If K-pop fans were in Hogwarts, Hufflepuff would have finally received fifty points from Dumbledore for acts of loyalty (Harry Potter Reference). Fans describe K-pop with such devotion as if it saved their lives from Dementors, which is not necessarily untrue. This overflowed display of appreciation might mortify some. However, others get curious from the hype, enticed from the language of love the East Asian phenomenon has been spreading.
Chasing the Gangnam Style thread, Bangladeshi youths have since been surfing YouTube for more of a certain type of feel-good music. They love the freshness of programme-perfect choreographies which is comparatively different from Bollywood or Western music. However, perfectionism is not the only reason K-pop has spread.
Ipshita Ishrar, a 22-year-old student of BRAC University, has been in the K-pop world ever since she heard BTS’s music in 2013 when BTS had barely debuted and were not much popular even in their own country. At that time, their music spoke out for rebelling teens who did not want their dreams to be shattered by manipulative adults.
Ipshita is not a teen anymore, but neither are her idols. Now their music amplifies the encouraging language of self-love, mental health, women empowerment, toxic masculinity, capitalism along with casual prompts like being lost in life, having a bad day, or being in a creative pause. Sometimes to indulge in sadness, but more times to heal and comfort. Not only minors and vicenarians find solace in them, but also middle-aged and elders acknowledge K-pop for changing the musical trend from nihilism and hedonism to something optimistic without turning into a fairytale.
Ipshita also presumes, “I would have probably grown xenophobic traits was it not for K-pop. Their culture exposed me to a whole new social perspective and built my outlooks when I was growing up.”
Nishat Sultana is a 28-year-old architect and graphic designer. Her story begins with an extreme existential crisis and the uncertainty of being in the 20s. She remembers, “In a society where mental health is taken more lightly than a feather, fortunately, I had found my strength through some foreign boys’ lyrical consolation.”
She had become a K-pop fan, as she says, “Right there and then” after listening to BTS’s 2017 song Spring Day, a song that had told her it was OK to take a break as her friends would be waiting for better days together. However, despite their music having her attention, she had become an avid fan after seeing their personalities on variety shows.
Their unflashy, humble, and hard-working lives being shown through broadcasts had fascinated her and knotted a sense of connection. Being similar in age was a catalyst too. Instead of an unreachable star, they had felt like a friend, also struggling to study, and build a career just like every other student.
Seven overseas boys working hard on their dreams inspired her more than any motivational quotes, or any workout videos on YouTube. She had started to paint again and take small steps towards her dream. Gradually built healthy habits, secured a job, and have created two small online businesses.
A 22-year-old student of Shahjalal University of Science and Technology, Shaishob Rahman, is a music explorer. His friends say he could jam to folk and metal at the same time. His favourite genre was "whatever my mood called for" until 2020 when he had enough time to explore more of K-pop.
Even though he had occasionally tasted Korean music since 2016, he has become a fervid fan now because “The K-pop industry is always experimenting, and trying to bring freshness in music. Also, their culture is very humble and soothing to look at.”
Despite the rumour of K-pop being a manufactured industry, he had found that the idols portray their best behaviour with the minimum amount of artificiality. He likes the unique close relationship between the idols and the fans. Their culture suggests that they do not dare swindle their fans with anything other than rawness.
The Korean society believes that the fakes never subdue, and tries to maintain authenticity in their creations. Unlike most entertainment industries, they advocate kindness and modesty that promote slangs, objectification, and even harassment and motivates the K-pop fans to become a better version of themselves. An example can be BTS and their fandom, ARMY. Last year, the fans raised USD 1.0 million within 24 hours to match their idols donating a million to the Black Lives Matter Foundation.
The younger generation idolises them, not only in terms of talent and hard work but also on etiquettes and morals. Precisely why K-pop artists are called ‘idols.’ They are expected to have responsible behaviour and be an icon of a good citizen as they partly inspire an entire generation. And that’s the thing, ‘responsible behaviour,’ making BTS or the whole K-pop genera popular around the globe, not to mention Bangladesh specifically, believes Sanzida Maliha Momo.
“Apart from their rebellious lyrics, glamorous choreography and intense music, the sheer amount of positive message BTS is spreading is the reason for their immense popularity around the globe; include Bangladesh as well.”
This young journalist of Jagonews24, also a longtime fan of BTS, also added that the rising popularity of K-pop in Bangladesh began with the rise of BTS. Along with its unique taste of music, BTS spreads positivity through their voice and their behaviour too, reflects their words. BTS fans apparently emulate those and does a lot of inspiring social activities. Social and charitable activities by BTS ARMY, as Momo mentioned a few, are also active in Bangladesh, for instance -- Winter Bear Project for stray dogs in the DU area and Inner Child Charity Project for orphans and street children.
Fans have described K-pop as hot cocoa for numbing winter nights, Soju for scheduled sadness, and wine for Dionysus’s cryptic cup. ‘Healing’ is the closest adjective that fits K-pop, precisely how music is supposed to be. Perhaps, the world still values art more than trolls. Perhaps hope spreads faster than the coronavirus.
Mehenaz Sultana is a student of English at Shahjalal University of Science and Technology.