When I want to relax, I don’t have a bath (it’s not conducive to relaxation to have to clear up the remnants of a bath bomb), or go in for some meditation (my mind wouldn’t stop whirring for long enough), or listen to soothing music (it takes me so long to find a playlist that works that my stress levels go up instead of down). 

Instead, I watch In the Soop, a travel/lifestyle/crafting show about seven grown men going on holiday to a gorgeous house by a lake somewhere in a forest in Korea.

Of course, these aren’t just any seven men, together RM, Jin, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin, V and Jungkook form BTS, one of the biggest bands on the planet, and easily the biggest Kpop band in the world.

In the Soop (the name translates to In the Forest) saw the group go on a staycation of sorts. The first of its eight episodes aired in August 2020, right as we were in the midst of the first stage of the pandemic. Over a year later, I’ve rewatched it multiple times and, if you haven’t yet come across it, I urge you to give it a go.

On first hearing about it, In the Soop might not seem like the one-stop relaxation shop it actually is. After all, it’s about seven supremely rich people holidaying in the kind of house you can only dream of staying in, while indulging any hobby that comes to mind, and spending the rest of the time eating and sleeping.

But that is exactly its charm. For anyone who doesn’t know BTS: they work hard. Like, harder than just about anyone you know. And so, one of the ultimate pleasures for Army (the name given to the BTS fandom), is to see these boys relax and just enjoy being regular friends (or as regular as you get when you’re super rich and multiple camera angles are recording you on holiday). Watching a group of people enjoying simple things in life (more on this in a bit) and just being the best of friends is so relaxing that it’s even spawned a funny ‘better than therapy’ meme that regularly pops up across fandom (note: In the Soop is great, but actual therapy cannot be replaced).

A lot of In the Soop features the boys cooking, eating, and cleaning up, and, as someone who loves food and the social aspect of it, it is glorious. There are heaving tables full of home cooked food (jjapaguri, pajeon, dakgalbi and more), mostly prepared by the eldest two, Jin and Suga. Their giant meals are always devoured with pure pleasure – enjoyment of the food and the company is equally important – and you can tell by the noises they make (these scenes could be seen as a kind of mukbang, an ASMR-like thing popular in Korea where people eat while interacting with an audience). I will never not laugh when the boys comment on how they think they’ve cooked too much food, before devouring it all without any need to rest their stomachs. And I’ll carry on laughing, fondly this time, when five minutes later they’re talking about what they’re going to have for their next meal.

When they’re not cooking and eating, they’re having a go at a variety of activities. There are epic ping pong games, everyone has a go at painting (once more proving he’s good at everything, Jungkook paints their lake and forest view and it is so good I gasped), and on their last night they play board games. In between, they’re reading, constructing and driving remote-controlled boats or toy aeroplanes, and wood carving – everyone is terrible at the latter, and kind of hates it, but they’re determined to create something, and that only makes them more endearing. 

They sing, a lot, which is perhaps unsurprising given they’re professional musicians. But there’s a karaoke machine in the house that gets a lot of use, and a keyboard which is played morning, noon and night. I love seeing people who are good at what they do doing the thing they’re good at, so one of my favorite scenes is when the group make up an earworm of a song about being in the soop, which then turns into the theme song for the show after Suga rushes to get his equipment to record the moment. (There’s a making of where you see BTS record the song properly in the studio, and it’s everything I need.)

But the true heart of the show, and the reason it’s so excellent, is because at its core is a demonstration of affectionate, deep male friendship of the kind so rarely seen in pop culture. These are seven guys who aren’t afraid to show that they love each other, and it’s refreshing and heartwarming in equal measure.

My favorite member – my bias, in BTS parlance – J-Hope (or Hobi) basically spends the entire show having friend dates with each of the members of BTS. He goes jogging with Jin, is the world’s best sous chef/cleaner-upper for Suga, goes hiking with RM (after getting up early to make gimbap with him), custom decorates shoes with Jimin, goes out for a drive and eats burgers with V, and sits by the fire and listens to Jungkook play the guitar.

He’s not the only one. V, the second youngest of the group, orchestrates an elaborate post-dinner set-up on one of the evenings to spend time Jungkook, the youngest. The pair sit by the fire drinking and talking about how they haven’t recently had time to connect, hence the reason for this “date”. It is a wonderfully touching moment, and it’s only right that we don’t get to eavesdrop on much of the conversation.

All the relaxation doesn’t mean there aren’t moments of stress. BTS fans have learned to cope with the fact that the band is pure and total chaos, and that watching them fail to grasp basic life skills can be agonizing. Here that manifests in Jimin forgetting to load his luggage – his luggage! – for the second trip out to the house (they’re so busy, they take a break in the middle of their break to go back to Seoul and do some work before returning to the forest), although Jimin has form in leaving his suitcase behind (see season one of their travel show, Bon Voyage, in which RM also loses his passport). It manifests in Jimin and Jungkook getting drunk one night, Jimin destroying the mosquito net on Jungkook’s bed, and then also somehow injuring his foot.

But the chaos, however much it makes me want to start biting my nails, is also part of the charm of the boys. And a little drama only makes everything else more soothing. Plus, it mostly makes me laugh, and those endorphins are just what I need to deal with my lingering Covid-related/life anxiety.

Luckily for me, not only have I got eight episodes of In the Soop ready to watch whenever I need to feel calm, there are five more coming; season two of In the Soop with BTS is released this month. And this time, presumably for privacy and security reasons, the boys are staying in a mansion that’s seemingly been built especially for them. Even though the location has changed, I can pretty much guarantee we’re in for more eating, lazing around and stunning scenery. Promo pictures for the series show the band looking like they’re relaxing, and well, I already feel soothed.

Such is the power of In the Soop. Let it soothe you too.

  • Sarah Shaffi

    Sarah Shaffi is a freelance literary journalist and editor. Her work has appeared in publications including Stylist, Vogue Australia, Boundless and The New Arab. She is a judge for the 2021 Costa Novel Award, and has previously judged the Jhalak Prize and the Orwell Prize for Political Fiction. She can be found tweeting @sarahshaffi and on Instagram @sarah.shaffi.