It’s 2018 and I oddly find myself buying physical albums. My package came last week via the Korea Post, a direct indicator of the cultural aspect of We Go Up, the second mini album by South Korean teenage boy group NCT Dream. Though I lack the means to actually play my new CD, my purchase isn’t solely a disc, but something that feels more uniquely personal.
The package’s contents is a variety of memorabilia that, while common to the K-pop industry, is usually only an overpriced deluxe package in pop music’s Western counterpart. The album opens up to a CD before turning to a photobook, holding cute wallet-sized headshots and stickers within its pages. Growing up surrounded by expanding technology, I never had the need nor the desire to purchase an album — this still stands true today. As a fan, however, I made my purchase because of these extra features; I look forward to tearing apart the cardboard box to see if I’ve received a photocard of my favorite member, even if a selfie is really all it is.
My bonus poster sits on a shelf in my closet, leaning against the apartment wall instead of being taped down out of fear of stripping the paint off. I’m an adult, at the very least, legally, yet I seem to be making up for lost time as a pre-teen. Looking around my “home,” I recall the homemade decorations I displayed in the room where I grew up: three collages of individually-cut magazine images. Here, I glued down my dreams — dreams that lacked the presence of anybody that looked like me or resembled my experience as an adolescent East-Asian male.
At this moment, I can admit that my racial identity was one into which I did not delve, nor did I necessarily want to further examine, due to the seemingly useless nature of trying to embrace being Asian in a society dominated by white ideals. So, it seemed natural that my walls reflected this ideology, adorned with Ariana Grande and Shawn Mendes and Taylor Swift. During high school, K-pop wasn’t a curious interest, but a cultural “other” that I blatantly resisted as outside of Western pop culture despite these performers paralleling my own experience more closely than the artists I’ve loved before — a truth untold that I’ve since discovered. This isn’t to say that my admiration for these performers has faded away, rather, they just have not led me to the same sense of self I’ve found now in groups, such as NCT Dream, comprising seven young, East-Asian boys who not only resemble celebrities, but also look like me.
In my love of K-pop idols, I’m beginning to find people who I can figuratively look up to, whose background better represents mine. In my purchase of this album, I can look up to them in my posters. In them, I can look up at myself.