When all 7 BTS members opened personal Instagram accounts on Dec. 6, fan and social media manager Helena (not her real name) thought it was fake. It would never happen, she thought, until her friends flooded their group chat with “It’s real.” She opened Instagram to see 7 accounts with blue check marks, all lined up.
“Like, ‘this can’t be real’ was what I thought. They’ve always posted individually on a group account, but this is the first time since 2013 they would manage their own,” Helena said, one of 42 million fans, or ARMYs, following BTS on Twitter.
Individual Instagram accounts are nothing new to K-Pop stars, but BTS are stuck together, so much so that Korean fans refer to them as ‘yachae twigim sonyeondan’ as they resemble a local deep-fried dish made out thinly-sliced vegetables bonded tightly by flour.
The words ”now have,” “finally,” “separate,” dominated headlines. It topped Twitter trends and everyone who wasn’t on Instagram jumped in. It was a big deal even if you’re an outsider who didn’t really know what was going on. “Everyone’s mom’s mom is an ARMY,” Lei (not her real name), a K-Pop fan of almost 10 years, said to describe the band’s fame.
We were on a break
BTS’s Permission to Dance tour was the group’s first performance with a live crowd in nearly two years. After four sold-out shows at So-Fi Stadium in Los Angeles, label BigHit Music announced the group would take a vacation for an undisclosed period of time—the first year-end holiday break since they debuted in 2013.
With free time in a foreign city, BTS was expected to relax in private after years of pumping out songs and albums nonstop. ARMYs who spotted them would look away out of respect. That was the plan.
Hours after that announcement, the personal accounts of RM, Jin, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin, V, and Jungkook emerged. In the next 24 hours, each one amassed at least 15 million followers, beating Jennifer Aniston’s record of 8.6 million. Even Suga’s post of a red square got millions of likes. ARMYs would soon learn that BTS was on break, but the fandom was on overtime.
Even for already content-spoiled ARMY, this was a lot. “We’ve gotten very used to scheduled release posts and a content calendar,” law student Jane, not her real name, said. At any given moment, vacation photos and daytime drives could drop. It’s only been three days and the fandom wakes up to so much.
“It’s overwhelming because while they’re pretty active on Weverse with their little life updates and responses to fans, it’s different getting direct personal content from them,” Jane said.
“I think it goes into Insta’s essence as a platform and that’s why the weight of the posts are different,” Jane said. Like other twenty-somethings, Jane has an Instagram, divided between more filtered posts and mundane daily updates. Depending on how one uses Instagram, it can be performative or private, but still very personal.
The slightest movements on social media are powerful. Even without declaration, people know a couple has called it quits if both parties unfollow each other. Vague jabs at an unnamed individual in the caption can spark speculations in private messages.
For BTS on Instagram, it’s seven friends sharing who they are beyond the curated idolhood, amplified by the platform’s personal nature. It also showed who was quick to pick up the platform right away, and who drowned in the features on Day 1.
Still, something so individual remained a group affair. All members opened their accounts within an hour of each other and each one followed only seven others: six were the other members, and the last was the group’s official Instagram ran by the label.
Even as they explored new terrain, all of it was done as a group. Only the members could comment on each other’s posts, in contrast to the millions of likes they were raking in by the minute. They were the only ones who could tag each other in comments, stories, and posts.
“It really supports the group dynamic and lets them use Instagram to show their individual sides without losing the ‘We Are Seven’ thing,” said Jane. The tight settings also protect them from all the hate comments and strangers wanting to associate with them for clout.
But that’s not to say BTS are untouchable. For more committed fans, the group communicates via Vlive and Weverse, video and social platforms meant specifically for conversations between fan and idol. Both require download and account registration. Their comments are mostly in Korean, and at times the platforms’ built-in translation systems fail, fan translators bridge the gap.
Instagram had little to no barriers of entry. The non-fan from high school is now the first to post about the boys opening personal accounts. Now, even without immediate translation, fans are updated on what BTS are up to, as if you were seeing snaps from a good friend’s vacation.
BTS are set to perform in Seoul in March, the first time they’ll see local fans in the flesh in over two years. Though on break, their label said the band was preparing for their new album, which would mark the beginning of a “new chapter” for them.
It remains to be seen what else they’ll post and what they’ll be used for, but for now, Lei, Jane, and Helena welcomed the individual BTS members crossover to their personal feeds.
“It’s nice, I like seeing something so personalized from them. Twitter and Weverse felt more communal,” Lei said.
“It’s everything we expected but also still so full of surprises. I guess part of it is them always having been so open with us so we have a good grasp of their personality,” Jane said.