You're never too old to find love in music.
Such is the case for Titas of BTS, this group of Filipina 20-somethings-and-above, who simply want to enjoy tunes and stories from the GRAMMY-nominated pop group. These titas (or aunties) prove to the world that loving BTS encompasses age, race, and gender. They've built an online community at a time when everything in the world felt dire, which has since grown to a safe space for love.
Besides expressing their love for the group, Titas of BTS look forward to giving local fanbases a platform to raise the reach of charity projects and advocacies.
As part of the celebration of Titas of BTS' first anniversary and BTS' eighth anniversary, the group has taken up a #Women4Women initiative that supports a local art project by New York-based Filipina artist Chyla Guerrero that will help raise funds for two beneficiaries.
One is Grace To Be Born Foundation, which serves as a temporary shelter for unwed pregnant mothers to receive emotional and spiritual support and a safe haven for the young ones to be born in. The other is Jamila Lazo, a 9-year-old Little ARMY, who was diagnosed with Ewing's Sarcoma and is in need of funds to support her treatment, medication, and other needs. Jamila has been drawing strength from BTS and the support of some Titas of BTS members.
Bandwagon caught up with Titas of BTS co-founder Demai Sunio-Granali to talk about their Bangtan origin story, how the 'Dynamite' act helped them cope during the pandemic, and more.
It's said that BTS comes into your life when you need them to. What's your Bangtan origin story?
I am what the fandom calls a "Pandemic ARMY." I started stanning BTS at the height of the first COVID lockdowns in the Philippines after I rediscovered the joy of binge-watch Korean dramas.
I was in my "Park Seo Joon phase" in mid-March 2020 and that's when I fell in love with a song from the soundtrack of Itaewon Class. 'Sweet Night' by BTS V (Kim Taehyung) was my one-way ticket to BTS ARMY country. The song was really captivating and it got me curious about the music of BTS, so I started listening to their catalog.
The next thing I know, I was completely head over heels for their lyricism and musicality. Some of my early favorites were 'My Time,' 'Seesaw,' 'Trivia: Love,' 'Black Swan,' and the most precious BTS song in my book – 'Paradise.'
I think I really connected with 'Paradise' because of the comfort and reassurance that it offered during that time when I felt most dejected during the pandemic. I tried my best to stay afloat but I could never shake off the heavy feeling of not being able to do something worthwhile and worrying a lot about the future. The song literally said "Stop running for nothing" and that "It’s alright to not have a dream" because "All the breaths you breathe are already in paradise." It was really perfect timing that I came across it and I will forever be grateful to BTS for that wonderful song.
What was it about their music and personalities that clicked well with you?
I have always been a fan of lyrics and that was also the first thing I loved about BTS. The way they write songs is very thoughtful and meaningful, and very intelligent. I really love how they utilize and play with the Korean language to send really powerful messages through their songs. I'm also very impressed with how they creatively express their thoughts and feelings, which is where I draw my personal connection with them.
I particularly connected with Jungkook's 'My Time,' even though the song is about his thoughts on growing up under the limelight and missing parts of his youth. In a way, it spoke to me as a woman in her mid-30s and still struggling to accomplish something in life. I guess it’s that line “Don’t know what to do with, am I living this right?” (which is a question I’ve also asked myself many times) that made me reflect on my own longing to be someone of value. And when Jung Kook changed up the lyrics in the last chorus to “I will call ya, I will hold ya, I will touch ya,” it felt like he was telling me it's okay, that I still have time to work on being somebody I want to be, and that I just have to "wear my hat low and keep running" until I get to touch that thing that I want most in life. That’s a really powerful message for me.
How did the idea for starting Titas of BTS come about?
It really just started out as a joke between me and my friend and group co-founder Chuchie Ledesma, because we got "tired" of forwarding BTS content from one ARMY friend to the other so we thought of creating a Facebook Group where we could dump every BTS thing we could find on the internet.
Because I had nothing better to do last year, I just went with the idea and opened the group. Little did we know then that the "safe space for fangirling" we created for Tita ARMYs would turn out to become this beautiful community of women virtually loving and supporting each other during this tough time through our common love for BTS.
Many of us in the group who have never even met each other before have become good friends today all because of BTS!
How do you manage the group? Screen applications? How can one be a part of Titas of BTS?
We have a small team of moderators (mostly original members of the group) who maintain the group and keep it organized.
As much as possible, we try to keep the posts relevant, meaningful, and valuable because we want the fangirling experience to be enjoyable for everyone--like a stress-free BTS content dissemination and consumption if that is even a thing.
Of course, we also welcome some light and fun content in the group, which we think of as our stress relievers to get our minds off the worries and stress that we have to face every day.
The dynamic of Titas of BTS is really unique and beautiful because the community is composed of members aged 23 and above so everyone is somehow mature enough to understand and observe our group guidelines, which are simply founded on respecting BTS and respecting one another.
The posts and stories shared by the Titas range from deep and insightful discussions to downright witty humor that gets us all laughing all day/night long! As for membership requirements, we don't go below Jungkook's age, which is 23 (international age) at the moment.
The community is celebrating its first anniversary this year. What have been your fave Titas of BTS moments?
For about two months, there were only about 60 people--mostly extended connections--in the group and we just sort of unleashed our inner fangirls there, not worrying about being judged by other people who just don't understand the kind of happiness we feel when we immerse ourselves in anything BTS. Those were really memorable days.
We suddenly attracted more people--random strangers--into the group after we were featured in an online magazine article about how online communities help people deal with anxiety and depression during the pandemic. I guess there were a lot of Tita fans of BTS out there who felt frustrated that they couldn't express their admiration for BTS on a comfortable platform--not even their personal social media accounts because they are afraid that friends and family would discriminate or judge them.
Discrimination happens a lot to fans our age because people think we're too old to fangirl and that we shouldn't even be listening to music by young men who could practically be our sons and nephews. I think that is just tragic, so every time a Tita opens up to us and says they've found a happy place or safe space in Titas of BTS it is a magical moment to be cherished.
With current COVID-19 restrictions, how do you plan to celebrate this milestone?
We'll be doing a virtual celebration just as we've done at our first Christmas party and whenever we celebrate a BTS member's birthday. A charity project is definitely something that will always be part of TOB activities. We've already raised a total of over PHP 300,000 for different beneficiaries in the past year and it would be wonderful if we can add to this amount to pay forward all the happiness we have received through BTS so others can feel happy, too.
In lieu of free seminars and workshops (dance class, painting and makeup workshops, journal writing for mental health, wellness and meditation classes, etc.) that we usually organize for TOB events, we will be simply having a virtual meet-up with the Titas through a massive live video and chat session on June 2.
Since it's also BTS Festa season (pre-anniversary event of BTS), we would just like to spend quality time with our members and fangirl over the latest BTS Festa content drop together. Of course, to make things extra exciting, we will also be doing a raffle and contests with prizes from generous sponsors.
The BTS ARMY is a massive community across the globe. What makes you proud to be a part of this global fanbase?
I guess it's the whole movement of spreading "non-toxic" positivity that makes me proud to be an ARMY.
All the charity work, global and local campaigns, and even the little efforts that every person makes to become better – to "be like BTS"--are very admirable and inspiring. I've been a fan of different celebrities and artists since my youth, but I've never done things the way I'm doing now as an ARMY.
I never thought that an artist could become such a powerful and positive influence on their fanbase that the fans themselves would get up and initiate their own passion projects to help make the world a better place.
What's your favorite BTS story?
There are so many! But at the top of my head right now is how they chose to stay together as a band because of their mutual love for ARMY, despite talks of disbandment back in 2018.
It's really rare for me to see artists so personally and emotionally invested in their fans because it's usually the other way around. But with BTS, you can just feel their genuine appreciation of fans' support for them and it shows a lot in the way they converse with us through their posts and comments on social media or when they do live broadcasts. The way they know almost every meme and trending topic in ARMY Land is insane! They really care about us fans and I'm very grateful for that.
BTS have achieved one milestone after another and continue to set and break records, with everything the group has accomplished, what else do you wish for BTS?
The members have expressed that one of their dreams is to win a Grammy so I hope that is something that they could get soon. But in general, I just really want BTS members to be happy in both their career and personal lives.
Whatever it is they are looking or longing for--be it a personal project, collaborations with other artists, ventures outside being an artist and entertainer, investments, love life--I hope they get to achieve all of them because they deserve all of them.
You're currently working on ArmyConnectPH, a project that came from the success of Titas of BTS. What is this site all about and what do you hope Filipino fans will take away from it?
I was greatly inspired by the way we've organized the content that we share on Titas of BTS, which are all highly informative, relevant, and engaging, so I wanted to share that enjoyable experience with other PH ARMY (Pearl ARMY) as well.
I noticed that there is a lot of misinformation about BTS and ARMY going around, so I was hoping I could use my experience as a former entertainment and lifestyle journalist/editor to do something for the fandom by launching an information and resource portal for all Filipino ARMY.
I also want to be of help to the local fanbases in the Philippines by giving them a platform to make their charity projects and advocacies (there are a lot!) known to more people.
We have many plans for ARMY Connect PH to help make the ARMY Life experience better and more convenient for Filipino fans so I hope we can be able to roll them all out soon.
Check out BTS' special of 'Butter,' dedicated to "SWEETEST ARMY" here: