BTS and Their Connections to MKUltra: An Insider's Conclusion
This article is part one in a series by guest contributor Amianon, focusing on the societal impact of the K-Pop boy band and worldwide sensation BTS.
So BTS references MKUltra in their work? You bet they do. For the award-winning septet, MKUltra slavery and the techniques one uses to enslave serves mainly as a metaphor for the dark side of fame and the psychological toll it takes to be in an industry that requires a high level of visibility and thus, one must either get comfortable feeling very naked before an audience or formulate some kind of persona to protect themselves. BTS have tried to strike a balance between the two. They're very, if almost intimately, acquainted with MKUltra programming techniques. Their work is laced with its symbolism. Did they extensively study it in order to strike a complicated, intricate parallel (and silently critique the entire structure of the Korean music industry) or do they actually have experience being beta kitten slaves? I tend to think it's the former. One ought to employ Occam's Razor. Hollywood is an entire industry dedicated to training people to put on personas. It's common thespian work: it's called acting. It doesn't have to have any negative implications. Where the negative/sinister implications do come in are when it's implied anyone (we'll call them Subject A) has such a traumatizing and emotionally, mentally and spiritually draining job or experience that it is necessary for them to actually disassociate themselves from what's happening to them/around them/to them so that they can maintain some semblance of sanity. The MKUltra theory is that you take the broken pieces of the person's mind and utilize each shattered piece separately, instead of gluing everything back together. (BTS only aims to heal and reconcile what might have been broken, instead of breaking anything further; in this way their art is therapeutic instead of divisive.) This is a method of employing the method of individuation (a Jungian psychological technique). One might separate them out and train each disassociated part to perform a certain purpose. One segment, when triggered, will elicit a bouncy, artificially happy Subject A. Another will bring to the forefront Subject A's dancing or multilingual skills. A 'glitch' might cause Subject A to stammer 'Good morning, Sunday morning'. Subject A may wear various faces or all of them at once to get through the day and convince themself they're doing just fine. Not every Subject A was originally broken; some are broken in on purpose in order to weaponize them. So is this necessary for titan group BTS? Probably not. Being a kpop-idol-type star is overwhelming and draining, but BigHit has always prioritized their artists' mental, physical and emotional health, providing them with 24/7 access to a spectrum of therapists and going so far as to cancel concerts due to an injury that might be easy to power through on powerful drugs or (in a rare case early-on, canceling an event because one of the artists had severe stage fright). Beyond the typical 'Staff treats BTS like kings' compilation videos on YouTube, the company has receipts. In 2019 they famously risked their financial security to give the seven members a month-long break and unlimited funds to go anywhere or fly anywhere they wanted in the world and do anything they wanted; the permission to joyride and let loose with black cards and no restrictions was just what the young twenty-somethings needed. They'd hit a wall and couldn't go any further. Jimin decided to party in Russia and get hilariously drunk in a nightclub in France (an anecdote that's captured on video on YouTube, uploaded by a stranger) and then fly twelve hours back to Korea to visit member Jungkook to celebrate the last two hours of his birthday with him and Hoseok, bearing expensive gifts and a flamboyant rainbow cake back with him. It's a horrifying tale; a world-famous musician traversing around with no security detail and unlimited freedom and money and letting strangers record him in an unfiltered, inebriated state; the gossip magazines would have a field day. BigHit pretended they Did Not See and probably had staff text him a reminder to take his hangover medicine. In contrast, the average kpop artist has only a few days off work a year. Not all members were as wild; some went to art museums, the weebs played games and watched anime and binged on junk food, some went fishing, their 'maknae' spent all of his time in the gym. It's doubtful the BTS members feel stifled or overwhelmed by their workload; sure they have grueling days, but they get ample off time, as well. And they've always had a hand in self-producing and working on the music and essentially enjoy free rein over their subject matter. So is it necessary to employ them as MKUltra slaves because they simply suffer from oppressive tyranny too much to be functional? Again, likely not. It's lucrative to treat your artists well, as BigHit has discovered; after their month-long break they came back with a platinum-certified album, the first South Korean album to achieve such a rating. Then why have they been referencing MKUltra's techniques so much recently? Specifically in WINGS, I believe they do it as a metaphor, being particularly fond of powerful symbolism. They're saying 'this is' (whether entangled in temptation or trapped in someone else's idea of what they should be) 'is as bad as not literally having my freedom.' BTS first touched on hints of the dull, lifeless feeling of being a puppet and a shell in WINGS (2016) but it was a vague foreshadowing of their more current Map of the Soul: 7 Jungian analysis. WINGS is BTS' most controversial era and is heavily queer-coded; the title track (Blood, Sweat and Tears) is disputably about gay BDSM and its choreography remains the most sensual BTS has ever performed to date. The album covers a multitude of thinly veiled topics such as temptation (both sexual and monetary), wasted youth, childhood trauma, internalized homophobia, loneliness at being an outcast/different, confusion and pain after realizing you are different, the struggle/desire to please others, identity, and solidarity. Track titles include, 'Boy Meets Evil' 'Stigma', 'Lost', 'Am I Wrong', 'Lie', and 'Reflection.'. If WINGS was without this heavy subtext, it might easily be construed as an offering up oneself to be a puppet and controlled, if only it might make the internal turmoil stop. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? But Hoseok (J-hope) hearkens back to his childhood and his one constant, his mother, in track, 'MAMA', summoning a Protestan Korean church choir onstage at the end of his performance on tour. While they may be struggling with particular sins, they haven't forgotten their roots. J-hope's raw delivery of the climaxing lines, 'What is higher than anything above the ground/what is wider than anything beneath the sky/I want to be held in your arms./You are forever my placebo, mother's hands are medicine hands./I love you, mom,' is a tearjerker for any ARMY. WINGS is a beautifully layered, startlingly honest emotional rollercoaster. It's one of BTS' most brutally sincere and direct albums to date. Taehyung sings despairingly in 'Stigma', “Are you calling me a sinner? Please let me be punished. Please forgive me for my sins”, Jimin cries out in 'Lie': “Find the me when I was pure,” and Namjoon gravely intones, “He, too, was a tempter, a link to the evil world with which I no longer wanted anything to do with.” The album's story winds down by settling on the idea that while relationships are to be treasured, self-introspection and challenging yourself on uncomfortable ideas yields maturity and personal growth. It's perhaps fitting; life does not resolve itself all at once and some people may struggle with things for a while. Jimin and Jungkook sing in 'LOST', 'I never felt this way before/am I becoming an adult?/this is too hard, is this the right path for me?/I'm confused.' Jin replies, 'There must be a reason for all this frustration/I do believe we're on the right path.' Jungkook continues: 'I went on the road I was told not to go/I did the things I was told not to do/I wanted things I shouldn't want/I got hurt and hurt again/You can call me stupid/and I'll just smile'; transitioning to Yoongi's line, 'But I believe in myself/I know my back is hurting because my wings are coming out.' So is WINGS about MKUltra slavery? Not really; it's more about growing up and venturing out on your own and having to make your own decisions—essentially a coming-of-age story. But Namjoon reminds that choices have consequences in 2!3!: 'Saying you will only see good things from now on/saying you won't get hurt/I can't tell you that/I can't lie like that.' The idea is to lean on those who love you for help. Ending track, 'A Supplementary Story: You Never Walk Alone' (the extended play of the album is retitled 'You Never Walk Alone) begins out by saying, 'Hey, why does God always make us feel lonely?/Yeah, even if we're covered in scars/we can smile if we're together.' The soloists entreat to those who may sympathize with their struggle but have come to a different conclusion: 'Even if it's the price I must pay for this life/will you walk with me/will you stay with me?' wrapping up the entire story arc with a powerful message: you can still disagree with someone and love them with all your heart. In the music video for 'Not Today' the members attempt to take bullets for each other, even if it means in the end they are all shot down. (Not Today is based after and in some parts quotes word-for-word a speech by Martin Luther King Jr. about resilience.) WINGS is an excellent example of the members' famous extraordinary tight bond and love for each other. “When I was fifteen years old, I had nothing,” Jungkook sings. “Love you my brother, now I've got brothers.” He reflects later on: “I feel like dying, when my brother is sad. When my brother is sick, it hurts more than when I'm sick./So I don't know much about sadness/but I'm going to cry with you anyway.”, hearkening back to biblical commands love those around you, weep with those who weep, and walk alongside them, even if they don't have it all figured out yet. So even if WINGS does have an entirely different premise the deeper one digs, it does lay the foundation for the lengthy discussion of identity and personas outlined in Map of Soul: 7. J-hope raps in 2!3! 'I didn't want to show you everything, including my pain/because I'm still unaccustomed/I just wanted to make you smile.' The members frequently tell their fans they wish to show them only the best of them and avoid burdening them with worries and in order to be the inspiration they always wanted someone else to be for them. Thus, they might, for the sake of conversation, employ a 'split', or just…act cheerful when on camera. The line between voluntarily acting and being controlled is drawn at autonomy. One must genuinely ask the question, 'Is Subject A being controlled?' and the 'yes' or 'no' will give you some idea of your answer.
In short, to the religious members of the team, being entangled in sin is as bad as being an MKUltra slave; for the secular, bowing to baseless societal expectations and stereotypes is like giving up your freedom to evil faceless puppet masters. Pick your POV.
Written by Amianon.