It was during my first year of university. I was excited to begin a new journey at my dream university, eager to spend most of my time at school studying about something that would engage me and, most importantly, making new friends and discovering new perspectives. But it did not happen like I thought it would, as I locked myself in instead.
Development: Proud ARMY
I was introduced to K-pop in middle school when I was 13 years old. I immediately fell in love with this splendid world, different yet mesmerizing. I would confidently share new music and group findings with my non-K-pop friends, trying to pull from them a tiny sign of acknowledgment. I was extremely proud to be part of the K-pop community and wanted to tell the whole world to give it a chance.
I discovered BTS in 2015 when they released “I Need U,” which was a watershed moment in their career as it was their first win on a Korean music show. Since then, I have never loved a group as much as I love BTS. I was and still am a multi-fandom fan, but BTS holds a special place in my heart; The joy and excitement I feel watching them and listening to their music for hours are indescribable.
I remember stumbling across a video of Suga writing personalized letters to fans on his birthday to thank them for coming and supporting them. His sincere consideration profoundly touched me, as I had never seen an artist doing that before. And I knew from this moment that I would support them for the rest of my life. Sleepless nights watching Bangtan Bombs followed. I giggled, smiled, and even cried in front of these seven wonderful youths making their dreams come true. These contents enabled me to learn more about their personalities, and I couldn’t help but feel genuinely attached to them because of their sincerity, hope, and passion.
Apart from their down-to-earth personalities, you cannot talk about BTS without mentioning the most obvious subjects for a musical act — their music and their lyrics. Since I do not speak Korean, I usually listen to a song in two stages. First, I focus on the music’s melody, the emotion it conveys, and the mood it creates, and then I look for the lyrics’ translation. Imagine my surprise when I learned that Namjoon, Yoongi, and Hoseok participate a lot in songwriting and composing, and the other members have their names on composition credits. I was so impressed. Not only are they excellent singers, rappers, dancers, and performers but they also produce their own songs! I was falling for a multi-talented band who sincerely love what they do. Then I looked even deeper into their lyrics and found out about their strong engagement and values. They expressed their displeasure with society through their rap, questioned youth about their dreams, denounced materialism, and tackled issues such as mental health and education. They were so different from other groups, and that was the main reason I naturally fell into the Bangtan hole. The fact that they put their thoughts and stories into their songs made me look forward to their new releases. I was eager to learn more about them and listen to the messages they wanted to convey through that meaningful channel — music.
Twist: Losing Myself as an Individual
Those were my younger years — naive yet confident about her passions. But when I got to university, it was different. I could not find my younger confidence, and I started to lock myself in. Why, you ask? Well, it is a long short story about belonging.
University was a novel environment for me: new building, new classes, new people, and new perspectives. Rapidly, I felt that I did not belong to this world, that I was too different and had passions that did not permit me to fit in well and engage in conversations with people.
Why did I feel like I did not belong? The first reason lies in disparate interests and disparate directions. We all come from different boats and have brought different luggage with us. People were talking about the latest television series supposed to be seen by everyone or “classic” movies, but I had not watched any of them. Rather, I was interested in Korean culture, especially in K-pop and dramas. I soon realized the culture gap between my classmates and me, which put me in great discomfort. And I did not expect my passions to become the main source of a fresh inferiority complex. By being exposed to an environment with people I was not used to, I became aware of my huge lack of general knowledge and social skills, so, it made me feel uneasy. I did not want people to find out about this part of me, because I was ashamed. Hence, I isolated myself, as showing my true self could hurt me even more (I thought). I lost confidence, did not make any friends, as I always sat in the back of the class, and pursued my university life alone. The reason for my joy became a source of sadness.
But why would I fear people’s opinions on K-pop? As a matter of fact, there is quite a negative view regarding this subject in France, where I live. Just read the local articles on the topic and analyse the language used to describe K-pop. We always find the same expressions that aim to denigrate it. One can read that K-pop is a soulless music, whose success would depend only on a well-thought-out formatting, or that the impressive synchronization of the dancers reveals the prefabricated aspect of K-pop. Most of the time, journalists omit the artistic dimension and only talk about marketing — as I share my story, we can still find this kind of clichéd formula. Fortunately, more objective articles are surfacing where journalists have done a huge amount of research beforehand and do not fall into clichés. Thank you, BTS and the ARMY, for being able to change the French press’s vision of K-pop (see examples here and here).
I think I have unconsciously internalized this general opinion and found myself thinking the same, even though I love K-pop. People who are not accustomed to K-pop can quickly fall into mockery and be a vehicle for xenophobic comments. I was not assertive enough to respond to unacceptable remarks. I just passively listened to them, without voicing my opinion. Now that I think back on it, there was still room for a calm and thoughtful debate, and I did not grab my chance to debunk prejudice.
The need to feel like we belong is one of the most universal human experiences. I was becoming so desperate to belong that I tried to mold myself into becoming what I thought society expected of me. I forced myself to become someone I was not, and along the way, I lost myself.
Conclusion: Understanding the Message of Loving Myself
Then at the end of 2017, the Love Yourself series was born. BTS’s message was clear: True love begins with loving yourself. But loving yourself is not an easy task.
I got to a point where nothing was uplifting me. The days were the same, an empty soul fulfilling her obligations, unable to express her feelings or say the truth. At that time, “Singularity” really resonated with me. Just like Taehyung, I was wearing a mask to hide my true self and ended up alone. When he questioned himself in the lyrics, “Have I lost myself or have I gained you?,” it made me realize that I indeed had not gained anyone by covering myself. Moreover, wearing a mask heightened the alienating feeling of people not accepting the true me, so it was nearly impossible to love myself. Through this song, I believe that BTS wants to tell us that this is not the right path. The right one begins with embracing your flaws and mistakes and forgiving yourself for them.
Namjoon’s Heartfelt Story at UNICEF
On September 24, 2018, BTS gave a speech at the UN General Assembly as part of their LOVE MYSELF campaign, launched a year before to support UNICEF’s #ENDviolence campaign. In the speech, Namjoon reflected on his childhood and exposed his interpretation of the “love yourself” message. His seven-minute speech was a real eye-opener for me:
Maybe I made a mistake yesterday, but yesterday’s me is still me. I am who I am today, with all my faults. Tomorrow I might be a tiny bit wiser, and that’s me, too. These faults and mistakes are what I am, making up the brightest stars in the constellation of my life. I have come to love myself for who I was, who I am, and who I hope to become.
For a long time, I repressed my inner self as I tried to move past what I considered a flaw. However, for Namjoon, the brightest stars, the most visible and important features, are our flaws and mistakes. This thought horrified me at first: How can the part that I want most to hide be the most valuable thing about me? That is when I realized why I was struggling with self-acceptance; I was building a “self” that instead of solving my personal struggle was just displacing it. The “I” that I was about to love was not the real me but only an illusion, since the real “self” is the one composed of flaws and imperfections. Hence, I now knew where to start my journey of loving myself again. I was aware that the road ahead was going to be fraught with peril. But self-love is not easy, right? It demands courage and forgiveness to face your true self and accept your imperfections.
Loving Myself Again
BTS was the first building block of my reconstruction. They first taught me what it meant to love oneself through their messages, music, and actions. They faced difficulties and struggled a lot at the beginning of their career, including seeing many comments from people who thought that they were hopeless and hated them. Throughout the years, they learned how to embrace their whole self, and they share their exploration and self-reflection in their discography. No other song could have concluded the Love Yourself series as well as “Idol.” In this upbeat and colorful song, they talk about being their true self, that they are not going to change who they are because of other people’s opinion. They will keep loving themselves and their fans no matter what. BTS has really set an example for everyone.
As BTS paved their own way, I also wanted to follow mine. With the lyrics “so show me, I’ll show you” of “Magic Shop” engraved in my head, I started with opening myself to other people, sharing my interests as well as my doubts, little by little. I am still prone to shyness, but with the kindness of the people around me, I am able to speak myself. Difference does not scare me as much as it used to because it is what makes someone unique.
To BTS. Thank you for your comforting words. Thank you for sharing so openly your doubts and imperfections. The amount of self-reflection you put in your songs made me also question about myself, my fears, insecurities, loves, hopes, and dreams. The introspection work that I started thanks to you helped a lot in learning how to accept myself. Thank you for shedding a light on me.
Elxse. (2020). How I learned to love myself thanks to BTS. The Rhizomatic Revolution Review , (1). https://ther3journal.com/.
Elsxe. “How I Learned to Love Myself Thanks to BTS.” The Rhizomatic Revolution Review , no.1, 2020. https://ther3journal.com/.
This work by Elxse is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Illustration credit: Zuza Resides @ResidesIn