Many have said that South Korea is a place worth visiting. Some would say for its food, others would argue for its skincare products. Those reasons never appealed to me, as I found the country rather boring.
That was before I got pulled into a black hole called K-pop.
The black hole: BTS, a South Korean boyband comprising seven good-looking and talented hunks. With empowering lyrics, captivating dance moves, and amusing personalities, they have understandably won the hearts of thousands of people around the world. Their interaction with their fans is so personal that many would take them as their boyfriend. I am no exception.
Two years after falling under their spell, I found out that they were about to stage a concert in Seoul. Luckily, my Personal Development Fund (PDF) was due at that time. (The PDF is a neat incentive from Maverick where after working for a year, full-time employees get up to a month’s salary to travel to where they have not been before or do things that will help them develop personally). So without hesitating, I drew on my PDF to see the boys in action.
Though ostensibly there to see BTS in action, when I stepped into South Korea for the very first time, what unfolded before me forever changed my perspective of the country.
A country with a prevalent beauty standard
One of my first impressions of South Korea, and one that was to dog me for the rest of my trip as the question: “How come everyone is good-looking here?”.
I’ve always known that South Korea has a high standard of beauty, but I didn’t believe it until I saw it with my own eyes. Unlike Westerners who often rely heavily on makeup, South Koreans seemed to radiate an effortless natural beauty. Regardless of the gender, they were all strutting around with glowing skin and sporting a chic fashion style. It looked as they had turned the street into their runway. It made me a bit insecure about going out without putting my makeup on – which I always do – and even made me question my fashion sense.
At first, I thought all those good looks was because of plastic surgery. After all, it’s not a secret that many South Koreans love their cosmetic procedures. After spending a day or two, however, I could see that all those good looks are because they paid such great care to their skin routine.
When I visited Myeong-dong, a bustling shopping area in Seoul, I could see row after row of skincare brands endorsed by various South Korean idols. I entered one of the shops, of course, one with a BTS poster displayed, and found such a range of skin masks I never knew existed. There was a plethora of eye masks, lip masks, and even feet masks. Imagine the routines that these South Koreans had to go through each day to get that natural glow!
The standards they attach to their appearances also made me think of the unbelievable pressure that South Koreans must live with to look good. It would be a struggle for the South Korean mortals; what more for the South Korean idols who are supposedly the epitome of beauty. For such a modern country, South Korea is still conservative in defining its standard for beauty. Moments like these make me grateful that I’m not South Korean.
It’s a K-pop universe
Even as I was ogling the beautiful skin and appearance of the South Koreans, I did not forget my main mission to South Korea: To watch the K-pop band, BTS.
BTS is the band that has paved the way for K-pop’s domination of the world. They made history by becoming the first South Korean idols who won multiple global awards, appeared in various US TV shows hosted by the likes of James Corden, Ellen DeGeneres, Jimmy Fallon; and was named one of Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People of 2019”.
BTS is so treasured in South Korea that their faces are ubiquitous around the country. Everywhere you look, BTS is smiling back at you – in billboards shopping in a department store, in cutouts holding a smartphone, or in LED TVs driving a luxurious car.
When I spotted a bunch of people wearing clothes and accessories with BTS logos on them, it occurred to me that BTS might have blurred the line between being the endorser and becoming the brand itself. I couldn’t help but wonder, what attracts these people the most, the products or BTS? I even found myself on the quest of getting shoes that BTS wears.
I know that K-pop is huge, but upon my visit to South Korea, it felt like I was entering a whole other world. One where the fans are infatuated enough to spend ridiculous amounts of money to declare their love — from buying any brand endorsed by their idols to renting billboards for a festive birthday greeting. Now I understand why K-pop is said to be one of the economic forces for South Korea. It’s crazy to think the length these fans are willing to go to show their support.
After eight days of BTS-infused immersion, it was finally the big day of the BTS concert and I threw myself at it, body and soul.
I would never forget when the music started to blast, the fireworks started to spark, and the boys started to perform. The whole arena was filled with colorful light sticks and loud cheering. The crowd even did a fanchant (a chant by fans in unison at K-pop performances) for each song. It was powerful and felt like a display of affection from the fans.
I was deeply immersed in their spectacular performances, but it didn’t stop me from admiring South Koreans’ respect towards their idols. There was a sea of people, but all of them were behaving in an orderly manner. No shoving around and no disturbances like you might find in concerts in other countries. In a way, I guess, it’s because they would like to preserve the idols’ image. South Korea favors public image more than any other countries. Untoward scenes might reflect badly on the idols.
I left South Korea with a newfound perspective. What appealed to me the most are not the mouth-watering food or the beautiful scenery, but the people. They are what makes South Korea worth exploring. From the way they maintain their appearances to how they show respect and support, it was unique to that country. If I had another chance, I would love to go back to South Korea and learn another thing or two from their people.
Written by Astrid Giri, Maverick Consultant