CSU Northridge to host scholarly online conference focusing on Korean boy band

An ARMY plans to assemble on Saturday, May 1, and Sunday, May 2 – one that carries no weapons, requires no minimum enlistment period and marches to a decidedly pop-music beat.

California State University, Northridge will host an online conference about all things BTS, the megapopular Korean boy band, this weekend.

Fans, who call themselves “ARMY” or Adorable Representative M.C. for Youth, will turn out in droves for the conference with more than 900 attendees expected, according to event organizer Professor Frances Gateward.

The conference will feature a number of talks including one on the link between African music and K-Pop as well as another on Guantanamo Bay and BTS. It is the second of its kind with the first held in London back in 2020. The original plan was to host an in-person conference, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced the organizers to move to an online platform instead.

BTS, an acronym for Bangtan Sonyeondan or Bulletproof Boy Scouts, debuted in 2013 and consists of seven members. While primarily gaining fame in Korea and other parts of Asia early on in their career, BTS garnered a worldwide following, performing in places ranging from the Rose Bowl in Pasadena to King Fadh International Stadium in Riyadah, Saudi Arabia. The group has won dozens of awards and was the top-grossing touring group of 2019 according to Billboard, earning $196 million from Nov. 1, 2018 to Oct. 31, 2019.

Despite their worldwide popularity, there are many people who still consider the group just an average boy band, but fans of BTS aren’t of the same opinion.

“People are surprised to find out that the median age of a BTS fan is 30 to 40,” Gateward said. “It’s not 12-year-old girls.”

Gateward also pointed out that BTS doesn’t sing about the topics mainstream boy bands stuck to in the past. The band is socially conscious and performs songs with lyrics revolving around topics like mental health and issues in government. BTS partnered with the Korean Committee for UNICEF in 2017 to advocate against youth violence and donated over $1 million last year to Black Lives Matter last year.

Other groups play socially conscious music and perform charity work as well, but BTS has gained fans at a rate unlike many other groups in the world. The band has more than 30 million followers on Twitter, and sold out one performance at the Rose Bowl in 90 minutes.

“They present the image of accessibility,” said Analisa Venolia, a member of the ARMY who plans on attending the conference. “They interact with fans in a way that I’m not used to seeing from a lot of American artists so that makes them really unique and you feel like you get to know the members.”

Venolia pointed to Weverse, a Korean social media app designed to facilitate interactions between fans and their favorite artists, as one way in which the band connects with its ARMY. Each member of the group has their own Weverse account, so fans can interact with them more individually than as a group. Members of the ARMY begin to get a sense of their individual personas further outside the context of the band than seen on more mainstream apps like Twitter and Instagram.

Interactions between fans in the ARMY are common as well. Social media allows fans from all over the globe to converse about their favorite songs and provide encouragement to one another. Venolia said she knows about connecting over BTS through first-hand experience – she reconnected with a friend from high school over the group and said that this person is now one of her closest friends.

Even if a person isn’t part of the ARMY yet, Professor Gateward said they still might want to attend this conference.

“BTS has such an impact on every aspect of the entertainment industry,” Gateward said. “In order to understand the world we live in, then you need to understand what role they play in terms of culture.”

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