Living Your Life Online

Lynn JataniaBTS is a Korean K-Pop band that has been slowly taking over the universe since 2013. Their music can be heard worldwide, and in recent years they’ve made appearances on American late-night talk shows and on the American charts, while selling millions of records internationally.

No one has a definitive answer when it comes to explaining their success, but there’s no doubt that social media had a lot to do with it. From their earliest days, they’ve taken advantage of platforms like Twitter to give their fans full backstage access to their lives. That kind of openness led to other content like their own reality show, multiple documentaries showing the behind-the-scenes details of their tours, and video programs documenting every moment of vacation trips they’ve taken together.

Just like our kids were warned back in middle school, all this stuff lives forever on the internet. Even though we’re new to the band, we’re able to go back and see them in their earliest – and sometimes unflattering – days. We’ve seen them sleeping, eating, and doing their laundry. We’ve seen them smacking each other like frat boys, but also being kind and supportive of each other. We’ve seen them totally fail at sports and games, pass out from exhaustion after a concert performance, have terrible haircuts, and wear absolutely ridiculous things in public after losing bets with the others in the band.

For me, this whole experience has left me reflective about what it means to be part of a generation that is fully, completely online like this – from both the point of view of the fan and the performer. It’s a common situation with many other YouTube stars, who are remarkably open about every aspect of their lives, and rarely do anything, from cooking dinner to meeting up with friends to unboxing their new swag, without a video camera pointed at them.

Does it create an unrealistic expectation that we, as an audience, are entitled to complete access to the lives of the famous and talented? It feels intrusive to me sometimes, and I worry that the kind of fame these people are pursuing mean they will never get a moment’s privacy, or be able to really figure out who their true selves are, separate from their public personas. Where do we draw the line, as fans, in our endless demand for more and more insider information? When does it become unhealthy for us and for the famous person?

Surprisingly, though, my daughters are pretty cool with it all, perhaps because they’re used to feeling like their favourite YouTubers are their personal friends, or perhaps because they’ve grown up with this kind of celebrity as the norm. In fact, watching BTS online makes them both wish they had their own similar experience –a fully documented life with plenty of video coverage of their best, worst, and funniest moments that they could re-watch and share again and again. And if it meant that their lives were an open book for the public, all the better – they see only the good side of having hundreds or thousands of new friends, and little of the dangerous side of this kind of fame.

Perhaps we are entering a new era where this is what it takes to be a truly successful famous person. There’s no question that fans of BTS really feel like they know the boys in the band, and that inspires all the loyalty and devotion of true friendship – which has led to record-breaking sales and enormous political power from one of the most motivated, powerful fan bases in the world. But as the band members reach their mid to late 20s, they have begun to show signs of wanting more privacy – and I wonder how they will put the genie back in the bottle.

All this is to say that we’ve been talking a lot about what it might mean to be a famous person in today’s internet age, and what is good and bad about that, and what we, as fans, can do to be responsible about it. I know I’ll definitely be discouraging my own kids from opening up their own all-access YouTube channel any time soon.

What do you think – is this a good way to build a fan base? Can we ever go back to a time when stars had private lives?


MediaSmarts resources for parents:

The Parent Network: Social Media and Your Kids Workshop

MediaSmarts resources for youth:

Respecting Yourself and Others Online Workshop
Half GIrl, Half Face Workshop
Building your brand: Establishing a positive presence online
Think Before You Share