In my freshman year of college, I had this thought, "Whatever happened to that girl group that Erwin used to like? Girls'… something?" I wasn't about to start my homework, so I looked them up on Youtube.
Needless to say, nothing has ever been the same.
The strangest thing, oddly enough, hasn't been watching Suga twerk in the "Bapsae" dance practice video, nor has it been the realization that I can understand some basic Korean words and phrases. The most unexpected thing about being a new old fan is realizing that I missed an entire generation of Kpop. "I am the Best"? Heard it for the first time a year before 2NE1 disbanded. "Growl"? Had to learn three of the members had left. "Blood, Sweat, and Tears"? The Bangtan Boys had practically received their first Daesang by then. Hits like "Gee", "Sorry Sorry", and "Lies"? Groups like Kara or Infinite? BoA? Nope. I entered the Kpop fandom old and late, long after everyone else had finished growing up alongside their favorite artists.
I hate that I wasn't there to see the legends pave the road for the kings and queens of today. I hate how I missed out on such a wonderful history. However, contrary to what the commenters say, being a new fan isn't so bad. In fact, there are quite a few treasures.
CON: Won't understand certain things about Kpop that make it great (e.g. the feeling when 2NE1 dropped "Fire")
PRO: The Internet has only gotten better
Fact is, all of the work has already been done for me. The hits are still on Youtube. Hangeng's time teasing Heechul is as well documented as it was years ago. Unlike early fans, however, subtitles and translations are incredibly easy to find, especially with major companies like JYP taking note. Also great? This is the age of the meme. Dumb comparisons between calling Jungkook ‘baby' vs. ‘oppa'? That GIF of Taemin looking like a Tim Burton character? Kpop scenarios on tumblr? I get them all. Most importantly, I get Kpop concerts in cities within a car ride's distance. Kpop is more accessible to international audiences than ever before, making my never-ending consumption that much easier.
CON: The Big 3 bubble
Before Big Hit shot BTS through a cannon into the Kpop world, internationally renowned Kpop groups were from SM, JYP (jyp), and YG Entertainment. As a later international fan, groups from these agencies were the first to pop into my radar. Whether that's because of their financial backing, their statuses as "nation's own", their multi-national artists, or their particularly powerful fandoms, I can't say. I do know that because of their near monopoly over Kpop, it can be particularly hard for a new fan to find non-big three artists, especially soloists. It gets frustrating when you're looking for a variety of styles and end up with the same artist types again and again.
PRO: Bubbles are very fragile (e.g. a thank you letter to Pledis Entertainment for the majesty that's Seventeen)
Look, sooner or later, in your endless Kpop-obsessed Youtube binges, you come across new talent. Channels like 1thek or Dingo Music, which house lesser-known artists in addition to the more popular ones, are great sources to accidentally stumble upon some surprising gems. Group building based on models isn't necessarily bad either. Though a group like Seventeen may have been inspired by a group like Super Junior, the executions are so different that it doesn't feel like a disappointing stall to hear the new group. Even substitution groups like Blackpink aren't necessarily maddening, both because I'm aware of the legends and because new faces inevitably bring different energies worthy of distinction and praise.
CON: Being old is a pain (e.g. when Mom catches you listening to Kpop)
Now, I'm pretty sure everyone has an old grand-auntie that screams whenever a Beatles song comes on the radio, so it's not necessarily being old that's an issue. But pop? It's not socially daring or meaningful. And Kpop! It's not even in English! Like, why are you listening to those "Chinese" guys? Aren't you a little old for that? And sometimes, I can't help but wonder if they're right. It's… pop. Not particularly deep music, not even music in a language I understand. Isn't this some phase I'm clinging to in an attempt to hold on to my youth?
PRO: With age comes wisdom (e.g. Stop. Drop. Put on "Ring Ding Dong")
Aside from the fact that pop can be just as meaningful and personal as a moody indie band, and aside from the fact that Kpop has its own fair share of idols who promote healthy social change, who cares if it is fluffy and fun? I'm absolutely grateful that the Agust D mixtape exists, but that doesn't mean I can't enjoy "Genie" or "Cheer Up".
Yes, the music is in a language I don't understand – and I'm so glad it is. I wouldn't trade my slow burgeoning acquaintance with Korean culture for anything. Youth culture, the language of honorifics – I love learning about that stuff. Even if it's mostly second hand, I love the learning process behind trying to interact with a different social ideology. I've only grown as a person thanks to Kpop. Great Aunt Myrtle can keep her Beatles.
I know that the latest Kpop generation comes with its issues. The small peak I've had into "fandom wars" is terrifying; agencies seem more and more to favor profit over creativity. I also know that I'm old enough to tire of the usual pretty bops Kpop releases. None of that means I'm giving up my "Four Walls" album any time soon, however. Discovering Kpop is a tumultuous, emotional adventure – and you're never too old for that.