Hybrid Hallyu: The American Soul Tradition In K-pop

2013 Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association (PCA/ACA)

Washington, DC • March 27-30, 2012

Crystal S. Anderson, Ph.D. • Elon University

Hallyu (Korean wave), a Korean cultural movement directed towards global audiences, represents hybrid and transnational sensibilities.  Ever since the debut of Seo Taiji and the Boys in 1992, Korean popular music (K-pop) has been influenced by American soul and R&B.  This paper examines the soul tradition in contemporary K-pop by interrogating the adoption and adaptation of the genre by several K-pop groups.

Rather than assuming K-pop represents an imitation of Black American music or rehashing reductive arguments about authenticity, this paper investigates how the music of K-pop soul artists represent a form of particularized yet global cultural production, one that is simultaneously global yet Korean.  I argue that these K-pop artists draw on the soul tradition, fuse it with Korean cultural elements and redirect it back to global audiences.  In doing so, what does Korean soul mean for those artists who choose the genre, and the audiences who engage with their cultural production?

Specifically, I use qualitative data from global fans of K-pop as well a critical cultural analysis of K-pop music, videos, interviews and websites to uncover how Korean artists make sense of the American soul tradition.  Focusing on K-soul artists such as Aziatix, Fly to the Sky, 8eight and Brown Eyed Soul, this paper will also explore various elements of K-pop soul, including: the impact of Asian American artist in K-soul, the role of gender, the use of different forms of American soul music and the nature of the critical discourse surrounding discussions of such groups.

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