Kulture Kolumn: The Story of How BTS Saved My Life
In 2015 I didn’t have a job, I didn’t have friends and the pressure of being a burden to my parents was suffocating me. Then, BTS came into my life
I hear from a lot of people that they found BTS at a time when they needed them the most, but I actually feel it’s the other way around… They find you. They have this uncanny ability of appearing when everything seems to be falling apart and when life is going nowhere. They drop in unannounced, take your hand and help you stand up and face the music.
In 2015, I was at one of the lowest points in my life. I’d just graduated (from a university I hated) and the last few months of my time there had pretty much broken me. Sexual assault, grief, academic pressure and the complete disintegration of my social circle were all nails in the coffin of who I used to be before the final semester. I came home to Mumbai and my family did their best to help me recover, but everything seemed to fly past in a haze for months. The knowledge that things would never be the same again weighed heavy on my mind and I sank into a depression so intense, I couldn’t bring myself to leave my bed most days. I tried counselling, exercising, new hobbies (I can make a mean frittata, let me tell you) but there was this undercurrent of worthlessness I couldn’t chase away. I didn’t have a job, I didn’t have friends and the pressure of being a burden to my parents was suffocating me from the inside out.
Then, BTS came into my life.
I was pretty into K-pop already and I knew who they were, but they weren’t really a dominant part of my playlist. I had discovered them via their single “Dope” which they had dropped earlier that year, but it wasn’t until five months later in November that I actually fell in deep thanks to their track “Run.” I remember it coming up in my YouTube recommendations, and clicking on it kind of changed my life forever. The video was about a group of friends who found solace in one another when their personal lives were slowly falling apart. They managed to capture a sense of longing and nostalgia I hadn’t seen anywhere else in pop music. The lyrics of “Run” were a combination of desperate and reassuring: “Run, run, run again/It’s okay to fall/Run, run. Run, again/It’s okay to get hurt/I’m alright, even if I can’t have you/Pitiful destiny, point your finger at me.” I remember my hands shaking after watching it. I then moved on to the even more relatable “I NEED U” which tackled themes of self-destruction like depression and suicide, and it felt like the world had shifted–I had found a story line that ran parallel to my own.
I spent the rest of 2015 and most of 2016 feeling a little less lonely; as I explored a new BTS track every day, I realized the way I was feeling was a normal part of being human and my emotions were valid. These were seven people who’d managed to outline my fears and pain with such clarity and we’d never even met. Hell, we didn’t even speak the same language. It reinforced my belief that language and cultural barriers mean nothing when it comes to music–the previous band who had resonated with me this much were a certain German emo rock quartet–and really emphasized the fact that a helping hand never really comes from where you expect it to.
It’s important to understand BTS are not an instant remedy; they’re a catalyst in the process of facing yourself. They push you towards your own journey of self-discovery and resolution instead of handing it to you on a platter. Maybe it has a lot to do with the fact that they are young adults themselves and don’t have all the answers. I feel a lot of their songwriting stems from searching for those answers, just the way the rest of us are. When they released their 2016 album WINGS, we dove into life, death, the afterlife and beyond together. They kept my mind buzzing with all the parallel universes, literature, mythology and religious symbolism in their work. The Most Beautiful Moment In Life series (“Run,” “I NEED U” and the heartbreaking “Young Forever,”) WINGS and their subsequent Love Yourself series of LPs all broke down the facets of what it means to be human and had me in awe of the connections music can forge between a depressed, anxiety-ridden Indian woman and a K-pop group. I don’t think a song has made me cry as hard as BTS’ main rapper Suga’s solo track “First Love” from WINGS–he spoke about music being his first love and it was like he had managed to wrench out and pen down emotions I didn’t even know existed within me.
BTS constantly take the chance to bare themselves in their songwriting, concepts and interviews, and the ripples of it spread across the globe to become crutches for a lot of us who are struggling with similar challenges. Suga slowly became my favorite songwriter within the group due to how he mirrors a lot of the angst and pain I’ve personally felt in my life. The almost orchestral “The Last” from his 2016 solo mixtape Agust D is a heavy, bittersweet dose of reality: “At times I’m scared of myself too/Thanks to the depression that takes over me/And all my self hatred/Min Yoongi is dead already (I killed him)/Comparing my dead passion with others/It’s now a part of my daily life.” It helped me admit that I was in a similar mind space and needed to see a therapist to begin my own mental healing.
If on some days the songwriting didn’t give me the peace I needed, their bright personalities provided another kind of safe haven. The launch of their hilarious ongoing variety show Run BTS! in 2015 allowed fans a bigger glimpse into who they are as individuals and also did a lot to contribute to BTS’ relatability–at the end of the day, they’re just a bunch of young guys playing silly games, laughing, bickering with each other and having a great time. We don’t often see pop stars engage in obstacle courses, water parks, karaoke and cook (with sometimes disastrous results) just for our amusement. This openness carries further into interviews and other public interactions–they seem to have remained the same humble, hilarious dorks I first encountered in 2015 and haven’t let their ever-growing fame get in the way of that.
I was lucky to experience this firsthand when I finally got to interview the group’s leader RM in 2017; we were both amazed by how alike we were when it came to our opinions about the little things–memes, pop culture and, of course, existential crisis. He’s a global pop star and I’m pretty much the opposite of that in every way, yet we discovered there were more similarities between us than differences. Our interests and the very fact that we were having that conversation were all bound together by the thread of music, and the comfort in that is eternal. (I also got to thank him for everything BTS has done for me, and it’s a privilege I’ll cherish lifelong.)
Later in 2017, BTS unknowingly gifted me my current friends circle–they were fellow fans who had read my interview with RM, reached out to me and over the next two years, became my soulmates. They’re strong, independent women who give me the drive to keep going, allow me to truly be myself with them and pick me up when I’m down. I know they’ll fight as hard as I will for the relationship we have built through good music, late night binging of Run BTS! episodes and philosophical music video analysis. Earlier this year, we finally fulfilled our goal of seeing BTS in concert during their Love Yourself Tour in April, and seeing them perform “Run” live came full-circle to confirm that clicking on that YouTube video back in 2015 was probably one of the best decisions I ever made.
Of course sitting and watching them with 45,000 other people… I remember feeling a moment of sadness. It hit me that they’re no longer my little secret–they’re the biggest boy band in the world and so beyond my reach, it’s kind of like holding out your hand at the night sky and hoping you’ll catch a star twinkling in the distance. Each record-breaking new achievement pushes them further up to that sky and it’s a bittersweet blend of being proud of them but also intimidated by the power they hold in the global music scene. Sometimes I don’t relate to everything BTS release–the Love Yourself series didn’t do for me what The Most Beautiful Moment in Life series or the members’ solo releases did, but it’s still an honor to walk this road with them.
In the last four years, many have poked fun at me for being a fan, thrown racist and homophobic slurs, belittled my emotions around this band and even questioned how sincere a fan I am. But as I grow with BTS and learn more about their message of positivity, I know my relationship with them can only be defined by me, my connection with them is mine alone, and it stems from the fact that they were there for me at a time no one else was. As cheesy as it sounds, with BTS there is an instant assurance you’re not alone. It lies in the honesty of their lyricism, the sincerity in their love for their fans and their determination to never stop believing there’s a better tomorrow. It will always be difficult to put into a sentence the impact BTS made on my life, but I’ll give it a shot: They helped me build myself back up when I had nothing, never expected anything in return and the kindness in that is why I’ll still be here, 10, 20, 50 years from now.