K-pop's newest hit: mental health support through audio therapy
The manager of a legendary K-pop artist once asked me to exclude the words “mental health” in any context from a pending interview profile.
It's still a taboo subject for many, and more so in the colossal entertainment industry of K-pop. Swaths of articles have been written about the “dark side” of K-pop, but issues surrounding idols' mental wellbeing persist to this day. Just last year, members of the boy group OMEGA X were victims of an abusive CEO and successfully won their lawsuit to suspend their contracts. More than half of the members of girl group LOONA also sued to terminate their contracts with their agency Blockberry Creative due to a lack of pay and other mismanagement claims.
Despite the K-pop industry's reputation for secrecy and its heavy-handed use of extravagant outfits, glittery concepts, colorful merchandise and nostalgia-laced mood boosters that often belie real-world issues, some artists have managed to cut through the noise by openly discussing their mental health struggles.
Superstars such as So-yeon and Minnie of (G)I-dle; Jay B of GOT7; Joshua, DK, Mingyu and Vernon of SEVENTEEN; Tablo of Epik High; and Eric Nam have flocked to an audio and wellness app called Mindset to share hours' worth of vulnerable stories.
More from NextShark: Naomi Osaka appears on ‘Sesame Street’ to teach children of all skin types about wearing sunscreen
Brian Nam, co-founder of Dive Studios and Eric Nam’s brother, recently spoke to NextShark about creating Mindset and utilizing the voices of celebrities to help Generation Z with their own mental health challenges.
He explains that the idea behind Mindset came from the success of Dive Studios' viral shows that focus on relatable human challenges and topics such as anxiety, depression and burnout.
More from NextShark: Hit ‘Replay’: K-pop boy group Golden Child releases sixth mini-album ‘Aura’
We started Mindset in February of 2021, so it's actually been exactly two years now. We set out with the mission of how we provide mental wellness support and value through storytelling.
The celebrities that come onto the platform like BM from Kard or Tori Kelly, Julie Michaels, Keshi, DPR, it's not necessarily that they have all the answers or the solutions to these mental health struggles, but we have found that it's simply the act of them talking about these things that have been able to provide some real tangible emotional support to listeners around the world.
That idea has sparked a community, including a Discord server with over 55,000 members.
More from NextShark: ‘Squid Game’ star O Yeong-su denies sexual assault charges at trial
These community members have participated in several virtual events during the COVID-19 pandemic, with live listening sessions, group meditations and communal experiences. Last year, they hosted their first town hall, attracting about 100 attendees who listened to personal stories from guests and Mindset's founders. These town halls have slowly gained traction and evolved over the past year.
Taking it one step further, Mindset posted an Instagram survey asking thousands of members of student groups if they wanted the Mindset town hall experience to come to their own college campuses.
These town halls feature celebrity speakers, licensed experts and therapists who engage in live conversations with students about mental health topics recommended by the student body. Mindset's Boston University stop saw approximately 700 to 800 students in attendance, and they expect around 800 people to participate in their forthcoming event at the University of Southern California.
More from NextShark: 'It’s official like a referee with a whistle': Snoop Dogg reveals upcoming collaboration with BTS
View this post on Instagram
When asked about what that turnout and reception means for the larger dialogue around mental health, Brian points to the hardships currently facing many college students.
He referenced 2020 data from the National Institute of Mental Health that reported, “Young adults aged 18-25 years had the highest prevalence of AMI (any mental illness) (30.6%) compared to adults aged 26-49 years (25.3%) and aged 50 and older (14.5%).”
A 2019 study from the American Council on Education found that “one in three students meet criteria for a clinically significant mental health problem (depression, anxiety, eating disorder, or self-injury).” When also considering a 2012 National Alliance of Mental Illness study that found that 64% of college students with mental health issues drop out, Mindset's massive turnout becomes understandable.
We see that people want a support system, they want to talk about these issues, they want to find some sort of comfort, emotional support, in some type of solution to these issues. It's almost at a point where it’s undeniable. We’re coming out of the pandemic, but still, the statistics show that it's still getting worse and worse.
A lot of it is also tied in with social media trends, which has been pretty persistent throughout Gen Z's upbringing. These external pressures of social media, to the pandemic. I think when it comes to how people are able to come into these spaces and become vulnerable. I think it’s their willingness to be vulnerable, but also the celebrity speakers that we're working with, whether it's on the Mindset app or in person.
"Idol" is a word that connotes worship and the idea of a flawless being. The Mindset app provides its celebrity users with a platform to show who they truly are: human beings.
They don't have to do Mindset collection, they don't have to sit down with us for eight to 16 hours and be vulnerable themselves, but they see the value in sharing their stories. And what you'll find is that these artists, these celebrities, actually want to talk about these things. They're not going to go on Twitter, Instagram Live or TikTok and spill their guts. They're also looking for a safe space to actually divulge and talk.
Although initial pitches were met with hesitant reactions, Brian says convincing celebrities to share on the platform has become easier with time. Mindset's inaugural batch of artists, which included Eric Nam and Tablo, helped get the ball rolling.
I think maybe it's because they are Korean American and can talk about those things a bit more, but over time, it's kind of become this snowball effect. We've been able to normalize this type of content, and it's at the point now where we have a lot of K-pop groups reaching out to us and asking to create a Mindset collection.
Part of the safety net ensured to participating celebrities is complete creative control over their collection. As for why stories shared on Mindset do not immediately become breaking news, Brian says the team is strategic with how they promote the collections.
We're careful with the perception of putting out a huge PR blast around each of these drops. I don't think it's necessarily a negative thing by any means. We've talked a lot about it internally. We don't want to necessarily sensationalize these somewhat sensitive topics. We don't want to put the artists in a situation where it's perceived they are sharing a story to get a big headline. I think how we promote these stories is something that can be done very tactfully.
Brian says many of the talents they have on Mindset call the recording sessions therapeutic. Eric Nam’s own recording sessions revealed to Brian things he never knew about his own brother.
As brothers we see each other often and talk essentially 24/7. It's tough to ever carve out a time to understand how each other are doing. That's not a conversation that we have enough of in society. It's also a little bit awkward to ask even a really close friend or brother direct questions about their feelings.
When Eric recorded his session, I had no idea of some of his struggles and mental health challenges, [such as] dealing with ADHD. He's never really talked to me about it. It's always kind of been hinted at. He can’t focus or he sees doctors and gets medication. I have never really asked him about these things.
One episode in particular that Brian points to as a favorite is one that Eric did with their mother:
Eric does this interview with our mom. With Asian parents, it's really awkward to talk about anything mental health-related or even just to talk about feelings overall. It's the first time that Eric actually talks to our mom about how she feels about him being an artist, you know, being a creative. We grew up in a somewhat traditional kind of Korean household. Eric had a great job at Deloitte in New York, the dream job for an Asian parent. But he left all that to essentially pursue the riskiest kind of career path, being a K-pop artist. He struggled a lot for his first five years.
Our mom talks about seeing him perform live during North America tour for the first time. She starts crying during the actual episode. It's always heartbreaking to hear your mom cry. It's not something I've really seen often because I think Asian parents do their best to stay strong and be that solid pillar in our lives, but she just kind of breaks down. She's talking directly to Eric and says, 'I'm just so proud of you. It made me realize just how hard you worked to achieve this career, your aspirational goal in life.' I think it's something that [makes] Eric tear up every time we listen to that.
As for what is next for Mindset, Brian teases that they have more in-person events planned. He also exclusively divulged to NextShark that they have an official partnership with the Johns Hopkins Public School of Health and will collaborate on a clinical study with them in the future.
Mindset is available on Apple's App Store and on Google Play.