2020 in K-Pop: a bittersweet symphony

I seem to be crying a lot lately. I blame Covid, mainly because I blame Covid for everything. TXT just put out a song whose title perfectly sums up 2020: We Lost the Summer. It’s so fitting, so beautiful, and so utterly sad. I teared up the first time I heard the song, then cried watching the MV, then cried watching a reactor crying watching the MV. Sigh. We really did lose a summer and so much more. It hasn’t been easy to feel elated about K-Pop this year because so much has been missing from it: concerts, conventions, fanmeets, cover dance classes, buskers, cupsleeve events… and that’s just what’s missing from the fan side of things.

For the idols, there are losses of another kind. We have artists that debuted last winter that have never performed for a live audience. They might know their fandom’s name, but they don’t know their fans. 2020 Rookies are like 2020 graduates: experiencing un-recreatable milestones in a socially-distanced void. This year isn’t just sad for rookies. A Covid First Win is still a First Win, but how exciting is an encore stage when your fans aren’t there with you? Any hopes of interacting with seniors or pre-debut friends at music and award shows are on hold. Just when the Korean wave was rising high enough to push nearly any K-Pop act into the waters of an international tour, the floodgates got closed. Don’t even get me started on male idols that have military enlistment on the horizon. I wish all of them could get a deferment so they can promote, tour, and properly bid farewell before going off to do their service.

However, while a great deal has changed for idols in 2020, much of their life has not. K-Pop artists are undoubtedly still working just as hard. I’m certain they’re training as intensely, sleeping as little, and stressing as much as before. Stressing even more, I imagine! The pressure to deliver financial stability for one’s company has got to be crazy right now. Entertainment companies are either breaking even, struggling, or folding altogether. None but the very top companies are on upward trajectories, and you can bet that trickles down to the idols and trainees in the form of anxiety, depression, and an enormous pressure to succeed.

So it would seem that 2020 is a terrible disappointment for K-Pop, right? Thankfully no. Now more than ever it’s all about the music, the music, THE MUSIC! The songs and albums released in 2020 are some of the best we’ve ever heard. As we wind down to year’s end and everyone’s Top Ten lists, it’s going to be incredibly tough to whittle down. There have been extremely strong debuts, and comeback after comeback has potential for Song of the Year. I’m compelled to mention my number one: Golden Child’s ONE(Lucid Dream), one of my favorite songs of not just 2020, but EVER. It dropped right at the start of our lost summer, and lifted me up whenever I started falling down down down dow-ow-ow-own (sorry, couldn’t help myself!)

Golden Child’s “ONE (Lucid Dream)”, just one of the many great songs released in 2020

So many other songs this year have lifted me in the same way. Something every K-Pop fan will attest to is that K-Pop helps fight the blues. I’m not a psychologist, but I do know this: getting into K-Pop will make you happier! Even the locals are happier because of K-Pop and they don’t even know it! The reason every non-K-Pop fan and their grandma loves BTS’ Dynamite so much is because it’s exactly what everyone desperately needed in 2020 – a bubblegum hit! It’s a non-angsty, unashamedly feel-good, certified bop. Rx filled! I hope Dynamite gets these locals diving deeper into K-Pop, because I kinda feel like we all need that. Society can only benefit from everyone enjoying more uplifting music.

Beyond the tunes, 2020 has given us new K-Pop experiences we never knew we needed, but now may never be able to live without. Necessity is the mother of invention and K-Pop has filled Covid’s social void as only it can. We’ve gotten videocall fanmeets, mention parties, online concerts, and more TikTok challenges than we can keep up with. Is it just me, or did watching #AnySongChallenge clips basically sustain you through the entire first month of lockdown? Especially for lesser-known groups, these burgeoning elements of K-Pop have opened up opportunities for growth and popularity that weren’t available pre-Covid.

Without question, pandemics are horrible, and we’d be better off if this one never happened. But at least the “pan” aspect puts all of us in the same boat. In terms of K-Pop, there aren’t many ways to feel we relate to our idols, but for certain this pandemic has been one. We’re all getting through it together, we’re all trying to hold each other up, and we’re all finding creative ways to support each other through it. It’s definitely the silver lining on 2020’s cloud.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *