BTS: Is True Love About Loving Yourself?

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?

6 replies
  1. Melody Tay
    Melody Tay says:

    I resonate with this post quite a bit, because I think the Love Yourself campaign can be quite misleading because true Love cannot come from ourselves. We are broken human beings who do not know how to truly love, unconditionally, unselfishly, unendingly. Yet at the same time, I think there is a difference between being “lovers”of oneself versus loving oneself. I think there IS still a need to let people know that they should love themselves. Not because they are perfect but because God loves them, and that they are worthy of love not because they are good or righteous, but because God loves them and chose them.

    I think a lot of people have never seriously thought about whether they love themselves as they are – more often than not, we love things that make us feel lovable and worthy, like Instagram likes and followers, or the latest fashion. We tell ourselves that when we get those items or get those likes THEN we are worthy of love,THEN we are precious. So I think lots of people don’t really truly love themselves or even like themselves. In fact we keep seeking for what will make us like ourselves better… The truth is, nothing can make us worthy except God who chose us and loves us and who have made us heirs to His kingdom. Because he has said we are precious in His sight therefore I am also someone to be loved. I do not deny, however, that in seeking that worthiness we can easily set on a path of self-righteousness and pride and becoming blind “lovers” of ourselves, only seeing our needs and wants and desires and putting ourselves above others.

    Also, the command to love my neighbour as I love myself cannot really be fulfilled unless I simultaneously learn to love myself and love others. If I cannot see worth in others, I may not be able to see worth in myself, which means I cannot see worth in others… Jesus knew who he was and he knew his authority and the love he has is from God. He loved God and He loved people because He loved God who loves Him……. Maybe it is not so much about loving myself, but about KNOWING who I am in Christ. I am a daughter of God. I have nothing to lack and nothing else to fear and all the love and mercy to share because He loved me first.

    • Joanna Hor
      Joanna Hor says:

      Hi Melody, thanks for taking time to read and also share your views on this 🙂 I completely agree with you that it’s about knowing who we are in Christ. I love how you put it here: “I have nothing to lack and nothing else to fear and all the love and mercy to share because He loved me first.” As Christians, we have the greatest love of all and that’s what enables us to view ourselves and others correctly 🙂

  2. Madeline Twooney
    Madeline Twooney says:

    Joanna, l was watching the You Tube video of this speech and was thinking the same thing: RM’s personal story was moving and his heart was in the right place when he was advocating self-love. After all, the band’s fan base is of an age where they feel like they have to succumb to society’s expectations and where the suicide rate is incredibly high. However, every biblical reference you made is proof that self-love is not what God wants for us. I was also disturbed when RM said at the end that he was an idol. I knew he was emphasizing the dramatic and referring to their latest single; still Proverbs 18:21 says that life and death are in the power of the tongue and that those who indulge in it, shall bear the fruit of it.
    Thank you for this insightful piece, l didn’t know much about the band up until now so l learnt a lot!

    • Joanna Hor
      Joanna Hor says:

      Hi Madeline, great insights from you too! Appreciate you taking time to read this piece 🙂

  3. Hanz
    Hanz says:

    I’ve struggled with self-hatred most of their life due to poor performance in school and also because I thought it would keep me as far from pride as possible. When I first heard their comeback was called love yourself, I thought OH NO! they’re propelling a message of selfishness!! Then I had a think about it and realized it is important to love who God has made us because it’s God’s creation and he doesn’t make mistakes even though WE DO. I also took into consideration the fact that none of the members are Christian and their leader/main lyricist/tour guide/interpreter was an atheist (who I pray for along with the others just about everyday) and began to really wonder “Ok, if they’re not loving who GOD created them then WHAT are they loving?” Tell me, is it the transient beauty buried under hundreds of dollars worth of cosmetic treatment, fitness and styling products or is it the designer apparel? Maybe, all in all, it’s the number of digits in their bank accounts? Their bags filled with trophies? or could it be the sea of adoring fans with their glistening light sticks?
    All of these things are ephemeral and I think even they know what little time is left of this glory as I’ve seen it acknowledged in their songs Sea and Young Forever…
    So this “self love” they encourage and claim to have is like putting a bandage on a wound caused by terminal illness.
    Their insecurities (and insecurities of anyone who is not following the Lord) run so much deeper than any claim to self-love can fix because self love is CONDITIONAL and the only thing that can truly fix their insecurities is UNCONDITIONAL love… which is only offered by a PERFECT PERSON- Jesus Christ!

    I pray for them to find the beautiful richness and true love of salvation and I strongly believe they will, especially after I saw them come to a garden party that my grandfather (who is in heaven) was hosting.

    I was listening to RM speech and getting excited already envisioned a saved version of himself empowering the people (esp young people) with the gospel in his own, well spoken, articulate, poetic way! Sometimes I can hear him giving a testimony in my imagination and I even dreamt he gave his testimony after my atheist brother did.

    tl;dr : Please pray for your loved ones who aren’t saved, friends, even enemies!
    and if you can then please pray for these guys too as they have a special place in a lot of people’s hearts and are really influential at the moment with millions of fans all over the world and if they got saved I think it would be part of a revival even if that sounds silly!

  4. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    Hi,i totally agree with this…and it has spoken to me…even though i have heard so many of their songs and stuff.. it was pretty conflicting for me to listen to them because their message sounded a little off…so i never could totally resonate with them like everyone else does.Also they have a comeback soon…could you also write about it if possible…its great to have someone putting things into perspective so that we can listen to music that is spiritually healthy for us.


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