Beyond the Scene: A Look Into BTS' Health and Management
This article is part three in a series by guest contributor Amianon, focusing on the societal impact of the K-Pop boy band and worldwide sensation BTS.
“He shouldn't be coughing from May to October,” my friend and fellow ARMY told me online on Twitter late last night as we talked about our worries about the physical health of what may be BTS' poster boy: the charming, impish Jimin, whip-smart about academics and scarily good at athletics, all while maintaining a deceptive delicate demeanor. “He's one of the strongest members of the group and the most wildly talented—but tour takes such a toll on him that he's almost always sick during or after.” Elite athletes — often perceived as the epitome of health and fitness — may be more susceptible to common illness, says ScienceDaily, and are therefore proving useful in helping scientists understand more about the immune system. It is estimated that the average adult has between 1 and 6 colds each year, but athletes who engage in heavy training and competition may suffer more frequent colds. A cold can present for an athlete of this type with varying symptoms and severity, including sore throat, coughing, sneezing, fatigue and a fever among other things. However, moderate exercise may stimulate the immune system in contrast to intense exercise, which may decrease immune function. This suggests that exercise in moderate amounts is beneficial for the body and the immune system but vigorous and intense training may need to be altered to decrease incidence of illness.
A staff member squats above Jungkook in a lull between show numbers, getting ready to administer oxygen.
This is just one of the side effects of being an idol, if your body isn't built to maintain such a grueling job (and for different artists it takes its toll in different ways.) Being a celebrity comes with a wealth of difficulties. Growing up in the spotlight is even harder. People lose their innocence quickly and learn to sexualize themselves in order to appeal to the raving masses; they become less of themselves, more of who they're wanted to be. KPop is notoriously harder than the average Western child prodigy singer's life; it's a blend of the life of a professional athlete and an actor and a singer and performer all in one. While rarer and with a slightly modified set of responsibilities, some trained artists may also produce, manage, and direct their own output, as BTS does. Their producer and rapper Min Yoongi casually stated earlier this year he'd gotten about three hours of sleep the previous night; he was up and awake with a cold iced coffee in the morning for the group's radio interview. Dependent on the company, the artists may put this excessive pressure on themselves rather than the staff or CEOs pushing them to their limit; Asian culture emphasizes hard work and a sense of self-discipline. Productivity plays a huge role in this; if the rapper's on a crazy streak of creativity he might not view pacing himself as the best thing to do in the situation—especially if writer's block might ensue in the morning. Staff are often there to just facilitate and manage symptoms of cold, sickness or aches.
BTS (standing) raise a heartfelt toast to their staff team after their Wings Tour (2017).
When Jimin hurt his back severely on tour last year, their staff were with him every step of the way, giving him therapeutic exercises and treatments and treating his physical upkeep as they might for an Olympic athlete; they kept him on a stern recovery regimen and taught fellow member Jungkook the specific therapeutic exercises and massages to assist for the pulled muscle and to make sure Jimin completed. Taehyung also suffered from stress-induced illness earlier this year. He'd been struggling with depression (for more personal reasons—he's lost a lot of close family and friends in the past years, some to suicide and some to natural causes) and opened up later on in the summer about his insecurities and desire to be loved. As characteristic of BTS, he was painfully transparent; saying, “I come on Weverse to be sure—to feel that I am loved; but when I finish talking with someone, the emptiness returns.” The toll this model takes on the psyche might be morally dubious, if not for the fact that the group are all adults, their parents didn't have any major concerns about their enrollment into training camps as children, and as matured artists they have an unheard of amount of control over their own management. BTS have based their career around a shockingly wholesome genuine desire to help people, aiming to advance their emotional and mental health, but it often seems they, too, haven't learned yet to be as emotionally mature as they try to help their fans to be. Their development hasn't been stunted; they are vastly well-adjusted in terms of the average person shouldering the same responsibilities. There's just a kind of childlike innocence about the group still, even in their early to mid-twenties, that's more shockingly endearing than it is concerning. The average life of the celebrity—drugs, promiscuity, vapidity, and overall turbulence—seems to escape this group. They are very much adults, though they might not always act like it—but they seem to prefer the simple joys in life to the bedazzlement and opulence of the celebrity culture. They adore children, respect women, bow to the elderly, and emphasize a sense of family. “I want to be a good man/Just for you,” the group sings in “Fake Love”. “I gave the world/Just for you.”
BTS watch on proudly as their choreographer (Son Songdeuk) accepts an award (left.) Taehyung plays peek-a-boo with his baby son Moa during a break in dance practice (right.)
“I saw an old man pushing an old woman in a wheelchair once, when I was visiting a museum,” Jimin told Namjoon on VLive with adorable earnestness. “They were husband and wife, and they were very old, and still together, and he was pushing her along. It was one of the most beautiful things I've seen. I thought it was like art.” They prefer the romantic to the sensual; what could be considered the 'couple' of the group is primarily saccharinely, naively gentle and sweet with each other and therefore as age-appropriate for conservative television as possible—the two were childhood sweethearts and secured the blessing of both sets of parents before pursuing anything serious. To the Western eye, the group is startlingly physically affectionate with each other as well, (while this may be seen as brotherly or ordinary in the most expressive Pan-Asian culture they come from) yet somehow without it ranging anything further than the innocent or platonic. They are overly sentimental, and strangely humble. They gravitate towards the arts and sciences and the obscure yet beautiful. They're not without their immature moments; every song they listen to isn't Mozart. But they do display a remarkable ability to balance the serious and the frivolous. A major saesang celebrity news outlet once stalked youngest member Jungkook on an outing from his residence, catching him unawares, and was able to follow him to and from his destination undetected. He went to the supermarket on a scooter to get some banana milk, which he's loved since he was a child; he is now the official sponsor of Waktu Indonesia Belanja's IndoMilk at 23. And per his request, the group's new single 'Dynamite' debuted in Fortnite; the artist has a reputation as being quite the gamer and invites fans to play with him online from time to time. But growing up to be completely well-adjusted and without a sense of the urge to search for validation as a child celebrity is a lot harder than it might be for adults. The three youngest members (in order of age) Jimin, Taehyung and Jungkook—started training when they were in their preteens. Jungkook maybe had the worst time of it—-he frequently states he hadn't even formed a sense of identity yet, was just crazy passionate about dancing and singing. It may seem like a joke at first, when Namjoon or Yoongi or Jin speak as if they've raised him, but a closer look and they're almost deadly serious. They've served as protective father figures, walking him through his humorously melodramatic “grunge/emo” teen years and later his terrifying and panic-stricken sexuality crisis; traces of the way he still looks up them remain even into his adulthood. In 2014, their closeness was put on display as a teenaged Jungkook and Taehyung lip synced to a dramatic rock song.
Jungkook jumps on Namjoon from behind as the older is mid-verse (above). Jungkook calls Namjoon his “first and last role model.” Namjoon, who comes from a gritty, harsh past as an underground rapper, said meeting the younger kid gave him a second chance at life.
While Jungkook does have an intricate web of a support system and a dedicated fanbase, sometimes the latter can cause him to wallow in self-doubt. He's almost built his sense of self-esteem around the validation he receives from ARMYs, and while the love is in no ways lacking, his esteem does take a hit and he seems particularly vulnerable when being attacked by haters or being plagued by smear jobs. “I'm nothing without the group,” he stated in “Break the Silence.” “I'm an artist. That's my talent [specialization/skill.]” Giving a teenager to a bunch of barely matured young adults almost seems like a bizarre, unethical social experiment, if the older members hadn't done such a great job. They knocked out his vices early and taught him hard work, kindness and integrity. “I used to be so selfish as a kid,” Jungkook added. “Because I was the baby, I was used to getting everything I wanted.” (Korean culture is built around age hierarchy; that's why their ages are mentioned so frequently as it informs and dictates how you act and how you treat others.) “What's mine was mine, and what's yours was mine; everything was mine. My hyungs [older brothers/male figures] taught me not to be like that, that it was wrong.” And his parents left him with their values before he left to train, as well. “I got the worst disciplining [spanking] of my life when my parents found out I cheated on a test to get a high score. My dad gave it to me,” he mentioned with a laugh on VLive one summer. “They didn't care that I got a high score. What mattered to them was that I had lied and cheated.” The group's CEO's apparent trustworthiness tied the knot on the group's winning efficiency and success. He gave them a kind of “safe space” as kids to pursue their artistic dreams without fear of discrimination due to sexual orientation; the company paid for their college expenses and ensured their care was cleanhanded and honest to the best of its ability (though rumors of rough spots with overly-harsh managers remain) and Bang PD still advocates for a fairer and less illicit kpop management model to this day. “I want artists to be able to live as humans,” he's reiterated. “Back in 2011, when we were thinking up the idea of the group, we wondered—what would it look like to put them [the artists] and the fans first? And we kind of hit on the wild ginseng (lucky/profitable plant) from there.” BigHit's company has been compared to Jeff Bezos's handling of Amazon, prioritizing customer service first, instead of the shady press and statements some fans receive when inquiring about the well-being of their idols. They're still expanding their shipping to various countries and slowly sending out feelers towards which countries they can invest in; the globe's very wide, and so far they've expended an inordinate amount of time finding their footing in the West. And treating the artists and creators kindly and fairly seems to have markedly increased their productivity; when they're happy and as healthy as can be, there's no limit to the music and art they can produce. It's profitable to treat your artists well, Bang PD has discovered. But in a kind of dumb stupor of disbelief, other companies entrenched in their ways fail to take him at his word and perpetuate all the toxic behaviors and policies typical of the industry. Change is coming, however, and BigHit's values seem to be spreading slowly. BTS' influence is spreading throughout their country and around the world. “Healing, like in English, means emotional comfort. But in the Korean context, since Koreans are always pressured and stressed out by social norms or modern life, it has become an important notion in culture or lifestyle,” said Kyung Min-bae, assistant professorial fellow at the University of the Philippines (UP) Department of Linguistics and research fellow at the UP Korea Research Center. BigHit's motto is “Music and Artist for Healing.” “These days, it is sohwakhaeng, or small but precious happiness, quoted in Haruki Murakami's novel, or “˜ìž‘ì€ ê²ƒë“¤ì„ ìœ„í•œ ì‹œ, “a poem for small things” as seen in BTS' “Boy With Luv.” “Koreans are trying to feel more simple happiness than achieving grand ones,” she said in an interview with Lifestyle. It was a mission for Big Hit that would resonate with people all over the world. “We emphasize the notion of winning together. We want to break an industry practice that is very hierarchical, where artists are at the bottom,” said Sejin Kim, coleader of Big Hit's artist protocol department. Sejin is a longtime Big Hit manager and bodyguard, adored by BTS and loved by the fandom. He is known for his assuring and comforting presence, and is in charge of keeping the boys safe. There are countless other loved staff that compose the BigHit family, from Slow Rabbit, their main producer, who cried when the group won their first Daesang (the Korean award equivalent of a Grammy), and the insanely talented Adora, the boys' female producer/writer, vocalist and best friend/sister (hired for her talent when she was just a teen). When Jimmy Fallon asked the boys what their secret was this summer, instead of flaunting their own abilities, they let Jin answer best, with a simple, “We were lucky enough to meet good people.”
Written by Amianon.