The night BTS announced their “temporary break,” I was in bed answering a Korean grammar lesson with Duo the Owl, completely oblivious to the chaos going down on stan Twitter.
To be honest, I’d forgotten all about the annual Festa Dinner Party. My original plan for the evening was to binge “Shooting Stars” until I passed out, but that was scrapped after my phone began blowing up with notifications saying “hiatus,” with fellow ARMY friends checking up to see if everyone was okay.
It’s been hard to admit to anyone (myself included) in fear of getting my ARMY card revoked, but lately, things don’t have the same spark as they used to. K-pop stans are familiar with this spark, which manifests in a very real compulsion to do things you never thought you would for the sake of your faves. It’s the type of pull that compels you to drop everything you’re doing to watch a new music video in the middle of the workday (and in one instance, had me literally stop in the middle of an Osaka bus stop during a vacation; I was designated navigator that day, my family was not happy). The kind that makes you celebrate a member’s birthday or group’s anniversary (even if it means cafe hopping to 13 different cafes in Seoul in the dead of winter), or to blindly pre-order an album without knowing what it’ll look or sound like.
Throughout my early 20s, the group was my anchor. I was introduced to BTS in my last year of college, right before my graduation and their historic BBMA top social award nomination. At the time it felt exciting — as I was starting a new chapter of my life at my first editorial job, so too were they in their careers, having just released “Spring Day” and going on a big North and South American tour. For them, it was full speed from thereon out, a never ending cycle of comebacks and tours and award shows, with only the occasional breaks — it’s an understatement to say that ARMYs were always well fed.
Because of this abundance of content, I would always joke that at least I had BTS whenever I had to navigate through any uncertainty. Feeling like a failure because I resigned from said first job as the website was folding? It’s ok, new “Run! BTS” episode on Wednesday. The guy I liked was actually stringing me along the whole time? It’s ok, time to focus on the BTS comeback next month. The pandemic effectively squashing my plans to have fun and finally let loose in my mid-20s? Well, at least I get to watch Namjoon make an absolute fool of himself making Dalgona coffee on VLive. If everything around me was in chaos, having that one constant was literally the only thing (besides my family) keeping me together.
When Jungkook did an impromptu karaoke session on VLive last year and sang “Paradise,” I got a boost of serotonin that I hadn’t gotten from anything else in ages. That’s when I realized that these moments were growing sparse, my happiness no longer dependent on each new BTS release. The love that I have for the group remained — I’m still fairly updated with what goes on, and still lurk on stan Twitter regularly, but it’s not the same as before. It was so bad that when their new anthology album “Proof” was announced, I didn’t even bother to pre-order it.
After a few minutes of mental preparation and scrambling to find the link, I finally clicked play on the video. What greeted me on screen was the seven members seated Last Supper-style in their shared apartment, a (deceivingly) festive celebration decorated with balloons and streamers, with a feast laid out on the table. An annual event in the BTS world, these special unfiltered Festa videos have always been emotional, as they’re one of the rare occasions in which they reflect on the past year and bring up memories from their past. Sometimes likened by fans to the heart to heart convos during high school retreats, they’re a space for the group’s personal revelations, meant primarily for ARMY to hear.
We all thought this year’s Festa Dinner Party video wouldn’t be any different. With the video titled “찐 방탄회식” or “Real BTS Dinner Party,” the dinner was to be the group’s last in the apartment they’d shared for almost five years. In classic Festa fashion, they had us cackling from jokes about Jungkook’s many mattresses and Namjoon’s snoring before sucker punching us with a Very Serious Announcement regarding the group’s direction.
“Gathering like this today and shooting content, it made me think I’m happy just being together,” began Namjoon in Korean, his members in various states of listening intently and zoning out, though it felt obvious that they had discussed his next few words in private many times.
“I started music and became BTS because I had a message for the world. I didn’t know what to do after ‘On,’ but then COVID-19 came up, so we did ‘Dynamite,’ ‘Butter’, ‘Permission to Dance,’ ‘Life Goes On,’ and I realized the group has definitely changed.” (this was the part where the tears began to fall). “We have to accept that we’ve changed.”
“I think we should spend some time apart to learn how to be one again,” continued Hobi. “I think timing is really important now. So I hope you don’t see this as a negative thing, and see that it’s a healthy plan.” “We’re not disbanding,” Yoongi clarified. “We’re just living apart for a while.
By the time Jungkook was doing the final toast and the group was chanting "Ah Po Bang Po" (a shortened version of the phrase “ARMY forever Bangtan forever”), my nose was clogged and I had to haul myself into the bathroom to get more tissue.
Moments later, I was sitting on tile, face numb and tingly, tears past the point of holding them in. I was having a panic attack. I’d learned to manage these episodes over time after my tita, a teacher, had told me to think of something that could ground me. Unfortunately, that was K-pop and BTS.
Thinking about how I dealt with those attacks in the past just made me spiral further into tears. But what started from despair eventually turned into reflection. Looking at my swollen face in the mirror, my brain struggled to rationalize my reaction, thoughts venturing to questions like “Why am I this affected ??” to “Oh shit. What am I gonna do next?”
With my birthday a few days away, my overthinking brain had subconsciously gone on a memory tour, looking back on my past five years of being an ARMY. Coming from five years of rearranging my life around comebacks, concerts, album releases, and many many more, this was how my brain automatically coped.
Realizing that I no longer relied on them as my crutch, that I am growing out of my fandom phase, no longer having the comfort of a comeback schedule or a concert date to chase as a way of looking forward to the future terrified me. But eventually, I was able to ground myself in the thought that for the first time since graduating in 2017, I actually have clarity about where I’m headed, all thanks to the growing that I did in the time since I began stanning them.
True to the nature of their artist identity and “Love Yourself” mantra, stanning BTS helped me learn to be comfortable in my own skin. I now have this job (with health insurance!) — one that I feel I truly earned, thanks to them. (Major) writing gigs, close friendships, work skills, and heck — even my current humor — were all offshoots of being an ARMY. Entering my 20s as an introvert with a bad case of impostor syndrome was hard, but these small things (an editor at a big international title was ARMY and assigned me a pitch, a fellow media person saw my “Love Yourself: Her” sticker at a press launch and immediately struck a conversation) helped boost my self confidence big time. Now, I feel more like a fully formed person, no longer grasping at air and needing to lean on something for direction.
Realizing that I no longer relied on them as my crutch, that I am growing out of my fandom phase, no longer having the comfort of a comeback schedule or a concert date to chase as a way of looking forward to the future terrified me.
After the video was released, a lot of exaggerations were written about this break announcement, with talk of it not being temporary, or with media outlets saying that fans were devastated that their favorite group was “breaking up.”
The truth is, a lot of fans (especially those in their 20s) went through the same reflection period I did, looking back on their own stan journeys in relation to their personal growth, and like me, were saddened after hearing the members speak about their current struggles so candidly. After a long period of upbeat singles and prolonged promo cycles, they were finally here, speaking about the same struggles they outlined in “Map of the Soul:7,” of losing direction and of music not filling them with the same passion as it used to.
To quote from “Black Swan”: If this can no longer resonate/ No longer make my heart vibrate/ Then like this may be how/ I die my first death/ But what if that moment's right now.”
I remember their 2018 hit “Anpanman,” in which they compared themselves to the animated Japanese bread superhero who gives pieces of himself to those who are hungry. Over a trap beat and Fetty Wap-style autotune, they sing about not being superheroes, and still offering a hand to those who need it despite getting secretly covered in bruises. “If I don’t do it, who else will?” they sing. In all the times we were relying on BTS for comfort, were they sacrificing little bits of themselves in the process?
Prior to watching the Festa video, I got the spark again while watching the “Proof” live band stages. Meant to cue in BTS’ “Chapter 2,” the new singles “Yet to Come” and “For Youth” were sentimental ballads that looked back on the past and to the future.
Post Festa video, the songs serve more as reassurance that despite all these upcoming changes and planned solo activities, the best is indeed yet to come. They didn’t owe it to us to explain anything, but they did it anyway.
I’m glad that the members are allowing themselves space to breathe and be themselves, to find themselves in the same way that they helped me and millions of other people around the world do so. BTS has already given us — given me — more than they ever needed to. I sincerely hope they know that.