[This series is a play on writer’s block.]
I’ve always been fascinated by fans of Korean male groups or male artists who go through separation anxiety once the time comes for oppa to serve in the army.
I couldn’t understand why one would feel so sad when they don’t even live with the person, how much more spend every day with him; when most of the time, they were probably just looking at his photos, watching him from a screen, supporting him from a distance; when they’re fans, not family nor friends.
But you never really understand until you find yourself in the same shoes.
I still vividly remember when I first met Jung Yonghwa through a TV screen one weekend at home while I was channel-surfing, looking for something to watch. KBS caught my eye. No. To put it more accurately, it was this dude who did.
My first reaction was: “Who is this good-looking dude and how come I do not know who he is?” I watch a lot of Korean dramas and films but this was the first time I was seeing him.
I even remember the scene. He was preparing to go into the boardroom in his nifty suit to be introduced as the new director. “Is he wearing earrings?” I was riveted to the screen only to realize that, wait, I’ve given this KBS drama a try just a few days before. I was curious since it starred Yoon Eunhye and Lee Donggun. But I dropped it like a hot potato because I did not like the plot and barely even noticed this good-looking man whose name I did not know. So what was one to do? Google.
Jung Yonghwa. Leader of CNBLUE.
CNBLUE struck a familiar note. A friend has been trying to bait me into their music for years, even giving me an album. I wasn’t really interested since I was busy fangirling my J-pop group. Who knew one day, all it would take was a drama scene? I guess the flatscreen resolution helped in boosting the interest.
That was 2013.
I wasn’t really keen on watching a drama whose verdict, as far as I was concerned, was already made. So I checked his filmography. He didn’t have that much drama work. Oh he debuted in You Are Beautiful? I skimmed through that drama and didn’t really like the male lead. WAIT. HE WAS THE SECOND LEAD I WAS ROOTING FOR? Wonders never cease. But no, I wasn’t keen on watching that again when the ending will still be the same.
I told my friend that I was finally taking an interest in the CNBLUE leader and could she recommend what to watch? She recommended We Got Married and Heartstrings. I wasn’t interested in watching a variety show so I settled for Heartstrings after looking up the plot. Music-themed. I was sold.
So while I first met him “officially” as Park Seju, I fell for Lee Shin’s charms.
I found that snaggle tooth that used to be his trademark charm, before he had dental correction, very endearing. Jung Yonghwa, at that age, was just about to go into full bloom.
I loved the OST of the drama and it was inevitable that I would look up CNBLUE’s music next. You know those first throes of
love fangirling, when you are like a sponge absorbing everything, when YouTube is a black hole and when the road ahead is an endless possibility of spazzing and flailing paved with flowers.
(Trivia: One of those videos would lead me to the band’s performance at Baeksang in 2012 where they performed Hey You! That’s how I ended up rooting for him and Park Shinhye.)
Then I remember that a year or so before, I covered this K-pop event with a gazillion of factory-issued idols performing one after the other. I didn’t know any of them except for CNBLUE (whose name I recognized thanks to my friend’s endless PR) and I probably bothered the fangirls seated beside me asking who was performing every time a different group came out (but they all looked the same!). I went home with a headache that day, vowing not to watch a K-pop show again, and ending up writing an article with nothing good to say, except for CNBLUE.
What a plot twist that there I was some time later about to embark on a fangirl journey with the band. I have since made friends with fellow fans; went to watch CNBLUE’s concerts in Busan, Nagoya, Osaka, Tokyo, Bangkok, Manila; went to watch Yonghwa’s solo concerts in Singapore and Bangkok; got my taste of what it’s like fangirling Korean artistes including the vicious fanwars, the vitriolic culture, the over-stalking that sometimes does not leave the poor artistes any personal space. Until now, I still am not desensitized to K-pop fan culture.
Exposure to the fandom has undoubtedly given me loads of materials to write about. But I also have to credit CNBLUE for being my trigger to move heaven and earth to finally see my J-pop group in concert. At the time, I’ve been an Arashi fan for eight years and yet, I haven’t been to their concert once (Asia Song Festival in 2006 in Gwangju, South Korea, does not count). But there I was, a newly minted CNBLUE fan and I was already on my way to my first live a few months since becoming a fan.
It’s not easy fangirling an artiste when you’re not considered a “real fan” but I have come to fully embrace being a passerby fan. Still, sitting in the peanut gallery looking in from the outside does not exclude anyone from the joys nor spare them from the sorrows of fangirling.
The past two years in particular have tried the loyalty of fans (even for those only “passing by”) as challenges confronted Yonghwa and the band. Challenges that theatened their career and the future of the band. It made me realize that K-pop is like a cauldron on top of a fire ready to boil over any time, from the vicious fanwars to the toxic media environment that thrives on scandals and witch-hunting.
It hasn’t been an easy period either especially for Yonghwa that there were times I questioned whether he had a magnet for problems. He is very talented, good-looking, charming, even very careful of scandals, but yet he was also extremely besieged by them. For someone who has been given so much, so much has also been taken away.
And as a fan, I can only watch from the sidelines and hope that everything will be okay again. I have never been the kind of fan who would take the cudgel for my faves, even in my 13 years as an Arashi fan. That’s what an agency and managers are for. But never for one second did I doubt that he is strong and can take care of himself. He won’t be the leader of one of Korea’s most prominent bands nor would he pursue a career in an industry that feeds on youth, ideals and dreams–then breaks them–if he is not mentally, physically and emotionally strong.
But funny how sometimes things also happen that would put everything in perspective. As I said, I first met Park Seju but it was Lee Shin’s charms I fell for. Then I became a fan of Jung Yonghwa and CNBLUE. Admittedly, I’m more a fan of JYH the musician than JYH the actor. That’s how it was, that’s how it will be.
And I couldn’t resist but slide this photo in:
A week ago, Yonghwa enlisted to the 15th Infantry Division training center near the DMZ. His enlistment has been pushed up, leaving a lot of people unprepared and barely no time to bid him farewell. As the day neared, the reality started sinking in, especially when he shared his photos a day before entering the camp. He looked oh so fine in his buzz cut.
But it was also then I started to fully understand those K-pop fans I used to observe whenever their oppa was about to enlist. And I am glad I do not have to go through this as a fan of a J-pop group.
I felt sad, worried but also at the same time, I knew that like how Yonghwa had done in his life and career so far, he will succeed, even charm his comrades or officers. He will overcome. We shouldn’t forget that Jung Yonghwa is a survivor and he’s also a champ.
News and a few photos have slowly filtered out of the camp since the time Soldier Jung entered and it’s been very heartening to see how he’s doing, including being squadron leader and company commander. Leader-nim is off to a good start.
I am looking forward to seeing a more mature, manly Jung Yonghwa when he returns to civilian life on Dec. 4, 2019, after 21 months, 639 days, and give and take 15,336 hours. No doubt that army life would give him a breather from the toxic environment in the entertainment industry, even if he would have to deal with the military’s own taxing one. But I look forward to being reacquainted with an older, stronger, hopefully wiser Jung Yonghwa, who carries with him lessons and heartbreaks from the past like a badge on his uniform, who will scale higher heights. But I also hope that he will still take with him that earnest little boy who dreamed of simple joys and great things.
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