When I was growing up, my primary exposure to music was western classical music. I lived in Korea so sure enough, I’d heard Korean traditional music such as 판소리, or old popular Korean music which my parents labeled 뽕짝… and of course there was Korean pop. But Korean pop of my younger days was much different from what people come to know nowadays. What’s currently known as Kpop and super popular in early days were looked down upon by the older generation. My parents were certainly against it, so they didn’t expose me much to it. I’d say my mom especially was quite against any Korean music. So I learned to play the violin, I had no music collection other than classical.
Let’s say Korea is a land where, if you are different, you are essentially pounded down, shunned, hushed. And Kpop of early days was a bit like that, at least from my vantage. But how crazy that I still held that antiquated view all the way until a year ago. Even when everyone around me would ask about Gangnam Style (강남스타일), I had very little touch with the Korean pop and could not speak much to it…other than the criticism of the south of the river area in Seoul (And full honesty, I’m from north of the river and I agree with the underlying critique). It’s a bit sad that I knew more about the latest Latin, Cuban and Arabic singers than the latest Korean sensations.
Well, that all changed. I’m not sure what prompted me to get into my roots in this area, so to speak, but somehow I started listening to BTS (https://ibighit.com/bts/eng/) and, well, I became an ARMY (that’s what BTS calls their fan). I’m not sure how I became a fan. Maybe it was their song Life Goes On (beautiful lyric) and the impact of pandemic, or maybe it was the way they’re portrayed…honest, caring, true to themselves.
And maybe my sudden liking of Kpop is more of my liking for this particular band? I have no clue. It could also be that I am now in the middle of my life and looking to reconnect with some parts of my history that I tried to ignore.
As an immigrant, you can’t help but shun just a little bit of your own culture. To assimilate, you push aside everything and try to fit in and move ahead in life. Now that I’ve done all of that, I realized how much of Korean identity I have pushed away. And with this little bit of touch with Korea that has become so global and has run away without me in it, I feel like I am back at the end of the train of Korean identity that’s spreading across the globe.
So what am I doing now? I’m in a Bangtang Academy (https://bangtanacademy.carrd.co/#about) of Korean language learners (yes, there’s an entire discord server of people devoted to learning Korean), leading/guiding a class on Korean culture and conversing with others in Korean, definitely learning so much in the process. In this way perhaps I am connecting to a little piece of my I’d forgotten.