Maybe you met them on the talk show circuit, gracing the couches of Ellen Degeneres and Jimmy Fallon. Maybe you saw their iconic debut at the 2020 VMAs, winning every award they were nominated for. Maybe you read about their fans derailing Trump’s Tulsa rally in June, leaving thousands of empty seats. Maybe you’ve seen their concert clips flood your Twitter timeline, drowning out hateful propaganda in support of Black Lives Matter. Or maybe you just can’t stop singing their new chart-topping single, Dynamite, which hit #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 for its third week in a row.
How ever you discovered K-Pop’s BTS, there’s no denying that you know their name, you know their music, and you likely know how fiercely loyal their fanbase is.
Because while BTS has been busy taking over the world, it’s their fanbase, known as A.R.M.Y, that got them there.
On July 9th, 2013 the official fandom name was established and announced on BTS’ social media. A.R.M.Y comes from the acronym Adorable Representative M.C. for Youth and plays on the concept of the fanbase acting as a military with BTS as their armour— solidifying the deep connection and on-going relationship between the two. As BTS rose to international stardom, A.R.M.Y expanded to become known as the BTS ARMY in the Western world.
Of the Western fanbase exists thousands of fan pages for the Korean group, but none as significant as the US BTS ARMY— a non-profit fanbase run by an anonymous collective of superfans across the United States. In just six years, US BTS ARMY has grown to become America’s top information source for A.R.M.Y, gaining international recognition with mainstream media outlets like The Washington Post and Good Morning America. Oh, and they were recently tweeted at by South Korea’s President Moon Jae-In.
Inevitably, we had to know more. We spoke with the powerhouse team behind US BTS ARMY on who they are, why they started, and how they built America’s biggest platform for the BTS fandom.
With over 650K social media followers and counting, it’s hard to believe US BTS ARMY started with a solo admin back in 2014. And as the American fanbase grew, naturally so did the team. Five years after launch, the K-Pop fandom officially became a nonprofit organization in the State of California. “Over the years, as we grew, we came to a point where we wanted to focus our future as a fanbase and we wanted to create legitimacy to the work that we do,” explains Imelda Ibarra, who sits on the US BTS ARMY Board of Directors.
Currently, five admins sit on the Board of Directors— the CEO/Founder, CFO, Head of Content Design, Public Relations, and Secretary. “Our ages range from 26 to 36 years old,” Imelda tells Centennial Beauty. “We all come from different professional and socio-economic backgrounds. In total, we have a team of over 30 admins all across the U.S.”
The team has built each platform themselves and completely organically— something that has proved to be no easy feat as the K-Pop group has exploded to superstar fame over the last few years. Naturally, this leads many to wonder if the faces behind the platform work for US BTS ARMY full-time. Imelda tells us no. “This is a second full-time job for us; all of us have regular jobs on top of this one,” she says. “From the beginning, we have all volunteered our time so it made sense to create a non-profit organization.”
The Board of Directors each agree that it’s their passion for BTS which drives them to build the fanbase, regardless of a paycheque. Imelda explains that BTS and their music means something different to each admin, but the common goal has always been to make BTS news and information easy and accessible for fans.
And they have certainly been successful in that goal.
Despite a massive social presence, it’s actually their website that sets US BTS ARMY apart from your typical fan page. Updated daily, the site acts as an incredibly comprehensive hub for BTS news, information, and important dates. Its user-friendly interface allows fans to sift the archives, watch music videos, compare timezones, access BTS calendars and award show voting info, while also providing in-depth guides on ARMY etiquette like how to legally stream the group’s music, an ARMY lingo dictionary, and even what to do if you see BTS at the airport.
“We have put our blood, sweat and tears into our platforms and all the work that we do,” Imelda says. On the secret to their success, the Board of Directors credits communication. “We learn how to prioritize and manage our time so that we can be up to date and know what is happening in the BTS world. We also stay in constant communication with each other as admins.”
As BTS continues to break records and transcend K-Pop, Imelda says this year has not been without its hiccups. “There’s definitely a lot of things that we would like to do and continue to do; we’ve had many things planned for this year but due to the pandemic, we weren’t able to see those things through,” she admits.
Regardless of the set-backs 2020 brings, Imelda says they’re not going anywhere. “We’re still working every day to try and improve and focus on the philanthropic aspect of our organization,” she finishes. “Basically, the sky’s the limit and as long as BTS is around. As seven or as individuals, we will be too.”
Find more on US BTS ARMY here.