Today I wanted to try something different on the Asian Music Friday (I seriously need to come up with a good name for that) feature here on Unsheathed. Analysis is fun, band introductions have their place, but I wanted to speak more directly to you all and share my personal journey into KPOP. How I got into the sphere of Asian music, and how I changed as an individual because of it. It’s a period of my life that I simultaneously love and yet kind of wish was different, for a few reasons. KPOP came into my life during a period of change, and yet that change didn’t begin at that particular point, nor has it really fully ended to this day. As much as it’s about KPOP…it’s about me growing up. So, take a seat, relax, and let’s talk.
My story doesn’t start with KPOP. In fact, my story starts when I was 11, about 3 years before I got into KPOP. My family had just joined a fundamental Baptist church: it was the type of place where the skirts were long, the suits had ties, and the conservative had a capital “C”. Literally every family there homeschooled, and at first it was really awesome. Their theology was correct, the people were nice, and the atmosphere was pretty friendly. Despite being the almost the only African-Americans in a church that was mostly white people (we had another black family, as well as a Japanese and Indian family), it still felt safe and comfortable. For a while.
Such worldly entertaiment as Star Wars wasn’t allowed.
If you’re familiar with Fundamental Baptists at all, you’ll know that they follow a strict set of rules. Skirts below the knee, home educate your kids, women shouldn’t work, stay away from the world, and do nothing that contradicts your pastor’s teaching. Those last two are very central to this story, especially in relation to my own family. In our home, we have a wide range of interests among the four of us: my parents enjoy older music while loving newer movies (my mom especially loves detective and action movies), while my sister and I are directly more on the geeky side of the spectrum, loving games, fun novels, and cartoons.
This church, however, would have none of that. Entirely too sinful and worldly.
I remember us throwing away a lot of movies in our righteous zeal, all the while I became a closet nerd and only indulged in comics and games every so often, away from church folks. I don’t remember feeling especially sad or stifled at the time, but I do remember that I didn’t feel…me. I didn’t feel as if I was my own person: I was just living in the existence that my church and parents provided for me. I was content with that, but to be honest it came with the expense of a lack of spiritual growth in my life. With everyone telling me what my faith was, all I had to do was follow rules and I was a Christian.
As time progressed, however, we began to notice certain undesirable characteristics within the church. Legalism’s overbearing shadow pushed everyone towards the ideal of the pastor’s view of piety, and it wasn’t long before we realized that a lot of people were simply going through the motions. My parents themselves started to think more about what the church taught, and it all came to a head when the pastor flat-out informed them that he believed that a person could live however they wanted to and that God would still accept them as long as they had prayed a prayer for salvation at one time in their lives. That false view of salvation was the final straw that caused us to leave that congregation, in search of greener pastures.
I was initially very sad during this period of life. As a homeschooler who was something of an introvert, I had few friends to begin with: most of them were made through church. I was afraid of what my life would become, but God had a plan. He introduced our family to our most current church, and at this point I had just hit 13. As I interacted with the people there, it was apparent that a lot of them were truly trying their best to live a life in service to God, and yet everyone was different. Yet everyone was accepted, not judged or looked down on. It was a stark contrast to the people I’d known before, and the life I lived. Finally, I could discuss my hobbies and interests with people who understood and reciprocated those same feelings!
Like Trunks and Goten, my new friends helped me to unlock my potential.
It was at this point that two very large events occurred in my life. First, I truly dedicated my life to Christ, and my spiritual life began anew. Second, I joined an online community for the first time: the Memverse Forums.
The Forums were the stomping grounds that God used to truly challenge my beliefs as a growing teenager. As a website made primarily for Scripture memorization, the Forums were a neat little addition that allowed the users to interact with one another outside of events like Bible Quizzes, and in that little nook did my personality really begin to develop. As I met other homeschoolers with wildly different beliefs, I began to question why I believed the way I did. Why did I enjoy certain movies? Why was it okay for me to play video games and read comics? What place did fantasy have in the life of the Christian? Each conversation was the springboard to a new understanding of my life and the place that God had in it, and I’m very thankful for the amount of time I spent during those three active years on the Forums.
MemVerse, as it is today.
Around this time, my homeschool career began to shift as I transitioned from being taught by my mom into taking classes online. This was new and exciting, and I got to meet different kinds of people who enjoyed different kinds of things. This newfound Internet freedom also brought with it what is most likely my most-visited website: YouTube. Stumbling onto the YouTube scene I started to find little corners and nooks that held hidden treasures of knowledge and fun. Users like BlimeyCow and PeanutButterGamer tickled my funny bone, while Vsauce put the knowledge of the universe in my hand, one video at a time. I also found out that YouTube was where most popular artists placed their music videos.
That was…enlightening, to say the least.
I was honestly kind of disappointed that most American popular artists either portrayed themselves as shallow, morally-loose, or both. There were exceptions here and there with artists like Imagine Dragons, but in general I didn’t like what I saw. I wanted something cleaner. Something different. Something with strong production values and imagery that wasn’t designed to appeal to hormonal 14-year-olds.
In my search, I remembered the K-POP Boom of 2012, kicked off by Psy’s “Gangham Style”, and I wondered if there were any other Korean stars that had good music. A few quick searches brought my to Girl’s Generation, and while they had good production I didn’t really enjoy their style. Plus, 9 members is too many for me to remember. I was about to give up on KPOP entirely, when I stumbled upon this song:
Upon tasting this glorious distilled anime, I never looked back.
In essence, my journey into KPOP isn’t something that just “happened”. It was the culmination of a lot of ideas and life changes that happened to me over the course of a few years that led me to the point where I could consider it as a Christian. In fact, my foray into Korean music is what eventually led me to appreciate Japanese music, culture, and also anime. While I didn’t particularly enjoy some of the experiences that led me to this point, I can say that I believe that each of them was necessary to shape me into who I am now. I’m not perfect, as much as I like to pretend I am, but I do know that God works in diverse and mysterious ways to bring me closer to Him. My story isn’t over yet.