Several months ago, I went on a mug buying spree – it’s an exciting life I lead, I know. Written on one of the mugs is the phrase: “FALL IN LOVE WITH AS MANY THINGS AS POSSIBLE” – in caps lock no less. It really wants to get its message across.
It’s not wrong though.
This mug was not purchased because I needed to be reminded, but because I feel this is overwhelmingly true for me. I do fall in love with things easily. And usually once I love something, I have a hard time giving it up. I like to think this speaks to my level of affection and loyalty. But in actuality, it probably speaks more to my insanity.
I could use the trusted and true examples of Harry Potter and Star Wars (both of which I was raised on). But instead, I’m going to speak about my recent obsession – South Korea. Random, I know.
It all started back when I was young and innocent – the fall of 2016…
I had previously considered watching Korean dramas (Kdrama) but first I felt the need to watch and support my country’s own Korean television show – Kim’s Convenience. I say it’s “comedy” with the quotation marks because the show will not only make you laugh but it will make you cry – in all the right ways. It was written by Ins Choi about a Korean-Canadian family running a convenience store in Toronto. (I cannot wait for the second season later this month!)
Anyways, having finished the first season of Kim’s Convenience too soon, the obsession with Kdramas started. I started with Boys Over Flowers then moved onto The 1st Shop of Coffee Prince (or more commonly, Coffee Prince), Descendants of the Sun, Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo, and Strong Woman Do Bong Soon. Some I liked better than others. And now I have a whole a list of recommended Chinese, Japanese, and Korean dramas waiting to be watched.
Naturally, I moved from Kdramas to Korean music – or more commonly simplified to Kpop.
Like most North Americans, my first introduction to Kpop was PSY’s Gangnam Style. It was fun, catchy, and campy. Some dreaded it, some enjoyed it. I was in the latter category. Unfortunately, at that time, I declined the implied invitation to the realm of Kpop.
Fast forward to the end of 2016 when I heard “Lifted” by CL, a singer/rapper originally from the Kpop group 2NE1. I was immediately hooked.
It was intimidating, entering the world of Kpop. There was just so much of it. I started small – the top hits of 2016. Sure enough, there was CL. But I found others. The main two I blame for fully pulling me in was Blackpink with Boombayah and Whistle, and EXO.
EXO’s 2016 song “Monster” has the English lyrics “You can call me monster, I’m creeping in your heart, babe.” And creep in they did, like a monster. Then I found their 2013 song “Growl.” I was hungry and EXO fed me. I quickly became an EXO-L (the fandom name for the group).
Regretfully, I continually avoided one group – BTS. I constantly saw videos and posts pitting EXO and BTS against one another. And in my naive, Kpop-noob ways, I fed into it. I mistakenly believed there was a rivalry between the two groups, I dismissed BTS. My loyalty to EXO was complete, or so I thought.
I became curious, I wanted to know the history behind the rivalry. And surprise, surprise it was imaginary. Instead of finding snide comments and dirty looks, I found videos of the two groups together being amicable and friendly towards one another. This was my first of many lessons on the dark side of Kpop fandoms. And trust me, it does not have cookies.
So in apology, I finally gave BTS a chance. I watched several music videos. The next day, I could not get BTS’s 2015 song “Dope” out of my head. That was the beginning of the turn.
My Kpop playlist was still predominantly EXO but it was becoming more diversified with other groups – Day6, Exid, K.A.R.D, Mamamoo, Monsta X, Sistar, Vixx, and Winner to name a few. But suddenly BTS took up a good chunk of space.
It wasn’t just BTS’s music, but them as people and what they represented. Both in their music and separately, they brought up topics such as finding happiness, rejecting societal norms, metal health issues, and gay rights. Unfortunately, these are not topics frequently discussed in Korean music or society. I had suddenly become a fan of BTS.
The moment I realized I was more than just a casual fan was in May. It was the Billboard Music Awards and BTS was nominated for the Top Social Artist Award. Justin Bieber had won the previous six years (since the award’s creation). At the time, I was in Italy on vacation and couldn’t watch it live. But the next morning I woke up while everyone else was asleep, scrolled through Twitter, and watched videos as BTS won the award. I was so proud at what BTS and their fans had accomplished. I’m going to be honest, my eyes leaked liquid emotion. That is when I knew I was truly A.R.M.Y (BTS’s fandom name).
The more I learned about BTS, the members, and their own lyrics, the more I fell in love. I related to them on so many levels. Reading lyric translations, there were times I had to take a breath and walk away. It was humbling, liberating, and overwhelming to know someone I had never met felt and described emotions I didn’t know how to explain myself. Their hard work, talent, dedication, and honesty is contagious. They became my inspiration.
However, it was a sad day when I realized being an A.R.M.Y meant I could no longer consider myself EXO-L. It was a voting award and I unequivocally voted BTS without a second thought. I do not regret my choice but I felt the loss. Both because I missed EXO and because my loyalty had lost its value in my eyes. I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t worried the same would happen with BTS. But hundreds of Kpop songs from many Kpop artists later, I have not swayed.
Don’t get me wrong, that isn’t to say that people cannot belong to more than one fan group but that is not how my mind and heart work. I am a fan of other artists but I couldn’t be a fan. I am still a fan EXO and several other Kpop groups – I still squeal and become giddy when they release new music and content.
Speaking of new music, there is a reason I chose to write about my Kpop experience for my second blog entry. September 18th marks my first BTS comeback as an A.R.M.Y and it is overwhelming and exhilarating. In August, I pre-ordered their new album LOVE YOURSELF – HER. I was mesmorized by the Highlight Reels and fans’ theories. I melted when they released the first song “Serendipity.” And I was energized by the first and second teasers for their song “DNA.” (I high key have the DNA whistle stuck in my head).
You see, I really do fall in love with many things, or in this case people. People like Seokjin (Jin), Yoongi (Suga and Agust D), Hoseok (J-Hope), Namjoon (Rap Monster), Jimin, Taehyung (V), and Jungkook. These are the seven members of BTS, the seven hearts of Bangtan Sonyeondan (Bulletproof Boy Scouts), the seven souls of Beyond The Scene.
So, have you fallen in love recently?
Remember, we’re all in this together.