Korean American rapper Yoon Mirae on ODG Noraebang
the kids are alright
A friend recently clued me into ODG Noraebang, a wonderful South Korean music show on YouTube, sponsored by local fashion company ODG, where megastars of the past meet today’s teenagers, most of whom have no clue who they are—and then they open their mouths and sing. It’s surprisingly poignant, especially when viewers starts to realise their age—can it be that these songs, those voices that one held a nation in thrall, that had boys and girls of all ages singing rebellion at the top of their lungs in the subway, on the streets, outside their classroom, now only draw blank stares from our youth? Or perhaps you were a salaryman already, knocking back drinks after work with your bosses, and the song reminds you of a forgotten someone, or you were older still, a mother perhaps, quietly enjoying music on a radio in the short moment of stillness while the kids were at school. Wherever you fall on the spectrum, the show emerges as a moving meditation on time, ageing, and the timelessness of music.
For me, as an artist, the show made me think a lot about my own practice, what makes a piece of art timeless, and my own relationship with my art. I thought about a recent conversation with literary translators and writers Anton Hur and Tiffany Tsao, where we shared our struggles with publishing and the dangers of forming too much attachment to our art. It is, after all, from us, of us, and almost impossible sometimes not to feel that it is who we are. But the truth is, once a piece of art leaves us, once it is done, it is no longer a part of us. It belongs to the world, a world where it takes on a life of its own, that is completely out of our control. It may never find that life, or sometimes, only find it years later.
“I walk into this job every day ready to quit if needed,” Anton said. I’ve been thinking about his words ever since. When I first started writing, I—like all novice writers—experienced huge emotional highs each time I submitted a piece, anxiously clicking on Submittable every day, waiting for the status button to turn green. The first time it flashed ACCEPTED, I screamed.
But the life of a writer, of almost any kind of artist really, is littered with rejection, disappointments and failure, the pay and recognition we receive shockingly incommensurate with the time and energy we put in. Over time, I learnt to detach my self-worth from how a piece of work was received, as another writer friend Damyanti Biswas put it, once the work leaves you, you should think of it as a bar of soap on the supermarket aisle. I didn’t quite get it when she first said it, I do now, but I’m still working on putting it in practice.
Which is why it was both moving and humbling to watch megastars like Kim Bum Soo (Stairway to Heaven OST 보고싶다 I Miss You) and Baek Ji Young (Secret Garden OST 그 남자 That Man, hit anthem of the 2000s 총맞은 것처럼 Like Being Hit by a Bullet) reflect on their own struggles with their art and finding joy in singing again for a public which no longer finds them relevant, or even recognises them. One of my favourite moments of the show was when Baek asks a teenager to reflect on the lyrics of break-up ballad 거짓말 이라도 해서 널 보고싶어 (badly translated, imho, as I Still Love You A Lot) and in turn, it is the teenager who reminds her of why we sing, why we make art, and how we go on living:
인생 살다보면 깨질 수도 있고 잘 될 수도 있고 그런 거니까 털털하게 살아가시는 게 좋을 것 같아요
Life can go swimmingly or it can be full of upsets, just shake it off and live however you like
Baek Z Young on ODG Noraebang
Happy New Year!
We’re coming into my second year of writing this Substack now—thank you for following me and my work all this while, I look forward to sharing more of my writing with you in the coming months, and I hope you have a wonderful year ahead.