Music


5
Nov 18

#BTSxCitifield Part 3 – The fans, the show, the experience – so awesome

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About to enter Citi Field stadium, at the front of the line chatting with some awesome fans.

I try to talk about my introvert nature at work a lot, especially with the students on my team, because if they are also struggling with it, I want them to know it isn’t a curse.  I like to say that I’m an introvert who has learned to fake it because people sometimes don’t believe me, but it’s true.  Some people are energized by social interactions, but for me, anything more than a one-on-one conversation can be draining, and the larger the group, the faster my battery runs out.   If I don’t get periods of solitude to recharge, it can be so exhausting that I get physically sick.

This basic fact about my personality has caused me so much angst and unhappiness.  Especially because I also paradoxically feel the need to make useful contributions, whatever the conversation or interaction may be, so there is forever a battle going on with part of me wanting to conserve energy and stay on the side, and part of me wanting to be in the center of the room participating in what’s happening.  It has taken a very long time to find a good balance.


I mention my introversion by way of introduction to this third and last post in my #BTSxCitifield series (read Part 1 and Part 2 here) for two reasons.

First and most obviously because the theme of BTS’s Love Yourself: World Tour is about learning to love yourself, and learning to love my introversion instead of hating it has been one of the hardest things for me to do.  It was only after I stopped fighting it and gave myself permission to be that way that I learned how to balance my life’s social flow in a way that feels sustainable and good.  Ten years ago, flying to New York City and attending a stadium-sized concert like #BTSxCitifield by myself would have been unthinkable.  That I was able to not only go to the concert, but truly enjoy the experience – in part because of the huge crowd – is a personal triumph that seems worth celebrating.

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Enjoying the show with 40,000 (!!) other fans.

And second, because I am such an introvert myself, I’ve often wondered how the artists, creators, and professionals I admire deal with the pressure of fame and the sometimes crazy emotional demands of their fans.  Fame is such a double-edged sword. Attracting passionate fans is a source of success, but losing anonymity, especially today when everyone everywhere has a camera in their pocket, seems to mean losing the ability to just be in the world.

And when does being a passionate fan tip over into being a crazy fan? 

Is it “crazy fan” territory to buy tickets this expensive?

It may be weird to worry about what it means to be a “good fan” but I think Stephen King’s novel Misery must have made a big impression on me when I was young because I’ve always thought the most respectful way to honor an artist is to support their work from afar.  Pay for their work and share/evangelize their stuff to others, but don’t bug them. [1].  There is a natural desire to express appreciation and gratitude when someone’s work has made a positive and meaningful difference in your life, but that should never come at the expense of respecting the boundaries of the real person behind the fame.

I thought about that a lot when BTS released a series of provocative concept photos for their S version of the Love Yourself: Answer album.  It turns out there’s a Korean word specifically to describe obsessive, stalker fan behavior, 사생팬 or saseang fan [2], and they have obviously experienced that.

It makes you wonder how they are really doing.  Not their stage personas, but the real 20-something year old guys behind the scene (see what I did there?).  Is this insane hype-train of record breaking achievements actually good for them?  Are they being exploited?  How are they handling the intense glare of the spotlight, and is my participation in ARMY fan culture hurting or helping them?  The introvert me would have withered and died from that kind of intense pressure in my 20s, as so many of my favorite childhood actors actually did die.

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River Phoenix and Corey Haim, two of my earliest fan-crushes.

I want to hope that the real people in BTS are doing ok, that they have each other and their families, and that they are still young and resilient enough to enjoy the wild ride that they are on.  I have to hope they, and the people who love them, will know when to get off the crazy train when (if?) the time comes.

In my last post, I described how my interest in BTS began and deepened enough to call myself an ARMY and there was a moment, a series of moments, before I clicked the buttons that sucked a ridiculous amount of money out of my bank account, when I wondered if it was crazy-fan territory to sit for an hour in a virtual queue to buy expensive concert tickets, and an expensive plane ticket, and an expensive hotel reservation, just to see a bunch of 20-something boys from Korea for just a couple of hours.

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Sitting in a ridiculous virtual line to buy tickets, only to be unceremoniously dumped out to this error message.

Ultimately, I decided that I enjoyed their music and appreciated their art so much that I wanted to be counted among their fans for their first stadium-sized concert and their last show in the US.  It wasn’t just about attending the concert, although I was of course excited to see them perform live, but symbolically, I think every fan who came to Citi Field was there to show them and the world just how much their work inspires us.  We wanted to give them another win, another trophy for their bag.  That super-fun feeling of winning together, ARMY+BTS synergy, is what tipped the scales enough for me to actually purchase the tickets. [3]


The Night Before the Show

I flew out of Cincinnati on the Friday evening before the concert, with just enough time to land at LaGuardia and get settled into the hotel for a good night’s sleep before the show.  Hilariously, the first ARMY I met in the wild once I got to New York was another person from Cincinnati!  Queue that old joke about flying a thousand miles to meet your neighbor.  Our hotels were in opposite directions so we split up shortly after meeting, but we followed each other on Twitter and re-connected after we got home – and now we’re set to watch Burn the Stage together when it comes out in a couple weeks!

That chance encounter with a friendly ARMY was the first of many happy meetings.  I saw groups of ARMYs everywhere I went as BTS fans descended on New York from all over the US, and really all over the world. It’s hard to describe the feeling of meeting strangers who don’t quite feel like strangers because you already share a common interest, the instant smiles when we recognized each other, the excitement that everyone felt about arriving for the show.  I really didn’t know what to expect the next day, and after agonizing over what to stuff in my no-larger than 16 inches backpack to comply with the venue rules [4], I managed to sleep like a rock.

Arriving at Citi Field Stadium

I had no idea what it would be like at the venue, so I didn’t really have a plan, but part of the reason I made the trip was to experience the ARMY fan culture, so I took a cab from the hotel around 6:30 AM and got dropped off right at the stadium.

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The first picture I snapped after arriving at Citi Field, ~6:45 AM.

The first thing I noticed as I walked across the parking lot was the merch line (the line to buy official merchandise from the band like the t-shirts, bags, etc.), and it didn’t seem crazy long yet, so without even looking around at anything else, I headed for the back of the line.

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That big group of people on the right side is the merch line, which hadn’t started moving yet, ~ 6:45 AM.

At that moment, as I approached the back of the merch line barriers, I felt .. nervous.  I’d met a couple of fans at the airport and at the hotel, who were all super nice and friendly, but I wasn’t sure what it would be like in the REAL ARMY crowd.  Would there be crazy sasaengs?  Would it be weird that I was by myself?  Was I even a big enough fan to deserve to be there when so many fans couldn’t get tickets?  My introvert nature and all the anxiety that comes with it suddenly popped out and I felt.. shy.

I needn’t have worried.  I got in line and spent the next couple hours chatting with the fans around me, gawking at all the hand-made signs, watching the merch line grow and grow and grow..

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ARMYs behind me in the merch line..

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Can you tell how diverse the crowd is?  Young, old, men, women, every ethnicity.. 

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JOON FOR PRESIDENT!

It turned out that the whole day before the show was a series of waiting in one line or another, and universally, the crowd was friendly and cheerful and happy to chat about BTS endlessly.  It was terrific!

Entering the BTS Village

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The “Village” is what they called the cordoned off area where you could buy the “merch” and visit a bunch of different booths to pair your bluetooth-enabled light stick, take a picture with a hologram of your favorite BTS member, donate to their UNICEF LOVE YOURSELF campaign, etc.

Once the merch line started to move when they opened the Village, everyone ran in to.. get in yet another line for whichever specific area or booth you wanted to visit.  I stuck with the merch line, and got handed an order form to fill out while waiting with a new group of ARMYs.

I can’t remember how long we stood in that line, but it seemed to move pretty quickly.  I was super disappointed that the official concert t-shirts sold out within the first 15 minutes, since that was the main thing I wanted to get, but there were plenty of other (way overpriced!) things to buy to commemorate the experience.

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An example of available merch and the crazy prices.  There were like 6 or 7 pages of things you could buy.

Talking about it with the other ARMYs around me, I was surprised to find that everyone hated the new Americanized “Beyond the Scene” branding and didn’t want any of the t-shirts if it didn’t have the original Korean 방탄소년단 (Romanized as Bangtan Sonyeondan) wording.  Not that Big Hit Entertainment asked for my opinion, but I think the sincerity and authenticity of BTS is one of their biggest selling points even with American fans, so I’m not sure the “Beyond the Scene” re-brand is gaining traction.

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I ended up with t-shirt version 1.  No one around me wanted to buy version 2 because it said “Beyond the Scene”.  The lady behind me reeeeealllly wanted a hoodie and was afraid they would sell out before she got to the counter.  I think she was successful in her quest but I’m not sure, I lost track of her in the crowd.

With my merch in hand and my wallet further emptied, I wandered around for a bit trying to decide which booth to visit.  Suddenly I remembered that I had won an express “skip the line” ticket from Big Hit to visit the “BTS Studio” booth where you could take a picture of yourself with a hologram of your favorite member, so I headed over in that direction.. and got in the express ticket line. (Which was only like 10 people long, but still, another line!  lol)

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The Korean tour staff were all very nice and seemed super amused at the Americans saying 감사합니다 (kamsahamnida – thank you).

While I was waiting to get my picture taken, I noticed an ARMY who had just come from the merch line struggling to juggle all of her purchases. Because the “shopping bag” merch item was the cheapest thing on the menu at $5, I bought 3 of them, which was the maximum allowed, so I stepped over and asked her if she wanted a bag to hold all of her stuff. I was glad to have an extra to share! We snapped a picture together once she got her stuff all sorted out.

Then suddenly it was my turn to enter the little BTS Studio tent!  I have to say, the “hologram” technology they used to make it seem like your favorite BTS member is walking up and sitting down with you to take a picture was pretty freaking cool.  I was so flustered trying to sort out my bags and all the stuff I was carrying that I didn’t get a video of that (that’s one time when I really wished I hadn’t come alone), but it was fun all the same and sort of made your heart beat a little faster even knowing it wasn’t real.  I also had a little panic trying to pick which member because at this point, I really do love them all (OT7!), but my original favorite won in the end.

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Quick, pick your favorite BTS member!

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A picture snapped with my phone of the slightly blurry picture I got in the BTS Studio booth. Me and Jimin!

After that I wondered around the Village a lot taking pictures and videos and just enjoying the scene and the freedom of not being in a line for the first time since I arrived.

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Fans dancing in the Village..

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Another dancing fan… You can see the merch booths in the background.

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Tour staff would watch your bags and take a picture of you with your phone at the various sign boards and photo backdrops..

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Making a donation to the UNICEF #BTSLoveMyself campaign to end violence against children..

I’m not sure what time it was, but by that point, my feet were starting to hurt a little and I was ready to take a rest.  See my note below about the awesomeness of the Trekology YIZI Go Portable Camping Chair – which I promptly pulled out and set up to rest my weary bones and have a drink and a snack.

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Having a rest and filming people entering the Village area..

I thought it was pretty irresponsible of the lady yelling at people to run to the lightstick tent because they were selling out, they didn’t sell out the whole day as far as I know.

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Lots of people started to sit down and eat things they had brought at that point.

There seemed to be no food or drink vendors anywhere, which I thought was nuts.

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A short video I intended to send to my sister but for some reason it wouldn’t upload so I never sent it..

Finding my Gate and Observing the Front of the Hard Core “General Admissions” Line

Shortly after filming that clip, I left the Village area thinking I should at least figure out what gate I would be entering and where the line (surely there was another line!) would be for that.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but it turned out that the private box seat ticket holders would be using a gate in the same vicinity as where they were letting the General Admissions line form up to actually enter the stadium.

Now keep in mind that some of the General Admissions folks had been camping out for over a week to get closest to the stage, so as I approached them, I had a feeling like the General Admissions line were the “real” ARMY and the rest of us were just baby ARMYs.  We still had hours to go before the show started, so I set up my awesome little camping chair again and watched all the hoopla at the front of the GA line.

Periodically you would see fans who had stepped out of line to get merch or something come running up frantically worried that they had missed their spot, so I started posting short video clips and tweeting them out in the hopes that it would help keep things calm.  There were definitely a couple of moments there where it seemed like the crowd might get shovey and pushy, but for the most part, it stayed orderly and calm.  After watching them deal with one situation after another, I thought the security staff did a great job of being kind yet firm to keep everyone safe.

Somewhere in the midst of the GA line drama, I started to feel really hungry and decided to go off in search of food.  I walked and walked and walked and finally came upon what may have been the only food cart out there, a Nathan’s Hot Dog cart.  I hate hot dogs, but boy if you’re hungry enough, even a hot dog can taste delicious.  In fact, I had two!  The Twitter timestamp says I posted this at 3:04 PM, and the stadium opened at 4, so this was shortly before they let us go in to get our seats!

Entering the Stadium!

Phew, I feel like I’ve been writing this blog post for eons, and we’re just now getting into the stadium!  Picking up from the last section, once they let all the GA folks through, they finally called for our gate and I managed to be like the 10th person in line for that. It was definitely a very buzzy excited feeling getting ready to go into the venue.  After months and weeks of planning and then waiting in lines all day, everyone was ready to get inside.

Of course there was one more line to go after they opened the big fence – the security line.  I apparently didn’t take any pictures during that period, but they had big K-9 dogs, and a seriously armed police presence at the concert.  We saw groups of officers in full riot gear, and some with what looked like long range rifles.  It was pretty intense, but given the death threats against members of the band and all the recent public shootings, everyone in line with me agreed that we’d rather have more security than less.

The security check was pretty intense, too.  They really did search every single compartment of every single bag I had.  I can’t remember if they physically patted us down, but I did have to remove my jacket and sweatshirt and fanny pack, and they definitely wanded us in addition to going through metal detectors.  It felt as thorough as any airport screening I’ve been through recently.

And then suddenly we were inside!  I must have gotten so excited to actually get to our seats that I forgot I had a camera for a while, because I have no photos of the super posh Porche suite at all.

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GA folks getting in place around the stage, before the music videos started.

I did take a few snaps of the GA folks still streaming in around the stage though, and shortly after that they started playing BTS videos on the big screens.  The screaming and cheering began in earnest at that point, and it didn’t stop until the show was over.  It was sooo loud, you really can’t imagine it.

Somewhere around here, I started streaming live on Periscope, with the intention of streaming the whole show if I could.  I know it’s against the rules, illegal, etc. etc. but.. well, there are a lot of people who really can’t afford the crazy expense of attending a live BTS concert.  As concerts go, it is one of the most expensive shows on the planet.  Seriously, Billboard says it was the most expensive tour of 2018, and that’s just for the tickets.  That doesn’t event count the cost of travel, hotel, food, and the aforementioned expensive merchandise, which I guess isn’t a necessity, but who goes to a concert without buying the t-shirt to prove it?

In any case, I watched a lot of live concert streams in preparation for going to Citi Field, and I was always grateful to the people who risked their seat to stream for all the ARMYs around the world who couldn’t attend, so I intended to try my best to stream, too.  Which I did, for a couple of hours.  Until security came. 🙁   Having the security guy breathing down your neck and risking getting kicked out of a show you really want to see, waited forever to see, and paid a bazillion dollars to see.. Well, I put my phone away.  When I looked at the stream playback much later, it said over 100,000 people had viewed it.  *gulp*  That’s a lot of people.  I’m sorry ARMYs, I really tried.


Another great thing that happened around this point was the arrival of my most awesome seat buddy, Chris.  Like I said before, for the most part, I was fine to attend the concert by myself and I really enjoyed everything solo all day long.  But when Chris showed up, a guy around my age, also by himself, and just super friendly and fun to chat with.. it really made the concert just that much more awesome. We chatted through the whole show and he even helped shield my phone from the security dude for a bit when I was still trying to stream despite the stress of it all, bless his heart.

Chris, I hope you read this post!  Super thanks for being such a fun seat buddy!!  If you’re ever in Cincinnati, definitely ping me and I would go to another show with you anytime, anywhere!  🙂

I don’t have many other pictures of the pre-show since by this time I was streaming, so now it’s on to the show itself!!!  FINALLY!!!!!

And the Show Begins… Breathing the Same Air as BTS!!

I know, I’ve written a whole novel and half and haven’t even gotten to the actual live concert yet.  What can I say, it was a long, fun-filled, busy day!

By the time the show actually started, the crowd was so amped up, with huge swelling screams and cheers and ARMY bombs blinking.  The start of the show was LITERALLY explosive, like fire shot out of the stage!  And it was so LOUD!  And so high energy!  And we’re seeing Idol performed live!  Right in front of us!

I don’t have any pictures because I was still streaming when the show started.  I  hoped to have some of my video footage edited by now to include, but I think it will have to come later or I won’t get the post up this century.

Fake Love from outside the stadium..

I do have a few clips that I filmed after I gave up streaming and after the security dudes departed, but my crappy phone cam footage doesn’t even begin to do justice to what it really felt like.  Singing along to your favorite songs with 40,000 other fans who love it as much as you is really something else.  The energy was insane, I can still feel the vibrations in my chest if I close my eyes and think about it.

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The twinkling ARMY bombs everywhere added so much to the atmosphere..

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I didn’t get even one single great shot of the band. Even though the screens were huge and we could see clearly in person, the light noise and cables and whatnot made it impossible to get a great photo with a phone camera from where we were sitting. That’s ok though, the experience itself was the reason for being there, and the memories are more than enough.

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Seesaw nation rise!

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Serendipity!

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Sparkly Jimin!

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The Truth Untold!

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The best pic I took of V! (That one’s for you Chris!) 🙂

I cried a couple of times.  When Jimin cried, I bawled like a baby. Not my footage, but thanks to the ARMY that caught this on camera. *sniffle*

I cried again during Namjoon’s ending comments.. (JOON FOR PRESIDENT!)

If I’m in the right mood, hearing Magic Shop still makes me cry because I can hear the echo of 40,000 ARMYs singing back to them in one voice.. it was really beautiful. I sang, and screamed, and danced, and cheered, and enjoyed the hell out of those 2.5 hours.

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By the end of the show, we all said our good byes, wished each other safe journeys home, and parted ways. It was really a magical experience.

End of the Show & Heading Home

I’d read about post-BTS-concert depression from other ARMYs, but what they don’t tell you is it starts the very second the show is over.

I felt like I was in a shell-shocked daze as we started herding out of the stadium, and by the time I got outside and back out to the parking lot, I think I stood there for I don’t know how long, just too overwhelmed to even move.

Believe it or not, I didn’t realize until right that moment that I’d planned every detail of my arrival TO the venue, but I had absolutely no idea how to get back to my hotel FROM the stadium.  40,000 people were all trying to leave at the same time, it wasn’t like I could call a cab.  I was so disoriented, I didn’t even know which direction the hotel was in from where I was standing. As more and more people poured out of the stadium, I got swept up in the moving crowd, and just ended up going with flow with no destination in mind.

That was the only moment the whole day that I felt somewhat vulnerable and a little afraid to be alone.  The crowd was still very friendly, but it was dark and chilly and I suddenly felt like I could get lost or disappear and no one would even notice.

Once we got to the outer edges of the parking lot near the street, I sort of came back to my senses and started looking on my phone for options.  There were already huge lines forming for Uber and Lyft drivers, but then Google suggested a ride service I’d never heard of, Juno, so I downloaded and installed it and like MAGIC – even in that insane crowd – a driver in a big black SUV was there in less than 5 minutes to pick me up.  It was fantastic.

I honestly don’t remember much after that.  I know I made it back to my hotel, and I think I was too late for room service so I just crashed.

The next morning, I wandered downstairs to get coffee, where I met some young ARMYs with their dad getting ready to head home.

And a little later at check-out, I met one of the stagehands who had traveled with BTS for their whole North American tour.

I took one last selfie sitting outside the hotel waiting for a cab..

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And then I headed for the airport and flew home..

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Back in Cincinnati with the #CitiFieldFlu

As I mentioned in Part 1 of this series, I got so sick within a day or two of coming home that I basically didn’t get out of bed for a week.  I saw someone on Twitter call it the #CitiFieldFlu, I guess loads of people picked up whatever nasty bug was going around.  By the time I recuperated from that enough to go back to work, I was too busy playing catch-up to write much, so that’s why it took almost a month to get this posted.

I sent a few messages to some of the folks I met at the concert once I’d recovered to thank them again and wish them well, and got back a bunch of nice replies.  And I was super delighted when the Cincinnati ARMY I met at the airport DMd me on Twitter to ask if I wanted to go see Burn the Stage in a couple of weeks.  She was so awesome, she even bought an extra ticket!  Thank goodness, because they sold out while I was too sick to even notice anything.  I’m really looking forward to meeting up with her to see the movie!

At this point, even I’m tired of this post, so I’ll wrap it up quickly.

It’s hard to describe, even with all these words and pictures and videos, just how much I enjoyed the show.  The fans, the concert, the music, the love, the whole experience.

At a time when the political climate in the US feels uglier than anything I can remember in my lifetime (the election is tomorrow as I write this, I am desperately hoping for positive outcome), it felt sooo good to be with sooo many people from soooo many different places and walks of life, all coming together to celebrate and enjoy good music.  It felt soooo good to support a bunch of young guys from the other side of the world and send them our love and appreciation and admiration and all the best hopes for their future.  It’s really a tribute to the boys of BTS, and to Big Hit, and the entire team of professionals who produce and support them that we could all come to New York City and enjoy the show like that.

It made me feel and remember that Obama-style hope, and I’ve really missed that.

Thanks to all the ARMYs I met on my journey for making the trip so special, and to BTS for a concert that I will never forget. I purple you.

💜


 

[1] As a lifelong Constant Reader and huge fan of King’s work, it really wigged me out when he joined Twitter and I realized I could actually send a message to one of my favorite people on planet Earth.  I never did, of course, because that would violate my “don’t bug them”  principle, but I’ve been tempted a time or two.

@stephenking if you ever see this, I’ve loved your writing since I was 8 years old and got grounded for reading The Dead Zone. Thank you, sincerely super thank you, for a lifetime of awesome stories.  <3

[2]  I saw some crazy sasaeng behavior at Citi Field, but thankfully not too much.

[3] I actually purchased tickets THREE times.  The first time, I bought tickets on Stub Hub after losing out in the virtual queue, but I didn’t realize the ticket I bought was for wheelchair users only.  Stub Hub wasn’t very helpful when I contacted them, their only advice was to put the ticket back up for sale and buy another one, which is what I did.  Then a week or so before the concert, Citi Field released a block of box-seat tickets, and even though it was much more expensive, I snagged one of those and then re-sold my second ticket.  I didn’t want to be a scalper jerk, so I always set the ticket prices for what I myself paid, but I lost out on transaction fees and whatnot each time.  I never did the math to total up how much I really paid in the end to see the show, I don’t want to know.

[4]  I bought a couple of items for my trip which I’d like to recommend.  It took hours of scouring Amazon to find a backpack that met Citi Field’s size requirements.  I ended up with the Red Rock Outdoor Gear Drifter Hydration Pack and just left the hydration pack at home.  It was a good purchase, for such a small backpack, I managed to cram a lot in it, and clip a lot on it. I also packed two Jackery Portable Charger Bars (6000mAh) and a Solar Charger RAVPower 24W Solar Panel which clipped to my backpack to keep me fully powered for the whole trip.  My phone never ran out of battery even with constant use and lots of filming.

And last but definitely not least, my favorite purchase of all was something I almost left in the hotel room.  Right before I walked out the door, I clipped the Trekology YIZI Go Portable Camping Chair to my backpack and I spent the rest of the day so grateful that I had it.  Two thumbs up, it really saved my feet!  I even had several offers to buy it from me throughout the day!

The lightweight Trekology camping chair that saved the day and my feet/back.

 


28
Oct 18

#BTSxCitifield Part 2 – Finding BTS + Joining the ARMY = Going to Citi Field

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This post is part of a series, see #BTSxCitifield Part 1 – The Backstory: How Trump and #MeToo led to finding #BTS and joining the ARMY to start from the beginning.


 

Remember when I said I wasn’t sure if I even remembered how to blog since it’s been so long?  Well, I managed to misconfigure an IFTTT trigger and caused an endless loop of alerts about the new blog post being posted to Twitter, which posted a blog post on here that I had tweeted, which triggered a new tweet.. lol.  Like a noob all over again!  Thank goodness a RL friend texted me to let me know about the problem.  Thanks Phil!


 

So back to the story.  Exactly how did a middle-aged (!) white lady living in suburban Cincinnati, Ohio get into a Korean boyband?  In the last post, I talked about my unexpected reaction to the election of Trump and the #MeToo movement, and how my inability to cope with the endless cycle of upsetting news led to an American media/internet blackout.  Shutting off the information flow opened space for new interests and hobbies at a time when I was in need of distraction, and that was the context in which I discovered BTS. [1]

I also mentioned that the first BTS songs to catch my ear were Save Me and Dope, but I’m trying to remember what it was exactly that prompted my deeper dive into BTS.  In the beginning, it was hard to distinguish one boyband group from the next, EXO, Winner, GOT7.. The whole K-pop genre was a stretch for me musically, and I found the “super innocent yet super sexy schoolgirl” vibe of the girl groups especially disturbing.

K-Pop girl group AOA in what appears to be typical “sexy school girl” styling.

Even if they produce a catchy tune, I have a hard time supporting an industry that over-sexualizes young women like that.  I suppose the boy bands are not so different, since sex sells the world over, but it feels somehow less in your face with the men than it does with the women.  I’d say BTS in particular seems to dress fairly conservatively these days, though there are shirt-ripping and belly-showing dance moves from their earlier videos.

BTS in school uniform styling, not sure what year this is from though.

Digging around in my YouTube history (yikes, not recommended!), it looks like a fan-made video I stumbled upon about the BTS “alternate universe” story might have been an early hook.  It’s basically a short film explaining the fictional universe that connects many of their albums and music (sort of like a rock-opera). It tells the story of 7 high-school friends who drift apart, facing their various painful childhoods and personal demons as they grow into adulthood.  But one member, Jin, has the ability to time travel, and as he watches his friends meet one tragic fate after another, he rewinds time searching for what to change to bring them all happiness, failing over and over again in each alternate timeline.

The time-travel story arc crosses several album cycles and if you search for “BTS storyline” on YouTube, you’ll find a plethora of fan-made videos with theories about what all the clues mean.

As a newcomer to the BTS scene, I think it was the fans’ obsessive attention to detail and endless theorizing as much as the storyline itself that caught my interest.  Over the next few months, I began to realize that it was a truly global phenomenon.  Europe, Asia, South America, Africa, North America, all around the world there were crazed passionate fans following these guys’ every move.  It made me wonder how this baby-faced K-pop boyband had somehow developed a following that was so intense it crossed time zones, national boundaries, language barriers, cultural differences, age, sex, gender.

Korean fans (or fans who speak Korean) translate their work into English, and other fans translate it from English into other languages.  On Twitter, which seemed to be the preferred social media channel, there were endless conversations, in every language you can imagine, at any time day or night, sharing, arguing, debating, writing fan fics, producing their own videos, explaining, theorizing, analyzing.  (Look at the live, global BTS feed right now, how many languages do you see?) [2]

And the band was producing a near continuous stream of new content themselves, releasing their new album Love Yourself: Her in September 2017, with new videos, new theories, new tweets and posts.  The synergy between the band and the fans was.. well, crazy.  It sucked me in.

It was like watching a reality television show unfold in real time, except instead of seedy cat-fights and endless love triangles, you had these innocent, hardworking Korean guys from an underdog small-time record label trying to beat the odds, and fans from all over the world cheering them on, and over and over again, I had the thought that the international dialogue happening between BTS fans was so different from the hate-filled “us vs. them” rhetoric happening in the US.  I’m not sure how to describe it, but it felt like… the exact opposite of the toxic brew of ugly Trumpist nationalism.

BTS performing “DNA” at the American Music Awards, November 2017.

By the time they came to the US and performed at the American Music Awards in November, I had passed the threshold from casual observer to proto-fan, and by May of 2018 when Love Yourself: Tear was released (which went on to break a zillion records including landing at #1 on the Billboard charts), I could have passed any “You’re an ARMY If..” quiz.  I even had a handle on all this newfangled fandom jargon (wow it made me feel old) of stanning and biases and ships and K-Diamonds and I-Lovelies.  It wasn’t just the band.  It wasn’t just the music.  It wasn’t just the fans.

The real catch is the thing that unites the fans and the band, an infectious hopeful optimism that crosses every language, cultural, or age barrier.  Even though they are so young, their music tells the story of a group of boys growing up and trying to discover how to live a meaningful life in a world of such disparity.  And even though I’m 42 years old, I’m still trying to figure out how to live a meaningful life in a world of such disparity, too.  Their solo albums and side projects delve into how hard it is to overcome anxiety, perfectionism, and depression, and through their music and countless interviews, it’s clear they’re figuring out that fame and fortune don’t buy happiness if you don’t like yourself.  And here it took me 30-some years to discover that.  How wonderful would it have been if I had realized it in my 20s?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m as cynical and jaded as the next gal. Yes sometimes the lyrics are cheesy, and yes sometimes the music is pure pop syrup, and yes the K-pop machine has an ugly underbelly including sexual abuse, suicide, and contracts that aren’t far from indentured servitude, and yes the band is a commercial, capitalist enterprise making zillions of dollars with their $50+ t-shirts, and lightsticks, and this, that, and the other.  BTS and BigHit Entertainment is a business, BIG business, and they are monetizing the passion of their fans to make a killing (Forbes reported in March 2018 that Big Hit Entertainment was valued at 783 billion KRW, or $687 million USD, I’m sure that’s only gone up since then).  That’s all completely true.

BTS ‘Fake Love’ dance practice session.  Even if you don’t like the music, you can’t tell me that isn’t art.

And.. somehow I don’t care.  Somehow, I’m glad for them.  Somehow I still find sincerity in their finger-hearts and silly smiles, earnestness in their practice videos and sweaty concert performances, optimism and a refreshing naivete in their lyrics and rap wordplay.

Why not a bunch of young guys from Korea who have still have the unbelievable youthful audacity to think they can change the world? 

Ultimately, that’s what turned me into an ARMY.  Adorable Representative MCs for Youth.  At a time in my personal life when I felt despair, I happened upon a global thread of hope through BTS and their fans, a reminder that young people all around the world are struggling, thinking, hoping, trying to find a way to live and move forward, and that the way forward is as it has always been, one step at a time, to just plain not give up.  To not let cynicism win.  A reminder of the joy of music, the release you feel dancing to a good beat, and the inspiration that came from seeing the often smiling, sometimes tired, but still hopeful faces of 7 Korean boys who aren’t yet ground down by the machine, the world, life itself.


A favorite tweet from a few months ago..

As the last album of the Love Yourself cycle came out in August 2018, Love Yourself: Answer (which also went on to break a bazillion records including #1 on the Billboard charts again), BTS and the Adorable Representative MCs for Youth became (part of) the antidote to my Trump depression.  BTS and ARMY culture shows that there are other ways to to respond to the challenges the world faces other than tribalism and building walls, and that good music, good art makes us think, feel, reflect, absorb, change, and no joke, it can be healing.

Anyone who has watched a BTS video has seen the Big Hit Entertainment intro: “Music & Artist for Healing”.  Indeed.

So after all that, I did what every other self-respecting ARMY (who could afford it) did, and started planning a trip to see them live when they came the States for their globally sold-out Love Yourself World Tour.

Coming soon, #BTSxCitifield Part 3 – The fans, the show, the experience – so awesome.

 


 

[1]  My rekindled interest in Korean culture was not my only new diversion.  During an unusually long power outage in November, I dug through the closet and found my guitar, and have been faithfully teaching myself to play (again, but kind of for the first time).  I took piano lessons as a kid, and played clarinet very badly in grade school, but this is the first time that I’ve passed the threshold of playing an instrument well enough to really enjoy it.  And practicing requires a level of obsessive repetition that feels almost meditative, it’s given me an enormous amount of solace.

Don’t make fun, I know I’m not very good at singing OR playing, but that’s the first song I learned after picking a guitar up again for the first time in 20 years. (I’ll say it again, Music for Healing!)

[2] BTS landed in the 2018 Guinness Book of World Records for having the most Twitter engagements, apparently more than Trump and Justin Bieber combined.  I find that really funny for some reason.


22
Oct 18

#BTSxCitifield Part 1 – The Backstory: How Trump and #MeToo led to finding #BTS and joining the ARMY

It has truly been an age since I’ve written an actual blog post. [1]  I may even have forgotten how to do it, I guess we’ll see.  It’s not so much that I haven’t felt the urge to write from time to time, but once you get out of the habit of blogging, it feels insurmountable to start back up again.  And yet here I am, trying to remember my website password on a Saturday morning.

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The impetus for this blog reset was that I wanted to write about the experience of going to see BTS at Citi Field in New York a couple weeks ago. (If you need a primer, here are a few from the Guardian, Rolling Stone, NYT, and Vulture).  Like many, I picked up the #CitiFieldFlu while I was there, so I’ve basically been bedridden or trying to catch up ever since I got back into town, but I hope I can remember everything because I think it might be one of the best trips of my life.  It was not only a great show, the whole trip was the kind of awesome, life-affirming experience that makes you see the world differently when you come back home, and not many concerts can do that.

PART 1:  THE BACK STORY

But to back up a bit, I feel like I have to explain how I got into this Korean boyband in the first place…

It actually starts with the election of Donald Trump, the #MeToo movement, and the absolutely paralyzing trauma I felt near the end of last year.

By mid-2017, as the daily insult and injury of the Trump Administration took my breath away, and every American media outlet, news program, channel, and pop-culture reference  everywhere became All Trump All the Time, I began to experience a kind of cognitive overload and emotional upset that I’d never felt before.  Then in the fall of 2017, the #MeToo movement broke open with one horrific story of abuse after another.  Coupled with the shock and complex emotions that came with each days’ news cycle, I also began to feel a sense of shame that I was having so much trouble even coping with the news.  I’d be heading into work listening to NPR, and suddenly find myself bursting into tears of anger, sadness, fear, horror, and sooooo much disappointment, it’s still hard to comprehend.  Until one day, I just couldn’t cope with it anymore.

Magazine cover picturing all the women accusing Bill Cosby of sexual abuse, with an empty chair representing other women who had not yet come forward.

I turned the radio off.  I turned the TV off.  I canceled my subscriptions to the New York Times and the Washington Post.  I un-followed hundreds of accounts on Twitter.  For many months, I was pretty much offline but for what I absolutely had to do for work and I told everyone in my personal life that I was on a complete news blackout and that I did not want to know what happening.  No, that’s not quite right – it wasn’t just that I didn’t WANT to know, it was even worse than that.  I couldn’t even force myself to look at what was happening.  [2]

My family and friends were shocked and confused, I think, and concerned.  For anyone who knows me at all, tuning out and ignoring things is an extremely uncharacteristic response.  And since the day I first discovered the internets back in 1994, most of my personal hobbies and interests, not to mention my whole career and professional life, has revolved around the internet, activism, and using technology to improve the human condition.  And yet suddenly I found myself unable to engage with any of it.  All of it. I felt compelled to shut the internet off.  [3]

That was about a year ago, in November of 2017.

So what does a person DO when the thing that occupied all of their waking life for all of their adult life suddenly becomes toxic?

A SLOW-SIMMERING INTEREST IN KOREAN HISTORY/CULTURE TURNS INTO A REFRESHINGLY DIVERTING MINI-OBSESSION

How do any of our obsessions begin?  Some tiny niggling seed that takes root and grows into something strange and unexpected.

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My grandpa is in the center kneeling, with Korean children wearing UN hats.  Not sure of the year, 1953 or 1954.

My most recent one has deep roots, if I think about it.  My grandfather on my mother’s side, who I called Dad, served in Korea when he was in the Army, and it’s one of those episodes in the family lore that holds myriad meanings and significances.  Family rumor has it that Mom and Dad got married because she got pregnant after (before?) Dad went to Korea.  Not sure about the timeline there, maybe my mom will correct me. The cherry lacquer wooden bowls that Dad sent back from Korea were a source of bitterness for my aunt Mary when Mom and Dad passed away and we couldn’t find them.  My uncle Frank probably still hasn’t forgiven me that I wouldn’t give up the photographs of Dad in Korea.  (In my defense, I kept them to scan them in so everyone could have them. :P)

After Dad died, I spent many hours scanning in photos and tracing through his life story, and I never could determine exactly where he was stationed in Korea, but I had the thought that I’d like to go there some day.  He didn’t talk about his military experience much, but it obviously helped shape who he was, and if the family rumors were true, I was indirectly a product of his Korean adventure.

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With Dr. Youngkyun Baek and Korean National University of Education graduate students at the University of Cincinnati, 2007.

Another root of my new obsession was a wonderful experience many years ago meeting Dr. Youngkyun Baek, who at the time was an Asst. Professor at Korea National University of Education.  In 2007, he joined the University of Cincinnati with a Visiting Professor appointment and arranged for me to lead a week-long seminar with a group of his graduate students from Korea to discuss the use of Virtual Worlds and Second Life in higher education. That was my first sense that Korean society is far more accepting of and quicker to adopt technology than the US.

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Having a traditional Korean meal with so many side dishes it blew my mind!

It was fascinating and so much fun to spend time with them.  The  language barrier was only a mild impediment to a fun-filled week of exploring virtual worlds during the day, and exploring Cincinnati and Korean culture after class.

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Canoeing the Whitewater River with my new friends.

I’d say it is one of the great regrets of my career that I didn’t stay in better touch with them all.  Maybe I’ll try to reconnect now that I’m less ignorant of Korean culture than I was back then (I feel embarrassed now to think of how much I didn’t know).  If any of them happens to find this blog post, I hope they’ll say hello!

In any case, a few months before my Great Media Blackout of 2017 began, one of the news headlines that contributed to my sense of panic also re-ignited my interest in Korea.  You may recall in August 2017 when headlines like Trump Threatens ‘Fire and Fury’ Against North Korea if It Endangers U.S. began to appear.  For a split second, I was afraid Trump might get us into a nuclear war, and thinking of my conversations with Dr. Baek’s students way back when, I wondered what it must be like to live in South Korea and have that worry constantly.

One thing led to another, and I began reading about the Korean War and South Korea’s military enlistment policy, and then an online friend suggested that I watch a Korean drama on Netflix called Descendants of the Sun if I was interested in how the military experience and North/South relations are portrayed in Korean popular culture.  After that completely addicting experience, I discovered I could add Rakuten Viki and Dramafever apps to my Amazon Prime/Amazon Firestick, and well, let me tell you, once I fell down the K-Drama rabbit hole, there was no turning back.

Next thing I knew, I was ordering books from Talk to Me in Korean (highly recommended!) and getting monthly deliveries of Korea Box (also highly recommended!) and scouring the Cincinnati area for soju.  (I never found it in Cincinnati, you have to go over the river into Kentucky at Party Source.)

It was all a marvelous distraction from the Trump/#MeToo madness, and though I have a lot of critical thoughts about the conservative, patriarchal parts of South Korean culture, it was still a welcome respite to leave the American mediascape behind and learn about a faraway land with their own history and myths and fabulous cuisine.  As you can imagine, once I entered the world of K-Drama, then the music of K-Pop wasn’t far behind.

 

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One of my favorite songs, so good. #Eagles

A post shared by Fleep (@fleep513) on

My musical tastes are as weird and varied as everyone else’s.  I cut my teeth on a combination of bluegrass gospel from my biological father’s Kentuckian side of the family, and 50’s/60’s bubblegum pop, the Beatles, and “classic rock” from my mom and step-dad.  The Eagles (who I just saw in Cleveland this past weekend!), CSN(Y), and Jackson Browne are in my childhood DNA, and then as an adult, well, it’s too varied to categorize, but I can say in the last decade or so, pop music and hip-hop were not really in the mix.  I remember a couple years ago having the realization that I was Officially Old because I didn’t recognize even one single artist who won a Grammy that year.

So K-Pop was really a field afar for me, and I think I started with some generic “Top K-Pop Hits” playlist on YouTube, as one does these days.  It all sounded kind of the same at first, and then one of the songs starts to grow on you, and then another one, and then you realize, hey, those two songs are by the same group, and then.. and then..

So yeah, that’s how I discovered BTS (Hangul: 방탄소년단; RR: Bangtan Sonyeondan), translated as Bulletproof Boyscouts, also known as the Bangtan Boys, a seven-member South Korean boy band.

For any ARMYs who might be reading, the first song was Save Me.

The second one was Dope.  I had to know who that red-headed dancer was.  (Once you Jimin, you can’t Jimout, as they say.) ((Now OT7 for life.)) =)

This seems like a good place to take a break.

Coming soon:  #BTSxCitifield Part 2 – Finding BTS + Joining the ARMY = Going to Citi Field


 

[1] I looked it up, my last sincerely written, totally original content blog post was in January 2014 about Edward Snowden.  Wow, that’s even longer than I thought.
Re: Snowden – Whistleblowing & Its Consequences and Part 2: Snowden – Whistleblowing & Its Consequences

[2] In the interest of full disclosure, I want to say publicly that I am also a survivor and a victim (even though I hate both terms) of sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and sexual assault.  #MeToo.  Part of my shutdown was undoubtedly related to those past traumas that I thought I had overcome. Obviously not. It’s clear to me now that the way that the Trump election and #MeToo became entwined in my emotional response has as much to do with my personal history as it does with my political identity.

I also want to say that if any other person out there also had a total shutdown response to Trump and/or #MeToo, just know that you are not alone.  I think we’re human and there are limits to how much trauma a person can process.  We all have our own roads of recovery.  I remain truly really grateful for the men and women who had the strength to speak up when I myself did not.

[3] Relatively speaking, of course, I really couldn’t maintain a 100% blackout even with great effort.  In this modern day and age, there really is no total escape no matter how hard you try.

[4] Dramafever was just shut down last week after Time Warner/AT&T bought them, and there was a great wailing heard round the world by K-Drama fans everywhere.  =(


7
Apr 12

Lera Lynn and Ben Lewis Playin Banjo

I’m a sucker for banjos and great harmonies, and thanks to my friend @taiganaut, I’ve had this song stuck in my head all day, so I felt compelled to share it with you.  😉


13
Jul 08

Cure the Ear Worm – More Informal Learning

This song has been playing in my head on repeat for days on end. It got so bad I actually broke out the guitar and gave myself some good finger blisters trying to learn it. I’ve drafted some friends to help me figure out the chords that are confusing me and I thought I’d share before bed in case it might help cure the ear worm. =)

This is another example of the informal learning we talk about. Here’s some young girl in a garage somewhere sharing her talent, and in turn inspiring me, someone she’s never met, to learn something new.

I truly don’t understand people who aren’t amazed by the power of the net.


31
Jan 08

Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore

Thanks @fireton for this old protest song gem:

Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore
© John Prine

While digesting Reader’s Digest
In the back of a dirty book store,
A plastic flag, with gum on the back,
Fell out on the floor.
Well, I picked it up and I ran outside
Slapped it on my window shield,
And if I could see old Betsy Ross
I’d tell her how good I feel.

Chorus:
But your flag decal won’t get you
Into Heaven any more.
They’re already overcrowded
From your dirty little war.
Now Jesus don’t like killin’
No matter what the reason’s for,
And your flag decal won’t get you
Into Heaven any more.

Well, I went to the bank this morning
And the cashier he said to me,
“If you join the Christmas club
We’ll give you ten of them flags for free.”
Well, I didn’t mess around a bit
I took him up on what he said.
And I stuck them stickers all over my car
And one on my wife’s forehead.

Repeat Chorus:

Well, I got my window shield so filled
With flags I couldn’t see.
So, I ran the car upside a curb
And right into a tree.
By the time they got a doctor down
I was already dead.
And I’ll never understand why the man
Standing in the Pearly Gates said…

“But your flag decal won’t get you
Into Heaven any more.
We’re already overcrowded
From your dirty little war.
Now Jesus don’t like killin’
No matter what the reason’s for,
And your flag decal won’t get you
Into Heaven any more.”