Maintaining the health of and goodwill within a large fandom or community is very, VERY hard. One thing that has always worked to ARMY’s advantage is that we’ve generally been very gracious and open regarding who is welcomed into our fandom and how we treat the newest members. But sadly, I have seen more and more gatekeeping behaviors from people who should know better if they are as “veteran” an ARMY as they would claim.
Now, it is true that there is probably an influx of people who see how popular BTS is and “want to be on the winning team.” Or people who, rather than taking to fandom members and learning the ropes, engage in cringe-worthy and problematic behaviors because they assume what’s accepted in other spaces are also acceptable here. That’s how you get people trying to claim one can be “too old” to stan BTS, even though there has never been any implied age limit for this fandom.
However, gatekeeping as it plays out in music spaces is often not only annoying but also toxic. It’s also quietly FATAL to the health of many fandoms, as it contributes to slowing down the influx of new fans. Without newer fandom members periodically joining, there will be an eventual imbalance.
While older fans will for sure have value and are necessary for guiding newer fans, people do leave fandoms and this causes them to shrink and atrophy over time. New fans are essential for bringing fresh ears, enthusiasm, and perspective. With ARMY, we have benefitted GREATLY from newer generations of ARMY instructing us in everything from how to stream to how to formulate strategies that drastically differed from what ARMYs originally prioritized.
Once upon a time, Billboard wasn’t a thought, and it was all strictly about Korean idol show rankings and MNet MAMA voting. Would that have changed at all if not for the newer fans bringing a shift in priorities and the muscle to pull these new goals off?
Besides, when it comes to gatekeeping, we ARMY usually only do so in ways that make sense and are ultimately beneficial!
For instance, when it comes to BTS concerts, we are adept at shutting out scalpers and ensuring ARMYs buy tickets from other ARMYs if necessary that these people aren’t able to profit and are actually crying about it! (Note: Dude changed up his tweet, but he was initially doubting BTS’s popularity BECAUSE scalpers weren’t able to make thousands of dollars off of ARMY as planned. Ha. Ha. Ha.)
Also, we are quick to inform “Baby” ARMY or newer fandom members that we don’t do things like listen to or share leaked BTS music.
Gatekeeping against exploiters and trolls? Great stuff. Gatekeeping against someone because they’re new, while also assuming the worse about their behavior simply because they are new?
Doesn’t work and will never work for ARMY. So, let me walk you through the “why” so some people can stop themselves before they start.
#1 – Being “In The Fandom” For A Long Time Doesn’t Prevent You From Being A Jackass
I can personally attest to this, as I have made a fair amount of mistakes over the years. For instance, participating in drama I should have left alone or I gave the benefit of the doubt to people I should not have. Yeah, I sometimes f*ck up and I am not going to sit here and act like I’ll never make mistakes again by virtue of having been an active ARMY since like 2017. Being here a long time means you’ve been around long enough to have fucked up,
and some people still haven’t apologized.
Honestly, it is possible for someone to be an asshole as a Baby ARMY and ultimately refuse to change because that is just who that person is and always will be. So, please do not be one of those elitist asses who put everything bad in fandom down to, “Oh, it’s the new people in the fandom* because older ARMYs know better.”
It may even be that someone hasn’t had the opportunity to demonstrate what a jackass they are, but this is their moment and damn it, they are going to take it!
Please do not assume all baby ARMY are embarrassing jerks that are “ruining the fandom.” Also, don’t assume everyone whose been in the ARMY fandom for years now always have it together. Let’s give people an opportunity to show us who they are and use that when forming opinions!
#2 – This Behavior Kills Fandoms & Fandom Enthusiasm
ARMY should know better than a lot of people what it’s like to not feel welcome. Why would anyone join or remain in a space where people question them constantly and make them feel bad, despite their not having done anything wrong? It is why many ARMY has nothing to do with the K-pop Bubble now. So imagine turning around and applying those negative, hurtful behaviors to other people because they didn’t join the fandom when you did.
The problem with toxic gatekeeping is that it turns off new fans and stops others from even bothering. And I get sad to think that there are people who would be interested in BTS and maybe NEED BTS to make a positive impact in their lives who get cold feet and back off because of gatekeepers who think they’re “helping” by bad-mouthing anyone who just started listening to BTS’s music.
You aren’t cute by interrogating Baby ARMY and assuming that just because they haven’t memorized the entire discography and all of our fandom goals and priorities inside five days that they can’t be as serious about loving BTS and ARMY as you.
ARMY is still in its growth phase and while some people will join and not get it (and never get it), there are plenty more people who will. But that won’t happen if you close the gate on all new ARMY because you believe anyone after [YEAR] cannot be trusted because [INSERT STUPID ELITIST OPINION HERE].
With ARMY, it has never just been about being enthusiastic about BTS…we have always been enthusiastic about each other. We want to do fandom activities and hang out and be clowns together. That “together” is what keeps the fandom’s heart beating. When you start breaking the heart because of a desire to clique up and discriminate, it is going to stop beating and die.
#3 – ARMYs Always Find BTS When They Need To
This is something that both BTS and ARMY believe, so how much sense does it make to turn on someone and put them down for being new? ARMY etiquette can be explained and learned over time. Baby ARMY will learn more about BTS members and go on their distinct journey through their discography and get to know about the ups and downs of BTS and ARMY history.
ALL of us have been there. Trying to remember names. Trying to distinguish faces and habits, and also reading up on various achievements or hurtful experiences. Very few of us can say we were with BTS at debut or even before their debut. And even the ability to say so does not entitle any person to stand in the way of the journey of another person in this fandom toward becoming the best ARMY they can be.
Call out bad behavior. Educate. Make a firm stand against people doing non-ARMY things. After all, at the end of the day, we ARMY do have a right to create healthy boundaries around our fandom and make it clear what negative words and actions we should not and will not tolerate.
But bringing out the broad brush for Baby ARMY and pretending there weren’t ANY issues before “those fans” joined up? Sounds far too much like people who claim that ARMY is the most toxic fandom and that K-pop was a loving and healthy niche where everyone got along before we existed.
And we all know what a damn lie that is.
So, to sum up:
- Being a Baby ARMY doesn’t make someone inherently prone to problematic or cringe-worthy behaviors. We should never believe or behave as if any fandom issues or bad habits just arrived yesterday with these newer fans.
- Toxic gatekeeping kills fandom enthusiasm and may turn away great people before they can even show us how great they are.
- ARMYs find BTS when we need to, and while it may be disappointing to have missed out on certain experiences, each ARMY often finds that they have their own set of fandom core memories that makes their unique journey worthwhile.
- It is always good to hold each other accountable, but accountability is for ALL ARMY, not just the newest ones. That means remembering to look into a mirror every once in a while.
So, let’s please put this type of behavior in the trashcan where it belongs and get back to prepping for the upcoming album!!! 💜
*And by the way, this doesn’t refer to those “brand new” obvious troll accounts that show up to stir sh*t or spread lies and rumors. Those are not ARMY, obviously. They should always get blocked/muted as we move on to the next.