BTS at the 2017 AMAs: The Overwhelming Fan Response You Didn't See on Camera
"Fan chants" heard inside Microsoft Theater show how American K-pop audiences are not only embracing the music and its stars, but Korean culture at large.
BTS' history-making performance of "DNA" at the 2017 American Music Awards dazzled everyone from Jared Leto and The Chainsmokers to the millions of viewers at home, but this important mainstream-music moment also stood out for what happened in the audience -- specifically, with their loudest fans.
BTS' highly dedicated fanbase, known as ARMY, are famously organized and ensured the K-pop boy band beat out the likes of Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez for Top Social Artist at the 2017 Billboard Music Awards. And when it came to supporting the guys at the AMAs, they did everything to make sure the guys felt right at home, including a K-pop performance tradition.
While it may not have been audible to viewers watching through television or streams, the moment the opening notes of "DNA" began, Los Angeles' Microsoft Theater was flooded with fans screaming out the band members' names. This was the beginning of what is known as a "fan chant," which fans in Korea use as a way to actively support their favorite artists' performances on television and in concerts. Typically, the louder the fan chant, the more popular the act is and it helps audiences at home get a sense of what acts they should be watching.
While U.S. audiences have possibly seen this sort of chanting during K-pop concerts here or festivities like KCON, BTS' ARMY was in full force on Sunday night, supporting the band with their loudest chants yet.
Take a look at some fan-shot footage here:
Watching the video, quickly, you'll hear the theater filled with spectators rhythmically hollering the band members' full names ("Kim Namjoon! Kim Seokjin! Min Yoongi!"), and emphasizing key phrases from the song both in English ("This love! Real love!") and Korean with strict precision. Fans know when to chant, when to scream and when to be quiet; essentially changing the definition of what many Westerners would consider as appropriate audience participation.
There are set lyrics for fans to chant (sometimes created by the record label, sometimes crafted by the fans), and a quick YouTube search will get you all caught up on when and what to shout for K-pop artists' lead singles and any other songs they perform on TV.
Not only was BTS' performance of their Korean-language hit on a major-network award show an indication of K-pop's palpable crossover in America, but also how Korean culture at large is also making its way here. Fans are not only embracing the music and its stars, but the aspects that make the entertainment business specifically Korean. While audience screams for boy bands like One Direction, *NSYNC and Backstreet Boys were likely also ear-splitting, the unique way in which BTS' fans supported them on such a huge television broadcast showed a deeper connection and respect with the band's culture. These fans clearly watch the guys' domestic performances and see the way Korean fans support, recognizing that BTS see this as a way to connect with fans on stage. With this action, it's clear the U.S. fans wanted to make the guys feel just as supported in this foreign country.
While there has been talk for years about the "Korean wave" hitting stateside -- and its impact can certainly be felt in the beauty and food world -- the country's most famous export in K-pop seems like it will undoubtedly be most the significant (and certainly the loudest) way for broader aspects of Korean culture to make an impact in America. ARMY is a clear example of this, but as BTS' star rises here, it will be important to see the other ways they are influencing their passionate fans.