From BTS to IU, here are some K-pop songs that talk about mental health struggles that we’ve all faced at some point. 

If you’re only familiar with K-pop on a superficial level (or really, any pop genre for that matter), you would think it’s music to… not think to. With K-pop, however, the stigma is doubled: how could a genre that focuses on images and famously creates “bubblegum” music have meaningful conversations about mental health? Furthermore, over the years, news of numerous K-pop stars dying by suicide and the West’s bias against the “manufactured” industry haven’t done much to improve popular perception. 

If you, too, have bought into this idea at sometime, one wouldn’t blame you, but you also haven’t been listening to K-pop well. In fact, now is as good a time as any to change that.

So, here are some K-pop songs that talk about inner struggles that we’ve all faced at some point. 

BTS – ‘Black Swan’

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Looking back at K-pop’s history in modern years, BTS will go down as one of the acts whose honesty and candor about their mental health set a precedent for other artists in the industry, eventually creating a more receptive and sensitive approach to the subject overall. While BTS have numerous songs that can be comforting to people going through hard times (‘Spring Day’ specifically), the crowning jewel in that list is ‘Black Swan’, which opened the Map of The Soul: 7 era. 

‘Black Swan’ talks about creative burnout in very real ways. The music video is preceded by a saying by Martha Graham: “A dancer dies twice — once when they stop dancing, and this first death is the more painful.” When life gets too much, sometimes the craft that gives you solace is the very thing that you start running from. The moment when art ‘can no longer resonate, no longer make my heart vibrate’ is anathema for every artist. Coupled with the fact that BTS admitted to wanting to disband at the start of 2018, one gets a very real picture of how heavy the crown they wear is. 

IU – ‘Love Poem’

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Sometimes, when the stars seem to dim in the world, and everything seems to be caving in, all we need is a hand to hold ours and someone to walk beside. IU’s ‘Love Poem’ is that assurance wrapped in her soulful voice. 

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IU speaks from the precarious and heartbreaking place of having to watch a loved one struggle with their demons and not being able to do anything about it. So, she puts her silent, constant support into this ‘Love Poem’: like she will walk behind them till ‘the day your long night ends’, the song persists as a treasured memory, a voice for those who have ‘forgotten how to cry out loud.’ 

Kang Daniel – ‘Paranoia’

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Kang Daniel has come a long way from his Wanna One days. After the disbanding of the temporary group, Daniel came off a legal battle and established his own company as a solo artist. But the transition and the legal process took a toll on him, prompting him to step back from the limelight even as the second phase of his career was in its nascent stages. Whether in his music or in the media, Kang has always been vocal about his mental struggles, setting an example for artists in an industry that constantly is on the up. 

‘Paranoia’ is an offering that comes from dealing with one’s demons by confronting them rather than looking for an escape. For some, the biggest fear they have is not knowing what will happen after the confrontation — Kang, here, shows that making peace with them is the only way to move forward. 

Dynamic Duo ft. Chen – ‘Nosedive’

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‘Nosedive’ remains one of the classics that bring you back to the light when the night gets too dark. Held together by soft, steady beats and the honeyed voices of Dynamic Duo and EXO’s Chen, ‘Nosedive’ holds you through the bad days, telling you that ‘when it hurts to cry, cry all you want, it’s okay.’ 

Living through a constant mental battle inside can be tiring: ‘Nosedive’ wrings it all out of you, telling you that ‘when the sadness stops, and the tears begin to dry, I’ll wipe the ones under your eyes with my thumb.’ 

Lee Hi  – ‘Breathe’

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In ‘Breathe’, Lee Hi boils anxiety and panic down to the very essence of it all: when darkness strikes, it becomes hard to take one breath after another. Speaking from personal experiences, Lee Hi tells us to slow down and take it one rise and fall of the chest at a time. ‘It’s alright if you run out of breath, no one will blame you’, she sings, ‘It’s okay to make mistakes sometimes, because anyone can do so.’ It’s a message to everyone who falls prey to overwhelming emotions, reassuring them they’ll get through it. 

Agust D – ‘The Last’

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The second BTS entry on this list is none other than the group’s reticent rapper Suga, who released ‘The Last’ under his alter-ego Agust D. Breaking away from the confidence and bravado of Agust D, ‘The Last’ is uncharacteristically honest and vulnerable, talking about the man behind the mask of Agust D, one to whom ‘Depression, OCD keep coming back from time to time’. 

‘The Last’ is one for all those whose cover up their battle scars better than most, the ones whose energies are poured into maintaining an ironclad image. It’s for when the mask finally comes off in private, weaker moments, and the exhaustion of keeping up a persona finally catches up. 

2NE1 – ‘Ugly’

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When you think of  2NE1 even now, the word ‘untouchable’ sometimes pops up, thanks to the unparalleled reverence that the quartet inspired back in their heyday. They were confident, headstrong, the nascent picture of the ‘girl-crush’ concepts that we’ve come to love. Yet, ‘Ugly’ shows a vulnerability that the members showed in moments few and far between, when society’s critique of their looks or clothes got to them. 

‘Ugly’ is for everyone who has ever looked into the mirror and not liked what they saw: ‘I put a big smile on, but I don’t like how I look. I’m not pretty, I’m not beautiful.’ The weight of one’s looks bears down so heavily on one, that it eventually becomes part of how they look at themselves. 2NE1 let you know that you’re not the only one feeling this way. 

You can read more this topic over at the Asia Pop Observer.