ANDas a teenager, I didn’t have time to shout to Take That and East 17. You are more likely to find me at your local record market in striped tights and Dr. Martens cherry red hunting for Bikini Kill picture boards. Boybands seemed trivial to me as I feasted on albums such as Faith The Cure, Fontanelle Babes in Toyland, and Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness Smashing Pumpkins – recordings that mimicked my youth and held my hands during break-ups and mental breakdowns.
I was married to Greg Gilbert, the lead singer of Delays, whom he often called “a moderately successful indie band” on the Britpop 2.0 wave in the mid-2000s. He was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2016 and died late last year. During the five years of his illness, I found solace in the music of my teenage years. There was security in that sound, it came from a time when I felt invincible, at peace and full of hope for the future. It helped me remember who I was before I got bored of watching the person I love slowly die in front of me.
Greg believed there was no guilt in music; either you like something or you don’t. His musical preferences were varied; he spent hours listening to the chants of the Gregorian monks, but he believed with all his heart in the power of a perfect pop song, citing The La’s There She Goes or Strawberry Fields Forever The Beatles as the best examples. He always returned to Carly Rae Jepsen’s Call Me Maybe and Tegan and Sara’s Closer, admiring their almost mathematical championship in pop. By creating a playlist for his scholarship, I realized I had created a soundtrack more suited to roller disco.
Greg often joked that my musical preferences were made for a funeral, and that if I were to die first, it would be difficult to pick from an extensive catalog. Although he respected them, he didn’t understand the deep relief I felt when I was sad immersing myself in Siouxsie and Banshees and Joy Division.
After his death, there was a secondary loss; I couldn’t listen to the music that I love. Sonic Youth and the Deftones are now jerking my nerves, while the Smiths make me want to gouge my eyes out in desperation for the pointless fate of the human condition. The sadness has changed a lot in me, and now my taste has changed as well, just like my beloved cups of tea suddenly started to taste like dirty swamp when I was pregnant. Sometimes we think that grief is just intense grief, but it is more complex; it covers the entire rebuilding of the self. I didn’t realize that I wouldn’t want to hear any of the sad songs that defined me before… and I didn’t think I’d find salvation in K-Pop either.
It was BTS’s music in particular. The first time I heard them was when my daughters started asking Alexa to play Butter over and over again. In our collective grief, we started dancing together in the kitchen, and I felt something other than pain. Now, after many sleepless nights of deep dives in their back directory, I’m hooked. They’re just like that delicious and after such a difficult death, I only want everything that will delight my heart and help me believe that the world is full of good things again. They saturate me with something that was never filled as a teenager; my next crush encounter was when the eight-year-old cried in my bedroom on Corey Haim’s posters after seeing Lost Boys and knowing he would never be my boyfriend. This it was a broken heart.
It helps that all BTS are beautiful and talented, very different from the boy bands of my teenage era, which were often full of backing dancers. Most of BTS’s lyrics are in Korean, so I can convey whatever I want to them – but their obvious joy and positivity gave me deep comfort and pity my broken heart. They even forced me to take an adult street dance class.
BTS is currently the largest team in the world, although they only announced a temporary hiatus yesterday. I’m not sure if I can handle any loss now, but as I well know life goes on. I don’t know if Greg was aware of BTS, but I think he would like their sensitivity; he loved the femininity expressed by Bowie and Prince through the fashion, dance, sexuality and makeup that abound in BTS’s work. I’d love to ask him – and then dance with him in the kitchen.