Five years ago, K-pop was a very different place. DBSK was still five members strong and had just played Tokyo Dome for the first time. Jay Park was still known as 2PM’s leader, and “Gee” was the it song of the year. Twitter was just starting to take off, Tumblr wasn’t yet a thing, and virtually everyone got their English K-pop news from that other K-pop site in town.
When I started writing for Seoulbeats five years ago, it didn’t really occur to me that things could change so much in such a short time — with K-pop, of course, but also with myself. Back then, I stalked DBSK fansites obsessively just so I wouldn’t miss seeing what Changmin wore to the airport that day. Now, I find myself barely being able to keep up with any of my favorite groups, let alone the K-pop world at large. It sure is a funny feeling, outgrowing an old passion.
Even though my love for K-pop has waxed and waned throughout the past five years, Seoulbeats has been a constant presence in my identity not just as a K-pop writer, but also as a person. I’ve changed so much during my time at Seoulbeats, and it’s hard to imagine life without it. As I go on indefinite leave from Seoulbeats to work on other projects, I can’t help but wonder: how much of these past five years have I taken for granted?
It’s a huge privilege to have written and edited for Seoulbeats for such a long time — to work with such an awesome team of fellow writers and editors, to write for such a responsive and receptive audience and to be given so many opportunities to grow and stretch myself. During my time here, Seoulbeats has always given much more to me than I have given to it, and I’m so grateful and proud to have called Seoulbeats my home these past five years.
In celebration and memory of these five years, here are five things I’ve learned during my time at Seoulbeats.
K-pop is a big place, but everything in it is closely interrelated and interdependent on each other. Understanding this interdependency is the first step to looking at K-pop with a truly objective eye. It’s one thing to know everything about your favorite group and make judgements on their strengths and weaknesses based on that knowledge alone, but it’s another thing to contextualize those judgements into a greater knowledge of the K-pop world. Your opinions on one idol or one group will mean that much more when they’re anchored in a solid understanding of everything else happening in K-pop.
2) Some people will never get it, and that’s okay.
For every article written on blackface, cultural appropriation, or sexual objectification, there will be at least five people who will directly tell the writer to stop beating a dead horse, and at least five hundred other people elsewhere on the internet who will look at the issue and be unwilling to give more than a single shit about it.
That is okay. That is supposed to happen.
Conviction is rarely contagious, and it’s incredibly difficult to change hearts and minds on an issue just by posting a few articles about it. I’ve found that writing about Things That Matter is less about spreading a message and convincing others, and more about strengthening my own convictions. We write because we have something on our hearts worth saying. Being able to imprint those words onto the hearts of others, then, is just a bonus.
99.9% of people who have ever crossed paths with K-pop have absolutely no significant financial stake in it. We don’t depend on it to feed our families or plan our futures. 99.9% of us have the luxury of calling it quits from K-pop should we ever feel it necessary to do so. For 99.9% of us, K-pop is just entertainment, and it should stay as entertainment.
That isn’t to say, though, that the feelings we experience through K-pop aren’t real — especially those of sadness or anger or disappointment. Rather, the fact that something as trivial and distant as a K-pop group is able to make us feel and love so deeply speaks volumes about the potential of the human soul to love and care for the real, live people around us. Recognize that potential, and use it towards bettering the lives of others.
4) Writing about K-pop is never worth it.
The most exhausting thing about K-pop blogging isn’t the hours of thinking, writing, editing, and formatting that go into creating a post. It’s the endless thought train of what-ifs: what if no one agrees with me, what if no one gets my jokes, what if I’m overlooking an important point, what if I piss off an entire fandom and have to go into hiding for fear of my safety … and so on.
Oftentimes, K-pop blogging requires a ton of energy from the writer and offers proportionally few positive results in return. Furthermore, it’s pretty messed up to know that you’ve only really “made it” as a K-pop writer once you’ve angered several fandoms to the point of singling you out as Public Enemy #1 and harassing you over social media. But then again, pissing off two of K-pop’s largest fandoms was probably one of the most impressive and memorable things I’ve ever done in my life, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything else. Except maybe an apology from the JYJ fan who made fun of my name. That kind of hurt.
5) Writing about K-pop is always worth it.
Because between butthurt fans, death threats, and other risks to my personal safety, the fact that there even exists an audience interested in in-depth analyses of K-pop is in itself pretty amazing. That’s why Seoulbeats is such a special place, I think — we were the first to pioneer this thought model in the English K-pop blogosphere, and it’s a mission that we’ve worked to protect since the beginning. And even as the K-pop world changes, I still believe that there will always be people wanting to view K-pop through a critical lens. I hope Seoulbeats will always be there to provide it.
I’ve watched a lot of people come and go from this site, and it’s weird to see myself as one of the people saying goodbye. I’ll still stop by every so often to drop a comment or even contribute an article. But for now — it’s been real good, Seoulbeats fam. Take care, and see you around.