There are certain moments where you think back on life and what led to you becoming the person you are today. Usually those nostalgic moments come at the start of a new decade, or on a milestone birthday. And as I found out last November, they can also hit you when you’ve been standing for hours in negative temperatures and squished in a mosh pit with hundreds of strangers in a country over 2,000 miles away from home.
If it sounds intense, I’ll go ahead and mention that I was subjecting myself to this for the love of BTS — arguably the world’s biggest boy band of the moment and my main obsession since 2017. This would be my first time ever seeing them perform live after a couple of failed attempts in the past two years (still mad that they didn’t have any Manila tour stops), and let me tell you: it was all worth it. The Melon Music Awards is one of the major music awards shows in South Korea, and this year, BTS had 37 whole minutes of stage time where they performed old hits and new ones.
The wait to get to that point, though — that was A Journey. I guess when you’re standing in a hell pit for over six hours getting stepped on, cursed at, and used as a tripod by fansites with huge-ass cameras, you tend to look back on your life choices and the path that led you to walk into this willingly. More importantly, you question yourself: How did I, a mature, working 23-year-old woman end up turning into this kind of fan?
The first time I ever did anything that could classify as a crazy fangirl moment was in 2012. Joe Jonas was scheduled to shop at Bench’s Glorietta branch, so I joined a handful of other screaming Jonas Brothers fans at a makeshift barricade outside the store as he picked out T-shirts for half an hour and left as quickly as he arrived. Disappointed in the quick interaction, I found a way to attend his press con the next day, where, during the photo-op — my family still teases me about this — I told him, “I waited four years for this.” I’ve purposely blocked that entire experience from my memory, but I remember it because of proof that it happened, in a folder on my laptop labeled I MET JOE JONAS.
The Jonas Brothers were the first artists I’d ever actively stanned, and I experienced a lot of my firsts as a fan through them. From creating a stan Twitter (original username: @winterfan09) to waking up early in the morning to catch their livestreams on my ancient family desktop, and plastering their posters all over my room, it was through them that I realized just how passionate I could be about something.
Technology contributed to my obsession as well — so much of my early internet presence is Jonas related because it was during this time that we got a working DSL connection, and I bought my first iPod (loaded immediately with their entire discography, downloaded off Limewire). Much of high school was spent swooning over Nick, Kevin, and Joe and denying it was because they were cute (“I like them because of their music!”) and spamming them with “Come to Manila!” messages on social media. The phase ended on a good note in 2013, after they finally did come to Manila, effectively softening the blow from their breaking up later that year.
My next big obsession was Taylor Swift. Searching for something to help me fill the Jonas-sized hole in my heart, I took to Taylor’s music almost immediately. As a Swiftie, I learned to really listen to lyrics and find comfort in their meanings. Taylor’s existence was important to me as a teen slowly easing into adulthood because she was just so relatable. While I hadn’t yet experienced anything like the love and heartbreak she sang about, I admired the way she told these stories. It was my gateway to discovering other female voices in pop like Lorde, Kate Nash, and Carly Rae Jepsen.
Taylor was the soundtrack of my college life, and while this time had me continuing my previous — albeit toned down — fangirl habits of watching every new video and reading every new interview, buying all her albums, it was then that I became more aware of the kinds of media I consumed, and had a better grasp of what kinds of things I liked and didn’t.
A decade of standom has taught me that we should never be ashamed of liking the things we like. What does it matter why we like something as long as it makes us happy?
I stayed a loyal Swiftie up until 2016, and after that I told myself I was done with the fangirl life. Loving something that much was getting exhausting, and I had other things to focus on. Things were good up until the year I graduated. It was the year I fell down the K-Pop rabbit hole, and, boy, did I fall hard.
My current phase is all of my previous ones combined, but on steroids. I surprised myself by getting into a boy group (a ship I thought sailed long ago) and bringing back the same fangirl energy I had when I was 12. While it started innocently enough (“I watch crack videos of Korean guys baking cake in my free time! How quirky of me!”), it quickly grew into something that influenced many aspects of my life in a positive way.
Drawing from my experience as a Swiftie, I made it a point to read BTS’s lyrics despite the language barrier, which led me to appreciate the group’s authenticity. Because they started out as a hip-hop group, many of their songs have undertones of social relevance, whether it be about them calling out the injustices of the Korean education system in N.O., or how wack it is that adults have such high expectations for young people in a highly competitive Korean society. Coming from a Filipino perspective, it still blows my mind that a mainstream group gets to count all these songs as part of their discography.
And even though I now have that side of standom to think about, I still swoon over Kim Namjoon’s OOTD tweets and aggressively RT every iteration of my favorite fancams the same way I probably would’ve for the Jonas Brothers if Twitter videos were a thing back in 2009. (As a side note, you can imagine how I died when Joe had that moment with Taehyung during last year’s BBMAs.)
I’ve learned to love myself and find hope in this cruel world — if BTS can still go on and do what they do despite coming from a place of anger and frustration, so can I.
In the time since I started stanning BTS, I rekindled old friendships and found it easier to start lots of new ones (I swear, you find ARMYs everywhere). I’ve picked up a new language and explored a whole new country on my own. Heck, as cliche as it sounds, I’ve learned to love myself and find hope in this cruel world — if BTS can still go on and do what they do despite coming from a place of anger and frustration, so can I.
A decade of standom has taught me that we should never be ashamed of liking the things we like. It’s the best feeling in the world to not care about what other people think about my interests. What does it matter why we like something as long as it makes us happy?
And that’s what it boils down to, I guess. Standing in the pit at a Korean awards show is definitely not the craziest anyone’s ever gone in the history of fandom — sasaengs and fansites exist, after all — but I just know it’d be something that Gaby from the past would’ve filed under “embarrassing moments” right beside my Jonas folder.
Blame it on the fact that I felt like I had to go through a literal warzone just to get to that point, or that I’m still deep into my BTS phase — I have a feeling that this isn’t something I’ll ever be embarrassed about, even after this phase is long over — if it does end. You never know — maybe I really am in this Bangtan Sonyeondan shit for life.