BREAKING DOWN BOUNDARIES: From Loving to Hating K-pop

If you listen to music without any bias, a brand new world will open up. The constant stereotyping of subcultures often leads to unnecessary prejudice and hate that there is now a barbed divide between what popular culture deems acceptable and unacceptable. You become stuck with a label because of something you honestly enjoy and the unruly barrage of hate that comes can lead to someone losing their form of happiness. Based on the genre of music you listen to, you can feel at home with some people but ostracized by others. The feeling of “fitting in” is deeply rooted in American culture and has serious implications on the wellbeing of many people.

However, if more people can be open-minded to others’ music tastes, even they can be surprised by what they discover. Music is vast and filled with different categories. Listening to music should not be a fight over which song is better or refusing to listen because the lyrics are sung in a different language. Listening to music should be a positive experience between fans within the fandom and with the artist. Even listening to something new can lead to unexpected realizations and appreciation.

Most of my life I preferred to listen to music in other languages. I was raised listening to Chinese songs in Cantonese and Mandarin. Throughout middle school, I liked listening to anime openings and other Japanese rock/pop songs. Of course, I have a fair share of American/English songs that I love. I had my Fall Out Boy, All American Rejects, and Panic! At the Disco phase; I  still love the classic 2000s-2010s songs from Kesha, Britney Spears, Rhianna, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Maroon 5, Sia, etc. My iTunes was a mix of songs from Asian languages and English. The most notable change in my music tastes had to be during my junior year of high school. Yes, I finally gave Kpop a chance, and boy did I fall down the rabbit hole. 

In hindsight, I criticize my past self for adamantly refusing to listen to Kpop. I was first exposed to it when I was around twelve years old. My younger cousin was a fan of it and showed me the boy groups, asking, “Which member is your favorite?” At the time, I thought she was crazy. I never understood what it was like to be a fangirl and from what I’ve seen on the news about Directioners and Beliebers, it was not a positive outlook. I followed the bandwagon of disliking Kpop and the fangirl culture until junior year when everything changed. In August of 2017, I was introduced to BTS. From the two music videos that my best friend showed me, I decided to see what the hype was about and just learn their names. I have never been the same since. 

I was first shown the music video of  “Blood, Sweat and Tears” and “War of Hormone” by BTS. When I went home, I did a quick YouTube search: “Guide to BTS.” I watched those videos, then I decided to listen to their music. I was hooked once I saw the music video for “I Need U.” The music video touched upon each member acting as a character struggling with mental health issues, the feeling of loneliness, and financial instability, and those scenes were juxtaposed to scenes where the members were together and happy. The juxtaposition of being happy with friends versus suffering alone and the message of finding happiness with others even when your personal life is hard was an unexpected shock that I truly respected. An added bonus was that I really liked the song.

I never thought that Kpop would touch upon such negative topics. From that moment on, I continued to enjoy their music and discover that BTS is a group that not only destroyed my prejudice of Kpop but provided me music that healed and comforted me. Furthermore, BTS came from humble beginnings. Their entire success story is an underdog story where they started with a low budget, a small, disrespected company, and dealt with haters trying to ruin their reputation to a global superstar boy group. I always research the history of bands and upon hearing BTS’s history, I felt proud and admired their tenacity.

After enjoying their music, their message to speak out for troubled youths, and history, it was time to learn about the members.  One of the reasons why BTS attracts so many fans is because they have amazing personalities. Kpop culture encouraged groups to go on TV shows, play games, live streams, and use social media to showcase their daily lives. Because of this, it was easy to find hundreds of video clips where BTS are just laughing together and being genuine. They have expressed their love for their fans during interviews, award speeches, and even dedicating songs for their fandom, ARMY. At this point, I was already hooked.

I fell further after learning about each individual member’s story and personality. Specifically, Min Yoongi (stage name Suga) gained my sincere appreciation and respect for his journey to reach his dream of producing music. His parents did not want him to have a career in music, so he left his home in Daegu to move to Seoul where he barely had any money to feed himself and if he bought food, he would have no money for transportation to get home. He faced many mental, physical (he suffered a dislocated shoulder after a car crash and refused to tell anyone in fear he will get kicked out of the company), and financial challenges to follow his dream to create music.

As a rapper in the group, he was someone I, at first, ostracized because rap music was not a type of music I respected nor appreciated. I had stereotyped him like other rap artists from America. At first, I ignored his solo song, “First Love,” in the Wings album, and when I finally gave it a listen, I cried.

The same happened when I listened to and read the lyrics to the song “The Last” on his solo mixtape Agust D. Again, every prejudice and bias against Kpop and even the Hip-Hop/Rap genre was blown away. “First Love” is a song dedicated to Suga’s brown piano that is personified as something that has never left his side no matter how many times he pushed it away and will continue to stay by his side till the end. Suga has stated that while recording he had to stop many times because he would end up crying, especially during the climactic part of the song where you can hear him gasping for breath as he passionately raps. This song is beautifully raw and emotional.

His song “The Last” is another biographical song where he raps about his mental health issues during his pursuit to become a musician and his life as a trainee/idol. He exposed his insecurities, social phobia, and personal struggles but ends the song reassuring his family, his members, his fans, and even his haters that he has overcome his hardships to become a true artist. Never before have I seen an artist put themselves out there as he did. Never before have I found an artist who would make a song so emotionally powerful and allow the public to hear it. Never before have I found an artist that I could relate to and tell me that hardships are temporary bumps on my journey to my dream. 

Ever since I discovered BTS, all prejudice evaporated and I let myself learn about Korean culture, the language, K-dramas, and different solo and group artists. I only regret not allowing myself to be open-minded when I was first introduced to Kpop. I just wish that people stop hating on Kpop because of a few stereotypes and realize that Kpop is not what it used to be. Kpop is an integral part of Korean culture and dismissing it simply because you can’t understand the lyrics is a terrible and lazy reason since there are so many fans translating the lyrics to English, Italian, French, Spanish, Vietnamese, Japanese, etc.

If you are refusing to listen to Korean music because you think it’s the same pop sounds for every song, I can assure you that there are many different music styles in Kpop and there are even subgenres to Korean music. BTS and EXO have written and produced over 100 songs each that are all different genres and there are so many boy and girl groups, not to mention Korean solo artists. 

I am a member of BTS’s fandom, ARMY. I am happy listening to their songs, watching their videos and live-streams, and experiencing their concerts. They have made me brighter in so many aspects of my life. But the fact that I am still afraid to openly say that I listen to Kpop is smothering. Why must people hate other people simply because of the music they listen to? Why do I get side glanced and ostracized simply for enjoying a specific genre of music that makes me happy? Be open to new experiences. Be tolerant of other cultures. Be accepting of people who are different from you. Music transcends language. Music can bring people together. Open your mind to something new and that moment may be serendipitous.

Kali Jung

Writer, poet, transcriber

Hi, my name is Kali Jung and I this coming fall I will be a sophomore in college majoring in Health Science on a Pre-Physician Assistant path. I am currently the secretary for the American Chemical Society. I am passionate about equal rights for minorities as well as climate change and mental health care. I wish to educate myself and others about the issues that may not be well known and spread awareness for many fundamental human rights issues.

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