My first exposure to KPOP was when I was six and in a dermatology clinic in Seoul, South Korea. I was there to visit family, and on that particular day, my sister was getting her skin treated. On the TV in the spotless clinic was Big Bang in metallic clothing and neon-colored hair. Being six and more American than Korean, I was not only confused but also disgusted.
Who were these people? Why were they dressed like that? Why did they look like girls?
Yes, I was thoroughly anti-KPOP for my formative years. Not only that, but in simple terms, I thought KPOP was "stupid" without ever giving it a proper chance. In a sense, I was a banana.
I encountered KPOP several times after that experience in the clinic. Whenever my family and I would go to KBBQ, KPOP would be jamming in the background. My mother even showed me the MV to Wonder Girls "Nobody" when I was in middle school. Yet, I still refused to acknowledge KPOP, and I judged anybody who liked a song of it.
Until May 2016.
My sister's boyfriend was part of a KPOP dance troupe at his college. My mom showed me a video of them covering EXO's Call Me Baby. I got obsessed. The song, the dance, the fashion, the boys, everything. I showed my dad the video and even he gave a nod of appreciation. That got me even more excited.
Thus commenced the new couple of months listening to EXO and only EXO. From listening to songs like Call Me Baby to Growl (my personal favorite) to experiencing my first "comeback" with Monster and Lucky One, I was a full EXO-L.
Slowly but surely, I sank deeper and deeper into the KPOP fandom. I discovered GOT7, BTS, Twice, Blackpink, Winner, AOA, Sistar, f(x), Seventeen, SHINee, Super Junior, and more. From KPOP, I discovered Korean R&B, Rap, and Hip Hop artists, such as Jay Park, Loco, Dean, Crush, Zico, and etc. From Korean music came Chinese music and Japanese music, and suddenly, I realized that I was part of two worlds: American and East Asian.
Growing up in a majority WASP community, I was more "white American" than I was "Korean-American." Sure, I was fluent in Korean and ate Korean food daily; and sure, I was never bullied or teased about my being Asian and Korean, but when I got into high school, a place that was not only racially diverse but also religiously diverse, I was shocked to find out that there was a part of me even back then that wanted to never truly belonged.
Through KPOP, I became more and more interested in my parents' culture. Through KPOP, I became more invested in East Asian affairs, representation in American media, and fostering deeper relationships with my family residing in Seoul. For the first time ever, through KPOP, I felt ashamed to have been so dismissive before towards my second culture, and suddenly, I felt overwhelmed to reconnect.
Among my friends and family, I'm known as a KPOP fanatic, and in the beginnings, I wasn't so keen. People - including me - can be so racist towards something they don't know, and with my partiality for KPOP, I was afraid that I would be seen as "too Asian" or "weird". Now, I don't care at all. I love KPOP because not only has it provided me with amazing music, but it also helped me realize that I can be both American and Korean.
While I still listen to Western music, I also have found a place within East Asian music, whether that be Korean, Chinese, or Japanese. Some people may scrunch their noses in confusion at that: East Asian music? Ew - why listen to East Asian music? My answer: because it's good, and I suggest that you - whoever you are - give it a try because it may change your life just like how it did mine.