On Monday international Korean pop sensation BTS debuted their new video “Permission to Dance,” in which they dance through the chambers of the United Nations while advising their billions of fans to “just keep the right vibe” and “not to worry, ‘Cause when we fall, we know how to land.’”
The release got a lot of attention, not only because this is what happens when your fandom refers to itself as an ARMY (a.k.a. “Adorable Representative M.C. for Youth”—and yes, you’re right that it should be ARMCY, what can I tell you, pop star fans do not follow Strunk & White), but because the group released the video from the floor of the United Nations at the end of the talk they gave to the General Assembly.
Yes, you read that right. Jin, Suga, J-Hope, RM, Jimin, V and Jungkook all stood in matching black suits before the ambassadors of the gathered nations of the world to share a video in which they hold bedazzled microphones and mug sexy for the camera as they dance from the speaker’s podium up and out of the chamber. V even kicked up his heels in the U.N. foyer, you guys.
Though I could not name a single member of the group on my own, they really got to this 52-year-old Jesuit.
I know, it sounds ridiculous. The U.N. has a gathering like this just once a year for one week; we remain deep in a pandemic that has crippled the world for 18 months and is currently devastating some countries worse than ever; we have an escalating climate crisis to deal with, and a thousand other things. U.N. Secretary General António Guterres said to the gathered group today that the world confronts “the greatest cascade of crises in our lifetime.”
But sure, let’s give 10 minutes to seven Korean 20-somethings who want us to believe they’re still teenagers and shot this dope video on one of the world’s most important sites.
Here’s the thing, though: As the seven young men stood before the gathered assembly wearing suits that somehow made them look like they had just raided their dad’s closet, gesturing toward collages of fan-made messages that were way too small for anyone to see, they actually had something to say. And though I could not name a single member of the group on my own (someone on staff actually had to point out to me that V is the one who always puts a “V” over his eye), they really got to this 52-year-old Jesuit.
Much like Greta Thunberg three years ago and Malala Yousafzai in 2013, the members of BTS used the opportunity of standing before this gathering of world leaders to speak articulately about what it is like to be a young person today. They talked about feeling “bewildered and troubled” in the past two years, relayed the sadness so many of their fans had felt at having important events in their lives canceled and described their own “encroaching sense of dread.”
The members of BTS used the opportunity of standing before this gathering of world leaders to speak articulately about what it is like to be a young person today.
“I shudder to think about mourning for the earth,” said J-Hope (Jung Hoseok).
But confronted with these immense challenges, the members of BTS pushed the gathered assembly to not give up. “I hope we don’t just consider the future as grim darkness,” V (Kim Taehyung) said. Speaking of his own generation, he went on: “We have people that are concerned for the world and searching for the answers. There are still many pages left in the story about us. And we shouldn’t talk like the ending’s already been written.”
Unlike the typical American celebrity presentation, there was nothing performative about these young men’s delivery. If anything they seemed very much like the young fans who adore them—vulnerable, earnest and so affecting that the U.N. staff doing simultaneous translation themselves started to get worked up as they translated.
Responding to the idea that some are referring to their generation as the “Covid Lost Generation,” RM (Kim Namjoon) replied: “I think it’s a stretch to say they’re lost just because the paths they tread can’t be seen by grown up eyes.”
A more appropriate name, suggested Jin (Kim Seokjin), was “The Welcome Generation”: “Instead of fearing change this generation says ‘Welcome’ and keeps forging ahead.”
“We have people that are concerned for the world and searching for the answers. There are still many pages left in the story about us. And we shouldn’t talk like the ending’s already been written.”
RM agreed: “If we believe in possibilities and hope, even when the unexpected happens we will not lose our way but discover new ones.”
If it is not clear already, I am old, so old that when I hear the term “boy band” I instinctively want to sing, “Backstreet’s back, alright.” And like many in my generation, I am very worried for the future of the next generation and also overwhelmed by the horrors of the present. I want us to fight climate change as hard as we possibly can, but first I want everyone to be able to walk into stores without worrying about the possibility that doing so might kill them, and also it would be nice if our leaders could be trusted to not foment violence or tyranny. When it comes to global crises, it is proving difficult for my ever-softening brain tissue to walk and chew gum at the same time.
In the face of it all there is a quiet kind of despair that creeps in—not the “We’re doomed” of crazy people shouting on street corners but a shrugging “I give up, what’s on Netflix?” Listening to BTS, I am reminded that there is a whole other way of viewing the future, one that despite all facts to the contrary remains hopeful precisely because of the amazing people it will have in it, people like my nephews and nieces and yours, too. The future may in some ways be catastrophe, just as the present is, just as the past has been. But I also have reason to hope, as RM ended the band’s comments at the U.N., that “in this nascent new world we can all say to each other, ‘Welcome’” and work to make things better.
Maybe in this time of uncertainty, fear and doubt, it would be worth recruiting some young people like BTS, Thunberg or Yousafzai to officially join the pope in the cause.
It has long been a strategy of the Catholic Church to turn to young people to help evangelize their parents and communities. There is just something about young people speaking the truth that is easier to hear and harder to ignore. The faith of the members of BTS is more than a bit of a mystery. ARM[C]Y members have built up theories that, based on the fact that V had a Spotify playlist with a tune from Hillsong, that he must be Christian, or that Jimin might be Catholic because he went to an unnamed all-boys Christian school.
But when it comes to their message of hope for the future they actually sound a lot like our own Pope Francis. “May our struggles and our concerns for this planet never take away our hope,” Francis writes at the end of “Laudato Si’.” And also, as though perhaps a fan of BTS himself: “Let us sing as we go.”
The Vatican has no better spokesman both for our faith and for our planet than the pope. But maybe in this time of uncertainty, fear and doubt, it would be worth recruiting some young people like BTS, Thunberg or Yousafzai to officially join him in the cause.
“All it takes is one good person to restore hope,” Francis reminds us in “Laudato Si’.” Today it is clear to me how much good seven well-intentioned young people can do. Plus, they offer the possibility of some sick synchronized dance steps.