07/07/2022

They braved the sweltering heat, pressed their faces toward the fence, and were holding camera phones in hopes of catching a glimpse of their idols.

Dozens of young fans outside the White House doors looked like a pop concert on Tuesday — but the compliments weren’t directed at Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, whose approval ratings are on edge. K-pop sensation BTS was here to give sleepy Washington an adrenaline rush, discuss Asian integration and representation, and tackle anti-Asian hate crimes.

“I would like to thank you for helping me love myself a little more,” said Damaris Monroy Hernandez, a college student spending her 16th birthday hoping to meet the K-pop group. “I am just glad they came here because I love the fact that they are spreading awareness about the Asian hatred that is happening in the world. They are amazing people.”

As Hernandez spoke, one of them said, “One, two, three…Stop the Asian hatred! Stop the Asian hatred!” Others joined in the cheer.

BTS’s obsession was also evident in the White House press conference room, where journalists from South Korea and Japan stood in the aisles. The room hasn’t been this crowded since the reality TV star became president.

The group drew a crowd for the briefing. Photo: Oliver Contreras/EPA

“Oh, wow!” White House Press Secretary Karen Jean-Pierre said. “A lot of excitement,” she joked, “I know — it’s the Fed chairs meeting, isn’t it?”

The seven BTS members — who go by the names J-Hope, Suga, Jungkook, V, Jin, RM, and Jimin — lined up behind her, wearing dark suits, white shirts, and black ties reminiscent of the films Men in Black and the tank reminds dogs. All provided brief explanations, mostly in Korean, with the support of an interpreter.

Jimin said, “We have devastated the recent increase in hate crimes, including hate crimes committed by Asian Americans. To put an end to this and support the cause, we would like to take this opportunity to speak up again.”

Suga added, “There is nothing wrong with being different. I believe equality begins when we open up and accept all our differences.”

Y remarked: “Everyone has their own story. We hope that today we are one step closer to respecting and understanding each individual as a person of value.”

Since their debut in 2013, BTS has been known for its lyrics and social campaigns aimed at empowering young people. The Grammy-winning boy band thanked their fans, better known as “The Army,” for their continued support and praised their versatility.

Members of the audience peek over the White House fence as they wait for BTS’s arrival. Photo: Kevin Deitch/Getty Images
People standing near the fence
Fans stand along Pennsylvania Avenue. Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP

J-Hope said, “We are here again thanks to our military and our fans all over the world of different nationalities, cultures and using different languages. We are really and always grateful.”

Jungkook added, “We are still amazed that the music of South Korean artists has reached so many people around the world, breaking down language and cultural barriers in the process. We believe that music is always a wonderful and wonderful unifier of all things.”

The group left without asking questions, and they went for a short walk to the Oval Office on the last day of Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

Then the podium was in the conference room Brian DessDirector of the National Economic Council, a technocrat who can hardly be described as one of the most colorful or glowing personalities in Washington.

He put a pen in his chest pocket, raised an eyebrow and smiled obliquely as the international media group fled the corridors and some reporters laughed at their jerky gear change.

Deese said, “Okay so I can go home and tell my kids that BTS is open to me. I wasn’t expecting that when I woke up this morning knowing that you’re all here to talk about average contracted inflation and are just as excited about it as you are about it.”

It turns out that the contractile rate of inflation doesn’t make the impulses race. Jean-Pierre was later asked if BTS had filmed a music video at the White House. It neither confirmed nor denied it.

Jean-Pierre talking on the stage with the members of the group behind her
Karen Jean-Pierre greets the group. Photo: Kevin Deitch/Getty Images

“I’ve heard from them firsthand about how important it is to use their platform to be here to talk about issues that matter to them, particularly the anti-Asia hate that we’ve seen across the country in recent years,” the spokesperson said.

According to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, crimes against Asian Americans have increased more than 300% over the past year as Donald Trump continues to encourage Americans to blame China for the Covid-19 pandemic. Biden last year signed bipartisan legislation aimed at legitimizing an increase in hate crimes against Asians.

The BTS visit was one of Biden’s weirdest days since taking office. He has previously met New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, herself a political rock star; Lunch with Harris. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell met with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.

History will tell if the 79-year-old’s subsequent confrontation with BTS paints as memorable a picture as Richard Nixon’s encounter with Elvis Presley in 1970.