“Whenever the spirit from God came on Saul, David would take up his lyre and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him.” 1 Samuel 16:23
Last semester my school’s Spring Break began on March 6. Thanks to Covid-19, classes did not resume again until August 18.
Although I continued instructing my high school English students online, I found myself suddenly gifted with unlimited hours at home. Immediately I began prioritizing projects that for years I had put off until I “had the time” to tackle them, and actually started some of them with great enthusiasm. I churned out several more quilts toward my goal of finishing one for each of my 15 grandkids. I made progress converting a hallway coat closet into storage for sewing supplies. And I made it halfway through the first book on my summer reading list. Then I stalled out.
Once I turned in final grades at the end of May, my brain was done with productivity. Except for washing dishes every other day and doing an occasional load of laundry, I’d spend hours at a time just watching TV, and mentally chastising myself for it.
It was during this dead zone that I developed a strange obsession with K-Pop, the Korean musical genre that is a mesmerizing blend of R & B and HipHop. Featuring vocal and instrumental arrangements that are pure genius, as well as insanely intricate dance choreography, the music hits every button on my preference list. For me it is at once upbeat, relaxing, invigorating, and beautiful.
As my list of favorites took shape, I started Googling information about different groups and singers. Naturally, link suggestions popped up like dandelions. Reading articles and watching videos, I began to realize more and more that the K-Pop industry is doing a lot of things right.
First of all, in addition to working hard and turning out amazing products, all K-Pop performers (which the industry refers to as idols) maintain strong love relationships with fans. The boy band BToB is a great example of this. For the last track on their second album (Brother Act), each of the seven members recorded a spoken message expressing love and thanks for their fans’ support. One of them commented that without their fans, BToB would be nothing. On the 8th anniversary of BToB’s debut, each guy scanned a hand-written letter onto social media – again expressing love and gratitude. This group also releases videos of songs written just for the fan base, and includes a musical tribute to the fan club, which calls itself MELODY, on all its albums.
This group isn’t alone in its efforts to connect with fans. Almost every K-Pop group takes breaks during live concerts to informally interact with the audience. BTS, the most popular K-Pop group in the world right now, does this really well. During live concerts, they delight fans between songs by cutting up and pulling pranks on one another, borrowing fans’ cellphones to take selfies from the stage (and one time talking to a girl’s mother who happened to be on the phone at that moment), or by revealing some deeply emotional feelings to the audience (like when one of them cried while sharing that his grandmother had recently died, as though he was talking with a group of close friends). BTS is also among several idol groups that post videos of their daily lives, allowing fans glimpses of their personalities and lifestyles.
Now you may be wondering why this seems so impressive to me. Maybe it’s because, on a recent trip to a store, an employee butted in front of me to grab something when I was reaching for an item on a shelf – pushed me aside like I wasn’t even there. Maybe it’s because a stewardess on my last flight treated passengers as great impositions. Or maybe it’s because more and more merchants and service providers are becoming increasingly irritable or rude during interchanges with customers. In many ways, America seems to have lost much of its “customer first” mentality that was prominent in my growing-up years.
K-Pop performers understand that their fans keep them in business, so they work hard to make their “customers” feel valued and appreciated. That is refreshing in today’s climate of self-absorption. But there’s another thing that impresses me about the K-Pop industry. These idols realize and care that many of their fans are of impressionable ages, and so K-Pop groups almost uniformly follow rigid rules of conduct in public. Regardless of what they may do in private, they try to make sure young fans don’t see them smoking, using drugs, sleeping around, or participating in harmful activities. While leading the way in latest fashion trends, their public demeanor is consistently modest and polite. In both their music and media appearances and interviews, these groups try to promote messages of positive social values.
There’s more I’d like to say about what I consider K-Pop’s positive contribution to the world, but I just realized how long this post is becoming so I need to start winding it down. Yes, yes, I know that every industry has dark secrets and flaws, and this one is no exception. I understand that we can’t judge individuals by their appearances – those beautiful smiles could hide some twisted personalities. I get all that. But from my position on the outside, I have found in K-Pop music and culture a space to rest my tired spirit, wearied from the strain of pandemics, divisive ideologies and ugly politics. It has become a happy place in my day.