Hey! Hallie here!
This specifically is an interesting problem because it’s something both fans of K-Pop and those who dislike K-Pop suffer from. It’s prevalent in multiple groups as well, though, being ARMY, I tend to notice it most in the BTS fandom. This problem doesn’t stem from using the term “baby” to describe a member who is doing something cute. It’s become pretty common for the use of the word “baby” to describe someone cute rather than negate their age, and even some K-Pop stars do this to each other. The problem lies within treating members like they are actually children. Some fans are oversensitive to the hard work the members do or get easily offended on behalf of an idol when they’re being teased. On the other hand, those who dislike or don’t know much about K-Pop often find themselves infantilizing the members as well, sometimes without knowing it. Looking into these problems makes it easier to dismantle this attitude and know when it’s actually appropriate to be protective of our favorite groups.
First lets talk about the way fans infantilize members because this often, but not always, comes from a place of well meaning. Fans care a lot for their favorite groups and idols, and don’t like to see them experiencing hardship. But groups like BTS are fully grown adults who know their emotional and physical limits. There is no reason for fans to get offended or worried on their behalf when they are clearly in control of the situation. A good example of this is Jungkook having to run onstage after realizing right before a song that a platform meant to lift him onto the stage was malfunctioning. When this footage leaked many ARMYs seemed overly concerned about how heavily he was breathing before the song started and praised him for continuing to perform despite it. This is infantilization. As someone who’s worked on stage before, you are always prepared for technology to stop working or for something to go wrong without you expecting it. Having to find a way around it is part of the job. On top of that, while it was probably a frustrating moment for Jungkook, BTS have dealt with plenty of faulty platforms before. He was clearly in control of the situation and didn’t have any problems performing the song. Sometimes it is simply best to trust that the members are competent enough to have everything under control.
Another example of infantilization are ARMY reactions to certain fights within the members of BTS. Recently a fight between Taehyung and Jin has been circulating again. This fight was highlighted in the film ‘Burn the Stage’ which showed a lot of behind the scenes footage of the members. Before one concert, while practicing choreography, Taehyung accidentally took a step too far. Jin, who was supposed to go up to join him, didn’t wind up having enough time to do so and move back into his position. Taehyung was frustrated by the mistake and went to confront Jin about it, Jin cracked a few jokes about the situation, and Taehyung became offended by his tone. Many Jin fans were upset about this fight because Taehyung had apparently caused the choreography mishap, and because the members of the group spent more time comforting Taehyung than Jin after their fight. Once again, this is infantilization. This fight was a petty one, one that you see amongst siblings or friends as close as BTS, and it happened several years ago. Namjoon scolded both members for fighting right before a concert, and many of the members went to comfort Taehyung because he had begun to cry while Jin showed no signs of doing so. Jin can take care of himself, the members know best how to calm each other down, and the problem was resolved years ago. There is no reason to continue being offended by it.
I put dislikers here because this isn’t exclusive to people actively trying to hate on K-Pop groups. This is something I’ve seen in many, including the people who don’t really care much about K-Pop at all. When it comes to the major groups a lot of people seem to view them as privileged teenagers. The opinion seems to be that they’re young and untalented, using their looks to catch the attention of young girls without writing songs or even working hard, relying on older businessmen for their fame. It’s important to note that the majority of K-Pop groups at this time consist of grown adults who are trying to create for multiple audiences. BTS specifically has a lot of control over what they release. All of the members have contributed songs and melodies, and the three members of the rap line have writing and producing credits for most of their songs. All of them have decided what messages they want to spread and the company has even supported individual mixtapes that the members have worked on by themselves to help them spread those messages. And even in cases where a groups content is being controlled by a more demanding company, there is no way for any member of a K-Pop group to “get by on looks”. K-Pop demands both dancing and singing skills that groups have to train in for years before debut. Companies also have a tendency to give idols who are faltering in either dancing or singing less center time and more lessons, so either way idols find themselves working very hard. The K-Pop industry is known for sometimes overworking their idols and shouldn’t be praised, but the artists should. BTS specifically took on almost every single responsibility, including photo shoots and choosing the songs on the album, for their latest release. They are not children to be ignored. (And the young girls who enjoy their work shouldn’t be ignored either, nor should it be assumed they’re K-Pop’s only audience.)
So what’s the difference between protecting your favorite idols and infantilizing them? Situation. If you are getting overly angry because of a squabble that happened several years ago, you’re being overprotective and infantilizing an idol who likely doesn’t dwell on that situation at all anymore, if they even remember it. If your favorite idol is facing racism, sexism, and overall being mistreated by others, it is completely fair to be protective. Work to dismantle the old-fashioned thinking that is keeping K-Pop groups and idols from receiving the respect they deserve. Don’t focus your attention on small squabbles and easily solvable problems. Idols can take care of themselves.
Don’t do anything fun until I get back!