Growth: Discovering BTS, &; Myself


I stumbled upon BTS either very late 2016 or very early 2017 – I’ll be honest it’s all a bit fuzzy now, and I keep my YouTube history turned off, so the details of my first exposure will remain a mystery. I do remember the circumstances though, and like many other soon-to-be ARMY, I quickly fell down the rabbit-hole.

It all started by searching for some instrumental music to use for a D&D campaign I was running at the time (the Curse Of Strahd module for any fellow players). I was looking primarily for string-heavy stuff because a gothic horror, vampire-centric atmosphere needs strings! Anyway, I got very side-tracked as I often do, and started listening to violin covers – because who doesn’t love a good violin cover? Eventually, I came across JuNCurryAhn’s channel, which among other things, has many BTS covers. I had not heard of BTS, but I did like the covers and was intrigued – so I looked for music videos, and the rest is history.

At this time in my life, I was mostly listening to alt-rock, indie, some electronica, and some J-rock. I like listening to music a lot when I work because it helps me focus. I put relatively equal importance on lyrics and sonic appeal. I tend to dig through an artist’s entire catalogue for things I like, but don’t typically get invested in the artists themselves. I’m sometimes disappointed by what I find when I really look into them, and it can sour my appreciation for the music. So, I listen to a lot of different music, and like a lot of artists, but only respect a select few as people. I’m able to appreciate something much more when I can stand behind who made it and why.

Ok back to the story! So it was somewhere between 2-4am in the pre-dawn hours of a cold winter morning when I saw my first BTS music video. I so wish I could remember which one it was, but I binged for a while, so I can’t say for certain. I distinctly remember RUN and DOPE – BS&T was the newest thing at the time. I also watched some videos from other groups in the recommended list, but am not sure which ones anymore.

Over the next week or so, I had began my dive into oblivion. I don’t know when or how, but at some point in those first few days, I started exclusively digging into BTS. Maybe it was the sound of the music, maybe it was the thought-provoking lyrics, maybe it was the sincerity in their eyes, or the tangible bond between the members – but something pulled me in. I watched dance practices, Bangtan Bombs, guides on telling them apart, and more music videos. One day very early on, like maybe week two or three in my journey – there was a new video. This video is what would cement my respect and adoration for BTS – this video, is what made me want to be ARMY. The video, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, was ‘Spring Day’.

It was the first time I commented on a BTS-related video – I said something like ‘Every frame is a work of art.’ At the time, before all the theory videos came out (and as an ignorant American), I didn’t know about one of the major meanings behind the video – but I could still feel the sentiment. That is so incredibly powerful. It is something a lot of people notice – there is an insane level of skill but also sincerity and passion needed to make people feel your art even without fully understanding it. When I did eventually learn of the incident, my appreciation for the song and for BTS as people, only grew.

I remember watching the promo performances on music shows, as I dove into their discography and other content. I was very confused but incredibly amused when I found RUN BTS. During the Wings tour, I would eagerly look for blurry fan-cams after every performance. I needed that rush, the excitement of something new. At that time in my life, I was 24, out of college with a made-up degree from a defunct art school that got me nowhere (Bachelor of Fine Arts in Visual Communication). I had recently quit working as a deli clerk in a supermarket and went from spending my nights frying chicken, to spending my days desperately looking for something – anything in a related field, just so all the time and money I (and my parents) had spent on education wouldn’t have been for nothing.

Competition for jobs was so heavy and the market was saturated with plenty of people just like me. Even my student ADDY award in photography was useless, and I was breaking. After lots of failed interviews for full-time positions, I had gotten an offer from a temp agency – unfortunately the hiring company kept pushing back my start date… for three months. I was not making any money. To top it all off, what little pride/confidence I had left was stretched so very thin.

My husband (then boyfriend) had graduated only a year ahead of me and was already the support team lead at a growing web/marketing firm. I hated that I was relying on his kindness for a place to live, and that I wasn’t contributing nearly enough to be fair. He taught me more code, how to use a CMS and troubleshoot site issues so I had more skills for my resume. He even convinced his boss to throw some contract jobs my way every now and then.

*NOTE* this is not meant to shame anyone who is in a similar position or who needs help supporting themselves – I am fully aware of my brain’s tendency toward unreasonably self-critical thought patterns. There are also a lot of systemic injustices I haven’t faced, gatekeeping access in the workforce (and every other aspect of life). Like Jin said – we are all at different points on our path, and not everyone’s path looks the same, so we shouldn’t compare ourselves to people in a different part of their own journey.

It was not my first (or worst) existential crisis or bout of chronic depression, but just like always, to get out of it, I needed change – something new to distract myself with. So I spent my days in job-limbo doing cheap freelance work for a failing food delivery service and consuming as much BTS content as my non-existent sleep schedule would allow. Then out of the blue, my boyfriend’s boss sent me an offer for a full-time position. It felt like a miracle. I’m sorry for talking so much about myself and not nearly enough about BTS… but my point is, what everyone says is true. BTS finds you when you need them most – and then you grow together.

Over the last four years, I have done a lot of growing – got a house, got married, adopted the two sweetest shelter cats I’ve ever met, become a proper front-end developer, become a volunteer mentor for students, and learned a lot about self-worth. Those last two, I mostly owe to BTS and ARMY. It’s amazing what some positive examples and a sense of community can do for a person. Of course, my husband is wonderful – he is my best friend, but my messed-up brain makes it really hard to believe that the nice things he says to me are objectively true, and not just because he loves me. The support and validation I have felt from other ARMY and the kind, insightful messages from BTS have helped me so much.

Over three years with the ‘miracle’ job, I learned to do as much as I could – user experience, e-commerce setup, project management, I even stepped in to cover help support and dev team members. More importantly, I learned to recognize when I was being used. With strength and encouragement from BTS and ARMY, I stopped thinking things like “I’m just lucky to have this job” or “I understand someone else needed that raise more”. I recognized when my boss tried to gaslight me, got mad when he said my husband made enough for both of us, and realized that company needed me more than I needed them.

I looked for new jobs and found something more stable, more honest (with employees & clients), and much better paying with a considerably lighter workload. I did feel guilty about leaving – but I left anyway, because I had slowly learned that I matter too, and it’s ok to want things. When you grow up in a household where there isn’t enough money for wants, and the needs of others are more important, you just stop thinking about yourself.

It’s no one’s fault really, but un-learning internalized belittlement is incredibly difficult. I still catch myself sometimes – feeling selfish for even simple things, like mentioning where I want to eat. I can’t express how much the songs ‘Tomorrow’ then ‘Paradise’ and now ‘Black Swan’ mean to me – BTS’ discography has been like therapy, and their speeches, livestreams, random words of affirmation, and personal stories have encouraged me so profoundly. They have helped me discover so many things about myself, and taught me a new kind of love. I only hope the things I can do as an ARMY allow me to give back even a fraction of the life they have given me.

People refer to adolescence as the ‘formative years’ and sure, that is a crucial time – but I think any period of significant change or growth can be just as impactful. I would certainly classify my time with BTS as ‘formative years’. I am learning to be a better me, a better partner, and a better human. I don’t know what this world will look like in 30 years, where I will be living, or what my job will be – but I know I’ll still be ARMY. When the bright lights and roaring cheers are nothing more than echoes of my memories, ‘bangtan’ will live on. I will carry this art, this music, this magic with me forever. Wherever those seven amazing people are – whatever they are doing, I will continue to support them as they have supported me.

ABOUT ME  – @narwhalzipan

I am 28 years old, and work from home as a Web Administrator for 100+ banks & credit unions. I’m married and we have a dog & two cats. Yoongi is my unofficial bias – OT7 all the way. I like soft & fuzzy things, art of every form – especially woodblock prints, dark humor, weird history, and comfort food.

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