At Song Last: BTS helped me embrace my Korean-American identity


Ryan Song | Daily Trojan

While everyone stayed up until midnight on Jan. 1 to make their toasts to 2018, my family waited for K-Pop sensation BTS to perform its hit “MIC Drop” on Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. Certainly, I was proud to watch this group perform on live television, just how its impressive YouTube statistics completely shocked me. However, this moment’s significance extended beyond that. Generally speaking, I was impressed by each member’s distinct personalities, as they didn’t seem to feel relegated to one characteristic, a problem that the group helped me resolve recently. Indeed, BTS helped me acknowledge my Korean heritage after I distanced myself from it.

Every New Year’s, my family meets with our relatives. I remember eating tteokguk, a rice cake soup, and listening to everyone talk in Korean. Because I don’t speak the language, this annoyed me, as they never seemed to connect with me in English. However, I enjoyed visiting their businesses because they spoke English to their customers. It obviously wasn’t their first language, but I appreciated it when they spoke the same language I did.

During high school, I became heavily involved in activities related to my Korean heritage. One summer, I flew to Washington, D.C. to advocate for North Korean refugees; another, I walked 40 miles in support of Liberty in North Korea, an organization that smuggles North Koreans refugees to safety. My Eagle Scout project even involved interviewing Korean War veterans about their personal experiences.

Art by Effren Villanueva | Daily Trojan

After a while, I began to feel like these activities were forced upon me. The problem was not the activities themselves, but rather the extent to which people overemphasized their importance. While I prepared for my black belt test, a family friend said to think about the North Korean orphans that didn’t have this opportunity, but her words failed to inspire me. I wanted to find a balance between my American and Korean backgrounds, but I felt my family pushing me to associate myself with the latter.

My inner conflict culminated this past summer when I broke down in tears in a parking lot. What began as a simple conversation between me and my parents transformed into an hour of verbal sparring, as I let out everything that bothered me about my Korean-centered upbringing. My parents calmly clarified why they emphasized my heritage so much. In the end, I understood their perspective.

Although I found peace with my heritage after this conversation, I still felt distant from it, as I intentionally avoided joining any Asian groups last semester. However, when I discovered BTS, my appreciation for my heritage was rekindled. It didn’t come from the fact that they were a group from Korea, but rather from the fact that I discovered something related to my heritage that genuinely interested me. This past break, for the first time, I asked my mom to teach me Korean, as I tried reading the lyrics to BTS’ hit songs “DNA” and “MIC Drop.”

It seems fitting that this group led me back to the culture that I’ve avoided for so long. For the first time since 2012, I’m incredibly proud to be Korean American. And as we start the new semester, having finally settled into USC as a transfer student, this renewed appreciation could not have come at a more perfect time.

Ryan Song is a sophomore majoring in business administration. His column, “At Song Last,” runs every other Thursday.

15 replies
  1. SaRiaka
    SaRiaka says:

    Awww, I’m happy that BTS helped you reconnect with your roots. this kind of things happens also often when you have children and you begin to want to transmit.
    Korea can indeed really be proud of BTS, they’re incredibly talentend, hardworking, polite, kind, genuine, proud of where they come from, there’s a strong bond between them, even after 8 years they still leave together, their teamwork is unprecedented, meaning that they convey lots of Korean values. And at the same time they’re funny, dorky, cool, which makes them also very modern, relatable & ppl want to identify to them.

  2. miz keane
    miz keane says:

    I heard similar stories about bts inspiring people to accept themselves, work hard to achive their dreams, enjoy life and be happy during the journey. Bts stories are relatable to many unhappy people, the underdogs. How to find happiness and reach the dreams persistenky and positively. They are really one if a kind singers,

  3. 🔍고민보다 go!!!!🔎
    🔍고민보다 go!!!!🔎 says:

    BTS really do amazing things as in breaking language barriers and music charts that no other Korean artists has done multiple times. Your story was very beautiful and don’t let go of your heritage. As a ARMY, who is not Korean, but is a half Guatemalan, half Mexican American girl who does not understand Korean at all, but however I love their music and them all, BTS is one of a kind. they made me think differently and be more openminded and yet accept music, no matter what language it is. Their music brings peace in me and really shows off that asian representation we been waiting for a long time in the music charts. also please don’t forget who you are and where you came from. Although BTS did come in the perfect time. <3

  4. Rose Weaver
    Rose Weaver says:

    Please embrace your korean heritage while you can. My mom came to the US in 1959 after meeting my dad while he was stationed in South Korea. She lost contact with her family and didn’t speak to them again until 2005. By that time, her mom had passed away. She missed her home country terribly. My dad was a good provider but didn’t encourage her native culture. We, as her children, missed out. Because he wasn’t supportive, she never taught us Korean. She passed away in 2015. At my age of 49, I now feel completely cheated out of my Korean heritage. I’d love to learn to speak korean, but the person who could’ve taught me, and who I’d love to converse with, is no longer here. My daughter likes BTS and through them, we’ve renewed our interest in our korean side. But there are some things you can’t get back once they’re gone. Don’t make the same mistake. Be good to your parents and learn as much about your culture as you can.

  5. JASMIN LINTAG
    JASMIN LINTAG says:

    The article was simply written which spoke of a boy’s (man’s) search for his identity. He was at a crossroads, until he found himself in BTS songs. Their songs do tell stories that we can relate to. I’m happy for you Ryan. You’ll shine even brighter!

  6. Mai
    Mai says:

    I’m so happy and proud when I reading this article.. Hoping you will meet our boys.. Fighting!! thank you for sharing this story of yours.. It means a lot for us ( ArmyFam) and BTS.

  7. joyous-sunshine
    joyous-sunshine says:

    I’m very happy for you!! Thank you for sharing the meaningful impact the boys have had on you. I hope you’ll be able to see them in person one day and not just on TV.

  8. MH
    MH says:

    I’m happy for you!! I can relate so much, I’m a full Japanese-American who can’t speak Japanese at all because of the way that I was brought up, it’s a constant feeling of tug-of-war between your two “homelands.” Liking BTS has helped me realize that I should just be unapologetic about who I am and what I like, I’m glad that they are helping you on your journey :)

  9. stopowczyped
    stopowczyped says:

    oh you were doing something really meaningful with your live, helping North Korean rufugees etc.
    I understand that you could feel a little burdened at some point of your life because it seems like some of your activities were heavily influenced by your parents (doesn’t mean you didn’t enjoy doing it) but maybe the BTS interest came just from you and allowed you to connect more emotionally with your Korean heritage. it’s great that you feel at peace with yourself now :)

  10. MP
    MP says:

    The impact BTS has is vast. From Asian Americans FINALLY having entertainment media representation on par with other entertainers, not in its own niche or stereotype (yes, it’s still in a kpop niche but breaking out of those boundaries regardless of what kpop community decides) to those that feel literal mental healing with their lyric messages and identity.

  11. Proud2BTStan
    Proud2BTStan says:

    I can relate to your story so much and Thank You for sharing. I hope to see you at one of BTS’ concerts in the future :D

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