Minutes before the introduction to the Magic Shop concert described in part 2, as fans wait for the official livestream to begin, a different set of messages appear. The screen is framed by the title “Magical Inquiry” at the top and a footnote that reads “Make you Feel better Magical Healing Therapy.” The instrumental of “Magic Shop” plays in the background. A series of questions are revealed, slowly, one after the other. First, “What is your name?” Then, “How old are you?” It continues: “Where are you from? What is your interest? Who do you love the most? What is your favorite song? What is your dream? When is your happiest moment throughout the day? What is the most disturbing memory in your life? What is the most important memory in your life? What is the concern that you’d like to share? The magicshop is ready to hear them all.”
If BTS’ reason for being is to manifest positive change by comforting and healing their fans, this series of questions is a good illustration of how that magic works.
When I first saw the part of the concert livestream described above, I was immediately reminded of a game I had worked on in graduate school. (I previously wrote about that project here.) It’s a party game for sparking deep conversations and moments of vulnerability among friends. The references and inspirations for this game were numerous, including things like conversation starter card decks and an online tool known as the 36 Questions for falling in love.
Those 36 questions originated from a psychology study (Aron, Melinat, Aron, Vallone, & Bator, 1997), the methods of which were popularized through coverage by the New York Times. This study was an early example of how social psychology researchers manipulate interpersonal closeness in laboratory experiments—that is, how they exert a degree of control over how close you feel to someone else. In these sorts of procedures, paired participants share personal information about themselves with each other by responding to sets of questions that gradually ramp up in intensity. This process is known as self-disclosure. Put simply, if you self-disclose to someone else who also self-discloses to you, you will feel closer to them. You’ll also like them more (Collins & Miller, 1994). Self-disclosure tasks are still used in social psychology research years later (ex, Sprecher, Treger, & Wondra, 2013).
The repackaging of those 36 questions “for falling in love” is a bit sensationalized. In the original research, the questions were always intended to just temporarily increase feelings of closeness, not to generate ongoing close relationships (Aron et al., 1997). But the results are still pretty remarkable. In one study, participants who answered questions from the “closeness-generating procedure” (p. 374) rated their closeness to their conversation partner at an average of 4.06 on the Inclusion of Other in the Self scale (see picture). That number is (statistically) significantly higher than the control group’s average of 3.25, who only answered “small talk” questions (Aron et al., 1997). That’s a decent result considering the pairs didn’t know each other previously and spent only 45 minutes together. Self-disclosure questions included things like:
“What would constitute a ‘perfect’ day for you?”; “If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future, or anything else, what would you want to know?”; “What roles do love and affection play in your life?”; and “If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told them yet?” (Aron et al., 1997, p. 374)
Informal follow-up also indicates that about a third of these pairs were in contact with each other voluntarily after the study (Aron et al., 1997). This and other research about self-disclosure offer great insights as to how close relationships can start and how they can be maintained.
BTS’ pre-concert questions have the same arc as these self-disclosure tasks for producing closeness: gradually going from surface-level topics to the deeply personal. In fact, some of the Magic Healing Therapy questions are almost identical to the ones used by Aron and colleagues (1997): “What is your most treasured memory?” and “What is your most terrible memory?” are consecutive questions in their list (p. 374). The very last task on their list also recalls the Magic Shop’s final invitation to share concerns: “Share a personal problem and ask your partner’s advice on how he or she might handle it” (p. 375).
As the researchers explain, “One key pattern associated with the development of a close relationship among peers is sustained, escalating, reciprocal, personalistic self-disclosure” (Aron et al., 1997, p. 364, emphasis added). BTS’ series of Magical Healing Therapy questions is just one example of how they encourage communication that has all four of those key qualities. They communicate with their fans in this way to the greatest extent possible, which also serves as a model for how fans can interact with each other or anyone in their lives.
In the BTS lexicon, self-disclosure with those four important qualities is known as speaking yourself. On a regular basis, and through different kinds of content, they honestly and openly share who they are with the world (sustained). They sing, “I won’t say obvious things like ‘cheer up,’ / but I’ll rather share with you my story.” They ask questions of the people who listen to them that are both simple and profound, and they promise to hear the answers. From “I’m curious about everything, how’s your day?” to “what is your name? What excites you and makes your heart beat? Tell me your story” to “I want to listen to your melody, / how the stars of your galaxy / will embroider your sky” (escalating). Stadiums full of concert-goers shout the call-and-response refrain: “So show me, I’ll show you” (reciprocal). Self-disclosure becomes intimacy. We understand our own struggles or joys through others; we feel close to people we’ve never met; we recognize the diversity of human experience; we feel seen. “Each other’s light that we each other saw / Speaking the same thing…” (personalistic). Intimacy becomes healing. We feel like we matter. Voilà: Magical Healing Therapy.
BTS’ Magic Shop is simultaneously mysterious and straightforward, fantastically special and profoundly mundane. Call it Magical Healing Therapy, call it speaking yourself, or even call it self-disclosure that is sustained, escalating, reciprocal, and personalistic: it’s nothing so terribly complicated or innovative. We can point to research that illuminates why and how it makes us feel so good and so close to each other. Yet the fact that something so simple can be so powerful makes it seem like real magic.
In this series:
Aron, A., Melinat, E., Aron, E. N., Vallone, R. D., & Bator, R. J. (1997). The experimental generation of interpersonal closeness: A procedure and some preliminary findings. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 23, 363-377.
Collins, N. & Miller, L. (1994). Self-disclosure and liking: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 116, 457-475.
Sprecher, S., Treger, S., & Wondra, J. (2013). Effects of self-disclosure role on liking, closeness, and other impressions in get-acquainted interactions. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 30, 497-514.
Lyric translation credits to doolset