Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Column: How a K-pop group filled the void the pandemic caused for me

February 17, 2021
<p>An illustration of Hansol &quot;Vernon&quot; Chwe with a photo of Karly Graham. </p>

An illustration of Hansol "Vernon" Chwe with a photo of Karly Graham.

Photo by Karly Graham | The State News

Here’s the deal: I spent this Valentine’s Day alone. That’s not unique. I’ve only been in a relationship for one Valentine’s Day, and it was when I was a junior in high school. My boyfriend went to college 10 hours away, so beyond a few texts, we didn’t celebrate. 

Honestly, I don’t care much. I think it’s a silly holiday with silly cards and silly movies. But I’m a hopeless romantic, so if someone bought me chocolates I would think that would be very cool. 

Now, Valentine's Day has come and gone, but for the sake of being transparent, we can recap: Me being single is not new. But also, there is someone new in my life. This is a birthday card for them.

On Feb. 18, two men who hold a very special place in my heart were born — Hansol "Vernon" Chwe, or Vernon, and Lee Seok-min, or Dokyeom, or DK.

Vernon and DK — their preferred stage names — are both members of my favorite K-pop group Seventeen.

It’s true: I have become a K-pop fan. There is exactly one and a half groups I know and care about, but — dang — have they taken residence in my brain. They don’t even pay rent! 

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This all started back in September when my roommate requested that for her birthday we all perform in some way, providing entertainment from TikTok dances to well-researched PowerPoints about Nick Miller's many zip-up hoodies.

The birthday girl herself started the night, giving us a presentation about K-pop. She showed us Seventeen and NCT, another group that neither Vernon nor DK are in, which inherently makes them less interesting to me. That said, while I really liked the things she showed us, they didn't click with me right away.

So, to me, that was it. I tried K-pop, and it wasn't for me. Or so I thought.

It took her awhile — months. But she cracked me. One video and she did it.

Like most other help-we-have-fallen-down-a-YouTube-hole-and-can’t-get-up nights had among my roommates and, I played a few Taylor Swift videos, we watched some Harry Styles and K-pop made its way into the queue. 

It was Seventeen's 2020 MAMA stage, where they performed "Left & Right" and "HOME;RUN," which are now two of my favorites. That was the video that did it.

What started as just watching performances of my favorite numbers turned to spending hours watching fan compiled videos focusing on individual members.

Then, before I knew it, I was staying up until 4 a.m. to stream a concert on a broken link that gave out an hour into the performance. 

Listen, I know how sad that sounds. I get it. But I am a concert enthusiast, and I haven’t been to a real show since February 2020, so honestly, I’m holding onto whatever I can.

To be more specific, my last concert date was Feb. 18, 2020. Quite frankly, I find it poetic that the anniversary of my last show falls on the birthday of two men who happen to be filling the void that a lack of concerts left. But also, the 13 men in this group bring me a shocking level of joy, regardless of how I haven't seen a live show in a year.

Seeing their beautiful choreography and their beautiful faces to some never-before-performed songs was incredibly appealing to me, even if it meant I had to pull an all-nighter that started with homework and then transitioned into a dance party at 2 a.m. to stay awake.

In the past few months, an entirely new realm of this world has become a key part of my life. My Mondays are filled with planning for half an hour breaks so I can watch the latest episode of "GOING Seventeen," and the entirety of my winter break was filled with me watching old episodes I might've missed.

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My norm transitioned from zoning out to reruns of my favorite show to actively watching videos that made me laugh and made me feel like I have 13 new friends.

I think it's special that even in the loneliness of a pandemic I am able to feel a close connection with people who aren't even aware I exist.

The joy of opening an album and seeing you pulled a photo card of your favorite member is indescribable. I have two photocards now, one of which is placed in the smallest frame on my windowsill bringing me joy and comfort during even the most excruciating of classes.

There are very few things on this Earth that bring me joy quite like the men in Seventeen do, and because my favorite (Vernon) happens to be turning 23, I figured I would share the love.

Once again, in the name of being transparent, I will tell you that I am not a person that only likes things a little. If I like an artist, I will fixate on them until I know every single word to every single song.

Seventeen was no exception, and while I can't sing along very well, I have spent far more time than I'd like to admit learning the choreography to a dance by watching the same video a minimum of once a day for about two weeks straight.

Now, Seventeen has infiltrated every aspect of my life. From conversations about the members' "Harry Potter" houses to posters on my wall, I feel like a little kid finding something new that brings me immense joy and happiness.

Even in the loneliest times I can log onto YouTube and feel a part of a family, even one that lives on the other side of the globe.

All of this is to say happy birthday to Vernon and DK and that I am incredibly thankful for my roommate having introduced me to the group that she loves endlessly so I could love them too.

But mostly, I'm thankful for English subtitles.

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