Hannah Sung is co-founder of the podcast company Media Girlfriends.
Tuesday was a bad day for BTS fans. When the Korean powerhouse boy band announced they would be taking an indefinite hiatus, my group chats instantly became support groups as professional women sidestepped urgent work tasks to process shock and dismay together.
Some of us cried. Frankly, these cathartic tears were going to happen in a best-case scenario (a stadium show, which is what I’d expected would be my confetti-filled, singalong, postpandemic prize) or in the worst, which is this.
That’s because these tears have been held in for years. BTS carried us through the pandemic and that’s no lie. The sheer breadth of their entertainment meant they provided a true escape from whatever you call the work-school-isolation, happy-hell-home phase we just got through.
The pandemic became an intense time as I juggled work at home with children who suddenly had no in-person schooling. After stumbling onto a BTS performance on YouTube one night, the band became an escape. I went down the rabbit hole and stayed there, losing myself in subtitled reality shows, which presented the band as seven friends just hanging out, feeding each another, exercising together, joking and singing karaoke when the rest of us couldn’t go out to play.
Of course, BTS weren’t playing. They were working, like us. And, in fact, their blockbuster English-language hits, Dynamite, Butter and Permission To Dance, were part of their pivot. The original plan, a much-anticipated and choreographed world tour, was scrapped. And through it all, they spoke at the United Nations on climate change, digital connectedness and vaccines, and recently at the White House on anti-Asian hate, trying to set examples for right versus wrong in what feels like a world gone mad.
I think they deserve a break, don’t you? And maybe, considering what we’ve been through ourselves, we should take their cue.
Easier said than done. When BTS went public with their plans to rest and pursue their own interests, their multibillion-dollar management company, Hybe, saw its stock fall more than 25 per cent. That was US$1.7-billion in market value that went poof in a single day. And you thought you were carrying a load.
Hybe hurried to clarify that the band wasn’t on hiatus but rather taking time to focus on their solo careers. Jungkook, the golden maknae, or youngest member of BTS, also did a livestream video to assure fans that “BTS is forever.”
But it was the band’s original conversation, recorded over an on-camera anniversary dinner for their fans, that made the impact this week. That’s because their tears were genuine as they talked at length about why they were desperate for a change.
“When I say I want to take a break, it feels like I’m doing something bad,” RM admitted tearfully. “I’m scared of you being disappointed in us,” he said, addressing the fans. Many band members asked for understanding and space. V said he felt 90 per cent of their fans would give it to them.
What I love so much about BTS is their hyper-articulate ability to express a huge range of emotions, from open vulnerability to confidence, generosity and beyond. They are examples of the men we want to see, a foil to the toxic masculinity on display in politics and the corporate world. If we want more of this growth, personally and culturally, we need to support taking breaks instead of trying to extract every last drop of profit or expansion at all costs.
What does it mean to take a break? Actually take your vacation. Put your work away. Pursue a hobby. Maybe not everyone has this option. But if you do, consider that maybe you also have the power to give this break to someone else.
Because BTS is a group, no one person could take this break alone. They had to give it to each other. What does that look like? Maybe it just means giving your friend, family member or colleague a break from your judgment. RM spoke of the pressure to be perfect. None of us are. They made a mistake. Let it go. You made a mistake. Let it go.
On Tuesday, a friend and I messaged to process the grief of losing the postpandemic concert of our dreams. Our messages started with a wall of crying emojis but we soon settled into messages of gratitude. We were grateful for the band. For the fun. For the music. And for each other.
I discovered BTS because I wanted to give myself a break – every night for a few hours, from my own expectations, my to-do list, my role in life. BTS deserves a break. You do, too.
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