For the better part of 2021, I made a hobby out of collecting K-pop albums and photocards, much like any despairing soul who wanted a lifeline during the lockdown. The spark that started this all was NCT’s 2020 outing “Resonance,” whose four photobooks I mistook for actual NCT books (well, in a way they are). With the resolve to finally dip into the K-pop merch waters, I managed to track down copies of all the “Resonance” album versions in one afternoon (the Departure version of “Resonance Pt. 2” is my favorite). Thanks to a friend’s NCT 101 Google Doc and the photobooks, I was able to memorize all 23 members (yes, 23) by name and by face. But the journey to NCTzen-ification doesn’t end there. There are hours of shows, unit discographies, and a lot of fanmade content that you’ll have to scour through to even get the most basic inside jokes (e.g. Lucas’s “Oh, you’re NANA??” and Taeil’s “We’re always thankful, and we love you”).
As a then-Winwin stan, I was ecstatic that my first comeback was WayV’s “Kick Back.” But things took quite a turn when I became obsessed with NCT Dream, who eventually released their first full album, “Hot Sauce,” in May 2021. Before then, I’d only heard of fans buying multiple copies of albums for photocards and other collectible inclusions (bookmarks, postcards, etc.). During the “Hot Sauce” era, I became that fan. Let’s just say that after the “Hello Future” repackage, I looked at my “K-pop merch gastos tracker” for all the NCT Dream merch I bought in the past few months (I also bought all of the past NCT Dream albums in anticipation of “Hot Sauce”) and was so horrified at how expensive everything was that I swore never to do that ever again.
A week before “Begin Again: K-Pop Edition,” I still had a sense of disbelief that I was going to watch one of my favorite K-pop acts in the flesh, even if it would just be OT5 and not the full member lineup (I’m a Jaemin stan, if you must know). I felt fortunate that “Begin Again” was going to be my first K-pop concert ever. I was a Shawol (Shinee fan) when I first became a K-pop stan so I was happy to find that Key was in the lineup. I’m not exactly a RUi but one of my favorite songs this year so far is WEi’s “Super Bumpy” (I also found Kim Yohan’s panty incident hilarious that I come back to it now and then if I need a laugh). And though I wasn’t familiar with ALICE, I was excited by the prospect of going into a concert with the potential of discovering a new girl group to stan; a respite from all the boy groups that I listen to (I highlighly recommend their pop-funk number “No Big Deal”).
For most of the show, I remained seated, letting the audience members around me lose themselves in the euphoric moment of having our favorite boys and girls sing our favorite songs. Sadly, I am not the type of stan to memorize the Romanized lyrics of K-pop songs, so I mostly found myself singing along to how I understand the lyrics — not that you really need it for songs like “Super Bumpy.” The connection I have remains purely emotional, like hanging out with friends, except these girls and boys are professional dancers and make good music. The boys of WEi danced so passionately that they had to shed their jackets during their ment, noting how hot it is in the Philippines. I don’t know how NCT Dream did it — they were the most balot out of all the performers.
I always find it hard to listen to “Hello Future” without misting up, or worse crying. The song felt like one of those pandemic anthems. It arrived in my life, prolonged in limbo by more than a year of lockdown.
In all the concerts I’ve been to, I always had that feeling that what I was experiencing drew a thin line between something spiritual and unadulterated bliss. It’s not so much that you’re breathing the same air as your favorite artist — which many of the tweets after (perhaps even during) that “Begin Again” reminds me of; it offers another plane of existence where you and your bias inhabit; the pulse-pounding experience of hearing your favorite songs in an expansive space, songs that you usually just blast in your head through your earphones. When I watched Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way Ball” a few days away from Pride Month, it felt more like a celebratory act of transgression than witnessing an arena-wide performance. One Direction’s “On the Road Again Tour,” 14 days before Zayn Malik left the group, was both getting close to a group I’ve devoted my life to for years (not joking) and singing along to every last bit of the setlist. Last Sunday’s “Begin Again: K-Pop Edition,” was an approximation of the two aforementioned concerts, though in bits and snapshots for when the acts finally came to the Philippines for a full-fledged concert. Every segment felt a little fleeting, not so much because of the short setlists but more so because I couldn’t believe it was unfolding then, right in front of my eyes.
There are fleeting moments in “Begin Again.” Blink and you might have missed them. There was ALICE staying for a few seconds onstage after their last song, “Jackpot,” grateful for the warm welcome by Filipino BLRIS, WEi’s Dahyeon being carried by Junseo, NCT Dream’s Jeno touching Chenle’s cheek. The pandemic has robbed all of us of two years worth of everything: birthdays, vacations, celebrations, and concerts and as “Begin Again: K-Pop Edition” was my first ever concert since the pandemic began, it took some getting used to before I convinced myself it wasn’t a dream.
It was during the “Hello Future” performance where everything sunk in. I always find it hard to listen to “Hello Future” without misting up, or worse crying. The song felt like one of those pandemic anthems. It arrived in my life, prolonged in limbo by more than a year of lockdown. When Jeno sings “I met your future self,” I always think of asking future me, “How are you? Have you stopped wishing you were dead? Are you still collecting NCT merch?” “Hello Future” is structured like a Pixar film, with carefully placed swings and swells, propelling you to a projected future that is bright and cheery. And of course, the boys of NCT Dream are there with you. The song takes on a higher meaning as we’re wrapped up with anxiety after the elections. Maybe I’ll ask Jeno about my future self again.
Special thanks to CDM Entertainment.