The Butterfly Effect: An Existential Kpop Exploration

What is it that makes us love a particular song? It’s Monday night, and I’ve been listening to a playlist consisting of exactly two, yes two, Kpop songs, both of which are named “Butterfly.” I call it the Butterfly playlist because it is Monday and all of my mental capacity has obviously already left me. After my third Turkish coffee I’m ready to dare myself to endure this playlist for at least one more week, which is probably what I’ll do because I cannot figure out how to stop.

When I can’t sleep, I enjoy looking at hi-fidelity models of connections in the human brain while listening to songs named “Butterfly.” The brain models are presented as splashes of neon spaghetti sticking together in the boiling pot of a human head. These diagrams supposedly show how we think and feel, how we communicate, what we like, and why we choose to, for example, listen to two songs named “Butterfly” on endless repeat. But the models are untranslatable. There is no language by which they can be read or understood. What’s more, they are idiosyncratic; they’re only accurate of a single individual at a single point in time. Unlike a fingerprint or a heartbeat, these diagrams cannot even be used for the purpose of identification. They are useless. They are beautiful. They are art. They are a butterfly flapping its wings.

On August 18, 2009, G-Dragon released the solo album, Heartbreaker. At the same time in southern Siberia, a pressure surge in the Sayano-Shushenskaya hydroelectric plant flooded an engine room, leading to the deaths of 75 workers. I never listened to “Butterfly” in 2009, nor did I obsess over brain scans or drink Turkish coffee. I had never heard of Sayano-Shushenskaya.

Just as connections may be formed in the human brain, they can be un-formed. A favorite food can grow stale. A tenet of high-school algebra can be forgotten. An interest can grow tiring. As part of an exhibit at the Museum of Jurassic Technology, a make-believe person named Valentine Worth described the theory of memory of an even more made-up person, Geoffrey Sonnabend. The nonexistent theory, called Obliscence, defined memory as “our experiencing the decay of an experience.” Everything disappears. Why is it that music stays with us so long?

On July 7, 2014, f(x) released the full length album, Red Light. At the same time in the Middle East, 85 rockets were launched from the Gaza Strip into Israel as part of a back and forth escalation that would claim the lives of several thousand over the course of the summer. I listened to “Butterfly” the first day it was released in 2014, and reviewed it the next day as a song that made it hard to care about much else when I closed my eyes and listened.

I wonder what connection in my brain is being solidified while listening to the Butterfly playlist. What color is that strand? Is it blue? Is it red? Is it long, short, thick? Does it travel through the hypothalamus or the hippocampus? Will it stay with me, in some form, for the rest of my life? Will it last even after that?

On September 5, 1977, Voyager 1 was launched to study the outer planets, as well as the boundary of the heliosphere. On August 25, 2012, Voyager 1 crossed into interstellar space. Carried on that spacecraft was a golden disk, a record that contained, among other things, an hour long recording of brainwaves, and a three-second recording of the greeting, Please be well, in Korean.

Zander Stachniak is a southern-born, Chicago-based writer who first discovered Kpop through ShoutCast Radio. His biases are f(x) and Block B.


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