BTS to return to UN as South Korea’s special envoy for post-COVID world

South China Morning Post

Posted at Jul 22 2021 10:52 AM

K-pop boy band BTS has just received a rare non-musical title - South Korea's special envoy for public diplomacy.

President Moon Jae-in appointed the seven-member group as the Special Presidential Envoy for Future Generations and Culture, said spokeswoman Park Kyung-mee at the presidential Blue House on Wednesday.

In that capacity, the band plans to attend major international meetings, including the 76th session of the UN General Assembly slated for September, she said.

They will send "a message of consolation and hope for the youth around the world" and also join various activities to enhance cooperation in such issues as the environment, poverty, inequality and respect for diversity, she said.

"BTS, who have been spreading hope and positive energy and hope to the world, are expected to enhance the country's international prestige through their activities in the post-Covid-19 era," she added.

In 2018, the band delivered a speech at the UN to help inspire and empower young people, as part of a Unicef campaign to promote youth education, training and employment.

Last year, BTS released their first English-language single, Dynamite , to uplift spirits during the coronavirus pandemic. They also returned to the UN to talk about the struggles faced by future generations because of Covid-19, and the importance of mutual support.

"Cherishing yourself, encouraging yourself and keeping yourself happy is the most important," said band member Jin. "In a world of uncertainty, we must cherish the importance of 'me', 'you' and 'us'."

Fine Lavoni Koloamatangi, a PhD candidate at the University of Auckland studying K-pop visual culture, said the move to appoint BTS as cultural ambassadors was in line with South Korea's strategy of using K-pop as a tool of cultural diplomacy.

"I think it's another example of the country wielding its soft power resources to enhance its global standing," said Fine Lavoni Koloamatangi, a PhD candidate at the University of Auckland studying K-pop visual culture.

"Traditionally, the West or Global North's knowledge of Korea was limited to the Korean war and the South's fraught relations with North Korea. But that is changing rapidly with K-pop," she said.

"While it has gained a strong foothold in the global community through its technological advancements, the South Korean government still seems to recognize that culture and cultural dominance might have more lasting power and significance in the long run."

Since the Bangtan Boys, or BTS, was formed in 2010, the group consisting of members Jin, Suga, J-Hope, RM, Jimin, V and Jungkook has gone on to achieve global superstardom.

It made history as the first Korean act to top a US Billboard chart and earn a Grammy nomination. The septet is the first musical act of any kind in US history to score several Hot 100 No. 1 debuts in more than one year, according to Forbes.

BTS' mass of passionate fans around the world, known as ARMY, have been known to wield their collective influence on social justice and other issues, including helping to sabotage a Trump rally last year.

"BTS and (its global fan club) ARMY are not just writing the history of K-pop, but the history of this generation and pop music," said South Korean lawmaker Lee Nak-yeon in May, after the boy band won four awards at the US Billboard Music Awards.

BTS recently topped the Billboard Hot 100 Singles chart for the fifth time with Permission to Dance, its third English-language single after Butter and the Grammy-nominated Dynamite.

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The upbeat song, co-written by Britain's Ed Sheeran, is "dedicated to anyone who is having a bad day or is discouraged in the face of reality", the band said.

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