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Members of South Korean K-pop band BTS speak at the United Nations meeting on Sustainable Development Goals during the 76th session of the UN General Assembly at UN headquarters on September 20, 2021. Image Credit: AP

Tokyo: Nearly 1 million people tuned into what felt like the hottest event on the Internet Monday: A speech at the United Nations General Assembly meeting — that is, a speech by the K-pop superstar boy band BTS.

Legions of BTS fans, a hyper-organized online community that can mobilize in an instant, flooded the United Nations’ official YouTube channel on Monday with their signature purple heart emoji, along with tons of crying emoji, thumbs-up emoji and every other heart emoji available - as the band promoted their generation and encouraged the use of vaccines.

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Members of South Korean K-pop band BTS speak at the United Nations meeting on Sustainable Development Goals. Image Credit: Reuters
BTS dance through UN to promote youth solutions for planet
It wasn't exactly the screaming audience BTS is accustomed to but the Korean pop sensations had another sort of world stage as they addressed the United Nations.
The seven-member boy band said they hoped to rally young people to look at how to work toward the Sustainable Development Goals — UN benchmarks on which the world has fallen increasingly behind.
With COVID-19 restrictions in force, BTS spoke before a largely empty General Assembly call, with delegates in the front rows listening in silence other than occasionally snapping a picture by phone.
After their remarks, the pop stars put on a pre-recorded video of their track “Permission to Dance” as they showed their moves throughout the General Assembly and on the world body’s lawn facing the East River.
BTS members told the UN session that they were “heartbroken” to cancel their latest tour because of the pandemic and that they had asked other young people to share perspectives on being the “COVID lost generation,” with life disrupted since early 2020.
BTS was introduced by South Korean President Moon Jae-in who has given the pop stars diplomatic passports, the latest effort by Seoul to seize on the global popularity of K-pop.
The Sustainable Development Goals include eradicating extreme poverty around the world by 2030. But the United Nations says the COVID-19 crisis has set the effort back by years, with well more than 100 million people thrown back into poverty and hunger — in addition to the more than 4.5 million people who have died. -- AFP

They took over the chat so fiercely during the K-pop icons’ speech and video performance that other users chimed in to remind them to be respectful of the meeting of global leaders, who had gathered to discuss sustainability.

But the BTS army plowed forward, amplifying the band’s message of hope and the power of those in their teens and 20s to shape the future, from climate change to digital interconnectedness.

The seven members - Jin, Suga, J-Hope, RM, Jimin, V and Jungkook - relayed the experiences of the younger generation, and how their views about their future paths were being shaped by the pandemic. Their younger fans in their teens and in their 20s have spent nearly two years in the pandemic learning new things online, connecting with each other on a deeper level, and studying up on issues like climate change and how they can make a difference, the band members said.

They said they hope that their generation would be appreciated for their ability to create a positive and healthy world through their online communities, rather than as victims of lost opportunities due to the pandemic.

“I’ve heard that people in their teens and 20s today are being referred to as COVID’s lost generation,” said RM. “I think it’s a stretch to say they’re lost, just because the path they tread can’t be seen by grown-up eyes.”

And they also enthusiastically endorsed vaccines.

“Yes, all seven of us, of course we’ve received vaccinations. The vaccine was a sort of ticket to meeting our fans waiting for us and to being able to stand here before you today,” J-Hope said.

This is not the first UN visit by BTS, the face of South Korean soft power. But Monday’s visit was their first appearance in their new formal diplomatic role as “special presidential envoy for future generations and culture,” a designation by South Korean President Moon Jae-in ahead of their trip to accompany him to the 76th session of UN General Assembly in New York.

South Korean K-pop band BTS watches a music video on the General Assembly Hall monitors during the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly. Image Credit: AP

After a roughly 7-minute speech, the band showed a video performance of their summer hit song, “Permission to Dance.” The video showed the members singing and dancing throughout the General Assembly Hall and on the UN headquarter premises. The members said they hoped the song would inspire positivity and welcomeness.

In his remarks introducing BTS, Moon called the band “the artist that is most loved by the people around the world.”

Indeed, tens of millions of fans around the world responded with pride and appreciation for their message and platform, and social media reactions to BTS at the UN trended in various countries.

About an hour after their appearance - amid streams of countless purple hearts that continued to flood the live feed chat - the fans finally left and the UN’s YouTube channel dropped to a more typical under 50,000 viewers.