How K-pop stars are leading mental health conversations for AAPI people and beyond
Like the majority of DIVE’s staff, the artists featured on Mindset are primarily Asian or Asian-American – particularly Korean or Korean-American. Mental health advocates say this kind of Asian presence is imperative when it comes to reaching ethnically Asian audiences.
“The buzzwords these days are representation matterssays Joy Lieberthal Rho, a New York-based psychotherapist who specializes in treating Asian American patients. “If you don’t see it, you can’t know how to be. So it’s important that our children, the children of Asia, see all the permutations of people – the good, the bad, the ugly, the troubled, the saviors, the struggling, the victorious. Without seeing it and knowing others who look and sound like them, it can feel super lonely. And loneliness is a terrible tax on the psyche and the body.
Epik High leader Tablo has been talking about his own mental health issues for a dozen years. The hip-hop star had endured a long online smear campaign that included hundreds of thousands of netizens hurling hate at him, his wife and their newborn child.
“The only silver lining I could imagine was that hopefully through this there would be at least some awareness,” he told me in February. “And once I prove that I’m truthful and didn’t succumb to this and kill myself, hopefully people will see that it’s possible to beat this.”
Tablo was very open about this period of his life. He talks about it in his music (his 2011 solo album The end of the fever refers to the torments he went through), interviews and two well-received podcasts. He followed 2021’s Mindset with the 10-episode podcast Authentic: The Tablo Story on iHeartRadio this year. Working publicly on his trauma hasn’t lost him any fans. On the contrary, he said he felt like he had won more.
“Fans often make more rational judgments about their idols than people realize,” says Jeeheng Lee, a culture scholar at Chung-Ang University in Seoul. “They understand that no one can be perfect. Therefore, just because their favorite idol confesses their personal problems, they are not immediately disappointed, shocked or turned away. They care more about how those outside the group will judge such confessions. Most of the reasons fans are reticent about an idol’s personal issues aren’t due to moral standards or expectations within the fandom, but the negative reputation the idol might have from those who don’t. do not surround.
I ask Jay B if he also faced these fears. He says fans who were unaware of his bouts of depression were very sympathetic and expressed their best wishes to him. They did not abandon him.
“If you really need help, I think it’s fair to talk about it,” he says. “In today’s society, it can be something that everyone goes through. So I think it would be nice to be a person who can think comfortably and look to the future.