At the end of the much anticipated 2022 Festa, that annual dinner when the boys of BTS sit around and share food and drinks with their fandom named ARMY --- the word HIATUS came as both a shock --- and yet not so much of a surprise.
The Easter eggs were all over the garden.
Suga collaborated with PSY for an instant hit. Even before that Jin and Jimin were already hitting the charts with solo endeavors singing OST materials for various KDramas. Even before the boys met up with the POTUS at the Oval Office, Jungkook went ahead of his squad to meet up with Charlie Puth in New York City for a collaboration. Then there was the news that JHope was performing as a solo artist in this year's Lollapalooza. And V was doing a version of In the Soup with his Wooga Squad.
These were not a mere series of coincidences. They were all pointing to something.
But last 10 June 2022 when BTS made this year's comeback with their much anticipated triple CD album entitled Proof, the next series of events became clearer.
The album was an anthology of all the past hits of the band from the time of their launch until they achieved this unprecedented pinnacle of success --- to the point of being compared to the Beatles. The anniversary album was like a summary of all the years that have gone by, a blueprint of their music mapping the maturity and evolution of the band and their creations.
The moment the carrier single Yet to Come was launched --- the speculations became clearer if not more defining for me. Even the other two songs (Run BTS and For Youth) were not random materials set in to complete the new music in the compilation. The lyrics of all three songs reverberated the same messages: memories, gratitude, anticipation, moving forward and goodbye.
That was why four nights later when the pre-recorded dinner was aired (apparently taped even before the boys left for the U.S. to fulfill their White House appointment), the announcement was not exactly meant to blindside the fandom. They were pointing to this through their activities --- and the word hiatus transcribed in the subtitle from Suga's statement triggered the ARMY into an emotional meltdown.
It was made very clear that they were not disbanding. They chose to take a vacation from one another --- and, as Jimin stated, they needed to find themselves.
Well, true: remember that they have been together for nine years.
Until recently they have been living in the same quarters --- from the cramped dormitory with double decker beds eating nothing but chicken breasts while they were trainees --- to the beautiful living quarters provided for them by HYBE, the management company that by their sheer marketability turned into a multi-million dollar behemorth. But they graduated from all that as well: each one of the boys acquired his own luxury residence --- in the most expensive and fashionable districts of Seoul, driving fancy cars, captured in YouTube videos with their lifestyle and fashion --- and, yes, endorsing LV apparels and becoming fashion plates emulating a life beyond aspiration. They became larger than life.
That, I believe, was and will always be the magic of BTS.
Their narrative embodied all the tropes of a Cinderella story --- and we, the ARMY, applaud them not only for their music but everything that they had come to represent especially in the past two years and a half of the pandemic. Not only with their songs but with their very being there that they became a symbol of hope and positivity, a representation of what good was left in the world. At a time of confusion and destruction, they embodied affirmation and resolution.
These boys were not merely lucky. They worked hard --- very hard --- for whatever it is that they have ... or how high the mountain top they climbed to break glass ceilings and achieve unimaginable success.
The fandom thrived with the sheer power of their success because they represented hope in goodness, in humility --- and in talent. We saw what we wanted to see and defended the boys against those who did not perceive what we embraced.
But what Jimin said in that emotionally-driven dinner was also true: we do not know everything about them as they cannot share everything with us. We do not know the demons they wrestle with --- and we can never understand the price they had to pay because they achieved this level of success. The pressure they live with day by day was also as unimaginable as the extent of their achievements.
It is hard to get to the top --- but, boy, it is a hundred times harder to stay up there knowing that this is not going to last forever.
They needed space to reassess who they are at this point in time. That much they deserve.
I somehow understood what Namjoon said when he talked about the confusion he felt about who he is ... and what kind of band BTS has become because of the music that they have been releasing lately. Yes, from the time of Dynamite all the way to Butter and then Permission to Dance, their music has do drastically changed. When you look back even to the impact of songs like On or Idol or Mic Drop or even Boy With Love, you realize that the boys have been driven to path of commercial success which could be overwhelming ... yet undefining.
Inasmuch as they want to go on, what was next for them? What awaited for them as BTS ... at the expense as who they are as individual artists?
These are not your run-of-the-mill prefabricated boy bands who jump through hoops at the crack of a whip --- or whose artistry was measured by precision choreography. No: they are producers, composers, lyricists, painters, athletes ... artists. From the very start of their career, they redefined themselves to be a notch above the rest ... and when you reach the top of the game, the real dangers arise in how long you can stay up there with what you have to give up to remain as successful if not more.
The ARMY is heartbroken because we will not see them perform as a group as much we want because they will focus on their individual pursuits.
If this is their management's way of cushioning the blow of their impending 22-month military service obligations, then it is a great (yet painful) move. As each pursue individual endeavors, a new test arises: can they survive as individual performers? Who among them will retain a level of success close to that when still worked together as the Magic Seven?
The ARMY will be there to support them --- and await how each and everyone of the Bangtan boys will unravel a new dimension of their particular talents. JHope will release his album (not mixed tape) next month ... and as they all confessed last night, they have all been working on their individual projects for quite some time now. Let us look at it this way. The ARMY will be gifted not just with one but with seven separate reasons to celebrate as each of the boys rediscover themselves ... as much as we rediscover them.
When Namjoon cried last night, the ARMY wept with him. But such is life: nothing is permanent and change is good. And tears are sometimes necessary.
As the ARMY celebrates the ninth year of BTS, consider the hiatus not as a source of gloom or fear ... but an opportunity for wonderment. After all, the ARMY's love for the boys is not just about the here and now --- but what they have come to represent to all of us at a time when we badly needed real life heroes to give us strength to carry on.
Borahae. Life goes on. And the boys will go on as well.