Into The Magic Shop

With catchy lyrics and sharp social commentary, global pop sensation BTS finds a big fan in the Falls. For Carole Showell, the group “gives us the best of us” during a troubling time.

If you watched the Billboard Music Awards this May, you probably noticed the entire audience – fan and celebrity alike – going absolutely wild when the seven members of Korean pop group BTS took the stage. BTS made history as the first Korean group to perform at the Billboard Music Awards, presenting a high-energy performance that was sung almost entirely in their native Korean.

BTS, or Bangtan Sonyeodan (Bulletproof Boyscouts) in Korean, is comprised of four vocalists (V, Jungkook, Jimin, and Jin) and three rappers (Suga, RM, and j-hope). At first glance, BTS might seem like the typical pop boy band, only with significantly better dance moves. In reality, BTS are highly accomplished musicians, producers, lyricists, and dancers.

They use their platform to affect direct social change through their partnership with UNICEF and vocal support for the LGBTQ+ community. Through their music, BTS explores complex philosophical themes and psychodrama concepts, in addition to offering commentary on socioeconomic disparities, harmful societal expectations, and reflections about self-concept, mental illness, and unhealthy relationships.

BTS’ songs often have multiple layers of meaning. Their songs can be enjoyed casually or you can create theories within the fictional alternate universe that the group has created across multiple albums. You can also appreciate BTS songs as social commentary. The group’s ability to convey multiple concepts simultaneously allows them to connect with a wide demographic of listeners. In a perfect example of music being the universal language, BTS has become a global phenomenon, recruiting millions of fans of all ages, races, and ethnicities to their fandom (called A.R.M.Y.).

Rather than review every song on their new album, Love Yourself Tear, I’ve chosen six songs from four albums in BTS’ discography that I feel exemplify how and why the group’s songs resonate with fans both young and old, amplifying our voices when we would otherwise feel unheard.

Song: Baepsae/Silver Spoon
Album: The Most Beautiful Moment In Life Pt. 2
Year: 2015
Listen here 

BTS uses idioms and metaphors common in Korean culture. A quick Google search shows that these idioms have clear parallels in other cultures, making the lyrics very relatable regardless of the audience. In Baepsae (also called Silver Spoon), BTS uses these common cultural themes to speak to the now false promise that says if you work hard and do certain things, you too can move up the socioeconomic ladder.

Global economic uncertainty and stratification of wealth means that many Millennials are pushing themselves to the breaking point attempting to meet impossible standards and struggling to achieve economic stability that is now out of reach.

The message of Baepsae has also struck a chord with older listeners, many of whom have found themselves similarly struggling in recent years. Many are realizing that despite their years of hard work, their financial stability and hope for a secure future are as ephemeral as the dreams of Millennials.

Song: Fire
Album: The Most Beautiful Moment In Life: Young Forever
Year: 2016

If Baepsae forces us to face the realization that we are chasing a lie that is available only to the privileged few, then Fire is a rebellion against conforming to societal expectations and a rejection of the lie of Baepsae.

On a daily basis, we see this passionate energy in Generation Z and younger Millennials and this song perfectly captures that spirit of self-realization and empowerment. Many of us seem to lose that fighting spirit as we grow older.

Fire reminds older listeners that although we may have grown jaded and complacent, that youthful, rebellious energy is still there waiting to be reignited. Younger listeners’ experiences are validated and affirmed. Their voice, their passion, is important and should not be quelled.

Song: Blood Sweat & Tears
Album: Wings
Year: 2016

Based on the novel Demian by Hermann Hesse, Blood Sweat & Tears is a criticism of, or warning about, how we can become addicted and obsessed with something until it destroys us completely. The temptation becomes irresistible and consumes us.

To interject with a personal anecdote, I discovered BTS in November 2017 after seeing them on the American Music Awards. At that time, I was becoming disillusioned and dissatisfied with my job as a trauma therapist. I saw my peers making more money and achieving greater social standing.

As I fell further into fandom, I realized that I’d started to become consumed by materialism and a desire to achieve a higher social status. It was becoming increasingly difficult to remember that I was working as a trauma therapist because I was passionate about helping people and not simply because it was my ticket to higher earnings and buying more things.

Somewhere along the way I had lost sight of myself and had gradually become obsessed with, and consumed by, my own greed. The lyrics of Blood Sweat & Tears have stuck with me since then and understanding the message of this song was a pivotal moment in my personal journey.

Song: Anpanman
Album: Love Yourself Tear
Year: 2018

Anpanman is a superhero from a Japanese children’s cartoon. His head is made of a pastry and he loses his powers if his head gets wet. He also loses strength when he feeds the hungry with bits of his head, sacrificing himself to help others in need.

Despite being a rather weak superhero, Anpanman always saves the day by making the most of his abilities and trying his best. We often feel as though we can’t affect much change because we’re not particularly powerful or influential. We have moments of weakness and self-doubt. BTS reminds us that we don’t have to be super to be a hero and we can make a difference in small ways using the skills that we have. We should not be paralyzed by inaction because even the smallest action matters.

One would assume that being in a globally popular group would make BTS feel invincible like a superhero. As BTS explains in Anpanman, they have the same doubts and fears that we do and they wonder if they’re super enough to be a hero. Their genuineness in sharing their insecurities allows us to see the group as a reflection of ourselves. We see qualities in them that we wish we had but we’re also reminded that our own strengths are pretty formidable too.

Song: Magic Shop
Album: Love Yourself Tear
Year: 2018
Listen here 

The Magic Shop is an actual psychodrama technique that involves exchanging negative aspects of self for positive ones. In this song, the listener is encouraged to replace negative thoughts and self-criticism for a positive visualization where we are being comforted and strengthened by the seven members of BTS.

As a therapist who appreciates the power of the arts to heal and comfort, I’m particularly fond of Magic Shop and how a psychodrama technique has been incorporated into a song that was written as a love letter to the fans.

Song: So What
Album: Love Yourself Tear
Year: 2018
Listen here

At the end of the journey, we return to the theme of Fire. We’re under immense pressure to conform to certain expectations and behave in a particular way. We’re forever measuring ourselves against others and, from our skewed perspective, we frequently fall short of our unrealistic expectations.

So What asks us to pause for a moment, forget what people say we should be, and just be ourselves. So What tells us that we shouldn’t allow our fears and perceived shortcomings to define who we are or who we can be. We understand that we don’t have to be perfect and our worth isn’t determined by measuring ourselves against our peers. We can slowly learn to transform our negative self-concept into a positive self-concept and in the process we learn to love our authentic selves.

We live in a time of increasing socioeconomic stratification, rising ethnocentrism, racism, and xenophobia, and toxic populism where opinions are shaped by manipulation.

Somehow, BTS has become the antidote that we never knew we needed. Their existence certainly isn’t going to magically solve the ills of the world but they have inspired millions to love ourselves and by doing so we learn to love others, not in spite of our differences but because of our differences

Additional Links:

Fake Love (title track music video from Love Yourself Tear):

Intro: Singularity (intro video from Love Yourself Tear):

Introduction to BTS (fanmade)

Burn The Stage (official YouTube Red documentary)

 

Carole spent most of her childhood in and around Ocean City, Maryland before moving to Philadelphia in 2000 to attend Temple University. She has lived in East Falls since 2007. After receiving her Bachelors degree in Psychology (with a curious minor in Art History), Carole bounced around various jobs, enjoying stints as a City Year Corps Member and an Educator at the National Liberty Museum. She finally settled on a career path and received her Masters in Social Work from the University of Pennsylvania in 2014. When she's not fangirling over BTS or living her best life in Las Vegas, she works as an outpatient trauma therapist at a community clinic in Mt. Airy.

2 Comments

  • Aoki Ranmaru

    Great article! Thank you for giving such essential details about thin trendy group. The article prooves that BTS aren’t just a pretty faces and sharp dance moves, but they actually have a lot to say. They have their own worldview they want to share with other the Earth citizens. And the most effective way to do it music. Cos music knows no boundaries.

  • Sugar Rebel Rhodes

    I haven’t looked at the comments yet, but if we may request in keeping with Korean tradition, that you list the members names in this order only. It may seem incidental to us Westerners but it’s traditional for the Koreans. I can see no reason to deny a BTS their traditions. I believe that as Koreans that BTS would be polite and not make a big deal of it. It occurs to me that we westerns can sometimes push back when we are asked to honor others traditions after we’ve unknowingly made a mistake. We can’t know every tradition. I travel all over this world and I’ve spent a lot of time living in South Korea, they speak very kindly about Americans. The Koreans are a gracious community and they have accomplished more in the last 60 years catching up after the Korean war, that it makes you wonder what takes the rest of us so long. A great many people in the rest of the world continues to admire America and some times, actually a lot of the time, I see us being very ungrateful and very myopic. I hope to never hear another journalist ask, are you ever going to sing only in English. These men speak at least 4-6 languages some more proficient than others but let’s not forget the youngest was 15 years old 5 years ago when they started. The rest of the world has been reading subtitles and I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anyone complaining that Fleetwood Mac didn’t do an entire album in Japanese to satisfy the customer base. Now BTS does do an entire album for the Japanese who up until recently has been a very large market. I don’t think it as a big deal to learn just one or two other languages because no one expected this much this soon. So if we love them this much, just the way it is, then let’s not ask these fine young men who are putting forward s character and a sacrifice that I don’t think we’ve ever seen from modern performers. The possibilities of what their fandom is capable of doing band how that translates to the rest of Humanity is very underrated vatvthis point. I hope we all see the even bigger picture and possibilities that this kind of unity and connection offers us. Instead of finding something bright and shinny and immediately consume it until it’s gone, let’s sit back watch, enjoy & see what we can learn from South Korean culture and then quite possibly what we can teach them. We can’t miss these opportunities in history. Opportunities to do something different to get a better out come for those we are leaving this world too, our young. So the order if you would be so kind is their leader RM or Kim Namjoon, the oldest brother Kim Seokin or Jin, Min Yoongi or Suga, Jung Hoseok or JHope, Park Jimin or Jimin, Kim Taehyung or V & the maknae (youngest) Jeon JungKook or Kookie. This is the order that they will consistently be in around the world. In Korea & Japan for sure. It appears that the rest of the world is also honoring tradition. Being polite even when it goes against our individual wants is not something we Westerners are accustomed to seeing or doing. I’m not asking anyone to agree with it or care for that fact, but it’s these little things that remind us that despite our common bonds there are other cultures with valuable tradition and us not being familiar is no reason to refuse. I’m not suggesting that this writer did anything wrong. I do see people outside the US devote more time to familiarize themselves with the traditions of other cultures prior to encountering them. I am a long time BTS fan, I am much older and totally atypical of their fan based demographic, but you see I found these young men when I wasn’t sure I was staying in this world. They reminded me of what I knew when I was young, I was able to renew my faith in not only Humanity, but in me. They inspired me to dig deep, and run this marathon and never give up. This gift I can only repay is by keeping my head up, looking out for those who can’t speak up, defend those who can and aren’t being heard, to teach others how to do this same thing for others & ultimately continue to love myself. Oh and we’d like to live in a world where people like BTS who devotes their lives to us, can have back some freedom. So we ask that no celebrity be chased, invaded or grabbed at if you encounter them in public. ” Let them be them. Let us be us!” I don’t think the original meaning of that line, but this journalist identified one of the most fantastic things about BTS. We are all connected & experience even the same song subjectively. I hope you understand my passion & motivation and take no offense. And remember the majority of our ARMY are very young. Many not them are wise, articulate & organized way beyond their years, but a few are still learning to regulate themselves. This is where some of us older fans try to offer solutions for them to consider. I think it works better than I could have figured. Of course there are anti- fans & fan wars, trolls and all the usual internet suspects. Why do I tell you this? Have you seen what ARMY is capable of so far? I’m trying to teach absolute power corrupt absolutely before it’s too late. Lol. It’s not really my job, but I feel like I’ve genuinely got 12-15 million family members and we routinely call each other on our behaviour. Thanksgiving is a nightmare as you can imagine. The kids table is the size of Texas! Lol..ok now I’m trolling. Thanks for the great article I know so many of us appreciate when the press shows our boys the love and respect they give us!

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