Bangtan Sonyeondan, better known as BTS, is a South Korean music group who continues to break down barriers worldwide. Amid their sold-out 63-stop stadium world tour, RM, Jin, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin, V, and Jungkook were formally invited to perform in Saudi Arabia by Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed Bin Salman.
Amal Ahmad, a Saudi citizen and three-year member of the BTS fandom, ARMY, traveled 4 hours across the country to see BTS in Riyadh, Saudi’s capital.
“When I saw the news that they were invited, I couldn’t believe it,” Amal said. “No one comes here. I couldn’t stop shaking for hours, it was crazy. But on the contrary, I was scared.”
In Saudi, gender segregation is majorly enforced and same-sex marriage is illegal, punishable by death. It was only passed in 2017 that women were given the right to drive and attend stadium events. In July, Nicki Minaj cancelled her show in Saudi to show her support for women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and freedom of expression.
“I wouldn’t say the decision was easy,” said RM, the leader of BTS, to The Hollywood Reporter when asked about their decision to perform in Saudi.
In 2017, BTS partnered with UNICEF, United Nations Children’s Fund, to fight against violence towards youth worldwide. Last year in 2018, BTS was invited to the United Nations meeting where RM delivered a powerful speech, urging people to “find your voice by speaking yourself.”
“If we’re going to think about how governments are in each country, BTS wouldn’t perform anywhere…they are in this for the fans, not for politics,” said Amal.
She continued, “I think taking this opportunity from Arab ARMY [fans] would have been heartbreaking. It’s not our fault for having a bad government, so why should we be punished for it? We don’t have a lot of things here, so the concert meant the world to us on so many levels.”
“We hear remarkable stories from fans worldwide about how our message has helped them overcome hardships and begin to love themselves,” said RM.
Lead vocalist of the group, Jimin, said, “if there’s a place where ARMY [fans] want to see us, we’ll go for them.”
BTS and their company, Big Hit Entertainment, studied the Saudi culture and religion immensely before their arrival. The members studied sentences in Arabic, rearranged all choreography to avoid sensuality, stopped all music and visuals during the time of prayer, had women on staff dress in traditional garb, and refrained from bowing, South Korea’s form of respect, to recognize Saudi’s respect to Allah.
“It made me so happy to see them go lengths to educate themselves and properly respect my culture and religion. It made everything special,” said Amal.
Although Saudi Arabia still has major reforms to pass, BTS has helped the process.
“BTS opened so many eyes. Let me tell you, people here are close minded, but like 80% of them fell in love with BTS, and that says something,” said Amal.