The month of February is an interesting time in Aotearoa, New Zealand. Celebrations are held on the sixth to commemorate the Treaty of Waitangi, a seemingly one-night-only repentance for colonial transgressions. And on the fourteenth, while some celebrate their coupling situation in the domain of St. Valentine, others rejoice in the anniversary of Captain Cook’s demise. Fast forward to 2020, and for Kiwi fans of BTS, from the twenty-first to the twenty-eighth — it’s comeback week.

Image: Hello Asia (edit)

BTS‘ latest album, Map Of The Soul: 7 hit global music vendors at 6pm KST; 10pm New Zealand time, on Friday 21st February. Harkening back to their music and struggles of pre-debut times, the tracks on this new release pierce listeners right to the core. Big Hit Entertainment released a music video at this time, for the lead single ON, dubbed as a ‘kinetic manifesto film.’ The track itself builds in momentum before shifting to a resolute calm for Jungkook’s vocals in the bridge. If he ever had a hand in building the London Bridge, perhaps we wouldn’t grow up singing nursery rhymes about it falling down.

While some fans watched the kinetic manifesto film immediately, others queued at JB Hi-Fi’s branch in Auckland’s Sylvia Park to be among the first in the country to unbox the album. The store stayed open later than normal in order to put the album in the hands of ARMY after the lifting of strict embargoes. Red and white adverts were strung like bunting across the aisles. “I wasn’t expecting to see so many signs of the new BTS album especially in a local store,” says Auckland-based fan Jillian Leong. “It made me proud seeing the hype this album has received and it definitely deserves it. The amount of advertisements were more than JB Hi-Fi would do for any other product or album release and it was fascinating to see.” JB Hi-Fi, even on a national level, are clearly aware of BTS’ place in the pop culture zeitgeist — if only radio could follow suit.

Image: Jillian Leong

Abject criticism towards radio stations appears to be justified. At the time of publication, The Edge Nights have announced their cue-to-call cash prize event, in celebration of the new album, with no indication if this means actual radio play. Black Swan, the first taste of the album, was met with jubilant cheer when it played across the NZ airwaves. However, the acknowledgment of Black Swan followed by a lack of spins for ON almost suggests a disingenuous, virtue-signalling agenda held by radio stations to tout themselves as inclusive, or, still relevant.

Within the first two hours of release on February 21st, BTS related tags occupied the top four slots of Twitter trends: #WeONWithBTS, #BTSComeback2020, #ThisIs7 and #BTSKineticFilmON, followed only by rugby related trends. By the evening of February 22nd, the Kinetic film was trending at #1 on NZ YouTube. Various YouTube videos were well received across release week: BTS performing ON in Grand Central Terminal, Carpool Karaoke with James Corden and the official story-based music video for ON.

Kiwi fans may recall the iconic Mitre 10 ad (“nah mate, you’re dreaming”) and the accompanying slogan ‘DIY: it’s in our DNA.’ New Zealand ARMY personified this adage, as comeback season became a brewery for creative ways to show support for the new release. If radio stations won’t play BTS, surely twenty-plus televisions would suffice. Take The Warehouse for example — the good ole Ware whare — where everyone gets a bargain, and coincidentally, stock of various BTS albums. One fan even managed to stream the related music videos across several display screens.

Streaming should never be a burden. ARMY share an immense love for BTS and would tame the moon and the stars for them, but enjoyment is important. Don’t let anybody suck the air out of the room when you’re listening to BTS. With the guidance of @BTS_NZARMY, who managed NZ comeback goals for major platforms and organised streaming parties, Kiwi ARMY made admirable efforts in giving Map Of The Soul: 7 skin in the game.

Statistically, the strongest impact has been through Spotify. For the charting week ending February 27th, ON was streamed 16,201,396 times globally. Of these streams, 59,471 were contributed by New Zealand. This amounts to a little over 0.3% of the total world’s streams. Total combined streams for both the original version of ON and Sia’s feature hit 29,983,153. Of these streams, New Zealand contributed 114,115. This amounts to 0.38% of the total world’s streams, compared to 0.5% of global streams in Boy With Luv’s first week in 2019.

The icing on the cake has been receiving news that Map Of The Soul: 7 has joined its predecessor, Map Of The Soul: Persona, as having claimed the #1 spot on the New Zealand Official Albums chart. New Zealand’s official BTS fanbase, New Zealand BTS A.R.M.Y @nzbtsarmy had this to say about the new release: “This comeback was highly anticipated! As many new fans have discovered BTS’ music organically through music recommendations or seeing their name across various social media platforms, achieving comeback goals and breaking music records is still a relatively new concept to the fanbase in terms of continuously streaming and trending. Despite that fact and being a smaller fanbase in both numbers and land mass, #NZBTSARMY really do have a lot of love and support for the boys and the records they continue to break globally.”

They continue: “The album and comeback itself was very different to previous music releases as it took their artistic and creative approach to the concept and theme of the album slightly further, with more references to filmography and literature (e.g. Black Swan, Maze Runner, etc.) to encapsulate their struggles as musicians, artists, and individuals as seen in the ‘Black Swan’ Art Film and the recently released ‘ON’ Music Video. The depth in which their lyrics reflected their journey from pre-debut, to where they are now, and to whatever the future holds, this comeback could almost be likened to that of a love letter, in which they continue to bare their souls through acknowledging the path they’ve walked and the uncertainty in which this path will continue to take them. Yet, despite the wariness they may be feeling, they are comforted by the notion that they will walk the path with each other and with ARMY, beautifully encompassed in the song ‘We Are Bulletproof: The Eternal’: Throw stones at me. We don’t fear anymore. We are we are together, bulletproof. Lastly, stream ON.”

BTS have loyal and loving fans in New Zealand. Kiwi ARMY don’t receive their Weply pre-orders on time, nor do they receive tour dates, but there’s always aroha to be given and mahi to be done. Keep loving all seven members. Keep playing te waiata o te whitu: the songs of the seven. Tēnā koutou katoa.