TOKYO — More than 1 million people tuned in to what felt like the hottest event on the Internet on Monday: A speech at the United Nations General Assembly meeting — that is, a speech by the K-pop superstar boy band BTS.
The U.N. General Assembly meeting is typically attended by policymakers and politicians and is not generally known for attracting widespread interest. While high-profile celebrities often appear to give speeches, the attention driven by BTS was uniquely intense.
Legions of BTS fans, a hyper-organized online community that can mobilize in an instant, flooded the United Nations’ official YouTube channel Monday with their signature purple heart emoji, along with tons of crying emoji, thumbs-up emoji and every other heart emoji available — as the band’s members promoted their generation and encouraged the use of vaccines. More than 980,000 viewers were tuned in there, and tens of thousands of others viewed on other YouTube channels and platforms.
They took over the chat so fiercely during the K-pop icons’ speech and video performance that other users chimed in to remind them to be respectful of the meeting of global leaders, who had gathered to discuss sustainability.
But the BTS army plowed forward, amplifying the band’s message of hope and the power of those in their teens and 20s to shape the future, from climate change to digital interconnectedness.
The seven members — Jin, Suga, J-Hope, RM, Jimin, V and Jungkook — relayed the experiences of the younger generation, and how their views about their future paths were being shaped by the pandemic. Their younger fans in their teens and in their 20s have spent nearly two years in the pandemic learning new things online, connecting with each other on a deeper level, and studying up on issues such as climate change and how they can make a difference, the band members said.
They said they hope that their generation would be appreciated for its ability to create a positive and healthy world through their online communities, rather than as victims of lost opportunities due to the pandemic.
“I’ve heard that people in their teens and 20s today are being referred to as covid’s lost generation,” RM said. “I think it’s a stretch to say they’re lost, just because the path they tread can’t be seen by grown-up eyes.”
And they also enthusiastically endorsed vaccines.
“Yes, all seven of us, of course we’ve received vaccinations. The vaccine was a sort of ticket to meeting our fans waiting for us and to being able to stand here before you today,” J-Hope said.
This is not the first U.N. visit by BTS, the face of South Korean soft power. But Monday’s visit was their first appearance in their new formal diplomatic role as “special presidential envoy for future generations and culture,” a designation by South Korean President Moon Jae-in ahead of their trip to accompany him to the 76th session of U.N. General Assembly in New York.
their summer hit song, “Permission to Dance.” The video showed the members singing and dancing throughout the General Assembly Hall and on the U.N. headquarter premises. The members said they hoped the song would inspire positivity and welcomeness.
In his remarks introducing BTS, Moon called the band “the artist that is most loved by the people around the world.”
Indeed, tens of millions of fans around the world responded with pride and appreciation for their message and platform, and social media reactions to BTS at the U.N. trended in various countries.
About an hour after their appearance — amid streams of countless purple hearts that continued to flood the live feed chat — the fans finally left and the U.N.’s YouTube channel dropped to a more typical audience count of fewer than 50,000 viewers.