I am not gonna lie, the first thing that caught my eye when I watched the music video for “Dope” from BTS was Jungkook’s face. I will even be more embarrassingly honest and admit that his face was the only one that didn’t blur to me in the midst of the frenetic yet controlled choreography. I considered myself by then, a true and tested Koreaphile, (not to be confused with a Koreaboo) and after almost a decade of K-drama immersion and researching the fascinating and sometimes troubling history of the country I thought I could watch a Kpop band and be above of what I perceived to be the implied racism of not being able to differentiate one from the other. I was a fan of f(x), after all, and never had a problem telling the ladies apart, therefore having such a hard time telling one BTS boy from another truly infuriated my “woke” self.
I could, without a problem and in different hair styles, modern or ancient fashion, tell Lee Min Ho from Song Joong-ki, Park Seo-joon from Park Bo-gum (I could keep listing Korean actors until the end of times but I’ll spare you) So why couldn’t I tell the BTS boys apart from each other?! I watched that freaking Dope MV like it was a personal challenge. Today, five years into my discovery of BTS and being a proud and out ARMY it pains me to write that back then, ten views of the video in I still couldn’t tell Jimin from Hoseok and I had trouble differentiating between Jin and Min Yoongi. It boggles my mind because today I can pick them from a crowd just by their eyebrows, fingers, smiles…hell show me a hairline and I’ll tell you which of them it belongs to!
By the time I finished my little binge watching session of Dope I didn’t know their names and Jungkook’s super expressive face was the only one I could truly tell apart from the other six members. The man on the screen seemed too young to be able to portray the confidence and swag I saw, but swagger with confidence he did and my eyes followed him everywhere on the screen. It was like watching musical theater, a play, a ballet with Kpop playing in the background. That kid can EMOTE! (yeap with all caps). At that point it wasn’t anymore about a personal need to prove I was a good Koreaphile and not prejudiced and unable to tell a South East Asian face from another, at that point I was just a bit hooked on the music, the sax sound, the theatricality and colors, enchanted by the ridiculously fast paced and precise choreography I was dying to learn. The rest of that 2015 year I would spend watching their old stuff, learning their names and dipping my toe into the BTS universe.
I had no idea what was to come. I truly didn’t. I had no clue my world, and place in it, would feel upended a mere year later when the 2016 elections result came out.
What does BTS, unequivocally the biggest band in the world at the moment, have to do with US politics? Very little to most but truly everything to me.
I became a US citizen in 2016 after almost a decade of legal woes and immigration forms, lawyers and more court dates I care to recount. Becoming a citizen on election year felt like a dream come true. It felt fated.
We all know how that turned out! A lot of people don’t understand what it felt like. I’m sure the majority wasn’t as emotionally invested as I was this being my first time ever voting and all. This was a civic dream for me and maybe that hardened the blow that seems so inconsequential to so many others. Some people I think couldn’t and still can’t understand because they were not involved in politics and the concepts and possible repercussion of the election results were foreign to them. Some were in denial about how bad it could be and had some faith in the proven system of check and balances. Others simply had no horse in the race. Whether the president was a racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, Islamophobic, unqualified monster didn’t matter to them because they didn’t and don’t belong to those or any other minority groups whose mere existence was about to be put into question.
For me it was a pretty grim emotional landscape after that day. My mind, body and soul, for over a decade, were solely focused into resolving my immigration problems and to be able to stay legally in the country I had made my home, the country I adored with every fiber of my being. When I became a citizen I did it full of trust and love and I was so ready to embrace and be embraced by the new country I was pledging my allegiance to. The results of the election felt like a betrayal. Like suddenly getting slapped after a tender kiss, with no clue where the slap came from, what it meant and what I had done to deserve it.
I tried everything! Books, working out, travel, reading, movies, more books, wine…lots and lots and lots of wine. All the true and tried coping methods I had used in the past were failing me. I was constantly sad and so damn lost. I had always taken pride in being confident, unhesitant, self assured (insert your repetitive adjective here) and while always a realist and never a glass half full optimist I had managed in the the past to win over the darkness when bad things happened. And yet this time…the blow was too great? Too personal? I felt like the people I had loved in an abstract way (everyone in the country I had promised myself to) hated me, they secretly always had, and now openly could and would. Why else would they vote for that vile man? They wanted me and everyone that looked like me and talked like me gone. And it fucking hurt. I had been part of an “us” part of a “we” and suddenly I was on the outside looking in and I was now a part of the “them”.
Have you ever felt like a boat without an anchor? With nothing to keep you tied to the reality of the world? In February of 2016 I gave up my identity as Colombian to become a US Citizen. After the elections it felt like my new identity didn’t fit me because I didn’t fit here anymore, the elevator was at full capacity and the people around me were giving me pointed looks to get off.
And yet the world turned and the days passed and that feeling didn’t go away, and things got worse (politically speaking)… until one day I was driving home from work and listening to Kpop trying to cheer myself up and V (he was still just V to me then) hit that high note towards the end of his solo song Stigma and I felt my eyes fill with tears and I could see the red light in front of me like a red starburst… floating. I sat in the longest red-light left turn ever! Just silently crying over the shitty world we live in and the shitty political situation we were trapped under, and the shitty death of Granny the oldest Orca… and after, well after I felt surprisingly… better.
You see, I hadn’t allowed myself to cry, to acknowledge that I felt betrayed and lost and that I was so damn mad underneath all the sadness. Anger, my go-to emotion when I was feeling any negative feeling had served me well till then, but this time? This time the sadness was bigger than the mad and it kept pulling me under. I hadn’t admitted to myself that I didn’t know where to go and what to do and finally that beautiful and hauntingly sad high note just broke me but afterwards I finally felt like I could breathe a little better.
And you know what? I wanted more of that.