Tentative K-pop favorites

Music Spotlight

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It wasn’t easy for me to accept K-pop music. At first it seemed to be highly unmusical and mostly about eye candy, but eventually I did find a “way in” and my tastes have expanded a bit. I still remain ignorant at large, with a lot of areas in K-pop left to try. For example, I haven’t found a boy group I like (probably due to the same initial barrier as mentioned).

Favorite groups

Apink

Hundreds of songs in, I finally found a group whose songs I generally liked. Apink’s image as a girl group is one of girly innocence, which is a lot less common than girl groups that emphasize dancing and sexiness. Their songs also tend to be happy/cheerful, as opposed to more universally common themes of romantic troubles.

My favorite song from Apink, or at least the one I’ve been most obsessed with:

I like the Japanese version of this song a bit better, but this is about K-pop šŸ˜›

AOA

I don’t really “follow” musicians or other artists, so I literally just found out their name stands forĀ Ace of Angels. Anyway, AOA definitely do sexier songs, with most of them deliberately featuring some form of ass wiggling. Unlike other groups where dancing is a major (or even primary) part of the appeal, I’d say their dancing enhances their songs (whereas I feel like many other groupsĀ rely on dancing, fashion, rap, etc over musicality.)

For a favorite, I have to pick Excuse Me. Other songs such as Confused, Like a Cat, and Miniskirt have catchier beats with more substance, but the choreography (not as well represented in the music video) for Excuse Me is catchy and unashamedly empowering.Ā Let’s be honestā€”both men and women may seek to recreate Choa’s legendary moment.

Stellar

Girl group Stellar mainly gained popularity (and notoriety) after adopting a more provocative image, with some of their content being rated 19+ including two videos banned for being sexually suggestive. A fair part of K-pop is somewhat sexualized (due to certain bans in Korea contributing to repression and such elements being redirected into other forms such as K-pop culture) but not necessarily provocative. However, Stellar’s better known music videos are downright provocative, featuring erotic dance moves, needlessly suggestive outfits, andĀ completely unsubtle symbolism. Their success when relying on skin exposure was accompanied by significant backlash.Ā Did they take things too far? I think what they produced was bold and not entirely tasteless. Unsurprisingly, the girls said they accepted that they were in a “do or die” situation but it was never their intention to be so provocative. Ultimately, they could not be successful during their attempts to tone things down and the group has subsequently disbanded.

From the intense and provocative to their original innocent and care-free style, I actually appreciate the diversity of their songs.Ā All of their members have really beautiful faces and the music videos are alluring. Usually it wouldn’t matter (with other genres of music), but choreography and visuals are important to K-pop in the same sense that Billie Jean is a standalone song but Michael Jackson’s dancing makes it an entirely different experience. Anyhow, my favorite song is Crying:

Other songs/artists worth mentioning

IU

Singer, songwriter, and actress. SO CUTE. Diverse styles, including my most preferred: romantic ballads.

Cherry Blossom Ending ā€” Busker Busker

Such a dreamy song from an indie band.

 

All For You

Good duets are always hard to find.

Why I hate nightcore

If you haven’t heard of nightcore, just avoid it if you ever come across it.

I think nightcore is a perversion of music.

  • Nightcore remixes are worse than originals, so why do they even exist?
  • Modern nightcore is not a genre. It’s a style linked to a form of remixing that can be applied to songs of any genre. If nightcore is a genre, then anyone can violate any existing music in a certain way and call it their own genre.
  • When a song is remixed, vocals conveying serious emotions just become cute, and the beat becomes hyperactive. While I do like some cute anime songs, what kind of person tries to turn random stuff into that? I don’t hate nightcore songs specificallyā€”as bad as they usually areā€”I hate what nightcore stands for. People who enjoy nightcore support taking stuff that they never liked and twisting it until they do like it. That’s not art, that’s catering towards people with less civilized tastes through deformation of art.

Insomnia (2018) review

6/10, don’t recommend

The TV show Insomnia (2018) is about an illegal game where contestants die if they fall asleep and compete to be the last one standing.

I tend to like movies and TV shows that involve a lot of killing, so I thought this would be right up my alley. It’s quite a short series, with only eight episodes at ~50 minutes each. Overall, I rate it 6 out of 10. The production looks very well done; decent acting and convincing visuals overall establish a believable setting. Tension and suspense is kept throughout the show, however, there’s too much lacking in terms of plot to convert that moderate level of engagement into much else. One might have expected some particularly clever or shocking plot twist to come at almost any point in the show, but it never does. For this reason, the show is entertaining but not satisfying. Overall, I wouldn’t specifically recommend it even for those who love this genre like I do.

The Bridge

by Joy Cowley

There are times in life
when we are called to be bridges,
not a great monument spanning a distance
and carrying loads of heavy traffic
but a simple bridge
to help one person from here to there
over some difficulty
such as pain, fear, grief, loneliness,
a bridge which opens the way
for ongoing journey.

When I become a bridge for another,
I bring upon myself a blessing, for I escape
from the small prison of self
and exist for a wider world,
breaking out to be a larger being
who can enter anotherā€™s pain
and rejoice in anotherā€™s triumph.

I know of only one greater blessing
in this life, and that is
to allow someone else
to be a bridge for me.

 

Kakegurui

Spoiler-free anime review

Kakegurui: Compulsive GamblerĀ is an anime show about gambling. If you’re anything like me, you’ve already heard enough to want to watch at least the first episode.Ā Kakegurui very much reminded me of one of my favorites, No Game No Life. It features the same kind of impressive mind-games played by impossible geniuses who are willing to risk it all while being cheered on by a clueless supporting character. You won’t get much in terms of character development, storyline, or soundtrack, but as long as you can accept the unlikely premise of a school lifestyle ruled by gambling, then what you’ll get is twelve episodes showcasing totally badass intellectual warfare.Ā The show is not as sexually suggestive as its opening, and in any case, I find the visuals overall quite fitting in relation to the portrayal of perversion and insanity. However, I suspect it’s not for everyone, but for those who can savor that darker taste and identify with “so crazy it actually makes sense”. While it’s no masterpiece, it delivers what it promises. I rate it 8.5/10.

Learned helplessness

The moral of the story is to stop dismissing initiatives in your head before even trying.

I was clearing out all the dead plants from rows of planter boxes while my brother was mowing the lawns. In theory, he was to join me later. At first tug, some of the plants were too heavy for one person to lift. Actually, almost half the plants seemed this way, so I made it my intention to load the lighter plants onto our trailer first and wait for my brother to help me with the rest. The first trailer load was relatively painless. But starting the second load, I wasn’t sure if there was much left I could do alone. With the easier work out of the way, I was forced to test my limits. I soon realized that some of the plants I had deemed too heavy before were now manageable for the reason that entanglement with other plants was what provided significant resistance. If I properly untangled the plants first, I could lift most (but still not all) of them. Thus, I managed a second load. By the third load, only the heaviest remained, and despite my new insight,Ā at no point did I really think I would be able to lift these myself. But my brother was still busy, so I endeavored to use the time by doing what I could. Another small but crucial insight became apparent. Grip makes a huge difference when lifting, so I had to rotate and flip these plants in order to find good branches to secure the overall weight. With a bit of concentration and determination, I was able to carry all of the plants to the trailer.

As I was doing this work, I saw a pattern of learned helplessness that is prevalent throughout our lives. When you learned how to do something as a child (such as touch typing, DIY skills, or reading sheet music) and hear someone else wanting to do it but lamenting that they don’t know how, your response might be to tell them that it’s not as hard as they think, that there’s a specific resource (book or website) that will lead them through the standard beginner-friendly procedure for picking up that skill. To you, it’s not that intimidating a thing to learn because you’re aware of all the unknowns involved in learning that a novice is not. (After all, uncertainty is often a major source of discomfort.) This applies not just to professional skills and hobbies, but also matters of well-being. Perhaps you have a friend or acquaintance who is struggling with insecurity or negative self-talk. You want to help them, but they’re not receptive at all to solutions or more positive thinking. They’re suffering, but they don’t want to be helped. If you’ve overcome similar issues, you might know that their situation can be improved quite quickly, but only if they’re open to trying. Or maybe someone who wants to get fitter, but is afraid of going to the gym.

Learned helplessness has a notable presence in my own life. There are a lot of excuses why I don’t feel like starting something that I want to get into at some point. A lot of times, I’m putting limits on myself before I’ve even begun. I’m accustomed to feeling powerless to change my circumstances. According to learned helplessness theory, initial lack of control leads to motivational, cognitive, and emotional deficits. My cognitive deficit tends to be me believing that a problem is hard to deal with just by thinking about it, before I’ve even started looking into it. Motivational deficit would refer to the fact that I don’t do anything about the problem other than think (and sometimes avoid thinking) and be stressed about it, instead of clarifying the problem and researching and trying potential solutions. The emotional deficit is how the situation, as well as my own response, makes me feel. I feel unable to act and just perpetually tolerate the less than ideal circumstance. I think one key reason I exhibit learned helplessness (aside from having learned it) is that it’s familiar. We often fall back on familiar patterns of thought and behavior because it’s the path of least resistance. In a way, it’s convenient to assume that we’re helpless, because it exonerates us from having to take responsibility for our own unpleasant state of being.

In most cases, the way to counteract learned helplessness is probably to challenge the preconception that something is going to be difficult to do before actually trying to learn it. This can apply to many different scenarios. Some loose examples include:

  • Procrastinating a task for weeks or months, causing stress as it stays at the back of your mind or a problem gets worse. For me, this is things like making a phone call, getting a checkup, or searching for an item. When I finally resolve to perform the task, it’s often over very quickly, and it wasn’t worth all the stress of delaying things.
  • Learning things properly. Sometimes it’s appropriate to just wing it, but for skills that are frequently used, it makes sense to seek proper instruction on how to do something. For example, learning how to cook eggs, using the proper grip in a racquet sport, performing an exercise with the correct form. Sometimes it’s a useful skill that we pick up very late and only when a friend shows us the way, and our reaction is “I can’t believe it’s so simpleā€”I should have learned this earlier!”
  • Changing our habits or daily routine to improve our well-being. People are resistant to change (it takes 2-6 months to create a habit), but new habits can be truly life-changing.
  • Challenging our opinions on foreign ideas. We generally have a tendency to judge things even before we understand them, and part of this is an inclination to dismiss ideas just because they seem strange. Often we’re just rejecting our own straw man projections rather than having the patience and open-minded attitude to consider an idea. For example, a lot of non-religious people dismiss certain religions as being fundamentally ridiculous while knowing almost nothing about the fundamentals of that belief system. When finally entering an intelligent discourse on a given topic, we might realize that we had misunderstood completely and made wrong assumptions for years, and that this foreign idea actually made a lot of sense. A lot of truths can be rather counter-intuitive.
  • Blaming and excuses. When we default to blaming others, whether in the workplace, an online team game, or in a relationship, we’re dismissing our own responsibility for a given outcome and our ability to make things better. Making excuses for helplessness (“it’s too hard”) is a bit like blaming the environment or the circumstances.
  • Asking for advice. Some of us find it hard to ask for advice. We think that we’re alone in facing a problem, so it’s awkward to consult even Aunty Google. I’ve been guilty of this for psychology-related topics, where it’s awkward to ask friends and I assume the insight I need can only be found through months of thought experiments, when actually it’s just a few online searches away.

The moral of the story is to stop dismissing initiatives in your head before even trying. Although I overcame my learned helplessness with the plants, in the end I still did need help loading some of them onto the trailer. In the end, you still can’t do everything alone.

Being battered about

I’ve been at an emotional, physical, mental, spiritual, moral, professional, and social low point for weeks. I’ve failed to really help myself during this period, partly because I didn’t feel a need to. This is unfamiliar territory, as I’ve never been challenged on so many fronts at the same time that I feel ungrounded in knowledge and identity and confidenceā€”I’m completely “fightless”. I don’t intend to stay this way, but I think it’s important to document my state of mind for future reference. The concerns and questions and doubts I have right now may or may not be relevant after I’m through with this rough period.

Symptoms

  • I feel restricted and insecure about planning anything due to my unpredictable schedule. I feel like I might as well not do anything.
  • I barely enjoy talking with friends in this mood.
  • I’m unhappy, but I don’t want anyone’s attention or to receive pity. I’d rather just suffer and be irritable alone.
  • Receiving emotional support or validation seems pointless, because I cannot explain what is wrong. I barely even know what’s wrong because my concerns are so multi-faceted.
  • I’m perpetually trying to distract myself from thought or responsibility.
  • Injuries aside, I feel physically uncomfortable all the time.
  • My hobbies are as unreliable as ever, and I’m not motivated to pursue any projects even though I have the time.
  • I can barely act in my own interests. My daily routine has obviously fallen by the wayside.

Brainstorming

I have just a few fragments about what might be going on.

  • It is said that you should rely on discipline and not motivation. Although I’ve been experimenting with that idea, I don’t think it’s applicable right now. Taking care of myself might not be enough to lift this mood.
  • In terms of practicing healthy selfishness, I realize that I have somewhat failed all along. It’s not enough to simply cater to your own preferences in a given situation. Selfishness needs to come from the heart. It should be “I’ll choose this and I deserve it”, not the feeble “I guess I’d rather…”
  • I came across a pretensive blog stating that positive thought always precedes positive action. I know that this isn’t true, because I realize I’ve been hurting myself even when taking supposedly positive action. I need to be doing things for the right reasons and with the right attitude.
  • I’ve been penpaling for three years, but I stopped this year in order to prioritize real-life interactions. I could be experiencing some sort of withdrawal symptoms, as it seems that writing to a compatible penpal makes me feel more confident and secure in myself.
  • Some things I seek from friends include basic attention, social advice, discussions of ideas, emotional validation, cultural exchange, an interested audience for expressive works, and a safe place to cry/vent. Some of these things that I want are not accessible from my current support network, and it’s beginning to bother me.
  • Emotional validation seems extremely difficult to come by, and I often settle for being laughed at in a benign way. If I’m unlucky, I receive pity and it greatly annoys me. Anyhow, it begs the question: if I can’t receive reliable external validation, should I be using self-validation somehow? If that’s possible, what incentive would remain for sharing vulnerability with friends?
  • In terms of having someone to vent to and someone to be a willing audience to my works and projects, I can only put on my rose-tinted glasses and say that these are a work in progress. Although it’s not too hard to come by online correspondences that are willing to listen, I strongly feel that it would be far better for such interactions to be in person.
  • ā€œYou cannot find peace by avoiding life.ā€ I came across this quote misattributed to Virginia Woolf. I’m completely guilty of avoiding life in the past few weeks. This thought led to me reading about avoidant personality disorder, and although I don’t think I have it, I do recognize these symptoms:
    • Views self as socially inept, personally unappealing, or inferior to others
    • Is unwilling to get involved with people unless certain of being liked
    • Is preoccupied with being criticized or rejected in social situations
    • Is unusually reluctant to take personal risk or to engage in any new activities because they may prove embarrassing
  • I’ve been sorting through a lot of my old stuff, especially from my high school days. I can see that I’ve always been trying to reinvent myself even since before my teenage years. Strangely enough, I’ve been having a lot of good dreams of acceptance and friendship in the context of my high school life.
  • I learned a new term: arrival fallacy. It’s defined as “The false belief that reaching a valued destination can sustain happiness”, such as the belief that you’ll be happy if you just achieve your desired goal like losing ten pounds or getting promoted. I’ve been heavily gamifying my hobbies and self-development interests, and after achieving two significant goals I felt really down and purposeless the following week. I have a long list of things I wish to do, but when I pressure myself to move onto the next goal right after achieving one there is a sense of discontentment and inadequacy. My projects are all tainted with the underlying idea/motivation that I need to become a more cultured, well-rounded person, and that my social desirability depends on it. It’s a terrible burden, really. I need to learn to enjoy the journey and be comfortable with who/what I am right now.
  • I need to stop comparing myself to others.
  • Breakthrough: when people say “be yourself”, what they really mean is don’t try to be someone else. (I don’t think there is such a thing as “being yourself” in the first place.)
  • I’ve been confused about the concept of pride for a while, including what a healthy sense of pride should be based on and why people can be proud of things they didn’t actually have to achieve. I’ve even been questioning why we should be proud of things we worked hard for. There are multiple reasons why I’ve been so conflicted about pride. I haven’t learned much about pride yet and its relation to self-esteem, and I felt especially insecure about my personal values when I was recently exposed to the idea that competence (and even factual accuracy) is neither good nor bad, morally speaking. While there is much left to clarify, I finally took the step to do some basic digging on the topic of pride. All this time I had been acting helpless while partial answers were a Google search away.

I feel a lot better having just expressed my thoughts, even though many questions remain. I’m finally done punishing myself and am ready to get back up.