This is part of This Made Me, a HuffPost series paying tribute to the formative pop culture in our lives. Read more stories from the series here.
“The band that changed K-pop.” “Kings of K-pop.” “World’s biggest boy band.” These are just a few phrases used to describe the seven-member South Korean group BTS.
In the past few years, V, Suga, Jin, Jungkook, RM, Jimin and J-Hope have dominated music charts, sold out tours and even dipped into global diplomacy. But beyond the awards and worldwide acclaim, BTS is bringing many Korean Americans the opportunity to connect with their culture and their loved ones. (Watch the video above.)
“Being a Korean American who moved to the States when I was 3 years old, my experience of growing up was trying to assimilate and suppress and put aside that part of your culture or your identity,” Sue Kim Vetter, a mother of two, told HuffPost. “As I’ve gotten older — and me discovering my Korean culture again, with BTS allowing that to open my eyes — and it’s revisiting something like, ‘Oh my God, this is refreshing. Oh my God, this is new.’”
After Vetter shared her love for BTS with her kids, Madden and Georgia, the K-pop group became a way for them to spend more time with one another. At home, Madden dances and sings along to the Korean lyrics while Georgia paints and draws BTS-related art. “It’s bled into a lot of areas in our lives … there’s a connection, a foundational connection. This unspoken togetherness,” she said.
Jee Soo Kim recalled growing up and not speaking much Korean with her mom after moving to the U.S. when she was 6, but all that changed in 2019 when she saw BTS perform for the first time at the Billboard Music Awards.
Watching the global pop sensation speak Korean on American late night talk shows and openly embracing their culture propelled Kim to want to relearn the language that used to be a barrier when speaking to her mom.
“I really wanted to talk to her about how amazing it was that it was this Korean band that was shown in all this Western media … I turned to my mom and I was just like, ‘It’s really amazing that this is happening,’” Kim said. “Every time I talk to her, there’s some form of BTS in there somewhere … speaking about BTS and talking about them together is kind of our way of finding an opening to talk about other subjects as well.”
For Christina Roh, returning back home after graduating from college became an opportunity to reconnect with her younger sister Briana Song. And the way Roh did that was through K-pop.
“On a car ride one time, I was like, ‘Briana, have you heard of BTS? Do you like them?’ And she was like, ‘Yeah, I guess I like them. I don’t know, they’re pretty cool,’” Roh said.
Song, who has been a fan of K-pop since 2017, said it was when her sister shared an interest in BTS that they became closer. “Once Christina got into it, I was like, ‘OK, I like these groups, so I can show you them if you want.’”
Soon after, Roh decided to take Song to her first K-pop concert to see BTS on their Permission to Dance tour in Los Angeles.
“I looked over a couple times and she’s so happy. I truly never ever hear her scream and her screaming at the concert was so exciting for me to see,” said Roh.
Song said the concert was “life-changing,” and going with her sister made it even more special.
“For Briana and I to both be such big fans at the same time, it just feels, just literally, the most overwhelming feeling ever … And so to combine those two experiences and to bond over that together just feels like such an amazing, magical thing,” she said.