Strong Experiences with BTS’ Music

“I don’t know what came over me but I cried for hours repeating the song over and over again. I didn’t cry beacuse of the visuals or sound itself. I cried beacuse the song made me feel loved. It was like that song pulled me back to myself.”

anonymous BTS fan

I was a presenter at BTS: A Global Online Interdisciplinary Conference, a virtual event that took place May 1-2, 2021. The conference was hosted by California State University, Northridge.

My presentation was on the topic of Strong Experiences with Music (SEMs). It included preliminary findings from my mixed-methods study of BTS fans (known as ARMY) about their most intense experiences with BTS’ music, and any lasting effects or personal growth outcomes they attribute to those experiences.

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Other People Movement

I recently worked as an experience design consultant with Other People Movement (OPM).

OPM is a company that applies principles from positive psychology to address loneliness by convening small, diverse groups of strangers to connect deeply with one another. OPM offers Circles, which are facilitated online gatherings that provide tools for people to see and hear one another as their whole selves, and Collectives, which are months-long group memberships of the same people who regularly meet in Circles.

My work on improvements to the membership experience led to the next Collective being the very first to make a full-year membership commitment.

I originally came to OPM as a member of a 3-month Collective pilot, and found each experience to be moving and nourishing. OPM founder Sophia knew of my background in applied positive psychology, and therefore my enthusiasm for experiences that satisfy our human need to connect meaningfully and authentically with other people. I also shared my impressions of how successful Circles were from an experience design perspective with her once my first 3-month Collective concluded. It was clear to me that the structure of Circles was already working well, and Sophia is a masterful facilitator. But Sophia knew that even more could be done, and asked for my help in taking OPM to the next level.

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Coordination of Master of Applied Positive Psychology Program

From 2014 to 2017, I was the assistant coordinator and classroom manager at the University of Pennsylvania’s Master of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) program. Penn’s MAPP degree was the first of its kind in the world. I was fortunate to work with instructors and guest lecturers who are the leaders in the field (including Martin Seligman, Angela Duckworth, James Pawelski, and many more), as well as dozens of brilliant, passionate students and alumni who are leaders in their own right.

What I originally understood as “simply” an administrative role (though a fulfilling one), I have come to recognize as the foundation of my journey as an experience designer for well-being.

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Luv, Happiness, & Dynamite

“We just hope the world gets more positive, and be happy. That’s our goal.”

RM speaking about BTS’ new single “Dynamite,” USA Today

Recently, I presented a piece of writing on BTS and positive psychology at an online ARMY conference. In describing different approaches that a positive psychology perspective could offer for understanding and amplifying BTS’ positive influence, I purposefully excluded positive emotions as a major topic. That was a mistake. I was trying to avoid the (understandable, incorrect) perception that positive psychology is only interested in “surface-level happiness”—that it’s only about feeling good. But by doing so, I played into a pattern that I actually want to reject: the undervaluation of joy.

“Dynamite” is an explosively happy song, and the music video is bursting with exuberant dance-around-your-bedroom and rainbow-firework energy. It’s a timely reminder that “just feeling good” is actually much more important and impactful than the pleasantness of the fleeting emotions themselves. “Dynamite” is a testament to the fact that we ought to take happiness, and the things that bring us happiness, seriously.

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BTS and positive psychology: New pathways for exploring BTS’ effect on well-being

I presented a virtual booth (short paper) on the topic of “BTS and positive psychology: New pathways for exploring BTS’ effect on well-being” at Rhizome Connect, a virtual social and scholarly event for BTS fans. The conference took place August 7 – 16, 2020 and was presented by the Rhizomatic Revolution Review, a peer-reviewed publication about BTS.

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The Magic Shop, part 3: Magical Healing Therapy

Read part 1 (Psychodrama) here. Read part 2 (Manifestation) here

Minutes before the introduction to the Magic Shop concert described in part 2, as fans wait for the official livestream to begin, a different set of messages appear. The screen is framed by the title “Magical Inquiry” at the top and a footnote that reads “Make you Feel better Magical Healing Therapy.” The instrumental of “Magic Shop” plays in the background. A series of questions are revealed, slowly, one after the other. First, “What is your name?” Then, “How old are you?” It continues: “Where are you from? What is your interest? Who do you love the most? What is your favorite song? What is your dream? When is your happiest moment throughout the day? What is the most disturbing memory in your life? What is the most important memory in your life? What is the concern that you’d like to share? The magicshop is ready to hear them all.”

If BTS’ reason for being is to manifest positive change by comforting and healing their fans, this series of questions is a good illustration of how that magic works.

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The Magic Shop, part 2: Manifestation

Read part 1 (Psychodrama) here.

A doorbell rings once, twice, three times. Text appears on a backdrop of what looks like a starry night sky. A soothing voiceover begins to read the words in English: “Welcome to the magicshop. Any worries you’d like to share? Any wish you’d like to make come true? The magicshop will be your guidance. But first, I will need your keys. Concentrate on opening the door to the magicshop. Keep calm and relax. Take a deep breath.” The soft background music transforms into a recognizable melody from the song “2! 3!” The voice continues: “Empty your minds and focus. Imagine a door leading to your minds. What you want the most stands behind that door. Just believe. And your magicshop will come true. Are you ready? I’ll show you.” The concert begins.

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What it means to matter

Welcome! Although I have previously written about games and psychology, I consider this my first blog post in a new series about the connections between my favorite topics: interactive media, positive psychology, and the pop artists BTS. 

In May, I went to both nights of BTS’ Love Yourself: Speak Yourself tour at the Rose Bowl. At the second show, in his speech before the final song, Kim Namjoon declared that “tonight, we are one.” It was absolutely true. In that moment, I felt that he was speaking directly to me, in a far-off section among tens of thousands of other fans in the stadium, while also knowing he was speaking directly to all of us.

One week later, I attended commencement with my family and classmates and officially earned my master’s degree. And yet, none of the speakers made me feel as understood and recognized and valued as I’d felt at the concert. I was struck by the contrast. As a celebration, there is no comparison, but the difference goes beyond which was more fun to attend. Why did I derive so much more meaning among a highly diverse crowd of strangers than from a ceremony that is supposed to speak directly to my experiences from the past two years?

Equipped with lingering online access to university library resources, I started to research the psychology of mattering. I quickly found that to understand anything about mattering is to understand something about meaning.

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