Surrounded by thousands of fans waving light sticks and singing the words to Epiphany, the night has barely begun and already there is a sense of excitement in the air. BTS is in Los Angeles, and Kdrama Jen is live at the Staples Center for their Love Yourself Concert.
Drama Geek, Clkytta, and Kmuse attended the opening night, but due to a work conflict, Kdrama Jen had to fly in late and find someone willing to trade tickets (shout out to HYB-thank you! Without you, this would not have been possible!) That means Kdrama Jen had to attend by herself, but with thousands of ARMY around, she was not alone for long. Read on to hear the stories of ARMY from around the world and how BTS helped them learn to love themselves.
Kdrama Jen, here. You might think I would have felt a little awkward wandering around the Staples Center with my borrowed version 3 light stick (Thanks, Clkytta), but I felt oddly at home. There is something amazingly powerful about a fandom that spans generations, cultures, and home languages. From the moment I took my seat, I was immediately absorbed in a conversation with the lovely ladies next to me. Any question of whether or not I would be able to fangirl without my Kbesties was immediately removed. We were in this together!
It made me really reflect upon my own journey to BTS and what it means to me. Why would I fly across the country, leaving my regular life behind, just for a concert? Well, a huge reason was the opportunity to meet some of my co-blogging and podcasting besties in person. We chat daily, but we had never met in real life. It was in a word…AWESOME. I met them when they were full of adrenaline and excitement from their concert experience, and then we had some additional bonding time during the impromptu hotel evacuation due to a faulty alarm system. Still on New York time, I couldn’t get back to sleep, so I had lots of time to just feel gratitude for the journeys that brought us all together. It was Amber Kmuse who introduced me to BTS a couple of years ago, and then it was a total down-the-rabbit-hole experience from there. I love the way the music has changed and grown as the group has discovered themselves and their unique sound. I especially love the way the Love Yourself albums have served as a reminder for so many that learning to love ourselves is not always easy, but so important. I was a fan of the personalities and music of BTS before, but there is something about this most recent collection of songs that is special. I appreciate the message of the music, but after talking with ARMY from around the world about how BTS inspired them to love themselves, I am now in complete awe and humbled by the opportunity to hear their stories. I appreciate each person I met and their willingness to share some pretty incredible revelations with a perfect stranger. It speaks to the power of the atmosphere that so many people were willing to share their rawest emotions and personal stories within moments of meeting me.
My adventure began right after having my bag checked for contraband like SLR cameras and bottles of water. I was standing in line with Serena, a 20-something woman with dark blonde hair. She had flown from Germany just to see this show. When I asked her about her journey to BTS, she told me about her struggles with depression and the way she never felt “enough.” With an older sister who was practically perfect in every way, it was hard to live in that shadow. Fighting depression and the black cloud that would envelop her on a regular basis, she started listening to Kpop. She really enjoyed the music of BTS, especially the rap line. She then happened to read that Suga also struggled with depression. It helped her see that even someone who seemed to have it all together could still be fighting these same demons. She ended up seeking help for her depression, despite her fear that her family might judge her. It turned out that they were much more supportive of her than she had thought they would be. Serena credits BTS with helping her to find the courage to seek help. Her gratitude and love for this group, especially Suga, overwhelms her, and when she had the chance to come to California to see them, she could not pass it up. She was shaking with excitement, as I met her about 30 minutes before she would see them live and on stage in front of her for the first time!
Making my way to my section, I met a male fan, Carlos. He was full of effervescent charm and wearing a BTS jersey with Jimin’s name on it. He seemed to be holding court in the middle of a gaggle of girls, excitedly chatting about the upcoming concert and predicting which songs they might sing. “Dude, I totally think they are going to sing Dope. It’s my favorite, and I know they won’t want to disappoint me.” The crowd around him laughed and their energy had a magnetic pull. I was very interested to hear a male fan’s perspective, so I asked Carlos to share why he loves BTS so much. He said, “How f-ing cool is it that there is this group of beautiful humans telling us to love ourselves? It is not easy being true to yourself, but I have found ARMY accepts me.” This was immediately followed by a giant group hug from all of the girls surrounding him. There is no doubt this group of ARMY has fully accepted Carlos. I couldn’t even see him behind his wall of supporters. I waved goodbye but had I stayed for even a second longer, I am quite sure I would have been dragged into that loving hug too.
When I finally navigated through the crowd and found my seat, I was already buzzing with anticipation and feeling this incredible sense of unity with everyone around me, but I was a little worried that I might feel out of place sitting by myself. Then, I met Vianca. She is from the Los Angeles area and was attending the concert with her best friend. When I said I was by myself, she immediately said, “No you aren’t” and that was that. She reminded me to look under my seat for the fan project sign, and we were quickly engaged in a conversation about BTS biases (hers in RM) and favorite songs. I then asked her about her journey to BTS, and she shared with me that she had started listening in middle school. Other kids made fun of her for listening to Kpop, but she loved it, so it didn’t bother her. She shared that she was always bigger than average; it was not easy being plus-sized even as a child, but when she discovered BTS she found an inner strength. A high school student now, Vianca fell for RM back in what she described as “the days of bad perms and eyeliner.” He was smart and articulate, and he made her want to be more and be better. She admires his intelligence and loves that he is well read and recommends books to his fans. She has read many of the ones he has suggested. A top student at her high school, Vianca keeps a picture of RM (but, she refers to him as Nam Joon) at the end of her bed and uses it to remind her to keep studying and to love herself. It was hard for me to see why this beautiful and vivacious young lady would have any doubt about her self-worth or place in the world. She was charming, witty, and beautiful. I was immediately wrapped up in her energy and found myself belting out all of my favorite songs right along with her. When she shed tears during RM’s solo, I could truly tell what BTS has meant to her. Maybe some would worry that a teenager cares so much about a boy band, but this is not blind adoration, she feels a real connection. This has given her the conviction to strive for her goals, and anything that helps this incredible young lady recognize her own greatness has to be worthwhile in my book.
After the final goodbye from the stage was complete and everyone began shuffling out of their seats, with hoarse voices and ears still ringing, I met Anya and her friends. Anya could barely speak because she had been screaming all night long, but when I asked her about her BTS journey, she whisper-shouted, “I love that they are composing and helping to produce some of their own music. They are my age and look at the impact they are having on the world. They are an inspiration!”
This concert was different. I attended last year’s in Newark, and I left rejuvenated and convinced I would do whatever I could to attend again in the future, but this 2018 concert experience was unique. They played most of their new music and some medleys of favorites from the past, but there was clearly a theme and a mission. This was a celebration of the beauty inside every person attending, and it was a message that resonated.
Seeing my Kbesties rushing toward me, like a crew of Kindergarten moms picking me up from my first day at school, I felt tears of appreciation prick my eyes. The tour was called “Love Yourself,” but I was overwhelmed with my love for this group of amazing people. Seriously, if you knew their stories, you would be inspired by their collective strength, resilience, and brilliance. I wanted to get mushy and burst into tears of joy, but instead, I just smiled and squeed and suggested we go for a midnight adventure to figure out where BTS might be staying. Since the very idea of that both alarmed and amused them, the urge to bawl my eyes out was replaced by schoolgirl giggles and laughter. Just FYI, I totally did the research to figure out where they were staying, but I would never do anything with that information. It was just fun to think about, and probably even more fun to see the horrified reactions of my Kbesties as they imagined bailing me out of a Los Angeles jail cell.
One benefit of being an ahjumma fan is my decades of life have taught me that loving myself is necessary before I can love others. Or, rather, loving others has helped me learn to love myself. I am happiest when I can help others see their potential, recognize their talents, and find their joy. It makes me immeasurably grateful to know that BTS is using their platform to remind every person of the importance of embracing who they are, scars, faults and all. I listened to Love Yourself: Answer many times before the concert, but hearing all of the stories of ARMY I encountered and seeing how each song performed created a perfect tapestry of interwoven messages just made my heart overflow. BTS is not subtle about it either. It is rapped in Idol, a melodic refrain in Serendipity, the chorus in I’m Fine, and if fans are still not convinced, they will hear it in the title song (or the encore performance for those attending the concert) Love Myself.
The BTS concert in LA was an incredible experience, and as I sit here in the wee hours of the morning, spending another night in a strange airport (my flight was canceled), I have nothing but joy and gratitude in my heart. I just saw BTS, heard stories that have left me changed for the better, and spent an incredible 24 hours with some of my dearest friends. I have my headphones on and my favorite songs playing. In the words of BTS, “I’m fine, fine, fine.”
Until the next concert,
Dramas With a Side of Kimchi