“We are BTS,” RM, whose official name is Kim Nam-Joon and is considered the de facto leader of the giant group, said as he took to the podium of the briefing room. “It is a great honor to be invited to the White House today to discuss the important issues of anti-Asia hate crime, Asian integration and diversity.”
White House press secretary Karen Jean-Pierre, who opened up to the group, noted that while “many of you know BTS as international Grammy-nominated icons, they also play an important role as youth ambassadors, promoting a message of respect and positivity.”
The other group members then took turns handing out their own messages in Korean. Later, an interpreter summarized their various messages, such as: “Equality begins when we open up and accept all our differences” and “We hope today is one step forward towards respecting and understanding each individual as a person of value.”
Then RM returned to the podium.
“Finally, we thank President Biden and the White House for this important opportunity to talk about important causes,” he said. “Remind ourselves of what we can do as artists.”
After their starring role in the briefing room, BTS headed to the Oval Office to meet the president himself on the last day of May, which has been designated Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Before joining the news briefing, BTS filmed content with the White House Digital Team and toured the site, according to a White House official.
The group visit with Biden — which, somewhat inexplicably, is closed to press coverage — was the latest example of this White House leveraging the power of celebrities to draw attention to key priorities.
Last July, the administration recruited singer Olivia Rodrigo to promote coronavirus vaccines. And just last week, the White House brought in actress and singer Selena Gomez to highlight mental health, with Gomez appearing in a three-minute video with Biden, First Lady Jill Biden and Vivek H. Murthy, the surgeon general, discussing the issue.
But at some points on Tuesday, sheer hysteria inside the conference room — and outside the White House gates — overshadowed the anti-discrimination message the administration wanted to convey.
Outside, hundreds of fans – mostly girls – gathered in hopes of catching a distant look at K-pop, and as they waited in the blazing sun, they cheered the names of the seven members and shouted, “BTS! BTS!”
Inside, dozens of interested journalists, many of Korean descent, packed the corridors at least half an hour before the briefing began—making the already cramped room even more claustrophobic. Veteran journalists joked that the briefing room hadn’t been this crowded since the days of Sean Spicer as press secretary, when sessions became a must-watch for all the wrong reasons, at least for the Donald Trump administration.
The live stream of Tuesday’s White House briefing usually draws a few hundred interested viewers. But before the 2:30 p.m. session begins, about 11,000 have settled into the show. Ten minutes before the briefing, there were about 71 thousand people online. Two minutes into the official start of the briefing – which started a few minutes later – 197,000 people were watching the event.
More than 300,000 were still in the live broadcast while Dess, director of the White House National Economic Council, took to the stage and began speaking. (Viewer numbers drop sharply the longer Deese talks about inflation.)
“Okay, I’ll go home and tell my kids that BTS opened up to me,” Dis said, while the reporters laughed. “I wasn’t expecting it when I woke up this morning. I know you’re all here to talk about lower average inflation, and you’re just as excited about it as you are for them.”