Meet the Fans of BTS: Profiles of American ARMY

BTS, 2015
ilgan Sports/Multi-Bits via Getty Images

BTS perform onstage during the 2015 Asia Song Festival at Busan Asiad Main Stadium on Oct. 11, 2015 in Busan, South Korea.

With the ascent of K-pop boy band BTS to the lofty realms of the Billboard 200 and the Hot 100 charts, there is no denying that the act’s hardwork throughout the past few years has paid off. With the support of their loyal ARMY, an acronym for “Adorable Representative M.C for Youth,” the group's new album, Love Yourself: Her, and it's single "DNA" have seen they type of global success that's rare for the K-pop world, propelling the Her to become the highest-charted K-pop album ever on Billboard charts. 

Never ones to forget their fans, BTS has dedicated several songs to their supporters and constantly thanked them for their effusive love of the band. But while the septet's well known to their fans, sometimes the faces of who that fandom is comprised of gets lost behind the glowing ARMY Bomb lightsticks. Billboard spoke to a handful of the band’s American supporters to provide just a taste of who BTS' fans are in the States:

Sara Donis

Age: 17
Location: St. Charles, Illinois
Career: Junior in High school
An early ARMY: It was a little after their debut [in 2013], actually, so I guess I’m a pretty old ARMY. [Laughs] It was just through I I was watching some videos, I think a React channel, you know. It didn’t initially start with BTS, it was other groups. But eventually I made my way to their debut song and other videos, and I was intrigued by them and really attracted to their music. 

How has fandom changed: It’s definitely grown, but it’s also become a lot more intertwined. Before, we were a really small fandom that was so close with each other. Now, internationally we have so many other fans out there. Even our relationship with K-ARMYs, the ARMYs from Korea, has grown essentially into this family-like atmosphere and it’s really amazing to see this growth and it’s amazing to share everything with so many other people.

Global connections: They’re a symbol, in a way, that the world doesn’t have to be so far apart. We’re actually really close together. The fact that I can like their music, like these seven Korean guys and their personalities, and become so close to them even though they don’t know me shows that the world doesn’t have to be so separated. We can share each other’s music and media. The world isn’t black and white anymore. It’s like a mixing pot that we can all kind of contribute to. And that’s huge for me. It just opens your mind to other things and I think that’s really important.

Gloria Jun

Age: 20
Location: Pennsylvania
Career: Student
Sisterly ties: Around the end of sophomore year [of high school], or early junior year, my sister was into BTS before I was and she showed me “Boy in Luv” and “No More Dream.” And she said that she thought I’d really like the songs, that they’re my style. At first I wasn’t really into BTS because I was sort of already into a different group, but then she kept playing songs for me. Playing their music all the time wherever we were. It got really catchy, so that’s when I started to really like them. I remember I was listening to “No More Dream” and I really liked the lyrics. The lyrics were not typical to K-pop. They’re about having dreams, being in school and doing nothing. I don’t know. I felt that was really cool. I really liked the beat and the way the music flowed.

Closing the language barrier: I help people organize [fan events] sometimes because I am Korean-American so it’s a bit easier for me. Sometimes I’ll catch something in lyrics, or what BTS said on broadcast, that international ARMYs who don’t speak Korean aren’t able to catch on to and I try to tweet about it. But it’s not like I have a huge following so it’s my friends that see it. [Laughs] A lot of people ask me to help them learn Korean to understand BTS better. The boys try really hard to speak English for us and I think it’s really cool that people who are not Korean or haven’t learned Korean before are venturing into it because of them.

Friendship through BTS: I’ve met some of my closest friends through BTS. My best friend actually. We went to Korea together. She lives in Korea now, but I would go to New York to stay with her before and she’d stay at my house. We’d go to concerts together. Through BTS I met a lot of people and even though I haven’t met many of them [in person], I’m very grateful and lucky to have met them.

Vinny Cottingham

Age: 24
Location: Dallas, TX
Career: YouTube reactor, Father, Husband, Landscaper

It’s a couple thing: My wife had been into K-pop for about two years. At first I was very standoffish against it. I grew up a metalhead. I only listened to rock music and suddenly I heard this pop music in my house. I wanted nothing to do with it. In the end, I actually saw the music video for “War of Hormone” back in October of 2016. I sat down on the couch and started watching with my wife and that’s where it all started. Our relationship actually got stronger because of BTS. I got hooked after that. If not for BTS, I would not be here. I probably wouldn’t be as close to my wife as we are now. So props to my wife, first of all, for getting me into all of this, and thanks BTS for putting the flames back into my marriage. And as for ARMY, you guys have done a great job.

Seeing them live: My first time seeing them was in Newark, New Jersey, at the BTS Wings tour in 2017. We drove 30 hours from Texas to go see them. But when we got there, we were 60th in line and 48 hours ahead of door opening. We went from 85 degree weather to snowing outside. We were not prepared. I was wearing a tank top at the event. My wife and her friend ended up getting it made. My bias, my ultimate bias Jung Jungkook, he’s the golden maknae [which means he’s] the youngest one, omigosh. I love that guy. I could talk about Jungkook for six days and BTS for another seven. But, anyway, they had a tank top made that I wore. “You make me begin,” the lyrics from [his solo track] “Begin” on the front, and then on the back, “Marry me Jungkook.” I mean, I’m already married but it’s snazzy, it’s cool.

All the feels: I felt my heart stop five or six times during the concert, I had to check my pulse to make sure that I was breathing. It was one of the most surreal moments of my life, only third to getting married and second to being a father. My wife would tell you that the kid was first, BTS was second, our marriage was like seventh or eighth. [Laughs] BTS make you feel, as a fan, that it’s not just seven guys on stage. It’s seven people on stage and then the millions of people that support them as well. Without ARMY, there is no BTS. Without BTS, there is no ARMY. And I just love how you can really tell that they appreciate their fans. They do so much hard work for all of us. In the end, the relationship between fandom and BTS makes being a fan of BTS that much greater.

Colette Bennett

Age: 40
Location: Atlanta, GA
Career: Senior Writer, The Daily Dot

Encountering BTS: The friend who introduced me to K-pop in 2011 came to me and said, “This is a really cool band, you should check them out, I think they stand out” during the Dark and Wild period, so quite early for them. I remember thinking “I don’t really like rap.” [Laughs] I took the album and listened to it and was like, “These guys are really good” but they were just another band on my K-pop playlist until The Most Beautiful Moment in Life series when they released “Dope.” When I saw that, I thought, “Holy shit, this band is really good.” That’s when I started actively listening to past albums.

Seeing them live: The first time I saw them was actually at KCON NY 2016. I decided that I wanted to see them as much as I could and I couldn’t go to Korea, so I went to both coasts for KCON to essentially see five songs. To this day I laugh about how expensive that was. [Laughs] It just really smacked into me, “Wow, this band is really inspiring me in so many ways, I love them, I just wanna see them.” And this year I did the Wings tour. I’m saving money now for what I’m sure will be an amazing next tour. I only went to one night of the Newark stop, which I now regret.

Following on the path of her faves: BTS appealed to me for the same reason BIGBANG did during my intro to K-pop in 2011. K-pop was always fun music to me that I enjoyed. When I discovered BIGBANG, the biggest thing that impressed me the most was that they wrote their own music and it was often more than just “Hey, let’s go party.” They were kind of setting a precedent and BTS, you know, they were huge BIGBANG fans and I feel like they carry that torch. BTS are in a good place where they’re making music that is both catchy and that people want to listen to and dance to but they’re also making music that they’re communicating through. The [Love Yourself] slogan is something that people really need to hear, especially younger fans, and they’ll listen to BTS because they’re popular.

Jacob Enano aka MiniMonster

Age: 10
Location: San Diego, CA
Career:  Student

First introduction: My older sister [about 2 years ago] told my mom about BTS. She wouldn’t stop bothering her and then she told my other sisters and then me. I started to get into them because of how good their songs are. So that’s how I got into them. My first song was “Dope.” I think that they’re really, really good at making their songs and everything. They really know how to plan out their songs really well.

Cosplaying as Rap Monster: It makes me feel happy about people complimenting my pictures and everything. I like dressing up. It’s funny how I look. I want [people] to know that I do cosplay for fun, and so that I can make everyone recognize [BTS] a lot more so that they’ll be more popular. [Laughs]

Christine Gee

Age: 27
Location: San Francisco, CA
Career: Recreation-Aquatics Specialist

First encounter: I actually got into BTS through my cousin, who is also an ARMY. She was like, “You’ll really like this group” because I really liked BIGBANG and Epik High, and BTS was just starting out. But because I was in college and things were super busy, it took a while but I started getting involved more right around the “Danger” era.

Fan activity: I’m one of the admins over at BTS Views. As an ARMY, I’m doing more of the stuff related to voting and streaming. The day “DNA” came out, I was updating our account every few minutes. Some ARMYs feel guilty about not having merchandise or being able to attend tours, but I think just caring for one another and supporting the boys, through streaming or whatever, is all that matters.

Why BTS: Their message is beyond just making good music. They talk about social issues. They stand for more than your typical boy band would stand for. I think that’s really important for people my age and the younger generation to really understand. Everything on social media, you kind of get desensitized to everything out there. But BTS brings it to the forefront. A lot of things that people younger than me or my age wouldn't care about or know about, they find out about becuase BTS cares about those things. That really sets them apart for me in comparison to anyone else out in the industry.

Fun fact: Chrstine attended the BBMAs

Preston Heldibridle

Age: 19
Location: Central Pennsylvania
Career: LGBTQ+ rights activist and going into school for occupational therapy

Getting drawn in: I didn’t get into BTS until early this year. I briefly heard about them way before. I tried to get into K-pop before but it wasn’t really my thing. The thing that drew me in was Suga’s Agust D mixtape. It was all over social media. He talked a lot about his personal issues and mental health, which isn’t talked about so much over there. After, I checked out their music videos and I found the Wings short film leading up to their last big comeback. I really liked the storytelling, the whole overarching story they were doing and that’s kind of what clinched it for me and got me into them. I was always passionate about music before but no other music fandoms drew me in prior. The [BBMAs] voting came and that’s when I went ,“Oh wow, we can actually accomplish things” and began participating in the fandom.  

How BTS’ music is unique to him: I have sensory disorder issues but with their composition they don’t try to fill every space with noise. It’s not a big thing but something I really appreciate about them. How deliberate they are in their compositions and the fact that they’re very involved in the writing and producing in their own music. And the fact that a lot of their songs do have messages that help me out that I can relate to. You know, loneliness, things that youth are dealing with, things like that. Other than musically, the thing about the members is that they’re all very genuine. We don’t know everything about them and it’s not our place to, but they do show us many sides to themselves and when you start to learn about their struggles, their quirks, their bond with each other, once you get in you can’t get out.  Both the members, personally, and their music has helped me through hard times and helped me push for better opportunities for myself. I think once you get that attached to [that] it makes it very hard to not want to support them. My first album should be coming within the month. That’s cool. I haven’t been to a concert yet, but hopefully soon. Hopefully I’ll have that experience soon.

Ashten Brown

Age: 31
Location:  Bowie, MD
Career:  Operations Coordinator for Helicopter Association International

Motherly love: I have a 15-year-old daughter who was in love with K-pop for about four years now. I was like, “Okay, okay” and never really paid it much attention. Then one of her aunts bought her a BTS jacket for Jimin, and I heard her keep talking about this concert. So I went out to Stubhub and got the tickets for BTS [in New Jersey] and ever since the concert I’ve been hooked. The fact that there were fans from babies to grandparents, that was the thing. I saw a lady at least in her 70s with a BTS jacket on and her Bangtan bomb [lightstick]. Seeing girls and guys, all different nationalities. It was just amazing, I loved it.

Being an active ARMY: I heard about the Jungkook birthday billboard [in Times Square] so my daughter and I went up to NYC for a day to go see that. Then a couple weeks ago we went back up there because there was a comeback billboard. They’re slowly taking over my entire life, I’ll admit it, I’ll admit it. These guys are pretty awesome. I actually just did an album giveaway. With this being my first comeback, I went overboard. I just wanted to spread the love, because a lot of [fans] are young and they don’t have the funds to do it, or they don’t sell [BTS CDs] in their countries, so I just felt that was a good way to give back, to pay it forward.

Ariana Scarpelli

Age: 23
Location: Olney, Maryland
Career: Server/Student

Long-term ARMY: A friend was doing a YouTube reaction channel and wanted me to watch a BTS video with her. Once I did, I was hooked. That was probably like six months after their debut I want to say. I knew about [K-pop] a little, that’s why my friend asked me to do a video with her. I listened to B.A.P, 2PM, Super Junior-Super Junior was the first group I listened to. And then BTS had this charm to them and I really liked their choreography. I used to do dance and I really liked their choreography so it kind of just sucked me in.

Event Organizer: When BTS last came to the US for their Red Bullet tour, I had a friend who did a banner project. The venues were probably like 1,000-2,000 people. She did the project for New York and it was successful. I wanted to do something when they came back. But we didn’t know that when they came back to the U.S. it would be big huge venues. So we were trying to figure out what to do. The second that they released the fact that they were coming to the U.S, I created Facebook pages for each city, for Newark, Chicago, and Anaheim. I basically made ticket pages so it was easier for people to sell tickets or get tickets from other ARMYs. From there, we posted that we wanted to do group projects for the concerts. What we did was we recruited a couple people who were interested [to lead local events] and we started brainstorming ideas. The idea came from the Korean fans. Korean fans have covered their ARMY Bombs [lightsticks] with purple bags and we wanted to do something like that in the U.S. We were trying to figure out what color to do when somebody said, “Oh, why don’t we do like a rainbow?” And so the whole message behind it was that at the end of the storm is there’s always a rainbow, and for us BTS is like that rainbow. So whenever there’s hard times, we listen to BTS and it helps us.