Kulture Kolumn: Passing The Fandom Torch
How Tokio Hotel and BTS proved to me that loving one artist does not invalidate my love for another
A few days ago I was spending the night with my best friends and we went on a mega-binge of music from the 2000s. To be more specific, I’m talking pre-2010s emo rock culture that first blew up on the heydays of MySpace and Orkut, the culture that introduced me to my favorite band, German rockers Tokio Hotel. We talked about how they and other artists like My Chemical Romance, Evanescence and The Rasmus helped us all survive the nightmare that was high school. Their music and fandom culture played a big role in giving a frizzy, pimply, emo loser like me a fighting chance to become who I am now–and it’s a story that echoed my friends’ lives with a lot of the same artists.
As I’ve grown up, several artists have taken turns to make an impact on me and I’m grateful for all of the roles each of them had in various stages of my life. I previously wrote about this very subject on my blog several years ago, but I felt the need to revisit after having this conversation with my friends. Some of my best memories as a teenager revolved around watching Tokio Hotel’s video diary series TokioHotelTV on their YouTube channel. THTV started around 2008 and followed the four members of Tokio Hotel around in their daily lives, giving a glimpse of their personalities and making us fall in love with them because of how funny, genuine and dorky they were. I remember waiting all week for a new episode to drop every weekend, find out where they were going next and what life on tour with them would be like. Coming to present day, it’s amazing how similar it all is to BTS’ YouTube channel BangtanTV. Yes, video quality has improved over time and BangtanTV’s Bangtan Bombs episodes aren’t quite as cringe-worthy as some of 2007 or 2008’s episodes of THTV, but the essence of it all is the same: they both are glimpses into the lives of artists who have the power to transport you away from pain and the dullness of everyday life.
THTV and BangtanTV have taken us backstage, through rehearsals, behind the scenes of award shows and music videos and even through some of the most special moments in the artists’ lives. Both artists have also been generous enough to release documentaries and films about their lives backstage and I feel lucky to have been given that privilege, to know they trust us that much.
I’ve thought about it often, and I’m sure that if you were (or are) one of Tokio Hotel’s Aliens and part of BTS’ ARMY, you’ve noticed some major similarities between the two artists—both were the ‘underdogs’ in their local scene and internationally before that ‘disadvantage’ became their greatest strength and propelled them to the top. They documented their lives through an intimate video series and let us in on a level not many artists are willing to do. They also built strong bonds with fans through powerful, original lyricism and they aren’t afraid to call out bullshit when they see it. As a proud fan of both bands I’ve been shat on, first for being an ’emo freak’ and more recently for being a ‘K-pop fangirl.’ I’ve witnessed years of Tokio Hotel and BTS being ridiculed by the media globally, called every name under the sun, some of the most common being ‘gay’, ‘feminine’ and ‘overhyped’ with ‘rabid’ fanbases. Over time I’ve realized the people who do the shitting really don’t know what joys they’re missing out on–good music and brave artists who aren’t afraid to be themselves and thus give others the gift of being able to do the same. That’s why when I read journalist Biju Bilinki’s recent article ‘Why So Many Former Emos Are Now K-Pop Fans’ everything sort of clicked together.
For me, there’s the added advantage of both Tokio Hotel and BTS being so close to my age—the majority of us are in different stages of our 20s and therefore have similar thought processes and levels of emotional development. The songwriting often reflects that and therefore acts as a mirror to my realities. Around 2008, I had thoughts of suicide because of the immense loneliness and bullying I faced in school, but Tokio Hotel’s lead singer Bill Kaulitz’s lyrics promised me there is fruit in fighting to be who you are. There is strength in fighting for your own happiness. And of course, I’ve spoken about the depression that hit me in 2015 and how BTS took my hand and finally yanked me out of it.
It’s a beautiful thing to connect with an artist at these levels. Which is why I personally don’t believe in the idea that someone can only belong to one fandom. I also love the idea that a German band and a South Korean band with totally different styles of music can be so very similar. Although their peaks in popularity came during such different eras of music, the patterns of their success match up and it amazes me that I got to experience the rise of these phenomenal artists in the same lifetime. (Another bonus? The Kaulitz twins of Tokio Hotel and BTS’ youngest member Jungkook share a birthday and something as small as publishing this piece on that day makes me smile.)
Everything has its cycles and as you (and the artists) age, things will change. Some day a younger artist and their fandom will take over and it’ll be their turn to shine and grow. Your favorite becomes a legacy, a point of inspiration, respect and fantastic memories. For me, BTS took over from Tokio Hotel and that’s not a bad thing at all—it gave me more beautiful music and people to fall in love with. As cheesy as it sounds, it kind of felt like one mentor passing the torch to the next, so they can help me discover a new path. In fact there are many artists who might hold the torch over time depending on where you are in life—G-Dragon, Eminem, Jay Park and Lady Gaga are all personal heroes of mine who were guides when I needed them the most. Nowadays, I’m finding solace in the music of artists like ATEEZ, WOODZ (now boy group X1’s Seungyeon) and G.Soul.
It’s important to point out that loving another group or artist will never take away from what Tokio Hotel mean to me—the memories are so precious and they define me. I have a tattoo of their logo which I got as soon as I turned 18. Tokio Hotel are the reason I became a music journalist, because I had a dream of interviewing them someday and in 2017 that dream came true. The same goes for BTS—loving one artist does not invalidate my love for another. Loving Tokio Hotel, ATEEZ or any other musician does not mean I have less love for BTS. In fact, it just adds to the level of happiness in my life. Coincidentally, 2017 was also the year I got to speak to BTS’ leader RM and it was such a fulfilling thing to talk to the people who have influenced me at such a core level and thank them for their music.
Ageing also doesn’t have to mean you’re excluded from future narratives. A new artist and fandom can come to mean the world to you. I never expected anything to match my love for Tokio Hotel and the Aliens but BTS and ARMY proved me wrong, making me look forward to artists who will walk into my life and inspire me in the future. Passing the torch really doesn’t mean you lose anything… it just means you’re ready for more.