I couldn’t resist taking a stab at Ziko’s any song challenge. It’s such a fun song and the choreography is supposed to be simple enough to allow anyone to take him up on the challenge.
Even though the choreography is pretty easy, I still had my challenges. First of all this was my first time trying to dance solo, and just to be different from the thousands of other found videos online, I decided I needed a different backdrop. In Hawaii, heading to the beach is a no brainer because everyone loves to see blue sky and blue ocean.
The only problem was I was heading to the Big Island so I needed to do it quickly and it was on a holiday and everyone was at the beach.
So, in addition to trying to remember the sequence of the choreography, I had the additional challenges of sun in my eyes, wind whipping my hair into my face, and hundreds of people walking by, including those so oblivious as to pass behind me while the camera was rolling. Doh!
There’s a lot of pressure when people are walking by which made it harder than it would’ve been if I had stayed home.
👁 Zico and Mamamoo’s Hwasa show the challenge choreography:
In fact, it would have been easy to stay home and not do this at all, but I love this song and was compelled to be in the moment. Perhaps it’s 2020 energy at work, which is about tackling your fears before you can attain abundance. It’s supposed to be a momentous year for those willing to take action toward achieving longtime dreams.
Plus, I can relate to a song about getting older and feeling tired and bored but recharging by putting on any song and dancing any way you want.
It’s such an upbeat, fun song that earned Zico the honor of creating the first all-kill song of 2020, meaning it topped six major Korean music charts.
👁 The official video:
In spite of the public situation I put myself in, and my inability to smile where necessary due to those conditions, I got through the dance and survived, so I await the next challenge!
Note: For the sake of having a personal archive of dances, I said I would be posting my beginning dances from last year but I have at least 52 since last March. And I’m definitely more excited about what I’m doing now, so going forward, I think I will start posting those videos with the theme “On this day last year” until I’m all caught up. I will start to post those older videos in mid-March.
It’s funny how we lose motivation so quickly after the new year. Last year I wanted to post my dance videos to track my progress over time. I had some catching up to do, as this thought occurred to me after I had already built up a 6-month backlog of videos.
Well, now I find myself 10 months behind, so I will probably try to bunch them up. These dances are from March 9 and 16, 2019, Pentagon’s “Naughty Boy,” Twice’s “Yes or Yes” and EXO’s “Love Shot.”
At any rate, this is a good time to talk about my journey to date. When I started, I didn’t know what I was getting into. A friend wanted to learn to dance, and it sounded like fun so I said OK to K-pop dance. I didn’t even like K-pop. I was the only anti in class and I couldn’t understand why women my age were gushing over young boys. Whenever the teacher asked for requests for favorite songs or groups, I said I didn’t know any and that I was just there for exercise. This was in late February 2018, but by the end of April I was hooked.
A switch came in May when we did EXO-CBX’s “Blooming Days.” It’s a really difficult dance and at the time I didn’t want to be recorded on videos, but even without seeing how I looked, I never felt good about it, so I knew I had to go back for some remedial technique, having never danced in my life. Also, prior to starting K-pop dance, I was living a sedentary life for 30 years, but I wanted to lose some weight and become stronger as I thought about issues associated with aging, since I am no spring chicken and want to remain ambulatory in my old age.
I also had regrets about never having taken dance classes when I was a child, the result being I was never a good mover, and never had the coordination one develops when making those brain-to-limb neural connections in childhood.
I’ve made some interesting discoveries along the way. I once thought that dance is a purely physical activity, but I have learned the physical part is the easiest. I believe that dance is 1 part physicality, 1 part musicality and 1 part mental strength.
The hardest part is mental, not only remembering the moves—which I have extreme difficulty doing—but also having the focus and confidence to get out there in the first place. You really have to believe you can do it. I struggle with the mental challenge of dance, and it’s not something that instructors—who are typically natural movers and naturally gregarious—can help me with. I feel like what I need is a good sports coach.
Although K-pop is one of the few styles that requires no dance experience to get started, to improve my lines and form, I added on ballet, modern, jazz, hiphop, heels, some African-Caribbean and body mechanics, everything employed by K-pop choreographers. I did all that for the next six months and came out of it ready for the camera by February 2019. Well, imperfect of course, but I wanted to track any improvement over time.
Even though I’m still not very good, I am enjoying the journey, and I both see and feel some improvement. I have a long way to go, but along the way, I hope I can inspire others to get up and move. Don’t let the fear of learning something new stop you from getting started. You may surprise yourself. I know I did.
I wanted to dance to Taemin’s “Move” for a long time and tried to learn the choreography on my own at home.
This is where memory fails me, coz I actually made it through the entire song, but in dancing it could never remember the order of the segments. Just like working out at home, people don’t usually push themselves as much as when risking humiliation in front of other people in a class. So at home I just didn’t do the number of repetitions that would drill the movements in brain and body.
I feel like this is a dance that could be done in its entirety if given three class sessions or so, but I didn’t like the way the segments were chopped when we did this on March 2, instead of staying true to the choreography. It kind of messed me up because the flow of movement was lost.
I thought the EXO in Hawaii chapter was over when the group’s photobook “PRESENT; gift” was released in April.
Now a second 204-page Hawaii photobook, “PRESENT; the moment” is set to be released on Sept. 10.
SM has already teased a handful of photos. The last outing featured picturesque destinations. The teased photos showed the more mundane, with Chen and Suho pictured inside humble Kaimuki Laundromat, and D.O., Sehun, Kai and Baekhyun standing prettily in silk lei on a residential street. Shades of “EXO Next Door!” If I knew they were on my street I would run out of the house.
I did get a friend’s shared picture when we just so happened to make ourselves useful by hand-delivering bento lunches to EXO while they were at Kualoa Ranch. Unfortunately, they couldn’t hang around because they were headed to Secret Island Beach, and as soon as we got there a staffer grabbed the lunches from us to load onto their boat.
There was only room for a small crew, so they left about 30 other crew members behind. As they were heading out, my friend took a few photos, and below is one of them. I like to say this was the first time my future husband Chen saw me waving him off. LOL!
It’s not like I’m a stalker; I just wanted to see what they look like, how tall they are IRL. D.O., Baekhyun and Chen are pretty short. I think they heighten in their bios. Otherwise they look the same as their photos. The only surprise was D.O. I don’t care much for his looks in 2D—of this group Chen is my bias; if you include Lay it would be Lay—but in 3D D.O.’s features just pop and he is really good-looking.
That said, the second book comes along just at the time EXO-Ls may be missing our EXO members in the military Xiumin and D.O., and this keeps them at the top of our thoughts.
BlackPink was on Oahu in mid-July to film various activities over a few days for a travelog, “BLACKPINK Summer Diary: In Hawaii.” At the time, I wrote a story for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser about their activities.
Group members Jennie Kim, Jisoo Kim, Rosé (Park Chae-young) and Lisa Manoban posted dozens of photos from the Kahala Hotel, where fans also spotted and photographed them swimming with dolphins.
Well, YG Entertainment just announced the release of a photobook package, “2019 BLACKPINK’s Summer Diary (In Hawaii),” with photos and videos of the group vacationing in Hawaii (they’re always working vacations) after completing their first world tour. It must be noted that they kept smiles on their faces (mostly) even though some weren’t feeling well.
The photo book is available for pre-order through Sept. 8 KST on Amazon.com for $62.99. It will be officially released on Sept. 9.
YG artists regularly release winter season films and photobooks. This project marks its first summer season product.
If you’re ever in Kaneohe, you might want to check out the Korean bakery Ono2Guys for its unique “croissant Korean-style sandwich,” also known as the Idol or K-pop sandwich ($4.76) because of its link to K-pop stars.
One of the two guys behind the bakery, Ewa Kim, spent more than a decade as a director at SBS (Seoul Broadcasting System), which hosts the weekly music show “SBS Inkigayo,” starring popular and rookie music artists. Only celebs and staffers of SBS had access to a fourth-floor cafeteria where one of the most popular items was an egg sandwich with coleslaw and the one ingredient that sets it apart from your typical savory sandwich, strawberry jam.
By Western standards, it’s an unusual combination, but Kim said he grew up eating similar samsaek, or three-color, sandwiches made by his mom.
Because he said some people consider egg to be stinky, he swaps it out at his bakery with ham and Swiss and American cheeses, to which he also adds the crunch of cucumbers. He also substituted the usual white bread for a croissant, and the combination is divine! I’m not sure why it works, but it does, and he said it must be strawberry jam. He’s tried many other flavors, but said none work as well.
Another reason for the sandwich’s notoriety? Just as the Chinese used mooncakes to relay messages of rebellion against 14th century Mongol rule, the idols use this particular food item to carry more sociable greetings.
According to the website Soompi, former Big Bang member Seungri said idols, whose contracts often forbid dating, would slip notes and phone numbers under the plastic wrap and gift the sandwich to someone else without their managers’ knowledge of the extra ingredient.
Ono2Guys is also home to a range of savory and sweet buns such as those with curry potato filling or chocolate custard cream, cupcakes and Crazy Loaf breads filled with Korean sweet potato, sugared chestnuts or red beans. Always the music lover, Kim said the loaves are named “Crazy” because that’s the song that was playing while he initially experimented with the loaves.
Ono2Guys is at 45-773 Kamehameha Highway. Call 808.762.3111.
It’s rare for Hawaii fans to witness K-pop live. Groups come here all the time, but not for concerts.
Since last November, EXO, Winner, Black Pink and Twice have all been in town for a mix of photo opps and video features. Others have been here as well. In 2017, before they really blew up in America, BTS was on Oahu to film their vacation package “Bon Voyage.” They walked throughout Waikiki and the North Shore unbothered. No one took much much notice of the seven Korean guys in loud aloha shirts.
There have been attempts to stage big concerts here before, but according to promoters, the numbers really didn’t add up. As I mentioned in my post yesterday, the market for K-pop is still niche and in Hawaii, it’s difficult to know who’s a fan. Many are closeted.
And although the rest of the world sorts music lovers into fans of K-pop and antis, many of the K-pop fans are anti-any-band-that-is-not-their-fave. Rivalries among fandoms is real, so a BTS fan may not show support for an EXO concert and vice versa.
A BTS fan may say he/she is a K-pop fan, but in truth that person may only like BTS. So BTS distorts the numbers of true K-pop fans—who, just as among Western music lovers—may follow only two or three favorite groups out of a hundred or so that debut every year.
So, it was a real treat to see Ladies Code and eSNa in town for a free concert thanks to the Hawaii Korean Chamber of Commerce, which presents a free Korean Festival annually. This year, the event took place Aug. 10 at Victoria Ward Park on the grounds of the former Ward Warehouse.
About 10,000 people attended the all-day, family event that closed with the 7 p.m. concert, and afterward the women stayed for a meet-and-greet session with grateful fans.
I had the opportunity to chat with the women briefly before they had to go on stage for a soundcheck and rehearsal session.
eSNa, whose stage name is an abbreviated version of her full name, Esther Nara Yoon, is from L.A. and started her music career by uploading cover songs on YouTube. She moved to South Korea in 2010 and became known as a singer-songwriter who has written songs for many in the industry.
She was sidelined earlier this year after she was struck by a car that left her bedridden with a broken collarbone and other injuries. After recuperating, she returned to the stage during KCON New York last month. Her Hawaii appearance is only her second outing since then, and she will perform next at KCON LA, running Aug. 15-18.
She had wanted to try skydiving on this trip, her fifth to Hawaii, but still doesn’t have the OK from her doctor for any extreme activity.
Meanwhile, Ashley Choi and Lee Sojung were here without Polaris Entertainment’s Ladies Code third member Zuny. They had lots of plans to enjoy the outdoors, try a lot of local food favorites such as shave ice and açaí bowls, as well as hit the bars.
On their first trip to Hawaii, they said that the view is something you can’t imagine in Korea and they love the blue sky and fresh air.
I have the uncanny knack for being in places like Shanghai and Seoul when the air is clear and skies are blue, so I have never witnessed the black smog and air pollution that has Seoul ranked near the bottom, out of 180 countries, for air quality in Yale University’s 2016 Environmental Performance Index.
During their rehearsal, Ladies Code was joined by two backup dancers to perform their current comeback hit “Feedback,” as well as one of their debut songs, “Bad Girl,” among others.
They said they would love to be invited back to perform next year, and I’m sure Hawaii K-pop fans would love to see them again.
In my last post, I wrote about JYP Entertainment coming to town to audition Japanese speaking girls for a K-pop band created for the Japan market on Aug. 8. (Registration deadline Aug. 1)
A few weeks later I was in dance class when a mother and daughter walked in because the teenage daughter wanted to audition and with no dance training, wanted to learn how to dance for a professional audition in a month. Ah, to be young and naive.
Well, at first you might think, “That’s absurd, nobody can learn to dance in a month.” But the reality is that K-pop group members are often cast for looks first, then trained boot camp style to get up to par. Unlike many dance forms, K-pop dance doesn’t really require formal dance training to start. It helps but the industry has a whole battery of trainers who will whip anyone with the stamina, willpower and work ethic into shape.
So, a lack of dance skill is not an insurmountable weakness. You just need to show potential. In fact, for this particular audition, it could even be better starting from scratch because there’s a TV show involved, with the premise of taking raw material, some starting with talent but mixed in with skill-less rubes, one of whom may surprise us and become a global superstar. Everyone loves a Cinderella story right? And K-pop is full of them. The more dramatic, the better.
But here’s the problem. I could already see this girl is not K-pop material because she is a demure weakling who showed up for one class and never showed up again. To make it in K-pop a person needs a body, will and mind of steel or the industry will break you.
At that moment I realized that most parents are clueless about what the industry is about. If they pay any attention to K-pop at all, it’s because their children are obsessed with it and all they see is the glitz and glam of cute, colorfully dressed boys and girls singing perky PG-rated songs of first love and wistful dreams, and think there can’t be anything troubling with this picture. Wrong-o.
Parents who think this way will be shocked to know they are sending their children into a war zone and putting him on her in a lot of danger, physically and mentally. In South Korea it’s done because a lot of the kids grow up in small rural towns and all their parents’ hopes and dreams ride on their success. That’s why when they fail they cry, often not for themselves, but for letting their families down. But in this country we have child labor laws that don’t allow for the kind of abuse allowed in South Korea.
I’m not here to dash anyone’s dreams but I’m just delivering a reality check if your child is intent on auditioning. These are 10 reasons why you may not want your child to be involved in K-pop.
1. The industry breaks people. The specter of suicides in the Korean entertainment industry is real. South Korea overall has the highest suicide rate in Asia, beating Japan, with 26.9 suicides per 100,000 people. Let’s not forget that I arrived at K-pop because of Kim Jonghyun’s suicide in December 2017. Celebrity casualties have been numerous over the years and the pace never seems to slow down. This May, former Kara star Goo Hara tried to kill herself, and on June 29 popular actress Jeon Mi Seon hanged herself in a hotel room.
The industry preys on the weak because agencies need to assert total control over their trainees and they do not want to take in people who are uppity, unruly, disobedient or strong-willed. It’s the meek who can be molded any way they choose, who obey every order and are fine with having no say in the direction of their careers.
This is just one of the causes of depression among Korean stars. As you will see, there are many more.
2. Starvation is a logical method of weight loss. Girl group members often talk about being on a paper cup diet, that is, all the food they can fit into a small paper cup is what they are allowed to eat in one day. To make it more tangible, one trainee said she was allowed only 300 calories a day, a lot less than the 1,600 to 2,000 calories a typical teenage girl needs to stay healthy.
To give you more perspective, a whole mango is about 270 calories. If you ate the two crackers with a thin slice of salami on each, plus a soft drink, you would come close to your day’s limit. Eating this way, even three meals of 300 calories would seem difficult to maintain.
I’ve also read about boy trainees being allotted one rice roll a day, that is, the equivalent of a plain musubi. A 7Eleven Spam musubi has 253 calories, so these boys, also dividing a can of soda six ways, are also consuming fewer than 300 calories, while on their feet dancing for hours.
One of the idols said he was ecstatic if they happened to get a rice roll with a bit of fish in it, and complained that he lingered in practice one day and by the time he showed up to eat, someone else had eaten his rice roll so he starved for the day. The stories about going without food for a day or two are common. And BTS’s Jimin famously ate nothing for 10 days during his trainee period, when he was desperate to shed his baby fat.
If you are not rail thin (and few Americans meet Korean standards of thinness) you will be given even less food than other members and the Knetz, or Korean Internet trolls, will be merciless in their insults and demands for you to quit the group.
3. Not everyone is K-pop beautiful, but plastic surgery assures you will meet the high standard. Fitting into this appearance-driven society is a must in a nation where even “normal” job applicants must submit a photo with their resumes. If you don’t look good, you don’t get hired. This is why South Korea is one of the plastic surgery capitals of the world.
The Korean industry has a rigid standard of beauty that departs from the Western mantra that “everyone is beautiful in his/her own way.” In Korea, your unique personality and physical quirks will not make you beautiful. They want a western nose combined with eyes at just the right slant, lush lips and a sharp V-line chin for both girls and boys. Oh, and a clear, milky complexion helps.
So surgery is not a personal option. It is mandatory if the company deems it necessary and contracts often include a clause that says you will agree to plastic surgery or you will be dismissed.
4. There’s reason the contract you sign is called a slave contract. K-pop contracts generally have a seven-year term. This is down from 10 years because of governmental reforms after concern over fairness of these so-called slave contracts. During this long term, you are beholden to all the company’s demands over both your professional and personal lives as you will see further on.
5. All that glitters is an illusion. Even if you successfully reach the end of your term, you could leave the company in debt. That is because you will pay for everything. If you’re lucky to make a successful debut, you can consider yourself very lucky if you clear $12,000 a year. And yes, I did say successful. Out of 100 groups that debut annually, maybe one or two become successful enough to profit.
Mega successes like EXO (worth about $7 million each) and BTS (worth about $8 million each) are rare, and even over several years they still do not make the kind of money that a western star like Beyoncé or Taylor Swift can make in a matter of months.
That is because the industry does not work the same way as in America where the artist might pay 10 percent to an agent.
In South Korea the agency owns the artist, but makes the artist foot the bill for training, room and board, stylists, recording, travel expenses and more. When you see BTS flying on a private jet, that expense is coming out of their individual pockets.
I was really shocked when I first saw SHINee’s Key coloring his hair in his bathroom sink because, he revealed, his Big Three company SM Entertainment charged him for stylist services. You would think it would be in the company’s best interest to have these stars look their best, but making $$$ is more important. Key said he even begged them to do it once for free because of the frequency of his hair needs, but it was a no-go.
On “Treasure Box,” YG founder Yang Hyun Suk said the company spends 100 million won (nearly $100,000) per trainee annually. It’s not out of the kindness of his heart but represents an investment in talent that needs to be paid back somehow.
A 50-50 split between artist and agency is generous; depending on revenue source i.e. concert, merchandise or recording. Different companies have different terms, but at the worst, the split could be 80-20 in favor of the company, after net. If a lot of expenses were involved in staging a concert, group members may not profit at all.
The company exacts a high price because of the burden of trainees who never make it and are therefore unlikely to be able to pay back the cost of their training. And this is not because of a lack of talent either. They may not debut simply because they never fit into any of the company’s concepts and simply aged out at 20.
6. You will have no time to rest. Yes, you will be caught up in a whirlwind of activity that may be exciting in the beginning but you will quickly find it is a carnival ride you can’t exit.
If you find it hard to get motivated for school or work or exercise, this is not for you because you’ll be working or practicing 11 to 16 hours a day, at minimum. The truly motivated will put in an additional four hours of practice on their own. And what do you do if you see your trainee competition practicing and getting ahead of you in building their skill set? You keep practicing too.
Sleep deprivation is also a factor leading to depression. Jonghyun said that he got no more than two hours of sleep nightly for a decade, and this is fairly common because of late-night schedules and early morning wake-up calls. This is because, in addition to practice, idols have to put in time filming Vlive segments and making appearances on variety shows to keep building their fanbase.
And, after all that practice you might think that they would treat their tired bodies to a massage. But, no. Remember the company doesn’t pay for any extraneous services and on one episode of “Celebrity Brothers,” BTS’s Kim Taehyung revealed while getting a massage, that it was only his second professional massage since starting his idol journey three years prior. Once again, I was shocked. I only dance about 3 to 4 hours a week and I need a massage at least once a week because of it. I can’t imagine how much pain they must be in during on a regular basis.
7. Say goodbye to dating. Idols must be wholesome, clean-cut, virginal and available. You can’t be that if you have a boyfriend or girlfriend.
Contracts often have no-dating clauses because the major pretense of idoldom is that you are the boyfriend or girlfriend of each fan because that is what they want to believe.
That is why most of the stars decline from being photographed with people on the street. The last thing they need is for such a photo to get out on the Internet with some false relationship claim. Any time any male idol appears with a girl in a photo, whether sister, stylist, dance coach, the claws come out and comments typically read, “Who’s that girl? I hate her.”
Once the fans and companies find out, the relationships are typically terminated.
8. You will be cut off from family and friends. Trainees are often forbidden to participate in social media and their cell phones are taken away, so your world will revolve only around the company.
Even if you do get to keep your cell phone, it will be subject to frequent inspections to make sure you are not getting text messages from any love interest.
Because of this isolation, many K-pop stars talk about loneliness and depression. Outside friends and families are powerless to help because they receive no information.
Some stars have said that family members have been turned away when trying to visit on their birthdays. Just before SHINee’s 10th anniversary, Taemin said that he hadn’t spent any Christmas with his family in a decade because of his busy schedule, and the holidays are a prime time for performance showcases. He left his family at 11 for a life on stage.
9. You will cry every day. I never knew of Jonghyun before he committed suicide. When I went back to watch his old videos, I couldn’t help but notice that he cried a lot. At that time I had no idea how the industry worked so I wondered why they all cry a lot.
I was starting to think these idol wannabes are such wimps coz if I have a goal I will work to achieve it without complaint. But after watching my first survival show, “Treasure Box,” I realized that if I were in their shoes I would probably be crying every day too because of the brutal criticisms from the trainers and managers.
The trainees are subject to monthly evaluations in front of everyone, so everyone can see your strengths and weaknesses, and can listen in on the criticism. At this time all trainees are ranked from top to bottom and if you are anywhere below top three that can seriously mess with your self-esteem. You are not immune from humiliation even if you’re ranked No. 1 or improving daily because the whole staff knows someone younger and/or more talented than you can walk into the door at any time.
While in the United States we measure people on the basis of accomplishment, in South Korea they judge people in terms of how much they are lacking, breaking it down into percentages.
10. You can’t date but your company might pimp you out if they can profit from it. The rumor is that many of the celebrities who have committed suicide were pimped out by their agencies in the interest of furthering their careers.
The most infamous incident was the case of Jang Ja-Yeon in 2009. She left behind a letter claiming that her agent had regularly beaten her and forced her to have sex with a string of VIPs, including directors, media executives and CEOs in order to get jobs. The case was ignored, then reopened earlier this year following the Seungri Burning Sun scandal, before being dismissed again likely because of the high profile of those she had named.
Even if not forced into prostitution, companies can often send trainees and idols, both male and female, out as dates or escorts to entertain the rich and powerful. How far does this go in South Korea society? One blogger recently called out the rich on this matter after being propositioned by a chaebol daughter who offered him $20,000 for one night together.
So that’s it for now. Hope this has been illuminating as to why fans of K-pop respect the idols so much for all they are able to endure.
Hawaii is blessed with artistic and musical talent. Per capita, we have more people who make a living from the arts than in most states. I recently researched this for another article I was writing about the Hawaii State Art Museum and found Hawaii ranked No. 6 among states on the National Endowment for the Arts 2005 report—the only time the study was made—of artists per percentage of the population, at 84.1 artists per 10,000 people. Topped ranked New York has 101.1 artists per 10,000 people.
Part of it comes from living in a melting pot culture of people from all around the world. When at a loss for words, people who came together on the plantations and city of Honolulu in the late 1800s to early 1900s found they could communicate through song, dance and pictorial language.
With visionary leaders and training centers, I could imagine once having the opportunity for Hawaii music to reach the status of K-pop in the world. Well, we don’t have that, but we do have talented youths and inevitably, some would cross the ocean to make it in K-pop.
Following in the footsteps of Bekah Kim (After School) and Huening Kai (TXT), the latest K-pop star from Hawaii is Eson (Jason) a rapper, songwriter from Choon Entertainment’s We In The Zone. The group just released a mini debut album that includes the fun title song, “Let’s Get Loud.”
Eson is the group’s leader, joined by bandmates Joo An, (Im Ji Myoung), Min, Yoon Kyeong Hoon and Kim Shi Hyun, who was formerly part of “Produce 101” season 2 and Under Nineteen.
Never in my life did I dream that K-pop would be a subject worthy of college level study, but why not for the politics, history, psychology or sociology student who wants to know how popular culture shapes a society, or the business or economics student who wants to know how a multibillion dollar industry was built from nothing? Which is where K-pop was in 1992 when Seo Taiji and the Boys took to the Munhwa Broadcasting Corp. stage on April 11 with their hiphop act and lost the evening’s music competition but won enough fans to change the way music is made in Korea.
It was only five years after South Korea became a democracy, and people were finally free to emulate their Western counterparts regarding music and fashion. Prior to that, they had lived under autocratic rule similar to North Korea today, where personal freedom was limited and little things like hair lengths and skirt lengths were strictly regulated.
While Seo Taiji and the Boys took their cues from American hiphop, others flocked to J-pop, and within a year after democracy was established, 10 percent of all music sold in Korea was J-pop. One of the “boys” was Yang Hyun Suk who would later found YG Entertainment, one of the Big Three agencies in South Korea, who professor Jayson Makoto Chun now compares to Darth Vader, having gone to the dark side as someone who once fought for creative freedom, but stifles his own artists.
“ASAN 464: K-pop and J-Pop: Korean and Japanese Popular Music and Society,” led by Drs. Patrick Patterson and Chun, grew out of their respective interest and research into the worlds of J-pop and K-pop. They joined forces because they said there can be no discussion without knowing the countries’ intertwined histories.
It made me thank back to a post from last year after BTS appeared at the Grammy Awards show. I remember one commentator wrote of one of their videos rocking out to Dolly Parton’s performance, “Those are the whitest guys I’ve ever seen. That’s what colonialism gets you.”
On the one hand, I was angry about the snarky comment, but at the same time I had to acknowledge that K-pop is essentially American or Western music sung in the Korean language. The course is driving home this point even more as Chun raised the question: “What is Korean about K-pop?” pointing out that most of the songs are written by Swedish or American songwriters; their dances are created by American or Japanese choreographers; their training system is modeled after the J-pop system; and these days group members are increasingly coming from the United States, Thailand, Japan, China and Taiwan as they seek out the best and brightest who may no longer be in South Korea.
It’s a question that will come up more and more as the Korean music industry itself tries to stay ahead of the pack and are moving into other countries, hoping to replicate the K-pop formula with homegrown talent in countries across Asia and the rest of the world, including this country as SM Entertainment prepares to launch a second Girls’ Generation with American talent to sing in English, and a second NCT comprising Europeans.
Obviously, they have the know-how to create and train groups in countries such as Indonesia or Thailand that don’t have the infrastructure to grow and market their regional talent.
I’ve often thought this about Hawaii, where we have a lot of people with innate musical ability, but lack the vision and training centers to create superstars. Someone like Bruno Mars had to go it alone and blaze his own trail, but what if we had studios connected to L.A. producers who could identify and work with talent from a young age? Mars (born Peter Gene Fernandez) at least had an advantage in having been trained in stagecraft by his musician father.
But the whole idea of the K industry looking elsewhere for talent has me worried about the future of K-pop and Koreans who want to enter the business as the market will become saturated with singing, dancing boys and girls from every country, speeding the decline of this style of music as the audience grows weary of it and moves on to the next big thing.
The overall purpose of the class is to learn the ways the Koreans have managed to hack our brains as we decode the workings of an industry that is shaping the way all music is made.
Professor Patterson compared it to a baseball field in which one action sets every player on the field into action. Although in the scheme of things, BTS is not as big in terms of record sales in America as the perception may be because of their constant news presence, all industry eyes are on them to see what they will be doing next and to crack the code to their success. You can bet there are people hard at work now to reverse-engineer their music and marketing methods to find out why they have managed to captivate so many, irregardless of gender, sexual identity, race and age.
During an earlier talk to raise interest in the course, Chun suggested that suffering is a crucial component of K-pop because fans identify with the struggle and the fact that the group members continue to work hard even after they become successful, unlike their Western counterparts, who often adopt a decadent lifestyle and feeling of entitlement. In contrast, every K-pop star knows he or she can replaced any second by someone younger and more talented. As trainees, they compete every day and are role models for a generation sick of the childish behavior exhibited by our politicians and other adults around them. American adults talk about morals and values but display none of the traits they idealized. On the other hand, K-pop stars are generally trained to act like model citizens as they are sent as ambassadors of South Korea abroad. Fans often call them princes because of the elegance they project abroad.
Another reality is that South Korea is still a relatively poor country and in rural areas, a family’s well-being can rest entirely on their child, which is why they can sign them to slave contracts. It’s why the kids feel incredible pressure to perform well, and adds to their feelings of disappointment and shame when they are unable to debut.
When Chun asked us whether we would have been willing to sign our lives away at age 11, it’s funny only me and the other musician in class raised our hands. “Seven years is not that long,” I whispered to my friend. At their age it covers “wasted” time in junior and high schools.
I already know what it’s like to suffer for one’s career and stick it out for the long haul. I feel like I would have been tough enough, though after watching some of the survival shows I feel as if I—like so many of them—would be crying after every evaluation. It all drives the feeling of empathy and compassion we feel toward them. It was already pointed out in class that after one of our class members related one of the difficulties of her high school years, we sympathized and liked her more.
The same is true of the K-pop bands we stan. The fans are always there to offer up an encouraging rallying cry of “Fighting!” “Save him!” or “Protect him!” when we see them enduring hardships or taunts from other fandoms. Just today there were anti-fans trying to spread the hashtag “TaehyungleaveBTS,” calling him ugly and talentless. Of course Army fought back.
And there’s a reason EXO’s catchphrase is “We are one.” Fans and stars, we are all fighting for their success together, and that makes for an unbreakable bond.