Growing up in Dubai, I only knew and listened to Hindi music. I wasn’t explicitly told not to listen to English language songs, but I always had a feeling it would be frowned upon as my parents never listened to any foreign music.
That all changed when I was in the seventh grade, and my sister introduced me to Coldplay. A little later, a friend recommended “Fireflies” by Owl City, and I was hooked. It helped me feel like I had my own personality, separate from my parents. Hindi movie music at the time was all about romance, which was not so relatable for me at 12-years-old (not that a million fireflies ever lit up the room as I fell asleep either, but I wanted them to).
As a result of my introduction to Owl City at what was a formative age, I started listening to indie music in high school. Of Monsters and Men was a particular favorite artist of mine at the time, as were Beirut and Radical Face. The music almost defined me in a way. For instance, none of my friends listened to the same artists I did, which helped me differentiate myself from them. The music also mentally and emotionally transported me to spaces that made me feel safe and comfortable; which notably, was a feeling I would keep chasing my whole life.
In fact, this last point can be noted when I moved to India for college. So, I desperately clung to my favorite music as it was one of the only solid familiarities in light of my newfound displacement. I was both sad in India and homesick for Dubai. Overall, going through life was just more difficult in India, and I struggled to make a country that felt like I didn’t belong truly feel like home.
My way of dealing with all the discomfort I was feeling was by listening to American music, for it helped me not feel bound to India.
What’s more, is my second semester of college was even more difficult than the first. I began to suffer from what I suspect was depression; although, I was never clinically diagnosed. A strange side effect of my being depressed was I could not listen to music at all, even elevator music would make me nauseous. This strange feat could perhaps be contributed to the link between hearing and stress, and how the latter impacts the former. And although my depression got better with time, I still could not get back to listening to my own indie music, which deeply disappointed me. Sadly, I felt as though I had lost a meaningful part of myself.
Toward the end of my second year at college, I faced more life changes that made me stop listening to music again. My parents were moving away from Dubai, wherein I used to find comfort during vacations from school. Consequently, the sense of feeling as if I didn’t belong anywhere deepened. I began to understand what it really meant to be ‘uprooted.’ These feelings combined became too much for me to handle, and it showed in what then became a familiar aversion to music.
Later, however, a miracle happened.
I was staying at my friend’s house for a few days, and I came home one evening after a particularly bad day, almost in tears. She took one look at me and gently steered me to the kitchen to take care of some milk that was heating up on the stove. I nodded and stared at the pot, willing myself not to cry until I vaguely heard some music playing through her speakers.
A minute later, I realized my foot was tapping along to the music. I paid a little more attention to see if I could recognize the song but I couldn’t put my finger on what was playing. My friend came back into the kitchen and said “It’s K-Pop!” when she noticed my confusion and intrigue. I opened the notes app on my phone to take down the name of the song: “Second Grade” by BTS. “And this one playing now?” I asked. “Boyz With Fun! By BTS again,” my friend replied.
I proceeded to ask her for a list of songs; instead, she sat me down in front of her laptop and started playing BTS music videos. I saw five videos in a row in the time it took for her to finish doing laundry. “Who’s that?” I pointed at the screen excitedly when she came back into her bedroom. She laughed and told me their names, and though I promptly forgot, I was already well on my way to becoming a big fan.
When I went back to college, I started listening to more of their songs. The same friend introduced me to other K-Pop artists, and slowly I started discovering some of them on my own. This persistent tension I had been feeling for years while in college evaporated. And I felt like I could breathe again.
That was five years ago. From 2016 to 2018 I only listened to K-Pop, as Indian and Western music caused memories to resurface surrounding difficult times in my life. And though I returned to the Hindi music of my childhood in 2018 when I moved to London, subsequently reconnecting with my childhood memories and nostalgia. Kpop was and is still my main genre of choice today.
Is Kpop easier for me because it doesn’t carry the weight of cultural expectations? Because it doesn’t remind me of versions of myself I don’t want to remember? I still endure tough times and have bad days, but Kpop has helped me cope when I’m not feeling like myself more effectively than any other genre.
It feels good to pop my earphones in and lose myself in the beats and melodies, and even lyrics that I’m slowly starting to understand without English translations. Ultimately, I’ve found a community here. A community that is so welcoming and immediately accepting of me as I am. And perhaps this was the home I was looking for all along, for this is a culture that naturally embraces me as I embrace it right back.
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