What A Long Strange Trip: How I Got Myself To The Lost Planet

This was written back in June, for the Fourth K-pop Writers’ Workshop. In May, I went to Seoul for the first time, and that trip remains to be my favorite memory this year. As the following account shows, it’s the journey that counts, and not the destination – which, in this case, happened to be The Lost Planet, EXO’s first concert. 

Traveling to another country is exciting enough in itself, but traveling to another country because of your favorite band is even better. Imagine getting to live out your own private “Detroit Rock City” alternate universe fan fic of your dreams, replete with a kickass soundtrack and fangirl friends! I was all set – I was headed to Seoul for the very first time to catch The Lost Planet, EXO’s first solo concert! I had everything I needed save for one tiny detail – I didn’t have a ticket to the show. “Detroit Rock City,” indeed.

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2013 – The Year of the Fangirl

This post was originally posted on Livejournal. 

Happy December 31, everyone! I’m thinking of putting up my annual Media Maps for Books, Movies, Music and Torrent Boyfriends like I’ve done for the last couple of years, and that might go up a little bit later. To be honest, I finished reading less books than the ones I actually bought and you’ll see why in a bit. I figured this is as good a time as any to take stock of the past year and recount moments that made 2013 the year it was because it was CUHRAHAYZAY. When I did this for 2012, chunks of the year came up blank with the really good parts standing out against a blah background. I’m happy to say that while 2013 was not an easy year, it was definitely way more packed and memorable than the previous one.

Remember when the world was supposed to end late last year? Yep, 2013 kicked off with cosmic effects off of that phenomenon with personal paradigms shifting, shifting, SHIFTING. I certainly felt it with the eschewing of many attitudes and frequencies of thought. Some shifts were radical and drastic, almost happening overnight. However, others were more of a process. I noticed that the biggest shifts had me returning to *cue the Enigma track and the music video of the horses running across the frame backwards* innocence. My biggest driver for 2013 was PLAY.

“Stay open, stay playful” was the best piece of advice I received at the beginning of the year, and using this as my guiding principle has led me to unexpected and exciting directions I never thought I’d take. The tail-end of 2012 had already given me a peek of what was to come in the next 365 days, and it was an exciting preview!

Fandom has always been a large part of my personal life, but as much as I loved to immerse myself in new information, absorb the passion and study the cultures of specific fandoms, my fandoms have always been more of a solitary endeavor than a social one. A firm (Groucho) Marxist when it came to socializing, my shell was a tough one to crack even from the inside. 2013 brought welcome changes in the way I approached fandom, and inadvertently brought on more positive effects in my life.

A year’s worth of fangirling…

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Confessions of a Nugu Noona

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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!)

SHINee Shimmery Splendid!

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So the date for the SHINee/EXO-K show in Manila was announced two Saturdays ago and I was not ready for the onslaught of feels that swooped down over me as the news broke. I’m so happy that I was with a friend of the cause when I read the tweet. Otherwise, I could have spazzed right then and there and strangers would have had to step over my body. September 7 is so close you guys, and in my newly assimilated vocabulary started throwing around buzz words like “iponing”, which as I’ve learned, literally means “to save up ” in Filipino K-pop fan-speak. Lord knows those concert tickets don’t come cheap. #Iponing it is, then. That, and hwaiting! 

Is this my first K-pop show? No. My first K-pop show was very recent – it was last month. I caught CNBLUE at the Smart Araneta Coliseum. I vacillated between getting a general admission ticket at 700Php a pop (about $17) and getting a decent seat – Upper Box or Lower Box which ranged from 4,000Php to 6,000Php ++. As I stood in front of the ticket booth with little over a month’s worth of rent, the thought of acquiring patron tickets for 8,000Php++ (about $200) flashed through my mind. Why not. Something like electricity coursed through my body realizing I was about to spend a significant chunk of my income on a concert of a band whose members I can’t even identify and whose discography I just started listening to a week prior. Normal people would save up for dental surgery, payment on a car loan or a house, insurance. K-pop fans do iponing precisely for moments like this. It was a defining moment, in my newborn state as a K-pop fan. Part of me was curious about how soon I’d regret shelling out for Upper A box seat tickets at 4,700Php (about $115.) I’m still waiting for it to sink in.

Is this my first K-pop show for a group that I stan? YES. It’s TWO groups that I stan so DOUBLE THE FEELS. (Well, technically 1.5 the feels because only EXO-K is in the lineup.) My brain hasn’t absorbed the EXO-K part of the feels yet. But SHINee. SHINee. Fucking SHINee. Not only will I do iponing,  I will also do tambling, or doing cartwheels for the sake of accomplishing something. For you Onew, Minho, Key you frickin’ diva, Jonghyun, Taeminnie. While I muster up the willpower for iponing, I imagine how the show will play out, mapping future memories as scenarios get added. I start building the SHINee Shimmery Splendid show in my mind.

Here’s my dream set list:

  1. Lucifer
  2. Sherlock
  3. Why So Serious
  4. Hello
  5. Electric Heart
  6. Breaking News
  7. Stand By Me
  8. Bodyguard
  9. Dream Girl
  10. Replay
  11. Ring Ding Dong

On their Japan Arena Tour 2012, the boys did a couple of covers – “Amazing Grace” and “Tie a Yellow Ribbon”. I’m not sure if either song holds any kind of cultural significance to the band or to the audience, but I didn’t get it. “Amazing Grace” sounded awkward and out of place. Not to mention, difficult to deliver unless one had Aretha Franklin –level pipes. “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” just sounded weird and dated, and I failed to appreciate it musically within the context of the show. I appreciated it on an absurd, entertainment “What is going on?” level, but I like weird out-of-place crap like that. I’d probably want each member to have a portion all to their own, to sing one song that would best show-off their strengths as performers, but off the top of my head, here are some highlights:

1. “The KKK Took My Baby Away” (Ramones) – Key would cover this. On the reality show “One Fine Day” he expressed his love for the Ramones, which completely sealed my allegiance to Almighty Key. His favorite Ramones song is “Oh, Oh, I Love Her So.” The fact that he liked the Ramones came as no surprise to me. It felt right that he would be into them. I imagine Key sporting a Johnny Ramone haircut, either a white t-shirt or a vintage Mickey Mouse t-shirt, a leather jacket, and tight ripped jeans or jean shorts. He can wear whatever shoes he wants to make the look completely his. It would rock so hard.

2. Since this show is happening in Manila, and as an audience we love it when foreign artists address us in Filipino, I would want to give Onew an OPM ballad that would showoff his vocals. OPM simply means “Original Pilipino Music”, and it’s generally used an umbrella term to describe contemporary Filipino music. I’m so tempted to give him a Ryan Cayabyab piece like “Tuwing Umuulan at Kapiling Ka”, but I’m not sure if Onew can handle the phrasing. I think as an audience we Pinoys are forgiving when it comes to foreign idols taking on anything local to connect with us, such as an OPM song, or even a simple greeting in Tagalog but we love it even more when it exceeds our expectations. I honestly can’t decide what piece to give him because I am imagining too many OPM songs I want him to take on.

3. “I Don’t Care” (Icona Pop) – again, Key would take the lead. I imagine him doing this if only to hear him screaming the line “YOU’RE FROM THE 70S BUT I’M A 90S BITCH”  I love it!

4. Minho would sing some freaking Air Supply ballad and everyone goes wild.

5. Just for he hell of it I want Jonghyun to do Usher ‘s “You Make Me” or “Burn”. If not Usher,then Craig David.

6. I know Taemin does covers sometimes, but I haven’t heard him do any in English. Help me out, guys. I’d probably settle for a dance cover just to see him bust a sweet move.

TTLY Judging You RN

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“I love romantic comedies. I feel almost sheepish writing that, because the genre has been so degraded in the past twenty years or so that admitting you like these movies is essentially an admission of mild stupidity. But that has not stopped me from watching them.” 

Mindy Kaling, “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?”

Mindz, I feel you.

Why is it so difficult, and even in some cases problematic for anyone over the age of 16 to acknowledge their interest, fondness, and even love for K-pop? What’s with the fan-shaming? Why must K-pop be a secret, guilty pleasure for smart women? What’s with these homies dissin’ my boys? I have so many questions.

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Do a search for “bubble tea” on Google and Sehun’s image appears as a top result!

It’s Not Your Cup Of Bubble Tea

Every genre of popular music will have its share of haters and all those haters have their reasons for hating a particular genre of music. It could be as simple as “It doesn’t sound good to me”, which is entirely valid. However, oftentimes hating on a musical genre does not even stem from the fact that something does not sound good to one’s ears, rather stemming from the listener’s own refusal to absorb a particular musical genre. This is true of people who claim to “hate” country music when they cannot even name five country albums and think Shania Twain is where country music begins and ends. (News flash, country music haters: it doesn’t.) The same is true for rap music or hip-hop, any kind of heavy metal music and polka. The reputation of the musical genre precedes anything that may honestly represent it, so why bother listening anymore? Who has the time to listen to all kinds of music and weed through all the bad stuff? Well, that’s just being lazy and elitist. If you’re fine with being lazy and elitist in your consumption of popular culture, then that’s your prerogative.

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One misconception you might have about this photo is that it was taken in the 80’s. Because Sussudio.

Misconceptions (of  You and Me)

The type of media a person consumes has become an index for how we perceive a person’s character in the same way the type of font a person uses has become an index for how we perceive a person’s IQ. When it comes to choice in literature, chick lit has had its share of being knocked around some. Mention that you’ve read/are reading/will read “50 Shades of Grey” and watch how people react. K-pop is just one of those things that have been added to this same index. A love for K-pop must indicate some shortage of good sense in general because if you are smart, you would listen to more intelligent music. Well it doesn’t work that way. Besides, who’s to say that someone who enjoys K-pop won’t be able to appreciate other genres of music? That’s just being presumptuous and narrow-minded.

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Maybe we can do the twirl!

Act Your Age, Not Your Shoe Size

K-pop is a young musical genre that targets a young audience. It’s fun, instantly appealing, hook-laden – the very same building blocks that make up any Western pop music track ranging from the early Beatles to Justin Bieber. A lot of the songs have melodies that are easy to hum and remember. Yes, you can dance to it. Teens like it, therefore it’s childish to like it. If you think like that, then don’t ever bitch to me about feeling old or whine about your lost childhood if you keep rejecting things that make you feel young.

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…but is it (fan) art?

But Is It Art?

It’s so easy to dismiss K-pop as a highly manufactured, mass-produced product rather than an actual real musical genre because K-pop is a highly manufactured mass-produced product. But so are sports cars, and yet a lot of people regard sports cars to be works of art. There are pieces arguing against K-pop as a “legitimate” form of music available for your reading pleasure all over the internet, and those are laughable because they remind me so much of that J. Evans Pritchard Introduction to Poetry from “Dead Poets’ Society”. There is no shortage of pompous, self-important reasons why K-pop isn’t real music, as if real music was something that was meant to be validated through Pitchfork articles rather than being validated through the actual enjoyment of the thing. Shiny males in tiny pants sing the songs, therefore it’s not done by real artists. (Have you seen their thighs in tight white pants? How can you say that isn’t art? Excuse you – that is pure fucking poetry!)

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Kekeke, Jejeje 

Along with being a measuring index for personality, character, taste and mental capacity, an acknowledgment of liking K-pop has an economic stigma, and it is from this stigma that all other stigma associated with liking K-pop branch out. Here in the Philippines, declaring a love for K-pop immediately puts one in the “masa” (literally, “the masses”) or even worse, the “jeje” category  (someone who belongs to a below average economic class and is therefore “uneducated”.) An economic stigma has been set just because one says she likes underage-looking singers with pink hair, implying that the masses (and those lower in economic standing) are mindless drones who do not practice any kind of discretion when it comes to the media they consume as they do not possess the faculties for critical thinking.

But there’s more. It isn’t enough to be labelled as poor. Declaring your love for K-pop sends out the message that one is “cheap”, “classless” and “lacking in breeding”. This line of argument has spurred on some K-pop fans to argue “Who the hell are you calling cheap?! We spend thousands on shipping fees alone”,  a statement which, while disproving the “poor” claim is a misguided rebuttal that reinforces the argument’s points on K-pop fans being “classless” and “lacking in breeding” rather than dismisses it. Just like any fandom or subculture, it takes all kinds.

The encompassing logic behind the overall elitism breaks down like so: You like K-pop because you like dumb music. You like dumb music because you have bad taste. You have bad taste because you are stupid. You are stupid because you are uneducated. You are uneducated because you are poor.


 

Saying you like K-pop out loud in a conversation with other adults can get you any of the following: the side-eye (“Is she being serious, or she being ironic about it?”), the eye roll/nose wrinkle (“That’s so manufactured and stupid! I don’t approve of this!”),  or even nervous laughter (“I don’t get it, but okay…”). However way you choose to express your love for K-pop – you will be judged aggressively.

While I could care less about what other adults might think of my interests, these stock reactions serve as a reminder that these people are no fun, and that it’s their loss if their attitude towards something that gives me so much life is dismissive at best, and outright rude at its worst.

Being a card-holding, full fledged adult female balancing work, personal and inner life, I am allowing myself to like whatever it is I like without feeling creepy, stupid or judged about it. And what I like is K-pop. You can judge me all you want, but I’m judging you right back.