In the name of the Fandom, the Feels and the In-sole Spirit.
Bless me, fandom for I am in. It has been three hundred and something odd days since my last pop culture obsession, and K-pop is my latest.
I spent a good thirty minutes looking at fancam videos in between spreadsheets at work. I re-blogged ten gifs of Block B when I don’t even know all of their names. I’ve started writing fan fiction again – the smutty, homoerotic kind with plenty of angst and character death! Plus, I’m old enough to be my bias’ mom!
I’ve spent way too much money on albums, concert tickets, official band merchandise, fan-made photo books, and generally a lot of small stationery-based items that I hoard but will never ever use because they are. Just! Too! Cute!
I’ve wiped out 95% of the contents of my iPod in favor of entire discographies of boy bands, girl groups and idols whose existence I was not even aware of until a few months ago. Songs that have enjoyed regular iTunes circulation for seven years – gone with several mouse clicks!
I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell. In this fandom, these two are interchangeable, but only say the word and I shall be healed.
My advanced age of thirty-four qualifies me to refer myself as a “noona” or “older sister” fan. To me, thirty-four does not seem to be quite as old, though perhaps to a teenager, thirty-four is ancient. It’s an interesting position to be in, because while I begrudgingly consider myself a card-carrying adult, I am also a newborn, a newbie, a “nugu” K-pop fan.
“Being an adult” means having bills to pay, deadlines to meet, and laundry to fold. Making tedious decisions both at work and at home can take its toll on one’s soul. Some people get into diving or rock climbing as a means of replenishing their spirits after long stretches of dealing with the trappings of adulthood. Some become active in Church. Some take up Yoga. I chose K-pop.
Like a true new convert, I find the discovery exhilarating; but in private do sometimes question the path on which my tastes have led me. I probably would have been more comfortable with assimilating myself into the fandom had I been closer in age to 14 than 40, but is there among what I feel most guilty about being in the fandom, anything to be ashamed of, really?
I’m tired of feeling embarrassed over what makes me happy, and that includes the pervy parts of being a K-pop fan. Yes, I like to spazz over the pretty, flail over fine tight buns in tiny white jeans and spend an inordinate amount of time building up scenarios between members of boy bands in my head.
I have always been a staunch supporter and ardent advocate of fan fiction, that safe and sacred space for exploration and experimentation, a medium so open to possibility where nothing is taboo. Who hasn’t deconstructed their biases’ personality while matching up both their scripted personas with carefully constructed head canon? Fic is where fantasy runs rampant, free of any judgment or real-life consequence.
Fantasy and world building is a hugely underrated and unfairly dismissed dimension of being a fan, and that’s a shame because so much of it leads to discovering one’s own kinks and predilections. If you didn’t know you could be turned on by certain people or their mannerisms, or even be curious about a specific sort of sexual activity until coming across it in a fic, it’s not only an exciting discovery to make but a very empowering one, too.
I have a particularly soft spot for smutty boy-on-boy fic, especially the “poorly written” ones. Even truly awful fic has its moments, and displays its own merit when the author’s enthusiasm for the source material is genuine. My fondness for fic extends beyond its function and purpose. I forgive its many inaccuracies, lapses in taste and grammar and allow myself to love it for its silliness, honesty and the fact that fic is one of few things in the K-pop fandom that is free of charge.
Everything else in the K-pop fandom is pretty darn expensive. If I had gotten into K-pop at an earlier age, I would have needed to be extra resourceful because having to navigate between official merchandise and fan-generated items, K-pop easily takes one fourth of my monthly paycheck. While having a steady income affords me some legroom when it comes to shopping for K-pop merch, I do have to pull back a bit to re-evaluate how much I actually allocate for K-pop goods, taking care that it doesn’t get to the point that I fail to pay rent, or to feed myself (fingers crossed.)
The upside to the hefty price tag of most K-pop goods is I have yet to experience buyers’ remorse for any of the stuff I’ve purchased so far, and that includes some of the more “useless” stuff I picked up on impulse (*cough* cheering towel *cough*.) I’d start to feel bad for buying something “I don’t really need” but you know what? We’re allowed to enjoy a portion of the money we work hard for! Why deprive ourselves of these small pleasures if they enrich our lives in their own way, and make us saner, better-adjusted, generally happier people? It’s a small price to pay.
I’ve been tempted more than once to call SM Entertainment a pharmaceutical company for churning out what to me sounds like the audio equivalent of SSRI’s found in the most effective anti-depressants. Every three-minute pop song is a life-saving capsule, releasing endorphins that put me in a better mood. I know I am not alone in being grateful to K-pop for preventing me from lapsing into depression. There are plenty of us whose loneliness is made more bearable by the connections made with other K-pop fans, and even more whose pain is alleviated by the music.
You know that satisfying feeling of tearing off the pretty, shiny wrapping paper on every birthday or Christmas present you ever got? That’s the feeling I get from K-pop. I may be a noona fan, hell, I might even qualified to be an aunty or “ahjumma” fan already, but K-pop transforms me into a giddy, excited, hyper kid who can’t wait to play with the new toy she’s been given. A very wise noona K-pop fan I know sums up the experience of being converted to Kpop this way: “First I LOL’ed. Then I serious’ed.” Does anyone who fall into K-pop know exactly what they’re in for? Probably not, but K-pop has made listening to music fun again, and that’s ultimately what made me actively decide to take it seriously.
People that don’t understand my K-pop obsession might criticize me. Some may laugh at me, or judge me, call me immature or shallow. Others may be dismissive and yes, there will be those that may even shame me for liking what I choose to like, but ultimately none of that should make me feel bad or guilty for liking K-pop. I may have a few fangirl sins here and there, but for basking in the truly fun, endlessly entertaining, surprisingly positive force that is K-pop: sorry, not sorry.
(Special thanks to my batch mates from the 2nd K-pop Writers’ Workshop for their valuable feedback and input on an earlier version of this piece. Follow @thekpopworkshop on Twitter for updates!)