Opinion: What ‘Personal Jesus’ and ‘Girl With a Pearl Earring’ have in common | CNN

Editor’s Note: Euny Hong is a journalist and author living in Paris. She is the author of three books, including “The Birth of Korean Cool.” The views expressed here are her own. Read more opinion on CNN.


If you were to ask the tragically bored 17-year-old Euny whether it would be a Depeche Mode concert or a Johannes Vermeer exhibit that would give middle-aged Euny a full-on panic attack in a huntdown for their tickets, she would never have guessed the answer would be “both.” Nor would she have believed that the one that mattered more—and the one that was harder to come by—was the Vermeer.

The reason for my sudden enthusiasm for the hot ticket of the moment? Isn’t it obvious? Fear of my mortality. Watching the rock stars of my youth start peeling off, one by one, to the great trashed hotel room in the sky is only slightly more worrying than the idea that future generations will become so accustomed to seeing art in the metaverse, museums won’t be able to afford to host these kinds of exhibits.

“There will never be a Vermeer exhibit as great as this one.” So read the sadistic headline that a sadistic friend posted on Facebook about the blockbuster exhibit at Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum. The show runs from February through early June and is already completely sold out for its entire run. In the entire world, there are only 35 known paintings by the 17th-century Dutch master, whose legendary use of texture and light, particularly in the portrayal of women in their everyday lives, positions him among the greatest painters of all time. This exhibit will display 28 of his works, including “Girl with a Pearl Earring,” which, by the way, is only on display through March.

It was the words “there will never be” that sent me into a frenzy of obsessively refreshing the museum’s web page like a lab rat pushing a heroin lever. The site alternated between crashing and displaying a message that they were “temporarily” suspending ticket sales. And here I thought my lack of Taylor Swift fandom would save me from such indignities!

I finally got tickets after a hair-raising purgatory when the tickets I had chosen were sold out during the 10-second interval between putting them in my cart and entering my credit card number. The only availability I could get was April 10, for the 3:30–3:45 p.m. time slot.

The last time I remember being quite this excited about an upcoming exhibit was the King Tutankhamen exhibit that came to Chicago in 1977. I was only four at the time—and yet, so vivid and accurate was my memory that when I saw the real thing in Egypt decades later, it was exactly as I remembered it. For years after the exhibit, all I would draw were mummies. From that childhood museum visit stemmed a lifelong interest in ancient civilizations, one that lasts to this day.

But in the interim between childhood and the present, I didn’t get excited about much of anything.

In 1990, Depeche Mode released their seventh album, “Violator.” I was a huge fan of the band and especially of that album, which brought us “Personal Jesus” and “Enjoy the Silence.” I happened to be visiting the US during their tour dates. And yet, when the opportunity came to see them, I made maybe one phone call to the ticket vendor and gave up after one busy signal.

No way was I going to queue up to get tickets. I was Gen-X to the gills, the cohort that would later be defined by Kurt Cobain’s lyric, “Here we are now; entertain us.” And “entertain us” implied that the mountain must come to Mohammed.

If Depeche Mode really wanted me to see this concert, they’d have made it easier for me to get tickets. Hell is other fans, anyway. Better to enjoy it in someone’s home with other chain-smoking, black-clad Sturm und Drang teenagers, no singalongs allowed.

Fast forward to last year, when an older, less jaded Euny found out Depeche Mode was mounting a world tour to promote their 15th album “Memento Mori.” My boyfriend in New York tried to score tickets for their Madison Square Garden concert, but they were so bloody expensive that it would be literally cheaper for him to fly to Paris (where I live) during peak fare season to attend their concert here.

So I got our tickets—and compared to getting into the Vermeer show, Depeche Mode in Paris was a breeze. It took minutes, and I got the seats I wanted on the first try.

It seems I am now the age when Gen-X culture is finally associated with unabashed exuberance. Consider the 1980s-set Netflix series “Stranger Things”—the show makes no apologies for the fact that a good part of the audience is far too young to have firsthand nostalgia for the Reagan-era references. But this ransacking of my generation’s cultural past has produced big 2020s shared cultural moments.

The show’s most surprising legacy: Last summer, during its fourth season, the show’s prominent use of Kate Bush’s classic song “Running Up that Hill” brought it back to the Billboard Hot 100, turning what was a No. 30 hit in 1985 into a No. 3 hit in 2022. It’s the eccentric British singer-songwriter’s first-ever US Top 10 hit.

“The bringback of ‘Running Up That Hill’ worked on two levels, for X-ers and Zoomers,” says Slate chart analyst and pop critic Chris Molanphy. “To teens and 20-somethings, Bush’s song is just a cool, angsty new jam that sounds logical next to Billie Eilish or Glass Animals. To folks our age, it’s a reminder that the music of our youth was pretty cool, and it’s okay to be wistful about it.”

I’m not sure I’m ready for wistful yet. I’m fighting a losing battle to hang on to youthful jadedness. But I sheepishly admit I enjoyed hearing one of my teen touchstones made relevant again. Maybe even as relevant as a 17th-century Dutch Master.

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