Megaphones decorate the windows, microphones hang from the ceiling, and fans roam around, taking pictures of one another and dancing along with the music videos projected across a wall. The words “Speak Yourself” are everywhere, and it’s all a testament to the empowering message of BTS and their ARMY.
It’s a pop-up store in the heart of Manhattan in anticipation of BTS’ upcoming Love Yourself: Speak Yourself stadium shows at the nearby Metlife Stadium on Saturday and Sunday nights. Decorated in white and bright red, the Live Nation Merchandise space opened its doors to ARMY on Tuesday and will remain open through Monday. It’s the third and final store of its kind to be opened in the U.S., following similar shops opened in Los Angeles and Chicago earlier this month to accompany BTS’ shows in those cities; according to BTS’ label Big Hit Entertainment, the former was visited by 13,000 people and the later by 20,000. Each one had its own unique tees for sale. In New York City, it’s a pair of tees: one with NYC icons like yellow cabs and a bagel with schmear superimposed onto BTS’ doors logo and the other with the silhouettes of BTS’ seven members decorating the Statue of Liberty’s crown.
Serving as much as a meeting place for ARMY as a store, fans spend time at the venue taking pictures of a variety of photo opps, including giant artwork featuring BTS and their related iconography, looking at items, and watching and dancing with the aforementioned music videos. Every person who enters the space receives a red rubber slap bracelet that reads “BTS: SPEAK YOURSELF” and “Find your name and find your voice by speaking yourself,” coming away with a free souvenir just for checking out the special event space.
“We took the ‘megaphone’ as the motif of the ‘Speak Yourself’ message and designed the exterior and interiors of the store,” a Big Hit Entertainment spokesperson told Billboard. “It also has merchandise inspired by the concert’s subtitle ‘Speak Yourself,’ which was also delivered by BTS at their UN speech. We want to share the same message in daily life.”
The focal point of the pop-up is selling goods, but it’s almost an afterthought. “We hope it will be a festival-like event where more people in the area where BTS performs can enjoy together,” said the Big Hit rep. Items are on display interspersed with artistic installations, and shoppers can mark off what goods they want on a pamphlet that they then give to a salesperson — many of whom dance along to BTS’ songs as they play — to hand over to the packers, who then will call a customer’s assigned number, hand them their goods and usher them to a new line where they can pay. As they wait, fans mingle and enjoy the music of BTS, and also take a look at the BTS dolls designed by Mattel, including ones specially decked out in items sold at the pop-up. According to one cashier, the most one person spent in his time attending the register was $1,300. Another salesperson said that the average customer purchased only a few items, while some bought upward of 40.
One shopper on Friday was Sani Jackson from the Bronx, who proudly said he’s “the same age as Yoongi,” also known as BTS’ Suga; both men were born in 1993. “I wish I could stay, but I have to head to work,” he said about his desire to spend more time at the Speak Yourself pop-up. He spent about $200, buying shirts for himself and his sister as well as a bag and some pins. “It’s the last things I’m buying from BTS from now on,” he said with a laugh. “I think I spent too much already. But I feel awesome, amazing.”
Emmy and Itzy Leon are sisters from Ohio, and when they visited the pop-up on Friday, it wasn’t their first time. The pair of 20-somethings had attended both of BTS’ shows in Chicago and were going to be seeing them again one more time at Metlife. To them, spending time and money traveling to see BTS is like a vacation. Decked out in merch that was on-sale at the pop-up — the pair each wore embroidered jacket marked at $275 — and carrying bags from the nearby Line Friends store where they purchased several hundred dollars worth of BTS-designed BT21 items, they had decided to visit the New York City store again to get some additional items: a hat, T-shirt and a water bottle, both for themselves and also for friends and family members. “I’m just so happy. I want to support them because I love them so much,” said Emmy. “They’re great people, they’re great artists.”
“Not just their music, but they themselves are amazing people,” added Itzy. “You can see it’s not just a fake thing they put on. Sometimes it hurts spending money, but when I spend money on them I know who it’s going towards. And I don’t mind it because I love them so much. It’s not a weird obsession love but a very genuine admiration. I don’t mind spending it on them. It’s usually what I save up my money for.”