In South Korea’s new Boys’ Love drama, Light On Me, actor Lee Saeon plays the meek and friendless 18-year-old Taekyung, opposite Kang Yooseok’s beautiful disaster, Shinwoo. But over Zoom interview, both are a far cry from their onscreen counterparts: former Produce 101 idol trainee Saeon is dimpled and welcoming, while Start-Up actor Yooseok is laidback, a mess of tousled curls. Both are effervescent, even as they casually further queer representation in a more conservative Korean entertainment industry.
Boys’ Love dramas — more commonly known as BL, which originated as “yaoi” in Japan — have been growing in popularity for years, but even more so in the midst of the global pandemic. BL series depict romance between male characters that makes us feel warm and gooey inside, and not unlike K-dramas, they offer vicarious wish fulfillment in a time where physical interaction has never been more coveted. Based on a mobile dating simulation game, Light On Me is widely considered to be one of the country’s first longform Boys’ Love dramas. Combining the charming fluff of a BL with the classic tropes of Korean dramas, the 16-episode series really said: K-drama, but make it gay. (Spoilers for Light On Me ahead.)
Set in Saebit Boys’ High School, the drama follows Taekyung, “an outsider that falls in love with a boy,” according to Yooseok. Realizing that he no longer wants to live a lonely life, he joins the student council as a temporary member — but not everybody is thrilled with their new guest. While classmate Daon (Choe Chanyi), the president of the student council, is welcoming (and gorgeous), and Namgoong (Go Woojin) is the hilarious best friend we all deserve, the same can’t be said for Shinwoo, who strongly objects to Taekyung’s initiation into the council. But as they get to know each other and Taekyung warms to him, it soon becomes clear that he has two love interests: Shinwoo and Daon.
While LGBTQ+ characters are still underrepresented in K-dramas, there have been notable strides in recent years in shows like Itaewon Class, Reply 1997, and Where Your Eyes Linger. Light On Me is another brick laid in the path towards more queer stories in Korean media, and for us in the West, richer stories that fill out the world of K-dramas we love to enjoy. “Even though this kind of genre isn’t that common in Korea, right now we are making BL dramas a little bit more than before, so I think it’s a good thing. I really respect the LGBTQ+ community and I understand,” says Saeon, who has watched BL dramas before. “Since I’m not part of the community, the hardest part for me was to express my emotions through my eyes. Even though I don’t know the feeling of loving a guy, I do know how to love a person, so I wanted to express those kinds of feelings.”
This is a point of view shared by Yooseok. “I try to not think of it as ‘a boy and a boy’ love,” Yooseok explains. “I was trying to communicate the fact that a person loves a person, so with Shinwoo’s love towards Taekyung and how he cares for him, I tried to focus on that emotion more.” During our interview, I suggest that it is more so that love doesn’t have gender, that it exists regardless. “Yes, I don’t really think of it gender-wise,” he says. “A person can fall in love with anybody, because a person can love anyone.”
Rising K-pop stars A.C.E contributed an OST for the series, “SPARK,” which accompanies every episode’s cliffhanger with jangly guitar, before exploding into vocals. It was important for A.C.E. to be part of the project, the group’s leader Jun explains over email.