It was in 2014 when I got into K-pop. I was in my last year of high school, and at the time, I slowly witnessed the K-pop ascendance.
In grade school, there was a Hallyu wave through K-dramas and idol groups, and shortly after, Gangnam Style became its second coming. At this point, I started to wonder what all the hype was about, which is basically where every K-pop fan starts: Curiosity.
Director Bong Joon-ho said, “Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films,” and this rings true for all types of media. Moving past the language barriers, I was introduced to so many talented artists away from the usual barrage of westernized tunes on the radio.
And, upon my friend’s suggestion, I checked out this talented seven-member group called BTS. The high-level performances in music videos like We Are Bulletproof Pt.2, Boy In Luv and Danger astonished me. Meanwhile, tracks like Tomorrow, N.O. and Spine Breaker took my breath away with their lyricism.
So, in 2014, my interest in BTS went from general awe at their raw talent to finally peaking at “oh-my-god-I-need-to-see-them-live!" Thus leading me to buy a ticket for their first concert in Manila, “The Red Bullet Tour.”
I was crying by the end of their concert. Their music — filled with personal anecdotes from their lives — touched me and seemed to parallel my own experiences.
When someone’s passionate about something, you can feel their passion, too. And that was it for BTS. Watching them live, they performed like it was their last chance as musicians, and they gave their all to the stage.
I was crying by the end of their concert because I felt their emotions, too. Their music — filled with personal anecdotes from their lives — touched me and seemed to parallel my own experiences.
I found comfort in their songs in a way I’d never felt before from an artist. And it's incredible how a track as personal and specific as Moving On, where BTS talks of old pre-debut memories and moving out of their old dorm, can make me lament my graduating and moving on to the next chapter of life without my closest friends.
When BTS took on the role of a defiant teenager confined by the constraints of society (“School Trilogy” era), I was a kid terrified of the future. I felt trapped having to choose college courses and my life direction at 15 to 16 years old. To me, it felt like we'd only been breezing through, and suddenly, we were pressured to make these big decisions that would define our lives from that point onward. I felt suffocated; but their music let me breathe.
When they spoke of the bittersweet impermanence of youth (“Hwa Yeon Yong Hwa” era), I had just arrived in college. I was used to my small circles and found it hard to adjust to a new environment.
Instead of letting things run their course, I was too tied up with the past. I would talk in circles about the same old memories and put so much time and effort into keeping ties with old friends, no matter how forced or one-sided it felt. I always kept a wall up with new people, and at one point, I refused to call my college friends “friends,” but instead called them “people I hung out with.” But through accepting that the past was a mere “beautiful moment in my life,” I found peace in accepting things as they came along.
When they told me to love myself with all my insecurities (“Love Yourself” era), I had spent so much time unknowingly relying on the validation of another.
I was in a relationship through most of college and focused so much of my universe on this person. I crafted my identity to fit whatever they found ideal. I thought I could stay in that relationship indefinitely if I acted a certain way, liked the things they liked, or didn't oppose their views. So, when the inevitable breakup happened, I didn’t know who I was beyond that. I didn’t know if there was anything to love about myself.
But as the great Kim Namjoon (RM) said, “I am who I am today, with all my faults. Tomorrow I might be a tiny bit wiser, and that's me, too... I have come to love myself for who I was, who I am, and who I hope to become.”
And finally, when they said to accept all the faces that make up the “self” (“Map of the Soul” era), I was well on my way to carving my path in adulthood. They say college is when you find yourself, but isn't it ironic that graduation makes you feel so lost?
I had an idealistic view of working for my passion, but all the rejected applications slapped me with reality. I thought that now that I was an “adult,” I needed to have everything figured out. But through the vulnerability of others — my friends and BTS included — I've realized that everyone is figuring it out, too. There is a lot of discomfort in growing pains, but accepting all the “personas,” “egos” and “shadows” that come with it is part of the journey.
As BTS was growing, I felt like I was growing with them. And it’s funny: I didn’t realize how rewarding and personal it could be to witness a beloved artist flourish through the years.
When they won their first music show award, I cried with them. It felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders as they made their big break. When they won their first daesang, a sense of pride washed over me. It felt like all their years of hard work were finally recognized. And as they slowly made their way to global status beyond what I had anticipated and thought was only a pipe dream, I continued to feel genuine happiness as they grew in their artistry and as people.
It was through BTS that I realized you could track a person’s maturity in their craft. Their music grows with them, along with all their hopes, dreams and goals. And somehow, it intertwines and fits into the tiny crevices of my life, too.