K-pop's third place love affair

RM: Sometimes as I grow up — and I’m between my chapter one and two, like I said, the group and solo; maybe I’m between music and maybe [visual] art, between that. So sometimes I really feel afraid, like, “What if I don’t like music anymore?” I love art. But it’s somewhat different.

Williams: It is.

RM: It is. Music is like, it’s everywhere. I’m sad, but it’s everywhere. Sometimes I really feel afraid — like, music, it’s not my first thing anymore, sort of like that.

Williams: Yeah. That’s temporary.

RM: Oh, really? I’m relieved.

Williams: Yeah. Then all of a sudden you go, “Whoa. It’s the only thing I want to think about.” It’ll happen.

Excerpt from Rolling Stone, “‘What If I Don’t Like Music Anymore?’: A Wildly Honest Conversation Between BTS’ RM and Pharrell Williams” by Brian Hitt, pub Nov. 2, 2022

If you’re reading this, you probably follow me on Twitter or Instagram, because that’s where I posted that I’d be starting a newsletter. So first things first, hello!

Thank you for enjoying my work and feelings about K-pop enough that you’d spend some of your precious time and energy not only subscribing but hopefully enjoying while reading my future posts.

Secondly, a note on Notes. I wrote on the original tweet that I started this newsletter because of the impending Twitter exodus that we may or may not see in the near future. To be honest, I’ve been contemplating writing a regular, more personal and less reported column for a while, but as I was previously working at newspaper, even a column had to be more universal. These Notes on K-pop are going to definitely have some conversations that I hope everyone enjoys, but this is all going to be kind of my “off the record” Tamar mode, so expect long, unedited sentences and thoughts that just get into my feels while trying to explore larger topics of K-pop, creativity, fandom, business, and other related things that come to the chaos of my brain.

Obviously nothing’s off the record if it’s on the internet, but this isn’t (at the moment) going to be things that I’d probably publish elsewhere, meaning it’s more my thoughts than my reporting, though I do hope to incorporate some of that. So if you’re looking for interview exclusives, while I’d love that (hit me up, PR folks and K-pop-related creatives!) I just wanted to flag that’s not what the plan is for things here atm.

I would truly love to take things in that direction but I think we all know that most artists would rather talk to a big name outlet than a random newsletter, but hopefully some will be interested (here’s my winky face to all my PR peers reading this). This is definitely an in-the-works and open-to-ideas newsletter so there will be fluidity and not necessarily a real method to this (at least not at the beginning), so who knows where it’ll go. Thank you, regardless, for joining me at the start of this path to somewhere.

Now, back to the quote that you by now have probably forgot I introduced while I unloaded some of my initial thoughts and ground rules.

I didn’t quote it because I have a connection to Rolling Stone, the writer, or anything, but because it was something I’ve been thinking about a lot, and RM, as usual, had a succinct way of talking about one of the larger-than-life struggles for many professional creatives.

“What if I don’t like what I’m doing anymore?”

This has been something I’ve been thinking about a lot for years now. Although I’m probably one of the least artistically-capable people you’ll ever meet, I am in fact a  primarily entertainment journalist, and there is some element of the creative in what I do. Passion is what got me, and so many others who pursue professional paths like this, to where we are. I am someone who has made her career about K-pop because I love K-pop. K-pop has kept me company for over a decade and a half now and through so many different walks of life, and I’ve been privileged enough that I get to walk alongside it every day via my work.

But this push and pull is tough. That moment reading “What if I don’t like music anymore?” and the subsequent comforting thoughts that this is just a momentary feeling were truly comforting to me as much as I believe they were to RM. It’s probably going to sound ironic considering my career path and what I just said about how much I love K-pop, but I actually have about half a dozen emails to myself (my typical way of trying to remind myself I had a capital-t Thought I need to ruminate on for a while) that maybe I don’t like K-pop as much anymore as I used to.

“Has K-pop changed, or have I?” “Where has my passion gone?” “Maybe I’m just not good at loving anything, and K-pop is part of that?” (Yes, my therapist has a lot to unravel with me.)

I blame part of these feelings on what RM says is the “it’s everywhere”-ness, him speaking generally about music but me personally emphasizing K-pop.

I don’t really know if I know how to fangirl anymore, or maybe never did.

K-pop in my high school and college years was this haven of somewhere-else-ness, a Third Place of sorts. Now, on a personal level - let alone the rising awareness of it on a global level - it’s all encompassing and has become both my First and Second place: it’s my work, it’s my life, it’s my social media feeds. I have group chats about it. I work out in K-pop band tees, because hy would I spend money on Lululemon when concert merch makes me smile, even while I’m sweating.

For the record, I do have other interests and facets of my personality, I just really enjoy and value K-pop and journalism!

What does K-pop mean to you?

But because it’s all over the place for me, it’s everywhere, that divide is harder. When I listen to a song for the first time, I think about what content I can write. When I talk with friends, sometimes industry peers and sometimes otherwise, I often notice that I rain on their parades because I’m that analytical journalist bitch rather than just going all fangirl on them, which is honestly so sad because loving something enthusiastically, without limitations (as long as it’s causing no harm) is one of the most beautiful things out there. I don’t really know if I know how to fangirl anymore, or maybe never did. Definitely not as much as I’d like to ever since I realized that being a female reporter meant never letting anyone know my favorite artist, especially not if they’re male, especially not if they’re single.

Maybe one day I’ll share my K-pop biases with you all, but if you don’t have a daily group chat with me but can name even two of them in the comments, I’ll let you pick a topic for one week’s newsletter.

Anyhow, this is a long intro that’s a bit dramatic, I know. But I just want to say… As often as I send those emails to myself, I’m more often not writing them, simply because I find something new that excites me, or I emind myself why K-pop is so good in the first place, and why I love it so much, and do what I do. Like Pharrell said, those moments pass and something else reignites that spark.

I still love this, as tough as it sometimes is, as lackluster as I sometimes feel about things, often after a bad situation with work. But there are some romances that truly last a lifetime and, though we may be at the old married couple stage of our relationship, K-pop and I are going strong, even if we sometimes hit rough patches.

Maybe I’m overthinking too much of that Rolling Stone convo, and if you’ve read this far you’re perhaps rolling your eyes. But I hope that at least for one person, this resonates. We as people love, and we as people grow. My relationship with K-pop, whatever K-pop really is or isn’t (it’s not a genre) and all it encompasses, also grows and changes. And so I wanted to create a space to discuss what is worth talking about re K-pop, and so here we go. I’m going to try to update weekly for now, and see how it goes, so please stay tuned. I’ll be more analytical and less heartfelt next time. Maybe. We’ll see. I’m currently thinking of exploring why we all like concert lightsticks so much or reflecting on my experiences at KAMP (what many have dubbed the K-pop Fyre fest) but we’ll see if those are still on my mind in the days to come🤞

Quick Adendum :

I wrote this post before the incident at one of NCT 127’s Jakarta shows that resulted in the show being cancelled after thirty people fainted due to crowd crushing at the barrier. Following on the heels of the Halloween tragedy in Itaewon and a year since the Astroworld tragedy, although the former wasn’t a concert I feel like we as a community (I assume anyone reading this is a music industry insider and/or consumer) need to push for better measures to keep people safe while enjoying good times.  I hope there’s a reckoning among concert organizers and venues re how to move forward in a way that is safer, even while acknowledging seated GA’s aren’t perhaps as fun or perceived as authentic as pits. Wearing a helmet isn’t that fun either, but safety is paramount.

What I’ve written:

If you’re following me on socials, you’ve probably heard that I was unfortunately laid off recently. I’m currently freelancing and looking for a new role (and maybe working on a new book idea, we’ll see!) so I’m not writing as regularly as I usually do. But I did get the chance to review Rina Sawayama’s New York City show that kicked off her Hold the Girl tour for NME, and it was amazing.

Rina Sawayama live in New York City: pop’s rising queen brings dance therapy to Brooklyn

What I’m reading:

It’s not out yet, but I just pre-ordered Fiona Bae’s upcoming “Make Break Remix: The Rise of K-Style.”

What I’m listening to:

So… speaking of falling back in love with music after struggling to find something that really resonates, I have to highlight NMIXX’s Dice as one of my favorite musical moments in 2022.

To be honest, I didn’t get it at first but then… Obsession. It’s just so good! The changes, the shifts (Big wave~ Big wave~), the delivery, the quirkiness. It reminds me of the sort of surprising discordance that something as iconic as Girls’ Generation’s I Got A Boy delivers with aplomb, but brought up to speed for the 2020s. The music video’s concept is also one of my favorite’s, a blend of dreamy pop fairytales, carnivals, and dramatic dance breaks.

To be honest, I do feel like NMIXX’s dedication to songs that aren’t at all typical or expected is JYP Entertainment’s female answer to the noise music trend (usually associated with NCT 127 and Stray Kids) that’s popular in K-pop nowadays, and while I don’t think it’s for everyone (NMIXX is sadly the first JYP girl group to not get an instant hit at debut, with O.O proving divisive), I do think that NMIXX is really full of skilled vocalist performers, and we all should be paying close attention to them. I personally can’t get over Lily’s talent and was charmed especially by her during our conversation at KCON Chicago.