Teenage girls make superstars. We better start respecting them.
Welcome, is it your first time with BTS?
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve definitely heard about BTS, the Korean pop music group making waves in the world.
I’m a huge fan of the group’s music — I’ve ‘stanned’ them for four years now, so I’ve seen just about every bit of discourse and discussion surrounding them in the media. Recently, I’ve been thinking about how BTS treat their fans compared to other stars.
“Teenage girls invented music.1”
“We don’t want to just be, like, for girls,” 5SOS once said. They wanted to be “for everyone”.2
That’s a polite way of telling their teen girl fans that they’re just a stepping stone to reach real fans — men. Even though teen girls are the reason many male-dominated acts get famous, they’re easily discarded when the time is right. Most of these musicians desperately want to shed the ‘boy band’ label simply because it’s associated with teenage girls and ‘hysteria’.
“By brushing these girls aside and laughing at how stupid whatever they like is, we tell these young women that their interests are less important than what men like.”
What an absurd notion to have when teen girls literally make global superstars out of nobodies. Let’s not forget that The Beatles rose to fame because of the devotion of their fangirls, but it was only when men began liking the group that it became “cool” to listen to them.
All-male music acts like The Beatles, Justin Timberlake or 5 Seconds of Summer (5SOS), who rose to fame thanks to their teen girl fanbases often crave the “legitimacy” of having male fans. They want to trade in their Teen Choice awards for a Grammy because the latter symbolizes that they’ve made it — adult men finally think their music is worth a listen. Whoopee.
Many “boy bands” think that the only reason most teenage girls like them and go feral is that they’re hot. Sure, that’s probably true, but teenage girls are multifaceted — they can think you’re hot and appreciate your music. It doesn’t have to be one or the other.
What BTS got right that the others didn’t
Picture this: you’re artists of colour, trying to make it in a pop music industry that’s heavily dominated by US artists. An industry that’s notorious for its gatekeeping and nepotism. All you have to bring to the table is great music and lyrics that transcend languages.
Who’s backing you?
A fandom that’s primarily made up of women and teenage girls.
Immediately, I can hear the derisive laughter of music critics and experts. Oh, another boyband that girls are getting hysterical over. Nothing new, nothing worth listening to.
Yet, this is the same group, still backed by the same fandom, that’s become one of the biggest acts in the world today.
Other than their music, BTS’ unique connection with their fans is what’s propelled them to these heights. The bar to treat fangirls with respect is practically underground, which is why it makes sense that the way BTS cherishes and nurtures the relationship they have with their fans is groundbreaking.
The thing is, it would be so easy for BTS to make fun of ARMYs — a light quip on the fandom’s overzealousness here or a simple agreement when the interviewer calls their fans “crazy” or “insane” there would be plenty.
But no, they, pardon my language, actually give fucks about their fans. All of their fans, including the girls and women. Every time an interviewer has insinuated that their fans are crazy or “insane”, they’ve replied with positive, encouraging words to show the world that they’re on their fans’ side.
This defense is like the bare minimum for stars to do — if you don’t stand up for your fans, who will? Other than publicly respecting and validating their female fans, BTS goes above and beyond to show their appreciation for all that the fans do for them.
It’s not just behind closed concert hall doors that they show this love and appreciation. ARMYs are included in every celebration. After the Grammys or the VMAs, BTS go live and thank their fans — every award acceptance speech by RM begins with an “ARMY” followed by gratitude.
Maybe it’s because BTS worked hard to gain their fans. Debuting with a small company on the verge of bankruptcy in Korea, they poured in literal blood, sweat, and tears to get to where they are today. They know their music, and their talent speaks volumes. They know their fans understand them — these fans are the reason they’re on the top of the world right now, crushing record after record.
This appreciation that they show, this feeling of being included that they create, is one of the main reasons I continue to stan them. I feel like they’re not ashamed of me, ashamed of my friends who are also girls and women who like them. They respect my taste and are grateful for my love.
Please, let girls enjoy things in peace
Do you ever wonder why teenage boys/adult men screaming their lungs out at a goal is ‘passion’ but or teenage girls/adult women screaming for their favourite musicians is ‘hysteria’?
Both sets of people show how invested they are in the people they choose to ‘stan’. Funny how sexism works.
Here’s what I think.
I think teenage girl-dominated fandoms are not taken seriously because consciously or unconsciously, society wants us to understand that the only opinions worth listening to are men’s. The point is to start early — if you dismiss young girls’ likes and ridicule things they’re passionate about, they’re more easily influenced by cishet white male “experts” or “critics” about what’s the “right” music to listen to as they grow older.
I also think that men are annoyed at the ‘pull’ teenage girls have. No other demographic can be so passionate and literally create global music superstars. So, this is punishment for being amazing fans, I guess. That’s why the whole concept of “real artists” comes up — the artists teenage girls choose to listen to are simply not worth it. It’s trendy to hate on the things that teenage girls like.
Let’s also not forget that a lot of men believe that everything women do is impress them.
This belief leads them to pit women against each other, vying for male approval. And there’s your internalized misogyny rearing its ugly head. 3
It’s more than just music. A study found that “women are considered second-tier fans in geek fandoms. Women are regularly viewed as neither committed nor knowledgeable enough to participate in fandom culture. Moreover, women are often objectified and harassed in social media fandom spaces.”
If a woman chooses a male-dominated fandom to get into (e.g. football), she’s still going to get ridiculed if she can’t “prove” that she’s worth being a part of this fandom. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
So, here’s to the teen girls who haven’t been respected or validated as the reason for so many musicians’ success. Here’s to the women who’ve faced this misogyny when all we were trying to do is enjoy something for ourselves.
Love what makes you happy, seriously. Like the person in the tweet below says, “never let anyone embarrass you for it.”
As for me, I’m going to continue stanning BTS and enjoy hours and hours of K-pop girl group music. Because that’s what makes me happy.
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