By Barbara M. Yau, AsAmNews Contributor
It all started early last year when K was 13 years old. She came to me one day with her iPad in hand and a big smile on her face and said, “I think I found something I really like. It’s kind of embarrassing, but I need to show you!” My interest was immediately piqued. I looked down at her iPad screen and looked upon them for the first time. Staring back at me were the glamorous faces of seven Asian boys.
Her statement took me by complete surprise, as her interests at that time consisted mainly of playing Minecraft for all hours on end and discussing the latest episode of her favorite anime series with her friends. “Wow, who are they?” I asked. “They are a k-pop group called BTS, and I’m starting to really get into them!” she explained, as she sauntered back to her room. The group name was familiar to me, but I just shrugged my shoulders and resumed tackling my paperwork, not realizing that this musical sensation would soon take over our daughter’s whole world!
From that point on, K became increasingly “involved” with BTS. She said she had to “catch up” since she was late to the game. BTS had debuted in 2013, so there was apparently a lot of content to review. She would intently listen to their music, study their music videos, and ask me to buy her posters and other merchandise with her saved up birthday money. She would also come to me periodically to show me pictures and videos of them on her device. Each time, I would appease her for a couple for a few minutes, make a few cursory comments (e.g., “wow,” “cool,” “awesome”), and then quickly walk away with a smile. Yes, I feigned interest in them and saw this all as a phase that would pass quickly. After all, the teenage me wasn’t above collecting stacks of Tiger Beat and Seventeen Magazine way back when!
It was only after BTS took up more of her time and energy that I started becoming a bit concerned. She was playing less Minecraft and watching less anime. She would lie in bed with her headphones on for hours just listening and watching BTS. She also started to learn the choreographed dances of their songs and recruited her friend to teach her Korean, so that she could better learn the song lyrics. I remember telling her, “I think this is too much. Maybe you should do more things that are not BTS related!” In response, she snapped, “But, I love them. They speak about important things, and you don’t even try to understand why I like them at all!” Her words rang true, as she pointed out my shortcoming in a way only your teenage daughter can do. I was realizing that I was a bit closed minded. I never really sought to understand their appeal to my daughter, and I never gave their music a fair listen because I dismissed them as just another boy band. I automatically assumed that is not something a 40-something year old mom would ever like.
From that point on, I made valiant attempts to learn as much as I can about her interest in BTS. I paid closer attention when K listened to their music or watched music videos. I asked many questions about their songs and the members, and I made strides in trying to tell them apart — which was initially quite challenging for me! I even bought tickets to a BTS exhibition in New York City and spent over two hours there taking pictures of her and her friend. In time, I noticed that K’s interactions with me were gradually changing. Our interactions became more relaxed and fun, and we smiled and laughed more together due to our shared interest. She seemed really pleased that she was influencing my behavior in some way.
In the midst of my schooling in the world of BTS, I was gradually becoming a fan. I realized that I loved their music, which included a wide range of high energy pop, explosive rapping and soft and emotional ballads. I was also blown away by their intricate and dynamic choreographed dance routines, which was like nothing I had ever seen. And as a parent, I was surprised and impressed by the powerful messages they tried to convey to their listeners through their music lyrics. Their inspiring lyrics included messages such as loving yourself, following your dreams despite difficulties, being conscious of things happening in society, and acknowledging injustices in the world. These were exactly the lessons that I wanted my children to learn in life, especially during their turbulent teenage years. BTS’s lyrics were a stark contrast to the risqué lyrics of most popular artists on the charts today. I recalled that K had previously mentioned that BTS’s lyrics “helped her a lot during hard times,” but until this point when I read their lyrics, I really did not understand what she meant. I now understood.
Although BTS is a Korean group that sings mostly in the Korean language, they have amassed a record number of followers around the world, particularly in the last couple years, comparable to that of the Beatles. People of all nationalities and races have become increasingly enamored by BTS’s music and message, but many Asian Americans teenagers like my daughter appear to feel especially bonded to them due to their shared Asian race. When BTS won three American Music Awards last year, my daughter said in delight, “This is so great that they gave the award to a group of Asians!” She held such a sense of pride, as if these awards to BTS showed that mainstream Americans were finally becoming more accepting of Asians as a whole. I will admit that I felt some pride too.
K said that I am now officially ARMY (aka a true BTS fan), which is a huge compliment coming from her. I have confirmed to her that my biases (code for favorite members) are Suga and Jimin, and my favorite songs include Silver Spoon (Baepsae), Mic Drop, Spring Day, Seesaw, and Cypher 4. I spent too much money on concert tickets, which is now unfortunately postponed due to the coronavirus. And I even started following them on social media.
My daughter and I are now able to share together in the enjoyment of BTS, but I think our relationship is stronger for other reasons. She reminded me that, more than anything, she wants and needs her opinions, interests, and passions to be heard, acknowledged, and understood by her parents with an open mind. By dismissing her interest as a silly phase, I also became a closed minded role model for her. Who knew that it would take seven beautiful and talented young men for me to be reminded of that?! If I had any advice to give you, it would be this: The next time your child expresses their love for BTS, ask them who their bias is and why. They will be truly surprised and impressed!
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