One actor. One idol. One singer. One treacherous ground in the Japanese entertainment industry.
There’s a fine line between taking a leap of faith and taking a leap to your death.
Wow. Is the ground really that far away? My heart skips a beat as I anchor myself against the window sill, carefully swinging one foot over the railing and then the other. I allow my head a measured poke out the window- the sound of cicadas invades my ears, chasing away the gloomy silence of my house.
It’s a whole new world…
A familiar melody stirred in my brain as I breathed in the soothing summer air, a sweet mixture of drying lawn and the faintest hint of chlorine from the backyard. Every thought in my mind seems lyrical. I poke my head back into my room, and immediately the impassioned concert of cicadas gives way to the trills of a grand piano, ringing shrill chords from downstairs. It was beautiful… but as I returned to the performance of the cicadas amid the summer greenery, I found something in that discordant symphony that pulsed- the heartbeat of the season.
Yes, screeching bugs were more attractive to me than the lilting melody of a flawlessly played piece.
Yes, I am an anomaly for a child brought up smothered by music-loving parents.
Yes, I am grounded for attempting to land an audition with NiSo Inc., record company giant.
And yes, I do see the irony in musical parents forbidding their child to aspire to dreams of becoming a singer. Call it hypocrisy, if you like. Call it conformity to society’s expectations. Call it whatever, but as I sit against the ledge of my window, about to make the biggest escape of my life, my heart wavers… just a little. Shaking my worries away, I shove myself off the window sill, taking the plunge.
“Ughh…” the searing sting in the balls of my feet almost brings me to me knees, but I grit my teeth and stumble forward, hurrying to the street corner before my parents notice that anything is amiss. And as I stand at the shade-less corner, trying to no avail to hail a taxi, I bite my lip and try to resurrect the feelings that brought me this far.
Two months ago, the thought of escape was foreign to my mind. I was on the cusp of the most important piano recital of my life, and honestly, it was piano practice 24/7 for me, between watching Japanese dramas late into the night, secretly recording DBSK covers behind my parents’ back, and schoolwork, in that order. I don’t quite remember the piece- it was something heavy and droning, alternating between virtuoso-like chord progressions seemingly designed to show off one’s rapid-fire playing skills and dark, 5th-symphony-esque sequences. All I cared to know about it was that I was definitely not the one to choose it. Of course, my parents, classical conaisseurs (read: obsessers of classical music to the third degree) were enamored by its technicalities. I ended up giving in to their insistence. I convinced myself that it would impress my Eun, my cute piano teacher (yes, he did tell me that I should call him by his first name).
The day of the piano recital, I woke up with a giddy sensation somersaulting in my stomach. I dismissed it as nerves, but as I rolled out of bed, I was seized by a sudden sensation to regurgitate everything in my empty stomach. As I ran to the bathroom and heaved into the toilet, I could feel my parents’ eyes trained on me as I coiled into the fetal position. Despite their best attempts to nurse me back to health before the recital, I ended up bedridden for a week, stricken by the seasonal flu. Needless to say, I was less than productive during those seven days, channel-surfing to the extreme while subsisting on soup and cold medicine.
On the last day of my house arrest, during which I was mainly faking sick to make my parents let me stay home a bit longer, I stumbled upon a commercial that for the first time in a week, sparked my interest.
It was a NiSo audition fair commercial, announcing that many Asian talent agencies would be gathering to recruit new talent. As I gazed into the eyes of my favorite idols- (the ones I covered on Youtube every now and again) I felt drawn in a way I never felt to any type of music before, no matter how much it was pushed upon me by my parents. I had always wanted to make music of my own- but perhaps it was my parents’ stifling urging of musical direction, or perhaps it was my own stubborn unwillingness to accept anything that I had not had a say in, but I had never felt any innate joy in playing the piano, or any other instrument for that matter. Growing up, I had both been influenced by my parents’ love for music and yet repulsed from their every suggestion.
As the images of past sensations scrolled before me, I felt as if my eyes had been opened to a whole new world of possibilities. Despite the tacit certainty that my parents would not accept my proposal to audition for such a thing, I jumped on the computer, printed out an information packet, and approached my parents about it later that night.
“Jae…” I’ll never forget that look of disbelief that clouded my mother’s face as she eyed the packet I had handed her as I washed up. “Jae, are you alright?” I stared back incredulously. Of course, only my mother would think that her daughter was delusional when she proposed to be a pop star.
“But mom, can’t I just try?” I tried to keep my voice level, as to not betray too much hopefulness. “I just want to get it a shot. It’s free, open to all talents. All I have to do is be there.” Mom continued to stare blankly for a moment, before snapping to her senses and shaking her head firmly,
“No.” She put a hand gently on my shoulder. “Jae, you aren’t meant for that kind of life.” Her voice was quiet, tinted with a strange fear. “You have your piano. You still have a recital coming up.” She was referring to the one that would take place in September. In three months. I shook my head.
“Mom, this isn’t about piano. This is about giving something I want to do… a chance.” I noticed that my voice got quiet too, and for a moment, I sounded like a five year old. Mom’s face softened.
“Jae, you’re setting yourself up for a hard life. I can’t allow that.” I looked into her eyes, and I could almost see the clouds of fear materialize into something more concrete.
She was right, of course. I could name a dozen hardships I’d be setting out for, given that I pass the audition. Maybe she did see past my aloof presentation. Maybe she sensed that this meant something more to me than a mere try out. I’d have to give up school and start working. If I made it big, there would be paparazzi and media stalking my every move. My livelihood would depend on the satisfaction of my fans. Maybe she knew that if I failed, it would be crushing.
But for some reason, as those dangers ran through my mind, I could only feel a rising feeling of excitement, of anticipation. Maybe that was the kind of life I was born to lead, I couldn’t help but tell myself.
I let my passion slide for the moment, but as time ticked away, school ending, summer vacation beginning, and the audition date fast approaching, I attempted to win her over by showing her my Youtube cover songs, (which she cringed at,), and many variations of begging, pleading, and haggling as a month dragged by.
“No, Jae, I already said, no.” she would stare me down, daring me to defy her as I tried time and time again to convince her. It was only three days before the metaphorical D-Day, and I was no where near a good deal. In the end, Mom locked me in my room, determined to keep me under solitary confinement for the three days leading up to the audition. And as I sat, brewing my anger and disappointment in my bed while taking my anger out at Audacity (the free recording program)’s crash-worthiness, I began composing lyrics to the chaotic melody of ShiNEE’s “Ring Ding Dong”, ranting about my mother’s insensibilities. On the second day of my imprisonment, I burned the song onto a CD, and was determined to make it to the audition no matter what the next day.
“Miss… where to?” I blinked.
Oh. My reminiscing had killed enough time for me to find an empty taxi. I tried to recall what I was sitting in the empty taxi for, and quickly reached into my pocket for the scrap of paper I had written the event address on. I reached through the protective cage of the taxi driver’s seat and handed it to him.
He glanced at it, crumpled it up, and snickered slightly as we rolled. I frowned inwardly. Maybe he’s taken one too many idol hopefuls to these auditions over the years, I thought cynically. I didn’t ask, the cynical thought ringing true to the words my mother had spoken.
“You were not meant for this life, Jae.”
Lofty words. I sighed. There was a part of me that tugged at my inner rebel, willing me to return to the fold. I knew my mother meant well… she was only trying to protect me from the harshness of reality. I was old enough to understand that. At least, I hoped I was old enough to understand that.
No, I told myself. Stop listening to others and follow your own dreams. I grimaced at the cliché quality of my own lofty words. Did that make them empty words?
There’s a thin line between chasing your own dreams and being selfish.
Was I crossing the line?