“Is that a K-Pop guy? Wait, are you watching him eat?”
My brother sighed as loud Korean exclamations interrupted our family’s usual dinnertime conversation. I’d lowered my phone’s volume, but BTS member Jin’s voice somehow still echoed through the room. That night he was doing an Eat Jin, which is a recurring live segment in which he just films himself eating (mukbang-style).
“Yeah, it’s Jin!” I said, raising my phone screen for them to see him chewing on some beef gopchang. “Look — he’s eating with us.”
My parents — though usually immune to these bouts of fangirl tendencies — were not amused. A moment of silence. And then my dad finally spoke up, “Ok but why is he filming himself doing that?”
Their tone was more concerned than angry, probably wondering why their 23-year-old daughter was watching a grown man eat cow intestines from her phone at the dinner table. By then I had formed a habit out of dropping everything I was doing to tune in to these kinds of livestreams, so it didn’t occur to me that this was the first time I’d done it in front of them.
I stumbled to assure them that everything was, in fact, fine. “They go live all the time. This is perfectly normal fan behavior,” I argued. The last time we got an Eat Jin was six months ago. So what if Kim Seokjin’s chewing is the only thing keeping me together today? Of course I held off on the last bit. I wasn’t gonna be dramatic.
Alas, that answer wasn’t convincing enough. “Sure it is,” they said. I turned it off.
About two weeks into enhanced community quarantine, I woke up in the middle of the night with a scratchy throat and an upset stomach. Worry manifested into chills as my brain drifted to thoughts of my (lack of) health insurance and the possibility that I’d already infected my entire household. Googling my symptoms didn’t help, and I knew there was only one way to calm down. I opened up a YouTube video of the BTS maknae line making absolute fools of themselves playing hide-and-seek in a hotel room, classical music playing in the background, and before I knew it, I was breathing normally again.
I eventually calmed down enough to fall asleep, but not before I went through enough videos to start a playlist of all my favorites. The next morning, I was fine, but I still go back to the playlist whenever I’m not feeling very well.
There are over 600 of those behind-the-scenes videos, called Bangtan Bombs, dating back to 2013 on the Bangtan TV YouTube channel. And that’s aside from all the other types of content they regularly upload, which includes but aren’t limited to music videos and album shoots, Run! BTS (their variety show), and V Live broadcasts. If you can’t tell, keeping up with the abundance of content in the K-Pop world requires a certain amount of patience and devotion, which can get quite exhausting.
Prior to the beginning of Metro Manila’s ECQ , I’d been on a self-imposed BTS break. I got into this fandom to let loose and have fun — so why was keeping up with all this content doing the opposite for me? Comeback promotions for Map of the Soul 7 were wrapping up so I decided to put my stan Twitter account on [rest] and take it easy for a month to recharge.
It was all going well until the entire region was put on lockdown. After that night of anxiety, I regressed into my old ways, seeking comfort in the things I knew best. But this time, rather than turning to the polished quality of the more ~official~ Bangtan videos, I turned to the more lo-fi behind moments where the members’ personalities shine through.
Thus began my Bangtan binge, which had me digging up all the videos that I’d missed and/or wanted to watch again. I revisited old Lives, such as that one Hope on the Street where V storms into the practice room on a bike, as J-Hope and Jimin laugh menacingly in the foreground; there’s also that Run! Episode where the members betrayed each other for department store gift certificates. Heck, I even gave the Mnet show American Hustle Life a shot (spoiler: it wasn’t as bad as I remember it to be).
This exercise in looking back was a refreshing reminder of why I began stanning BTS in the first place, as well as a shoutout to the sort of lives we used to live before the pandemic happened. It was as if my brain was saying give me something real! Give me human emotion and interaction! Remind me of a time when we could get together freely and goof off!
Of course, it helped that BTS themselves fed into this craving for normalcy by being more present online than usual, and in real time. That’s already saying a lot, given the existing plethora of content I have already mentioned (see: fan burnout).
While they’ve always been very connected, there was a point where livestreams (considered as industry standards thanks to the V Live broadcasting app) weren’t as frequent for a time. But since the pandemic has left them, like other entertainers around the world, with no choice but to postpone all the dates of their scheduled world tour, they had to make the show go on somewhere.
Some time in April, they began a new practice of uploading Logs on YouTube. In the first broadcast via YouTube Live, we saw RM in his studio, where he revealed that they wanted to try something different to connect with fans. The new Log series on Bangtan TV would show the members doing everyday things. So far, we’ve seen Jin playing You Raise Me Up on the keyboard, J-Hope freestyling a dance practice (Hope on the Street lives!), Suga using MOTS: 7 albums to prop up the painting he’s working on (what a flex), and two album planning meetings among the members.
Each new V Live notification brings with it another boost of serotonin. Will it be Suga showing off his duality as he kills it at Havana in Just Dance with Jin and Jimin? Or the ever clumsy RM accidentally turning his whisk over as Jimin looks elegant as ever while making dalgona coffee? Will it be V lip syncing to a trot song on his fictional radio show Taetae FM? J-Hope making personalized beaded bracelets for the members? Jungkook making a paper carnation for Parent’s Day?
Watching them in real time, I can’t help comparing all of their older videos and marvel at the consistency; of how, even after seven years, they’ve still got all the same mannerisms and quirks that they’ve been showing us in their Lives and behind videos.
Sometimes I think of their willingness to share all these sides of their lives. Naysayers might argue that all this constant filming is fanservice, or at the very least an invasion of their privacy, but honestly, I feel like they don’t mind in the slightest. This is one way for them to take control of their own narratives.
In his album behind for MOTS: 7 back in April, RM expressed his frustration about the current situation, saying that they were also very upset that they couldn’t meet fans like usual.
“I can show you just as I am, all because I know someone will understand my sincerity, and it will help in their lives. Thinking, how can I repay the love I received?” he said, looking at the camera.
“I’ll continue to make music, use music, practice with this goal in mind. I believe in sincerity and love, so I think I’ll be able to continue this work. Sometimes sad, sometimes hopeful. Even if we can help you in the smallest way, I want to keep my sincerity.”
I remember that Live a lot because of how genuine he sounded in that moment. This wasn’t the first time he’s expressed his gratitude towards fans, but something about it moved me, especially as they reach new heights worldwide. Does this mean BTS draws strength from us too?
The reasons for my fascination with all these candid moments are probably the same as any other fan’s reasons for enjoying their fave celebrity’s quarantine content. Seeing my faves in full performance mode is always a treat, but I find that the appeal lies in all the ‘behind’ moments — when the main camera is off and they give us a glimpse of their lives beyond what we see from the music show broadcasts and concerts.
It took a lockdown for me to realize that being a spoiled fan doesn’t mean I need to constantly keep up and be bombarded with elaborate productions. Sometimes, all it takes is a one-sided video call of my bias wrecker eating cow intestines for me to feel at peace.
Header art by Kitty Jardenil
Gaby is the full-time Editor of Underdog and part-time (ok, also full-time) stan. Her brother says that she is only cool on paper and much of her time is spent trying to get her dog to notice her. More of her work can be found in Young STAR, CNN Philippines Life, Rookie, and Twitter publication @tybutdisagree. Tweet her @gabyabbyy.
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