When I first started to get into BTS, I remember one of my friends used to tell me that ‘they just steal Black culture and Black people, so why are you interested?’. Or ‘I don’t like them because they don’t sing or rap in English.’ But you listen to French and Spanish music?
For anybody who knows me, that really didn’t phase me. At all. BTS have talent and- a lot of it-, so they are more than deserving of their success and accolades. They were recently awarded the 2020 Music Innovator Award by Wall Street Journal Magazine.
Not to make excuses from how BTS profit from Black people at times, but if you really look into their history and discography, people will see how they appreciate ‘Black culture’ and aren’t problematic.
I always say this but we are talking about the same group that donated $1 million to Black Lives Matter. ARMY matched the donation within 24 hours – other fandoms could only dream of having such a relationship. I just don’t understand how people can hate a group that is pretty much just doing their thing. Often, the critique that some Black people have of BTS is heavily laced with xenophobia and they choose to remain in their ignorance.
BTS is also the group that were basically apprentices of rapper Warren G, a year following their 2013 debut. This is super cringy but this is the same BTS that had a reality show, American Hustle Life, whilst they were in Los Angeles, familiarizing themselves with hip hop culture as they were originally marketed as a hip hop group. Thank God for the glow up! They have recorded with Nicki Minaj, Wale, Juice WRLD, and other celebrities and this is a testament to how Black people have influenced them.
I think it’s extremely important to dissect the term ‘Black culture’. Often when people use the term, they tend to refer to African American culture or subsections of African American culture. Not every single Black person in the world has the same culture, we are incredibly diverse people and this has to be recognised. There is no denying that they have been inspired by Black people. The gwara gwara, a South African dance was featured in their IDOL music video – we even see J-Hope acknowledge this in a VLIVE.
It’s annoying to see how people feel embarrassed of what they enjoy because of what others may think. Being Black and stanning a non-Black group really isn’t that deep, you like what you like and that’s perfectly okay!
But I digress. More generally, when we take a look at the evolution of BTS, it is evident that there has been a Black influence in their music. Whether it’s Dynamite, which has a clear Michael Jackson influence or their older hip hop and R&B songs.
First of all, we have the beloved rap line, consisting of RM (BTS leader), J-Hope and SUGA. Naturally, as rappers, they each have their own individual flows and they are amazing. I recommend checking out Tear, UGH and Ddaeng. Also, like Black rappers, the rap line have their own cyphers – Cypher pt 1, pt 2, pt 3 and pt 4.
There’s a song literally called Hip Hop Phile which pays tribute to renown rappers like KRS-One, Jay Z, Nas, Biggie, Tupac, J Cole and Kendrick Lamar. In an interview with E News, they list their favourite American artists and mention the likes of Usher, Chris Brown, A$AP Rocky, Pharrell and Trey Songz despite the interviewer’s assumption of them being fans of Taylor Swift. Yikes.
In a 2017 press conference for the Wings Tour, BigHit’s CEO, Bang Shi Hyuk, attributed their distinctive sound as having “Black music [as] the base”. He explained how it was a vital part of their success. He said that “The members like hip-hop and Black music,” and “These two things lowered the entry barrier to western markets. K-pop is unfamiliar to westerners, but they are familiar with hip-hop and Black music.”
Again, we see the Black influence and BTS are more than aware of it and credit Black artists. This may seem minor but at this year’s Billboard Music Awards, when performing their hit single Dynamite, they performed with an all Black band. This was so incredible to see but it’s nothing new with the Bangtan Boys. BTS have been working with Black producers, choirs and even marching bands for a while, as we see in the ON Commentary Film: Dialogue.
It’s so amazing to see how despite being categorised as a ‘K-pop group’, (which they are not, they are more than that) they differentiate themselves from other groups and actually respect the hip hop genre and listen to their Black ARMYs when called out.
For example, SUGA was called out for using a Jim Jones speech in one of the songs on his ‘D-2’ mixtape, who caused a mass suicide in Guyana where over 900 people were killed and were mainly Black. After the rightful outrage, an apology was issued and sample was deleted. In turn, a new track was released. Being accountable and receptive to criticism is essential and whilst this was offensive, the reason I am still a huge fan is because they are sincere and willing to educate themselves on these matters.
The word, ‘naega’, means ‘I’ and the word, ‘niga’, which means ‘you’ are Korean words, regularly used in their songs. BTS has been criticised by Western media because of the similarity with the n-word, the slur. People need to remember that the world does not revolve around the English language in this specific context. BTS changed both of these words, whilst performing ‘Fake Love’ at the 2018 Billboard Music Awards because they understood why it would be deemed inappropriate in the US. I love how they understood the cultural context and why it could be a problem for them.
But, news flash – despite the dominance of the English language, a world does exist beyond it. Just like Parasite‘s director Bong Joon Ho mentioned at the Golden Globes, “once you overcome subtitles you will be introduced to more amazing films” and I think it’s the exact same with BTS – listen to them without xenophobia and racism.
Bong Joon Ho: "Once you overcome the one inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films" https://t.co/oWOsq8YtW4 pic.twitter.com/mJAJhEIH4U
— Variety (@Variety) January 6, 2020
So, if you think BTS are just another ignorant group, think again. They are more than aware of the origins regarding some of the music they perform – they don’t do only do hip hop or R&B – and they are an extremely talented group.
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