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HomeEntertainmentAfter losing my husband, the music of BTS helped me heal

After losing my husband, the music of BTS helped me heal

When my husband, Greg Gilbert from Delays, died I could no longer bear to listen to my favourite music. Instead, I soothed my grief by dancing around the kitchen to K-pop

As a teenager I had no time for screaming along to Take That and East 17. You’d be more likely to find me at the local record fair in stripy tights and cherry red Dr Martens, hunting for Bikini Kill picture discs. Boybands seemed trivial as I gorged on albums such as The Cure’s Faith, Babes in Toyland’s Fontanelle and Smashing Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness – records that soundtracked my youth and held my hands through break-ups and a mental breakdown.

I was married to Greg Gilbert, the lead singer of Delays, whom he often referred to as a “moderately successful indie band” in the Britpop 2.0 wave of the mid 2000s. He was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2016 and died late last year. During the five years of his illness, I found solace in the music of my teenage years. There was safety in that sound, it was from a time when I felt invincible, at ease and hopeful for the future. It helped me remember who I was before I became jaded from watching the person I love slowly die in front of me.

Greg believed there are no guilty pleasures in music; you either like something or you don’t. His musical tastes were varied; he would spend hours listening to Gregorian monks chanting, but he also believed wholeheartedly in the power of a perfect pop song, citing The La’s’ There She Goes or The Beatles’ Strawberry Fields Forever as prime examples. He would always return to Carly Rae Jepsen’s Call Me Maybe or Tegan and Sara’s Closer, marvelling at their almost mathematical mastery of pop. When putting together the playlist for his wake, I realised I had made a soundtrack more suited to a roller disco.

Greg would often joke that my musical tastes were made for a funeral and that, if I were to die first, he would have difficulties choosing from an extensively bleak back catalogue. Although he respected them, he didn’t understand the deep relief I got from immersing myself in Siouxsie and the Banshees and Joy Division when I was sad.

After his death, there was a secondary loss; I have not been able to listen to any of the music I love. Sonic Youth and Deftones now jangle my nerves, while the Smiths make me want to gouge my eyes out with desperation at the futile plight of the human condition. Grief has changed so much in me and now my taste has altered too, much like how my beloved cups of tea suddenly started tasting like dirty dishwater when I was pregnant. We sometimes think grief is just intense sadness but it’s more complex than that; it involves the entire rebuilding of a self. I didn’t realise I would no longer want to hear any of the sad songs that previously defined me … and I didn’t think I would find salvation in K-Pop, either.

Beautiful and talented … BTS have devoted fans all around the world
Beautiful and talented … BTS have devoted fans all around the world. (Kim Hong-Ji / Reuters)

In particular it’s been the music of BTS. I first heard them when my daughters started asking Alexa to play Butter on repeat. In our collective grief, we started dancing together in the kitchen and I felt something other than pain. Now, after many insomnia-fuelled nights of deep dives into their back catalogue, I’m hooked. They are just so delightful and, after such a difficult death, all I want is anything that will delight my heart and help me believe that the world is full of good things again. They satiate in me something that was never filled as a teenager; my nearest encounter with infatuation was as an eight-year-old, crying in my bedroom at posters of Corey Haim after watching The Lost Boys and knowing that he would never be my boyfriend. That was heartbreak.

It helps that BTS are all beautiful and talented, very different from the boybands of my teenage era that were often full of backup dancers. The majority of BTS’s lyrics are in Korean so I can project whatever I want on to them – but their obvious joy and positivity has given me deep comfort and soothed my broken heart. They have even made me consider joining an adult street dance class.

BTS are currently the biggest band in the world, although only yesterday they announced a temporary break. I’m not sure I can deal with any more loss right now but as I know only too well, life goes on. I don’t know if Greg was aware of BTS but I think he would have liked their sensibilities; he loved the femininity expressed by Bowie and Prince through fashion, dance, sexuality and makeup which is in abundance in BTS’s work. I would have loved the chance to ask him – and then dance with him in the kitchen.

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