Monday, April 16, 2018

[D.C. Untied INTERLUDE] Here's what not to do when women report sexual assault and harassment by one of your members...

Ladies, how many of you have had a male friend come and get you out of an uncomfortable situation like this? 

"Is he bothering you?"


This happened to me at the game in Columbus on March 24, 2018, just before kick-off. A male member of the Screaming Eagles cornered me in a way that couldn't physically exit the conversation and proceeded to badger me with aggressive and leading questions. 

Was it the worst thing to ever happen to me? No, not by a long shot. 

Was it extremely inappropriate behavior, especially from a prominent member of the group? Yes.

Was I going to forget all about it? Yes, sadly. Things like this happen to women all the time. 

Then why have I been kicking up a fuss on social media for almost a month? 

Well, let me tell you. After the game, I began seeing things on social media that didn't track with what I had experienced. Claims that my group had harassed the traveling Screaming Eagles when, frankly, most of us had just ignored them except for the guy who'd been harassing me. That guy had been told to back off because he was being a dick. Not because he was a Screaming Eagle.

So, I decided to speak up to set the record straight. I used no names. Just said what had happened to me. You can read the post yourself.

I didn't care about an apology from the Screaming Eagle member himself. I didn't want to talk to him again. What I wanted was an acknowledgment that I had been put in a very uncomfortable situation by one of their members--a situation that may not seem all that bad to a man but carries the threat of violence to women. Have you ever been backed into a conversation with a large, angry guy who won't leave you alone? It's an awful experience.

At this point I received a concerned message from another Screaming Eagles member (not official leadership) who offered to talk to the guy who had been bothering me. That was the 27th of March.

And that was it. 

There was no acknowledgement that any inappropriate behavior had taken place. Nobody else contacted me. Nothing.

I didn't need or want a personal apology from the guy who'd been bothering me but nothing? When one of the Screaming Eagles had experienced bullying they issued what seemed like 10 press releases but for me? Nothing. Crickets.

So, I kept at it on social media, expressing my disappointment at the lack of a Screaming Eagles response to harassment of a woman by one of their members.

That's when the messages began to trickle in. Not from Screaming Eagles leadership but from women. I heard from women who'd experienced inappropriate touching, groping, stalking, one too many horny DMs, and rape. 

What would you do with that information? I decided to fight even harder and we made some progress on certain cases, not much on others, but at least the topic was getting some air.

Then... oh, my friends, this weekend I heard through the rumor mill that the Screaming Eagles had investigated the incident in Columbus and had decided that I was making the whole thing up to cause trouble because I was mad about the Screaming Eagles partnership with the D.C. United front office that gave them sole control of the supporters section. And, yes, I was mad about that but I was far more angry at the callous treatment of women who had reported sexual assault from a Screaming Eagles member and received a non-response. And now... now I was furious at the idea that they were claiming I made it all up to cause drama. These last few weeks have been hellish. I've been anxious and not sleeping. AND THAT I WOULD DO THIS FOR SOME PETTY BULLSHIT?! How dare they.

So I sent an e-mail to James Lambert explaining what had happened and asking for an official response.

Here is the text (names redacted because I don't want the guilty party dragged):

Dear James,

I am disappointed to hear that the harassment I experienced by one of your members in Columbus on March 24, 2018, is not being taken seriously. To that end, I would like to lodge a formal complaint against [SE MEMBER] for bullying me. 

The incident occurred just before kick-off. I was returning to the away fans section after using the restroom when [SE MEMBER] stopped me. He said he wanted to talk and backed me into a row. [SE MEMBER] was blocking the exit to the row and there were men I didn’t know standing behind me. [SE MEMBER] appeared extremely agitated. He proceeded to bully me verbally with an aggressive line of questioning. I tried to express my desire to exit the conversation but he was not listening and continued with his line of aggressive questioning. It is important to note that I could not physically exit this situation. [SE MEMBER] is physically larger than I am and as a woman I felt physically intimidated. The situation made me extremely uncomfortable and I grew increasingly anxious the longer this continued.

Eventually [WITNESS 1] noticed that I was missing. He saw the situation and noted that I was in a state of distress. He got my attention and told me to check my phone where I saw the message: “Is this guy bothering you?” I texted back “YES HELP” and he came and helped me climb down to the row below to escape from the harassment.

I have two direct witnesses to this incident: [WITNESS 1] and [WITNESS 2]. I also have the message [WITNESS 1] sent me with the time and date stamp in Facebook Messenger asking if I needed help.

I was also contacted by [CHARACTER WITNESS] when I shared my story on social media and he told me he’d had a similar run-in with [SE MEMBER] at an American Outlaws event. [CHARACTER WITNESS] said he is willing to speak up on my behalf.

This was extremely inappropriate behavior from [SE MEMBER] and I am disappointed at the way it was handled, especially since the Screaming Eagles organization was so vocal about speaking out against bullying of one of your own members at the game in Atlanta.

At first I was willing to ignore the incident but in the days after the game I began seeing comments online misconstruing what had happened in Columbus. That is when I first spoke up in order to set the record straight. However, I have very recently seen comments online and hearing rumors that I am being accused of making up the incident in order to exploit the tensions between our groups over the partnership agreement. This is extremely disheartening.

I want to believe that the Screaming Eagles as an organization takes women’s concerns about their safety and well-being seriously and is proactively working towards this goal.

Please notify me when this has been received and I would appreciate a response within 24 hours to let me know what steps will be taken to rectify this situation.



And just a few hours ago I received a reply, informing me that they'd already conducted an investigation--without talking to me, the names of the witnesses I provided, or asking me any follow up questions--and had decided that it wasn't a big deal and essentially telling me I was overreacting.

Read for yourself:

[FG] - Thanks for writing me. We do take these complaints very seriously and I want to share our follow up to the incident involving you and [SE MEMBER] in Columbus on 3/24. 

The rest of the board and I became aware of the situation in the week immediately after the match. I had heard on matchday directly from [SE MEMBER] that he felt he had been shouted at and cursed. Neither I, nor any of our board members, were present in Columbus that day. So I reached out to people at the match to get an impression of what happened. I had a conversation with [DU LEADER] over Facebook messenger where we ran over his impression of the events of the day. He shared that [SE MEMBER] was down talking to a number of DU members in an accusatory fashion and that he also approached "[You], who has been hit on by him to the point of harassment before, endured it until [WITNESS 1] noticed and stepped in to ask if he was bothering [you]." So I did want to check with others who were present at the match and see if anyone witnessed the interaction between you and [SE MEMBER]. I did talk with three different women who were present at the match and saw the interaction between the two of you and they were very adamant that what they witnessed should not be considered abusive or harassment and that you did not appear trapped to them or in a dangerous situation. But that [SE MEMBER] appeared to be sad and drunk and perhaps carrying on the conversation too long at an ill advised moment. I want to be clear, I did not take this at the time, nor do I feel now, that you were somehow fabricating the situation. Rather, I just wanted to get as many perspectives as possible before deciding how to move forward and those were the responses I got.
At the time of your first blog post I heard from [Concerned SE Member] that he had a brief Twitter messenger conversation with you. He indicated that you were not "interested in litigating the situation or in an apology." But that you wanted to make [SE MEMBER] aware "that men need to be aware that they can make women feel unsafe by getting too close in our personal space." I realize that I did not hear this directly from you and we still used this in informing how to proceed. In retrospect, this doesn't look like the right decision and I should have asked and confirmed these things directly with you.
Finally I did have a talk with [SE MEMBER]. He did say that it was probably a bad idea to go and press his point at that time with each of you and that he was upset. I did bring up how his size can be perceived as intimidating and he said he realized that was true. He also said that he felt he was already ending the conversation with you when [WITNESS 1] approached and asked if you were okay. But he also said at that time and has always maintained afterward that he didn't want to engage in argument and he wasn't going to go over the point on social media and he wanted to end it and I said I thought this was a very good idea.
So based on all we had heard, the board did not think this warranted any action against [SE MEMBER]. I did think it was important that he had been made aware of how you felt at the time and that it was important to steer clear of these conversations in the future as not to recreate this sort of situation. And as I had heard through [Concerned SE member] that you were not seeking an apology, we took no further steps.
In subsequent weeks, I obviously realize that you have been discussing the incident on your blog and on social media. I completely agree that I don't think you were making something up in order to exploit the tensions between our groups. And, given we were taking no further action, I did not want to say anything in public on behalf of the organization that could be in any way construed as implying that you were doing so. I know for certain that no one directly in SE leadership would be making comments that you were making anything up. And I do believe [SE MEMBER] has lived up to his earlier indication that he wouldn't be saying anything in public on this. If you can point me to anyone that's implying this, I can try to reach out to them and make clear my feelings on this point and try to get them to stop.
Finally, the SE board has realized in recent months that our member code of conduct and harassment or assault reporting procedures and responses are not robust enough currently. We've already begun research into the policies of organizations similar to our to start using as a model to draft new guidelines. When we finish, we will definitely make public announcement of the new policies and reporting procedures.
I hope this provides you a more full picture of how we chose to follow up from the incident during the 3/24 match. I did want you to know that we didn't ignore this or dismiss it. I personally spent hours gathering gathering information to make a fully prepared decision. I also realize we may not agree on the outcome. But that does not mean I am questioning your motives and it is completely appropriate you contact us with the complaint. I'm happy to continue the conversation, answer any questions you may have, or to clarify any part of what I have shared above. 

James Lambert

And for full transparency my reply:

Hi James,

Thank you for the explanation. I do find it interesting you didn't think to talk to me or [WITNESS 1] in your investigation since we were both directly involved and I don't recall seeing [the three SE women] anywhere nearby. They certainly weren't close enough to hear or see clearly my distress. 

It is true I told [concerned SE member] that I wasn't interested in an apology from [SE MEMBER]. I don't particularly want to have anything to do with him anymore. But in your investigation you seem to have minimized how inappropriate [SE MEMBER's] behavior was towards me. And I would like an apology from the Screaming Eagles.

I rode on a number of Screaming Eagles bus trips over the past few years and was even a member last year. I find it extremely disheartening that I am not being taken seriously when reporting bullying. 

Additionally, I think it is a big mistake to use this harassment issue as a weapon to attempt to discredit me personally or the district ultras as a group. 


You can make up your own minds. 

I keep hammering at this not just for me but all the women who messaged me and the women who--like me--rode on the Screaming Eagles buses because we felt safe. And we weren't safe. And we aren't believed and, apparently, our experiences are being "investigated" without directly talking to us. 

The bottom line is that inappropriate behavior that made me uncomfortable is being hand waved away as a guy being sad and drunk. I doubt I'm getting that apology.

I'm a friendly, generally pretty cheerful, 30-something white lady. I'm a librarian who knits and does Japanese calligraphy in her spare time and posts too many pictures of her cats on Instagram. I am a member of the District Ultras not the Green Street Hooligans. Until this drama, I was proud to say I had friends in all three supporter groups as well as friends in supporter groups from other teams. I'm not an unreasonable or aggressive person and I'm certainly not starting fist fights or drama for no reason but I will speak up when people are being treated unfairly and that's what I'm doing now.

(Not a hooligan; just a supporter)

Friday, April 6, 2018

[D.C. Untied 3.With Her] What happens in Columbus does not stay in Columbus...


The DU section at a game last season.

To understand what happened to me in Columbus, you have to understand what happened to me on my first road trip for D.C. United back in 2015. I was caught up in the excitement surrounding the playoffs and on spur of the moment decided to buy a ticket to the Screaming Eagles bus to Red Bull Arena for the second leg of the conference semifinals.

What’s important to understand is that I was still very new to the D.C. United supporter community at this point. I’d been attending games forever but it was always with my brother and his group of friends. He had buddies in the Barra Brava and from Big Soccer but when our little group came to games, we were always in our own bubble. This time, however, I wouldn’t only be attending a game alone for the first time but I’d be traveling with--and trusting my safety to--people I didn’t know.

By pure chance I ended up sitting by the Shaws on the ride up. Lori and Steven were extremely welcoming and kind to me and the ride passed pleasantly but when the buses let everybody off at the pre-game bar in Harrison, I was alone again. Completely at a loss at what to do with myself in the middle of the chaotic crowd.

I had enough cash with me for a single beer so I pushed my way into the pub and up to the bar and ordered a drink. That’s where I saw the familiar face--a couple of guys I’d met at the one Screaming Eagles watch party I’d attended. One of them couldn’t have cared less about me and made grudging conversation at the barest level of politeness. The other was in the Screaming Eagles field crew and had come up to me and my brother where we were leaning against the barrier in our section at halftime during a game to say hello and assure me that if I had seen him kissing some girl at the game the other day it didn’t mean anything. I don’t remember my response but I’m pretty sure it was something like, “Yeah, okay… well I’m here with my brother so see ya.”

So, yes, I knew he was a creep but desperate times call for desperate measures. I was overwhelmed at the sheer numbers of people and the unfamiliarity of what was happening. I didn’t care that I’d be making conversation with a jerk and a creep. I just needed to get back into my own head. I went over to say hello.

And it didn’t take me long to realize I’d made a huge mistake by engaging but what could I do? I didn’t know anybody else there.

An announcement that we would soon be marching to the stadium hit me like a pronouncement from heaven above. “I’ll see you guys later. I’m heading outside.”

Quick, quick, quick… walk outside to safety.

Milling around outside, I was approached by another woman who was also there alone. She’d come up with the Barra Brava and was currently drinking framboise out of the bottle. I almost cried with relief when she offered me some. I attached myself to her side and we stuck together for the rest of the evening.

(I make it point now to seek out other women who look like they’re alone at a tailgate or game and say hello. Pay it forward, sisters. Pay it forward.)

I managed to avoid my “friend” for the rest of the game. He was drunk and easy to see coming and duck out of the way. But as we were filing out of the section after the dispiriting loss, he grabbed me. “There’s a USA game coming up and I thought if you wanted to go---” I pretended I couldn’t hear him and walked away, quickly losing myself in the crowd. The anonymity was comforting after the unwanted attention.

Over the next couple of years I’d run into this guy at tailgates and games. I was always pleasant towards him. Women are socially conditioned to get along. To not make waves. To not make a big deal about calling out overly aggressive men or unwanted attention. After all, it’s not their fault, right? We must have done something to encourage it. Like existing.

Maybe this was all in my head. Maybe I misread the situation. But no matter what his intentions were, the fact is he made me extremely uncomfortable and I made it a point to never be caught alone with him again. At least until this game in Columbus.

Things are really tense between the Screaming Eagles and the other two supporters groups right now. That’s not a controversial statement, I think. So, it was always going to be awkward to have a group of Screaming Eagles members in the middle of the large group of District Ultras and Barra Brava ready to get rowdy and go 90 minutes at Mapfre Stadium. But I’d been messaging with one of the women coming up for the game--a friend, or at least somebody I like very much and am friendly with--and when I saw her group walking across the parking lot at Mapfre, I made a point of waving them over to say hello. I gave my friend a big hug and we chatted for a bit. I didn’t explicitly invite them to join our group but I thought I’d made it clear by my behavior they were more than welcome with us. Whatever the drama happening.

But the women went back to join their own group and I didn’t see them much after that. I assumed they were hanging towards the back of the crowd, not wanting to get in the middle of the drums and flags.

So, imagine my surprise when I’m coming back from the bathroom and into our section before the game starts and I’m grabbed by… that guy. My friends are all down on the opposite side of the bleachers and can’t see where I’ve been pushed into the row. I cannot move down and he’s blocking the exit to the aisle. My heart starts racing. Shit, shit, shit what do I do?

He starts angrily talking at me. “Why are you making this so bad for us? We just want to cheer with you!”

“What do you want me to do?” I say back. “I can’t control the fact that people are mad at the Screaming Eagles for disbanding our groups.”

I have tunnel vision. I don’t know how to get out of this situation. I can’t push forward. He’s not leaving. I don’t want to turn my back on him to try and push past the people behind me or to the sides. He’s bigger than me and agitated and has been drinking and I don’t know if he’ll try to grab me or push me or even hit me.

And then, out of the corner of my eye, I hear my name. One of the District Ultras members. “Check your phone,” he says. I take my phone out of my pocket. Two different DU members, same message: “IS THIS GUY BOTHERING YOU?” “YES HELP” I type back.

And they pull me out of the situation.


Even after all that, I was willing to let it go. Chalk it up to drunken misjudgement. But imagine my shock when I was looking at the comments section on Black & Red United and saw the narrative being pushed that the Screaming Eagles members had been the ones harrassed at the game in Columbus! My jaw dropped. Not only had I--and others--gone out of our way to be friendly and welcoming but I was the one who had had to be rescued from one of their members!

I was furious and grew more so as it became clear that the Screaming Eagles leadership was going to handle this situation not by issuing a public apology--like the Barra Brava did when one of their members said something inappropriate to a Screaming Eagle in Atlanta--but by trying to do an end run around me and trying to get the District Ultras to tell me to pipe down about it.

The final straw was when they issued yet another “statement” saying sexism and harassment were not to be tolerated in their section. The implication being always that it’s others doing the sexism and harassment. Never them.


Let me tell you another story. I got extremely drunk at the game after Parsons was given the ridiculous one year ban for popping smoke in the parking lot underpass at RFK. I hadn’t intended to but people kept putting booze in my hands at the tailgate and I reached the point where I should stop and just… didn’t. I have no excuses. I acted stupidly.

So, here’s when I knew I’d made the right decision to join the District Ultras. In the middle of the scrum in our section, I’m sure I looked wobbly and out of it. My memory of the game is hazy but I remember looking up at one point and seeing that somebody was keeping an eye on me.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“Yeah!” I replied.

He looked dubious but let me continue jumping around.

But that’s when I knew in my gut that these guys had my back. They may not have really known who I was or anything beyond that I was drunk and kind of (!) annoying but they would make sure I didn’t injure myself or otherwise come to harm.

I never got that drunk at a game again but I always remembered that feeling. That trust.

It can be hard for men to understand how vulnerable women can feel in a crowd. I’m 5’9” and fairly strong physically so I’m not easily intimidated. But even I can feel overwhelmed and scared. Boundaries can be easily crossed in the middle of the section. People have been drinking, people may be bouncing up and down the aisle, men may be ripping their shirts off, you may get hugged or have somebody drunkenly stumble into you. It’s a physical arena and that’s what I like about it. But we have to trust that our comrades are not going to use the closeness as an excuse to grab our asses or force their tongues in our mouths.

And once that trust is lost, it’s hard to earn back.

Nobody is perfect. No group is perfect. Creepy guys exist and things happen. What’s important for women’s trust is how these creepy guys are handled. What is leadership’s response when these creepy guys are brought to their attention? Do they try to handle it quietly and tell the woman that they’ll either have to put up with the guy’s presence or sit on the opposite side of the stadium? Do they remove the guy from field crew? Do they hand out a ban? Do they issue a public statement so women are aware that there has been an incident?

When I started kicking up a fuss about my incident. My inbox started collecting other stories. And now that I know that leadership of the Screaming Eagles knows that there is a repeat offender in their group--a different guy from the one bothering me--and has done nothing about it tells me that they value the illusion of “All Welcome All United” over the safety of the women in their group.

I think all of us women who attend games and stand in the supporters sections know that there is some element of risk involved. We’re very much a minority in the sea of bros and that comes with certain dangers. You may get hit on. You may have to listen to guys talk about women like objects. You may get shoved around a bit and have your personal space invaded. But as long as we know that our comrades, our brothers and sisters, have our backs, those things can be brushed off and forgotten.

But if leadership is brushing incidents under the rug…

Not confronting and banning men from the section for abusive and harassing behavior...

What good does waving a pink and rainbow flag and yelling “ALL WELCOME” do if there are no actions to back it up?

Empty words and empty promises.


Look, the bottom line is this. Almost every woman I’ve talked to about this has said the same thing: I just want to drink a few beers and watch soccer with my friends.

We don’t want or need you to be feminists or wear pink pins or whatever.

Just treat us like rational human beings--like friends.

Drink a beer with us and watch some soccer.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

REVIEW: BTS: Burn The Stage [Episodes 1 and 2]

The tomorrow we’ve been waiting for becomes the name of yesterday at some point

Tomorrow becomes today, today becomes yesterday, tomorrow becomes yesterday and is behind me

BTS, “Tomorrow”

Yoongi and Namjoon holding court with a make-up free BTS.

Before I talk about the YouTube Red series BTS: Burn the Stage let me tell you a story. Many, many years ago I was in a community theater production of the extremely un-politically correct musical Kismet. (“Baubles, bangles, and beeeeeadsssss!”) I didn’t have a huge role. I played a handful of tiny background characters, as well as one of the “exotic” princesses who does the Diwan Dances. I also happened to be working close to full time as a waitress at Chili’s and taking a couple of community college classes. I was 20 years old and it didn’t even occur to me that I might not be able to handle everything.

One Saturday night I drove straight to the theater after a busy Saturday shift at Chili’s. I got into costume and make-up. I went on stage. And then I started to feel as if I was underwater. I hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast over 12 hours ago. I wasn’t in control of my body any longer. My limbs and voice moved in muscle memory as my mind became sludge. I’d hit a brick wall of exhaustion. I don’t remember how I made it through the performance or even how I made it home that night. I just remember knowing that I had to go out on stage. I don’t think it even occured to me that I could just… not.

I bring this up not because it says anything about me specifically but because I think anybody who has performed has had a moment like this. Going out on stage with broken toes, a fever, the heaviness of a personal sorrow fogging the mind… the show must go on. Your castmates, your crew, and the audience are depending on you… whether it’s a hundred people in a tiny theater in Southern Maryland or ten thousand in an arena in Chile. Pushing past exhaustion, pushing past your limits, even as your mind shuts down and hours of rehearsal are all that’s animating your frame.

That’s show business.

But it’s not a side of show business we idol fans see all that often. We tend to hear about these types of incidents years later, offhanded asides in interviews. That time Kawai Fumito broke his leg on a bad jump coming off stage in PLAYZone and had to be quietly carried out on piggyback by his bandmate Tsukda as the play continued, the audience left to wonder as he just didn’t appear in any further scenes. “Oh, that’s what happened!!” we fans cry later. “Poor Fumito.”

And that response is why we so rarely see those moments. Our idols don’t want us to worry about them. Their job is to make us happy.

RM says as much in one of the first two episodes of BTS: Burn The Stage, the behind-the-scenes documentary of the 2017 WINGS tour that’s now available (!) on YouTube Red. (Possibly the only thing that could have gotten me to sign up for a subscription to YouTube Red.)

I’ve only been a real BTS fan--an ARMY--for about 3 months now so I didn’t see BTS when they came through the United States on tour. What I have seen is both the Korean and Japanese concert DVDs of the WINGS tour as well as all accompanying behind-the-scenes materials for both sets of DVDs. When I fall, I fall hard and I’ve watched both of these sets multiple times. And I consider the behind the scenes materials an essential part of the concert DVD. We idol fans love seeing the craft that goes into producing a music video or concert as much--if not more than--the final product itself. (There’s a reason my Japanese vocabulary is heavy on theater, music, and television production vocabulary.)

There were two big differences between the Korean tour DVD--filmed in February 2017--and the Japanese tour DVD--filmed in June 2017 (besides the obvious production factors because nobody knows how to film a concert DVD like the Japanese. Nobody.)

1) How much more comfortable and polished the guys were with the staging and choreography after months of performances. 2) How much more intimate the boys were in their native Korea interacting with Korean fans but how much better the atmosphere in the stadium was in Japan.

The language barrier gives and the language barrier takes away.

What is it that we want out of an idol concert? What is it that we want out of an idol concert when we don’t share a language or culture?

I wasn’t sure what to expect out of BTS: Burn the Stage or even what I wanted to see. Would it be similar to the behind-the-scenes documentaries on the concert DVDs? Would it be similar to the travel series BTS had filmed? Who was the audience? Korean fans, Japanese fans, Chinese fans, Southeast Asian fans, Latin and Brazilian fans, and Westernized fans all want something different.

Judging from the first two episodes, I think the main audience for this series has to be English-speaking Western fans who primarily interact with BTS through youtube clips. The first episode is really a teaser, interspersing random rehearsal footage for the tour with reality show style interviews where the members give their thoughts and feelings about the scenes. The most memorable moment in the first episode is Jungkook realizing the camera in their green room is on and immediately starting to clean up the messy coffee table because he doesn’t want to make a bad impression. It’s in the second episode--the one behind the paywall--where things start to get a little more intense.

The second episode also mixes concert footage from the Seoul dates (February 18-19, 2017) and Chile (March 11-12, 2017) with interview clips but also includes some candid moments: J-Hope delivering leftovers to Suga’s hotel room because Suga missed dinner; Jungkook entertaining his bandmates with impressions of their dancing; the excited chatter on the van from the airport; Jimin dumping an entire cake on Suga's bag; Jungkook barely able to stand from exhaustion but forcing himself on stage anyways; Jimin working himself into a state of extreme anxiety about a couple of small mistakes.

The good stuff: Suga's baffled expression at his birthday cake covered bag.

I’ll be honest. Watching Jungkook collapse and Jimin cry felt voyeuristic in a way that behind the scenes materials usually don’t. And seeing the screenshots and gifs of their moments of distress floating around on Twitter really made me uncomfortable. What is it that we’re demanding of them as American fans? Do we understand what we’re asking for when we cry for “authenticity”? For the mask to be ripped off? An idol’s mask isn’t just there to conceal flaws, it’s also for the idol’s own protection.

Ironically the best part of the series so far has been the interviews. One of the things I dream about doing for my idol book project is to actually speak with some idols candidly about their relationships with the fans, with performing, and so on. I was absolutely fascinated by the different responses the seven members of BTS gave to questions asking about those things.

Jin, the eldest, is the most focused on the internal dynamics of the group. He frets and worries about the members, even letting the youngest ones take out some of their nervous energy on him.

J-Hope is completely focused on the performance. His main connection to the fans seems to be through the YouTube videos they upload--reaction videos, dance covers--rather than the people live in front of him.

RM is stuck in his own head and that is something I identify a lot with, no surprise. He’s intellectualized the idol-fan experience to something that makes sense to him. He doesn’t want fans to like BTS because they’re cute but because they have formed an emotional connection. He thinks and feels a lot and wants to share his true thoughts and emotions with fans across the world. (Please participate in my book, RM, if you’re reading this.)

Jimin is insecure and needs a lot of reassurance from the members, from staff, and from the fans. He needs our love more than any of the other members and that makes me more worried for him than any of the other members. BTS, please take care of Jimin. Please.

V and Jungkook are the least articulate, verbally, and had the least amount of interview footage. V has trouble taking the thoughts in his head and saying them in a way that makes sense to others. Jungkook just doesn’t use a lot of words but the way he covered his embarrassment at having to talk about his collapse with a smile and said something like, I didn’t know when we’d be back so I had to go back on stage. It broke my heart.

Suga, though. Suga gets it. Ironically the member who appears to be the grumpiest, most antisocial, and least concerned with idoling is the member who truly gets what an idol concert is all about. In the behind-the-scenes DVD for the Korean concert, right before the rap line--Suga, RM, and J-Hope, go on stage for “Cypher pt. 4” they say if the audience doesn’t stand up, they’ll have failed. (Luckily the audience did stand up and it’s actually at that point in the DVD that the flow of the concert really starts to get going.) The moment had stood out to me when I watched it and hearing Suga explain how the excitement of the crowds created a feedback loop with the members on stage until every single person in the arena is part of something magical… it’s how I feel when I attend these concerts. It was incredibly moving and validating to hear Suga say he feels it too. (Suga, also please participate in my book okay? I’m learning Korean.)

It’s hard to say where this series will end up. And I haven’t read any reviews or reactions, American or otherwise, to have any opinion on whether it’s hitting the target market or not. I’m on record as saying I don’t think it’s good or healthy for BTS to cater to the English speaking or American market and I stand by that. Americans don’t understand idols and we don’t understand or respect the very real cultural differences in how we interact with idols. We ask a lot--learn English, stop being fake, show us everything--and don’t give back nearly enough. I don’t want to have to worry about BTS worrying that we’re fetishizing Jungkook’s and Jimin’s moments of distress. As much as they want us to be happy, especially as a noona fan, I really want them to be happy too. And to continue to walk with us through life. Together. A relationship stronger than romance, different than friendship. A relationship of mutual support and emotional connection, sharing pleasure and comfort and sorrow.

The director loved Jin. As do we all.

It really has only been about three months since I fell into this fandom but I regret nothing. And my month and a half or so of studying Korean has me saying this: 나의가족는 방탄소년단이에요.

Monday, March 26, 2018

[D.C.Untied 3.1] Columbus Crew vs. D.C. United, March 24, 2018 (Subtitle: No Sleep Til Mapfre)

In the end there were almost 40 of us with District Ultras, going 90 minutes in the hard metal bleacher seats at Mapfre Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. Not one of us expected D.C. United to win so it was no surprise when the score was 3-1 at halftime and remained that way. Our response was a solid 20 minutes of “Oh United… even when the times are bad” chanted so many times it started to feel like a mantra.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the 2+ years I’ve hung around these guys it’s that being part of a supporter group isn’t about swanky tailgates or getting your #brand in the team store and in press releases, it’s about showing up and putting in work even when the guys on the field can’t seem to string two passes together. It’s 90 minutes of living in the moment, of camaraderie, of yelling so loud you lose your voice, of pounding so hard on metal bleacher seats that you end up with massive bruises on your shins. It’s intoxicating. And it also happens to look really fucking cool, which is why MLS uses our images all the time on television and in marketing materials to sell the “passion” for the game.

Ironic then that D.C. United is trying as hard as they can to get rid of us in the push to the new stadium.

Joining the almost 40 District Ultras in Columbus were a solid dozen or so Barra Brava and a handful of Screaming Eagles. We’d all gathered before the game, under the grey March sky, in the barren, frigid parking lot surrounding Mapfre. Happily greeting friends as they piled out of assorted cars and vans, warming up with a nip or two (or three) of Old Grand-dad, it felt like old times in Lot 8 at RFK. The 4:30 a.m. wake up call and 6+ hours squished in a van with 11 dudes--one of whom refused to accept my music veto on Paul McCartney (who sucks)--had been worth it. I’d missed this.

But the tensions of the past month and a half simmered under the surface.


A post shared by District Ultras (@district_ultras) on

As the momentum for the DU road trip had been building up, the Screaming Eagles bus to Columbus had been canceled due to lack of interest. As the Barra Brava had shown up in force at the Soccerplex the previous week for the snowy 2-2 draw against Houston, the Screaming Eagles remained silent. The episode of the RFK Refugees podcast that I recorded with Carrick was posted on Friday morning and had 400+ downloads by the time Carrick and I were packed in the van on Saturday.

D.C. United fans are angry and getting angrier.

And the word is spreading around the league. As a group of DU ladies went into the bathroom before the game, we passed a guy on his way to the Nordecke with a “We Stand With Barra Brava” two-pole.

A bunch of sports business majors with NFL case studies for brains and juice boxes for blood, who have never walked around their own stadium on game day, who don’t know or care who their fans are, who are on record comparing the professional game with their kids’ under 10 soccer league-- these are the people the five Screaming Eagles board members decided to trust with the future of the hundreds of supporter group members who have bled black and red for this team for over 20 years.

One of the unfortunate outcomes of this is that my friends who have remained members of the Screaming Eagles felt unwelcome in the midst of the Lot 8 reunion in Columbus. I did make sure to greet the women who had been my companions on various away games over the last couple of years. I hold no hard feelings or bitterness against them personally but people are angry at the Screaming Eagles as an organization and there is going to be some tension if people walk through the middle of the DU or Barra wearing Screaming Eagles gear. While they personally might not have actively worked to crush our groups, people representing that logo have.

Here’s what you can do if you find yourself in that situation: 1) Don’t wear Screaming Eagles gear when you are mingling with the other groups until this is fixed; wear plain D.C. United branded gear. 2) Go up to your friends or acquaintances in the other groups and explain how you understand that what’s happening with your leadership attempting to force us out of existence really sucks and that despite your membership with the Screaming Eagles, you would like to be part of the 90 minute mentality for the duration of the game.

Here’s what you, a hypothetical dude, don’t do: 1) Corner a woman--who you are bigger than and who you outweigh--alone and sea lion her about how it’s unfair that you, hypothetical former Screaming Eagles leadership, have not been welcomed with open arms into the middle of the District Ultras and Barra Brava membership for so long that she has to be actively pulled out of your reach by her friends.

That’s a BIG no-no.

I was sad that my Screaming Eagles friends felt unwelcome but hopefully they understand why the other groups are so angry. (And, my ladies, for real, if you want to join us next time please just say something to me!)

Columbus Crew, 3.

D.C. United, 1.

And nobody in our section particularly cared about the score. This wasn’t about losing a game nobody expected to win. We celebrated after the game like we’d won it 3-1, drums and flags going down the twisty ramps of Mapfre and into the parking lot.

This was a reunion.

This was the first chance to go 90 minutes since the ill-fated game against Red Bull all those months ago in October.

This was opening day for the Great District Ultras 2018 Road Trip.

Banned in Audi Field.

Burning it up (metaphorically) in every other stadium within reasonable driving distance.

The drive home was mostly quiet as the 11 dudes--and me--slept off the excesses of the day before. Sunglasses and headphones on as we headed back home. My boots were busted. My calves were bruised. I was bloated from too much salty gas station junk food and beer. I had in my possession a vinyl album by a 1970s German duo called Cindy & Bert that I’d picked up at Spoonful Records. I had far more information about the dudes on the trip than I wanted or needed. And I was bone tired from an intense work week--and a couple of late nights--on top of the early morning start on Saturday.

But I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Vamos, Vamos United!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

[D.C. Untied 3.kill me now] STOP HITTING YOURSELF: a message to the Screaming Eagles board

I was going to wait until after the game at the Soccerplex to make another post but the bullshit keeps piling up in the Eaglesgate fracas. Hot on the heels of an extremely passive-aggressive FAQ update, yesterday, March 13th, the Screaming Eagles twitter posted a tweet that said this:

The escalating personal attacks on individual members of the Screaming Eagles need to stop now. These have been directed at dedicated supporters and volunteers who have done nothing to warrant such baseless attacks on their characters. Threats of violence, even ones indirectly implied, have no place in United supporters’ culture and we will not tolerate those who make them. Such attacks, even the ones defended as only jokes, only drive supporters farther apart.

Substantive concerns and questions should be directed to the Screaming Eagles board or to your own club leadership, should you be another member of another group.


Do you know what “drive[s] supporters farther apart”? Let me help you with this:

Engaging in a unilateral agreement with the D.C. United front office that effectively ends independent supporter groups, not even giving a cursory heads up to the other groups or your own members about it, refusing to answer substantive questions regarding the agreement, letting anger and resentment fester for an entire month, leaving your own group’s membership exposed to that anger and resentment through your silence, issuing passive-aggressive statements that claim that you are the victim in all of this because that anger and resentment has been expressed in the form of shitposting and mayonnaise memes on Facebook, and--lastly--calling hundreds of D.C. United fans violent thugs because of one (1) drunken guy calling out a very prominent member of the Screaming Eagles who--although not a board member--has made himself a face of the organization (i.e. he is not a rank and file member) that took place in Atlanta and was immediately apologized for as soon as people sobered up.

Shitposting is not violence.

Memes are not violence.

Heated language is not violence.

Drunken calling out of prominent Eagles members is also not violence. It’s not a good look and definitely should be discouraged but the Eagles statement makes it sound like Barra Brava and District Ultras members are (and let me give the Eagles a reference they’ll get) waiting outside James Lambert’s house like it’s West Side Story and the Jets and Sharks are ready to rumble.

Look at the facts. Steven Goff, who refuses to cover Eaglesgate posted an article yesterday that D.C. United will possibly be setting the record for the smallest crowd for an MLS game of all time. Sure, part of this is because it’s a pain in the ass to get to the Soccerplex but I know plenty of people who have made the effort in previous years who are just… choosing not to go. Part boycott; part ennui in the face of poor on field performance and increased security hassles.

The constant whining from the Screaming Eagles board that we’re being mean is not helping anything. It’s worse than that. It’s punching down and further fanning flames of resentment and anger.

Hey, Screaming Eagles board, you hold the power here. If you truly want this to stop, all you have to do is man up and take responsibility for royally fucking up. James Lambert, who has proven over the last month to be beyond incompetent at leading, needs to take one for the team and step down because this is just embarrassing.

Do you know what will happen at Audi Field if you don’t get us back? Do you need me to link to the “Vamos Pupusas” video to make my point because so help me Jaime Moreno I will do it.

I’m not even going to touch on the Clear Bag bullshit and our ten man midfield goals by committee clown show because I’m running out of time this morning but let me end with an anecdote.

I went to get a massage last night and my massage therapist, a DC sports loving African American woman, commented on my D.C. United sweatshirt and said that she loved going to games. She explained how she’d first gotten a ticket through a Living Social deal because she was looking for something to do and had ended up with seats right by what she called the “pep band”--a.k.a. the supporters section. “Every time I go I make sure to get tickets in the same place,” she said. “The whole place is rocking!”

When she mentioned Audi Field, I had to break it to her that the “pep band” wouldn’t be there. Apparently we add no value to the D.C. United (™) Brand… what people really want is perfect silence, big name former Euro stars on the opposing teams, and $19 craft beer behind a velvet rope.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

[D.C. Untied 3.FOH] A Letter from the Front Office

A screenshot of a letter from a member of the D.C. United Membership Services team was posted in the Barra Brava Facebook group today. It makes some incredible claims. I’ll link to the letter but let me go through a few highlights:

ETA: It has been pointed out to me that some people are blocked from the Barra FB Group so here is a screen cap.

The Eagles are our largest supporter group, representing 75% of fans that attend on a matchday.

Um… qué? 75% of fans that attend on a matchday?! I don’t remember getting a survey on supporter group participation.

Okay, so D.C. United had an average attendance of 17,904 in 2017. Does that mean an average of 13,428 fans on any given matchday were Screaming Eagles members?! Assuming that it’s not all the same people at each match, you’re looking at over half a million in $30 membership fees… and the Screaming Eagles are not taking in that kind of money.

Clearly “fans” does not refer to all of the people at the stadium. So, who are these “fans” that the Eagles make up 75% of?

A quick browse of the publically available tax documents looking for the “membership dues” column would seem to put the number of Eagles at around 1,000 more or less for the past few years. It’s possible that this “1,000” number represents 75% of paid supporter group memberships but is this really 75% of “fans” or even “fans on a matchday”?

Yeah, no. I don’t think so.

I know for a fact (because I did it) that a certain percentage of members joined the Screaming Eagles as well as a second (or even third) supporter group for solidarity or maybe just a discount on the road trip buses. Knocking those off, maybe 900 Screaming Eagles members who are primarily Screaming Eagles members?

How many of those 900 regularly attended games and stood in the supporter section? How many of those 900 were seated quite happily in other sections of the stadium? How many liked the idea of belonging to a booster club? How many just liked the tailgate passes and craft beer? There is nothing wrong with any of those things but paid memberships are not equivalent to people in the stands.

I guarantee that there are people who consider themselves Barra Brava or District Ultras members who have never once purchased an actual membership. A quick browse of Facebook comments on membership renewal posts is enough to reveal that people don’t always renew every year, even regular attendees. And I can think of a handful of people just off the top of my head who come to maybe 4 or 5 games a season and stand with Barra or Ultras but are not paid members. Where are they represented in the 75% of “fans” on matchday statistic?

What I’ve been told by supporter group leadership is that not counting individuals with season tickets, the Screaming Eagles had a bank of 200 single game tickets. The Barra Brava had 100 and the District Ultras had 60.

Looks more like 55%, 28%, and 17% to me.

Are D.C. United okay with alienating the 45% of the people who buy single game tickets and choose to stand with a non-Screaming Eagles supporter group on any given matchday?

Looking at individuals with season tickets. They may or may not be paid members, as I stated above. There were 60-70 of us in the District Ultras section and based on what I’ve been told from Barra leadership, there were at least 80 paid members but probably closer to 100 or even more in the Barra Brava. You see where I’m going… if I extrapolate out, that would mean there were about 200 Screaming Eagles season ticket members in the designated supporter group section.

400 on a sellout day is certainly possible but it’s not 75%. If the numbers I got from the Ultras and Barra leadership represent just 25% of “matchday fans” you would need 960 Screaming Eagles in the supporter section. That is more than the entire North Stand at Audi Field can hold and would mean their entire membership was present.

Are D.C. United okay with alienating the 45% of season ticket members who do not stand (sorry, “stand”) with the Screaming Eagles?

But back to the letter:

In regards to the single match tickets, the Screaming Eagles have invested in a block of season tickets for the 2018 season that they will be selling on an individual match basis. Those tickets are not being sold by D.C. United. Any supporter, regardless of group affiliation, may purchase single match tickets through the Screaming Eagles. Pricing will be in line with the standard matchday pricing, starting at $30 per match.

*Record scratch* run that back… STARTING at $30 per match?! STARTING AT?!

Question 1) If the tickets are not being sold through D.C. United but through the Screaming Eagles as bulk “season ticket members”, why wouldn’t the ticket prices be closer to the $20 matchday price offered to members? Where is that $10 extra dollars going?

Question 2) STARTING AT?! Are you seriously telling me that single game tickets will now be on a sliding scale of $30 for like the Quakes on a Wednesday but $100 when a team with washed up Prem League star comes to town?

It’s absolutely disgusting profiteering and a huge break in tradition. Please, Eagles, correct me if I’ve misunderstood but since you haven’t put out a single real FAQ or answered anybody’s questions I won’t hold my breath.

ETA: After I posted this, it was pointed out to me that the Audi Field website lists match day prices for the supporter stands at $40 and season ticket per game prices at $25.

That's literally double the price we were told and almost double what people were paying at RFK. What are the Screaming Eagles doing with that $15-20 (and more?!) per ticket markup they're going to be charging us?

(From the Audi Field website)

(From the Audi Field Guide released last fall and STILL AVAILABLE ON THE DC UNITED WEBSITE)


Moving on:

Barra Brava inquired about purchasing a block of tickets, however, they demanded benefits and conditions that are not provided to our general season membership base (i.e. exchange policy, special payment plans). We were unable to grant their conditions and they chose not to purchase a block of tickets under the same terms as the rest of our membership base.

Now, here is the money shot.

My jaw hit the floor--and it was the disgusting floor of the Orange Line train I was on at the time--when I read this.

From what I’ve been told by multiple people, the supporter groups have long been granted the privilege of returning or exchanging unsold tickets so they don’t go bankrupt. While sellout games are fun, sometimes you have a season like 2017 where watching a game is a painful experience not worth making the trek out for on humid, rainy August Wednesday. What happens to those unsold seats? Who eats that cost?

The supporter groups provide the atmosphere, material for official marketing, and act as ground level recruitment teams for free but D.C. United can no longer buy back or exchange 40 unsold tickets for a Wednesday game against Minnesota because… it would hurt their feelings?

I call bullshit.

This is a deliberate rule change aimed at killing the independent supporter group culture.

Is the sliding scale pricing on single game tickets meant to offset those empty Wednesday games?

What an absolutely shitty thing to do to long time fans. All of them. Not just the 45%. This is a terrible situation for the rank and file Screaming Eagles members too.

It doesn’t matter what I say because D.C. United’s current ownership is not interested in a good matchday atmosphere and building a stable, invested fan base. The roll out of Audi Field has more than confirmed that. D.C. United’s current ownership wants a mini-Nats park full of well-to-do paying customers consuming expensive concessions and purchasing merchandise. And they may have that for a little while. But what happens when Own Goal is the leading scorer for the season? What happens when those paying customers get bored because soccer isn’t quite as fun live as the pictures on the brochure and in the youtube videos led them to believe and drift back to Nats Park?

Is James Lambert going to be the one taking charge of a supporters section full of casuals who paid $100 a pop to see Miami Beckham FC? No, he’s not. It's going to be utter chaos and it will be on their heads.

Just like the Screaming Eagles leadership is not taking responsibility for this mess either.

D.C. United is not popular enough in this town or a good enough team to sustain the loss of a good chunk of it’s supporter base and expect that they will be replaced by yuppies drawn to a new stadium. Casual fans are fickle. Yuppies are always looking for the next big thing to say they did it first. These are not the building blocks of a long term fan base and if this ownership group actually cared about the team and this community they would know that.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

[D.C. Untied 3.?] Let's take a closer look at D.C. United's "Strategic Partnership" press release.

On Valentine’s Day this year D.C. United gave its supporter groups the equivalent of a box of cat turds dipped in chocolate in the form of this press release:

D.C. United, DC SCORES and supporter group, the Screaming Eagles, announced a strategic partnership uniting a shared passion for enriching the communities in the District through sport.

“That’s nice,” you might have thought. “Enriching the communities in the District [and Maryland and Virginia] through a shared love of soccer. I wonder what this will involve? Building soccer fields throughout the city for regular neighborhood folks to enjoy? Raising money for fees for poor kids to join competitive teams? Support for parents who want to play in rec leagues?”

The answer, as we’ll find out, is none of those.

“We are pleased to partner with the Screaming Eagles, during this transformative year, across the shared values of creating the most exciting, fan-driven atmosphere in Major League Soccer, but also around a common goal to focus on bettering the neighborhoods around us, through the invaluable work that DC SCORES does in our community,” Tom Hunt, United President, said. “This partnership will ensure our supporters continue cultivating an atmosphere that has long been heralded across the league as we celebrate traditions old and new at Audi Field.”

Okay, back up there, buddy.

1) From banning of supporter group members to increased harassment from the rent-a-cop security in the stands to the non-safe standing, no tifo rigging design of Audi Field, I have seen zero evidence of Tom Hunt having any interest in creating “the most exciting fan-driven atmosphere in Major League Soccer” but plenty of evidence that when he considers supporter groups at all its as detrimental to sales of his corporate suites.

2) Have you seen the Screaming Eagles section during the game? I love my friends who stand with them but there’s a reason that D.C. United’s 2018 “Goal” gif uses what looks very much like the Barra Brava section:

The Screaming Eagles do not bring the atmosphere.

Things get even weirder in the “Fans” section of the website which prominently features images of (L-R): The Barra Brava, The Barra Brava, The District Ultras/La Norte. “Oh, yes! COOL!” says the potential fan. “This looks fun and awesome.” But when that fan clicks inside, the pictures illustrating the sections are all… shall we say “white washed”? No flags, no drums, no tifo, no drums, and presumably no swears and never ever shirts off for United.

So, if we’re supposed to believe that the Screaming Eagles bring the atmosphere that’s the envy of the league, why are me and my buddies caught on camera so often during games over in the District Ultras section? Why am I always seeing the Barra Brava banner at away games? Why is there a reaction gif of me flipping off Steve Clark taken from the official MLS footage? Why?

(Not the Screaming Eagles section.)
The Screaming Eagles do not bring the atmosphere.

The Screaming Eagles know it. Tom Hunt knows it. Everybody knows it. So why the charade? What is the point of lying about “atmosphere” and using my picture to show how fun the stands are on game day when they know that a Screaming Eagles-run section will have none of this?

Is the D.C. United front office knowingly lying to us to get us into Audi Field?

Funny you asked!

As part of the partnership, The Screaming Eagles will take the lead role to manage all aspects of the supporter culture including single game supporter tickets sales for both home and road matches as well as organizing all activities and in-game fan experiences in the north end zone, in an effort to further unite the Black-and-Red supporter base that established the benchmark for U.S. soccer supporter culture in the early years of Major League Soccer.

Run that back for me: ”...including single game supporter tickets sales for both home and road matches...

Are you fucking kidding me? I mean, hello, the Barra Brava have away game tickets for sale right now.

And need I refresh everybody on the BLOCKBUSTER AUDI FIELD GUIDE POST in which the guide (still live on the D.C. United website by the way) explicitly states: D.C. United do not anticipate single match tickets being available in the supporter stands.

Whoops, guess there wasn’t as much demand for the shitty deal they were offering us as they thought. No refunds for anybody who bought extra tickets to be able to share with a friend or two. No sorry, no refunds.

(My Audi Field guide post also reminds me that they had told us there would be 1,500 supporter seats available. That number has since been halved to 800. 75% fewer than the other soccer specific stadiums being built around the league. Just what you need for a good atmosphere.)

But here’s the real meat of the press release: The Screaming Eagles are going to be “managing” all activities in the supporters stand. What does that mean exactly? Are we all going to have to follow the Eagles’ ridiculous rules? “Pink Cows” isn’t politically correct! No protesting front office decisions! The mosh pit at half time is scary! Put your shirt on! No spilling beer! Let the guy who wants to be on camera the most hold the drumstick and stand around half-assedly while waiting for players to notice him instead of having somebody actually lead chants!

Yup, just the people I want “organizing” my “fan experience”. (Sike, no they’re not.)

“Today we’re reaffirming our promise to D.C. United that we’ll do all we can to support the team across the full range of the club’s endeavors,” James Lambert, Screaming Eagle president, said. “We believe that by working closely together with United in a cooperative, positive manner, we can take the supporters’ culture to the next level in the new era defined by the opening of Audi Field.”

When this press release came out, there was a nearly universal cry of “Who the hell is James Lambert?” Most of the Eagles didn’t even know he was the president. I’ve certainly never met the guy or interacted with him before and I thought I had met everybody roaming around Lot 8 and on the bus trips.

Our futures as fans in the hands of a guy nobody knows, appointed by his buddies on the Screaming Eagles board (I assume).

Is Lambert’s vision of “the next level” something I want to be a part of? Absolutely not. If the Screaming Eagles are the only game in town, I will stop going to games.

Why? Why don’t I trust Lambert’s leadership and vision?

For one thing, it took him an embarrassingly long time to respond to questions about this surprise announcement and when he did it was with a now deleted tweet that dismissed everybody’s very valid concerns as “a few brickbats”--a phrase that became something of a rallying cry among the disenfranchised and shit posting.

All welcome, all united, my ass.

The Eagles eventually put up a very tepid FAQ but not until things had spun very badly out of control.

The entire online D.C. United community watched as the Eagles claimed naming rights over the new North Stands as “The Nest” and then had to backtrack on it when people complained; as people made Brickbats merch; as people wrote angry letters demanding refunds from the Screaming Eagles and cut up membership cards.

Not so welcome, not so united.

Here’s what all of this says to me: D.C. United’s current ownership group does not want supporter groups as they existed at RFK. We cannot be controlled by force and threats and since they have not bothered to develop a working relationship with us, the only thing that can be done is eliminate us even as we provide images for a large part of their marketing as well as actively promote the club to people through word of mouth marketing. If the supporters groups die, it’s not just a loss of “atmosphere” at the games but a loss of 22 years of community and tradition. These are unquantifiable on a quarterly spreadsheet but are what keeps people returning in terrible weather and through seasons when Own Goal is the leading scorer. And if the ownership cared about a stable fan base then those are things that should be important. If the ownership is looking to pack the place full of lookie-loos and tourists for just long enough to sell before the novelty wears off and they realize they can get all the stuff next door without the boring soccer at the bigger and nicer Nationals Stadium, then a rowdy horde of assholes and drunks waving flags and banging on drums is a liability. There is no future on a quarterly spreadsheet, no family, no community, just corporate suite sales numbers.

Hey, D.C. United, good luck filling the seats on a muggy Wednesday night in August in a poor season without supporter groups and the community they've grown.

I don’t doubt that Lambert means well but he has proven that has no clue with what at least ⅔ of the supporters are feeling and I do not trust that he will act in my best interests. If the Screaming Eagles want to actually have a good atmosphere and happy fans at Audi Field, they need to address this situation. The opening “home” game is fast approaching and the Brickbat merch is selling quickly.

D.C. United has different supporter groups for a reason--people want like different things. You can't fit us all under the Screaming Eagles umbrella and if they insist on it, there will be trouble. Do the Eagles really want the "You have to do a shot to use the bathroom" crew on their away game buses? Will they accommodate the do-a-shot crew or just ban them for being too rowdy? If you ban all the brickbats who will be left? If the answer is James Lambert and his friends, you better get ready for atmosphere to rival Fed Ex Field with a new bank of seats removed every year to accommodate the shrinking fan base. Oh wait... no, that will be what the next owner has to deal with after these guys fuck off back to their Panama Papers bank accounts. Ghouls.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

BTS ALBUM REVIEW: Love Yourself 承 Her

Because we need each other

We believe in one another

I know we're going to uncover

What's sleepin' in our soul

“Acquiesce” by Oasis

Because idol music is the synthesis of personality, emotion, narrative, visuals, and music, ignoring any of the pieces means you’re not seeing the work of art as a whole. An album is never just an album; a song is never just a song.

Case in point, I’ve been listening to BTS as pleasant background music since I first heard “DOPE” (쩔어) way back in 2015 but it wasn’t until I saw them perform the choreography for “DNA” on Music Station Super Live 2017 that I was really hooked. The way the music fed into the vivid, eye-poppingly bright costumes and the heartbeat choreography had me hitting replay over and over again on the MV on youtube… and then had me purchasing the mini-album that it was contained on: Love Yourself 承 Her.

And when I say purchase the album, I mean I specifically ordered the physical CD that came with the poster and photo book I wanted. (The “V” version for those curious.)

But it’s hasn’t been until now--a couple of months of binging on BTS related media later--that I feel capable of writing something about it beyond, “I think it’s really good.” What I hear now on Love Yourself 承 Her is a more confident, adult BTS who are figuring out what their unexpected success means and working on how to reach for the stars while keeping their feet firmly grounded in their “bapsae” roots. Here is the magic of idols at work--I’ve only been A.R.M.Y. (Adorable Representative MC for Youth) for a couple of months and yet I still feel so proud of these boys and how far they’ve come.

From my Japanese studies, I first read the “承” in the title as shou the first character in words such as “acceptance” and “acquiesce” (which is a banging Oasis track among other things) but apparently it’s going to be part of a broader theme using the four-character compound 起承轉結 (kishoutenketsu) which traditionally describes the progression of a four-line Chinese poem although in Japanese it is also used to describe the progression of an argument or criticism. The characters represent four phases: the starting point, laying the groundwork, a turning point, final conclusion.

If anything I think Love Yourself 承 Her is the result of all the growth and development, especially from the singing line--Jin, Jimin, V, and Jungkook. (The rap line being RM, Suga, and J-Hope.) The way idol music releases overlap between Korea and Japan for Korean artists means it’s hard to pinpoint exact start and stop points of different release cycles but if you look at the “Intro: xxx” songs for each release cycle, this is the first time one of BTS’s singing line has been given the responsibility of opening the entire cycle.

“Intro: Serendipity” is a huge change from previous “Intro: xxx” songs like J-Hope’s “Boy Meets Evil” (a dark rap about falling off the path of ambition) or RM’s frenetic “What Am I To You” (which is incredible to see on the 花樣年華 concert DVDs; he holds an entire stadium in the palm of his hand). “Serendipity” has nothing to prove. He’s a calico cat lazy and content, rolling around in bed on a Sunday morning.

I’m your calico cat, here to see you

Love me now

Touch me now

Just let me love you

Translation credit

The sparse production--by British songwriting team PKA Culture X Tones (Ray Djan and Ashton Foster)--combines electronic elements with acoustic ones. There’s a EDM-style drum machine but it’s balanced with a pretty acoustic guitar. But right in the center is Jimin’s voice, the reverb cushioning his delicate tenor rather than drowning it. A subtle kick drum, a heartbeat, on the one gives the only hint of a beat until the pre-chorus begins about 30 seconds into the song. It ends as quietly as it began, on a whispered “Let me love, let me love you.”

Jimin is a crooner, not a belter, and the production uses his emotive voice to its best effect, listening on headphones it sounds like he’s whispering directly into your ears. You can almost feel his breath, the warm air… He’s come a long way from the days when he it looked like he was more comfortable flashing his abs than singing.

Next is the song that hooked me: “DNA,” one of two singles off this album.

“DNA” picks up where “Intro: Serendipity” leaves off with the acoustic guitar sound. And a whistle. The beat is much, much lighter than previous BTS singles, as is the instrumentation. The rhythm track has a very, very light touch. The kick drum is much more natural sounding than I’ve heard on a BTS song before, without that added bass punch. The snare and hi-hat are present but in the background, drifting in on the off beats as color. And, most importantly, I think, there are tempo changes throughout the song that are used to keep the ear’s attention in a way I didn’t hear on previous BTS releases but that I very much enjoyed.

The vocals are divided nicely. V’s soulful baritone starts the song but all the singers get a juicy section, while the rap line has a lighter touch on this song. The percussive noise of the acoustic guitar track is what keeps us moving through the first verse and into the chorus, where the beat drops and we enter a synthesizer echo chamber. As the song heads into the second verse--which begins with Suga’s rap--the acoustic is gone and it’s the bass guitar which takes center stage. But as the other members join in, the instrumentation also begins to thicken. Synthesizer pads, noodly electric guitar riffs, and the return of the whistle all heightening the tension to the pre-chorus where the acoustic guitar returns and drives us through the chorus then everything cuts out as we throw back to V for the intro to the outro… a massive reprise of the chorus highlighting J-Hope that has the catchiest dance move in the entire song.

It’s a very, very good song.

My personal theory when I first heard “DNA” was that this track was meant for the Japanese market and I’m still pretty sure that’s the case, if for no other reason than it hooked me and my tastes in pop music have become extremely Japanese over the last 15 years or so. Japan likes EDM and rap okay but it has an overall preference for sweeter, not so bass heavy music. It’s no coincidence that the cocky “Mic Drop”--the other “single” from this release--was the song the West chose, while Japan has glomped onto “DNA”. (As I type this, “DNA” is still riding high in the Japanese Billboard Hot 100 while “Mic Drop” may as well not exist.)

Track 3 is “Best of Me,” the second contribution on the album from PKA Culture X Tones (Ray Djan and Ashton Foster) and is strongly reminiscent of their previous BTS song, 2016’s “Save Me” in structure. But unlike “Save Me” the song wasn’t produced by longtime BTS producer PDogg but by the Chainsmokers Andrew Taggart and… I think to the song’s detriment. I don’t think it’s a secret that I’m no fan of most American pop music for the very reasons that I find “Best of Me” rather bland in it’s recorded form and the song I’m most likely to skip when listening to Love Yourself.

What Taggart does here is create a Spotify-friendly, overly compressed audio meant to be played in the background while you do something else, song. He treats BTS as if they were pieces in an audio puzzle rather than the main feature that people are actually going to be plugging in their headphones and listening to. The entire track is swamped by this pedestrian synthesizer riff that hammers on and on and on and on even through the parts that should be quieter. There’s no room to breathe anywhere. It’s suffocating. Taggart may be a “brand name” producer but I never want to see his name anywhere near BTS again.

There’s a reason I listen to Asian pop instead of American pop and a large part of that has to do with wanting to avoid hacks like Andrew Taggart.

After the incessant droning of “Best of Me”, it’s such a relief to sink into Track 4, “보조개 (Dimple)”. Written by Matthew Tishler and Allison Kaplan from Laundromat Music (an Asian/Europop songwriting house), the song seems to have begun life as a demo song called “Illegal” which was then tweaked and arranged to showcase BTS’s vocal line. Between the lyrics about the dimple and production, this song feels like a fresh update of some 1950s doowop like the Penguins “Earth Angel” or the Flamingos “I Only Have For You” or Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers with “Why Do Fools Fall in Love”.

It starts off with this fantastic little synthesizer noodle that sounds like a vintage Les Paul steel guitar riff over a pillowy cloud of sound. When the first verse begins, the rhythm kicks in with a laid back emphasis on the two and four--again a huge relief after the relentless four on the floor of “Best of Me”--the four singers trade off lines, voices intertwining around the edges where the reverb and multiple tracks overlap. The effect is really hypnotic.

There are two really amazing vocal hooks in the first section of the song. Jungkook’s leap to falsetto punctuating the ends of each line in the pre-chorus (and his falsetto backing track all through the song to be honest) and the way each singer hits that repeated, descending run on the word “illegal.” It gives me goosebumps of pleasure every time I hear the song.

And then comes the bridge. Oh my god, the bridge. Just V’s soulful baritone and this building tremolo organ patch that swells until it fills the entire landscape. The other singers swap in and we get this very classic rock and roll tom buildup and the tension is so big until it cannot be sustained one more measure and explodes with a Jungkook vocal run over a reprise of the chorus. As the song winds down, all four add vocal riffs to the backing track. V’s breathy run should have been illegal.

And this is the kind of vocal performance you can only pull from a mature idol group. Not only have they built up their confidence and their vocal skills, but they’ve been singing together for long enough that they’ve developed a really nice vocal blend. The personality and timbre of each of the vocal line’s voices really shines through here. The vocal line’s “Lost” was one of my favorite tracks from the last release cycle and this is such a huge step forward beyond it. I absolutely cannot wait to see this performed live.

Track 5 is “Pied Piper”, the song that has become an inside joke among fans because of the cheeky lyrics.

“Follow the sound of the pipe, follow this song

It’s a bit dangerous but I’m so sweet

I’m here to save you, I’m here to ruin you

You called me, see? I’m so sweet

Follow the sound of the pipe

I’m takin’ over you

I’m takin’ over you

Translation source

Going back to the theme of “laying the groundwork” or rather that the groundwork has been laid, more than anything this song seems to signal a BTS that has come to terms with the fact that they have been entrusted with the hearts and emotions of millions of women and girls around the globe. While they still clearly take the responsibility very seriously, the song is BTS saying they are also able to have a bit of fun. Not everything has to be a deep metaphor or have a positive message, sometimes all we need is pure pleasure.

(And besides is there anything more subversive than pure, unashamed female pleasure? Real feminism hours right here! *air horn*)

Like the rest of the songs in the first half of the album, “Pied Piper” is also very vocal line heavy with an incredible falsetto chorus from Jimin, Jungkook, and V. The instrumentation is fairly simple. A straightforward rhythm with an anticipated downbeat on the one, hand claps on two and four. Some chill strummy electric guitar, piano and synth pads, and a really sharp little phase-shifted synthesizer noodle standing in for the pied piper’s call… and echoed later by the vocal line in the chorus.

After the rapped verses, the rhythm drops out and all you hear is church organ as their sweet voices sing us to heaven. A heavenly choir of idols. It’s enough to send me to a state of pure bliss. (And after seeing the fan cam footage of Jimin’s bodyrolls and hearing the screams that accompanied them from the single live performance of “Pied Piper” so far, I only imagine what this song will be like live.)

Track six is RM’s speech from last year’s Billboard Music Awards and it leads into track seven, “MIC Drop”. I have very mixed feelings about these. I’m not a huge fan of “MIC Drop” and, quite frankly, I think it’s a pretty mediocre hype song--especially from a group who debuted specializing in hype songs. “MIC Drop” should have been the book end to the aggressive I’m-doing-my-own-shit-so-step-off “No More Dream” from 2013’s 2 Cool 4 Skool but the beat just sounds flabby in comparison to some of their early bangers.

Suga, at least, seems to understand the right amount of swag necessary for a boasting hype song in his verse but, yeah, there’s just something off about the whole mess. BTS isn’t the type of group to brag about trophies or awards and coming directly after RM’s humble acceptance speech gives the song an even odder dissonance. To be honest, the song reads to me as an uncomfortable attempt to hang a lampshade on a type of success that they find almost embarrassing. Is success in collecting trophies and building up their bank accounts? Do they find it embarrassing that this is how success has been defined for them? Not the hearts and minds they reached in “Pied Piper” but the bag full of trophies from “MIC Drop”?

But, again, this is where we need to take the complete idol music package into account and J-Hope’s energetic dancing in the performances of “MIC Drop” is just about enough to rescue the song… at least performed live. Musically speaking, it’s a dud. (Look, there’s a reason Steve Aoki isn’t a household name, okay?)

Track 8 though, my friends. Track 8. Now this is a song.

“고민보다 Go” (Gominbona Go) is an utterly delicious piece of pop nihilism. Written in the tropical house style that took over K-Pop in the summer of 2017 it really is a proper companion to some of those early don’t-give-a-fuck bangers. There’s no way that the guys in BTS still have to worry about what’s in their bank accounts but this office lady noona identifies pretty hard with the lyrics.

Worked hard to get my pay

Gonna spend it all on my stomach

Pinching pennies to spend it all on wasting it

Leave me be, even if I overspend

Even if I break apart my savings tomorrow

Like a crazy guy

Translation credit

BTS: Anti-capital hoarding; pro-the poor deserve pleasure as much as the rich.

Welcome, comrades.

The song itself is anchored with this ridiculous off-kilter calypso beat with a weird little pied piper-like wooden flute sound and the choreography is just gloriously bouncy and stupid, even incorporating the stupid backpack kid dance move. Vocally it’s a good mix of rap line and vocal line with some really expressive line deliveries from everybody. Some syllables are hit percussively, some are slurred, some are squealed out. Really great stuff all around. There’s always something different to listen for ending that outro! It’s 45 seconds of a building, building frenzy with the repeated Gominbona Go, Gominbona Go, Gominbona Go, Gominbona Go, Gominbona Go… when it ends abruptly, it immediately makes me want to hit “repeat.”

Track 9, “Outro: Her”, is our rap line song. I read it as a love song for A.R.M.Y. and our complicated relationship with our idols. They love us, they hate us, they love us again. We support them, we tear them down, and we pick them back up again.

As Suga says in his verse, “To become the person who loves you, to become the guy who loves you, I quit what I used to love.” (Translation credit)

The emotional ties between us are complicated but conveyed so well by all three of them. It says a lot about the type of idols they are that they’ve put so much thought into the relationship.

Suga, who produced the song, went for a breezy Fugees-style R&B vibe. The drums sound nice and fresh and there’s a nice little organ patch and a guitar with a wah pedal. It’s really quite beautiful. The honest nature of the lyrics are well served by his choice. There’s something about that Fugee-style sound that hits right at the heart. Suga has good taste.

Finally, since I bought the physical album, I got bonus tracks 10 and 11.

Track 10 is a secret talk--which I have to rely on a translation of until I finish teaching myself Korean--but they seem to discuss the same sorts of things I find so fascinating about idol life. What is it that ties us together? How do you stay true to yourself while wearing clothes you hate and too much makeup? What do they owe us? What do we owe them in return?

(Have I mentioned how much I love BTS? The idol philosopher's idol group...)

And track 11 is a real classic BTS-style moody ballad: “바다” (Bada, the sea). It follows songs like “I Need U” or “Tomorrow”. Produced by J-Hope (!) and Suga, the song begins with the sound of waves lapping on the shore, replaced by the soft background vocals from the vocal line, a shimmering shaker, and a jangly Britpop electric guitar loop that anchors the song.

Just like the sea we heard at the beginning, the song builds in waves. A slow build through the verses into the pre-chorus that sends everything crashing before building up even bigger, crashing even bigger, and finally, disappearing…

“Is this the sea or the desert? Is this hope or despair,” asks J-Hope. His verses are particularly frantic but all three rappers are distraught. Like “Outro: Her”, the lyrics appear to speak to the conflict of success. What happens when you reach the top only to find that there’s nothing there. The sweet tones of the verses appear almost like a balm. “Where’s there’s hope there’s trials. Where there is hope you know you know you know yeah yeah”

In a way, it’s something we all have to deal with. What happens when you get married and find out there’s no happily ever after? When you have a kid and it doesn’t fill the hole in your life? When you get the job you wanted? When your team wins the championship? When you get into the college you wanted but your life is still fucked up?

That’s “바다”. V ends the song, ends the album, with his soulful baritone. “We have to despair, for all of those trials.” (Translation credit for all the Bada quotes. I really need to learn Korean.)

Overall, I really love this mini-album. It’s a bit of a departure from previous work but not so much that can’t see where they were coming from. The vocal line’s increased presence, the rap line getting moody, the willingness to toe the line at what is acceptable in mainstream pop. If this is the foundation--the 承--I cannot wait to hear that turning point. Keep fighting, BTS! Keep finding new challenges and new mountains to scale. Teach yourselves Japanese; teach yourselves English; keep fighting! (And V, for the love of God, please record an album of smoky-voiced jazz standards. Please.)

Note from Filmi Girl:

I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.

If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.

xoxo Filmi Girl
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