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K-pop superstars BTS lend their voices to U.N.'s push for sustainable development

United Nations — More than 100 world leaders will attend the United Nations General Assembly in New York this week. But the centerpiece speeches by presidents and prime ministers were to come after an appeal to younger generations — with the added weight of star-power.

In a bid to capture the attention of the world's youth and urge them to play a role in addressing the biggest challenges facing humanity, South Korea's President Moon Jae-in invited K-pop superstars BTS to join him at U.N. headquarters for the General Assembly's World Leaders Week.

BTS Performs at U.N.
BTS, Special Presidential Envoy for Future Generations and Culture of the Republic of Korea, appear at the United Nations on Monday, Sept. 20, 2021. Cia Pak/UN

BTS (Beyond the Scene) are designated U.N. youth envoys, and they've appeared at previous assemblies. This year's visit by the global music sensations — whose dedicated fans around the planet fall largely into the 15-25-year-old bracket — is aimed at reinvigorating interest in the U.N.'s sustainable development goals, or SDGs. The 17 goals were all set with the hope of leaving today's youth with a safer, healthier planet to inherit.

All seven BTS members attended an event on Monday opened by U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres and President of the U.N. General Assembly Abdulla Shahid. President Moon of South Korea also spoke.

To a sparse General Assembly audience and millions of fans around the world via live web stream, BTS showed off a new music video on Monday entitled "Permission to Dance," which was recorded over the weekend at U.N. headquarters. The song and video — apart from the setting and the black suits and ties — were typical BTS fare, with upbeat lyrics and carefully choreographed dance moves.

BTS - "Permission to Dance" performed at the United Nations General Assembly | SDGs | Official Video by United Nations on YouTube

The singers — Jin, Suga, J-Hope, RM, Jimin, V and Jungkook — took to the podium in the General Assembly hall, saying they had come "to share the stories of our future generation."

"Before we came here, we asked the young people in their teens and 20s around the world about their past two years and about the world they find themselves in today," they said. 

"There were times during the past two years when I too felt bewildered and troubled, but still we hear people cry out, 'let's live on, let's make the best of this moment,'" singer Jin said. "We can't stand still in taking on new challenges when we're in the ideal time of our lives."

Speaking about the pandemic, the band said it had been "a time for us to mourn."

"We thought the world has stopped, but it continues to move forward," they said. "Every choice we make is the beginning of change." 

BTS, the Korean pop sensation 08:22

They noted that all members of the band had been vaccinated against COVID-19.

While the U.N. continues to grapple with a deadly pandemic still raging in many corners of the planet, leaders also appeared keen to move past COVID-19 as an all-encompassing topic and get other work moving again. Both Guterres and Shahid spoke about the need for the U.N. and its member states to re-commit to meeting the sustainable development goals, and they both cited the pandemic as an impeding factor in that work.

"It would be easy to lose hope. But we are not hopeless. Or helpless. We have a path to recovery if we choose to take it," Guterres said. "This SDG Moment is all about coming together to save our planet, and each other."  

The new president of the General Assembly, meanwhile, said more needed to be done to achieve the development goals, and he called on member states to cough up not only money, but energy.

"Going forward, the gaps in political will and resource commitment remain a common fault line in our resolve to progress the SDGs. This must change," Shahid said. 

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