Read part 1 (Psychodrama) here.
A doorbell rings once, twice, three times. Text appears on a backdrop of what looks like a starry night sky. A soothing voiceover begins to read the words in English: “Welcome to the magicshop. Any worries you’d like to share? Any wish you’d like to make come true? The magicshop will be your guidance. But first, I will need your keys. Concentrate on opening the door to the magicshop. Keep calm and relax. Take a deep breath.” The soft background music transforms into a recognizable melody from the song “2! 3!” The voice continues: “Empty your minds and focus. Imagine a door leading to your minds. What you want the most stands behind that door. Just believe. And your magicshop will come true. Are you ready? I’ll show you.” The concert begins.
Soon after the release of the album on which “Magic Shop” appeared, BTS confirmed that the song took inspiration from an American neurosurgeon’s autobiography titled Into the Magic Shop (Doty, 2016). When reading about the book, I immediately recognized the name of the research center the author now directs at Stanford: the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE). My worlds of BTS and positive psychology had officially collided.
The magic shop Dr. Doty writes about has nothing to do with psychodrama. It was, literally, a shop that sold magic tricks in the neighborhood he grew up in. It’s worth reading the whole book to learn about the “real magic” he was taught in this shop by the owner’s mother, Ruth, who mentored him in skills that modern readers can now recognize as mindfulness meditation, visualization, and cultivating compassion. Most of these topics (perhaps only some aspects of visualization, as it relates to goal-setting) fall under the umbrella of applied positive psychology and have been studied for their impact on well-being (see, for example, Eberth & Sedlmeier, 2012; Hofmann, Grossman, & Hinton, 2011; Jazaieri et al., 2014; and research from CCARE).
The concert I describe above was BTS’ 2019 fan meeting concert in Korea, which had the theme of Magic Shop. The introductory voiceover recalls many of Ruth’s four magic “tricks,” which she promised a young Doty would help him manifest anything he could ever want. Indeed, learning these skills completely transformed Dr. Doty’s life.
Ruth’s first trick—the first phase of her guided meditation—was to “relax the body.” (Keep calm and relax. Take a deep breath.) Her second trick was to “tame the mind” by learning to direct your thoughts back to a chosen focal point whenever your mind wanders. (Concentrate on opening the door to the magicshop.) Her third trick was to “open the heart” by focusing on the feeling of unconditional love and offering that love to others, even those whom you dislike or have difficulty with. Her fourth trick is to “clarify your intent,” visualizing the attainment of your goals in visceral detail, which helps you specify and ultimately manifest what you want. (What you want the most stands behind that door. Just believe. And your magicshop will come true.)
So what about that third trick: opening the heart?
Although it does not perfectly map onto Ruth’s third trick, we can now start to talk about the Magic Shop that comes not from psychodrama, and not from Ruth or Dr. Doty, but from BTS themselves. Compassion is very much related to the intention that BTS hopes to manifest through their version of the Magic Shop. They name that intention in the song “Magic Shop” itself, which is dedicated to their fans:
On a day you hate being yourself, on a day you want to disappear forever,
let’s build a door in your mind
Once you open the door and enter, this place will wait for you
It’s okay to believe, Magic Shop that will comfort you
I wanted to comfort and move your heart
I want to take away your sorrow and pain
The theme of offering comfort appears in many of BTS’ songs. It is notably prominent in their first fan-dedicated song (before “Magic Shop”), called “2! 3! (Still Wishing There Will Be Better Days).” That song treats counting as a sort of magical incantation: “It’s okay / When I say one two three, forget it / Erase all the sad memories / Hold my hand and smile”; and “One two three, / I hope everything changes once I say it.” No wonder the doorbell at the Magic Shop concert rings three times. Similar references to the number three and opening magical doors are made in “HOME,” BTS’ most recent fan-dedicated song: “One day, / when the bell rings three times, / will you open the door…” and “As if everything will come true once I open that door…”
The entire concept of the Magic Shop is most often represented by just the doors. This, I think, emphasizes the magical quality of portals and liminality (or liminal space), as well as the ideas of transformation and growth.
These magic doors now constitute the core brand identity of BTS and their fandom. The complementary BTS and ARMY logos were established well before the release of the song “Magic Shop.” When the change was revealed, media reported that the new logo “symbolizes youth who don’t settle for their current reality and instead open the door and go forwards to achieve growth.” Even this definition, with no direct reference to the Magic Shop, highlights the importance of striving for positive change. With this rebranding, the group expressed their identity in terms of their relationship with fans as defined by the Magic Shop.
Both the psychodramatic Magic Shop and the Magic Shop that references Ruth’s manifestation strategies are tools for transformation. However, where the former uses shortcomings as the starting place for that change (I lack something I must “purchase” or I am weighed down by excess I must “sell”), the latter starts with a vision of an ideal future that one could work towards, or at least hope for. This corresponds pretty well to the philosophical distinction between “business-as-usual psychology,” which operates as if wellness is simply the absence of illness, and positive psychology, which expands the field by recognizing wellness as something above and beyond not being ill (Linley, Joseph, Harrington, & Wood, 2006).
Seeing the Magic Shop as a place to manifest better futures gets us much closer to understanding the way BTS has adopted and redefined existing ideas of the Magic Shop. But BTS’ methods are quite different from Ruth’s meditation and visualization. I’ll explore one of the key ways BTS works toward the positive transformations of their Magic Shop in part 3: Magical Healing Therapy (here).
In this series:
Doty, J. R. (2016). Into the magic shop: A neurosurgeon’s quest to discover the mysteries of the brain and the secrets of the heart. New York: Avery.
Eberth, J. & Sedlmeier, P. (2012). The effects of mindfulness meditation: A meta-analysis. Mindfulness, 3, 174-189.
Hofmann, S. G., Grossman, P., & Hinton, D. E. (2011). Loving-kindness and compassion meditation: Potential for psychological interventions. Clinical Psychology Review, 31, 1126-1132.
Jazaieri, H., McGonigal, K., Jinpa, T., Doty, J. R., Gross, J. J., & Goldin, P. R. (2014). A randomized controlled trial of compassion cultivation training: Effects on mindfulness, affect, and emotion regulation. Motivation and Emotion, 38, 23-35.
Linley, A., Joseph, S., Harrington, S., & Wood, A. M. (2006). Positive psychology: Past, present, and (possible) future. Journal of Positive Psychology, 1, 3-16.
Lyric translation credits to doolset