2012/05/27 | 306 views | Permalink |
Korea has a number of cultural exports that fall under the title of the 'Korean Wave", no area of which can boast the fanaticism and loyality that bubbles from K-Pop fans. How did this growing international music trend sweep you up and what is it that is keeping you hooked?
I've been listening to quite the odd myriad of music since high school. One of my weaknesses is Japanese rock, and my hobby is discovering new groups and bands to listen to. One late-night YouTube search in university I happened to click on a group called "Super Junior". Honestly, I looked at the video for a few seconds before bursting into laughter-there were so many boys dancing! And I just had to know, what kind of country makes (at the time) the world's largest boy band? It was a rapid descent down the rabbit hole after that. Korean pop and hip hop made for great homework music, and since I wasn't judging based on lyrics, I just enjoyed a good, addicting beat and pretty voices. I also think Kpop is the best kind of music to drive, dance, and exercise to. The turnaround for groups in Korea is ridiculously fast, so there is always a new and catchy song to listen to. It's hard to get bored when they're singularly feeding my music addiction weekly.
One of the most obvious barriers for foreigners getting into K-Pop is the language. Is your Korean good enough to enjoy the lyrics, or are you able to appreciate the genre in some other way?
My Korean prowess relies on one semester of intense studying at Yonsei University a year ago. Needless to say, I've definitely not reached the level of understanding any lyrics save "oooh, I know that word!" But honestly, I prefer not to understand the lyrics. I love and appreciate incredibly written lyrics (it's the English major in me), but most of the time I get distracted and just sit listening to them. Right now I've got a Korean artist serenading my ears and I'm not struggling at all to keep my thoughts intact. Foreign vocals become another type of instrument in my head-I especially love Korean hip hop because I think the flow and rhythm is addicting and fluid. If a singer or rapper is exceptionally talented you don't need to understand the words to get the feel of the song. And I really get into some of these great compositions.
Who are some of you favorite K-Pop groups/stars? How did you first become aware of them and what is it about them that sparked you to following them?
I range all over the board, from fluffy-boy bands like Super Junior and B2ST to truly incredible hip hop groups like Epik High, Supreme Team, and Geeks. I find my music through online new sites like Allkpop, who always keeps me informed on what's coming out. Sites like YouTube make it possible for hours of flitting around, discovering tons of different Korean musicians. I latch on to a couple groups mainly because I really respect (and almost demand) that a group has some kind of contribution to their albums, either through lyrics or melody. My favorite groups right now are actually the ones that have gone through ridiculous amounts of controversy (Block B, Epik High, B2ST). I think groups that manage to stand up after suffering the wrath of absolutely insane fan girls and netizens should be commended. And I can't lie, Kpop is wrapped up in one amazingly good-looking package: fashion styles, very pretty people, and badass dancing (mostly synchronized). Kpop's main selling point is the artist, not the music. When you like a band, you like that band. There are wars fought between fans over groups who put out pretty much the same sound. But it's not the song, it's the members that fans fight for. I fall prey to it as well-I know each member of my favorite groups more than I know about any celebrity back in America.
How has living in Korea allowed you to enjoy K-pop more as opposed to being back home?
You walk down the streets and each shop is competing to see who can play the latest single the loudest. I chat about kpop groups with my students and pop over to Hongdae some weekends to see a hip hop group I like performing there. I've also gone to a shameful amount of concerts during my stay here. It's all too easy to snatch up tickets online, even if they do sell out quickly and cost more than I'd pay back in the states. During my time here at University I went to a couple showings of MCountdown, one of the three main music TV programs that all artists perform on to showcase their newest song. Kpop is so saturated in everyday life that everyone knows something about kpop. It's almost like being back in the day when you liked Nsync or Backstreet boys, and even if you didn't like either of them, you sure as hell knew who they were.
Google just help a K-pop concert birthday bash to celebrate YouTube's 7th anniversary as well as to mark the partnership they forged with MBC last year. The concert was sold out of its 22,000 tickets within an hour! How would you explain why the K-Pop music industry has taken the world by storm like this? What do you think is K-pop's secret sauce that is making reach new fan bases around the world?
I have a couple friends who went to that concert, actually. And some more who contemplated flying cross-country to see it. Very extreme if you ask me, but I understand the desire to see artists in the flesh. As I said before, Korea really sells the artist. We don't need to see the song live, per say, and it's not like the song will be sung live anyway (most of the time it's lip synched). But there's something magical about seeing the group pull off intense dance moves and smile at you and you feel like you're sharing a moment with a friend. And that is the secret. Artists reveal their lives to you through television programs and online social sites like twitter and in return you offer your allegiance to the group. Wouldn't you want to go to your friend's concert? Pretty Korean boys and girls sell the image of a family, working hard and honestly to bring good music to the world and you want to support them and see them succeed. There are groups that I would willingly go out of my way to support because they've successfully convinced me that, yes, they are people worth spending my time and money on. It doesn't matter that we don't understand the language, because we see them mostly through subbed videos on our computer screens. Language becomes irrelevant on the Internet.
This year we saw Girls' Generation appear on two major U.S. talk shows to promote their new album. Although the initial response was very positive, many were skeptical over what Korea's pop music could bring to the Western music scene. Do you think that K-pop would ever truly be embraced into mainstream Western music channels? What are some of the barriers the genre might have to traverse or work around to become the mainstay of international music markets such as the U.S?
I really don't see kpop becoming a staple music source in the states. I know it'll catch in a way that Japanese music never could-it already has. Billboard has its own section for kpop charts, iTunes has tons of Korean artists selling big, and I know that many teens and young adults are hooked to the catchy, danceable beats. But sadly, at least in America, there are just too many people that look at these boy bands and write them off as girly-men who touch way too often. And it's too bad. Girl groups like Girls' Generation are just a bit to cutesy, and the language barrier can't be overcome as easily when a song needs to be promoted over the radio.
If you had to put money on a single Korean K-Pop star or group making it in the Western music scene, who would it be and why?
Big Bang. Without a doubt in my mind. Big Bang's sound is definitely western-it's a catchy hip hop that grabs your bones and makes you dance. The members are strong, independent characters with a selling attitude and their fashion demands attention. Big Bang makes their own music and has two extremely powerful rappers and three amazingly talented singers. All of them are capable of singing English with minimal accents, and they constantly challenge the Korean music scene to one-up them. They might be beaten by their girl equivalents, 2NE1, who has already amassed the attention of Will.I.am. and MTV. It's all in the attitude.
Many of the K-pop starts have been working on their talents from a very early age, some as young as 7 or 8 years old. What are your thoughts on how the K-pop industry cultivates its raising stars?
I love kpop-I dislike the factory-assembly style of training and putting groups together. Recently there was a scandal with a CEO who abused and sold out his girl trainees. The business styles in Korea have always frustrated me, but with Kpop it's almost like there is no governing eye to ensure the health and safety of the trainees and artists under the label. There are countless horror stories surrounding some groups, dealing with money swindling, overworking the artists, and general malpractices. It's a messed up system, one that I don't condone, but the artists and companies are so twined together that it's impossible to separate. Like most things, Koreans start young, train fervently, and become ridiculously good in a specified area. Some of my students are like this with education. Knowing that many groups are just replaceable talents that are handed songs and dances doesn't lend well to music fans, but Kpop is made to be music candy. If you want something heartier, you have to do some searching, just like all music around the world.
What kind of K-pop fan are you? What would you do if saw your favorite K-pop star/group walking through a mall or at a park?
I constantly joke about creeping out a star I love by doing something ridiculous like hugging them to death, but honestly, I don't want to be a bother. If I saw them and the situation seemed appropriate for approach, I'd probably go over and say hello, I enjoy their music, and then leave. But if they were busy I'd see, ogle, and probably leave them alone. Maybe freak out for a few minutes over my absolute luck. I think stalking is downright creepy and holy cow, I've heard some weird tales about sesaeng (stalker) fans and what they do over here.
Okay, so I am personally a little skeptical on the whole K-pop music scene, but convince me! What should I be appreciating here and what singer/group would you recommend someone start with if they wanted to get into K-Pop?
If you like hip-hop, I have to preach the Tablo gospel. Honestly he is the one man in Korea that I would sell to everyone. And I have, even to my sister and brother in law who are music snobs and never listen to the "Asian crap" I enjoy. I sent Tablo's cd to them for Christmas, and they have since raved over his genius. Tablo graduated from Stanford University with a Masters in Creative Writing in an impressive three and a half years. His rapping is often a mix of English and Korean, and his lyrics are eloquent and insightful. He performs solo and with a group called Epik High. Their songs come in many different flavors, but all are quality. Tablo personally oversees and produces all the songs on the album. Since some tracks are still in English, you can get the best of both worlds-enjoy two flavors in one group. They don't sell a dance, a face, or a fashion. They sell music. And I think music is something everyone can get behind. I recommend "fan" as a first trial. Just see if you like it!?
Name: Cat Alumbaugh
Occupation in Korea: English Teacher
Home Town: Sacramento, California
City in Korea: Seoul
Time spent in Korea: 1 year
Best thing about Korea: Amazing food and on the whole, a very welcoming populace
Least favorite thing about Korea: Older Koreans have a very strong feeling of entitlement
"[HanCinema's Interview Corner] Ten Questions for the K-Pop Fan"
by HanCinema is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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