ARMY FIELD NOTES VOL. 03: A BTS SUMMER

ARMY FIELD NOTES VOL. 03: A BTS SUMMER

ARMY FIELD NOTES VOL. 03: A BTS SUMMER

For Liz, BTS is a lifestyle. In this edition of ARMY FIELD NOTES-- a recap of how they crossed paths this summer. 

LIZ HEW

 In late June, spurred on by Tiktok’s burgeoning community of British ARMY’s, I eagerly made my way down to the expansive BTS-themed Samsung KX space in Coal Drops Yard (the incidental home of Bobblehaus’ London pop-up last winter). Queueing up for my obligatory VR photo with the Bangtan boys, I took an appreciative moment to marvel at the scenes before me: tittering clusters of young women smoothing over their fierce ensembles in preparation for their close-ups; jovial, baby-faced teens dancing to music videos of HYBE label-mates ENHYPEN and TXT on glossy screens, their friends jostling control over the remote; bemused families tinkering with phone models – each one lit up by a member of BTS; and the hysterical exclamations of ARMY's reacting to their new gleaming photocards. When it was my turn to snap a picture with my bias Suga, I asked the staff member how many fans had appeared to steal a moment with BTS’s virtual rendition. “I’ve taken around 500 sets of pictures today,” they muttered, consulting the online counter. Granted that the store had only been open for a mere few hours, it took a second to reconfigure my incredulous expression to compose a smile. I was swiftly photographed and handed a black pocket-sized pack, containing the highly coveted set of winning photocards. Shifting away from the meandering queue to leaf through and document this (quite literal) handful of joy on Instagram, I accidentally opened Samsung Mobile’s IG stories – revealing gasp-worthy, statuesque stills of the hyung line. It was a perfectly serendipitous moment, compounded by the warmth and excitement of fellow ARMY’s around me.

Pushing on with their 8th anniversary celebrations, BTS’s second ‘World Tour’ performance of their online Sowoozoo Muster on 14 June was equally as delightful and gratifying as the prior day’s show – which has since spawned a legion of V’s ‘Daechwita’ memes. With a glowing setlist of tracks taken from their most recent studio album, BE (2020) – ‘Life Goes On’, ‘Stay’, ‘Fly to My Room’, ‘Telepathy’, ‘Dis-ease’ – and a handful of older classics thrown into the mix – ‘Fire’, ‘So What’, ‘Not Today’ – the only palpable differences between the performances were subtle setlist tweaks, the members’ updated ensembles and their surprise OT7 performance of J-Hope’s solo project, ‘Chicken Noodle Soup’ featuring Becky G. As a remake of Webstar and Young B’s 2006 homage to Harlem, BTS’s ‘Chicken Noodle Soup’ performance was the perfect opportunity for the group to flex their trademark silliness to overjoyed ARMYs – showering virtual audience members with buckets of fun and chaotic energy. We were treated to the sight of V and Jin’s cyber-street attire and matching contrast shades as they pulled up in a black convertible– but the highlight of Taejin’s opening segment was their rapping endeavours. Following Jin’s robotic dance moves accompanying his monotonous “boppin’, boppin’, boppin’” and V’s showcase as the latest addition to the rap line (Cypher pt. 5, anyone?), Suga emerged to deliver his lines from a separate ride, donning a turquoise bandana – a perfect contrast to his newly bleached platinum blonde bangs. As most fans have noticed over the past months, Jungkook’s gradual pivot to his edgier sartorial inclinations – starting with his ‘ARMY’ hand tattoo and subsequent sleeve – has now evolved to an eyebrow piercing and grungier apparel. As with the rest of the group’s outfits designed by local label 99%IS, Jungkook wore a khaki skull tee as he arrived from another red convertible, his breezy vocals covering Becky G’s segment of the track. The star and centre of the show, J-Hope, led the first chorus’s signature dance moves – donning an incredibly on-brand vibrant chicken beanie from the same designer. True to the track’s poultry theme, RM and Jimin made their grand appearance in a literal chicken-mobile that would have made KFC proud. Jimin flawlessly rapped Becky G’s Spanish verses – flanked by a line of female dancers – and ARMYs were quick to point out his rich CEO vibes, thanks to his Off-White grey suit, sleek aviators, and smartly combed updo (a counterbalance to his floppy bangs and lip ring the day before). The stage swiftly descended into a play-by-play of the original music video; dozens of dancers, (including adorable children) clustered around the group, reimagining a dance battle crowd while also nodding to J-Hope’s underground street dance roots. In this final formation, the members were able to not only execute the CNS dance in its OT7 glory, but also let loose for their hilarious freestyle spotlights. Alongside smooth performances of ‘Butter’, a deliciously tropical remix of last summer’s hit ‘Dynamite’, their cinematic Japanese single ‘Film Out’ and a bonus Japanese version of ‘Wishing On a Star’, the setlist struck a perfect balance of melodic introspection and glimmering hope for the future. Their final tracks ‘A Supplementary Story: You Never Walk Alone’ and the bittersweet, firework-embellished ‘Mikrokosmos’ were their parting gifts to ARMYs: a promise of the return of live shows and fireworks, and their eventual tear-filled reunion with fans. The 2-day Festa celebrations were a touching tribute to BTS’s 8 year journey, and just as the stage was built in the figure of 8 – or more poetically, the infinity symbol – so did the spectacular attendance of ARMYs reflect their magnificent growth. Not counting third-party streams, 1.33 million paid viewers over 195 countries tuned in to watch the Muster Sowoozoo concerts – a glowing testament to the global power of the beloved Bangtan boys.

BTS’s exit from the Sowoozoo stage, illuminated by fireworks
PHOTO CREDIT: BRIGHT MUSIC

The following day oversaw a whirlwind of BTS activity: their angelic performance of ‘Film Out’ on Japan’s TBS CDTV channel was released on their BangtanTV Youtube channel. A delicate, stirring track pining the loss of a loved one, ‘Film Out’ was co-written by golden maknae Jungkook, rock group Back Number’s lead singer Iyori Shimizu, and producer UTA as the lead single of BTS’ Japanese compilation album, BTS, the Best (released that same day on June 15) and used as the closing theme for Japanese TV show Signal. With the release of this latest album, Japanese ARMYs could enjoy renditions of BTS’s famed Map of the Soul: 7 tracks in their native tongue – ‘Black Swan,’ ‘Dionysus,’ ‘On’ and ‘Make It Right’ – in addition to top singles ‘Fake Love,’ ‘Mic Drop,’ ‘Spring Day,’ and original Japanese numbers ‘Crystal Snow’ and ‘Lights.’ 

 BTS’s ‘Film Out’ performance on CDTV Live! Live!]

 

Soon afterwards, ARMY social media spaces were abuzz with reactions to the announcement of ‘Butter’’s official single release on July 9 (with a mystery bonus track) – and most joyously, the return of the group’s weekly Run BTS! episodes, breaking the show’s month-long hiatus. In episode 142, we joined BTS and prominent chef Baek Jong-won in the kitchen as they made kimchi in a cook-off challenge. As this was filmed during Suga’s shoulder operation recovery, the remaining 6 were split into two teams based on their palette preference: RM, J-Hope, and Jimin for pa-kimchi (green onion), and Jin, Jungkook, and V for baechu-geotjeori (unfermented napa cabbage kimchi). The episode delivered more iconic Bangtan moments: an adorable musical chairs moment with J-Hope, ‘95 liners V and Jimin (wearing a T-shirt!) mischievously asking Chef Baek for help with rolling up their sleeves, more jokes of RM’s infamously clumsy cooking abilities, Jimin’s run-in with an uncooperative blender, and V and Jungkook’s synchronised teamwork. Wholesome and fluffy content aside, episode 142 served us an ‘edutainment’ lesson in basic Korean cooking thanks to Chef Baek’s commentary, with the final tasty dishes – including jjajang ramyeon (Chinese-style noodles fried in black bean sauce) and subeji (hand-pulled dough soup) – later enjoyed by all at the table. 

National heroes: After learning the art of kimchi-making with Chef Baek Jong-won

 

In the following week’s school-themed episode, “Run BTS Books”, the group (minus Suga) was split into teams and tasked with creating their own fairytales for children – an opportunity for individual members to flex their artistic inklings. Described by J-Hope as the “fairytale machine”, ARMYs soon discovered Jin’s witty knack for generating stories out of thin air – including a moralistic tale about a boy with a single hair on his head, a story of an old hiker who brought down a village with his loud shouts of “Yaho!”, and an ingenious fable about a sentient hot dog. The episode also showcased RM’s well-documented pensive temperament, V’s tunnel-vision concentration, and much to the elation of ARMYs, Jungkook’s incredible electric blue man-bun. With official presentations, their ultimate illustrated creations consisted of V and J-Hope’s heart-warming “A Spoonful of Heart,” RM and Jimin’s meteorological “Gooreum the Earth Protector,” and Jin and Jungkook’s aforementioned “One Strand.” It stands as perhaps one of the cutest Run BTS! episodes to date, filled with childhood nostalgia and whimsical imagination – with Suga’s calming narration of all three fairy tales serving as the finishing touch to a sweet OT7 installment. Their next Run BTS! episode, which aired on June 29, oversaw the Bangtan boys admire their new building – an indication that it was filmed sometime around late March, when Big Hit Entertainment moved into their new HQ in Yongsan, marking the beginning of the HYBE era. With glimpses of RM’s cotton-candy pink do, Jungkook’s purple hair, and J-Hope’s creamy yellow locks evoking the styled looks of the ‘Butter’ music video, ARMYs were offered more chaotic Bangtan activity in this ‘Gayo’ episode – a reference to their K-pop focused ‘BTS Gayo’ variety web series. Consisting of quiz rounds on guessing their songs from incomplete lyrics (of which ‘sexy brain’ RM was the winner), speed drawing (dominated by V), and the main highlight – a challenge based on ARMY-voted songs, there were plenty of adorable moments to enjoy. We saw Jimin shuck his shoes for a mini ‘Best of Me’ dance and V conspire with Jin and J-Hope to obtain the right answers. The group debated over the top 5 songs that converted listeners into ARMYs (the no. 1 track being none other than ultimate bop ‘Boy with Luv’) and were left stupefied by the revelation of ARMY’s all-time favourite tracks (in order: ‘Spring Day,’  ‘Dynamite,’ ‘Mic Drop,’ ‘Black Swan,’ and ‘Magic Shop’). Alongside J-Hope’s play on “Jung Kookie” and Suga’s humblebrags for penning ‘Telepathy’ and ‘Autumn Leaves,’ there was an incredible Junghope victory hug following the pair’s first correct answer and the moment that ARMYs felt truly heard: the revelation that ‘Louder Than Bombs’ is the most demanded track to be performed live, clocking in with over 37,000 votes. The episode closed on a melancholy note – with the group fondly recalling their significant performances over the years and reminiscing about their last concert in front of a live audience almost 2 years ago. Predictably so, many ARMYs (myself included) wept at the poignant efforts of the Run BTS! editing team.

 

 An emotional recollection of BTS’s last performance with ARMYs

 The closing half of June also shepherded in a continuous string of successes for their Japanese album BTS, The Best and Summer anthem ‘Butter’ – the day after the former’s release, several landmarks in Japan (including the Tokyo Tower) were lit purple in celebration – and within 3 days, it became Japan’s best-selling album, surpassing their previous offering Map of the Soul: 7 - The Journey. BTS dazzled ARMYs during their special online showcase on June 22 and online talk event on June 28 – both exclusive events reserved for Japanese fan club members – debuting new hairstyles (J-Hope transitioning from a frosty blonde to icy white) and delivering further performances of “Film Out” and meme-worthy ship material. Sealing their iconic status as the first artists in Korean history with over 140 music show wins (‘Butter’’s 12th win at Music Core being their latest accolade on June 26), BTS’s streak for breaking records brings them closer to world domination. BTS, The Best impressively surpassed 800,000 sales on Oricon (the first BTS album and Korean male act to achieve this impressive feat), and ‘Butter’ now holds the title of their best-selling song by total units in the US this year. On June 28, marking the English single’s 5th consecutive week as no. 1 on Billboard’s #Hot100, stunned trio RM, Jin, and Suga took to WeVerse to post their heart-felt gratitude and adoration for the support of ARMYs – but in reality, we had been the ones truly gifted with a frenzied karaoke rendition of ‘Butter,’ where marvelous BT21 plushie hats had made an appearance.

 For dedicated ARMYs who had tuned into BTS’s 8th Birthday Festa celebrations from around the world, June was also a month brimming with several track anniversaries: June 24 marked the 6th anniversary of the release of ‘Dope’’s music video – a feisty and high-octane number performed by BTS in their infancy, donning military sergeant, doctor, fireman chief, car racer, office clerk, detective, and police officer outfits. The 1 year music video anniversary of ‘Stay Gold’ – which has found TikTok notoriety thanks to a hilariously cursed off-tune edit – fell on June 26, with the 2 year anniversary of mobile game BTS World’s OST ‘Heartbeat’ falling two days later. 

 I know I’m not alone when I describe this period of June as an extremely gratifying time to be an ARMY, and when BTS’s official social media accounts started dropping individual photo booth vignettes on June 22, the Twittersphere and rest of the Internet practically exploded with feral reactions, and speculations of potential sub-units. Taekook’s photo booth clips allowed the pair to show off their visages as part of BTS’s visual line: Jungkook’s propensity for accessories and his bright purple hair were on full display, while V delivered his cool smoulder and famous smirk. Fellow hyungs J-Hope and Jin were the next to reveal their vignettes, with the former’s sunshine smile and the latter’s aegyo leading fans to swoon, and Jimin, RM’s and Suga’s perfectly dazzling videos arrived on June 24 in anticipation of their official ‘Butter’ release in July.   

Perhaps the biggest ripple effect within online ARMY spaces was the surprise drop of concept photos for ‘Butter’ – with not 1, 2, nor 3 versions, but a staggering 4 sets of pristine OT7 shoots of the members in various locations and diverse sartorial styles. On June 27, several notifications from WeVerse, Instagram, and Twitter frantically lit up my phone screen, as the first ‘Butter’ concept photos went live – set in what appears to be a colourful interrogation room with an investigation wall and several clues in plain sight. The Bangtan boys amassed around the desk, wearing leather and denim assortments (jackets, pants, chokers, vests galore) and serving the most piercing stares in mankind’s existence – everything about this edgier, amplified concept was lethal. Their individual member pictures sent stans into a frenzy, with V’s nonchalant pool-playing pose and the combination of Jimin’s Celine plaid skirt and bespoke Ordinary People fur boots (alongside J-Hope) eliciting the most attention.   

 

V, ever the coolest idol with his lollipop 
 

Without warning, BigHit Ent released the 2nd version of BTS’s concept photos; this time replicating the OT7 mugshot lineup scene of their ‘Butter’ music video. While attentive and hysterical ARMYs were quick to fixate on the heart-shaped handcuffs dangling suggestively from Jungkook and V’s belts (which have since sold out online), others took the opportunity to admire the members’ intricate hairstyles – Suga’s hot-pink extensions, creating an incredible faux mullet effect, RM’s steely violet pompadour, and J-Hope’s truly exceptional ash-blonde to midnight ink dip-dye. Following an OT7 livestream on June 29 to celebrate ‘Butter’’s 5th week streak in Billboard’s #Hot100 no. 1 spot (clad in Louis Vuitton tees, and looking extremely expensive in the process), a 3rd iteration of their ‘Butter’ concept photos dropped that same day – which no one had seen coming. I speak on behalf of all ARMYs when I say: we were extremely spoiled with the carwash theme, and we remain indebted to the HYBE team responsible for conceptualising this vision to reality. Reminiscent of a vintage pinup calendar, BTS posed with hoses, squeegees and buckets, and individually wrung out sponges, lounged across cars, and drew bubble hearts out of soapy suds. Fans marvelled at the perfect visual power of the group through this markedly racier concept – spawning endless memes and Twitter threads centred around Jimin’s ‘perfect armpit’ 

The Bangtan carwash shoot that ended all ARMYs

 

And finally, just when we thought we had seen enough ‘Butter’ content, the final set of concept photos arrived on June 30, as a perfect close to the hectic month. Reclining back and soaking up the sun’s rays on a sandy beach, RM, Jin, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin, V, and Jungkook appear before a vibrant row of parasols, and the rippling blue sea in the background – setting the ultimate chilled mood for Summer. As V bites into a watermelon, Jin fulfills his ‘Worldwide Handsome’ moniker with a striking gaze, and J-Hope enjoys a brush of his sea-sprayed hair with a winning grin, the only word that I can summon to capture the imparting aura of BTS’s shoot is ‘serene’. Serene in the sense of relaxing by the ocean, but also in the sense of sowing seeds of disarray within the ARMY fandom without a backward glance – the way a squad of characters could walk away from a devastating detonation in a film. Serene with the knowledge that their status as world-class artists remains untouchable – with their accumulation of accolades and history of continuously breaking industry records steering them to a bright path of conquering the world with their music. I would feel quite serene too.    

BTS for Hot Boy Summer

 

The aftermath of Sowoozoo 2021: The group wrapping up their biggest Muster event yet

The immaculate Sowoozoo stage