By Dr. Tajkia Mostafa Khadem
An introspective examination of the healing powers of Kpop lyrics
Oftentimes I have wondered about the measure, the worth, of a human life. What happens when you no longer exist? How are you remembered? ARE you remembered? And, trust me; I think about this an unhealthy amount of time. But I believe that I have an answer. It’s stories. Stories are what is left of you when you cease to exist. People will remember you generation after generation, just through the mere weight of words. In a way, it is brilliant, because you are immortal in some form or another.
And, therein lays my passion, my love, for words. A letter that turns into a word, words that turn into a sentence, a paragraph, a lyric, a song. As a bibliophile, and, just in general, a lover of words, it’s been imbued in me to fall for anything that speaks to me. An art piece that tells me a story without any words written on it? I am going to cherish it forever. And, hence why, whenever I have fallen in love with art or an artist, it has always been closely linked with how they speak to me. What has been written. What has been conveyed. It’s so essential to my existence that I have relied upon it at times, simply just to breathe. And, that’s how these Korean men entered my lives, with a language I did not understand, yet made so much effort to, because their words were capable of melting away the darkest of my darkest blues and greys.
So, it is my sincerest hope today that, when you are done reading this piece, you will also fall in love with the magic that has been woven by these phenomenal artists through words, through melodies, through clever suggestions. It’s just so exciting!
“But we were ships in the night, night, night”
[Kim Taehyung (V), Sweet Night]
Love. Perhaps the most beautiful, the most complicated, the most delightful, yet the most painful emotion, in the world. And, there have been endless discussions, poetry, prose, written extensively on it, and quite naturally, it is one of the greatest muse for artists everywhere. And, understandably I am a sucker for all of it. Expressing the delicacy of love in any form just has its own kind of charm, and so when a missed opportunity of perhaps being with the love of your life is described, as both of you being ‘ships in the night’, there is just an achingly gorgeous sentiment to it, just how two ships in the sea keep sailing, never meeting, except that very little fleeting moment when they pass each other. But what happens when you are so in love, but you begin to realize that this won’t last? Maybe you think to yourself, try to save the love that you cherish, try to make sense of the end, or maybe think of how your broken relationship is just like a sea wave. A wave that starts, grows big, flows, and then crashes onto the shore ‘white as snow’. All that remains are those little pebbles on the shore, surviving erosion, surviving crashes, and you desperately hope that maybe, just maybe, your relationship can also survive like that still pebble sitting on the shore.
“What color are waves
White as snow when they break
Did you survive the drift ok
Still as a pebble, could you stay”
[Kim Namjoon (RM), Don’t (with eAeon)]
With all the gloom and contemplation that love brings into life, it also brings giddiness, the exquisite feeling of falling head over heels for someone, to the extent, that you start to believe that this person has turned you anew, inspired you to be better, that you know their presence in your life will make you, a ‘person’ into the embodiment of ‘love’.
“That you are the one who will give meaning to my memories
Who will make a ‘person’ into ‘love’”
[Kim Namjoon (RM), Trivia 承: Love]
And, this is where I would love to talk about the beauty of clever suggestions, and the Korean language, because, a ‘person’ in Korean means ‘saram (사람)’, a word that ends with the ‘ㅁ’ consonant, and ‘love (사랑)’ in Korean means ‘sarang’, a word that ends with the ‘ㅇ’ consonant. Thus, what Namjoon is telling us here, is that this new love, in his life is someone who not only inspires him to become love, but is also softening all of his edges, just like a rectangle can turn into a circle. And, this little detail still makes me smile like an idiot each time, even after all these years.
Perhaps, when we talk about the language of love, there is always something quite wonderful about words of affirmation, and not just to your lover, but to any one you dearly love. Personally speaking, it is an action that I highly appreciate, and it has always been a delight to witness some of these artists do just that, not just for their lover, but just any individual/group they wanted to appreciate.
It could be Taehyung appreciating the healthcare workers through the course of the pandemic as ‘white angels’, whilst talking about spreading the fading colours of winter together in Christmas, or it could be Jonghyun expressing that every time he felt tired, couldn’t laugh openly, he is glad to have his little pet ‘Roo’ beside him, so they may both find ‘comfort’ in each other.
It could be simply wondering whether you love or hate or just feel something for the city you dwell in, you wonder why ‘Seoul’ sounds just like ‘soul’, you wish to see that soul, you proclaim that if love and hate are the same thing, then you indeed do love and hate this place, at the same time.
If there is anything I love more than the feeling of love, it’s perhaps introspection, and anything that makes me look within myself, for questions, for answers, or a full on 25 page report about one simple word evoking emotions. So, that is also what clears it up that those are the kind of lyrical endeavors I adore the most. Isn’t it utterly melancholic to wonder whether at times, if you are being too greedy just because you want happiness? Don’t you sometimes feel that no one would like you if they saw you for everything that you really are, and just want to remain in the mold that others want you to be in? Desperately seeking for that perfection that possibly doesn’t even exist? Begging for help because you have no idea how much longer you can do this? Just wishfully thinking that someone will notice, someone will help? Perhaps, there is some kind of odd comfort in knowing, you are not truly alone, trapped in your intrusive thoughts, that you are somehow aware of the presence of these brilliant minds, who also feel that they are stuck, trapped, constantly questioning everything around, and then it makes you go down a spiral of introspection.
Speaking of introspection, a part or maybe the ultimate resolve of it is enlightenment, and it may seem like a pretty heavy word to just throw around, but in my opinion, it just pertains to understanding or discovering a piece of knowledge/information that betters you as a human being. And, on that note, I believe it’s pertinent to mention the “Gwangju Uprising”, a significant political movement to establish democracy in South Korean history, a story, an event, which will resonate with every nation that loves and craves its freedom and identity. And, it was Jung Hoseok speaking about it through his writing that made me aware of its cultural and historical importance in the first place.
“I’m a South Jeollado, Gwangju’s baby”
“If you want to see me then gather at 7
Everyone dial it, 062 – 518”
[Jung Hoseok (J-Hope), Ma City]
Honestly, it was such a brilliant way of incorporating his roots into a song, that millions were bound to look into it, just like me, starting from the clever way of inserting the area code of the Gwangju region, to commemorating the martyrs of the movement by reminiscing the date of May 18, it was simply exhilarating, and also opened a new way of thinking for me, more ways, you could let people be invested in your culture and history. And, actually, to add to this, I would recommend everyone to watch the heartbreaking K-Drama “Youth of May” which is built around the premise of the “Gwangju Uprising”, and is plausibly one of the best dramas I have ever watched. That was a random K-Drama plug in, but it is worth it, and it just goes on to show the impact of art even more just like Hoseok previously proved it.
At this point in the piece, I feel it’s time to address the title of the write-up. I thought of this header in a moment of emotional haze; after I saw Jungkook perform his song “Dreamers” at the opening ceremony of the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar, and the words are from a song called “Snow Flower” by V (Kim Taehyung), because it just resonated so much with me, and what their artistry in general has done for me, at the worst of times, they have given me the strength even if, it was just to breathe through the next five minutes. And, keeping that sentiment in mind, the next lyrical wonders I want to talk about are ones that perhaps express that tumultuous wave of emotions in me the best.
It could usually begin with this extreme sadness, and the desire to somehow fade away, without bothering anyone, and just simply let the grief wash over me, so that I could just simply cease to exist. Then, gradually letting myself realize that, even this is not the worst of it, things can, and will get worse, and it should just be accepted for what it is.
“Who do you think you’re fooling
By pretending you’ve gone through all the miseries”
[Min Yoongi (Agust D/SUGA), The Last]
And, finally, maybe in some form accepting that, all that can be done is to hold on, hold on as much as you can, that there is no need to scour for words of strength, but just to stay each day, believing, it will pass, it has to.
All of this. So many words, so many lyrical snippets, all of it just to convey that, I found solace, I found a kind of a home within these words, of these Korean men, and for me, it can never be less than any form of magic, a kind of a North Star, and perhaps destiny. My wish for any reader is that, may you also find your North Star, which melts away your blue and grey!