In 1997, my K-Pop journey began thanks to the one time I didn’t get to go on a field trip. Together, a Korean exchange student and I traded music from our countries and talked about who was popular at the time. From there, my 12-year-old self was addicted to the likes of Sechskies, S.E.S, Shinhwa, Cool, and 1TYM, an addiction that morphed years later to near obsessive proportions when Baby V.O.X, BoA, BIGBANG, and B.A.P became new loves with each passing K-Pop era. At 32, I still find enjoyment in K-Pop, but the mystique around it just isn’t what it was back when I was in middle school, high school, and college.
Today, in a market that’s currently—and constantly—oversaturated, it’s hard to keep up with the new “young guns” that are up-and-coming on the scene. As a K-Pop writer and a former K-Pop website owner, I try my best to keep up with the latest trendy group and newest viral dance craze, but the shouts of adulthood are louder and more prominent than keeping up with “K-Poppians.”
With adult responsibilities comes less money for merchandise and concerts, and buying the latest album is no longer a priority. Staying up late to catch the newest MV release has been replaced with long hours grading papers and tutoring students who need help creating PowerPoint presentations and putting ideas to paper. Money put aside for concert tickets now goes toward groceries and classroom supplies; all-the-while, familiar melodies bounce around in my head to remind me of simpler times.
Now, K-Pop is an old friend that visits on rainy days or on days when depression hits hard and I need be reminded that things aren’t as bad as they seem. B.A.P will always blast from my car stereo. Seungri’s “V.V.I.P” will always be the song of choice when spring gives way to summer as I drive down familiar Indiana roads, moonroof open, speakers blaring as loud as legally possible. Kim Hyun Joong’s “Unbreakable” and Baby V.O.X’s “Break It Up” will always be my motivators, while Berry Good’s “Don’t Believe” and BLACKPINK’s “Stay” will forever remind me of the year my heart got crushed. The music of my youth and adulthood will always echo in my head, but sometimes life dictates that certain friends aren’t meant to be forever no matter how hard you want to hang on.
This past year, I’ve realized my K-Pop journey has been coming to an end as I found myself gravitating toward music I grew up with instead of checking out the fresh groups that have been penetrating the K-Scene. I contribute this to many groups being half my age and feeling weird stanning groups made up of starry-eyed children. While I support their dreams, we live in an age where people are quick to judge and quick to accuse people of being weirdos and perverts. Sometimes I wonder if my tastes have changed or if I’m allowing society’s neuroses to dictate what I enjoy, but the lines are too blurred at this point to tell which is the dominating factor.
In addition to the age issues, the pettiness of the K-Pop world is too draining and tiring and not worth the grind. Fan wars, petty grievances, and “fans” determining who are “real fans” or fake ones based on if someone votes for a music show win has made the K-Pop world less fun. It’s time to channel energy toward constructive thought and action.
As I say goodbye to this phase in my life, I’ll always have the memories and experiences I had tucked in the corners of my mind ready to recall at any moment. I was lucky enough to have some experiences some fans only dream about, so my journey doesn’t end in jest. I’ve had the opportunity to meet my favorite group and hold my bias’ hand. I had chances to interview up-and-coming artists, and I even had a chance share insight on different projects involving the K-Pop world due to the crossover with my personal interests and career teaching media and culture. K-Pop has opened many doors for me in unexpected ways, and that is something for which I will always be grateful.
Everything in life is a phase and a gateway to a new journey. While the door is closing on K-Pop for me, the door to K-Rock has opened slightly, so perhaps my journey is taking a new road. Overall, the joy I once felt no longer exists. While it is sad, it is also completely normal and something we all must face eventually as we grow up and away from not only music, but from other things from what we once sought pleasure.