Ever since their debut, BTS has been on a mission to change the world – one song at a time. Unlike their K-pop counterparts who croon and dance to factory-made perfection, the seven-member juggernaut rebel against the norms with lyrical themes tackling social hierarchies, self-acceptance and empowerment, in the rawest and least filtered form. It’s no surprise they’d make the perfect role models for today’s generation, having joined forces with UNICEF to launch an anti-violence campaign dubbed Love Myself last October.
At the 73rd United Nations General Assembly on 24 September, BTS made an appearance at the monumental event as UNICEF goodwill ambassadors alongside First Lady Kim Jung Sook and other prominent leaders. In support of the launch of UNICEF’s Generation Unlimited initiative – a new global partnership that aims to “get every young person into quality education, training or employment by 2030” – leader RM represented the group to deliver an inspiring six-minute speech to support the campaign. Here’s the speech in full:
“Thank you, Mr. Secretary General, UNICEF Executive Director, Excellencies and distinguished guests from across the world. My name is Kim Nam Joon, also known as RM, the leader of the group BTS. It’s an incredible honour to be invited to an occasion with such significance for today’s young generation.
Last November, BTS launched the Love Myself campaign with UNICEF, building on our belief that ‘true love first begins with loving myself.’ We have been partnering with UNICEF’s #ENDviolence program to protect children and young people all over the world from violence. Our fans have become a major part of this campaign with their action and enthusiasm. We truly have the best fans in the world!
“I want to hear your voice… No matter who you are, where you’re from, your skin colour, gender identity: speak yourself.”
— UNICEF (@UNICEF) September 24, 2018
I would like to begin by talking about myself.
I was born in Ilsan, a city near Seoul, South Korea. It’s a beautiful place, with a lake, hills, and even an annual flower festival. I spent a happy childhood there, and I was just an ordinary boy. I would look up at the night sky in wonder and dream the dreams of a boy. I used to imagine that I was a superhero, saving the world. In an intro to one of our early albums, there is a line that says, ‘My heart stopped… I was maybe nine or ten.’
Looking back, that’s when I began to worry about what other people thought of me and started seeing myself through their eyes. I stopped looking up at the stars at night. I stopped daydreaming. I tried to jam myself into moulds that other people made. Soon, I began to shut out my own voice and started to listen to the voices of others. No one called out my name, and neither did I. My heart stopped and my eyes closed shut. So, like this, I, we, all lost our names. We became like ghosts.
I had one sanctuary, and that was music. There was a small voice in me that said, ‘Wake up, man, and listen to yourself!’ But it took me a long time to hear music calling my name. Even after making the decision to join BTS, there were hurdles. Most people thought we were hopeless. Sometimes, I just wanted to quit. I think I was very lucky that I didn’t give it all up. I’m sure that I, and we, will keep stumbling and falling. We have become artists performing in huge stadiums and selling millions of albums.
But I am still an ordinary, 24-year-old guy. If there’s anything that I’ve achieved, it was only possible because I had my other BTS members by my side, and because of the love and support of our ARMY fans. Maybe I made a mistake yesterday, but yesterday’s me is still me. I am who I am today, with all my faults. Tomorrow I might be a tiny bit wiser, and that’s me, too. These faults and mistakes are what I am, making up the brightest stars in the constellation of my life. I have come to love myself for who I was, who I am, and who I hope to become.
I would like to say one last thing. After releasing the Love Yourself albums and launching the Love Myself campaign, we started to hear remarkable stories from our fans all over the world, how our message helped them overcome their hardships in life and start loving themselves. These stories constantly remind us of our responsibility.
So, let’s all take one more step. We have learned to love ourselves, so now I urge you to ‘speak yourself.’
I would like to ask all of you. What is your name? What excites you and makes your heart beat? Tell me your story. I want to hear your voice, and I want to hear your conviction. No matter who you are, where you’re from, your skin colour, gender identity: speak yourself. Find your name, find your voice by speaking yourself.
I’m Kim Nam Joon, RM of BTS. I’m a hip-hop idol and an artist from a small town in Korea. Like most people, I made many mistakes in my life. I have many faults and I have many fears, but I am going to embrace myself as hard as I can, and I’m starting to love myself, little by little.
What is your name? Speak yourself!”
This is a significant milestone not only for the members of BTS, but also marks the start of a whole new era of change. And these are not just empty words. Besides donating a portion of their Love Yourself physical album sales revenue, they have also pledged 500 million KRW to the #ENDviolence campaign over the next two years, amongst other advocacy efforts. If that’s not enough indication that they are worthy of speaking at the UN General Assembly, we will end this with a message from UNICEF on the Love Myself website:
“The members of BTS strive, in their own ways, to make the world a better place to live. This is what BTS has pursued, and will pursue, through the Love Yourself album series and Love Myself campaign. Since they are now in their 20s, they are going to raise their voice to support young people in this world. They insist that the future should be different from the past as they are now the pillar of society. People need to speak of love and lingering hope, they say, even in this world wracked with hatred and violence.”
From seven young hopefuls who overcame all odds to realise their dreams, to becoming the voices of youths across the world, BTS has truly made history.