The second I sat down in chapel on Monday morning, my phone vibrated in my hand. The notification for the tweet held several hashtags containing Korean characters, the letters “BTS” and a link to BitHit Entertainment’s YouTube channel.
I looked over at Hollee, my chapel buddy, with wide eyes, and she returned a knowing smile. I think I might have even squealed a little.
For those of you who don’t understand my excitement, let me explain. BigHit Entertainment is a Korean music company, and BTS is a K-pop group under their record label. This specific tweet was announcing the drop of BTS’s new music video and the pending release of their newest album. That meant Hollee and I were going to be up all night in anticipation while blasting their previous album, “You Never Walk Alone.”
I don’t remember exactly how I got into this K-pop stuff. I just remember Hollee sitting up in her bed saying, “What the heck is K-pop, and why is it all over my Twitter?” That statement was shortly followed by an “I don’t understand what’s going on, but it seems cool.”
After a few days, she was playing Korean music videos 24/7. The next thing I knew, I was following up her “Ireumeun Jung Kook” with “Seukeireun jeonguk,” an iconic line from one of BTS’s early songs, “We Are Bulletproof, Pt. 2.”
Now I can practically tell you everything there is to know about BTS. For starters, BTS stands for Bangtan Sonyeondan, which basically translates to Bulletproof Boy Scouts. There are seven members and all of them are amazing dancers with fantastic vocal power. The best part about BTS, and K-pop in general, really, is that there is such a variety in the music they produce. You like slow, beautiful melodies? Try the song “Butterfly.” Prefer Rap? Listen to the Cyphers; they’re killer.
Before anyone asks, no, I don’t speak Korean. When I listen to these songs, I don’t immediately understand what they’re saying — I have to look up a translated version of the lyrics. I think that’s the most common issue I find when I tell someone they should check out some K-pop. I’ve been told that it’s weird to listen to music in a language I don’t readily understand, but my response is simple: “Despacito.”
There are many songs people listen to that have lyrics in other languages, but no one complains about them. They just turn the radio up a little louder and sing along. Well, Korean is no different. The songs are still lit and, although I butcher most if not all of the lyrics, I still get pumped when I sing them. I can understand the feeling in the songs without understanding the words.
Since we really like these singers, Hollee and I started watching them act on Korean TV shows. Hollee ordered some workbooks, downloaded an app and started learning the language. We’ve cooked Korean dishes that they recommended and discovered some really great beauty products. Being so exposed to Korean culture, our ideas of community have changed, and we will both tell you that we’re a lot more curious about things going on around the world than we have ever been before. Our entire worldview has been affected.
Sometimes it seems the U.S. has a bit of a bubble around it, much like Harding does. We tend to stick with what we’re comfortable with and shy away from things we don’t understand. It’s common for people in other countries to learn English, but it’s a little less common for people here to learn languages like Korean or even Sign Language. There are so many subcultures just in America that we often don’t address.
So I’ll make a public service announcement right here: If you’re reading this, go learn something new about a culture not your own. I suggest you check out my favorite BTS album, “You Never Walk Alone,” but there are plenty of other ways to get to know another culture. It can be looking at authentic recipes or even asking a student from a different country to teach you a bit of their language. Just go out and experience something new. There are so many different cultures in the world, and I think it’s important for us to remember that we are not alone on this planet.