Connect with us


A Korean American’s Take on BTS

blendtw logo



BTS, the South Korean boy band

From landing first place on Billboard Hot 100 to receiving a Grammy nomination, BTS, the South Korean boy band, is making history for South Korea and collectively, for Asians. The outbreak of the coronavirus has sparked an increase in racist behavior towards Asian ethnicities. A finding reports that one in four Asian Americans experiences racist bullying. BTS is becoming an icon of inspiration for many Korean Americans, including myself. 

Racism in Los Angeles 

As a second-generation Korean American born in Los Angeles, California, I was always close to my culture and I was never afraid to embrace it. I was lucky enough to live in an area that was known for diversity.  

Looking back, I still faced racism even though I was in a city that is considered one of America’s largest melting pots. I was teased for the size of my eyes with some people blatantly asking me if I could see through them. I was asked if I had ever eaten dog meat before and I was asked if I was any good at math. To answer, I can see perfectly fine with my eyes, I have never eaten dog meat, and I am absolutely horrible at math.

With my straight black hair and brown hooded eyes, it was common for a stranger to mistake me as Chinese or Japanese. I remember a stranger walking up to me and insisting that I was Japanese because I had “Japanese looking eyes.” 

I didn’t really mind being mistaken for another race. I’d politely correct them and go about my own business. But I always felt as though Korea, China and Japan were constantly lumped together. Sure, we are culturally similar in some ways but we each have a separate identity and a rich history that is uniquely our own. 

Identity Crisis

After moving to Columbus, Georgia, and entering a college with a predominantly white population, I realized how difficult it was to truly embrace one’s culture. 

I learned through my friends that many second-generation Asian Americans who were not as fortunate enough to live in an environment rich with diversity, dealt with an identity crisis when they were younger. Some were split between wanting to be accepted by their peers, who were predominantly white, and wanting to embrace their cultural roots. Wanting blonde hair and blue eyes wasn’t unheard of and scarfing down a pungent meal for lunch in order to get rid of the fish smell or other scents as soon as possible was a daily task. 

As I tried to adapt to my new Columbus home, I too began to feel painfully aware of my differences. I was no longer in an area where the minority was the majority. 

COVID-19 and the Confederate Flag 

When COVID-19 hit the United States, I got a taste of what it felt like to fear for my physical safety for the way I looked. I remember reading news reports of hate crimes against Asians in America while I waited to board the plane with a mask on. As I rushed through the airport, I couldn’t help but feel as though people were staring at me with anger and malice in their eyes. My anxiety heightened when I saw countless Trump 2020 banners and confederate flags hung around where I lived.

A few months ago, I went to CVS with my mom and spotted a car displaying a confederate flag in the parking lot. Because the flag can connote white supremacy and with all the anti-Asian sentiments going on along with the Black Lives Matter movement, we were both disheartened and riddled with anxiety as we entered the store. 

I approached the checkout area after I was done shopping and next to the cash register, I saw seven familiar boys smiling radiantly at me on a magazine cover. At that moment, the anxiety I felt crumbled away, and instead, I felt a surge of relief. Look at us, they seemed to be saying, “You and I are of the same race. We share the same culture and history. Look how far we have come in America.”

BTS and Cultural Awareness

The seven boys with humble beginnings debuted together as BTS in 2013 and now are dubbed as a “national treasure” in South Korea. Their contribution to South Korean culture is historic, leaving the very lawmakers of the country debating if the boys should be excused from the mandatory two-year military service. 

The seven boys are treading through uncharted waters as they are becoming globally recognized. They have accomplished feats for the Asian communities from receiving a Grammy nomination to becoming the first Asian act to sell out Wembley Stadium. 

On October 2, a performance by BTS was aired on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. The performance was rich with cultural significance. The members wore a modern twist to traditional clothing and performed at Geunjeongjeon Hall and Gyeonghoeru Pavilion in Gyeongbok Palace. The palace is located in the heart of Seoul right in front of the Blue House where the president resides. Built in 1395, Gyeonbgok palace has served as the home to many Joseon Dynasty kings and it was also where the last Korean queen was assassinated.

BTS performing on stage wearing traditional South Korean outfits.

Watching BTS perform at a location of historic importance on an American show made me proud of my heritage. I couldn’t help but think, “Are my fellow Americans seeing this? Are they appreciating how beautiful my culture is?” At that moment, I was proud of my hair color and the way my eyes looked. I was glad that I was fluent in Korean. I was elated that South Korea was gaining recognition worldwide.

Redefining Standards

Korean pop music was and still continues to be stigmatized. This is particularly true for male groups in terms of appearances. The beauty standards of Korea and America differ greatly. While Americans favor men exhibiting masculine features such as muscles and beards, Koreans favor a delicate and slim look. Body hair is seen as something undesirable and some agencies require male K-pop idols to shave their leg hair. The delicate features that are preferred in Korea were scorned repeatedly in the United States, with famous American TV hosts ridiculing Asian men. But now, K-pop idols are redefining beauty standards. Many media outlets have named V from BTS as the most handsome man of 2020. 

Not only is BTS changing the scheme of beauty standards, but they’re also changing the very image of K-pop. In 2012, PSY released Gangnam Style and the song quickly gained popularity in the West. This wasn’t because the music was particularly artistic in any way, but because it was humorous and alien to Westerners. Now BTS is gaining popularity for the multiple layers of meaning and art in their songs and music videos. Each album seems to contain a unique message, ranging from providing comfort and solace to criticizing society. 

Even as the most beloved boy group in the world, BTS is not immune to the racist and xenophobic sentiments in America. 

“Since we’re aliens to the music industry for America, we don’t know if there’s a place for us or not,” leader RM said.

Regardless, BTS is providing much-needed representation for Asians in the American entertainment scheme like no other person or group has done before. They are a beacon of hope in Asian American communities, especially during the plight of COVID-19. 

College Money



free email series 


      Tips & Resources to make hundreds

                  and save BIG in college