Screenshot taken from YouTube Video
“True love first begins with loving myself,” began BTS’ leader Kim Nam-jun, better known as RM, in his impassioned six-minute speech, which ended with resounding applause from the packed crowd at the launch of a UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) youth campaign yesterday (24 Sep).
As I watched and listened to RM’s personal story of how he himself struggled with meeting the expectations of others and broke free of it, and his eventual call to stop “trying to fit ourselves into a mold”, I was moved. Of course, it helped that the leader of the world’s biggest boy band spoke articulately and fluently in English, and that he, along with the rest of his team mates who stood behind him in solidarity, was dressed impeccably.
I was also impressed, because this was the first time a K-pop band had been given the privilege of addressing the United Nations, as a result of their partnership with UNICEF’s global initiative, Generation Unlimited, which is aimed at empowering young people by increasing opportunities and investments for them.
But at the same time, I couldn’t help but find his message a little ironic, as I recalled the many reports I had read of the extremely competitive, stressful, and controlled conditions members of K-pop bands are put through in order to fit into the industry’s mold. It has been reported that trainees are often required to forgo their personal lives, which includes their friendships and hobbies, in order to devote time to perfecting their vocal and dance skills.
This was recently debated about and cast into the spotlight again following the tragic suicide of SHINee’s Jonghyun last December, who had left a harrowing note highlighting the pressures young stars face in South Korea’s highly competitive entertainment industry.
But beyond the irony of his sharing, it was his emphatic pronouncement of “loving myself” as the mark of true love which I found myself struggling to agree with. There is no denying that it’s a popular idea which stems from good intentions. Resist the pressure to conform. Be true to yourself. Express your conviction. These catchphrases definitely sound inspiring and empowering—but they can be dangerous if these ideas are separated from God’s blueprint for our lives.
As believers, we’re called to something else. Self-fulfilment or self-actualization cannot and must not be our end goal. Instead, the greatest commandment Jesus gives to his believers is this: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. And he immediately follows that with a call to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:36-40).
The Bible is emphatic and consistent about where true love stems from and who we should love: “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God” (1 John 4:7a). Self-love, as the Bible puts it, is a natural posture we all already gravitate towards. Loving God and loving others, on the other hand, is not.
In fact, one of the most notable references to “loving ourselves” is highlighted as one of the characteristics of what it would be like in the “last days”, as it says in 2 Timothy 3:1-5:
“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.” (Emphasis mine)
It can even be argued that the Bible seems to speak strongly against “self-love”, such as in Philippians 2:3-11, where it is written that we are always to value others above ourselves and consider the interests of others more than our own.
To be sure, BTS has done a lot of good for others, such as raising 1 million USD for UNICEF to help in ending violence against children and young people—and they certainly should be lauded for that. But perhaps we as believers, particularly for those of us who are fans, need to take a step back and evaluate what we hear—especially when it comes from those we esteem in high regard.
As believers, whose voice will we listen to? Who do we love the most? Are we prepared to be break out of society’s mold and definition of true love?