Shannon Alexy might be Fort Worth’s coolest mom.
Earlier this week, the 39-year-old mother had led her oldest son, Donal, to believe that she was taking her husband to see their favorite group: BTS.
But on Donal’s birthday on Wednesday, Alexy surprised him with a signature light stick that fans bring to shows, the BTS Army Bomb.
The seven-member South Korean pop boy band, whose full name is Bangtan Boys, will play two sold-out shows at the Fort Worth Convention Center in downtown this weekend. Most local fans have no idea why the group is playing in Fort Worth specifically, but are excited nonetheless.
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“I didn’t think there was a huge [Korean pop] fandom here but it was nearly impossible to get tickets,” Alexy said. “For them to be here in Fort Worth, it’s going to be a really great, intimate show.”
Maria Espinosa, a 15-year-old fan from Fort Worth, said she remembers just screaming in excitement at school the day BTS announced its North America tour dates.
She just had to get tickets.
“I had my phone, I had my mom’s tablet, my sister’s laptop, my laptop and my godmother’s laptop all on the website,” Espinosa said of the day tickets went on sale. “I was just so stressed. I kept reloading the page and reloading the page. About 15 minutes had passed and BTS is known to sell out very fast. I still hadn’t gotten tickets and I reloaded one last time and [seats were open].”
K-pop is a $5 billion industry, according to Vox, and has become a global phenomenon, partially due to BTS’ success and the dedication of its fans.
The band has spent 90 weeks in the number one spot of the Billboard Social 50, a weekly popularity chart that ranks artists by social media presence, engagement and growth.
Although the group has millions of fans and followers on each major social media platform, BTS instead connects with fans through their music and performances. They mostly sing and rap in Korean but even those who don’t speak the language, like Alexy and Espinosa, find meaning in the music.
“They seem humble, they must be worked to the bone, but they just seem so happy to be experiencing this,” Alexy said. “It’s fun to see how quickly this has changed for them. They seem happy to be making music and following their dreams.”
Espinosa was particularly moved by BTS’ activism and willingness to speak up about difficult subjects, ranging from mental health to critiques of South Korean society.
“I love other K-pop bands but many of them just sing about love and heartbreak and school, but BTS actually bring awareness to depression, anxiety and mental illness,” Espinosa said.
Lauren Pinto, a 23-year-old student at UT Arlington, said that BTS’ commitment to social justice makes the band stand out compared to American or British boy bands. Shortly after BTS released its “Love Yourself” album in 2017, the group partnered with UNICEF to launch the “Love Myself” campaign to end violence against children and teenagers.
For Pinto, going to the BTS concert this weekend will be a celebration of growth and overcoming challenges. In 2016, Pinto sustained a brain injury and had to leave her studies in Austin to move back home to Fort Worth.
“After that, I was disappointed with myself even though it wasn’t my fault. I felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere with my life,” Pinto said. That was around when BTS released their “Wings” album and “You Never Walk Alone.” It pushed me to do everything I can to fix these problems and get treated, and go back to college.”
BTS not only led to recovery for Pinto, but to love as well. She will be attending the concert with her boyfriend of three months. They clicked over their mutual interest in K-pop.
“We actually met on OkCupid. I wasn’t that seriously on it anymore but I had posted that I was interested in meeting other K-pop fans in the area,” Pinto said. “I wasn’t really answering messages anymore but when a guy came to me and started talking about BTS, I couldn’t pass this up.”
While none of the women identify as or speak Korean, they agreed that getting into K-pop opened them up to a new culture and new possibilities.
At home, Alexy said, she’s learning Korean and watches Korean drama series. One year she was homeschooling Donal and they decided he should take up Korean. Now as a student at Arlington Heights High School, he’s taking Japanese instead but excelling, she said.
“My kids definitely have a broader world view because of my infatuation with K-pop and Korean culture,” Alexy said. “I cook a lot of traditional Korean meals now and they’re very healthy. We definitely had a shift in our dynamic just because my kids understand that there’s more to the world than just our country.”