On October 13, BTS’ massive fandom, ARMYs (named by BTS)* were so excited for member Jimin’s birthday that they trended 20 separate hashtags, the first time that all trends were for one topic in Twitter history.
This article isn’t about the merits of BTS’ music or their history which more qualified people have discussed. Instead, I’m writing about something that I and others have noticed in the last few years as BTS has skyrocketed in popularity. A lot of people really like to use them and their dedicated fan-base in misguided attempts of piggybacking off the massive social currency that BTS and ARMYs collectively hold.
Social currency originates from the term social capital. The latter is used in a variety of ways but generally indicates the networks of relationships between people who live and work in a society that allows that society to function effectively. The former was coined by Erich Joachimsthaler, the CEO of Vivaldi Group, a consulting firm.
He defines social currency as “the extent to which people share the brand or information about the brand with others as part of their everyday social lives.” Specifically, it refers to actual and potential resources from existing in social networks that make the brand well known. All of the social media accounts for various brands on Twitter are trying to use their followers to get more people involved with the brand. The Popeyes* chicken sandwich hoopla is a great example.
What this means is that as BTS became more popular online, people in charge of award ceremonies and other events attempted to (and successfully) utilized ARMYs support for BTS performing to get the events trending. Their first appearance at a US show was the 2017 Billboard Music Awards where they received the top social artist award followed by a performance at the 2017 American Music Awards where they performed second to last in the show. They’d go onto win the top social award again and perform second to last at the 2018 Billboard Music Awards. And all of those nights, ARMYs had the band trending.
So it makes total sense that other brands and various entities would try to use ARMYs for their own reasons. Sometimes that’s because they know their fans hate BTS and want to get everyone riled up. Sometimes that’s because they want to get a ton of attention towards a positive cause. The only problem is that if I have learned anything while researching the two incidents I’ll outline below, ARMYs are loathe to do anything related to BTS unless it’s of their own volition and due to their dedicated and truly passionate love and support for the group.
ARMYs quick mobilization is why, when one of the h3h3productions podcast host’s commentary about BTS included comments like “Little girls are jerking off to little kpop boys. It’s like a little fetish. It’s like a little twink gay fetish about these kpop boys.”, the fandom immediately activated to show their anger by contacting various sponsors of the podcast. Audible even responded to one ARMY and stated that they were no longer sponsoring the podcast! ARMYs tweeting around the topic made it clear that they weren’t trying to get sponsorship shut down just because they cared about BTS, but that no one should support this kind of language. Of course, the host(s) don’t want to admit that their language in this and other instances is unacceptable and continues to tweet things to rile fandom up for more attention.
Just a few days later, The Mob (Twitch streaming group) got #BTSisOverParty trending in attempts to raise money for charity. Except plenty of people who dislike BTS or outright hate them jumped onto the hashtag in complete earnest. As expected the hashtag mobilized the fandom to trend #BTSForTheKids. The reason I include the second incident is that there are already accounts dedicated to raising money for charities by ARMYs! The fandom has already raised over $2 million for UNICEF (for whom BTS is an ambassador). So if The Mob really cared about charity they could have just found one of the many charity twitters dedicated to BTS to raise money for their cause. (This map even shows the hundreds of charity projects taken on by ARMYs around the world!)
While looking up more information about the podcast and Twitch incidents, I came across the account ResearchBTS. A PhD student who has worked in the PR/communications field for nearly 10 years, Nicole‘s dissertation will focus on ARMY. She’s one of many accounts dedicated to tracking trends and ARMY activity on Twitter and elsewhere.
This is one of her many visualizations which shows how ARMYs quickly overtook the original BTS is over party hashtag with four new hashtags to bring awareness to their own charity programs. Multiple accounts track BTS on the charts with BTSchartdata working overtime to update fandom when ARMYs collectively recharted BTS’ entire discography after they did not win any awards at the People’s Choice Awards. I wish I was half as coordinated, damn.
Continuing down the rabbit hole, I even found BTSARMYBarAssoc, an account of lawyers dedicated to answering questions about legal topics that pertain to BTS.
As Nicole says in an interview included in Ariyanna Smith’s “Anatomy of a Fandom“, ARMYs are “organized, strategic, and creative” driven by their “passion, dedication, and remarkable grassroots efforts” which are super difficult to achieve for most brands and businesses. Which isn’t to say BTS is the only group with a fandom this dedicated. Everyone knows how intense BeyHive is as are many other fan bases. In fact, ARMYs and fans of other artists regularly get together for streaming parties of music by both artists.
But this is the fandom where after finding a really good photo with Shutterstock’s ugly logo, a bunch of ARMYs got together and bought the dang photo themselves.
Ultimately, there will be people who aren’t fans of BTS and never will be. However if I’ve learned anything in the last two years of listening to their music and seeing ARMYs interact, it’s that even with the awful parts of fandom (because the world is full of awful people), ARMYs usually work together for positive purposes just like the group of seven stars that they so love.
*Edited to reflect that BTS named ARMYs and that it was the Popeyes chicken hoopla, not KFC.