Last Wednesday, I stood in a packed arena, my skin becoming sticky with sweat as I yelled my voice hoarse. My roommate, a friend and I had driven six hours that day from Minneapolis to catch BTS, the biggest boy band in the world, on the second day of its Chicago tour stop.
The group’s “Love Yourself” tour showcases music from the band’s last three albums and is centered, most simply, around different types of love. While one single, “DNA,” focuses on a love so strong it feels predestined, the subsequent title track, “Fake Love,” is about unhealthily trying to change yourself in the name of love. Ultimately, the series concludes with the title track “Idol,” a relentless, colorful celebration of self-love.
“Love Yourself” is a concept that’s so in-your-face that you can’t help but ruminate on it. Over the course of BTS’ two-and-a-half-hour concert, fans scream lyrics like, “You can’t stop me loving myself” and “I’m the one I should love in this world,” over and over again. BTS’ personal investment in the theme further fleshes out the message. Members of the group — in particular, its leader Kim Nam-joon (also known by his stage name RM) — speak candidly about working toward truly loving themselves. Above all, they emphasize the fact that it’s a process rather than a simple choice. At the final leg of the U.S. tour at Citi Field in New York City, RM said: “Loving myself is my whole goal [until] my death.” It’s a consistent effort rather than a one-and-done task.
BTS concerts have bookended the most formative, trying months of my life. I’ve struggled frequently with having confidence in my work, especially vis-a-vis other young writers. I’ve grappled with harmful thoughts about my body. I’ve done my best to learn that relentlessly overworking myself isn’t the right way to ensure my success or happiness. I’ve felt more alone than I ever have in my entire life.
I’ve also done my best over the past 18 months to internalize the “Love Yourself” mantra. For a while, it felt like just words. However, repeatedly declaring that I love myself over the course of two and a half hours was both stupidly empowering and motivating. For that short period of time, it’s impossible not to internalize some of what you’re speaking over and over again. The words, and the feeling of euphoria that accompanies them, ring in your head long after leaving the venue.
The process isn’t over, though. The final song of the concert repeats, “I’m learning how to love myself.” It’s both inspiration and a promise. For me, part of loving myself is screaming BTS lyrics into oblivion. Another part is evaluating my current work in relation to my past work, rather than that of others. I wrote some pretty rough columns and I’ve gotten a lot better. I have a long way to go, but I’m appreciating what I’ve done and what I can do now. I’m trying to list the things I love about myself — my laugh, my unfunny sense of humor and my ability to create — and keep them at the forefront when things get rough.
The bottom line is that loving yourself is a process. BTS and its music helped me realize that. Hopefully, we can all start to work toward a future in which no one can stop us from loving ourselves.