In light of Eminem’s appearance at Aloha Stadium over the weekend, I thought I’d mention his lasting (though inadvertent) contribution to the K-pop lexicon via his song, “Stan,” dating to 2000.
Stan is used by many fandoms, but in K-pop in particular because it’s a genre that breeds more than its fair share of so-called “stalker fans.” The name happens to work as a portmanteau, combining the sounds and meanings of “stalker” and “fan,” to create a word that brings back the element of extreme devotion lost over time as “fan” became an abbreviation of the original descriptor of such obsessive individuals, “fanatic.”
His song is about an obsessed fan named Stanley Mitchell who identifies closely with the star, his life and struggles, initially penning friendly letters that get more desperate and threatening over time when the star fails to respond.
The word made it to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2017, which defines “stan” as “an overzealous or obsessive fan of a particular celebrity.”
The South Koreans have their own word to describe such fans. “Sasaeng,” meaning private life, but also used to describe over-obsessive fans of Korean idols or other public figures, who intrude on their private lives, going as far as to put the stars in danger. Car accidents have been caused by their pursuit of celebrities. This type of stalking is considered only a minor offense in Korea, with a fine of $100,000 won, less than US$100.
The Korean entertainment industry excels at turning otherwise normal individuals into stans. While I’m not crazy enough to engage in the types of behavior in the video below, I did get obsessed enough to launch this blog, even though I have spent half a lifetime without exhibiting an ounce of cultish behavior!
When watching BTS as presenters tonight on the Grammy Awards show, let’s not forget that there are dozens of K-pop artists equal to the task of conquering America. BTS has worked hard to get to its place of recognition on the American music scene, but this is an exciting time for K-pop in general.
Red Velvet kicked off its first solo American concert tour Feb. 7 and 8 at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium. And EXO’s Chinese member and solo artist Lay Zhang (Zhang Yixing) is also attending the Grammy show.
But most significantly, girl group BlackPink made its American debut during Universal Music Group’s pre-Grammy Showcase concert yesterday. The group will also perform on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” on Monday night, Feb. 11, and fans can wake up to the group’s appearance on “Good Morning America” on Feb. 12.
K-pop artists have been trying to crack the American market for 30 years, with the blessing of the South Korean government, hoping to use the soft power of music to spread love for Korean culture around the globe. The groups picked up fans worldwide, but in the United States the Hallyu Wave stopped far from shore, a niche market at best.
The entertainment companies, with government financial support, did their best to package group shows, and band members often stood outside venues passing out free tickets. But the timing wasn’t right to support a bunch of Asians singing in a language few Americans understood.
The future of K-pop in America brightened last year with BTS’s phenomenal success in topping the Billboard charts, and appearing at top American award shows, major magazine covers and talk shows. They also spoke up for youths and human rights at the United Nations. The message sent back to the South Korean music industry was, “This is finally our time.” It all seemed to re-energize the industry and they put renewed focus on conquering America.
👁 Watch: BlackPink’s hit “Ddu-Du Ddu-Du”
I sensed this back in September, when addressing an anti on my Facebook page. I assured her the Koreans were coming and the next group likely to make it big is BlackPink, a women quartet, part of the YG Entertainment family in Korea. They have it all, the ability to sing and dance, the looks, the style and the attitude. This is an important point because in the past, South Korean girl bands met a Korean male producer’s fantasy of the dichotomy between madonna and whore. These groups were packaged to be either sickeningly saccharine cutesy, or slutty playthings for men. I find both extremes obnoxious, and likely, so would most women in the United States.
Today, groups like BlackPink and Mamamoo are projecting a new ideal, of women who can still be beautiful and sexy, but also strong and independent.
Just one month after my prediction, BlackPink signed with Universal Music Group’s Interscope Records, which means more promotions outside of Asia for the group, already slated to be the first women’s K-pop group to perform at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in California on April 12 and 19.
We’ll see whether a majority of the United States truly has become more open to outside cultures. In the past when it comes to Asians in the mainstream, it’s been demonstrated that Americans can only tolerate one or two minority actors at the same time, one woman, one man, because in mainstream eyes, sadly, all Asians look alike.
What’s different today is there’s a younger generation who grew up with the world in their palms, and thanks to social media, groups that would have been obscure in the past are finding a way to reach a global audience and seduce adoring fans by showing up and sharing their abundant talent.
👁 Watch: BlackPink Jennie’s “Solo”
Some are speculating the deal will mean a possible English-language release from the group. That’s quite possible considering Lalisa (Lisa) Manoban is hapa Thai and Caucasian and grew up in Thailand fluent in both Thai and English languages. Rosé (Park Chae Young) was born in Auckland, New Zealand, and raised speaking English and Korean in Melbourne. Jennie Kim was born in South Korea, but lived in Auckland, New Zealand, for five years and is also fluent in English and Korean. Only Jisoo (Kim Ji Soo) speaks no English.
Having the English speakers will be very helpful for the group because interviews with K-pop bands in the past have been few and awkward because of the language barrier. This makes media more open to have them as guests and interview subjects.
👁 Watch: Taemin’s “Danger” dance practice
I’m hoping there will be a place for SHINee’s maknae Taemin (Lee Tae-min), who’s pursuing a solo career while his hyung Key (Kim Kibum) and Minho (Choi Minho) join Onew (Lee Jinki) the South Korean military in March. His solo album “Want” drops Feb. 11 (10th in the Western world).
And everyone’s waiting to know what Big Hit’s TXT (Tomorrow X Together) will sound like when they debut March 5 (4th in the West). There’s a lot of buzz surrounding this band, only the second from Big Hit, the company that spawned BTS.
The YG Treasure Box saga finally came to an end four days ago, when the entertainment company finally revealed the last six of it’s new boy group lineup.
We thought it was the end in late January, when the lineup for the seven-member group was revealed. On Jan. 27, I wrote that I wished YG would introduce a second group, particularly to debut Mashiho, the Japanese trainee who proved so deserving on its TV competition.
To my relief, Mashi was the first member named to the second group, which has been dubbed Magnum. (Stupid name.) Like the last few members of the prior group, the announcements of the members came days apart, prolonging the agony of fans who wanted to know whether their faves had made it.
I was rooting for another Japanese trainee, Keita, but as days passed, it seemed like it wasn’t going to happen because he is a rapper, and two other rappers had been named.
In the meantime, many were rooting for the “Silverboys,” the oldest of YG’s Korean trainees, who were part of the company’s A-Team, including Lee Byoung-gon, Kim Seung-hoon, Park Ji-hoon and Kim Do-young. The latter two made it, and in the aftermath, Byoung-gon and Seung-hoon left the company.
They are already 19 and 20 (20 and 21 in South Korea) and the sad reality is that ideally, debuts will come at or before age 18, so the company can make money off the boys for a full decade before they are required to enter the military. Contracts are generally for seven years, so 21 would be the absolute cut-off age.
Sadly, Keita didn’t make it either, and I wonder what his future holds as a five-year trainee.
The 13 members will debut as Treasure 13, then break off into subunits of Treasure and Magnum as needed. I am thinking Magnum may have been created to appeal to the Japanese market because the group is split evenly into three Korean members, and three Japanese.
👁 Watch: Keita (in red shirt) performing with Haruto, who made it to Treasure 7.
Like Jimin before him, BTS’s V (Kim Tae-hyung) has released a self-composed song, “Scenery,” this time just ahead of the Lunar New Year, on Jan. 30.
An avid photographer, V expressed the bittersweet feeling of those beautiful, precious moments in life that pass all too soon, in a slow-tempo, song with his signature melancholy low, breathy vocals, expressing the desire to capture those moments in memory and on film.
Even if you’re not into Kpop chances are you may have heard about the saga of Hyuna and Kim Hyo-jong (introduced by his stage name E’Dawn at the time).
Their story made headlines around the world, including the New York Times and the paper I work for, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, which I can tell you has very little interest in K-pop. They made news because they were fired from their agency Cube Entertainment for the sin of dating. Gasp!
It was shocking in the west because dating who we want, when we want, is a basic freedom. In certain jobs it can become an issue when a person in a position of authority in a company dates a person in a lower position, because of the imbalance of power or accusation of favoritism that might arise from such a situation.
But in this case they were peers let go because of Korean society’s pressure on idols to conform to fans wishes that they be single and seemingly available, no matter how fantastical that may seem. As such, idol trainee contracts often have “no dating” clauses, although some may date in secret. This was the case with Hyuna and Hyo-jong. They had been dating for two years by the time Hyuna ‘fessed up.
The backlash from Knetz—Korean netizens as they’re called—was so swift and severe that Cube felt pressured to let go of both artists, Hoyong first because he was the lesser known artist who had only recently debuted as a member of Pentagon. It was harder for Cube to let go of Hyuna, who had been one of its top earners for several years.
After their dismissal, international fans took over in chastising Cube, so much so that within a few days the company announced that it had all been a misunderstanding and the couple’s employment was reinstated. But the damage had been done and the couple left on their own, continuing to feed fans with their individual Instagram feeds showing them together, happily traveling, take a leisurely walks and continuing their dance practices. They didn’t shy away from PDA in a society that frowns on any public intimacy.
Typically, K-pop stars would have been expected to cower in the face of such controversy, apologized and gone silent on their social media, so it was refreshing to see Hyuna fighting back by comically addressing her attackers through her feed.
When they accused her of being fat, she got on a scale and posted her weight, at 5-foot-6 and 95 pounds. She went “bowling” with friends as human pins representing Cube and critics.
People were curious to see what they would do next, and the answer came Jan. 27, when the pair signed a contract with “Gangnam Style” star PSY’s new label, P Nation. Can’t wait to see what will come with the partnership, as both Hyuna and PSY are artists known to test boundaries. This will be interesting to watch in conservative Korean society.