The Last Thing I Loved: K-pop Groups Consisting of Middle-Aged Men

Nica Rodriguez shares her love of K-pop and the restorative elements of Korean music and entertainment.

The lights dimmed, and the crowd’s cheers and screams grew louder. The music started, and the noise came to an abrupt stop, as did the beating of our hearts. At the first sung note and glimpse of a familiar face onstage, the screams made a comeback and did not cease. The concert began — perhaps one of the most exhilarating moments ever.

As a person suffering from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), it is not uncommon for me to feel my heart beating abnormally fast, but there came a time this year when my increased heart rate was due to extreme excitement — something I haven’t felt in months (or even years). The last concert I went to was part of the Super Show tour by Korean boy group Super Junior, and it was one of the most memorable and enjoyable concerts I have ever attended.

Super Junior was originally composed of 13 members, plus two other men who are part of the sub-unit group, Super Junior-M. I became acquainted with Super Junior in 2009, when they released their global hit, “Sorry, Sorry.” This group introduced me to K-pop, along with SHINee, Girls’ Generation, 2NE1, FT Island, CNBlue, and more. I wouldn’t say that I became an avid Super Junior fan immediately, but I did wait for new releases and singles until I eventually drifted away from K-pop and found One Direction.

However, after 1D’s hiatus got extended without hearing a word from them or their management, I was reminded of the K-pop world I left behind. I went back to this world and tried to catch up, despite having missed six years of good music, new talent, legendary performances, and laughs. I shimmied my way back into the K-pop-loving crowd, which had grown 10 times more than when I’d first discovered K-idols. I began reconnecting with Korean music and entertainment by watching Super Junior’s variety show appearances, ranging from 2010 to present, including their very own show, SJ Returns, and just recently, Super TV. Watching them on variety shows and seeing how K-idols — who looked so alluring on stage — could transform into comical, middle-aged men while joking among themselves and bantering with the most respected hosts in South Korea made me admire them more.

As I religiously watched SJ Returns during my work breaks at noon, another group’s name stuck to me. One of the members of Super Junior, Kim Heechul, mentioned the group Sechskies at least three times throughout the SJ Returns series. He even expressed his desire for Super Junior to be like Sechskies, which meant that he wanted the members of Super Junior to maintain their young looks and charisma and to keep performing for fans even into their forties.

To be honest, I’d never heard of Sechskies until I watched SJ Returns, and my curiosity took control. I started reading Sechskies’ Wikipedia page and familiarizing myself with their names, which was a dangerous move because, as fangirls say: it all begins with wanting to know their names. True enough, looking up their names was the rabbit hole to Sechskies Wonderland. Soon, I was listening to their most recent albums and watching their variety show appearances. I even found myself thanking the heavens for introducing me to more rays of sunshine and talent. I first watched their guest appearances on the popular variety shows, Knowing Brothers and Weekly Idol, in which celebrities (mostly idols) promote their upcoming albums, dramas, movies, or concert tours.

As I watched them in these shows, I was surprised to see how similar their episodes are to Super Junior’s. Not only are Super Junior and Sechskies both veterans in the industry and often referred to by teenaged K-pop fans as old men, but these groups are also loud, energetic, hilarious, and shameless. Talk-show hosts often exert three times the effort when they invite Super Junior and Sechskies as guests, to make sure they remain on-topic and aren’t overshadowed by the hosting skills and variety-show talents of the idols.

After noticing these similarities between them, I decided to learn more about Sechskies, so I watched their Infinity Challenge reunion episodes. Sechskies had been disbanded for 16 years until the producers of the aforementioned show proposed a reunion concert in 2016. As I watched how much they rehearsed and how they worried that only a dozen people might attend their guerrilla concert, I was flooded with admiration and nostalgia, even though I wasn’t a fan when they were an active group. Despite the members’ fears for a small audience, they still did everything they could to give them an unforgettable show. Two members even had serious injuries, but they knew they couldn’t disappoint their fans and continued to rehearse tirelessly.

When the guerrilla concert began, tears streamed down the men’s faces at the sight of 6,000 fans wearing yellow raincoats and holding yellow balloons— the official symbol of Sechskies. For the first time in 16 years, the artists and their fans met again. Upon seeing this moment, I almost didn’t notice that I was drowning in my own tears, too. Witnessing this scene, albeit not personally, made me fall in love with a second K-pop group consisting of middle-aged members. Tears covered their fans’ faces, proving that Sechskies was loved, had touched hearts, and had changed lives during their short-lived time in the spotlight. The group members proved through their powerful performance that they loved their fans just as much. And I knew that this kind of love was something I wanted to share, too.

Soon, I embraced the fact that I was head over heels for both Super Junior and Sechskies. I even created a separate Twitter account to tweet about these two groups in peace without bothering people who were clearly uninterested.

Arguably, two of the most seasoned and established groups in the K-pop and K-variety scene — Super Junior, which debuted in 2005, and Sechskies, which debuted in 1997 and is considered one of the pioneers of K-pop — consist of members who are all at least 10 years older than I. In fact, my favorite Sechskies member (or bias, as we call it in the world of K-pop) and also the leader of the group, Eun Jiwon, is two decades older than I. Admittedly, I never imagined that I would become an avid fan of men who are almost the same age as my father. I have had fleeting crushes on middle-aged actors in the past, but it’s my first time actively expressing my love and admiration for middle-aged celebrities. I became a fansubber, or translator, for Sechskies-related shows with my limited knowledge of Korean. I actively participate in fan-managed subbing projects for Sechskies, and I randomly translate short Super Junior- and Jiwon-related clips when I have time to spare.

Of course, my love for these groups did not just come out of nowhere. I did not simply do my research and decide to spend time and effort participating in these groups’ fandom activities, despite being a busy adult. It was not a random choice to be swallowed by my idolization for men who are almost twice my age. In retrospect, it all began after the subconscious realization that I needed to look for something either to distract me or to make me happy.

In April 2017, I was diagnosed with GAD. I had been having uncontrollable bouts of anxiety, and as my panic attacks worsened, I decided to consult a health professional. After the consultation, there it was: three different words on a diagnosis slip. I held the piece of paper with my shaky hands — I still haven’t completely calmed down from panicking on the way to the hospital — and suddenly felt an enormous weight emanating from the words “generalized anxiety disorder.” I had been waiting for my emotions and attacks to be validated, but, ironically, I was left with more questions. The answer came to the question what is wrong with me?, but with this answer came questions as to what steps I should take next. The uncertainty of the future scared me, adding fuel to the already uncontrollable fire.

I was an overthinker. In fact, I still am. Despite not proceeding with therapy due to financial and personal reasons, I have always believed that my tendency to overthink and overassess is the most significant contributor to my anxiety. I was engulfed in fear and basking in what ifs, most of which were negative thoughts. I was aware of every self-destructive tendency I had, yet I still felt helpless because I was almost sure I could get better. Also, I was frustrated because I wasn’t living my full potential, but I was too anxious to make significant decisions that could have impacted my life. With the helplessness and frustration came desperation, and that was when I began looking for distractions and sources of fleeting happiness.

I have tried every possible and interesting distraction imaginable. To this day, I will watch movie after movie, read book after book, and binge-watch K-drama after K-drama. However, none of them seem to satisfy me. I can’t seem to commit to anything. When I finish a movie, book, or drama, there’s a pause — the time between what I’ve just finished and what I’m about to start. I spend this time thinking about what to watch or read next, and when I can’t think of something interesting enough, I can’t move on to the next beginning. So, I am continually stuck drowning in my whirlpool of thoughts.

Once, while stuck in this cycle, I was reminded of what it was like when One Direction was still active as a group. During 1D’s heyday, I was battling a different kind of war. Depression almost pushed me off of the 11th floor of my school back then. Luckily, deep into the 1D fandom, I allowed myself to be comforted by 1D’s music, which helped change my habits and thought processes during that time. After 1D’s split, I decided to run to K-pop.

Then — almost as if the universe grew hands to help me slowly stand — Super Junior and Sechskies came during the darkest hours. As pioneer groups and variety show veterans, they have plenty of songs to calm me down, and at least one member of each group has an ongoing variety and / or reality show that can make me laugh and forget the hopelessness. Specifically, ongoing shows mean that there are no pauses — only my own little world where worries are minimal, and breathlessness is caused by laughing too much.

To this day, Super Junior and Sechskies continue to be the sources of my distraction and laughter. I wouldn’t dare claim they have cured me, but they definitely help keep me sane. I made an oath to see them live at least once to show my gratitude and to further remind myself that these people who comfort me are real, unlike the voices in my head.

Image: Super Junior in Manila by Nica Rodriguez.

This past June, I fulfilled my promise when Super Junior performed in Manila for their seventh Super Show tour. The experience was truly unforgettable — almost magical. I remember watching in awe as they sang their hearts out and danced as if they were still in their early 20s. There was a space and barricade between the stage and our seats, but this barrier was almost dissolved by glowing smiles and thankful faces. For most of the concert, only the stage was lit up, but I hope they saw that I was — or we were — just as grateful as they were. During the concert, I took as many photos and videos as my phone’s battery would allow — one of which is the featured image above. Whenever I feel helpless, I look at these remembrances.

As for Sechskies, I still haven’t had the opportunity to see them live and to express my love and gratitude personally, nor do I think an opportunity will come this year. But I will wait. I have waited too long for my questions to be answered and my monsters to be tamed, so I am positive that I can wait some more. Until then, I’ll settle with participating in the fandom and letting the whole world know how precious and talented they are by posting on social media. They keep me company and save me from despair. The least I can do is give my support because as Sechskies’ song “Together Forever” goes …

“We can be one together forever [and] sing until the last song.”
NICA RODRIGUEZ is an emerging Filipina writer in her early twenties. With a passion for learning and discovering new things, she feels strongly about sociopolitical issues, music, and K-variety shows. People often say that she looks like a snob, but she really is just shy.