keep calm and carry on spinning

There’s a scene in The Secret History between Henry, Francis and, the literary world’s most repressed narrator since Nick Carraway, Sir Richard Papen. It’s pretty lowkey as far as you’d expect from the part of any novel where the circumstances of a murder are described: all of them drinking and sitting in what I think was a living room while Henry tells Richard about the aftermath of the gang’s attempt at a bacchanalia. (Or whatever else it was they took too literally out of The Bacchae.) My memory of the specifics is hazy, but Henry says something about Camila losing her voice — or maybe it was her ability to speak altogether — and something about her elementary French returning to her before her English did. A slow, unpredictable process, so affected was she by their Maenad roleplay, and at some point Richard remembers with a chill that she once came to class with her neck wrapped. They all told Richard it was meningitis. Maybe laryngitis. Richard bought it, because Richard bought everything.

I’m going off on a tangent here, I know. That tells you all you need to know about what this post is going to be like. Over-emotional, with too many details for someone like me who’s so particular about divulging private information that I really shouldn’t be oversharing as much as I consistently do in these blog posts. Quite fake deep, too, but I’m fake deep a lot in these posts. I’m sure no one actually reads them but it’s a very cathartic outlet for me. 

Plus, this will be filed under pop culture melodrama all too accurately. I just know three paragraphs in that it will be my most melodramatic one yet. 

That said — I’m not kidding when I say that TSH scene is the closest representation in my arsenal of how I feel right now, a day after my GOT7 concert. My throat is scratchy, my body keeps cramping up in random places, my heart is aching, I’m day-drinking like a Desperate Housewife of the Greater Toronto Area and I feel a chill each time a relevant memory returns to me from last night. All I need is a thyrsus in place of an ahgabong and the analogy is near perfect, honestly. 

Okay, no, it isn’t. But when I say that GOT7 concerts are the closest I come to Dionysiac ecstasy, I mean it. It was already bad the last time they were here, and that was nearly a year since I swore off k-pop forever. Sure, I was prepared for the same manic joy this time around, maybe tripled since I’ve actually been keeping up with them these past few months — but I wasn’t prepared to rely on Euripidesian comparisons to properly convey how I felt and how I still feel. There’s a sense of heresy here, but since I’ve taken too many pain relievers in the past twelve hours, I think I can be forgiven here for a little bit of hysteria. 

The thing is: I don’t want to be this attached to GOT7. Theirs is an area of the k-pop world that is and always will be a pain to belong to; too many controversies, too much honesty, guaranteed secondhand embarrassment, a serious reconsideration of how much you’re willing to use your critical lens and how much you’d rather prioritize your dopamine levels. It’s all by accident that I’m even here: I came home from the SHINee concert last March 2017 and decided it would be fun to check out GOT7’s cake decoration video, then I blinked and somehow I was in Section 108 of Scotiabank Arena last night, occupying a seat that isn’t my own and screaming fanchants I didn’t even realize I knew. I’m a reluctant fan, not least because, for all that I’ve had so many hyperfixations, I’m a person of many inhibitions. Emotions don’t often externally manifest in degrees accurate to how they do internally, and I like it that way. I take pride in it, sometimes. You’ll never find me screaming manically in a concert — until you do, because my affection for GOT7 is real and undeniable, and the crescendo it reached last night was even realer. 

Objectively speaking, there are plenty of rational factors that led to last night. The fact that 2017, even if I didn’t know it for certain then, was already shaping up to be one of the worst years of my life by the time I got into GOT7. They were the closest I had to SHINee when I really needed something new to be what SHINee was to me in Grade 9. I already knew two of its members — known in my mid-teens as JJ Project — from Dream High 2 and their absolute legend of a debut song. I knew two others from their SBS Roommate appearances. One funny baking-oriented video and a quick peek at their impeccable dance practices and I was sold. I needed to be sold. So I was, and it hadn’t required effort at all. 

My relationship with one of the JJ Project boys — and coincidentally the leader of the group — was especially complicated in 2017, so I was only half-serious when I joked about needing a new JJ Project album so many years since their last and only EP. I was as horrified as I was pleased when it ended up happening the summer of that year. Bu jeez, did they deliver. Verse 2 is and easily always will be my favourite album of all time, k-pop or otherwise. It hit all the right notes with me: sound-wise, aesthetic-wise, lyrics-wise. 

Most crucially, it also came at the perfect time.

The day my father [redacted, because I’m sparing anyone actually reading this from the excessive emo details, and because I’m cringing badly enough after my Adam Parrish story], this JJ Project stage dropped. I know, because that memory is very, very clear, and sometimes, when I listen to this song by itself, it comes back without me wanting it to. Like my sports anime problem, “Tomorrow, Today” by JJ Project has become a permanent vehicle for the time period it belongs to in my life. 

Play this music video for me and this is what my head will conjure in turn: going to Montreal with a friend that summer; the small Kanken bag and the fidget spinner and the vegetable chips she carried around in our 8-hour bus ride; our dream apartment of an AirBnB; the weight of my Minolta in my small hands; the dilemma of whether I’m supposed to ask for a pain au chocolat or a chocolatine; the joy of finding so many Anne Carson books available at Drawn & Quarterly; being too anxious to tell the salespeople at Sarah & Tom’s that I’m looking for a physical copy of Verse 2, only to fumble when one of them asks me, que cherchez-vous; watching The Talented Mr. Tom Ripley; our paranoia that night when a man seemingly follows us while we’re out for dinner; ordering in Foodora instead. 

All of that, concentrated in just the first several beats of one song. All of that, and these as well: joking with my father about bumping into Milos Raonic at Montreal; my father dropping me off at the bus station; my friend and I swinging by Starbucks before our bus leaves and me telling someone out loud for the first time that my father was leaving soon; the way my heart caved in and my stomach sunk when I realized the truth of what I said; me texting my father about our close call with that man; the fact that the last real message I will ever receive from him before he left Canada is him asking me what time I was coming back to Hamilton from Montreal. 

“Tomorrow, Today” is a song about young adult woes. About the future, mostly, which at age 20 was all the more relevant to me. I love it for that. I love the entire album for feeling like a creative representation of everything I am and everything I felt and feel and everything I need myself and my work to be. In that, it contains enough warmth to dull the anger I should have felt back then and to replace it with sadness that has stayed with me since the last time I will likely ever see my father. So if you ask me what the real glue is when it comes to my deep-rooted connection to GOT7 — it’s JJ Project, and it’s Verse 2. 

It didn’t save my mental health, though. Of course not. Not with that amount of unreleased baggage, not with my stubbornness about pretending it will go away with time somehow as if it’s grief and not lasting trauma that should be dealt with accordingly. With school around to distract me, I loosened my grip on GOT7 come September. Not enough time all of a sudden, not enough space past the anxiety of being in a Latin seminar with Ph.D students. Not as much a need, because those days were the most vulnerable I’ve been with the people I see everyday, the most upfront I’ve been about what I was going through, and therefore the least I’ve needed escapism and denial. It embarrasses me now, but hey, maybe it shouldn’t. 

I let go completely when Jonghyun from SHINee did what he did. But that’s not on GOT7, nor the k-pop world. I let go for me, mostly.

That was December 2017. I was briefly hospitalized in the aftermath of that. Then I was shuttled off to DBT for my less than ideal ideations and then to non-specialized therapy. There was a brief stint with a group that wasn’t GOT7 (and who must now not be named) but this hadn’t needed to be as intense, with a therapist there instead each week to cushion what’s left. 

When I was unable to keep seeing my therapist, I picked up GOT7 once more. 

The pattern there isn’t elusive at all. 

It was during this period of return to GOT7 that I attended their 2018 concert. I figured I would attend for the sake of my attachment from the year before — but I surprised myself with an amount of investment previously unseen in any concert prior. I came home from that concert with an unexpected amount of post-concert depression, and with the grudging realization that alright, okay, maybe nothing will ever hit me quite like GOT7 does. 

Still, that wasn’t enough to stop me from falling away from GOT7 once more when I started another round of CBT come September 2018. When I tuned back in during the promotions for their new album that fall, it was without hysterical attachment; I was having fun, and it was this casual fondness for the group that I took with me as I said goodbye to 2018 and hello to 2019. 

It was GOT7 I held onto as well, during the first anniversary of Jonghyun’s death. 

By February 2019, when I realized I missed GOT7 without it having anything to do with a bad period of my life, I resigned myself to the fact that this is a thing now. I imprinted on those motherfuckers in some irreversible way. It was easier once I’ve accepted that: like, yeah, it’s kind of childish and stupid, but they’re just so fucking singular in the collection of people they have and somehow they’re my only consistent, reliable source of harmless happiness.

Sue me

My point with all this chronicling is that — if you boiled my attachment to GOT7 down into its bare foundations, it’s really just a series of coincidences. Opportunities for a hyperfixation that happened to be a little bit too on the nose: JJ Project was there for my existentialism, the rest of the group as a whole was there to cheer me up because the same things that make them such a headache to follow closely are the things that make them so, so, so hilarious.

So in retrospect, maybe I shouldn’t be surprised at all this time by how bad my PCD is, Euripidean metaphors and all. I wasn’t surprised last night, certainly, to be shrieking fanchants. This band unlocks something feral in me, my guy. It was worth every nickel I paid to be so close to the stage, and it’s definitely worth the scratch in my throat and this looming fever. They make me so happy. It’s mind-blowing. Not in a hyperfixating way, not in a fangirlish way, but in a weirdly innocent way. The kind of bittersweet happiness you don’t have to understand — like coming down from a rare good day, or bonding with someone new for the first time and making them laugh, or closing all the tabs after writing an essay that barely made it before 11:59. Catharsis that leaves you feeling triumphant for some reason. Fulfilled. As close to contentment as you possibly can be. The knowledge that you’ll never be able to relive that night settling in a bit sourly, sure, but not enough to distract from the fact that you had such a night at all.

A different of visceral memories now, then, when “Eclipse” — their most recent title song and the first one they did last night — comes on: the burst of lights when they enter the stage; the ear-piercing screaming around me; the tears; the heat behind my own eyes halfway through the show; the need to bottle what it’s like to hear them talking to us live and in person; the gorgeous set design; the way the lyrics flashed in both Korean and English in the wide screens behind them. The rush the night before to sell my old ticket after I got a floor seat. The kindness of that one security lady who noticed I was too short to see properly and brought me to an emptier section so I had a better view of the stage. The odd validation in seeing other people’s tweets and knowing I was there with them. Sweat cooling; phone overheating; appetite missing from last night to now in all the excitement.  

Fully intending to be cheesy, it was my relationship with security and lack thereof that brought GOT7 to the place it now occupies in my life, if a lot more innocently than it once did. It was also JJ Project’s slight nudge to keep going at life regardless of it all — even if I don’t really trust in that sentiment — that helped me reach 2018 at all. It is maybe fitting, then, that this latest album is titled Spinning Top: Between Security and Insecurity. Even more so that the corresponding concert tour is called Keep Spinning

I can now think fuck yeah, I’ll keep spinning and mean it on my better days. Not quite a spinning top between security and insecurity anymore, either. Still in desperate pursuit of security, yes, but not quite as easily helpless as before. As I pump more medications into my body and attend more and more therapy sessions, I’m starting to appreciate the happiness I’m capable of that doesn’t have to be defined by the trauma it stands adjacent to. Which doesn’t quite land well here, seeing as it was rocky mental health that chained me to GOT7 — but it wasn’t the dissonance between trauma and genuine, unadulterated joy that defined my experience last night. That’s too easy an explanation, and too predictable of me. There’s no explanation at all, really, no comprehending whatever primal ancestral instincts the concert unlocked in me last night. No need to explain or comprehend, at least. All I know is that I wanted it to last forever. No other social event in my life has that distinction.

And despite what got me here and the hesitance that still defines this whole situation, I don’t mind one bit that they have this particular honour. If it had to be anyone, I’m glad it’s the group that can make me laugh within half a second of watching them in anything. 

But I might need a week before I can watch my concert videos without tearing up.