“We are BTS,” said RM, whose official name is Kim Nam-Joon and is considered the de facto leader of the megagroup, as he walked over to the briefing room desk. “It is a great honor to be invited to the White House today to discuss the important issues of anti-Asian hate crimes, Asian inclusion and diversity.”
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, who opened up for the group, noted that while “many of you know BTS as Grammy-nominated international icons, they also play a part important as ambassadors for youth, promoting a message of respect and positivity”. .”
The other group members then took turns delivering 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 that today is a step forward towards respect and understanding of each as a person of value”.
Then RM returned to the desk.
“Finally, we thank President Biden and the White House for providing this important opportunity to speak about important causes,” he said. “Let’s remember what we can do as artists.”
After their star turn in the briefing room, BTS headed to the Oval Office to meet the president himself on the last day of May, designated as Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Before joining the press conference, BTS filmed content with the White House digital team and toured the location, according to a White House official.
The group’s visit with Biden — which, somewhat inexplicably, was closed to media coverage — was the latest example of this White House leveraging celebrity power to draw attention to key priorities.
Last July, the administration enlisted singer Olivia Rodrigo to promote coronavirus vaccinations. And just last week, the White House brought in actress and singer Selena Gomez to shine a light on mental health, with Gomez appearing in a three-minute video with Biden, first lady Jill Biden and Vivek H. Murthy , the Surgeon General, to discuss the matter.
But at times Tuesday, the anti-discrimination message the administration wanted to convey was somewhat overshadowed by the sheer hysteria inside the briefing room — and outside the gates of the White House.
Outside, hundreds of fans – mostly young girls – gathered hoping to take a distant look at the K-pop group, and as they waited in the scorching sun, they chanted the names of the seven members and shouted, “BTS! BTS!”
Inside, dozens of interested journalists, many of them Korean, filled the aisles at least half an hour before the start of the briefing, making the already cramped room even more stuffy. Veteran reporters joked that the briefing room hadn’t been this crowded since Sean Spicer’s days as press secretary, when sessions became a staple on TV for all the wrong reasons, from less for the Donald Trump administration.
Tuesday’s live broadcast of the White House briefing usually draws a few hundred interested viewers. But well before the start of the 2:30 p.m. session, around 11,000 people had settled in for the show. Ten minutes before the briefing, around 71,000 were in line. Within minutes of the official start of the briefing – which started a few minutes late – 197,000 people were watching.
More than 300,000 were still live as Deese, the director of the White House National Economic Council, approached the lectern and began speaking. (Viewership numbers dropped precipitously as Deese talked about inflation.)
“Okay, then I can go home and tell my kids that BTS opened up for me,” Deese said, as reporters laughed. “I didn’t expect this when I woke up this morning. And I know you’re all here talking about lower average inflation, and you’re as excited about it as you are about them.