i'd rather bend than break

Stephanie, USA


Why Kai is my bias; why I love him; why I will always be his fan

Never would I have ever imagined that one k-pop idol, one boy, could change my life so much. Today is this particular boy’s birthday, so I am going to take this opportunity to finally put into words why I stan and love Kim Jongin.

But, first, a little about Kai – because although sometimes Kim Jongin and Kai are one and the same, these two identities are more often than not separate (but connected).

Over one year ago, when EXO was preparing to debut, Kai was introduced to the world via his first teaser. My first impression of him (like almost everybody else’s, I’m sure) was: oh, he’s a good dancer– but nothing more than that. I’m not a dance expert, so Kai’s dancing didn’t seem all that special. There were plenty of excellent dancers in the k-pop industry, so what? It’s hard to imagine now, but after watching EXO’s first several teasers, I even lost interest in this Kai person.

Kai’s physical attractiveness didn’t even hit me until I was scrolling through tumblr one day and came across a particularly stunning photo of him. That was my second impression of him: wow, he’s attractive. Very, very attractive. His beautiful eyes, his broad back, his toned arms, his collarbones, his lips – in short, he makes me swoon. But, still, physical beauty is a dime a dozen in the world of k-pop. Even though I now think Kai is the most handsome and most gorgeous male I’ve ever set my eyes on, that didn’t really set Kai apart from the rest at the time, either. (Tangent: I suspect, however, that I think he’s the handsomest male ever has to do with how much I love him because people all around me keep telling me he’s not good-looking at all lmao. People whose personalities I fall for tend to become more attractive to me, so his personality was probably what made me love him first, not his good looks. Besides, if there ever was a reason to love Kai, his physical attractiveness is most definitely not it. There are so many better reasons to love him that this shouldn’t - and isn’t, for me - be the main reason.)

Watching EXO’s debut showcase gave me my third impression of Kai, my first impression of Kim Jongin. The boy, not the idol. As the saying goes, the third time was the charm.

In the Q&A portion of the showcase, the host, Leeteuk, asked EXO’s maknae line to perform some aegyo for the fans. Tao and Sehun did as they were asked with barely a hitch, and now it was Kai’s turn. It didn’t seem like Kai was expecting to perform aegyo, because he had on the most “wtf” facial expression on. It was as if he had momentarily forgotten that the camera was zoomed up on his face for thousands of fans to see. He looked bewildered, flustered – nothing like the confident dancer that I was used to seeing. His reaction made me crack up, and it made me laugh even more when Leeteuk held the card in front of his face for the big reveal, saying “3… 2… 1!” and Kai just stared and was halfway bringing his fists near his cheeks to perform the aegyo when he just busted up laughing, doubling over and hiding his face with two hands. It took a second attempt before Kai was able to get the whole “bbuing bbuing!” out before he started laughing again, covering his face with both hands and turning his body away from the audience. I was intrigued. Was this really the same boy who had been confidently performing not ten minutes earlier, dancing like he effing owned the stage??

This is the very moment I realized that Kai is not exactly Kim Jongin. Kai is a name, an idea, an image given to Kim Jongin by SM Entertainment. But, at the same time, Kai is not entirely separable from Kim Jongin, because Kim Jongin has molded that image to himself. There is a certain depth to Kai that I feel sets him apart from any k-pop idol that I’ve taken a liking to before. Kai, like many other k-pop idols, is a great dancer; but how many others dance with the artistry that Kai does? Kai, also like many other k-pop idols, is attractive; but how many others exude such self-assurance, such confidence, such power when they’re dancing that is also attractive, but not the physical kind?

This is the very moment I started loving Kim Jongin. And by the time I watched him on The Star Interview… forget it. What a dazzling smile, what a dorky laugh. I was falling for him head over heels.

Since then, I’ve learned to love Kim Jongin for many, many reasons, the number one reason being: his passion. Kim Jongin is (without a doubt, in my mind) the best dancer in EXO, one of the very best in k-pop. At the same time, however, there are a whole lot of things that Kim Jongin isn’t.

  • Kim Jongin isn’t Kris, whose charismatic leadership draws everybody’s respect.
  • Kim Jongin isn’t Baekhyun, who can read the atmosphere easily and charm the audience accordingly.
  • Kim Jongin isn’t Chen, whose unearthly singing (served up with a side of snark) leaves everybody speechless.
  • Kim Jongin isn’t Lay, the multi-talented, guitar-and-piano-playing dancer slash singer slash composer.
  • Kim Jongin isn’t Chanyeol, who has an energetic smile ready whenever (literally, whenever) the fans shout his name.

Kim Jongin only has his dancing, and that’s it. On the surface, at least. I guess this is why, despite being the most recognizable member of EXO, Kai is not the most popular member. When he’s not performing, he becomes a little quiet and disappears into the background. People don’t like him because they find him boring. His more boisterous fellow EXO members grab their attention more, off-stage. He doesn’t cater to the fans’ every need. He’s just himself. For his sake, I wish he would be a bit more like Chanyeol or Baekhyun so that people would see him more; but otherwise, I wouldn’t change a thing about him. Because, for me, his pure love for dancing is what makes him stand out. It’s perhaps why I have never stanned another k-pop idol like I have Kai.

His almost singular passion for dancing is so great that he at first didn’t even care much for singing; all he wanted to do was dance. It’s this passion that gives his dancing the perfect balance between technical skill and raw emotion, the artistry that I’ve learned is what makes his dancing superior to others. It’s what makes him seem like he’s shouting “Yes! I love dancing! I live for dancing!” at the top of his voice for the entire world to hear whenever he’s performing on stage. It’s what lights the fire in his eyes, the sparks in his footsteps, the charisma in his smile. It’s why by the time he finishes a dance, he’s always huffing and puffing out of breath and he’s sweating rivers, but he’s laughing and smiling like he’s having the time of his life (“I’d be happy to die on stage,” he once said). And it’s this passion that makes me admire him so, so much. No words can really describe how much I love seeing Kai love dancing; whenever he’s on stage, I can’t tear my eyes away.

He started dancing jazz in the second grade. Second grade! (What were you doing when you were in second grade? I myself was probably happily and ignorantly playing tag during recess and had no clue what to do with my life. Heck, I still don’t know what to do with my life. To be so sure of himself that, no, he didn’t like the piano and the taekwondo lessons his parents were putting him in – that it was dancing all the way for him – is something rare in a child, I think.) He picked up ballet after watching The Nutcracker in the fourth grade. “But after I saw Shinhwa seniors’ performance, I started developing an interest towards being an artist,” he said in one interview. (Not just a dancer; an artist. I find this so appropriate because when he dances, it really is art.) And so in the sixth grade, inspired by Shinhwa and Michael Jackson, he went to a SM Entertainment audition for the first time.

He didn’t pass.

So what did he do? He picked himself up, trained for two more years in jazz and ballet, and finally passed the audition into SM Entertainment in the second year of middle school. Around thirteen years old and already on the path to realizing his dreams… I don’t know about you, but that’s amazing to me.

That was the year 2007. EXO debuted in 2012. He trained for five years, one of the longest training periods among the EXO members. When you’re that young, five years can almost be a lifetime. Can you imagine the amount of passion and dedication that is required in a person for one to keep training for so long, without any guarantee of being able to debut? That he’d make it big like Shinhwa? I’m willing to bet that most people at that young age don’t even have the patience or the foresight to follow a dream for so long. He probably watched many other trainees come and go during those five years. He might have wondered if his time will ever come when he congratulated his friend Taemin on his debut in SHINee. Maybe he even thought of quitting once (twice, thrice). But he didn’t.

But something that astounds me even more than what he has been able to achieve with that passion is his maturity about it. I say that his passion is almost singular because, while immense, his passion is not blind. In multiple interviews he’s said this:

  • “No matter what you do, it’s easy to get scared if you don’t sincerely like it but you have to find the passion to enjoy it” x
  • “Rather than working hard blindly, enjoying it happily is better” x
  • “Enjoying it is the most important, it’s not about practicing the cool moves” x
  • The only thing I had going for me at the time was dancing. Dance was something I enjoyed, not worked hard at. It was fun learning something new besides ballet and it was fun feeling my body learn and adjust to it. I think one of the main reasons I was able to debut in EXO-K was because I thoroughly enjoy what I do as opposed to just work hard at it.” x

In other words, there is love poured into every step he executes. Tell me, how am I supposed to not fall in love with Kai when he says things like this?

And you can tell that he has a great deal of pride in what he does. I’ve noticed that whenever an interviewer asks how the EXO members became SM trainees, he’s often the one to answer the question, speaking more than he usually does. “I’m the only EXO-K member who wasn’t cast off the streets. The others were found by SM’s scouts; I auditioned on my own,” he’d say. “I trained for two years just to pass the audition,” he’d say. He wants you to know that he got into SM because of his talent, not for his looks.

It’s for these reasons that I admire Kim Jongin so much. I’m older than him, yet I feel like I could learn so much about life from him. He’s said a lot of things that make me want to ask him, “Are you really only nineteen years old?” Besides everything he’s said about working hard blindly versus doing what you love, he’s also said things like “Every day is a good one to better yourself” and “I’d rather bend than break.” I can’t tell you how many times “I’d rather bend than break” has echoed in my mind, reminding that obstacles in life are to be overcome, not to be allowed to destroy me.

But, again, there’s a difference between Kai the performer and Kim Jongin the normal boy. And because of that, I sometimes wonder about SM’s choice to pick Kim Jongin as the face of EXO. Sure, he’s extremely talented. There are few dancers that can match his artistry. But he’s also very unsuited for the idol’s lifestyle. He’s 100% genuine. He’s the kind of boy who had trouble saying “I love you” to his fans because he doesn’t really love the fans – how can he, when there are so many and when he doesn’t personally know them? He’d say “I like you” to his fans instead because that’s what he really means. (He wrote on his photocard for the MAMA album: “Everyone!! I lo… lov… lov… like you~”) He even says so himself: “I am a blunt person by nature… I don’t really do fanservice” – which is pretty much one of the requirements of a k-pop idol. He didn’t like the sexy image SM assigned to him and was really opposed to it at first. And for somebody who expresses with his body so well when performing, he has a hard time expressing himself to others off-stage, so much so that he himself admits that he appears unapproachable to other people. I like this about him. It reminds me that he is not just a k-pop idol, SM Entertainment’s newest golden boy, but also a normal teenage boy. He is human.

For such a genuine boy, how can he have haters who dislike him just because he is the face of the group? Just because he appears in over half of the 23 teasers SM released for EXO’s debut? Has anybody ever stopped to think about how recording so many teasers (and choreographing some of them himself! How many k-pop idols do you know do that?) meant that Kai had at least double the work of any other member? He had no control over these things, yet people hate him for it. In the past, people have really asked me “why do you like Kai?/why is Kai your bias?” in a tone of actual disdain. Like, ugh you like that guy? The guy whose face I see all the time in EXO’s teasers and music videos? I’m sick of his face. (I’m not talking about people who are apathetic to him or who just don’t see the appeal of Kai; I’m talking about people who actively hate on him.) He’s not just the face of EXO; he’s not just a dancing machine. I wish more people could see what I see in him, all the big and little things that make me love him:

  • He loves dancing so much that he’ll dance through all the pain
  • He’ll try to hide every grimace of pain he feels so that the fans won’t see his pain; he’ll forego lifting his shirt in the choreo like he usually does so that the fans won’t see the bandages crisscrossing his back (but we see them anyway)
  • That habit of his of pushing his lips with one finger
  • He’s easily startled
  • When he smiles, he’ll sometimes smile so hard that he scrunches up his entire face until his eyes are squeezed shut
  • He’s really awkward in front of the camera when he’s not dancing
  • His childish way of waving where both hands kind of just flop around
  • He’s absolutely precious when he’s embarrassed (which is often)
  • When he dances, you can see how much he enjoys it from the huge smile on his face by the time the performance ends
  • He wears his heart on his sleeve. If he’s tired, he’ll show it. If he doesn’t have the energy to throw hearts to the fans, he won’t do it. He’s not one to hide behind forced smiles
  • He’s actually a big ball of awkward, not to mention a huge dork
  • His smile is honestly to die for. It is the most genuine smile I’ve ever seen on anybody. It is like pure unadulterated sunshine. It is the smile that makes me feel the world is a happier place. It is… okay I’ll stop
  • He’s a really good dancer (but in all seriousness, I could watch him dance forever)
  • He’s thoughtful of others
  • He’s internally a five year old
  • He’s really weird, period
  • His deep voice that I can listen to all day (SERIOUSLY)
  • He doesn’t look straight into the fans’ cameras very often but when he does, it feels like he’s staring straight into your soul
  • He makes dumb faces
  • He doesn’t know how to make proper hearts (but, okay, sometimes he succeeds in making cute ones too)
  • He’s quiet, compared to the other EXO members, but he loves to laugh. His laugh is music to my ears
  • Sometimes he does frustrating things that make me want to tear my hair out (cries)
  • He’s the kind of boy that would stop to smell the flowers
  • Have I mentioned his smile o m f g his smile
  • …He’s simply beautiful on the inside and the out

Maybe it’s because I admire and love him so much that this is why I take such immense pleasure from seeing Kim Jongin fulfill his dreams one by one. There are moments when Jongin has been caught just standing and staring at the crowd before him, taking it all in with wonder in his eyes. I think, during these moments, he’s thinking about his journey from those dance lessons in second grade all the way to that very minute that brings him standing at that very spot. (Has the idea that you’re achieving your dreams finally sunk in yet, Kim Jongin? Has it hit you that you now stand on the same stage as your idols, Shinhwa?) Or when EXO received their award at the MAMAs – he was just standing there, with eleven fellow members but at the same time quite alone, with a very blank expression on his face and unshed tears in his eyes. During these moments, my heart swells to ten times its normal size and I want to give him a squeeze on the shoulder, a hug, anything, just to say, “Yes, Kai, you did it!”

I keep saying “I love him.” I don’t take this lightly. I don’t use the word “love” for just any celebrity I’m obsessed with at the moment. At first I really hesitated using this word for Kai; as a person with very strong ideas about love, it’s strange for me to use it for a k-pop idol whom I’ve never even met face-to-face. All I know is that when he wins an award or some sort of recognition, I’m incredibly proud of him. When he smiles, I smile back even though I know he can’t see me. When he’s happy, it makes my day. When he holds back his tears, I wish I could tell him it’s okay to cry. When he’s injured, I’m pained and I want to yell at him for being so stubborn and for acting the tough guy. If I could love him more, I would. I’d give him the world if I could. Instead, I only hope that I can convince more and more EXO fans that they should love him, so that Kai could feel more love from his fans. He deserves it (and so much more).

I don’t pretend that I know him on a personal level; I don’t think that I perfectly understand his character. He’s not actually flaw-free. Maybe I’ve gotten myself confused between who is Kai and who is Kim Jongin. But I don’t think it really matters. I still love him because Kai, Kim Jongin, or a mix between the two – he’s really inspired me. I don’t have the guts to go all out and chase after a dream with high risk and low chance of return like he did; but, maybe, I could learn to be less afraid to find my own passions in life. He’s taught me that working hard doesn’t mean much when you find no joy in that work. That talent, without dedication to make something out of it, is not talent anymore; it’s waste. Needless to say, I am extremely proud to call him my bias.

To him, I am nothing. I am nothing but an American fan who lives thousands of miles away and whose only access to him is my internet connection. I may never even meet him in person – not even so much as standing in front of him for two minutes while he signs my copy of an EXO album, or sitting in the stands and being mesmerized by his live dancing. Even if I could see him, my screams of “I love you” will be lost among many others. But that’s okay. As long as he keeps doing what he loves, then I’ll be happy (perfectly, incandescently happy) with admiring him and watching him fulfill his dreams from afar. Because to me, he is something. A very, very big something.

Like any human being, Kim Jongin has dreams, goals, ambitions. “Just with his hand movements or gazes, Michael Jackson managed to make a crowd go wild and move the audience. I want to be like this too,” he said. “I want to become a complete artist, one who can dance, sing and rap. Soon you’ll see all my talents!” I’ll be watching and supporting you while you become that complete artist you want to be, Kim Jongin. I have complete faith that you’ll be able to achieve it - and I have no doubt that you’ll be teaching me more things along the way. Most of all, I hope you never lose your passion for dancing.

Happy birthday, Kim Jongin! Thank you for all that you have done for me.

(Update: 140114

  1. fanggirlyingoverexo reblogged this from kairisma and added:
    this is late but it’s really true.
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