Did the BTS Army, other K-pop fans and TikTok teens just troll Trump’s Tulsa rally?

  • Weekend event was only attended by an estimated 6,200 people, after campaign chairman said more than a million tickets had been reserved
  • Viral posts on TikTok and Twitter revealed plans to reserve tickets online without any intention of attending
Agence France-Presse |

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President Donald Trump walks on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, early Sunday, June 21, 2020, after stepping off Marine One as he returns from a campaign rally in Tulsa, Okla. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

TikTok users and K-pop fans are taking credit for making Donald Trump’s weekend rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma a less than blockbuster affair, after they reserved a huge number of tickets but never intended to show up.

Before the event, the US President’s campaign chairman announced that more than one million free tickets had been requested. But according to the local fire department, only 6,200 turned up at the venue which is designed to hold roughly 20,000 people.

Trump speaks to less than capacity crowds during a campaign rally at the BOK Centre on Saturday, June 20, 2020, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Viral posts on TikTok and Twitter revealed that plans to reserve tickets en masse had been circulating for days, racking up hundreds of thousands of views.

One video urged fans of the South Korean K-pop sensation BTS – one of the world’s most popular bands, with more than 21 million Twitter followers – to participate in the plot.

“Oh no, I signed up for a Trump rally, and I can’t go,” said one woman who coughed sarcastically in a separate TikTok video.

Brad Parscale, Trump’s campaign manager, blamed “radical protestors” for “interfering” with the rally.

But Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the 30-year-old leftist congresswoman from New York, clapped back: “You just got ROCKED by teens on TikTok.”

“KPop allies, we see and appreciate your contributions in the fight for justice too,” she added.

‘Socially conscious’ fans

Though actually verifying the concrete impact of the viral campaign on the rally’s attendance is near impossible, the action spotlighted K-pop’s tradition as a politically engaged fandom.

Just in the past month, fans of the globally dominant pop genre – which was born approximately 25 years ago in South Korea – co-opted the hashtag #WhiteLivesMatter by flooding it with K-pop related imagery to drown out racist tweets.

“K-pop has a culture of being responsible,” said CedarBough Saeji, an academic expert of the genre based out of Indiana University.

How would you explain TikTok to US President Donald Trump?

“K-pop fans in general are outward-looking, socially conscious people and K-pop in the United States is very heavily supported by people of colour, by people who identify as being LGBTQ,” she said.

K-pop superstars, known as idols, are expected to be role models, Saeji explained, and often inspire ardent fandoms.

Though adorers would often send gifts to their favourite performers, many stars instead ask support be sent to charities instead.

After BTS dropped US$1 million behind the Black Lives Matter movement, a fan collective charity – known as One in An ARMY – raised another million to match.

“BTS songs have played a role in motivating us to be confident with ourselves, to be kind to others, and to be there for one another,” said Dawnica Nadora, a 27-year-old volunteer for the charity’s US arm.

In 2018 the powerhouse boy band addressed the United Nations, urging young people to engage their own convictions.

Saeiji pointed to a “messaging of positivity” behind the current activism from fans.

“K-pop attracts people who like this kind of music but also who want to make the world a better place.”