving remarks almost entirely in Korean; today (September 20th), all seven members (RM, Jin, Suga, J-Hope, V, Jimin, and Jungkook) addressed the assembly in person, and in their native language via translator.
This 2021 address is also markedly different in that BTS’ introduction came from South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who recently appointed BTS as the Special Presidential Envoy for Future Generations and Culture. “The next speakers to the podium [are] probably the artists most loved by people around the world,” he said, a description difficult to dispute when nearly 1 million people tuned into the livestream around the globe to catch the remarks from the seven young men.
The speech wove through the challenges of the pandemic, poverty, the struggles of today’s youth, and combating climate change. The members also mentioned the importance of getting vaccinated with J-Hope confirming that all seven members had received the COVID-19 vaccine ahead of international travel, prompting the BTS ARMY to trend #ARMYVaccinatedToo on Twitter. After J-Hope described the vaccine as a “ticket to meeting fans,” V closed the speech on a hopeful note: “We think the day we can meet again face to face is not far away.”
If anyone is feeling dismissive of the idea of a group like BTS holding a legitimate place at a gathering like the United Nations, they just haven’t been paying attention: looking beyond the fact that this is the group’s third appearance at the assembly, the band has also spent the last eight years focused on acting as a voice for their peers, and their audience has grown with them. While it’s proven time and time again that the BTS ARMY is made up of people across age demographics, genders, and countries of origin, their audience is largely composed of millennials.
RM pointed out that this demographic of young people is being referred to as a “lost generation” due to COVID, with so many people being robbed of experiences in an important time. BTS is not immune to this either — their remarks included mention of the canceled world tour they were meant to embark on mere days before COVID shutdowns began. Despite their commitment to forging ahead with optimism, the members of BTS have also been vulnerable in discussing the feelings of depression and anxiety that are rampant during this time of stagnancy.
As always, though, the group has chosen to frame this struggle through a lens of positivity. “We think that instead of the ‘lost generation,’ a more appropriate name would be the ‘welcome generation.’ Because instead of fearing change, this generation says, ‘Welcome!’ and keeps forging ahead,” said Jin.
Following their remarks, the group shared a pre-recorded performance of their joyful No. 1 song “Permission To Dance” that showed the band moving through the General Assembly Hall and into the lobby before being joined by backup dancers in the courtyard. It’s remarkable that the outdoor performance could have been kept a secret, as it appears it was filmed in New York City over the weekend.
BTS was Consequence’s 2020 Band of the Year. At the time, it was hard to imagine how they could follow up the explosive success of their truly “dynamite” year, but 2021 has only seen them continue to grow and shine, both musically and as an inimitable global force. The world still feels quite dark, but, as they say in their beloved track “Spring Day,” BTS is always sure that a brighter morning awaits us.
“I hope we just don’t consider the future as grim darkness. There’s still many pages left in the story about us, and we shouldn’t talk as though the ending’s already been written,” said V. At this time, we don’t know where BTS will go next — but we know the story goes on, with joy and kindness leading the way.