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BTS’ Evolution From Crass Sexism To Considerate Feminism

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If “music be the food of love” then boy bands would be an entire palate of treats (read eye candy) for the soul. From Beatles to NSYNC to One Direction – there’s nothing like a group of boys singing together to garner legions of loyal female fans. However, the world was in for quite the cultural shock when BTS, a Korean boy band, caught the fancy of people, mostly women, the world over a few years back. BTS or Bangtan Sonyeondan or Beyond The Scene – a seven-member boy band – is different from its industry predecessors in a myriad of ways. The band’s members are Asian, not White or Black, and they don’t fit the mold of either the typical bad-rock-boys or the good- blue-eyed- acoustic- serenaders. The boys sport makeup and seemingly ‘feminine’ outfits with aplomb. They have won women’s hearts by being comfortable with their masculinity.

Additionally, the band is famous for addressing pertinent social issues like capitalism, mental health. and toxic masculinity through their songs. All this would make BTS seem like a feminist band, right? Well, while BTS is certainly one of the more feminist bands today, it wasn’t always so. Over the years, their songs, interviews, and social media antics provided only a microcosmic glimpse of the pervasive misogyny in Korea. However, the boy band has had an interesting evolution from tone-deaf misogyny to the considerate feminism it stands for today.

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BTS’ Lyrical Misogynist Missteps

Lyrics provide the most obvious clues for understanding a musician’s worldview. BTS has come under the scanner time and again for allegedly completely ignoring or even perpetuating gender inequality, misogyny, and sexism rampant in South Korean society. In 2014-15, fans heavily criticised the band’s song “War of Hormones” for reducing women to mere objects through lyrics like, “Girls are like an equation/us guys just do them (yup) /Imma give it to you girl right now/A woman is the best present.”

A little later, their song “Joker” came under fire for the following lyrics written by RM, a member: “Yeah, you’re the best woman, the best vagina [gapjil] / So good are you at doing it, the best vagina / But now that I think about it, you were never the best / I will stop calling you best and instead call you gonorrhea [imjil].” The band’s feminist fans interpreted the lines to be a crass reference to South Korean men’s general tendency to consider a woman’s free expression of her sexuality as both an attraction and a reason for looking down upon her. Their 2014 offering, “Boy With Luv” allegedly undermines a woman’s consent and has traces of almost bullying a woman into loving a guy: “I’ll have you, just watch /You make me so angry and mad for no reason /You’re making a big boy act like a little kid.”

The Band’s Problematic Comments

Even on the personal front, the band members have made some pretty problematic comments on interviews and social media platforms. When questioned about his ideal woman during an interview J-Hope, a band member described a woman who would be good at naejo or domestic support. The band’s vocalist, V, told Star News, an entertainment portal, that his ideal woman would be one “who spends wisely the money I (V) bring home.” Jin, the band’s oldest member also said, “Just like my dad, I wanted to go to work at 7 am and come home at 6 pm to eat the meal that my wife cooks for me.” All these statements drew criticism for relegating women completely to the domestic sphere and making their identity secondary to their husbands’.

Furthermore, in 2013, the band’s official twitter account exhibited indifference towards women’s rights through a tweet that read, “Girls have got to dress cold [and show skin] both in winter and summer. That’s how men would like them.” The BTS account also replied to a female fan’s criticism by writing that she should “turn her cheek” so that they could “punch it with a fist.” The band maintained these remarks were jokes and shouldn’t be taken seriously after fans called them out.

Also Read: Han Kang’s ‘The Vegetarian’ Unravels Patriarchy in South Korean Society

The Feminist State Of Mind

After fans repeatedly condemned the band’s actions with #WeWantBTSFeedback, BTS’ agency responded with an apology and a promise to do better. Consequently, the band released conscious songs with feminist overtures. Fans hailed their 2016 offering, “21st Century Girl” as a fierce women empowerment anthem with lyrics like, “You worth it, you perfect. Deserve it, just work it/ Don’t be discouraged/ You are fine no matter what anyone says/You are strong.” BTS also made amends for its problematic past by releasing a reimagined, feminist version of their song “Boy With Luv” last year in collaboration with Halsey, a feminist icon in her own right. The new version does away with the previous one’s misogynist tones and celebrates equality in a relationship through lyrics like, “I’m curious about everything. How’s your day? / Oh, tell me. / What makes you happy? / Oh, text me.”

The band’s members have also admitted that they did make some myopic and offensive statements and lyrics in the past. In a 2017 interview, they admitted that they now run the lyrics of all their new songs past feminist professors of gender studies to make sure that they don’t repeat their past mistakes. The group has also championed the cause of gender fluidity and positivity as well as supported sexual minorities on various occasions, including their momentous speech at the United Nations General Assembly in 2018.

BTS’ sensitive reception of criticism and active efforts at bettering itself are certainly laudable. In today’s ‘cancel culture’ era, a more fruitful idea of feminism would be one that allows some space for learning and improving.

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Picture Credits: TIME Magazine

Tarini Gandhiok is an intern with SheThePeople.TV