Sometimes a song is more than a song.
Sometimes a song reminds you of who you are and what you can be. Sometimes a song holds your hand and gently brings you out of the darkness and into the light. Sometimes a song gives you the words you’ve been searching your whole life to find to help you make sense of all the things you want and need and hope for.
Sometimes a song saves you.
Sometimes a song helps you save yourself.
I spent a really long part of this last year hating myself.
I didn’t want to admit it then, but I was depressed—in a way I’m not sure I’ve ever really experienced before. I had days when I just laid in bed and thought the absolute worst, meanest things about myself; days when I looked in the mirror and couldn’t find one good thing about the person looking back; days when I would cry for hours and then frantically push the heels of my hands against my eyes until they hurt when I heard the door click and knew someone was coming home and would see me because I didn’t want them to see how bad it was.
It was bad. I felt bad. And I felt so guilty for feeling so bad. Because I had my job, my health, a healthy family that I got to see every day. Compared to so many, I was so lucky.
And that just made me hate myself even more.
I focused a lot of that self-loathing on two things: my extroverted personality and my writing. Those were two things that I used to cherish—they were two things that I’d always believed made me special. But depression takes your view of yourself and distorts it like a funhouse mirror. It takes the stuff that makes you special and convinces you that it actually just makes you weird and hard to love. It makes you focus on the things people said 10 years ago about you being “exhausting” to be around or that gift you gave when someone was sad being “too much” or your writing having “no real point.” It brings out the worst in you—in my case, that’s my perfectionism, my belief that if people don’t say I’m the best at something, then I shouldn’t be doing it at all. Because what’s the point?
To the very few people I shared my struggles with, I described it as feeling like the good things about me had atrophied during the pandemic. I felt so guilty for feeling so bad that once the dark days of winter settled in, I’d stopped feeling much of anything. And for someone whose entire personality is based on feeling things deeply and strongly, that was the worst part of it all.
I was afraid I was never going to be really happy again. That I was never going to be me again.
I’m not going to say that BTS was the only thing that helped me find my way back to myself. The springtime sunshine helped. So did the promise of vaccines, the joy of seeing people I love be protected from COVID, and the relief I felt when I got my first shot in my arm a few weeks ago. The catharsis of WandaVision helped. Writing helped. Coming back to NGN helped. The people who never stopped loving me and believing in the version of me I thought I’d lost helped.
And that brings me to Heather.
Everyone should have a best friend who sends them a spreadsheet full of carefully curated videos when you join them in a music fandom, and that’s exactly what Heather did when I jumped on the BTS bandwagon after the Grammys. And one recommendation stood out above all the others.
That was “Magic Shop.”
Heather wrote that it reminded her of what I want NGN to be for people, so I immediately wanted to know what this song was all about.
As soon as I watched the video and read the translated lyrics, I lost it.
Because there it was.
I won’t say obvious things like, “Cheer up”
But I’ll rather share with you my story…
That’s what the whole song is all about. It’s about wanting to help people through the hard times not through toxic positivity or meaningless platitudes but by sharing your story in the hopes that maybe—just maybe—it can help them feel less alone. It’s about creating a safe space for people to go to when they feel like they’re falling apart. And it’s about the ways we see each other and are seen by each other—and how that saves us.
Every word of that song slowly, gently opened up something inside of me that I’d locked away. But one part in particular still makes me wonder how 7 guys from Korea found my journal:
But then, looking back, actually I feel like it’s not that I wanted to become the best
I wanted to comfort and move your heart
I want to take away your sorrow and pain…
Hearing those words was like finally being given permission to be me again. Because deep down, I knew that was the truth. My paralyzing pursuit of perfection was my way of both protecting myself and punishing myself. It’s punishment because I know that there’s no such thing as “the best” writer because writing is one of the most subjective things on Earth, and every single time I felt like I came up short it was the perfect excuse to be cruel to myself. But it was also protection because saying I want to be the best writer is safer than admitting the truth—the soft, vulnerable truth.
I don’t want to be the best writer. I just want to be a good person.
I just want my words to help people.
And it’s amazing that one piece of one song helped me finally admit that.
But that’s what BTS does. That’s the “magic” behind the “Magic Shop.” Their inherent goodness reminds you of the good in you. Their kindness makes you want to be kinder to yourself—and to everyone around you. And their love for each other—despite (and, actually, because of) their differences—makes you value the things that make you unique.
They’re a group of seven very different people, who express themselves in different ways and all have different strengths. Some are very introverted and barely say “I love you” to their family members. Some are extremely extroverted and say “I love you” like it’s as easy as breathing—and are open about wanting to hear it back sometimes too. And that’s not seen as something weird or something to push down. It’s something that makes them special.
“Magic Shop” reflects my favorite truth about BTS: They care. They care a lot. And they all show they care in different ways. Which brings me to Jimin—aka my favorite. In my previous boy band days, I picked a favorite based on vocal abilities, dance skills, or overall attractiveness—and while Jimin ticks all of those boxes, that’s not what drew me to him.
It’s the fact that this man doesn’t know how to care with anything less than his entire self.
Watching Jimin talk about how much he loves people, watching him sit down and cry when the feelings are too strong, watching him laugh until he falls off of chairs, watching him give incredibly thoughtful gifts, watching him throw his entire being into making the most important people in his world feel loved when they’re going through hard times (BTS fans, when I tell you watching Jimin with Tae in Malta changed my life, I’m not exaggerating), and watching the people around him accept all that love and value it gave me a new way of seeing myself at a time when I was just starting to maybe, kind of like myself again.
When I look at Jimin, I see a tiny person with a huge heart—I see the person I know I can be at my best. And sometimes in order to be our best selves after a period away from that person, you have to appreciate those traits in another person first (whether that person is fictional or real). Then, slowly but surely, you start appreciating those traits in yourself again. You start remembering who you can be. And then, slowly but surely, who you can be becomes who you are again.
When I look in the mirror now, I see a tiny person with a huge heart. And I love her. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to say that—and some days it still feels hard. But it’s getting easier. And I have a lot of people to thank for that.
I have this band of vastly different people who make each other—and their fans—feel like being soft and open is its own kind of strength.
I have this little internet family that’s given me the ability to help people through my writing, which has made me feel like I’m doing the one thing I was put on this Earth to do.
And I have my best friend—the person who heard a song about vulnerability and giving people a safe space to feel, and saw me in those lyrics at a time when I didn’t see that version of myself anymore.
I know I’m not the only person who struggled in this last year, and I know that some of you are carrying so much right now—more than any person should have to carry. So it’s my dearest hope that, like this song says, I can comfort and move your heart.
You found me. You recognized me.
I hope I can do the same for you.