If you’ve been alive for at least thirteen years, you’ve experienced some sort of heartbreak over the course of your existence. We’ve all been there – be it a crappy ending to your favorite book series, the puppy you were never allowed to get, or the love of your life never acknowledging your existence. Broken hearts are painful, scarring, and important for our development as adults. They teach us about reality, resilience, and growth. I’m not looking forward to watching my daughters go through all of those emotions as they continue to mature, but I know that they’re going to have to and it’s the skills they learn early on that will help them handle the rest of their lives creatively, gracefully, and with self-respect.
In many ways, my relationship with Kpop has been a second adolescence – a second opportunity to experience and relearn all of those skills I thought I had squared away years ago. We, in writing and on the blog, have chatted a lot about it over the course of the almost three years I’ve been contributing to Kchat Jjigae. We’ve talked about jealousy and love and longing, and we’ve tackled various other feeeeeelings along the way. But of all days, today I think it’s important that we take a quick look at our bruised hearts and celebrate where we’ve been and where we’ll end up.
2019, and November, in particular, has been a challenging year for fans of Kpop. A lot has happened and much of it has had us examining our continued support of the groups and idols we’ve loved deeply for years or have recently discovered and formed an interest in. We’ve had to decide what we’re willing to accept as cultural difference and what we as international fans are capable of influencing through social media, with our dollars, and with our combined voices. There have been giant steps forward around contracts, expectations, and treatment of idols in recent memory, but the industry is still far from ideal and we continually see artists impacted by seemingly inconsequential things to our western minds. Our hearts keep getting broken on behalf of our fantasy boyfriends and girlfriends – and broken because the people we genuinely love are being hurt. Regardless of the reason, if it’s their fault or the fault of an unfair system, it sucks. We’ve invested an enormous amount of emotional capital into our groups and biases and when those connections end before we’re ready it’s like a punch to the gut.
This month, just as we saw two great comebacks, we lost two key members of insanely popular and well-loved groups. The Stray Kids released a rap heavy, dark song right in their wheelhouse but with a different enough sound that even I, despite my hesitation, was completely charmed. Shortly after, however, we received news that Woojin had decided to leave the group and terminate his contract with JYP. Woojin, the gorgeous and affable vocalist much adored for his powerful vocals and solid presence. Rumors and postulation about the reason for his leaving have started circulating and most fans think we’ll hear something before too long, but I’m not sure that’s true – or that I want a detailed reason if he doesn’t want to share it. He was an idol, yes, but he is also a person that deserves privacy and the right to change his job if the one he’d chosen as a child didn’t quite suit him as an adult.
It sucks. It hurts the people that love and support him. But on a happy note, it looks like he’s still planning to do music on his own terms and we can continue to love and support him in a different way.
Double Knot, Stray Kids
Those of us that have been living the Kpop dream for awhile have almost all had our little souls ripped out a few times. We’ve built solid walls around our sensitive inner bits as protection against the inevitable. Our defenses are battered and damaged, but they definitely stand guard against much of what happens. Thank goodness.
Monsta X is one of my early loves – like an old boyfriend I still adore, someone I continually look at with hearts in my eyes and a giddy feeling in the lower part of my tummy but can put on a shelf to focus on some of my new crushes without guilt. They’ve earned that love through years of hard work, insane skill, and talent, and making themselves accessible to me as an international fan in a well balanced and skillfully timed way. I’ve never felt left out and I’ve not gotten sick of them.
After a few English language releases, they came back recently with an eight-song album going back to the dance-pop with the questionably silly/wonderfully romantic lyrics and concepts that they are so well known for. To be honest, I wasn’t sure I’d love it. But I was, of course, wrong. There are multiple tracks that I adore and the small amount of promotional variety I’ve managed to catch with all of them has been a delight.
When the news was released regarding the scandal surrounding Wonho and Shownu and then Wonho’s departure from the group I felt sore – my walls shook a little. I felt incredibly sad for Wonho for having to leave the group and career he’s worked so hard for. I feel sad for Shownu trying to keep his private life separate from his work life and for not being able to do so and for being played a fool. I feel sad for the other members having to continue promoting something they love in the midst of all of this turmoil – pretending to be giving it their all while they’re inevitably aching inside with a complicated mix of emotions.
Yes, I have thoughts about Wonho leaving. No, I don’t know if my thoughts are right or appropriate or even relevant without having all of the details of the situation. All I know is that this drama would have played out incredibly differently if MX were a Western group rather than Kpop. I have guesses about why Wonho left and Shownu stayed. About why one scandal was more punishable than the other, or why one made that particular decision and the other didn’t. But who knows if I’m right. All I know is that I would never have made a very good idol if they are truly expected to live up to the definition of the job. I was never perfect. I don’t look perfect. I don’t sound perfect. I don’t use the perfect words and I certainly haven’t lived a perfect life and that’s what these children, teens, and young adults are expected to be and to have done.
I haven’t been blown to smithereens this month because my heart was broken long ago and I’ve successfully built up my walls. I’m resilient. I’m a fan with her eyes wide open. But I feel incredibly sad for those youngsters or those young in their Kpop fandom going through this for the first time. I encourage you to take the time to lick your wounds, examine yourself in the aftermath of all of that shrapnel and decide if your love of the genre, of the groups, and of the idols is worth going through this again because if you stick around, you’ll have to.
For me, it’s more than worth it.
Follow, Monsta X