Cesta de Frutas

English version.

Existem muitas formas de dimensionar o tempo. Além dos minutos e segundos, horas, dias, semanas, tem as manhãs, tardes e noites, e as estações, e os bimestres ou semestres escolares, e os quatro anos entre cada eleição, Olimpíada e Copa do Mundo. Quantas refeições em família, quantos cafés com amigos, quantas vezes pegamos o mesmo ônibus indo para o mesmo lugar, na mesma hora. Quantas vezes abrimos e fechamos a mesma porta da frente. Faz alguma diferença também o sentido da contagem — se os ciclos sempre reiniciam (como todo mês que nunca passa do dia 31), se acumulamos indefinidamente, se fazemos contagem regressiva, e o que estamos esperando que chegue quando chegar o zero.

A playlist de músicas que escutei entre Novembro e Janeiro. Daria para escrever um texto novo só falando do que que cada uma significou nesse período.

Eu tive muitas ideias diferentes sobre contar meu tempo aqui. Esperei o fim do mês de Agosto, que começou em um país, e terminou em outro. Depois contei cada semana até o primeiro mês completo, e o segundo, e o terceiro, até que, com mais duas semanas (14 semanas e mais dois dias), completaram-se os primeiros 100 dias de cada marca significativa pra mim — 100 dias na Coreia, em Daejeon, ou como aluna do KAIST. Entre o Equinócio que marcou o fim do Verão, e o Solstício de Inverno há alguns dias, minha primeira estação completa passou também. Um Outono bonito, gelado e cheio da ambiguidade que os tons de vermelho, laranja e amarelo das árvores trazem. Eu me vi um pouco na nudez dos troncos, nos jardins que eram tão fartos de folhas, e pareciam guardar tantos segredos, antes que fossem despidos pelo frio, e eu sobrepusesse mais e mais camadas de casaco, como quem se protege do vento e da sensação de estar indefesa fora da própria zona de conforto.

Parece besteira, mas pensei muito em como contar o tempo porque estava pensando muito em qual a melhor forma de fazer sentido dos dias, porque estava ansiosa pra escrever sobre tudo. Eu escrevi muito desde que cheguei, mas nada que fosse digno de vir a público, porque pareciam fragmentos confusos da minha vontade de achar um fio a partir do qual todas as experiências pudessem se conectar. Penso que a Luisa de 18 anos encontraria uma narrativa mais rapidamente que a de 27; não que minha imaginação tenha atrofiado tanto assim, mas porque já não tenho mais aquela pressa de quem não se importa com as consequências das ideias que deixa crescer. A Luisa de 27 ainda cria histórias sobre tudo o tempo todo, mas morre de medo delas na mesma proporção, porque tem o vício de sempre acreditar demais que sabe exatamente o que está acontecendo, e no fim das contas não sabe de nada. E odeia a sensação de voltar à estaca zero, reorganizando os fatos, jogando o jogo dos números para encontrar uma forma de dizer que, na verdade, tudo sempre esteve sob (meu) controle.

A passagem das estações no campus do KAIST, entre o fim de Agosto e o fim de Dezembro. Acervo Pessoal.

Esse deve ser o perigo de fazer questão de fazer conta do tempo — a forma que o acúmulo nos leva a criar expectativas sobre o que eles significam, a ansiedade que espera que os fatos confirmem que todo esse tempo serviu, sim, ao propósito maior de nos fazer crescer, e não foi gasto em vão. Como uma forma de nos certificar de que continuamos em movimento, mas nem sempre é claro o ponto de partida, a referência de onde saímos até chegarmos onde estamos. Para quem é crente (como eu), a certeza de que todas as coisas cooperam para “o nosso bem” só resolve até o ponto em que a gente se conforma com a abstração do que esse bem significa. Nesse sentido, acho que a terapia me ajuda a fazer a ponte entre o abstrato, e o concreto. Por outro lado, vejo no meu feed quase vazio do Instagram minha dificuldade em explicar com imagens as camadas mais profundas do que minha vida nova significa. Eu já não tenho mais a mesma urgência de me compartilhar na internet — não como tinha há alguns anos. Mesmo assim, confesso que guardei muitas fotos, de coisas e pessoas e lugares, porque estava esperando passar pela marca dos 100 dias, para fazer uma única, grande postagem, de “tudo” que essa nova estação havia me dado. No fundo da minha cabeça — no lugar onde ficam os pensamentos que deixamos estar sem admitir que eles existem — foi onde eu me deixei imaginar como essa postagem seria, quais fotos poderiam representar as pessoas queridas que eu conheci, e que fizeram esses dias mais bonitos, e significativos.

Pensar em como eu postaria sobre os primeiros meses era só uma expressão do desejo de solenizar o tempo passado, mas me mostrou que eu talvez eu não estivesse errada em ter medo dos meus próprios pensamentos e narrativas. Mesmo em tão pouco tempo, aconteceram coisas suficientes para mudar (e muito) a imagem mental que eu tinha da minha nova vida, quase semanalmente. Não seria isso uma prova de que eu continuo em movimento? Mas talvez não fosse a prova que eu queria, porque também é a prova de que as coisas mudam muito mais rápido do que eu consigo prever. Nesses momentos, eu me dei conta, repetidas vezes, de que minha vida aqui ainda é tão pequena, quase ínfima e ridícula, perto da dimensão que a gente espera que a vida tenha aos vinte e tantos. Ela não deixa de significar muito pra mim, que a vivo todos os dias, mas também não deixa de ser um desafio encher um pote vazio com memórias, com coisas que se repitam de forma constante o suficiente para que eu me lembre que aqui é uma casa, e não um retiro de férias, ou só um devaneio que tive enquanto tomava café.

Fotos do show do Stray Kids que eu fui em Seul, em Setembro, que eu havia guardado para um photo dump dos primeiros 100 dias.

Nessa confusão de eventos e pensamentos, a escala mais apropriada que encontrei para dimensionar esses quatro meses foram frutas. Abundantes no Brasil, elas se tornaram um item mais caro, e raro, na minha rotina. Nos mercados da Coreia, várias são vendidas em unidades, selecionadas e imaculadas, embaladas como um presente. Até hoje não recebi uma fruta com laço, mas toda fruta que recebi veio enfeitada com aquele afeto trivial de quem está feliz em compartilhar um pouco do que tem.

Cada um de nós sabe onde dói mais quando nossa ilusão de estabilidade é abalada. Meu maior medo era nunca me sentir parte desse lugar, de forma alguma, e essa foi a raiz de toda a ansiedade e desespero que me consumiram, em maior ou menor escala, nas entrelinhas desse semestre letivo. Minha relação com a falta de pertencimento é complicada desde a infância; mesmo com os aprendizados e tranquilidades que o tempo trouxe, toda vez que entro em um lugar novo, os mesmos traumas antigos ameaçam me assombrar de novo, e essa mudança não foi diferente. O primeiro rascunho deste texto era uma reflexão sobre o pânico que eu sentia quando saía de casa, e não encontrava nada familiar, que me trouxesse qualquer dose de conforto ou segurança; foram muito longos os dias costurando percepções até que meu corpo e minha consciência entrassem em acordo sobre onde nossos pés estavam plantados. Eram os dois lados da moeda do que me aterrorizava — quanto tempo levaria para que eu estivesse em paz completamente sozinha, e quanto tempo levaria para que eu estivesse em paz no meio de muita gente. Eu conseguia imaginar que seria difícil, mas minha imaginação estava convencida de que seria mais fácil do que foi (ou tem sido).

Eu sentia falta de leveza, de uma forma quase paradoxal, porque percebi que não ter vínculo ou raiz alguma que me prendesse a esse chão era um peso para mim. Descobrir a existência desse peso foi uma surpresa difícil de processar, que ocupou meus pensamentos e deu força às minhas ansiedades. Por isso, eu me lembro da alegria banal, mas significativa, que senti quando recebi tangerinas de presente pela primeira vez, de uma amiga que havia ido para Jeju. Eram três unidades pequenas, de casca fina e brilhante, que me contaram que nós tínhamos um vínculo que poderia durar para além do trabalho em grupo que havíamos feito juntas. Depois, ganhei mais uma, de um colega de laboratório, e uma sacola cheia da tia muito gentil, de cabelo vermelho, que trabalha na loja de conveniência do meu dormitório. Toda vez que vou à igreja, ganho mais uma ou duas — até três, se eu recusar ainda que uma vez. Foi assim, depois de algumas semanas pisando em ovos,  sem saber bem se algumas pessoas me tratavam bem só por educação ou obrigação, que eu finalmente comecei a colecionar pequenos testemunhos da natureza das conexões que estava fazendo aqui, e pude sentir alguma leveza de novo.

Tive um exercício de gerar imagens pelo DALL-E 2 e eu escolhi tentar algo que falasse sobre a leveza (ou a falta dela). O prompt foi “weightlessness, low-exposure photograph, bw”, geradas em 8 de Outubro, 2022. Usei a #2 no trabalho e fiquei empatada em 2º lugar em uma votação dentro da turma.

A minha fruteira de estudante estrangeira já recebeu e deu um tanto nesses quatro meses — várias tangerinas, ou as uvas mais suculentas que já provei na vida, caquis, kiwis, morangos — que eu sempre divido com mais um alguém, porque são demais pra uma pessoa só comer em tempo hábil, e nós somos apenas estudantes, afinal de contas, fazendo o possível para dar conta de ter vinte e tantos dentro da universidade, criando uma vida que tenha valor e significado. Além das tangerinas, foram um punhado de pacotes compartilhados de bolachas e biscoitos, dadinhos de chocolate, convites para jantar, tomar café ou soju, caronas, e muitas idas às lojas de conveniência. E tudo diz alguma coisa sobre quem se abre para se importar um pouco.

Nos gestos pequenos das pessoas ao meu redor, eu sentia como se deixasse de ser um decalque na paisagem, e tivesse corpo e presença próprios nessa nova realidade. Foi assim que a metáfora da minha cesta de frutas se tornou o recurso narrativo favorito do começo da minha vida na Coreia. Pelo preço, pelo significado cultural, pela antecipação de que chegue o tempo da fruta de cada estação. E gosto da parte que me força a pensar na questão das diferenças. Meu Deus, como é clichê falar de diferenças entre um lado do mundo e o outro, mas como é impossível escapar delas! Nem mesmo as frutas que como aqui são as mesmas que as que comia em casa, ainda que as chame pelo mesmo nome. Dia desses, ganhamos um caqui como cortesia em um restaurante muito gostoso que visitei; era minha segunda ida àquele lugar, e o dono ainda se lembrava do que eu havia pedido na primeira vez, quase dois meses antes (e quem se esqueceria da estrangeira de cabelo azul-piscina?). Foi minha primeira vez provando um caqui oriental; a casca era fina como a dos que comia no Brasil, mas a textura era mais firme, menos suculenta, não se desfazia nas mãos. O sabor era adstringente; diferente. E mais saboroso, pro meu paladar.

Alguns momentos especiais que lembrei de registrar. Recortes das frutas que ganhei de presente, a primeira vez em que visitei meu restaurante favorito (a convite da minha labmate), e o dia em que dei um jeito de achar um limão na rodoviária de Seul, para minha amiga que estava passando mal.

As tangerinas que comi aqui também são diferentes — são mais delicadas, menores que as mexericas que minha mãe colocava na mesa depois do almoço, mas a casca finíssima requer mais habilidade para descascar sem machucar os gomos, ou espirrar suco na roupa. Um dos meus amigos da igreja aqui, que é do México, sempre pede que eu descasque pra ele, porque ele não consegue fazer bem sozinho. E eu penso muito em todas essas coisas — pelas piadas que fiz e ninguém entendeu, pelos acenos não respondidos nas ruas e corredores, pelo sarcasmo corriqueiro que soava rude por acidente, pelo estranhamento da facilidade ou dificuldade com a qual alguém fala da própria vida. Penso muito em todas essas coisas, por todas as vezes em que eu fiz algo de errado, ou achei que fiz, e me culpei. Não seria esperar demais acertar tudo de cara, ao tentar abrir sozinha uma tangerina tão delicada pela primeira vez?

Penso também em como é preciso algum cuidado ao manusear hoje a casca da fruta que eu quero comer amanhã, para preservar a textura viçosa e o cheiro doce, que fazem lembrar que ela é recém-colhida. Mas esse perfume da fruta fresca, que enche meu quarto e estampa minhas mãos, tem data de validade, e ela precisa ser apreciada e consumida com uma certa velocidade, antes que deixe de ser um presente, e se torne uma inconveniência. E então fica a expectativa de repôr quando acabar esse punhado, e eu fecho o círculo dessa alegoria com a promessa de que tudo que me acontece aqui é bom no quanto é corriqueiro, cheio da medida banal de amor que consegue fazer com que o nascer e morrer dos dias seja mais suportável, e que os momentos sozinha se pareçam menos com solidão, e mais com solitude. Não precisa durar para sempre, mas é doce, e enche os olhos (e faz bem pra saúde, se você pensar por esse lado). 

Mesmo assim, seria mentira dizer que não lamento pelas coisas que vieram e foram tão rápido, sem reposição, na minha vidinha de wegugin, estrangeira nessa terra. Vira e mexe, a expectativa não-realizada da reciprocidade me leva a pensar no que eu posso ser para quem me vê. Nesse programa de Mestrado, eu vou me demorar mais que uma tangerina, caqui ou cacho de uvas resiste na minha fruteira, então entendo que preciso continuar entregando e recebendo novas demonstrações do que as pessoas significam pra mim, e do que eu significo pra elas. Gostaria de não descobrir mais nenhuma vez que estava errada sobre o que alguém pensava de mim, mesmo sabendo que isso sempre pode acontecer, porque o risco e a incerteza fazem parte da equação de resolver se abrir pras pessoas. Mas o ponto mais importante dessa reflexão é que, antes mesmo de decidir que queria tentar vir para esse país, eu já sabia que só dá certo ser exatamente quem eu sou do lado de fora da minha casca se eu não tiver medo de ficar triste. Como bem disse minha amiga Dora Sanches, “quem sente medo de ficar triste também tem medo do amor.” Sem amor — ou a expectativa e a esperança do amor — não tem troca; os corações não se abrem, os vínculos não se sustentam, o peso do estranhamento nunca vai embora, o corpo e a mente nunca entram em acordo sobre o lugar da planta dos pés.

Mais um punhado de memórias boas que fiz com pessoas especiais.

Enquanto escrevo, converso com minha amiga Ashley — Coreana-Americana, Mestranda, que mora em Seul, e voltou para os Estados Unidos para passar o fim de ano com a família. Ela é uma cantora-compositora, uma das pessoas mais sensíveis que já conheci, e todas as nossas conversas sempre terminam com a mesma pergunta — como seria viver com um coração que agoniza menos todos os detalhes de todas as coisas? Não sei se temos, ou se jamais teremos resposta. Mas é por isso que eu gosto de metáforas — é da natureza delas nos fazer pensar menos nos detalhes que elas não explicam bem. Se eu quisesse, poderia extrair muitas outras camadas de significado sobre as frutas que ganhei neste semestre, mas também poderia ter contado essa história a partir do meu hábito de sempre ter chicletes comigo, e oferecer para todas as pessoas ao meu redor. Em ambos os casos, vemos duas mãos estendidas — uma para dar, outra para receber. Minha cesta de frutas perfumadas vai ficar bem enquanto continuarmos dando e recebendo, e eu for capaz de sofrer menos pelo que se perdeu, ou nunca mais voltou. Essa é a arquitetura dos relacionamentos que abre espaço para que a gente crie raízes — o processo é irregular e incerto, mas as trocas me lembram que eu não sou a única pessoa tentando se encontrar no meio disso tudo aí.

O lado bom é que eu sinto meu coração sendo renovado dentro do meu peito. Mesmo sob a ameaça de todas as coisas que me aterrorizam há tantos anos, eu me mantenho sensível às pequenas bênçãos corriqueiras, e deixo que elas curem mais um pouquinho do meu medo de seguir em frente. A conversa de que a dor é uma zona de conforto é prova de que nosso instinto pode falhar conosco; nossas percepções, entre a mente, e as superfícies, e janelas do nosso corpo, podem mandar sinais que não sabemos interpretar. Mas eu ainda não me confundi nenhuma vez quando provei um pedaço de fruta, e experimentei seu sabor e textura na minha boca, e tive convicção de que minha mente e meu corpo estão em um lugar só. Talvez esse seja o tal do gostinho de liberdade do qual tanto se fala.

Todas essas fotos aqui tem um contexto que significa muito pra mim, mas tomaria espaço demais explicar todas, então vou deixar para a imaginação dos leitores.

Featured Image by Jonathan Pielmayer on Unsplash

Fruit Basket — how to make yourself a home

Versão em Português.

There are multiple ways to measure time. Besides the minutes and seconds, hours, days, weeks, there are mornings, evenings and late nights, and seasons, and school terms, and the four years between elections, the Summer Olympic games and the World Cup. How many family meals, how many coffees we had with friends, how many times we took the same bus going the same way, leaving at the same time. How many times we opened and closed the same front door. There’s also something to be said about the direction of how we choose to measure — if the cycles are always starting over (like every month, which never goes any further than 31), if we add it up indefinitely, or if it’s a countdown, and what we expect to find when have counted it down to zero.

A playlist of songs I’ve been listening to since late November. I could write a whole new text just about what each of them has meant during this time.

I had many different ideas about how to make sense of the time I’d spend here. I anticipated the end of August, which had started somewhere else. Then, I counted every week until my first full month, and the second, third, and then, with two more weeks (fourteen weeks and two days), I reached the 100th day milestone of every meaningful date — 100 days in Korea, in Daejeon, or as a KAIST student. Between the Equinox that announced the end of Summer, and the Winter Solstice just a few days ago, my first full season passed me by as well. A beautiful Autumn, freezing cold and full of that special type of mixed feeling that exudes from the red, orange and yellow trees. I saw myself in the bareness of their trunks, in the gardens that had been so densely full of leaves, and which seemed to be keeping so many secrets, before the cold stripped them naked, all while I layered jumpers and coats and jackets, trying to keep myself from the cold and from the helplessness of being outside my comfort zone.

It might sound silly, but I thought a lot about how to measure and make sense of my time in Korea, because I was anxiously looking forward to writing about everything. I have written a lot since I got here, but none of it seemed worthy of being made public, everything read like broken pieces of my desire to find a single thread of gold that could tie all of my experiences together. I entertain the thought that 18-year-old me would have found a narrative faster than the 27-year-old; it’s not that my imagination has shrinked that badly, but it’s just that I can no longer sustain that hurry which drives those who do not care about the consequences of what kind of ideas they’re letting grow. 27-year-old Luisa still makes up stories about everything all the time, but she’s just as passionate about them as she is scared, because she knows she’s addicted to believing she has finally cracked the code of her own reality, that she really knows what’s going on right now, and then, once again, she finds out she didn’t know shit. And she really, really hates the feeling of going back to zero, reorganising all the facts and playing the numbers game to find a way to say that, actually, the situation has always been under (my) control.

The changing of the seasons at KAIST, from August to December.

This is probably one of the dangers of insisting on making sense of time — the piling up leads us to expect way too much of what all this time could possibly amount to, the anxiety of waiting until the facts confirm that it has, indeed, served the higher purpose of making us grow, and it wasn’t all just a waste. Like a certificate that we’re still moving, but it’s not always clear what the starting point is, the reference of where we left to where we have gotten so far. To all Believers (like me), the assurance that all things “work together for our good” only works to the extent of how much we’re willing to embrace the abstraction of what “our good” means. In that sense, I think therapy helps me with bridging what’s concrete, and what’s an abstraction. On the other hand, my nearly empty Instagram feed tells me that I am really struggling to find images that can tell people about the deeper layers of what my new life, which I longed so deeply for, means to me. I no longer have that same urgency to share myself on the internet — not like I used to. Even so, I admit that I’ve kept so many photos, of people and things and places, because I was eagerly awaiting the 100th day mark, when I would make a huge, single post of “all” that this new season had given me so far. In the back of my head — right where we leave the thoughts we are not willing to acknowledge yet — , that was where I let myself wonder what this huge, single Instagram post would look like, what pictures could represent the dear people I had met, the ones who made my days beautiful and meaningful.

Thinking about what I would post to represent my first months was only an expression of my desire to solemnise the time spent here, but it also showed me that, maybe, I wasn’t that wrong in being too scared of my own thoughts and narratives. Even though it’s been such a short time, the twists and turns have been enough to drastically change the mental image I had in mind at a given time, almost weekly. Could this be proof that I’m still moving? Perhaps not the kind of proof I wanted, because it was also proof that things change a lot faster than I can foresee. Moments like this make me realise, time and time again, that my life here still looks so small, almost pathetic, when compared to how big one would expect life to be at their late twenty-somethings. It still means something, though — especially to me, the one who’s living it every single day — but it’s still quite a challenge to fill an empty jar with memories, continuities and consistencies that satisfy the need to remember that this is my home, my timezone, and not a summer retreat, or a long daydream I had over a cup of coffee.

Pictures of the Stray Kids concert I attended back in September, which I never posted, because I was waiting for my big photo dump.

In the midst of the twists and turns of the clock, fruits were the most appropriate scale I found to measure my time so far. After moving to Korea, my relationship with them had to change a bit; for example, the multiple apples I ate a day became an expensive, much harder to acquire item in my groceries. In Korean markets, they are often sold in units, looking perfect in wrappings that make them look like gifts. Even though I have yet to receive fruits wrapped with a ribbon, every single one that I got so far came decorated with ordinary affections, the type that comes from those who are happy to share whatever little they got.

We can tell exactly what hits the hardest when our illusion of stability is shaken. My biggest fear was never feeling at home here, whatsoever, and this was the root of all the anxiety and despair that took over my mind and body, in between the lines of this academic term. My relationship with belonging (or lack thereof) has been one of struggle since childhood; even with all the changing and learning over the years, whenever I walk into a new place, the same old trauma comes back to haunt me again — and it wasn’t different this time. The first draft for this text focused solely on the suffocating panic I felt whenever I walked outside, and couldn’t find anything familiar, anything that could bring me any measure of safety or comfort; I spent several days, long days, sewing perceptions together until my body and mind could reach an agreement on where our feet were standing. These were the two sides of the same coin of everything that scared the hell out of me — how long it would take for me to be at peace with myself, on my own, and how long it would take for me to be at peace with the world around me. I could imagine that it was going to be hard, but, still, my imagination was convinced that it would be much easier than it was (or has been).

I missed weightlessness, almost paradoxically, because I realised that having no bonds or roots tying me to the ground weighed me down. Acknowledging the existence of this burden was surprising and tough, and it sent me spiralling. Because of that, I remember well the ordinary, but very meaningful, joy I felt when I got tangerines as a gift for the first time, from a friend who had just returned from Jeju. Three small ones, a thin, glossy skin, and they told me we had a bond that could last longer than the team project we had done together. A few days later, I got another one, from one of my labmates, and then a full bag, from one of the lovely ladies that work at the convenience store in my dormitory, who likes me very much and lets me call her “aunt”. Whenever I go to church, I leave with one, or two — it might be even three, if you refuse even once. This is how, after a few weeks of walking on eggshells, not quite sure if I meant anything to the people who treated me well, I seemed to be collecting more and more little testimonies of the nature of the connections I was making here, and I could feel some little weightlessness, at last.

I had to generate images on DALL-E 2 for an assignment and I chose to do something discussing weightlessness (or lack thereof). The prompt was “weightlessness, low-exposure photograph, bw”, generated on 8 October, 2022. I used #2. It was one of 3 that got 2nd place in a voting to pick favourites.

My fruit bowl has received and given quite a lot over these four months — several tangerines, the juiciest grapes I’ve ever had, persimmons, kiwis, strawberries — , always sharing everything with someone else, because even a pair might be too much for a single, simple student to manage, in between the endless meetings and lab hours and takeout meals we have, always at inappropriate times, doing our best to manage being a twenty-something whose life is thriving and moving forward. Besides the fruits, there have been a handful of snack packs, chocolate, lunches and dinners at the school cafeterias, cups of coffee and iced americano, car rides, and multiple walks to the nearest convenience stores, and the way I can tell when one of my labmates is about to suggest that by the way they move their chairs or change the rhythm of their breath. And every single thing says something about the willingness to share and care that the people around me have shown, and what I could offer in return.

Through these small actions, I felt as if I was slowly transitioning from a decal floating on the landscape, to having my own body and presence in this new reality. This is why the fruit basket became my favourite metaphor, and narrative device, to make sense of the beginning of my life in Korea. For the price, for the cultural significance, for the feeling of anticipating the changing of the seasons, and the specific flavours that each one brings. And the part that forces me to talk about differences. Jesus Christ, how cliche it is to talk about what’s different between one half of the world and the other, but how impossible it is not to do so, when not even the fruits that we call by the same name are really the same. One of these days, we went to this delicious restaurant, and got a persimmon as a treat from the owner; it was my second time there, and he still remembered what I had ordered on my first visit, almost two months before. It was my first time trying an oriental persimmon; the skin was thin, like the ones I had in Brazil, but it wasn’t as juicy, and it didn’t fall apart in my hands. The flavour was astringent; different, and more to my taste.

Some of the fruits of this semester, that one day when a friend was feeling sick at Seoul’s Express Bus Terminal and I managed to get her a lemon, and the first time I went to my favourite restaurant (invited by my lovely labmate).

The tangerines I’ve had here are also different — more delicate, smaller than the ones my mum would put on the table after we were done having lunch, but their thin skin requires a lot more ability to make sure you won’t hurt the slices, or spray yourself with juice. One of my church friends always asks me to peel them for him, because he thinks he can’t do it well. And I think a lot about all of these things — for the jokes I cracked, but no one laughed, for the hand waves that went unanswered, for the times when my usual sarcasm sounded rude by accident, for how weird it seemed to some that I could talk about myself so easily, while I struggled to understand that they could not. I think a lot about all of these things, for all the times I did something wrong, or thought I did, and blamed myself for issues that weren’t necessarily misdeeds. Wouldn’t it be too much to expect one to get it all right from the get-go, especially when trying to peel such a thin, delicate skin for the first time?

And I think a lot about how we should be careful when holding and handling today the skin of the fruit we want to eat tomorrow, to keep its bright texture and sweet smell, a reminder that we’re holding something that’s fresh from the orchard. But this fresh fruit scent, which fills my room and stamps my hands, has an expiration date, and it must be enjoyed fast, before it stops being a gift, and it becomes a liability. And then we can raise and sustain the expectation of getting more once we’re done with this bunch, and I close this analogy with the promise that everything that happens to me here is good to the extent that it’s meaningfully unexceptional, filled with the most trivial measure of love, the right amount to make the time between sunrises and sunsets more bearable, and the moments alone feel less like loneliness, and more like solitude. It doesn’t have to last forever, but it’s sweet, a sight for sore eyes (and good for your health, if we want to take it that far).

Even so, I’d be lying if I said I am not upset because of the things that came and left so quickly, with no replacement, in my life as a wegugin (외국인), a foreigner in this land. Time and time again, the unfulfilled expectation of reciprocity makes me think too much about what I am to others. In this graduate programme, I will stay longer than the tangerines, persimmons and grapes can resist in my fruit bowl, so I understand that I must keep receiving and giving new demonstrations of what people mean to me, and what I mean to them, so that we can keep building bridges. I’d love to never again realise I was wrong about what I meant to someone, even though I know this will always be a possibility, because risk and uncertainty are integral parts of the equation of opening up to others. But the most important point of everything I’ve written so far is that, even before I decided that this was the country I was going to try to move to, I already knew my next journey would only amount to something if I wasn’t scared of getting my heart broken. Like my friend Dora Sanches said, “those who are scared of getting sad are also scared of love”. Without love — or the hope, and expectation of love — there are no exchanges; the hearts never open, the ties cannot be sustained, the weight of unfamiliarity lingers on, and body and mind can never reach an agreement about where the feet seem to stand.

Another bunch of memories I made with my special friends.

As I write, I talk to my friend Ashley — Korean-American, known as Jinkyung to her family, a Master’s student at Yonsei, who’s currently back in the US for the Holidays. She’s a singer-songwriter, one of the most sensitive people I’ve ever met, and all of our conversations eventually get to the same point — what would it be like to live with a heart that doesn’t overthink every single detail of every single thing? I don’t know if there is, or if there will ever be, an answer. But that’s the reason why I like metaphors — they force us to think less about the things they cannot explain well. If I wanted to, I could still squeeze a bunch of other meanings out of the fruits I got, but I could have also told this story from the perspective of this habit that I have of carrying gum with me, and asking everyone around me if they want some. In both cases, we see two outstretched hands — one for giving, one for receiving. My sweet fruit basket and I will be fine as long as we keep giving and receiving, and as long as I can make myself capable of suffering less for what’s lost, or never came back. This is the structure of relationships that makes room for us to put down roots — the process is uneven and uncertain, but every exchange reminds me that I’m not the only one trying to find myself out there.

The bright side is that I can feel my heart being renewed, inside my chest. Even under the lingering threat of everything that has terrified me for years, I keep myself sensitive to the small ordinary blessings, and I let them heal a bit more of my fear of moving on. Talks that pain is also a comfort zone are proof that our instincts are able to fail us; our perceptions, between mind, and the surfaces and windows of our body, are able to send mixed signals, too hard for us to get them all right. But, to this day, I don’t remember ever being unsure about the taste of fruit when I took a bite, and felt it on my tongue, and was assured that my mind and body were standing on the same ground. Maybe this is the taste of freedom people talk so much about.

All of these pictures mean a lot to me but it would take too long to contextualise all of them so I’ll leave it up to the readers’ imagination.

Featured Image by Jonathan Pielmayer on Unsplash

Uncommon Side Effects

Written between late-June, 2021 and early-Feb/2022.

People rarely get the chance to acknowledge when something life-changing is about to happen, but somehow, when I picked up “Down and Out in Paris and London” for the first time a few years ago, I knew I wouldn’t be the same after reading it. I had just returned from the UK, and I was hurting, because I missed the feeling of being home I had experienced there – a feeling that just wasn’t the way I felt at that moment, lying in bed, holding the book, in my own bedroom, in my own house. It’s been a while now, but I still remember how it made me feel. But I can’t remember a single word or passage. I was completely drunk in longing. 

If I think seriously about it, I have not lived an entire year without some radical change in my life for at least 13 years now. I’m not sure if it’s the same for everyone, or the majority, but I am sure I know a handful who have been hanging out with the same people, at the same places, doing the same things, for at least half a decade. I don’t mean to paint that as a negative thing, though, and how could I even do that in the first place, since I have no idea how it feels like. I know how constant change feels like, though; tiring. I’m exhausted. 

On the other hand, I’m the type that gets bored easily. Not everything that’s ever changed has been on me, but God, who’s got His hands all over everything, knows me well enough. I’m not a fan of speculating about unrealised timelines but perhaps I would feel even worse than I do now if I hadn’t seen so many friends come and go endlessly. Perhaps I’ve been online for too long and my body and soul have become one and the same with the space of flows that I have most certainly made my own. But, in spite of all the changes, I think I’m very boring. 

Fast-backward to the person I was in 2016. I had never been abroad before I moved to another continent as a student but I had always enjoyed the concept of being a person who keeps coming and going around. People have argued greatly about the reasons why travelling changes you; you can always wonder about the world that is much larger than the space between the tips of your middle fingers if you open your arms as wide as possible, but to stare into the void is something else. I am strongly against the idea of tourism, though, so I hope you don’t mix things up. 

You don’t have to go far to realise how unspeakably deep is the abyss of the thought of the world. So I’m very comfortable with downsizing when I can’t fight something that feels way too big. Beholding the extent of the world is scary, but I can take refuge in the sweetest memories from travelling that I keep: the several different rooms I’ve ever slept in. I still remember how each one of them made me feel, and how each one of them felt like my own place, or how it did not. The feeling of sleeping in my grandma’s bedroom was uncomfortable, because I was scared of the picture hanging on her wall – but I was not brave enough to tell her. The first night you sleep in a new house always leaves that weird feeling of believing you’re somewhere else before realising you actually moved places. But not when I travel. I don’t remember my body ever forgetting I was in a new place when I left what I called home to make myself at home somewhere else for a while. 

I remember the shape of each of these rooms. My go-to strategy to fall asleep is following the ceiling lines until I know their corners well enough to peacefully zone out. After I became an Architecture student, that habit became a skill. Once, in 2016, I tried to redraw every single room I remembered sleeping in from memory, and I did it well. Two years later, the person I was in 2018 is lying in bed alone, in a tiny, ugly hotel room that I remember all too well, waiting until the clock struck the time she was supposed to shower and get ready to go out. I was listening to Faces on repeat. “I wish that I knew what I know now when I was younger”. The way we always do, but we never learn. The song in itself doesn’t mean anything to me, but I can still remember that ugly bedroom down to how it smelled whenever I go back to “Ooh La La”’s haunting chorus. The person I was in 2018 listened to that song a hundred and too many fucking times before she realised that chorus was about her. 

I enjoy music that I can cry to as much as music that I can dance and vibe to, but I absolutely adore love songs the most. I adore them because, of all the different types of songs, they’re the ones that always feel right and desirable, like there’s a good reason they exist. I always keep a bunch inside my heart, even when I don’t feel anywhere near feeling anything, because some of them can make my heart flutter for no particular reason. I remember feeling like I was the main character in a love song only twice in my life – once in 2013, then in 2017 (the same year I read “Down and Out in Paris and London”). I longed to be back where I felt at home and reading the book made me feel like I could accomplish it anytime soon. And I wanted to believe it so bad. I was happy to dream about the life I was about to build. But it was not about the place anymore. Damn, I was so foolishly in love. Someone hugged me in a way that tricked me so deeply I believed I had found home. It wasn’t the land. I was so foolish, and it’s even hard to acknowledge just how foolish, because, looking back, I have no idea how I felt safe and sound where I didn’t belong. Like a lonely piece of garlic trying to fit into an orange missing a bite. I was so foolish, and I was so blind. 

That’s the most fucked up thing about everything. I felt safe where I didn’t belong. How am I supposed to find a safe place, especially now that I realise I don’t know what it looks or feels like? I try to think about the things that have come and gone over the years, and my uncertain ways through the world, and what remained, and I wonder if that’s the direction I’m supposed to take. I try to recap every single bedroom I’ve ever been into to see if how each one of them felt like my own, or how it did not, can help me figure out the answer. I think about my family, and the friends I love the most, and the songs that I enjoy dancing or crying to, and I still don’t know if I’ve ever been anywhere near as close to home as I suppose I should have by now. How can I even tell that I’m a part of the world besides the fact that I have a body, and an incarnated conscience, and that air gets out of the way whenever I move back and forth trying to figure out where the hell I belong? 

I wish that I knew what I know now when I was younger; as she read that book, the person that I was in 2017 felt transported to the invented memories of where she wanted to be. That’s creepy, but that’s how impatient, bored, nomad hearts figure out how deeply desperate they are to find a place to rest. Sadly, it took me long to grow out of my desperation, just enough to see the red flags first. I feel like I’ve been hanging for a long time, because something so small left me stuck in a room with a puzzle instead of a door lock. All my life I’ve seen people come and go out of their trauma and move on without ever cleaning up the room in the first place so why did it have to be me the one taking turns to find out what’s wrong for years? I’m desperate about making all wrongs right by all standards of righteousness, and I’ve never shied away from seeing my mistakes for what they were. 

But it wasn’t only my mistake. It wasn’t. For the longest, I tried to take responsibility for my own life by not attributing fault to others. I thought THIS was a righteous choice, but it’s not, because, when I started spitting all the things I was keeping inside, I blamed myself when he chose not to say anything in return. And, even as I write now, years after I closed that page and burned it to the ground, I still feel the gutting punch of bitterness of all the things I wanted to say so badly, but that I couldn’t. He made me feel like I was just about to take off and I never unlearned it, but it’s been so long, long enough that I honestly don’t even care about him anymore. I had to think deeply, and for years, before I realised that I could only easen my broken heart if I got rid of the weight of all the words I kept locked inside. That was unthinkable; I was desperate because they had no place to go. How could I simply let them fall to the ground? 

Then, one day, I read that the number one reason why love songs exist is because there are volumes of things about love that might end up written anyway, but which are better left unsaid. It was something that simple, almost stupid, if you say it out loud. But I think the mental image of all the love songs I had been keeping inside of me being anything other than a love song made the whole thing seem very silly (but I was glad to have a laugh). Something shifted inside of me, something that made all of the things in the deepest pits of my numbed-down heart light up so that I could finally come to terms with all the words I had been choking on as I hung, high and dry. Words that had no place they could get to were better left to fall and crash and melt into the ground. Being content with their fate, trusting these silly little outcomes might mean that downsizing was the right choice from the get-go. It’s a weird feeling but I think it’s the closest to home I must have ever been. I still don’t know how to describe it, though, so perhaps it’s an open-ended resolution, but if I can make my way out of this mess, it should be enough. 

Photo by Pawel Czerwinski on Unsplash

The ‘Space’ in ‘Cyberspace’ & the Sociability of the Bridge: Introductory Notes

This past week, news of Elon Musk’s impending acquisition of Twitter threw me into a bunch of readings, and conversations, regarding the platform. All of these eventually made me realise that it was about time I published something about my own work. I’ve been poring over the intersection of Twitter, Fan Communities and Place-making since early 2019, shortly after I finished my degree in Architecture and Urbanism. Back then, I used to say I was an Architect trying to look into ‘cyberspace’. This word, ‘cyberspace’, however, wacky, was my best shot at getting people to understand I was interested in alternative ideas of space, as an architect. 

Most people outside my field would stumble upon first hearing about it, but the way I worded things was enough for them to figure out there should be some sort of connection to be made there. That is because there is, indeed, a connection to be made there — and I am not even the first Architect who brought forth such an analysis. Moreso, none of the Architects to whom I’ve talked about my research so far, however removed from this context, has found it hard to understand the point, even without much explanation — It might sound unexpected, but surely not impractical. 

Starting without proper supervision meant that I had to cover a lot of ground on my own. The present text was put together from multiple drafts and notes I wrote over the years, as I made my way through years’ worth of material to establish the foundation of what I was trying to do — use my original body of knowledge to guide me into the new fields I was interested in. A lot has changed since I took my first notes, three years or so ago. I, too, have changed, and I surely feel more ready to publish this now than I did before. I hope that my own investigations can help others who might be interested in getting started down the same path.

This post is also available on Medium.

Outline

  1. Architecture and Other Spaces (go)
  2. The ‘Space’ in ‘Cyberspace’ (go)
    1. Architectural Space (go)
    2. Cyberspace & Other Metaphors (go)
    3. A Digital Sense of Place (go)
  3. The Sociability of the Bridge (go)
    1. Movement, Presence and Experience (go)
    2. The Bridge & Further Investigations (go)
  4. References (go)
Cover of AD Architectural Design Volume 65, No. 11/12 (Nov.-Dec. 1995), titled “Architects in Cyberspace”. Available at: https://monoskop.org/images/2/2d/AD_118_Architects_in_Cyberspace_1996.pdf

1. Architecture and Other Spaces

In very general terms, Architecture is concerned with framing the human experience, being the appropriate mediator between the world and ourselves (Pallasmaa, 2015, 17), to the extent of humanity’s own dimension. This expertise is hard to fathom; architects’ distinguishing claim is the ability to order space through design, and realise a vision of ordered space (Quek, 2012, vi). Even though other design professions can also claim the sort of articulated vision that is required to achieve the realisation of design projects – from product design to landscape architecture -, not all of them encompass the same range of different scales of interaction as the architect & urbanist. In fact, architects have been found to develop a very particular point of view in regards to the physical world that surrounds us and with which we interact (Dana, 2016, 2-3), because, since we are trained to design buildings, we are trained to notice the invisible qualities of spaces — namely, how they are built, and how the different parts work to achieve their purpose upon use.

In the introduction of his 2006 collection of essays “Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers: Exploring Participatory Culture”, Henry Jenkins says that “the essence of being methodologically conscious is to be honest about how you know what you know” (2006, 6); as an architect, K-pop fan, and intense Twitter user over a decade, my study started from observation. I noticed, from daily interactions with fans, that the branch of International English language-based ARMY on Twitter had developed a very strong, unique, sense of identity, which I believed was intensely location-based. In other terms, I believed that the intense interaction between I-ARMY and Twitter had generated a sense of place, something that emerges when a specific location in space is invested with particular meaning, which might occur at many different scales. I believe that this interaction had spatial analogous qualities, since ‘place’ is a territory whose boundaries are defined by a sense of being “inside”, “being somewhere” as opposed to “anywhere”, due to an intensity that connects sociality to spatiality in everyday life (Kalay, and Marx, 2003, 20) (Dovey, 2010, 3). 

At first, my biggest challenge was figuring out the appropriate framework and method that could help me move beyond my initial observations. Even though my body of knowledge made me capable of identifying the phenomenon being considered, my lack of previous experience with the fields related to Digital Media forced me to focus on expanding my theoretical understanding. As previously mentioned, the present text is the result of my investigations to develop the understanding of digital spaces and spatialities that would later allow me to interpret the phenomenon that gave rise to my study. 

The starting point that sparked my insight is the understanding that social behaviour is often subject to the architecture that houses it (Anders, 2004, 398). The underlying premise is that, to understand the occupation and maintenance of a digitally-based community of shared taste, we should analyse how the platform which hosts them affords a sense of place, and how this sense of place interacts with their individual and community-generated sense of presence and belonging, and what this interaction brings about. In future writings, I hope to unpack the specifics of the nature of these spaces. 

back to outline

2. The ‘Space’ in ‘Cyberspace’

2.1. Architectural Space

Architects have been indulging in figuring out the spatial nature of the internet, according to the idea of the ‘space’ in ‘cyberspace’, for at least 30 years. Scholars from other fields, such as Law and Geography, have also engaged in such studies. The amount of available work meant that there was a lot to consider and learn from, but my readings made me realise that this matter wasn’t a settled affair.

‘Space’ in itself is a concept hard to grasp that demands different definitions, from different fields, to account for its complexity. According to social theorists, for example, ‘space’ is the fabric of reality, but also the expression of society, being both a product of society but also a means of production of society (Lefebvre, 1991, 26-27). For example, as Manuel Castells (1990; 2010) defines it, the ‘space of flows’ is  the “spatial form characteristic of social practices that dominate and shape the network society … the material organization of time-sharing social practices that work through flows” (2010, 442), also defined as “the material arrangements that allow for simultaneity of social practises without territorial contiguity” (1990, 1). 

Italian architect Bruno Zevi frames it differently – he conceptualises ‘space’ from the perspective of ‘the void’, the infinite, continuous substance of existence, whose contiguity is disrupted to delimit and create the setting that affords the unravelment of life. Sounds overly poetic, but, according to Pérez-Gómez (2006), this is exactly the poiesis of Architecture – the possibility of making. Zevi believed that the matter of space was indeed the main, leading concern of Architecture, as it’s been since the late 18th Century (being first properly articulated in the works of August Schmarsow). 

According to Stalder (2003), the space of flows consists of three elements: the medium through which things flow, the things that flow, and the nodes among which the flows circulate. This flow is defined by ‘movement’ and ‘human action’, more specifically movement that takes place through human action and creates the “specific social conditions for our everyday life” (2003, 2). This understanding of space considers digital communication technology and information as part of the material arrangement of social practises, however different in nature they might be. For example, the dimensions in electronically mediated flows are not fixed, because space can expand and contract very quickly according to volume and speed of flow, like an intangible bridge that bends time and space upon bridging. The ‘space of flows’ would then be the expression (not a reflection) of the networked society (‘society’ meaning ‘mode of production’); it’s a social product, but also a means of social production, to the extent that it embodies social relationships (Lefebvre, 1991, 26-27).

Lefebvre’s theory understands the production of space as a dialectic process conceptualised in three dimensions: spatial practise (material production), representations of space (production of knowledge), representational space (production of symbols and signs). Each of these moments represents an experience mediated by the body, summarised in the triad perceived-conceived-lived (1991, 11-40). Cohen proposes that this triad could also apply to the production of ‘cyberspace’ (2007, 236). Understanding that the space of flows of the networked society comprises all that is offline and online, I work from the premise that the perceived-conceived-lived triad of the production of space already covers this extension. Therefore, what we call ‘cyberspace’ is a networked extension of space that we call ‘physical’, and an expression of the networked society. As previously stated, this definition informs that all material instances, tangible or not, are at play in the production of this space.

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2.2. Cyberspace & Other Metaphors

But what is ‘cyberspace’? Ottis & Lorents (2011) defined it as being a “time-dependent set of interconnected information systems and the human users that interact with these systems” (2010, 267). The inclusion of the idea of ‘time-dependence’ highlights the increased complexity of the electronic networks that make up cyberspace over extremely short time, in comparison to other time-dependent systems (ibid., 269). This definition, however, does very little in defining the ‘space’ aspect in question, which is my first main concern as an Architect. This investigation will thread into the metaphorical aspect of using the word ‘space’, so it’s important to point out from the start that the concept of space is far expanded beyond the limits of the built environment. According to American Architect Peter Anders, space can be regarded as “the coherent, internally generated display of sensory information conditioned by body, mind and memory” (2004). This “psychosomatic definition of space” stresses the cognitive nature of space, instead of the architectural emphasis on the built environment. 

I was able to acknowledge this cognitive aspect early on in my research, not just through Anders’s work, but also due to the fact that, initially, I considered a pursuit of ‘cyberspace’ to be an investigation into the character of ‘virtual’ space. I quickly learned that the word ‘virtual’ had a range that, at first, seemed to extend beyond my intended scope of research. According to Dr Or Ettlinger (2007), ‘virtual space’ is intangible, but it’s spatially visible (such as in paintings or movies, for example), whereas the Internet is a conceptual space — one that can be perceived, conceived, experienced, but not touched nor directly seen (regardless of the visible features that the Internet possesses, or the material conditions that make it possible). We can’t ask ourselves “Where is cyberspace?” and figure out an exact Cartesian location (2005, 9), but it can’t exist outside of given materialisations, however immaterial it seems to be (Blanchette, 2011). 

In fact, the materiality of the internet is evident in that it can’t even be accessed or experienced without the mediation of electronic devices (Kalay, and Marx, 2003, 20). Moreso, It is an experience with which we can relate upon symbols; Cohen (2007), for example, says that it is experienced in terms of distances measured in clicks or retrieval times rather than in walking or driving times, but which are distances nonetheless (2007, 229). To Cicognani (1998), it is a linguistic construction, since any ‘object’ found in cyberspace is a result of some sort of language (since information is structured on language) (1998, 19). 

Nonetheless, according to Cohen (2007):

. . . The important question is not what kind of space cyberspace is, but what kind of space a world that includes cyberspace is and will become. Cyberspace is part of lived space, and it is through its connections to lived space that cyberspace must be comprehended and, as necessary, regulated. In particular, a theory of cyberspace and space must consider the rise of networked space, the emergent and contested relationship between networked space and embodied space, and the ways in which networked space alters, instantiates, and disrupts geographies of power. (2007, 213)

However, the ‘cyberspace’ terminology, even though still present in certain contexts such as discussions of national sovereignty, and popular imagination, is outdated. Other words emerged over time, in attempts to describe, or conceive, new ideas about what digital space was supposed to be or look like (such as the 2022 buzzword ‘Web3’, coined by computer scientist Gavin Wood in 2014, which describes a vision for decentralised internet). ‘Web 2.0’, our present environment, became current in late 2004, representing the shift between an information-oriented web, consisting mainly of static web pages with little opportunities for interaction, to a system of Web-based applications (or platforms, such as blogs, wikis, social networkings services, multimedia sharing sites) centred around developing online communities based on greater degrees of interactivity, inclusion, collaboration, authentic materials and digital literacy skills (Harrison and Thomas, 2009, 112). 

Arora (2012) states that the replacement of ‘cyberspace’ by ‘web 2.0’ is evidence of how common understandings of online spaces have changed over time (2012, 2). We can say that the ‘web 2.0’ terminology conceptualises the internet from a network approach, focusing on the interaction between people, rather than what individuals do on their own (Haythornthwaite, 2005, 127) — and might even account for an understanding of the flow of information that navigates through physical and digital space — while the ‘cyberspace’ metaphor conceives the existence of a ‘space’ that is experienced mediated by embodied human cognition (Cohen, 2007, 226), in a monolithic sense, where interactions are carried out. 

These and other metaphors have been useful to help facilitate cognition of the internet’s structure and characteristics, providing visible cues that helped mapping tools, such as the Internet Crawler — the ‘Web’, the ‘Net’, the digital ‘public sphere’, ‘hyperspace’ or ‘cyberspace’. For instance, in 1998, visualisation maps were conceived like astronomical charts, due to an understanding of the Web as hyperspace (Rogers, 2009, 120). But they are limited, due to the nature of metaphors — they highlight the features of the thing being described that are more aligned with the metaphor while necessarily hiding the ones that are inconsistent with that metaphor (Lakoff and Johnson, 2003, 10). Even so, our scale of abstraction does help us understand the connections from these symbolic objects to our physical world, in a way that aids cognition (Anders, 1999, 47). Internet users don’t experience this perception of space and sociability only because of how we call it, but because the other metaphors and symbols that are encountered online describe the experience as such, upon mediation by our embodied cognition (Cohen, 2007, 230). That happens because spatialisation operates in the realm of language, at an entirely unconscious level (ibid., 229). We can’t pinpoint the Cartesian location of Twitter, for example, but we can recognise the experience of a shared social reality that resembles a spatial one.

An example from Anders (1996) provides a practical illustration. In an attempt to create models of the spatiality provided by Multi-user Domains (MUDs), Anders and his students noticed that users couldn’t provide specific details of how they envisioned these domains — not in a way that could help researchers build models of their text-based environments. On a collective scale, users weren’t concerned with the dimensions or the shape of these spatial metaphors, not as much as they cared if these layouts allowed the sort of interaction they thought to have experienced (1996, 60-61). In other words, even though users drew from the physical space to conceive the environment, their perception was more related to how they conceived the sociability afforded by these environments, interpreted in spatial, or geometrical terms, following their own set of references. Harrison and Dourish (1996) support this claim by arguing that this happens because it is a shared sense of place that is the actual behavioural framing for how users behave online. The affordability of this sense of place is the point that allows different types of experience of space to be considered in relation to one another.

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2.3 A Digital Sense of Place

Ultimately, the question of place rests on the relation between spatiality and sociality (Dovey, 2010, 6). In Architecture practice, the sense of ‘place’ is something hard to achieve, because architects can’t control all aspects of the interaction between people and the built environment. The intention behind the conception of the design doesn’t amount to anything unless users of that space can perceive the proposal (Holl, 2006). It is, however, easier to identify upon analysis of a space; places emerge as a function of experience, and from practice (Cohen, 2007, 231). In Architecture theory, it has been normally associated with definitions such as ‘stable’, ‘timeless’, ‘essential’, or even ‘eternal’, stemming from the heideggerian tradition interpreted in the works of architectural theorists such as Christian Norberg-Schulz (1926-2000), who theorised the ‘genius loci’ — the ‘spirit of place’. 

Contemporary architectural theorists such as Christopher Alexander or Juhani Pallasmaa support the idea that the sense of place is connected to timeless qualities of human existence in space. Others, like Dovey (2010), favour approaches that are less grounded in ‘being’ and more grounded in ‘becoming’; this view allows for the sense of place to go beyond the stabilised modes of dwelling, such as homeland and history (2010, 4). Saar and Palang (2009) identify several different scales of place making, such as supranational, national, local and individual, but also other dimensions that are harder to group under one specific scale, like meaning attached because of events, or ownership, among others (2009, 7-13). It is in place-making that we discuss the emotional dimension of spaces, like attachment, exclusion or belonging.

The shared notion of belonging is vital to the development of this study — as Kalay and Marx (2003) put it, place is a territory whose boundaries are defined by a sense of being ‘inside’, “being somewhere” as opposed to anywhere” (2003, 20). This is ultimately what defines the nature of the space being considered — if, and how, it is delimited. Bruno Zevi (1978) says that every architectural object constitutes a limit in itself, a border, a disruption in the continuity of space. So, when two non-architectural objects contribute to build the separation between one space and another space, inside and outside, even if these objects can’t be accounted as architecture, they still shape space (1978, 25). 

The production of space, according to Lefebvre (1991), is a dialectic process conceptualised in three dimensions: spatial practise (material production), representations of space (production of knowledge), representational space (production of symbols and signs). Each of these represents an experience mediated by the body, summarised in the triad perceived-conceived-lived (1991, 11-40). The dialectic aspect is a reminder that it is impossible to separate the production of space (and, consequently, the making of place) from time. As Dovey puts it, what distinguishes ‘place’ from ‘space’ is the connection between sociality and spatiality in everyday life (Dovey, 2010, 3). Place-making, then, is an affordance of the fourth dimension, where movement can come about.  

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3. The Sociability of the Bridge

3.1. Movement, Presence and Experience

How should we define digital movement? This is precisely the difference between ‘virtual’ and ‘digital’ notions. Or Ettlinger (2007) calls “virtual space” the space that we perceive from images, or visual cues, which can be seen, but not touched. One of the underlying premises is that we cannot interact with it in a way that affords us to perceive a wholesome spatial notion, due to the nature of the sort of media mediating the viewer’s perspective and experience of space. On the other hand, according to Virtual Space and Place Theory (VSP), because 3D environments (such as Second Life) have what they call ‘directionality’ — the possibility of movement —, users can experience notions of familiarity and the sense of true digital presence. In relation to SNS, we can think of the aspect of  ‘navigability’ of a website or platform. 

It’s important to point out that this type of analysis is possible because, as stated before, we can regard space for its psychosomatic aspects, beyond the built environment. In VSP, Saunders et al. (2011) develop a framework for the design of space in virtual worlds (VW), in a manner that makes room for the emergence of meaning-invested virtual places. Even though it builds up from Second Life — a 3D environment that literally mimics complex physical spaces —, it contains important insight into how we should analyse the construction of digital sociability through design, in a way that provides users with a sense of place and the experience of presence, analogous to intention in architectural practice.

The sense of place is defined in many ways in VSP, but all definitions are centred around four points, as follows: 

  1. Place is a “container” in space, with dynamic and fluid boundaries, that holds a mental representation of experiences that are derived from social interactions and interactions with objects; 
  2. There is no place without the meaning; 
  3. The view of place is tied to mental representations formed through repeated interactions; 
  4. The experience of place is linked to the concept of presence. 

I will add another dimension of place in digital settings, as pointed by Harrison and Dourish (1996) and supported by Anders (2004):

  1. The sense of place frames interactive behaviour, given that social behaviour is often subject to the architecture that houses it. 

In point 3, the affirmation that places emerge through repeated interactions emphasises the layer of experience, over time. It is from an idea of recurring social interactions and interactions with objects that they propose that users develop ‘familiarity’ and experience ‘presence’, perceptions that support the emergence of a sense of place. ‘Familiarity’ is grounded in the past and provides understanding and recognition of current actions of other people or of objects. It also encompasses the process of experiencing and learning how to use the interface. The concept of ‘presence’ is more complex, as it’s expanded into different perspectives and descriptions. 

Saunders et al. (2011) describe in VSP two types of social presence: presence as social richness (or social presence) and presence as immersion (or simply immersion), as described by Lombard and Ditton (1997). ‘Social presence’ is the perception that there is personal, sociable, and sensitive human contact in the medium, afforded by the social cues transmitted by the platform. ‘Immersion’ is the user’s compelling sense of being in a mediated space, and not where their physical body is located; it is presence as a result of the sensory cues transmitted by the platform, instead of the social ones. All senses are obviously involved when users make use of platforms, but only sight, hearing and touch are directly provided by the platform and its interface. I argue that an individual’s perception of immersion depends on their conditions of access, their patterns of use, and the platform’s structure of interaction and experience. On the platform’s end, it would revolve mostly around the structure of how (what, when, where, why) content is presented.

Still about the concept of presence, some points are worth noting; first, that the illusion of presence is unstable; relationships online are conceived at-a-distance, “stretched out too far for linearity” (Lash, 2001). Even so, instability doesn’t erase the fact that this presence is an embodied experience, not just for avatars in VW but also for profiles in social networking services (as we regard them as a form of ‘digital body’, where individuals write their identities into being (boyd (2007)) (Mennecke et al., 2009, 4; 7). These experiences described are possible because using platforms is an ongoing process of perception-cognition-practise; senses of familiarity, presence and place emerge from the ways through which users move through these interfaces and repeatedly recognise their spatiality.

It is a process of cognitive adaptation: users assimilate their experiences on the platforms and create a mental representation which helps them accommodate their old cognition into new experiences. At this point, we can describe experience in digital space as the practical aspects of media use: the interaction with objects — content, other users, tools and the platform itself — and navigability — the extent to which movement is possible across a range of motion —; it’s the result of how the structural clues and social markers on the platform work to afford navigation between its different parts. Through this process, users can attach meaning to the multitude of signs and signals being thrown their way, and something new emerges at the interface of the sense-maker and their environment (Lash, 2001). For example, for a digital community, their experience of place is where, over time, continuities and consistencies are given rise in the way that allows that group of people to perceive certain expressions as traditional, local, or community generated (Howard, 2008, 201), going as far as expressing, or representing, a sense of collective memory.

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3.2. The Bridge & Further Investigations

Considering all of these aspects, we can return to the definition of ‘cyberspace’ proposed by Ottis & Lorents (2011) — a “time-dependent set of interconnected information systems and the human users that interact with these systems.” Aware of the implications of the dimension of ‘place’, we can affirm that, in ‘cyberspace’, the ‘space’ is, in fact, the affordability of action in the distance between two nodes in a network. This ‘distance’ is grounded on the fact that these two nodes are real and exist as physical beings — individual human beings are irreducible to bits and remain localised in the physical realm (Cohen, 2007, 244). This is the ground on which all sorts of networks exist — the existence of the possibility of the establishment of connection between two or more parts.

In “Building, Dwelling, Thinking”, Heidegger (1971) proposes an analogy about the emergence of place across building and dwelling, known as “Heidegger’s Bridge” or “the bridge in Heidelberg”. The banks of the river only emerge as banks, or, as opposite sides, upon bridging (or linking) — “The bridge gathers the earth as landscape around the stream […] lets the stream run its course and at the same time grants their way to mortals so that they may come and go from shore to shore” (1971, 150). If we think about this analogy in relation to the ties in digital networks, we can appreciate the unfathomable complexity of the worlds brought about through the bridges that are built and burnt online on a daily basis, as multiple different worlds gather, shape the digital environment, and connect with way more people than they would probably ever do in their strictly physical lives.

This unthinkable complexity is, ultimately, what the internet was always meant to be. When William Gibson (2003) coined the term ‘cyberspace’ In “Neuromancer”, first published in 1984, he used these exact same words to describe the phenomenon:

“Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts…A graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding…” (p. 51)

And yet, how could we not try to fathom it? This is the foundation of my study: the belief that an architect’s best contribution is a sharp eye to acknowledge the Architecture of Serendipity. Borrowing from Heidegger, what I call ‘The Sociability of the Bridge’ is an analysis of how the actors and elements at play in establishing a digital environment afford the development of communities-at-a-distance. I believe the Heideggerian analogy is valuable, especially because of the idea of gathering through Heidegger’s Fourfold. However, it is unclear whether all the unfoldings of the Fourfold are the best fit for future investigations. For reference, a similar study by Neill (2018), which examined interaction on Tumblr according to the platform’s “singular architecture”, employed Social Construction of Technology and Actor-Network Theory as method and framework. 

Even so, so far, the bridge serves well as an anchor back to the material properties of the hierarchies and structures that seem to be invisible in digital environments — or else, made increasingly invisible. By looking into rather abstract phenomena such as the construction of memory, and a collective sense of shared space, all the actors at play in and through the platform and the community, have got to be considered. This is particularly relevant for fan communities, as the corporate interests are also actively working in nurturing fan loyalty. In this sense, I believe there’s value in considering the effect of cognising virtual spaces through moving images in the construction of community identity. 

An illustration of the Bridge and its gathering properties, as presented by me at BTS: A Global Interdisciplinary Conference Project at Kingston University, London, 4-5 Jan 2020

To put all of these aspects being mentioned in order: 

I first consider the platform/website’s singular architecture, or the structures behind how information is presented and circulated. Second, the construction of identity and their collective imagination in communities of shared interest, emphasising the effect of moving images in shaping their cognition. Lastly, I consider the construction of memory and the emergence of lore and traditions perceived to be community-generated in digital communities, from a shared sense of collective experience. I believe that, with these points, we can reach a qualified analysis of the ways through which perceptual and cognitive space can be perceived and cognised in the bridge, as well as an examination of the bridge itself, and its material properties. 

To conclude, I’d like to touch on how I approach the Sociability of the Bridge as a technological form of social life, as described by Scott Lash (2001). There are several aspects to be considered, but I want to focus on the idea of stretched-out non-linearity, aforementioned in relation to the idea of presence; these are relationships that are navigated at-a-distance by man-machine interfaces, where presence and experience tend to the realm of illusion, and bonds tear apart with ease (2001). Citing Bruno Latour, he calls the links in a network “so thin that they occupy almost no breadth at all. They are ‘topological’ rather than ‘topographical’. They are connected not by the social bond per se, but by socio-technical ties.” (2001). 

The relevant argument at play here is the understanding that, ultimately, the object being considered isn’t the community in itself, but the gathering, exactly where it gathers, and the tension between their own bonds and the weak link which holds them together — which, all in all, is simply communications. I opened this piece mentioning Elon Musk’s Twitter bid, during which he expressed a desire to impose user identity authentication. This would pose a risk to the viability of fan communities on the website — fan accounts are often one of multiple held by fans, who often choose to keep their real identities anonymous. However I feel about whether this will come to fruition or not, it surely exposes, and serves as a warning, of the fragility of the local element in these communities. 

A science fiction writer coined the useful term “cyberspace” in 1982. But the territory in question, the electronic frontier, is about a hundred and thirty years old. Cyberspace is the “place” where a telephone conversation appears to occur. Not inside your actual phone, the plastic device on your desk. Not inside the other person’s phone, in some other city. *The place between* the phones. The indefinite place *out there,* where the two of you, two human beings, actually meet and communicate.

Sterling, Bruce. 1994. The Hacker Crackdown.

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References

Anders, Peter. 1996. “Envisioning cyberspace: The design of on-line communities.” P. McIntosh & F.Ozel, (Eds.), ACADIA ’96: 55-67. Tucson, AZ: Impression Makers.

Anders, Peter. 1999. Envisioning Cyberspace: Designing 3D Electronic Spaces. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Anders, Peter. 2004. “Cybrid Principles: Guidelines for Merging Physical and Cyber Spaces.” Technoetic Arts: A Journal of Speculative Research. 2004, Vol. 2 Issue 3, p133-145. 13p. 3 Diagrams.

Arora, Payal. 2012. “Typology of Web 2.0 Spheres: Understanding the Cultural Dimensions of Social Media Spaces.” In Current Sociology, 60: 599-618.

Blanchette, Jean-François. 2011. “A Material History of Bits.” Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, Volume 62, Issue 6: 1042-1057. 

Castells, Manuel. 1999. “Grassrooting the Space of Flows.” Urban Geography, 20:4, 294-302.

Castells, Manuel. 2010. The Rise of the Network Society. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

Cicognani, A. 1998. “On the Linguistic Nature of Cyberspace and Virtual Communities.” In Virtual Reality 3: 16-24. London: Springer-Verlag.

Cohen, Julie E.. 2007. “Cyberspace As/And Space.” Columbia Law Review, Vol. 107, No. 1, pp. 210-256, Jan. 2007, Georgetown Public Law Research Paper No. 898260. 

Dovey, Kim. 2009. Becoming Places. London and New York: Routledge. 

Ettlinger, Or. 2007. “In Search of Architecture in Virtual Space: An introduction to The Virtual Space Theory.” South African Journal of Art History, Volume 22. 

Gibson, William. 1984. Neuromancer. New York: Ace Books.

Harrison, Steve, and Dourish, Paul. 1996.Re-place-ing Space: the Roles of Place and Space in Collaborative Systems.” CSCW ’96: Proceedings of the 1996 ACM conference on Computer supported cooperative work. New York: Association for Computing Machinery.

Harrison, Richard, and Thomas, Michael. 2009. “Identity in Online Communities: Social Networking Sites and Language Learning.” In Australian Journal of Emerging Technologies and Society, Vol. 7, No. 2, 2009: 109-124.

Haythornthwaite, Caroline. 2005. “Social networks and Internet connectivity effects.” Information, Communication & Society, 8 (2): 125-147.

Heidegger, Martin. 1971. Poetry, Language, Thought. New York: Harper and Row.

Howard, Robert Glenn. 2008. “Electronic Hybridity: The Persistent Processes of the Vernacular Web.” Journal of American Folklore 121: 192–218.

Jenkins, Henry. 2006. Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers: Exploring Participatory Culture. New York: NYU Press.

Julean, Dana. 2016. “Why Architects See Things Differently. An Architectural Approach On Teaching Space Perception.” European Scientific Journal, ESJ, 12. 

Kalay, Yehuda, and Marx, John. 2003. “Changing the Metaphor: Cyberspace as a Place.” Digital Design – Research and Practice [Proceedings of the 10th International Conference on Computer Aided Architectural Design Futures] Tainan, 13–15 October 2003, pp. 19-28.

Lakoff, George, and Johnson, Mark. 2003. Metaphors we live by. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. 

Lash, Scott. 2001. “Technological Forms of Life.” Theory, Culture & Society 18, no. 1 (February 2001): 105–20.

Lefebvre, Henri. 1991. The Production of Space. Oxford and Cambridge: Blackwell. 

Lombard, Matthew, and Ditton, Theresa. 1997. “At the Heart of It All: The Concept of Presence.” In Journal of Computer Mediated Communication (1997) 3.

Neill, Indira J.C. 2018. “Tumblr as Platform Architecture, User Experience, and Interaction Artifacts.” University of Illinois at Chicago. Thesis. 

Ottis, Rain and Lorents, Peeter. 2011. “Cyberspace: Definition and implications.” 5th European Conference on Information Management and Evaluation, ECIME 2011. 267-270. 

Pallasmaa, Juhani. 2015. “Dwelling in Time.” Forum Journal, Volume 29, Number 3, Spring 2015: 17-24. 

PérezGomez, Alberto, Holl, Steven, and Pallasmaa, Juhani. 2006. Questions of Perception: Phenomenology of Architecture. San Francisco: William Stout Publishers. 

Quek, Raymond. 2012. “The Expertise of Architecture & Its History.” South African Journal of Art History, Vol 27, No 1.

Rogers, Richard. 2009. “Mapping public Web space with the Issuecrawler.” Digital Cognitive Technologies: Epistemology and Knowledge Society, London: Whiley, pp. 115–126.

Saar, Maarja, and Palang, Hannes. 2009. “The Dimensions of Place Meanings.” Living Reviews in Landscape Research, 3, 3. 

Saunders, Carol, Anne F. Rutkowski, Michiel van Genuchten, Doug Vogel, and Julio Molina Orrego. 2011. “Virtual Space and Place: Theory And Test.” MIS Quarterly Volume 35, no. 4 (2011): 1079–98.

Stalder, Felix. 2003. “The Status of Objects in the Space of Flows.” Unpublished dissertation, University of Toronto. Available at: http://felix.openflows.org/html/objects_flows.pdf 

Zevi, Bruno. 1978. Saber Ver a Arquitetura. São Paulo: Martins Fontes, 1978.

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O que encontramos do outro lado das ondas

English version here.

Anos depois de lançar Rubber Soul (1965) com os Beatles, John Lennon contou que a faixa “In My Life” foi a primeira que ele “conscientemente” escreveu a respeito da própria vida. Até aquele momento, as letras das músicas que escrevia eram apenas peças secundárias do processo de construção pop, ainda que ele fosse pessoalmente fascinado, desde a infância, pelas riquezas e potenciais de jogos de palavras – que ele lia nos trabalhos de Lewis Carroll – e guardava o hábito de escrever poemas e contos que recontavam episódios da sua vida através das lentes do absurdo, para entreter-se e aqueles à sua volta. Em 1964, Lennon chegou a publicar uma coletânea desses trabalhos, intitulada “In His Own Write”, o que levou à situação em que um jornalista, chamado Kenneth Allsop, perguntou por qual razão suas canções não tinham aquelas mesmas qualidades literárias, ou porque ele nunca fazia referências à memórias e experiências pessoais.

Trecho da página 319 do livro “The Beatles as musicians : the Quarry Men through Rubber soul” de Walter Everett (2001). Do Internet Archive. “In My Life” John Lennon: “Eu acho que ‘In My Life’ foi a primeira canção que eu escrevi que era realmente, conscientemente sobre minha vida, e foi motivada por um comentário que um jornalista e escritor na Inglaterra [Kenneth Alsopf] fez depois do lançamento de In His Own Write… Ele me disse “Por que você não coloca um pouco da forma que escreve no livro, daquele jeito, nas músicas? Ou por que você não coloca algo sobre sua infância nas músicas?” Castigado, Lennon se pôs a trabalhar, descrevendo a vista ao longo do trajeto de ônibus que ia de sua casa em Menlove Avenue até o centro da cidade:” [Tradução livre]

A situação foi o suficiente para impulsioná-lo a tentar; o tempo acabou se revelando muito oportuno porque, a despeito do fato de que, em si, Lennon já possuía as sensibilidades líricas necessárias, os anos vindouros acabariam honrando Rubber Soul como o álbum que representou uma transição fundamental na história da banda, passando do frenesi da Beatlemania para o processo de redefinição dos limites dos sons do pop que ocupava o topo das paradas. Os temas por trás de “In My Life” são bastante simples – nostalgia e saudade, as coisas que ficam porque vale a pena guardá-las, mesmo quando o resto já se reduziu a nada. Mesmo que não fosse, de fato, um dos singles promocionais do álbum, acabou se estabelecendo como uma das músicas mais amadas da cultura pop; o imperativo do tempo, nossa absoluta falta de controle sobre ele, é um dos maiores, senão o maior, tema recorrente da história criativa da humanidade, dos que desperta nossas qualidades mais elevadas, e nossas dores mais profundas. São músicas como “In My Life” que dão às coisas mais assustadoras uma dimensão manejável; elas dão escala à passagem dos dias e anos, articulando a sensação esmagadora de não poder voltar atrás até que ela pareça pequena o bastante para caber num verso. 

De certa forma, este é o maior triunfo que a música pop poderia almejar – a força que sustenta gerações sobre o cruzamento entre letra e música, porque a forma como algo soa faz soar algo dentro de nós também. Claro, estou sendo poética agora porque, neste momento, também sinto algo esmagador dentro de mim, e não quero pensar muito nas camadas sócio-políticas econômicas e culturais das coisas. Eu sei que o tempo não é o mesmo para todos, e que sequer vivemos todos a mesma dimensão das 24 horas de cada dia. Mas, mesmo assim, conforme os anos vão, e paramos para contemplar o que já foi, o peso da passagem só faz com que certos clássicos fiquem ainda mais fortes, continuando tão significativos e relevantes como nunca, ainda viajando pelo imaginário de novas gerações, e trazendo à existência novas realidades. Por exemplo, quando o rapper Coreano B.I escolheu nomear os Beatles, especificamente Rubber Soul e “In My Life”, quando foi perguntado sobre sua primeira inspiração musical, numa entrevista promocional com o Buzzfeed para seu primeiro álbum como solista, em 2021. 

Kim Hanbin, 25 anos de idade. 131Label.

No decorrer de sua carreira que, aos 25 anos de idade, já cobre um período de quase 13, B.I (nascido Kim Hanbin) falou várias vezes sobre a importância de filmes e poesia em suas composições. Ainda jovem, ele descobriu que, através de outras obras, particularmente cinematográficas, ele podia experimentar e descobrir como articular coisas que não havia vivenciado por conta própria, de formas que ainda poderiam produzir imagens vívidas, e suscitar sentimentos fortes de seus ouvidos – sua maior aspiração como artista. Em suas próprias palavras, o trabalho dos Beatles, especificamente suas melodias mais tranquilas, e a carga de significado em suas letras, eram uma grande fonte de inspiração. Quando ele escolhe citar uma música como “In My Life” como fundamental no processo de se tornar o artista que ele busca ser, eu posso imaginar que talvez ele esteja se referindo à forma como a canção traz à tona uma linha de pensamento da saudade de uma forma tranquila, quase jubilosa, sem diminuir a carga dos baixos, mas fazendo com que os altos pareçam uma realidade possível. Mais que qualquer outra coisa, não é sobre um anseio que te deixa emperrado no que passou, mas sobre a liberdade de seguir em frente com confiança, carregando consigo as memórias mais valiosas, como um tesouro. 

Apesar de já atuar como rapper desde 2009, sua carreira como solista não começou oficialmente até o lançamento da música “illa illa”, dia 1º de Junho de 2021, carro-chefe de seu primeiro álbum WATERFALL, lançado sob seu próprio selo. Antes disso, ele já tinha reconhecimento como líder e principal liricista do grupo iKON, entre 2015-2019. Seu trabalho lhe rendeu um prêmio de “Compositor do Ano”, em 2018, depois que a canção do grupo “Love Scenario” se tornou um mega hit na Coreia. Inspirada pelos dez minutos finais do filme La La Land (2017), é uma música que não soa particularmente feliz, nem triste. Ela se move em círculos, sem a força motor de uma estrutura que conduz a um grande clímax, optando por dar voltas em torno do refrão, tal qual a mente de uma pessoa que está se preparando para virar a página e deixar pra trás o que precisa ser deixado, mas fazendo o possível para carregar consigo as memórias que mais valiosas, como um tesouro.

Kim Hanbin aos 13 anos, já usando o nome “B.I”, em 2009, em um dos palcos para a música “Indian Boy” de MC Mong, da qual ele participou. MBC’s Show! Music Core, MBCKpop.

Existe uma divisa entre B.I, o líder de grupo e compositor por trás de “Love Scenario”, que vemos rodopiando em torno de memórias, com seus companheiros de grupo, no clipe da música, e B.I, o solista, emergindo do mar, sozinho, no começo do clipe cinematográfico de “illa illa”; esta, assim como aquela, também é uma música que não soa particularmente feliz, nem triste. O título em Inglês é uma palavra inventada, que muito se assemelha aos ideofones coreanos que representam o movimento ondulado das ondas. Em Coreano, se chama “해변” [haebyeon], que significa “praia”. Os primeiros versos, que, no clipe, crescem progressivamente como os sons de quando tiramos a cabeça da água, foram incorporados do poema “O Sabor de Doces e Praia” [사탕과 해변의 맛] do poeta Seo Yun-hoo – “existe uma praia na ponta das minhas mangas / por ter enxugado as águas que estavam escorrendo pelas minhas bochechas.” A escolha dessa metáfora bem específica dá estrutura à uma canção que é sobre ser engolido pelas ondas de um oceano feito das próprias lágrimas pesadas, salgadas e quentes.   

Eu passei alguns dos meus melhores anos escolares me dedicando a ler e dissecar poetas e sua poesia, mas algo sobre a natureza da música pop me faz preferir abordar composição de uma forma diferente. Separar minhas canções favoritas das pessoas que as escreveram com certeza me dá mais espaço para que eu me aproprie delas. Mas, como escritora, preciso admitir que fico feliz em poupar artistas de falar sobre coisas que eles talvez prefiram guardar. Para mim, a decisão de publicar ou não algo que escrevi depende muito de quão vulnerável eu me sinta – eu posso decidir guardar coisas pra mim na eventualidade de sentir que é fácil para que outros entendam do que eu estou falando, se for algo cujos detalhes eu prefira deixar no ar. Escolher se abrir diante das pessoas de uma forma que dê à elas a chance de especular é um ato de bravura. Nesse sentido, acho que o B.I é corajoso; quando “illa illa” foi lançada, ele ainda aguardava sentença num julgamento por acusações de tentativa de compra de drogas ilícitas em 2019. A política nacional sobre drogas da Coreia é bastante rígida. O processo foi a causa de sua saída de seu antigo grupo e agência.

Não se esqueça de ativar as legendas.

De forma semelhante à “In My Life”, “illa illa” descreve sentimentos e memórias vívidos que parecem específicos e detalhados o suficiente para serem fruto de experiências pessoais – a escolha de palavras tem aquele tipo de pungência que resulta de pensamentos que só passam pela mente de quem vivenciou certas coisas em primeira mão. Por conta disso, ambas as canções têm sua dose de subjetividade, mas ainda são conscientemente feitas generalizadas para que se encaixem com facilidade na vida de qualquer um. A visão original de Lennon era uma descrição de um trajeto de ônibus que ele fazia do seu bairro ao centro da cidade, mas ele preferiu descrever a trajetória dos seus próprios pensamentos através das memórias que ele tinha do lugar em sua mente. Ao escolher abrir a canção com a metáfora do poema de Seo Yun-hoo, que também funciona como o pré-refrão da música, B.I diz aos ouvintes exatamente onde ele se encontra no momento – e não é especificamente sob nem fora das águas, mas também não é à beira-mar. 

Talvez essa seja a razão pela qual o tema do oceano passa uma impressão revigorada aqui, mesmo que afogar-se numa piscina de lágrimas seja tão antigo quanto as aventuras de Alice no País das Maravilhas. Kat Moon (2021), para a TIME, escreveu que B.I foi além da “[tentação] de focar na natureza ilimitada do oceano na praia”; a reflexão é pessoal e, assim como a faixa segue em círculos em torno do pré-refrão e refrão, as metáforas são muito mais centradas no próprio corpo como início e fim de todas as coisas. O mar se encontra dentro, por dentro e pra fora da suas extremidades, até mesmo as ondas de memória que o atingem, indo e vindo e arrastando para longe tanto as coisas boas quanto as coisas más. Existe um sentido de antecipação, mas o clímax não é alto e estrondoso como uma tempestade, mas apropriado para os primeiros passos de alguém se ajustando para um recomeço. O ritmo caminha a passos firmes, gentis, e seguros. 

O resto do álbum WATERFALL é imperdível, na sua forma de contar uma história, ou várias. Logo antes de “illa illa” vem a primeira faixa, também chamada “Waterfall”. Esta parece uma abordagem muito mais violenta, e íntima, dos mesmos tópicos – dor, raiva, vergonha, perda, escrutínio e a dimensão das consequências de uma queda. Diferente do oceano, que é, em si, grande o bastante para recolher e abrigar as mais calmas e mais violentas correntes, uma queda d’água se move em apenas uma direção. Mesmo assim, sabendo que todos os rios correm para o mar, o fim de uma cachoeira pode ser a razão pela qual, independente do quanto ele cante sobre ser varrido pelas próprias lágrimas, “illa illa” também não soa particularmente, nem intensamente, triste; no ondular das ondas, na mesma medida em que ela fala sobre afundar, ela fala sobre emergir. E é justamente por isso que é tão difícil separar essa letra da pessoa que a escreveu – no fim das contas, é um retorno; é uma declaração. Das 12 canções que compõem o álbum, a última faixa é chamada “Próxima Vida” em Coreano, mas “Re-Birth”, “renascimento” em Inglês. É uma música doce sobre amor e destino, mas eu não consigo deixar de pensar em como se torna um termo apropriado para alguém que parece decidido a emergir das águas, tantas vezes quanto for necessário.

“Waterfall” Performance Film. B.I é muito bom e eu preciso que você saia desse post com plena convicção disso.

Uma das minhas descrições favoritas do mar está no Livro de Apocalipse, quando o apóstolo João fala da cidade celestial, a menciona que, diante do Trono de Deus, repousava um Mar de Vidro. Existe uma pequena promessa escondida ali; águas que são tão calmas que se tornam como cristal, um sinal do que vem no final dos sofrimentos, depois do fim dos altos e baixos do mar bravo – paz. Quanto mais eu penso sobre isso, mais percebo que a razão pela qual eu gosto tanto de “illa illa” é porque esperança, mesmo a mais fraca chama, é uma característica que só se encontra em quem passou pelo inferno, mas sobreviveu. Mesmo que a paz de agora seja só a calmaria antes de outra tempestade, se elas ficarem imóveis só por tempo suficiente, e se estivermos dispostos a olhar com atenção por tempo suficiente, elas podem se tornar como um espelho que reflita nossa própria imagem transformada. Um pouco depois de quando nadou em uma piscina das próprias lágrimas, a pequena Alice se encontrou do outro lado do Espelho; ela estava contemplando as profundidades do próprio reflexo e considerando as extensões das distâncias literais e imaginárias que ela podia conceber, para além dos limites das imagens virtuais refletidas em seus olhinhos naquele momento. É exatamente isso que encontramos, se pudéssemos recuperar algo enterrado das profundezas do oceano, ou chegar ao outro lado do espelho – a versão de nós que virá à tona quando as superfícies forem agitadas e despedaçadas, e nós, finalmente, engolidos.

Mas não me entenda mal; na verdade, eu ainda insisto na minha escolha de não pensar demais sobre as músicas das quais eu mais gosto. Eu sempre trabalho duro para resistir à tendência aos solipsismos que a internet imprime em nós sem que a gente sequer se dê conta, então este não é um desses casos, tanto quanto é simplesmente, como mencionei antes, uma forma de ajudar a liberar a música pop da obrigação de fazer muito sentido. Se eu pensar bem, pelo menos desde o parágrafo anterior, estou falando exclusivamente sobre mim, mas, como também mencionei antes, não é possível simplesmente apagar o fato de que WATERFALL contém declarações que podem ser ouvidas com clareza de uma certa distância. Não sou do tipo que gosta de romantizar a dor, muito menos a dor dos outros, mas estou sempre procurando formas novas de dar novas formas à minha, e me desprender até me soltar completamente das razões pelas quais ainda acordo com um pouco de desgosto, e saudade, todos os dias. Minha parte favorita de “illa illa” é a ponte – a promessa de construir outro castelo de areia, mesmo que simplesmente se desmanche de novo; eu não faço ideia do que a areia significa, mas eu creio que é a minha própria matéria-prima que define do que é a feita a praia no canto dos meus olhos. Mesmo assim, não acho que entender isso importe tanto quanto a decisão de continuar recomeçando. Como Arquiteta, sei que, independente do que esteja fazendo no momento, meu chamado na vida ainda é construir alguma coisa. 

“Penny Lane”, the accomplishment of Lennon’s original vision for “In My Life”. 1967.

Depois de lançar “In My Life” em 1965, levou mais cerca de um ano e pouco para que Lennon entendesse como articular os detalhes específicos de seus sentimentos e memórias de uma forma que fizesse sentido como uma música para que outros escutassem, com “Strawberry Fields Forever” e “Penny Lane” (cuja letra, na verdade, é mais creditada ao McCartney). Já passou tempo suficiente para que várias, ou todas, as camadas escondidas na sua música tenham sido trazidas para fora, bem como suas implicações, e multiplicações, mas B.I ainda é um caso em curso, escrevendo a própria história. Talvez no futuro ele também encontre em si a disposição, as palavras e o momento oportuno de falar de formas diferentes sobre sua caminhada, e pode ser que disso saia algo radicalmente diferente daquilo que parece ter sido expresso até agora, porque temos tão pouco controle sobre o futuro quanto temos sobre o passado. E não tem absolutamente nada que possa ser feito a respeito, exceto talvez imaginar, e escrever sobre isso. 

Visualizador de uma das minhas favoritas do álbum, “Daydream”, com participação da cantora Lee Hi.
Minha música favorita dos últimos meses, “Vela Azul” [푸른 돛], Towner & Town Chief (1986). “Mas aquela onda é tão alta, amigo, que acho que deveríamos içar as velas”

Through the Crashing Waves, and what there is to be found there

Versão em Português aqui.

This text is an extended version of the review of “illa illa” that I wrote for KPK: Kpop Kollective‘s monthly music review project, WWLT (What We’re Listening To), Vol. 2, No. 2 (March 1, 2022). You can find the review here: WWLT, Vol.2 , No. 2

Years after releasing the generation-defining album Rubber Soul (1965) with the Beatles, John Lennon recalled that Side 2 track “In My Life” was the first one he “consciously” wrote about his life. Up until that point, lyrics were merely side players in the process of crafting a pop sound, even though he had, from a young age, been puzzled by the potentials of wordplay – such as that found in the works of Lewis Carroll – and keen on writing poems and short stories that reframed episodes of life through the lenses of literary nonsense, to amuse himself and people around him. In 1964, he got to publish some of these anecdotes in the compilation book “In His Own Write”, which eventually led to a remark, made by journalist Kenneth Allsop, who wondered why his songwriting did not have the same literary qualities, or why he never seemed to borrow much from memories and personal experience to write lyrics. 

Excerpt from page 319 of Walter Everett’s “The Beatles as musicians : the Quarry Men through Rubber soul” (2001). Retrieved from Internet Archive.

That remark was enough to prompt him to give it a try; the timing was just right because, even though Lennon himself already had the necessary lyrical sensibilities, the years would end up crowning Rubber Soul as a representative of a key transition in the band’s career, from the media sensation of the Beatlemania into actively expanding the possibilities of what chart-topping pop would sound like. “In My Life”’s themes are rather simple – nostalgia and longing, the things that remain because they are worth keeping, even after everything else has faded, or gone away. Although not exactly one of the promotional singles of the album, it remains as one of the most cherished songs in pop culture; the imperative of time, and our absolute lack of control over it, is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, motif that has prompted the finest and highest sensibilities, and deepest dreads and sorrows, in humanity’s creative imagination. It’s songs like “In My Life” that give the scariest things an approachable dimension; they scale the passing of days and years through words that articulate the overwhelming sense of not being able to turn the clock back until it seems small enough to fit within a bunch of simple verses. 

In a way, that’s the greatest triumph to which pop music can aspire – to have generations of people standing at the intersection between music and lyrics, because the way something sounds makes something sound within them, too. Of course, I’m waxing poetic because I, too, feel overwhelmed right now, and completely willing to ignore every other social, political, economic and cultural layer that can be considered about this topic. Not just because the imperative of time doesn’t unravel the same to everyone – the same way we aren’t all given the exact same 24 hours every day. Still, even as the years go by, and we stop to look back, the weight of time only seems to make these classics stronger, staying as significant and impactful as ever, still finding their ways into bringing about other artists and their new realities. Such as when Korean rapper B.I chose to name the Beatles, specifically Rubber Soul and “In My Life” upon being asked by Buzzfeed about his first musical inspiration, while promoting his first album as a solo artist, in 2021. 

25-year-old Kim Hanbin. 131Label.

Across his career that, at 25 years old, already spans a period of almost 13 years, B.I (born Kim Hanbin) often spoke about the importance of movies and poetry in his songwriting. From a young age, he found that, through other works, particularly cinema, he could experience and figure out how to articulate things he hadn’t experienced for himself, in a way that would still result in vivid images, and evoke strong feelings from listeners – his greatest aspiration as an artist. In his own words, the work of the Beatles, specifically the soothing qualities of some of their melodies, as well as the meanings embedded into their lyrics, have been a great source of inspiration. When he chooses to mention a song like “In My Life” as a fundamental source of inspiration in becoming the artist he aspires to be, I can suppose he’s probably referring to how the song brings to life the train of thought of longing in a very laid-back manner, almost jolly, never belittling the lows, but making the highs a tangible possibility. More than anything, it’s not about longing that leaves you stuck, but about the freedom of moving on with confidence, bringing along the memories that matter the most, like a treasure. 

Even though he’s been working his way as a rapper since 2009, his solo career didn’t officially start until the release of the song “illa illa”, on 1 June, 2021 as lead single of album WATERFALL, under his own label. Prior to that, he had achieved recognition as the leader and main songwriter of 7-member boy group iKON between 2015-2019. His work got him an accolade of “Songwriter of the Year”, in 2018, after the group’s song “Love Scenario” became a megahit in Korea. Said to have been inspired by the ending of musical movie La La Land (2017), it’s a song that’s neither particularly happy nor sad. The track moves cyclically, without the driving power of a structure that leads to a big climax, instead choosing to take turns around the chorus like the mind of a person who’s getting ready to turn the page for good and leave behind what should be left behind, but making sure to bring along the memories that matter the most, the things that should be treasured.

13-year-old Kim Hanbin, already going by the name of “B.I”, in 2009, in one of the stages for MC Mong’s “Indian Boy”, in which he features as a collaborator. MBC’s Show! Music Core, retrieved from MBCKpop.

There’s a divide between B.I, the boy group leader and songwriter behind “Love Scenario” – who is seen spinning around memories in the song’s music video, along his bandmates and the soft, repetitive melody – and B.I, the solo artist, coming out of the ocean on his own at the beginning of “illa illa”’s cinematic music video. This, too, is a song that’s neither particularly happy nor sad; the English title is a nonexistent word that bears close resemblance to the Korean ideophones that represent the undulating movement of waves. In Korean, it’s called “해변[haebyeon], which means “beach”. The opening lines are played in the music video as if they were slowly coming through as someone lifts their head from under the water; they were incorporated from the poem “The Taste Of Candy And Beach” [사탕과 해변의 맛] by poet Seo Yun-hoo – “at the end of my sleeves there’s a beach/ because of the tears that I wiped from my cheeks.” This very specific choice of a metaphor structures a song which is about being swallowed by the waves of an ocean made of one’s own warm, salty tears. 

I spent some of my best school years learning how to read and dissect poets and their poetry, but something about the nature of pop music made me change my approach to songwriting over the years. Detaching my favourite lyrics from their writers does make it easier for me to make them my own. Moreso, as a writer myself, I must admit I’m happy to spare artists the burden of elaborating on things that they might not even want to talk about. To me, the choice of publishing or not something I wrote is highly informed by how vulnerable it makes me feel – I might prefer to keep certain writings to myself if I fear people would be able to figure out the details of struggles I would rather be vague about. Choosing to open up before others in a way that gives them the chance to speculate requires courage. In that sense, I think B.I is very brave; by the time “illa illa” was released, he still awaited the final sentencing on a trial after accusations of an illegal drug purchase attempt, in 2019, which resulted in his withdrawal from his former group and agency.  

Make sure to turn captions on.

Much like “In My Life”, “illa illa” describes vivid feelings and recollections that seem specific and detailed enough to come from personal experience – the wording has the type of pungency that stems from individual thoughts that can only have gone through one’s mind as they experienced something first-hand. Because of that, both songs manage to come out subjective, but still consciously made to be general enough to be about anyone. Lennon’s own original vision was a description of a bus trip he used to take from his neighbourhood into the city centre, but he chose rather to describe the way his thoughts travelled through the memories he had of the place and time he had in mind. By choosing to start out with the metaphor from Seo Yun-hoo’s poem, which also functions as the song’s pre-chorus, B.I tells listeners where he stands at the moment – and that’s not specifically under nor out of the water, but neither at the seashore. 

That’s perhaps the reason why the motif of the ocean sounds somehow fresh here, even though drowning in a pool of tears is at least as old as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Kat Moon (2021), writing for TIME, wrote that B.I went beyond the “[temptation] to focus on the limitless nature of the ocean at beaches”; the reflection is personal and, just as the track circles around its pre-chorus and chorus, the metaphors are much more centred around his own body as the beginning and end of things. All over and through and out of his ends, there lies the sea, and the sand, and even the waves of memories that hit him, coming and going and washing away both the good and the bad. There’s a sense of a buildup, but it isn’t loud and thunderous like a storm, but fitting for the first steps of someone gearing up for a new start. The pace makes it sound steady, somehow gentle, and sufficiently safe. 

Not to be missed is the rest of the WATERFALL album, and the ways it tells a story, or multiple ones. Right before “illa illa” comes the album’s intro, also titled “Waterfall”. It comes across as a much more violent, and personal, approach to similar topics – pain, rage, shame, loss, scrutiny and the full implications of fall. Unlike the ocean, which is, in itself, big enough to collect and hold both the calmest and the most violent waters, a waterfall goes only one way, which is down. Even so, just as we know that all rivers run to the sea, the end of a waterfall might be the reason why, regardless of how he keeps singing about being swept away by his own tears, “illa illa” doesn’t come across as being particularly nor intensely sad; in the swirling of waves, as much as it is about the sinking, the song is about the emerging. And that’s why it’s so hard to separate the lyrics from the person who wrote it – all in all, it’s a comeback; it’s a statement. The last of the 12 tracks is called “Next Life” in Korean, but “Re-Birth” in English; it’s a sweet song about fateful lovers, but I can’t help but feel that the word choice is so appropriate for someone who seems resolved to emerge out of the waters, time and time again. 

“Waterfall” Performance Film. B.I is very good and I need you to leave this post completely aware of this fact.

One of my favourite descriptions of the sea is in the Book of Revelation, when John the Apostle describes the Heavenly City, and mentions that, before the Throne of God, there laid a Sea of Glass. There’s a little promise hidden in there; waters that are still enough to become like crystal are a sign of what comes at the end of suffering, after the end of the ups and downs of rough waves – peace. The harder I think about it, the more I realise the reason I love “illa illa” so much is because true hope, however faint a flicker it is, is a trait that can only be found in those who went through hell, but survived. Even if these waters are just the calm before another storm, if they stand still for long enough, and if we’re willing to stare for long enough, they become like a mirror where we can see our changed self reflected. Some time after she swam in a pool of her own tears, when little Alice found herself wondering about the world on the other side of the Looking-glass, she was looking at the depths of her own reflection and pondering the extent of the literal and imaginary distances she could conceive beyond the limits of the virtual images her little eyes could see. That’s what is buried deep in the ocean, or on the other side of the mirror – the version of us that will come out once the surface is shaken and shattered, and us, swallowed. 

But don’t get me wrong; I still stand by my choice not to think too hard about songs I love so much. I always work hard to resist the social-media-fueled tendency to solipsisms, so this is not such a case, as much as it is, like I said, a way to free the unthinkably thick streams of pop music from the constraints of making too much sense. I’ve been talking about myself since at least the previous paragraph, but, like something else I said before, I cannot erase the fact that WATERFALL holds statements that can be heard clearly from a certain distance. I’m not one to romanticise pain, let alone other’s, but I’m always trying to find new ways to give new meanings to my own, and rise above and out of the reasons why I still wake up with a hint of regret, and longing, every single day. My favourite lyrics in “illa illa” are on the bridge, with the promise to “build another sandcastle“, even though “it will probably just crumble again”; I have no idea what the sand is supposed to be here, but I guess it’s my own raw material that defines what the beach at the corner of my eyes is made of. I don’t think it matters as much as the decision to keep starting over. As an Architect, I’ve been aware that, regardless of what sort of practice I’m pursuing, my greatest calling in life is to build something. 

“Penny Lane”, the accomplishment of Lennon’s original vision for “In My Life”. 1967.

After putting out “In My Life” in 1965, it took Lennon another year or so to figure out how to articulate the specifics of his feelings and memories in a way that made sense as a song for others to listen to, with “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane” (whose lyrics are actually accredited to McCartney). Enough time has passed for many of the layers hidden in his music to have mostly, or fully come out, as well as the implications, and multiplications, but B.I is still an ongoing case, writing his own story. Perhaps in the future he, too, will find the willingness, the words and the opportunity to talk in different ways about how his journey changed him, and it might sound radically different from where he seems to stand right now, because we hold as little control over the future as we hold over the past.  And there’s literally nothing to be done about it except perhaps wonder, and write about it. 

Visualiser video for one of my personal favourite tracks in the album, “Daydream”, feat. singer Lee Hi.
My favourite song of the last couple of months, “Blue Sail” [푸른 돛], Towner & Town Chief (1986). “But that wave is so high, friend, that I think we should raise the blue sail.”

minha música (esquecida) favorita

Você é do tipo que gosta mais das músicas que são esquecidas no churrasco da discografia do seu artista favorito? Eu também.

For an English version, click here.

Eu sou uma grande fã de K-pop. Não tem tanto tempo assim, mas ao longo dos últimos anos eu me tornei realmente apaixonada pelo mercado de idols, ao ponto de estar ativamente envolvida em produzir conteúdo, e até material acadêmico, a respeito. A razão pela qual eu gosto tanto? Bom, é mais difícil de explicar do que o que cabe em um parágrafo [mas você pode ler sobre isso em outros textos meus], mas, do meio de todos os diferentes conceitos, performances, coreografias, vlogs e programas de rádio feitos por rostinhos bonitos vestindo roupas bonitas, eu recebo música. E eu amo música, e, por aqui, eu sempre encontro música nova pra aproveitar. 

Já que você está aqui, já escutou a melhor música do ano de 2021?

Um dos meus grupos favoritos se chama NCT 127. Eles são um grupo de 9 membros, que debutou em 2016 sob a SM Entertainment, uma das gigantes da indústria. Eles fazem parte de um grupo maior, chamado apenas “NCT”, que tem 23 membros divididos entre grupos diferentes – e um deles é o 127. O NCT tem um conceito rotacional, que pode ser difícil de explicar pra quem é completamente novo (mas que é a forma mais simples de explicar as fotos com dúzias de rapazes que o Google te mostra quando você pesquisa o nome deles). De qualquer forma, a coisa importante é que o  NCT 127 é um grupo com música excelente. Eles são conhecidos por testar os limites e as tendências do mercado – o que significa que seus lançamentos nem sempre são unanimidade, mas tudo que eles lançaram nos últimos seis anos resultou em uma discografia bastante interessante. 

Os 23 membros do NCT, durante as promoções do projeto “NCT 2020”.

Minha música favorita do NCT 127 se chama “100”. É parte do primeiro álbum single em Japonês do grupo, Chain, lançado em 2018. Os créditos são do cantor-compositor Andrew Choi, que também faz parte da SM Entertainment, e do compositor Yunsu (SOULTRiii), que já trabalhou com outros artistas da SM (como o trabalho solo do cantor Baekhyun, membro do grupo EXO, e meu grupo favorito de todos, SHINee, sendo creditado pela excelente “Chemistry” no álbum The Story of Light pt. 2 (2018)). O álbum single em si é incrível, com cinco músicas fortes que falam muito do potencial do grupo, do primeiro ao último dos seus 18 minutos de duração. “100” é a última faixa, a cereja do bolo; é excepcional, com um instrumental que é tão pernicioso quanto é previsível, mas sem deixar de ser interessante, e uma ponte que prepara o terreno perfeito para uma das minhas codas preferidas em uma música pop. Eu já escutei “100” dezenas de vezes, e em nenhuma dessas vezes eu cheguei até o fim da música sem sentir um arrepio que fosse. 

Tem uma outra coisa muito importante a ser dita sobre essa música, que é o fato de que ela nunca foi tocada ao vivo. Nunca. 

A maioria dos grupos de K-pop tem atividades bem sérias no Japão – o segundo maior mercado fonográfico do mundo é a opção mais próxima e vantajosa para uma expansão além do público doméstico. Até o momento, o NCT 127 só completou uma turnê (em parte por conta da pandemia), mas, mesmo assim, dos 44 shows que eles fizeram pela Ásia, Europa, América do Norte e Latina, 14 foram no Japão. E, mesmo assim, nessas 14 datas, para uma audiência total de 74,000 pessoas, em nenhum momento eles apresentaram “100”. Eles apresentaram, sim, outras músicas da sua discografia Japonesa que estão entre minhas favoritas, como “Dreaming” (também do álbum single Chain), e “Kitchen Beat” (do seu excelente primeiro álbum em Japonês, Awaken (2019)). Mas, nada de “100”.

Eu sou um pouco dramática quando falo de canções que amo muito escutar; existem aquelas que são para se consumir às garfadas, sendo repetidas infinitas vezes, e existem aquelas que são para se consumir com moderação, porque elas causam uma euforia muito intensa, e deixam um gosto persistente na boca. “100” está mais perto do segundo tipo; eu não gosto de ouvi-la quando não tenho condições de estar completamente presente, porque faço questão de experimentar tudo que ela me oferece, ainda que seja só uma vez. Aliás, é por isso que eu sou fã de K-pop; eu aprecio as performances, as personalidades, mas, em última análise, eu preciso da minha porção sônica todos os dias, e meus grupos favoritos me mantém feliz e bem alimentada, nesse sentido. E a analogia com comida é muito boa, não é? Porque nós tomamos café da manhã, almoçamos, fazemos um lanchinho da tarde, jantamos, e sabemos que nem toda comida cabe em toda refeição. “100” se parece mais com a sobremesa do almoço. A porção é menor do que aquela que eu comi imediatamente antes, mas pode ter certeza de que tudo que eu fiz primeiro foi antecipando aquela boquinha de 3 minutos e 42 segundos. 

Como eu disse, eu sou um pouco dramática falando das músicas que eu realmente amo ouvir. Então, sim, “100” é sempre uma experiência para mim. E, toda vez que eu a escuto inteira mais uma vez, e chego ao final de novo, e me lembro que nunca houve uma performance ao vivo, e que o 127 talvez nem se lembre dela, pra começo de conversa… Eu não consigo não pensar sobre como a experiência da música existe apenas entre os alto-falantes e eu. Os produtores, compositores, distribuidores, e o 127, claro, providenciaram o serviço, mas eles não me conhecem, e sequer precisam se ocupar do fato de que eu gosto tanto dessa música, porque, sejam 10 ou 1000 as vezes que eu aperto o replay, eles podem receber um pouquinho a mais ou menos por stream, mas absolutamente zero feedback sobre essa pobre Brasileira de 26 anos que sempre precisa explicar que ela está falando do NCT 127, e não do SuperM, quando diz que ama “100”.

Este é apenas um exemplo de vários outros que eu poderia tirar da minha carreira de amar B-sides mais ou menos esquecidas, como “Live-in-Skin” do Foo Fighters, “Paradise” do BTS, ou “Signal” do f(x). Não é de propósito, tanto quanto não é minha culpa que eu me apegue à músicas que quase nunca vão parar em setlists. É uma pena, porque eu amo performances ao vivo, e a maioria das músicas soa melhor fora do estúdio, flutuando sobre e através das cabeças do povo, o verdadeiro lugar ao qual elas pertencem. Do meu lado do mundo, eu raramente, ou nunca, tenho chances de ver meus artistas favoritos, então esses vídeos de performances são a melhor forma (ou a única) para que eu experimente uma fração da sensação de estar sob as nuvens sônicas que eu mais desejo provar. Não quer dizer que eu nunca tenha tido um pouquinho de sorte – uma vez, em 2018, quando minha banda favorita de todos os tempos, Foster the People, trouxe de volta aos palcos uma música de 2011, “Broken Jaw”, uma faixa bônus que sequer estava em plataformas de streaming, e que eu amava, mas que não havia sido incluída em setlists havia vários anos (e bem à tempo da minha primeira vez os vendo ao vivo). E, sim, eu chorei um pouquinho, exatamente o que você esperaria de alguém que é um pouco dramática sobre as músicas que realmente ama escutar, mas que, mesmo assim, sabe bem que a experiência emocional intensa que ela associa à ouvir essas músicas é quase totalmente separada das pessoas que trouxeram a música à existência. 

Foster the People apresentando “Broken Jaw” ao vivo no SXSW, em 2011. Assisti essa performance incontáveis vezes desejando viver a mesma experiência.

Claro, isso não é uma discussão sobre as formas como essas músicas só existem devido às pessoas que as escrevem, produzem, cantam e distribuem, mas sobre a distância intransponível que existe entre nós e essas pessoas, que se manifesta em como nos sentimos sobre as coisas que apreciamos, como as consumimos, e quão livremente elas transitam pelas nossas vidas e dispositivos sem grandes conexões com o outro lado além de uma foto na capa, ou créditos impressos em papel. Eu já dei replays infinitos em músicas de cantores sobre quem eu não sei nada além do nome artístico. De certa forma, pelos álbuns, vídeos e tracklists em serviços de streaming, os alto-falantes e telas são muito menos como links, e mais como espelhos, me refletindo para mim mesma. Mesmo que sua superfície se tornasse macia como gaze, mesmo que eu pudesse chegar ao outro lado, eu não encontraria cantores e compositores esperando por mim, mas só eu mesma, sozinha com todas as coisas que tornam aquela experiência minha, todas as coisas que cobrem a distância entre eu e meu reflexo. 

E isso é ótimo! É o que torna isso válido e apreciável, porque, se eu apertar o play, posso ouvir a voz do Doyoung quantas vezes eu quiser, ainda que ele esteja doze fuso horários à minha frente, em algum lugar de Seul. Não é uma performance ao vivo, mas eu ainda assim posso voltar para “100”, “Live-in-Skin” e “Signal”, para “Knock on Wood”, de Red Velvet, e até para “Broken Jaw” – que agora, finalmente, está nas plataformas de streaming, e posso curti-la com facilidade em todas as versões que eu gosto. Por outro lado, minha favorita absoluta do FTP, “Tabloid Super Junkie”, uma faixa exclusiva de pré-venda do Supermodel (2014), segue sendo parte do time de B-sides esquecidas. Mas, pra ser muito franca, eu nem me importo tanto assim. Entre eu e os alto-falantes, eu já fiz a música tão minha que não sei se preciso de mais alguma coisa para torná-la melhor do que ela já é. E talvez seja por isso que seja dela que eu goste tanto. 

Photo by Yannis Papanastasopoulos on Unsplash

My Favourite (Forgotten) B-side

Are you the type of person who enjoys songs that never make it to setlists? Me too!

Para uma versão em Português, clique aqui.

I’m a huge K-pop fan. I haven’t been one for a very long time, but, over the last three years or so, I became really passionate about the industry of idol music, to the extent of being actively involved in producing content and even academic material about it. The reason why I love it so much is… Well, it’s harder to explain than how long I want this paragraph to turn out [so you might have to check other writings], but, in the midst of all the performances, dance routines, variety shows, different concepts and fan service delivered by pretty faces wearing pretty outfits, I get music. And I love music, and I always seem to find new music to enjoy there. 

Since you’re here anyway, are you familiar with the 2021’s actual Song of the Year?

One of my favourite groups is called NCT 127. They’re a 9-member group, which debuted in 2016 under the K-pop giant SM Entertainment. They’re part of a larger group called NCT, which has 23 members split into different units, one of which is 127. NCT has a rotational concept, which is something that can be a little tricky to explain if you’re completely new but that’s the simplest way to explain the pictures with dozens of men you get when you google them. Anyway, the important thing is that NCT 127 is a group with amazing music. They’re famous for pushing sonic boundaries and trends – which means that their songs aren’t always unanimous, but their output over the last six years makes up for a very interesting discography.

All of NCT’s 23 members brought together during promotions of the NCT 2020 project.

My favourite NCT 127 song is called “100”. It’s part of their first Japanese single album, Chain, released in 2018. The music is credited to singer-songwriter Andrew Choi, who’s also signed under SM Ent., and to composer Yunsu (SOULTRiii), who’s also worked with other SM artists (such as soloist Baekhyun and my ultimate favourite group SHINee, being credited for the excellent “Chemistry” from The Story of Light pt. 2 (2018)). The lyrics are credited to Japanese Hip-Hop and R&B musician AKIRA. The single album in itself is amazing, with five special, solid songs that speak volumes of 127’s potential, from the first to the last of its 18 minutes. “100” is the last one, the cherry on top; it’s an outstanding track, with a delightful drop and a bridge that builds up to one of my favourite codas in a song. I’ve listened to “100” countless times, and not even once have I gotten to the end of the song without shivering at least a little bit. That’s how powerful it is.

There’s also something else that’s very important about this song, which is the fact that it’s never been performed live. Not even once. 

Most K-pop groups have very serious ventures into Japan – being the world’s second biggest recorded music market, it’s their best option to expand beyond the domestic audience. So far in their career, NCT127 have only headlined one solo concert tour (partially due to the pandemic), but, even so, out of the 44 dates they played across Asia, Europe, North and Latin America, 14 were in Japan. And yet, across these dates, to a reported audience of 74,000 people, not even once did they perform “100”. They did, indeed, do other Japanese songs that are some of my all-time favourites from them, such as “Dreaming” (also from the Chain single album) and “Kitchen Beat” (from their excellent first Japanese full-album, Awaken (2019)). But not “100”. 

I’m a bit dramatic when it comes to songs I really love listening to; there are favourite ones that are meant for big-bite, spoonful consumption, through endless repetition, and there are the ones that must be eaten up in moderation, because they cause a rush so strong, and leave such a lingering taste. “100” is somewhere in the middle. I’d hate to give it an unfulfilling listen, even once. That’s exactly why I’m a K-pop fan; I enjoy the performances, the fan content, the personalities, but, ultimately, I need to get my sonic fill and my favourite groups keep me happy and well-fed in that sense. And the food analogy is actually very good, right? Because we have breakfast, lunch, coffee break, dinner, supper, and not every food fits nicely into every meal. “100” is more like dessert. The portion is smaller than what I had for lunch, but you can be sure everything I did before was anticipating that small bite of 3 minutes and 42 seconds. 

Like I said, I’m a bit dramatic when it comes to songs I really love listening to. So, yes, “100” is always an experience to me. In that sense, whenever I give it a full listen, and I get to the end once again, and I remember there’s never been a live performance, and 127 probably don’t even remember they recorded it to begin with… I can’t help but think about how the experience stands from the speakers to my end alone. The producers, songwriters, distributors, and 127, of course, provided the service, but they don’t know me and they don’t even have to care that I love this song so much, because, whether I replay it 10 or 1000 times, they might get more or less cash, but absolutely no feedback about this poor Brazilian 26-year-old who always has to clarify that she means NCT 127’s song, and not SuperM’s, when she says she loves “100”

This is just one example of many others that I could pull from my career of loving forgotten B-sides, like Foo Fighters’ “Live-in-Skin” and “Erase/Replace”, BTS’s “Paradise”, f(x)’s “Signal”. It’s not on purpose as much as it’s not my fault that I’ve grown attached to songs that rarely or never make it to setlists. It’s a pity, because I love live music, and most songs sound better out of the studio, hanging above ad through the heads of the people, where they belong. On my end of the world, I rarely, or never, get to experience my favourite artists, so live performance clips are the best way (or else, the only one one) for me to experience a fraction of what it feels like to be under the sonic clouds I long for the most. It’s not like I’ve never had it good, though – once, when my favourite band ever, Foster the People, brought back to tour a song from 2011 that I loved dearly, “Broken Jaw”, a bonus track that wasn’t even on streaming platforms back then, and which hadn’t been performed in many years, just in time for my first ever concert of theirs. And I did cry a bit, just as you would expect from someone who’s a bit dramatic when it comes to songs she really loves listening to, but who also knows very well that the intense emotional experience she associates with listening to the music she loves the most is completely detached from the people who made it in the first place. 

Foster the People doing “Broken Jaw” live in 2011. This specific performance kept me both satiated but somehow still hungry for years before I got to see this one for myself.

Of course, this is not about how these songs exist due to the ones who wrote, produced, sang and distributed it, but in the sense that there’s an unbridgeable distance between us and them which manifests in how we feel about the stuff we enjoy, how we consume it, how freely it moves through our lives and our devices with no strings attached besides a picture on the cover, or credits printed on paper. I have endlessly replayed songs by artists that I know nothing about besides a stage name. In a way, through the albums, clips and tracklists on streaming services, the speakers and screens are a lot less like links, and a lot more like mirrors, reflecting myself right back at me. Even if they became as soft as fabric, even if I could get to the other side, I wouldn’t find singers and songwriters waiting for me, but just my own, lonely self, and all the things that make that experience mine, all the things that stand between my body and my reflection. 

And that’s great! That’s what makes it enjoyable and worthwhile, because, if I hit play, I can still hear Doyoung’s voice whenever I want, even though he’s 12 hours ahead of me, sitting somewhere in Seoul. It’s not a live clip, but I can still go back to “100” and “Live-in-skin” and “Signal”, I can go back to Red Velvet’s “Knock on Wood” (which I do on a daily basis), or even “Broken Jaw” – which, at last, has made it to streaming platforms, so I can easily enjoy it in every version that I cherish. On the other hand, my absolute favourite FTP song, “Tabloid Super Junkie”, a pre-order exclusive track from Supermodel (2014), remains as a pretty forgotten B-side. But then, if I’m being perfectly honest, I couldn’t care less. Between me and the speakers, I’ve made the song mine in such a way that nothing else is necessary to make it better than I already think it is. And that’s why I like it so much.

Photo by Yannis Papanastasopoulos on Unsplash

nos moldes de um ídolo

Que tipo de artista é um idol?

For the English version, click here.

Meu primeiro contato com idols de K-pop foi em 2009, aos 14 anos de idade, quando eu aprendi que uma das minhas músicas favoritas de uma das minhas bandas alemãs favoritas – “Forever or Never”, de Cinema Bizarre – também havia sido gravada por um grupo coreano chamado SHINee. No ano seguinte, a maioria das minhas colegas que também eram fãs de bandas alemãs haviam trocado Cinema Bizarre, Tokio Hotel e Killerpilze por Super Junior, BIGBANG, SHINee, entre outros. A maioria de nós já tinha um histórico com J-pop e J-rck; eu mesma me interessei rapidamente por Super Junior, por conta do quanto o Heechul me lembrava meu guitarrista de visual kei favorito, Miyavi. Mas esse interesse não durou muito; como uma jovem cristã, eu não conseguia lidar naturalmente com o termo “idol”.

Cinema Bizarre “Forever or Never” live, 2008

Coincidentemente, foi a música “IDOL” do BTS, lançada em 2018, que acabou me arrastando de vez para a indústria, me atraindo com uma sobreposição de percussão tradicional Coreana e Afrobeat que deixavam minhas manhãs de recém-formada (e recém-desempregada) menos insuportáveis. Isso foi há cerca de dois anos e meio. Minha mente adulta, mais educada e esclarecida, foi capaz de se importar menos com as conotações negativas que o termo “idol” me comunicava no passado – ainda que de vez em quando eu ainda tenha que me explicar um pouquinho quando sou questionada dentro dos meus círculos religiosos. Chamar jovens popstars de um nome desses é uma forma bem pouco sutil de deixar claro para qual propósito eles foram criados, mas, mesmo assim, há mais por trás disso que uma escolha de palavras.

Isso é algo que eu digo com frequência – eu sempre fui fã de alguma coisa, desde pelo menos minha pré-adolescência. Ser fã é parte da minha identidade, e parte de como eu interajo com o mundo. Isso é relevante porque, depois que me tornei fã de K-pop, o processo de aprender mais sobre o que o rótulo “idol” significava e o quanto era importante na formação de algumas das coisas que eu mais gostava nesses artistas deu uma forma nova à como eu percebia minha própria vivência como fã. Este texto é uma peça bastante pessoal, e uma primeira tentativa, bastante subjetiva, de colocar em palavras como minha noção de gosto mudou ao longo dos últimos anos, bem como de prestar uma pequena homenagem à um dos idols que eu mais estimo – Hoshi, do grupo Seventeen – , não apenas porque hoje, 16 de Junho, é aniversário dele, mas também porque gostar dele tanto quanto gosto hoje em dia tem muito a ver com meu processo de descobrir o que idols eram de verdade.

BTS, o maior grupo de K-pop do mundo, afirmando que eles são, de fato, idols. Agosto, 2018.

Eu vim para o K-pop direto de uma carreira longa em diversos tipos diferentes de rock, de power pop a pop punk, punk e stoner rock, e todo tipo de sonoridade rotulada “alternativa”. Minhas primeiras percepções como fã eram naturalmente altamente definidas por essa experiência que eu já possuía, mas, ao mesmo tempo, porque havia uma transição bastante evidente em jogo, eu precisei admitir para mim mesma que deveria haver algo específico, potencialmente novo, me atraindo para esse tipo de artista muito diferente (ainda que houvesse alguns paralelos importantes, tantos que até foi escrito um artigo analisando o porquê de tantos antigos fãs de emo e pop punk foram para no K-pop). Eu tinha em mim um sentimento de querer muito ser capaz de apreciar as diferenças tanto quanto as semelhanças. Como eu mencionei antes, eu havia acabado de me formar, então minha cabeça ainda estava cheia do processo de estudar para & escrever meu TCC, e eu tinha tempo suficiente para fazer minha coisa favorita: continuar estudado (btw, esta é a versão resumida de como eu acabei estudando fandoms). Eu tive a sorte de fazer amigos que me apontaram na direção certa, me mostrando as músicas, vídeos, performances ao vivo, artigos e livros que me ajudaram a estabelecer uma boa base pra começar a visualizar o cenário de idols na Ásia de forma mais ampla, colocando em contexto o produto final que eu gostava tanto de consumir.

Bem no começo de 2020, em uma conversa com uma das amizades mais experientes que eu arranjei, eu ouvi que todo fã em algum momento poderia ser confrontado com a situação de não ter mais tempo (ou energia) para continuar apoiando a carreira de tanta gente ao mesmo tempo, então deveria haver 1 idol com o qual nós estamos dispostas a seguir, deixando os outros para trás. Eu me lembro de dizer que não sabia dizer quem eu escolheria; mas então, não muito tempo depois, um pouco depois do 24º aniversário do Hoshi, eu percebi que ele havia se tornado minha resposta àquele questionamento. Quando eu comecei a gostar de Seventeen, ele não foi um dos primeiros membros a chamar minha atenção, mas, quanto mais eu aprendia sobre o grupo, mais ele me intrigava. A princípio, eu acreditava que havia algo de incomum por trás desse interesse, porque todos os meus idols favoritos até aquele momento tinham algumas características em comum que não eram as coisas mais marcantes sobre ele. Essa percepção me fez pensar bastante sobre o que havia gerado esse interesse. Eu acabei concluindo que minha nova simpatia era o resultado de um processo maior de transição pelo qual eu estava passando, que era resultado dos pensamentos e ideias que eu havia assimilado depois de ter buscado educar minha mente para perceber idols como idols.

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Hoshi, em fotos do behind the scenes da gravação do clipe da música que marcou seu debut como artista solo, “Spider”, lançada em Abril deste ano. Em suas próprias palavras, ele é “o menino que vai quando você diz que ele não deve ir // o menino que tenta até o final quando você me diz para não fazer alguma coisa” (trecho da sua música “Horanghae”, não lançada). Foto retirada da plataforma Weverse.

QUAIS OS MOLDES DE UM IDOL?

Ser um idol é, em si, uma performance. Idols são um gênero especial de artista pop, cujas personas são especialmente desenvolvidas para maximizar a chance do estrelato. Tal performance é, de fato, um trabalho artístico – um fato que pode ser facilmente ignorado de acordo com a definição de “arte” do observador. Como é uma performance em tempo integral, o papel dos jovens que dão duro para trazer à tona uma imagem de si que seja digna do título é com frequência ofuscado pelo papel dos agentes e produtores no processo. Trainees em empresas de K-pop gastam toda sua juventude treinando em busca do sonho de receber a chance de debutar em um grupo[1], e depois gastam os anos subsequentes trabalhando para construir relevância e estabilidade, no grupo, e individualmente. A partir do momento em que um novo trainee é aceito em uma agência, e sua jornada começa, o objetivo final é o palco; é o lugar em que todos os elementos do processo se juntam, e eles apresentam a excelência que desenvolveram em música e dança, para mostrar que são dignos do nome, e do apoio de seus fãs. Mas a soberania do palco é apenas um dos aspectos dessa performance.

Idols foram projetados para que se tornassem uma fonte de segurança, além de um objeto de desejo, através dos quais os fãs pudessem viver a fantasia de realizar sonhos, em forma de apoio incondicional. Para alcançar essa fantasia, tornar-se fã de idols é uma experiência como a de adentrar uma realidade alternativa transmidiática, um domínio no qual todas as partes da narrativa eventualmente referenciam e apontam umas para as outras[2], criando a ilusão de um mundo de intimidade entre um idol e seus fãs. Neste mundo, uma estética utópica de juventude coletiva é efetivada; para muito além de desejar seus corpos e seus estilos de vida, fãs são encorajados a se perceber como sendo parte da jornada. Da mesma forma que idols crescem desde seus dias como trainees até que se tornem artistas maduros, todos os seus fãs também irão, em suas próprias existências, crescer, e trabalhar duro em busca das próprias aspirações e sonhos.

Esses processos de crescimento do artista e de seus fãs são percebidos como sendo um só, de acordo com a arquitetura dessa relação parasocial; nesse sentido, a experiência de ser fã de um idol é o trabalho de uma vida[3] – conforme empresas e idols trabalham juntos para trazer as imagens e textos através dos quais o apoio dos fãs será captado, fãs entram na equação não apenas como apoiadores, mas com sua própria performance de fandom. Essa performance é expressa através de práticas diárias, como comprar produtos, votar para premiações, escutar músicas e assistir vídeos, organizar eventos, produzir fanart, apoiar marcas patrocinadoras. Mas, da mesma forma que o palco é o momento em que o idol se apresenta em toda sua majestade, fãs também tem um papel próprio no show, sacudindo seus lightsticks (bastões de luz), cantando coros especiais que acompanham cada música, e apresentando as performances coordenadas com slogans que carregam frases especiais para os artistas.[4] Todo esse sistema de idols é construído sobre esse pacto de vínculo entre idols e fãs; e, nisso, como aponta Joanna Elfving-Hwang (2018), qualquer seja o papel que as partes constituintes devem exercer, a base desse pacto é nunca sair do personagem[5].

Se ser um idol é um processo de produzir uma expressão de si que seja digna do título, o talento mais desejável à um jovem aspirante seria a habilidade de articular uma performance cativante e consistente dentro e fora do palco. Nesse sentido, quando elaborando suas personas, a genialidade de exercer esse papel é saber como usar o que se tem em si para construir uma ponte entre quem eles já são, e quem eles devem ser. Já que todo idol que consegue debutar teve que passar ao menos pelo mesmo processo duro de preparação antes de ter a chance de se apresentar num palco, a carreira duradoura que eles tanto desejam depende muito da sua habilidade de fazer com que outras pessoas se apaixonem pelos sonhos deles, e queiram sonhar junto com eles. É por isso que uma história pessoal impactante é tão importante para dar credibilidade à uma personalidade atraente, como uma bússola que indica a direção da narrativa e dá à performance tons mais realistas, e cronologicamente sustentáveis.

Hoshi aparecendo de surpresa para dançar com fãs esperando na fila do show do Seventeen em Newark, nos EUA. Janeiro, 2020.

HOSHI, O IDOL 

Hoshi, meu idol favorito, é uma força da natureza. Seu nome artístico é uma combinação das palavras “horangi” [호랑이, tigre] and “siseon” [시선, olhar]. Sua persona divertida e falante faz uso abundante de uma estética de fofura barulhenta para mostrar um lado cativante, que é um grande contraponto à postura de tigre feroz que ele assume no palco. Nascido em 1996 como Kwon Soonyoung, ele debutou oficialmente em Maio de 2015, como o dançarino principal entre os 13 garotos do Seventeen, depois de treinar por quatro anos. Por conta do grande número de membros, o grupo é dividido internamente em times de acordo com especialização; existe o Vocal Team, o Hip Hop Team, e o Performance Team, do qual o Hoshi é líder. Ele é reconhecido como um artista apaixonado, um coreógrafo talentoso, e o metrônomo do grupo, obcecado tanto com a sala de ensaios quanto é obcecado pelo palco. Seu amor por trabalhar duro e enfrentar os processos é uma de suas maiores vantagens – sua paixão dá conta de cada um dos degraus da escada que leva do compromisso com a preparação até o lugar sob os holofotes.

Pensando em retrocesso, eu acredito que a habilidade que ele tem de tremer de tanta paixão por tudo que faz, em tudo que faz, tenha me feito começar a gostar tanto de assisti-lo. Conforme eu avançava na minha jornada extensa pelo conteúdo do Seventeen em diversas mídias, ele me contava uma história bem consistente de um artista que trabalhava muito duro, que havia desafiado todas probabilidades para se construir do zero. Quando ele era apenas um garoto com um sonho de se tornar um artista, e um histórico sólido em taekwondo, ele percebeu que suas habilidades físicas eram o suficiente para que ele tivesse uma chance. Seus pais não apoiaram seu sonho, mas ele já tinha em si fome e sede que o levaram a tentar provar que era capaz. Ele começou praticando sozinho, em casa, e foi criando as próprias oportunidades, fundando o próprio clube de dança na escola, e entrando em diversas competições, e saindo de campeão de algumas. Em uma dessas, ele alcançou o desejo de ser recrutado por uma agência. Decidido a não deixar passar a chance que havia recebido, ele construiu para si desde o dia 1 a reputação de ser o trainee que dava mais duro e se entregava mais que todos; essa reputação o tem seguido desde então, e continua sendo reafirmada toda vez que ele dá um passo adiante para se apresentar de novo.

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O jeito leve e bobo com o qual Hoshi se apresenta diante dos fãs vem para contrabalancear seu performance intensa e feroz nos palcos. Seventeen “Ode to You” Turnê em Seul, foto de Eyes on You. Agosto, 2019.

Quando ele dança, ele é intocável e intrigante; diante das câmeras, é uma figura confortante e confiável, com uma aura acessível que faz com que seus fãs o considerem quase como parte da própria família. Esses lados diferentes dão forma à complexidade do seu “tiger power”, a marca que resume e iconifica o gênio da sua performance de ídolo. Kwon Soonyoung, o jovem, diz que é um introvertido, mas, como artista, dá preferência ao barulhento e cheio de energia e quase insano como um impulsionador, e parece decidido a transformar qualquer pedaço de chão num palco, independente de qual seja o papel que ele deve cumprir. Eu até diria que essas diferenças entre sua performance e aquilo que ele às vezes descreve como seu “verdadeiro eu” tornam o show mais interessante. Ele pode sempre contar com o suporte da credibilidade da sua trajetória, que torna o pacote completo sendo apresentado mais crível, e mais agradável de ver – quase como se nós pudéssemos ver a estrada inteira pela qual ele caminhou toda vez que os holofotes se projetam sobre ele. Há um senso geral de coerência que ele consegue comunicar através de diferentes formas de mídia que é difícil de descrever mas, em última análise, se traduz para mim como um senso de comprometimento e segurança de que ele está tão fascinado pelos próprios sonhos quanto seus fãs estão fascinados por ele.

Essa habilidade de se comunicar de forma coerente ao longo dos anos talvez seja uma das razões pelas quais é tão fácil se apaixonar por ele por seus sonhos, a ponto de desejar muito vê-lo alcançar todos. Isso foi muito evidente durante “Spider”, seu excepcional debut como artista solo, lançada em Abril. O lançamento é um excelente display de tudo que ele construiu desde que decidiu que queria estar em um palco; a canção sutilmente voluptuosa foi escrita e produzida pelo seu amigo de longa data e companheiro de banda, Woozi, e permitiu que ele se mostrasse como um artista completo além do Seventeen, destacando seus movimentos pungentes, sua voz encantadora, e seus ângulos e formas belos e viciantes. A canção é fácil de ouvir e implora pelo replay, e tanto o clipe oficial quanto as múltiplas performances, incluindo o dance practice, são um banquete visual, conforme ele se movimenta entre os bailarinos e bailarinas e os caixilhos que constituem a performance. Seus altíssimos padrões de qualidade estão presentes em cada aspecto, desde a concepção, como ele mesmo descreve nas entrevistas e no registro do processo lançado no canal do Seventeen. Não é muito diferente do Hoshi, membro do grupo e líder do Performance team, mas é um pouco maior, e vai além, como a sensação de que você tem que andar mais alguns passos para ter uma visão melhor do todo.

Se você é meu amigo, eu provavelmente te obriguei a assistir isso aqui pelo menos uma vez.

A TRANSIÇÃO

Gosto é um assunto difícil de navegar, porque existem múltiplas camadas coletivas e individuais, externas e internas, por trás do que nos enviesa e nos vincula às coisas; existem diversos aspectos da subjetividades que são inexprimíveis, mas que são como peneiras e filtros que definem com nós digerimos tudo aquilo que ingerimos. Mais difícil ainda quando consideramos nos diversos tipos de discursos de fã que existem, não apenas por causa das qualidades emocionais que fazem parte, mas também o aspecto comunitário que caracteriza a percepção geral de ser fã como ser parte de uma ideia de um arranjo extenso de pessoas que compartilham o mesmo gosto, o mesmo viés, o mesmo vínculo. É discutível até que ponto o gosto de um fã deve ser analisado, principalmente porque, conforme o tempo passa, se torna cada vez mais difícil diferenciar a identidade e a reação pessoal do indivíduo das construções coletivas de discurso com as quais o fã pode entrar em contato. Por isso, desde o começo, eu deixei claro que este era um relato pessoal, porque, no fim das contas, aquilo que me enverga diz respeito à mim.

Mesmo assim, mesmo que o processo de me tornar uma grande fã do Hoshi tenha sido um processo individual, pessoal e subjetivo, existe um processo mais amplo em questão – que é a coisa que eu estou chamando de uma transição ocasionada pela minha experiência de adquirir conhecimento – que foi o processo de me tornar mais fã de um dançarino que de outros. Isso pode soar estupidamente simples, e provavelmente indigno de um texto tão longo assim, mas a verdade é que na verdade é bem duro desconstruir percepções de uma vida toda sobre o valor das muitas mídias através das quais a expressão pessoal se articula. Na faculdade de Arquitetura, minha melhor vantagem era a capacidade de traduzir imagens e espacialidades em palavras, e vice-versa. Mesmo como professora de Inglês, minhas habilidades devem muito ao meu talento de pensar demais sobre como usamos a língua para expressão. A coisa que eu sempre mais admirei foi a capacidade de usar bem as palavras – o tipo de percepção que eu cultivei enquanto crescia sendo fã de coisas, e que carreguei comigo quando virei fã de idols.

A princípio, todos os meus idols favoritos eram os compositores, aqueles que carregavam em si uma poética que era articulada verbalmente, alguns que até haviam lançado livros. Mesmo que eu fosse tão fissurada pelo pacote completo do show, no frigir dos ovos, eu ainda atribuía mais valor subconscientemente àqueles que conseguiam se expressar com palavras. O processo de me aprofundar nos conteúdos não-verbais do K-pop, e entender como cada aspecto adicionava valor ao produto final, me fez mais capaz de apreciar as várias camadas do espetáculo como sendo igualmente importantes; a essência daquilo que eu chamei de perceber idols como idols seria um consenso geral de disposição a ver cada um pelo papel que desempenha em pé de igualdade – desde aqueles que escrevem canções e cantam a maior parte delas àqueles que deixam o grupo mais bonito mas não necessariamente tomam a frente de performances. Uma das razões pelas quais idol groups tem uma diversidade de visuais, personalidades, talentos e tipos é justamente para maximizar o seu apelo; quanto mais amplo o espectro de apelo, maiores as chances de que alguma história toque o coração de alguma pessoa que está assistindo – porque, no fim das contas, o que está sendo comunicado ainda depende em grande medida da habilidade da outra parte de entender.

Uma fancam do Hoshi dançando ao mega hit do Seventeen em 2016 VERY NICE. Outrora os inimigos de Estado #1 do Twitter, fancams foram uma das coisas que eu demorei a entender quando virei fã de K-pop, mas que se tornaram parte constituinte da minha jornada quanto mais eu aprendi a apreciar dançarinos e performance. Julho, 2016.

Uma vez que eu havia me colocado à disposição para celebrar as várias facetas de como idols se articulavam, eu pude colocar minha admiração de longa-data pela habilidade de construir uma narrativa artística coerente à serviço de apreciar a performance de idols de forma mais inteira, o que eventualmente se desenvolveu na direção do Hoshi, o idol e artista. Tornar-me sua fã foi como descobrir o quanto eu desejava encontrar novos pontos de contato no tecido da realidade em que a sensibilidade do meu corpo e da minha alma pudessem se encontrar com as ordens superiores do cosmos – a janela de possibilidade que nos leva ao numinoso, se tivermos sorte. É tão simples quanto uma profunda ânsia por beleza. Existem incontáveis camadas coletivas e individuais, externas e internas, por trás do que nos enviesa e nos vincula às coisas, conforme nós abrimos caminho pela mata virgem que é viver e existir no mundo, e as únicas constantes são de que o tempo vai continuar passando, e que vamos continuar mudando ao longo do caminho. É aí que a performance de um idol em cima de um palco te leva de volta à estrada que ele trilhou para chegar até ali, a interseção entre se apaixonar por assistir, se apaixonar por sonhar, e transformar essa paixão em uma prática. É daí que nasce um fã.

Mesmo assim, a despeito das minhas palavras emocionadas, em última análise, a relação artista-fãs não deixa de ser uma transação financeira. A razão pela estrutura emocional complexa que sustenta o pacto de vínculo entre idols e seus fãs é a necessidade de uma estrutura resistente de apoio que viabilize o emprego de todas as partes envolvidas na montagem do show. E o que fãs tiram disso? São muitas as razões pelas quais nós damos espaço para que nossos sentimentos e percepções virem uma moeda nessa troca do que oferecemos aos artistas dos quais gostamos e que decidimos apoiar. Talvez eu também anseie pelo sentimento de seguir vida juntos à distância, como linhas paralelas nesse mundo imenso, caminhando em direção ao lugar para onde vão as almas. Eu tenho certeza que isso soa emotivo e otimista demais, mas talvez seja só minha mente pândemica, cansada demais, necessitando de distração com mais frequência que o normal, e falando mais alto que meu bom senso, mas eu já li que a beleza do mundo é realmente como a boca de um labirinto. O fato é que eu amo escrever sobre minhas coisas favoritas, porque elas sempre me ajudam a pensar sobre mim mesma. E eu amo escrever sobre o Hoshi também, mas eu gosto de assisti-lo ainda mais. Como café forte e amargo, toda vez que ele aparece, deixa pra trás um sabor que perdura na ponta da língua, que me dá energia extra pelas manhãs, ou me mantém acordada à noite quando é necessário. E esta é minha opinião orgulhosamente, totalmente, completamente, apaixonadamente tendenciosa sobre o que faz dele um grande idol.

A dona aranha subiu pela parede
Veio a chuva forte e a derrubou
Já passou a chuva o sol já vai surgindo
E a dona aranha continua a subir
Ela é teimosa e desobediente
Sobe, sobe, sobe e nunca está contente



OUTRAS LEITURAS (em Inglês)

Filmi Girl. “Why an Idol Group isn’t a Boy Band.” The Idol Cast and Other Writings. Mar 4, 2021.

Musikosmos. In the Spider’s Web.” Musikal Kosmos. Mar 29, 2021.

Sara Delgado. SEVENTEEN’s HOSHI Talks First Solo Mixtape “Spider”.” TEEN VOGUE. Apr 2, 2021.

[INSIDE SEVENTEEN] HOSHI Mixtape ‘Spider’ Behind. SEVENTEEN Official Youtube Channel. 14:07. Apr 12, 2021.



NOTAS DE RODAPÉ:

[1] Muitos idols que começam a treinar muito jovens e/ou debutam na adolescência podem interromper os estudos devido às demandas do treinar/se apresentar. (Saeji et al. 2018: 12)

[2] Em “Idols: The Image of Desire in Japanese Consumer Capitalism”, Galbraith (2012: 186) descreve isso usando o termo “intertextualidade inescapável” [tradução livre]: 

“Constantly present and exposed, the idol becomes “real,” the basis of feelings of intimacy among viewers, though this is independent of “reality.” John Fiske (1987, 116) describes the situation as “inescapable intertextuality,” where all texts refer to one another and not to any external reality. This is not to say that reality does not exist, but rather that what is accessible in cultural products is a construction of reality, which must be understood on its own terms. “Images are made and read in relation to other images and the real is read as an image” (Ibid., 117). The meanings of images, however temporary, are made (or negotiated) in interaction with images.”

[3] Para mais a respeito disso, eu recomendo especificamente “Always Fans of Something: Fandom and Concealment of Taste in the Daily Lives of Young Koreans” de Lee Eungchel (2021). Agradeço muito à Profa. Dra. CedarBough T. Saeji que compartilhou um link para este artigo, que me inspirou a escrever este texto.

[4] Sobre práticas de fãs, existe um espaço especial no meu coração para a densíssima auto etnografia “K- Popping: Korean Women, K-Pop, and Fandom” (Kim, 2016) 

[5] Demonstrar consistência entre diversos meios de comunicação com fãs, com a mídia e outros espectadores é um aspecto chave na formação do vínculo duradouro com fãs, assim como a apresentação de uma imagem confiável e digna como celebridade perante a sociedade. (Elfving-Hwang 2018)

REFERÊNCIAS

Elfving-Hwang, Joanna. (2018) “K-Pop Idols, Artificial Beauty and Affective Fan Relationships in South Korea.” In Routledge Handbook of Celebrity Studies, edited by Anthony Elliott: 190-201. New York: Routledge. Retrieved from: https://www.academia.edu/36343905/K_pop_Idols_Artificial_Beauty_and_Affective_Fan_Relationships_in_South_Korea 

Galbraith, Patrick W. (2016) “The Labor of Love: On the Convergence of Fan and Corporate Interests in Contemporary Idol Culture in Japan”. In Media Convergence in Japan, edited by Patrick W. Galbraith and Jason G. Karlin: 232-64. Tokyo: Kinema Club. Retrieved from: https://www.academia.edu/25849863/The_Labor_of_Love_On_the_Convergence_of_Fan_and_Corporate_Interests_in_Contemporary_Idol_Culture_in_Japan 

Kim, J. (2017). K- Popping: Korean Women, K-Pop, and Fandom. UC Riverside. Retrieved from https://escholarship.org/uc/item/5pj4n52q

Lee,  Eungchel (2021). “Always Fans of Something: Fandom and Concealment of Taste in the Daily Lives of Young Koreans.” In Korean Anthropology Review 5: 53-78. Retrieved from: https://s-space.snu.ac.kr/handle/10371/174377 

Saeji et al. (2018) “Regulating the Idol: The Life and Death of a South Korean Popular Music Star.” In Asia Pacific Journal: Japan Focus 16 (13:3): 1-32. Retrieved from: https://apjjf.org/2018/13/Saeji.html 

The Shape of an Idol

What sort of artist is an idol?

Para uma versão em Português, clique aqui.

I first came into contact with K-pop idols in 2009, at 14 years of age, when I learned that one of my favourite songs by one of my favourite German bands – Cinema Bizarre’s “Forever or Never” – had also been recorded by a Korean boy group called SHINee. The following year, most of my German band-loving peers had exchanged the likes of Cinema Bizarre, Tokio Hotel and Killerpilze with Super Junior, BIGBANG, SHINee, amongst others. Most of us had a history with J-pop and J-rock; I myself was briefly hooked on Super Junior because of Heechul’s visuals, which reminded me a bit of Miyavi’s, the visual kei rockstar I adored. It didn’t last long, though; as a Christian girl, my teenage mind was repelled by the label “idol”.

Cinema Bizarre “Forever or Never” live, 2008

Funnily enough, it was BTS’s 2018 song “IDOL” that ended up dragging me back into the industry, attracting me with the layering of Korean traditional percussion music and African beats that made my mornings as a then-freshly graduated (and unemployed) person less burdensome. That was around 2 and a half years ago. My more educated adult mind was able to overlook the negative connotations that the word “idol” communicated to me in the past, but once in a while I still have to explain myself when the topic arises in my daily religious contexts. Calling young stars such a name is a very unsubtle way of stating what they are presented for but, even so, there’s more to the name than a vocabulary choice.

I have said this many times, but I have always been a fan of things, since my late childhood. Being a fan is part of my identity and shapes how I interact with the world. This is relevant because, after becoming a K-pop fan, the process of learning more about what the label “idol” meant and how it informed so much of what made me enjoy these artists completely reshaped how I perceived my own fan experience. This piece is a very personal take, and a rather subjective first attempt at putting into words how my taste ethos changed over the last few years, as well as paying what little homage I can to one of the idols I cherish the most – Hoshi, from the group Seventeen – not just because today is his 25th birthday, but also because coming to appreciate him as much as I do today has a lot to do with my process of figuring out what idols were supposed to be. 

BTS, the biggest K-pop group in the world, stating that they are, indeed, idols. Aug, 2018.

I came into K-pop straight from a long career into different kinds of rock bands, from power pop to pop punk, to punk and stoner rock, and all sorts of sounds deemed “alternative”. My perception as a new K-pop fan was naturally highly informed by this previous experience, but, at the same time, because there was a poignant transition taking place, I had to admit that there had to be something specific, potentially new, attracting me to this very different type of artist (even though there are also important parallels, which even prompted an article about why so many former emo fans crossed over to K-pop). I had in me a deep sense of wanting to be able to appreciate the differences as much as the similarities. Like I mentioned before, I had just graduated, so my head was still full of my Bachelor’s Thesis and all the studying I had done to produce it, and I had enough free time to do my favourite thing: keep studying (by the way, that’s the rough version of how I ended up studying fandoms). I was lucky to make friends that pointed me in the right direction, showing me the songs, videos, live performances, articles and books that helped me lay a foundation to start to make sense of the general landscape of idols in Asia, in a way that gave context to the finished product I was hooked on. 

In early 2020, in a conversation with one of these more experienced fandom friends, she told me that every fan might eventually have to figure out who’s the one idol they will drop all others for once they no longer have the time (and energy) to put into supporting many different people. I remember saying I had no idea who I would choose; but then, not much longer later, shortly after Hoshi’s 24th birthday, I realised he had become my answer to that matter. When I first got into Seventeen, he was not one of the first members to catch my attention, but, the more I learned about the group, the more he intrigued me. Initially, there seemed to be some unusualness to such interest, because all of my favourite idols up until that point shared some specific traits that weren’t the most striking things about him. That made me think deeply about what could have sparked my interest. I ended up realising that my new-found love was a result of a larger process of shift that I was experiencing, and this shift was a result of the thoughts and conclusions I reached after seeking to educate my mind to perceive idols as idols.

Hoshi, in behind the scenes pictures of the music video for his solo debut song “Spider”, released in April this year. In his own words, he is “the kid who goes when you say not to go // “I’m the kid who tries until the end when you tell me not to do something” (from the lyrics of his self-produced unreleased song “Horanghae). Picture retrieved from Weverse.

What makes an idol?

Idol-ness is, in itself, a performance. Idols are a special brand of pop artist, whose persona is specially crafted to maximise the chance of stardom. Such performance is truly an artistic labour – a fact that can be easily ignored according to one’s definition of art. Because it’s a full-time performance, the role of the young people that work hard to bring up their idol-worthy images to life often ends up being overshadowed by the role of agencies and producers in the process. Trainees at K-pop companies spend their youth training in pursuit of their dream of being given the chance to debut in a group[1], and then work for the subsequent years to build relevance and stability, as a group, and as individuals. From the moment a new trainee is signed, and their journey begins, the ultimate goal is the stage; it’s the place where all parts come together, and they present themselves as idol-material, excelling both in singing and dancing to show they are worthy of the support of their fans. But the sovereignty of the stage is just one aspect of their performance. 

Idols were designed to become a source of security and an object of desire, one through which fans could live out their own dreams in the shape of unconditional support. To fulfill this fantasy, becoming an idol fan is made to be like stepping into a transmedia alternate universe, a realm in which all parts of the narrative eventually point back to one another[2], creating the illusion of a world of intimacy between an idol and their fans. In this world, a collective aesthetic utopia of youth is realised; more than just desiring their bodies and their lifestyle, fans are encouraged to perceive themselves as part of the journey. Just as idols grow from their trainee days into mature artists, all of their fans, too, will grow, and work hard to pursue their own aspirations and dreams. 

These processes are perceived as one, such is the architecture of parasocial interactions; in that sense, the idol fannish experience is a labour of (life)time[3] – as companies and idols work together to bring forth the images and texts around which support will be harnessed, fans come into the equation not only through supporting, but also in performing fandom. This performance is expressed through standard, daily fan practices, such as buying goods, voting for prizes and awards, streaming songs and videos, putting together fan events, producing fanart, supporting their brand endorsements. But, as the stage is the moment in which the idol presents their idol-worthiness, fans will also play their role during live performances, as they shake their lightsticks, sing the special fanchants and perform their fan events, holding up slogans with special phrases to their idols.[4] The entire idol system is built on this pact of kinship between idols and fans; and, as such, as Joanna Elfving-Hwang (2018) points out, whatever role one is assigned, being an idol requires never to drop out of character[5].

If being an idol circles back to articulating an idol-worthy expression of the self, the most desirable talent would be the ability to put on a captivating, consistent performance on and off stage. In that sense, when crafting their personas, the genius of performing as an idol is knowing how to use what they have to build a bridge between who they are and the role they are supposed to fulfill. Since every idol that gets to debut has gone through hard prepping for the chance of stepping on a stage, the very desired life-long fan support that will enable their careers relies greatly on their ability to make people fall in love with their dreams, and dream along with them. That’s why a compelling backstory plays such an important role in boosting a successful rendition, like a compass that informs the overall direction of the narrative and makes their story of growth all the more believable, and potentially sustainable.

Hoshi’s surprise appearance to the fans waiting in line to watch Seventeen’s concert in Newark, US. Jan, 2020.

Hoshi, the idol 

Hoshi, my favourite idol, is a force of nature. His stage name choice is a combination of the words “horangi” [호랑이, tiger] and “siseon” [시선, gaze]. His playful, talkative persona makes abundant use of loud cuteness aesthetics to showcase a soft, endearing side, which makes a great counterpoint to the real awe-inspiring tiger qualities he expresses in performance mode. Born in 1996 as Kwon Soonyoung, he made his official debut in May 2015 as the main dancer amongst the 13 members of Seventeen, after training for four years. Because of the large number of members, the group is internally divided into teams according to specialisation; there’s the Vocal Team, the Hip Hop Team and the Performance Team, of which Hoshi is the leader. He’s recognised as an earnest performer, a talented choreographer, and a pacesetter deeply obsessed with both the practice room and the stage. His absolute love for hard work and enduring the processes is one of his greatest assets – his passion transcends every step of the staircase that leads from the commitment and hardships of preparations into the place under the spotlight. 

Looking back, I believe that his ability to ooze passion in everything he did was what made me enjoy watching him so much. As I made my way through more and more of Seventeen’s transmedia content, he told a consistent story of a hard-working artist, who defied all odds to build himself up from nothing. As a young boy with a dream of becoming an artist and a solid background in taekwondo, he realised that his physical abilities were enough to give him a shot. He found little support at first, but he had enough thirst in himself to do his best to prove he could make it, so he created his own opportunities. At first, he practised on his own, at home. He went on to form his own dance club in school, entering multiple dance competitions, and even winning some. It was in one of these competitions that he succeeded in being scouted into an agency. Since day one, he became known for being the trainee that worked the hardest; this reputation has followed him ever since, and has been reasserted every single time he presented himself. 

Hoshi’s playfulness makes a sweet counterbalance to his fierce performance as a dancer. Seventeen “Ode to You” Tour in Seoul, picture by Eyes on You. Aug, 2019.

When he’s dancing, he’s untouchable and enticing; on camera he’s a reliable and active figure of comfort, with an approachable aura that makes his fans regard him as one like a friend. These many sides shape the complexity of his “tiger power”, the brand that summarises and iconifies the genius of his idol-ness. Kwon Soonyoung, who says that he’s actually an introvert, often chooses the energetic, loud and bordering on the insane as a booster, and seems to have his artistic mind set on putting on a show, whatever the assignment is. I would even argue that the differences between his performance and what he sometimes describes as his “true self” make the show more interesting to watch. He can count on the reliable support of his compelling backstory that makes the complete package being presented on stage easier to believe, and more enjoyable to watch – as if we could see the extent of the road that he’s walked so far every single time the lights are on him. There’s a sense of coherence that he presents across all forms of media which is hard to describe, but, ultimately, it translates to me as a sense of commitment and assurance that he’s infatuated with his own dreams as much as us fans are infatuated with him. 

His ability to communicate himself coherently over the years is perhaps the reason why it’s so easy to fall in love with his dreams and desire to watch him fulfill all of them. That was very evident during “Spider”, his remarkable solo debut this past April. The release is a great display of all that he has built ever since he decided he wanted to be on a stage; the luscious track, written and produced by his long-time friend and fellow Seventeen member Woozi, allowed him to show himself as a fully-grown artist beyond the group, highlighting his poignant moves, sultry vocals, beautiful angles and addictive visuals. The song is an easy listen that begs for a replay, and the music video, as well as the multiple stage performances and even the dance practice are a visual feast, as he makes his way through the backup dancers and the rectangular frames that are part of the choreography. His high quality standards are noticeable in every aspect of the release, since its inception, as described by him in the behind the scenes clips and interviews he gave about the song. It’s not so different from Hoshi, the SVT member, but it’s a few steps beyond, like the feeling of walking a bit further in order to get a bigger picture.

If you’re my close friend I have probably made you watch this at least once.

The shift

Taste is a very tricky topic to navigate, because there are multiple collective and individual, external and internal layers behind what biases and binds us; there are several unarticulated aspects of subjectivity which are both like a sifter and a strainer filtering and shaping how we digest everything that we ingest. Even more when it comes down to the many different kinds of fan discourse that exist, not only because of the emotional qualities, but also the communitarian aspect that entails the general perception of being a fan as being part of an extended array of people sharing the same taste. The extent to which fan taste should be discussed is highly debatable since, after a while, telling apart individual reactions to collective speech constructions can be hard. From the get-go, I stated that this was a personal account, because that’s what a person’s own bias will always come down to. 

But, even in that sense, even though coming to appreciate Hoshi, specifically, was a subjective endeavour, there’s a more general outlook in question, of my process of coming to love a dancer above all others, which is the thing I’m calling a personal shift, and the main product of my own experience of growing in knowledge. That sounds stupidly simple, and perhaps not worthy of a lengthy piece, but reshaping a lifelong perception of the worth of the multiple mediums through which expression can be articulated is quite a challenge. In Architecture school, my greatest asset was my ability to translate images and space into words, and vice-versa. Even my skills as a foreign language teacher are largely indebted to my talent to overthink verbal speech. As a result, someone’s ability with words has long been my biggest source of admiration – the sort of perception I nurtured growing up as a fan of things, and which I carried into idol fandom.

Initially, all of my favourite idols were the talented songwriters, the ones that had a poetics to them that was articulated verbally, going as far as releasing books. Even if I was so addicted to the complete package of the show, at the end of the day I still subconsciously attributed more value to those who could express their artistry in words. Getting deeper into the non-verbal contents of K-pop and how every aspect added its own value to the finished product made me more appreciative of the many layers of the show as equally important; the core of what I called appreciating idols as idols would be an overall sense of seeing each one for the role that they play on an equal footing – from the ones who write and the ones who sing most parts in songs to the ones that provide striking visuals but don’t necessarily lead performances. One of the reasons why idol groups have a diversity of looks, personalities, talents and assigned roles is to maximise appeal; the wider the possibilities, the higher the chances of someone’s story resonating with someone watching – because what is being communicated by one end still depends largely on the other end’s ability to get it.

A fancam of Hoshi dancing to Seventeen’s 2016 mega hit VERY NICE. Once Twitter’s #1 public enemy, fancams were one of the things that I struggled the get the point of when I first became a fan of K-pop but that became a natural part of my experience the more I enjoyed the performance aspects. I have watched this one countless times. Jul, 2016.

Once I had opened myself to cherish the various facets of how idols articulated themselves, I could channel my long-standing enjoyment of the ability to build up a coherent artistic narrative into appreciating an idol’s overall performance more wholly, which eventually developed into love for Hoshi, the idol and artist. Becoming his fan was a bit like figuring out how much I earnestly desired to find new points in the fabric of reality in which the sensibility of bodies and souls seemed to connect with the higher orders of the world – the window of possibility which leads into a taste of the numinous, if we’re lucky. It’s as simple as a deep craving for beauty. There are countless collective and individual, external and internal layers behind what biases and binds us as we make our separate and communitarian ways into the world, but, as such, it is a constant that time will keep going, and we will keep changing along the way. That’s when an idol’s performance points back to their successful journey to the stage, the intersection between falling in love with watching someone, and falling in love with their dreams, and wishing to turn that passion into support. That’s how a fan is born.

Even so, regardless of my big words, ultimately, the artist-fan exchange is a transaction. The reason for the complex structure that makes up the pact of kinship between idols and their fans is the need for steady, life-long support that will enable the careers of all the people involved in putting the show together. And what do fans get out of it? Various are the reasons why we give way to the emotional currency we have to offer in choosing to keep supporting and enjoying something we are fans of. Perhaps I also crave the feeling of doing life together, as distant parallel lines in a huge world, that will meet somewhere in the distant future, in the place where souls gather to look back on the journey. Even if that comes across as overly optimistic… Maybe it’s just my pandemic-struck mind in need of distraction speaking louder than my best senses, but it’s been said that the beauty of the world is like the mouth of a labyrinth. I love writing about my favourite artists, because they help me think about myself too. And I love writing about Hoshi, but I love watching him the most. Like strong, bitter coffee, every single time he steps forward I’m left with a taste that lingers on my tongue, gives me extra energy in the early mornings and might keep me up at night if it’s convenient. And that’s my proudly, fully, completely, passionately biased opinion on what makes him a great idol.

Itsy bitsy spider
Climbed up the waterspout;
Down came the rain
And washed the spider out;
Out came the sun
And dried up all the rain;
And the itsy bitsy spider
Climbed up the spout again.

OTHER Readings:

Filmi Girl. “Why an Idol Group isn’t a Boy Band.” The Idol Cast and Other Writings. Mar 4, 2021.

Musikosmos. In the Spider’s Web.” Musikal Kosmos. Mar 29, 2021.

Sara Delgado. SEVENTEEN’s HOSHI Talks First Solo Mixtape “Spider”.” TEEN VOGUE. Apr 2, 2021.

[INSIDE SEVENTEEN] HOSHI Mixtape ‘Spider’ Behind. SEVENTEEN Official Youtube Channel. 14:07. Apr 12, 2021.

Footnotes:

[1] Many idols who begin training at a very young age and/or who debut as teenagers might interrupt their education due to the demands of training/performing (Saeji et al. 2018: 12)

[2] In “Idols: The Image of Desire in Japanese Consumer Capitalism”, Galbraith (2012: 186) describes this using the term “inescapable intertextuality”: 

“Constantly present and exposed, the idol becomes “real,” the basis of feelings of intimacy among viewers, though this is independent of “reality.” John Fiske (1987, 116) describes the situation as “inescapable intertextuality,” where all texts refer to one another and not to any external reality. This is not to say that reality does not exist, but rather that what is accessible in cultural products is a construction of reality, which must be understood on its own terms. “Images are made and read in relation to other images and the real is read as an image” (Ibid., 117). The meanings of images, however temporary, are made (or negotiated) in interaction with images.”

[3] for more on this, I’d recommend specifically Lee Eungchel’s “Always Fans of Something: Fandom and Concealment of Taste in the Daily Lives of Young Koreans” (2021). Huge thanks to Prof. CedarBough T. Saeji who shared a link to this paper which sparked in me the desire to write this piece. 

[4] About fan practices, there’s a special place in my heart for the dense autoethnography “K- Popping: Korean Women, K-Pop, and Fandom” (Kim, 2016) 

[5] Showing consistency between the multiple venues of interaction with fans, media and other spectators is key to forming both the long-lasting bond with fans, as well as presenting a reliable, worthy image as a celebrity before society. (Elfving-Hwang 2018)

REFERENCES

Elfving-Hwang, Joanna. (2018) “K-Pop Idols, Artificial Beauty and Affective Fan Relationships in South Korea.” In Routledge Handbook of Celebrity Studies, edited by Anthony Elliott: 190-201. New York: Routledge. Retrieved from: https://www.academia.edu/36343905/K_pop_Idols_Artificial_Beauty_and_Affective_Fan_Relationships_in_South_Korea 

Galbraith, Patrick W. (2016) “The Labor of Love: On the Convergence of Fan and Corporate Interests in Contemporary Idol Culture in Japan”. In Media Convergence in Japan, edited by Patrick W. Galbraith and Jason G. Karlin: 232-64. Tokyo: Kinema Club. Retrieved from: https://www.academia.edu/25849863/The_Labor_of_Love_On_the_Convergence_of_Fan_and_Corporate_Interests_in_Contemporary_Idol_Culture_in_Japan 

Kim, J. (2017). K- Popping: Korean Women, K-Pop, and Fandom. UC Riverside. Retrieved from https://escholarship.org/uc/item/5pj4n52q

Lee,  Eungchel (2021). “Always Fans of Something: Fandom and Concealment of Taste in the Daily Lives of Young Koreans.” In Korean Anthropology Review 5: 53-78. Retrieved from: https://s-space.snu.ac.kr/handle/10371/174377 

Saeji et al. (2018) “Regulating the Idol: The Life and Death of a South Korean Popular Music Star.” In Asia Pacific Journal: Japan Focus 16 (13:3): 1-32. Retrieved from: https://apjjf.org/2018/13/Saeji.html