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Hallyu Harmony: A Cultural History of Kpop is a digital humanities project that traces connections among the artists and groups across genres, generations and geographies through visuals, music and choreography. The first exhibit, Seo Taiji: President of Culture, explores the reasons why Seo Taiji is considered the pioneer of contemporary K-pop. The current exhibit under construction, Move the Crowd: Choreography and K-pop, explores an other key aspect of K-pop: dance. APeace is the first page in the first section of this exhibit, Star Array: Dance and the Large K-pop Group. With 21 members, APeace is one of the largest K-pop groups. See how they use their numbers in choreography here.
The iFans project rolls on with more cover dance! The second section of the exhibit, Dance Like Everybody’s Watching: K-pop Cover Dances, features Girls’ Generation‘s “Into the New World Remix.” Click HERE to view K-pop fans from around the world performing one of the most complicated dance routines by a girl group.
Crystal S. Anderson, PhD
The 1960s girl group concept makes regular appearances in K-pop. While some think that this kind of image represents a lack of ethnic identity in a quest for mainstream acceptance, I suggest that the 1960s girl group image promoted by women of color represents an ethnic glamour aesthetic.
Contemporary K-pop is driven by image as well as music. Part of this has to do with its emergence along with rising technologies like the music video and the Internet, which “generate[d] a condition of possibility of reaching a mass audience outside of national borders,” and resulted in photogenic performers as part of appealing images (Lie, 353, 356). This is similar to rhythm and blues-inflected pop music of the 1960s. Gerald Early notes that technology contributed to this music becoming an “artifact,” in part because television distributed the music as well as an image (60, 62).
K-pop agencies, like SM Entertainment, carefully craft the images of K-pop artists for concepts. This is part of the training process, which also includes language instruction, choreography and hosting practice. This also contributes to criticisms that such preening in the quest for audience acceptance diminishes the presence of ethnic culture. John Lie argues that contemporary K-pop lacks Korean culture: “As a matter of traditional culture, there is almost nothing ‘Korean’ about K-pop” (360). Motown acts under Berry Gordy also received similar kinds of training and, were subject to similar criticisms. Nelson George defines Gordy’s project as assimilationist in nature, where “white values were held up as primary role models” and as a result, “blacks lost contact with the uniqueness of their people, and with their own heritage” (xii). For George and Lie, mainstream appeal translates into a loss of ethnic culture.
When K-pop adopts the 1960s retro look for female artists through chic hairstyles and dresses with eye-catching prints or dazzling sequins and fur reminiscent of The Supremes, I suggest that it partakes of a model of ethnic glamour established by black girl groups. Brian Ward characterizes Gordy’s quest for mainstream success as one predicated on challenging prevailing notions about American blacks: “Gordy felt [the training] might make them more acceptable to white America and an expanding black middle class for whom mainstream notions of respectability remained important” (266). The aspiration was felt by blacks, even those not in the middle class: “The spangled pursuit of success carried no stigma among black fans who had routinely been denied equal opportunity to compete for the financial rewards of the mainstream” (Ward, 267). This is key, because it shows the importance of how viewers read such images. Cynthia Cyrus argues that even though the images of girl groups of the 1960s were well-managed and carefully crafted, they nevertheless resonated positively with fans: “The girl group images offer affirmative messages about what it means to be female, messages about belonging, about possibilities for participation, about the possibility of success. . . . The role of the viewer is central to creating meaning, and the girl group fan engaged actively in dialogue with the images placed before here” (190-1).
Just as black fans interpreted those images of black women as positive, Korean women like the Kim Sisters, styled in the same way, represent a glamourous ethnic, in this case, Korean, experience to aspire to. Ian Kim writes: “For a Korean American like me, who grew up in parts of the US where I was the only Asian kid in school, it’s pretty astonishing to discover Korean performers who were successful in the US such an early time. Even more impressive is that they sang in English.” The Kim Sisters’ images and participation in the entertainment world in the United States functioned as an alternative to the realities of the aftereffects of the Korean War and American military presence. San Byun-Ho remembers: “After the Korean War, the Korean situation was the worst in the world; we were one of the poorest countries, like the Congo or somewhere like that. The country was devastated. A lot of people died” (Forsyth). Just like images of 1960s black girl groups, such images of the Kim Sisters represent an image of ethnic aspiration.
Contemporary fans may see retro images in K-pop, like those by Lee Hyori and the Wonder Girls, as drawing from a visual discourse of ethnic glamour. The measure of the impact of the image should also be measured by those who make meaning out of it. These images matter precisely because they show Koreans in a glamorous context that also acknowledges their ethnicity. As the Vintage Black Glamour Tumblr and forthcoming book suggest, images of ethnic glamour still resonate today. Nichelle Gainer says that any image she chooses has to have “a certain style to it, a certain beauty” and that she includes information about the photo because “I want people to know you’re not looking at some anonymous random person” (Brown). Given the frequency that the 1960s concept recurs in K-pop, ethnic glamour still matters.
Brown, Tanya Ballard. “‘Vintage Black Glamour’ Exposes Little-Known Cultural History.” The Picture Show – Photo Stories from NPR. NPR . 12 Oct 2012. Web. 27 Jan 2014.
Cyrus, Cynthia J. “Selling an Image: Girl Groups of the 1960s.” Popular Music 22.2 (2003): 173-193.
Early, Gerald. One Nation Under a Grove: Motown and American Culture. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2012.
Forsyth, Luc. “Korea’s Stressed Masses.” Groove Korea. 20 Aug 2012. Web. 27 Jan 2014.
Kim, Ian. “The Kim Sisters.” Ian Kim. 23 Jan 2014. Web. 28 Jan 2014.
Lie, John. “What is the K in K-pop?: South Korean Popular Music, the Culture Industry, and National Identity.” Korea Observer 43.3 (2012): 339-363.
Ethnicity, Glamour and Image in Korean Popular Music by Crystal S. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Crystal S. Anderson, Director of KPK: Kpop Kollective launches a new site: House of Hallyu! House of Hallyu features content that reflects a greater array of fan activity than is represented on the Internet. Journalists and bloggers talk about fans rather than to fans. They tend to focus on gossip, fan wars, conflict and controversy in the K-pop fandom, and often characterize it as a negative experience. However, Mark Duffett defines a fan as someone with a “a relatively deep, positive emotional conviction” (Understanding Fandom, 18).
House of Hallyu seeks to provide a space for that positive experience. All comments are moderated and all content is curated. Its content reflects the array of fan activities that are creative and fun, such as fanmade video, song and dance covers and fan art (sorry, no fan fiction). It also houses the kpop chronicles project, which collects and archives fan narratives by fans of all ages, around the world. House of Hallyu values open access AND civil discourse for a general audience ( in other words, keep it clean, people!). Read more about House of Hallyu here!
As you know, iFans: Mapping Kpop’s International Fandom is a study seeking to understand the attitudes of global fans of K-pop’s most successful groups. You can now view the results of the analysis of the survey data and an email interview with a fan of SNSD! Click here to view the What Fans Think section of the digital exhibit. Sad that you aren’t included? You can always take the email survey online here! C’mon, SONES, you are one of the biggest K-pop fandoms out there! Click the link and represent!
By Crystal S. Anderson, PhD
Elon University, NC (U.S).
Some people think that male K-pop groups are all the same. However, research suggests that fans differ in their attitudes towards individual male K-pop groups. Responses collected from fans of Super Junior and BigBang reveal that they also hold different opinions on their music and group dynamic. Such responses suggest that while some do not distinguish between male K-pop groups, fans do.
Media Representations of Male K-pop Groups
Because many male K-pop groups are idol groups, they tend to be painted with the same broad, generalized brush. Sometimes, they are described as being too similar to each other. An editorial in The Korea Times, suggests that people “seem fed up with similar ‘idol’ dance groups cropping up like mushroom[s].”
Other times, they are seen as promoting the same musical style or image. Part of this is attributed to the training program Korean agencies use for idols. Solee I. Shin and Lanu Kim argue that “constant monitoring of the tastes and preferences of the consumers and factoring the successful elements back into the products. . . [make] successful products increasingly predictable and. . . homogenizes the entire domestic music scene.” Nabeela at seoulbeats echoes the concern about groups being the same by speculating about “how much of the content in K-entertainment is standardized and recycled.”
However, a comparison of the responses from fans of Super Junior and BigBang reveals that fans like the groups for different reasons. This data represents a convenience sample collected via an online survey between December 8, 2012 and May 1, 2013. Respondents were asked to explain why they considered themselves a fan of the respective groups. 80 respondents identified themselves as fans of Super Junior, and 119 respondents identified themselves as fans of BigBang. Of these 199 respondents, 95.7% were women and 4.3% were men. Participants were: Asian (42.3%), White (41.2%), Latino (8.4%) and Black (7.9%). They largely hail from the United States, Hungary, United Kingdom, Philippines and Australia. Respondents range in age: 32.6% were 16-18, 31.6% were 18-21, 12.8% were 22-25, 14.4% were 25-30 and 8.6% were 30 and over. This data was analyzed using phenomenological methods.
Both fandoms cite music as a major factor in the appeal of the groups, but Super Junior fans liked the upbeat nature of the music, while BigBang fans valued the edgy and unique nature of the group’s music.
Super Junior fans like the cheerful nature of the music. One respondent noted: “I can listen to their songs any time even if I sad or depressed” (Anderson). Another stated: “Their music always makes me smile no matter how depressed I am” (Anderson). Super Junior fans also cited the pop-oriented style that the group reflects, as well as a range of styles. One respondent wrote: “Their music has gone from happy, bubbly pop to funky dance tracks” (Anderson).
Reviews of Super Junior albums reveal that the group is generally known for pop-oriented fare that also ranges across genres. Jung Bae describes their 2012 release, Mr. Simple, as “cleanly divided into club/dance and pop ballad(s),” where singles like “Opera” are “a standout, paced by an intoxicating stutter beat and a sublime sense of kinetic energy throughout.” Emily Wu references the “Super Junior Funky Style” in her review of the album: “It contains a catchy and addicting tune and melody that is sure to grab your attention from the get-go.”
BigBang fans focused more on the unique nature of the music. Some cited the specific genre of hip-hop as a major reason for the appeal of the group. One respondent noted: “Their style of music is what I enjoy most in American music, even if I don’t listen to American music as much anymore. Hip hop and R&B were genres that I grew up on but then it started changing too much for me. But Big Bang has a style to them that makes me love the genre all over again” (Anderson). Such opinions dovetail into another theme that emerged from the responses, namely, the unique nature of the group in respect to BigBang’s music. One respondent noted: “Their music caught me when I first listened to it and it is nice to listen to whenever I want to something different then the usual Kpop” (Anderson). Another noted: “Their music is distinguishable and stands out amist all of Kpop” (Anderson). BigBang has a reputation for being more adventurous in terms of their music.
Ashleigh Gregory describes the 2011 album Alive as partaking in a range of genres: “This album combines a variety of safe, pop style songs and pairs them up with slightly more experimental electro sounding tracks that create a great mix and leaves you wanting to replay the album as soon as it’s done.” Such eclecticism makes its way into their live shows as well. Jon Caramanica writes: “The band wove an interpolation of the signature guitar crunch of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” into a song. Multiple members of the group beatbox, a technique that’s hardly, if ever, used in mainstream American hip-hop, its birthplace, but is a routine part of the K-pop star arsenal.”
Both fandoms cite group dynamic as another major factor in the appeal of the groups, but Super Junior fans describe that dynamic in terms of cooperation and a close-knit bond, while BigBang fans focus on the individual members’ contribution to the group.
Despite the large number of members, Super Junior fans described the group as close-knit. Some respondents focused on how they act as one or a team. One respondent noted: “They have their own personality but still can be one” (Anderson). Another wrote: “Not typical boyband material. They have a strong bond despite being a huge group” (Anderson). Other respondents focused on the close bond between members and several used the metaphor of family. One wrote: “Watching their bond as a group really influenced me. Seeing how they trust each other. I can feel and see their brotherly love, how they care about each other” (Anderson). Another wrote: “Super Junior are a big group because they have lots of members but despite that they all get along like a family” (Anderson). Another responded: “What I really like from them is their close relationship with each other. They are truly like a family, they’re like brothers” (Anderson).
This may be related to fans watching Super Junior’s participation in extra-musical activities in the form of television and radio appearances. Members of Super Junior hosted and/or starred in the Korean variety show Strong Heart from 2009-2012 and the radio show Kiss the Radio from 2006 to the present. In these spaces, fans develop opinions about the dynamic between the members. One respondent wrote: “I understand and love that they’re an entertainment group with members doing radio shows, acting, variety shows and hosting! This has given me the chance to get to know them through many mediums and it’s reassuring to know that at least a few members are still active during their non-promotional period!” (Anderson). In addition to scripted shows, Super Junior also appears on variety shows, which are often based on improvisation and require more participation. One respondent noted: “I didn’t actually like Super Junior much at first, but I kept watching them on variety shows that I liked and the SJ members were always making me laugh so much” (Anderson).
While fans of BigBang cite group dynamic as part of the appeal of the group, they focus on the individual members within the group. Most respondents focused on the unique nature of the individual members. One wrote: “I also like how distinct the members are from each other” (Anderson). Another said: “Each member has their own talents and strengths when it comes to vocally and lyric writing and Big Bang along with YG utilizes that talent extremely well” (Anderson). Still another wrote: “Each of the members have very different but equally interesting styles from their style of singing to the dancing” (Anderson). Others cited individual members as part of their reason for liking the group. Of these responses, the largest number cited G-Dragon as their reason for liking the group. One respondent noted: “G-Dragon has also been very successful on his own drawing me into the group as a whole” (Anderson). Another noted: “G-Dragon is probably one of the reasons why I like Big Bang so much. I like the music he produces and I appreciate that a lot since not all groups produce their own music. The fact that someone from the group produces their own music is pretty awesome” (Anderson).
What Does It Mean?
Fans of Super Junior like the group because they are traditional idol group. They like the pop nature of their music. They value the camaraderie they see within the group as a result of television and radio appearances. In contrast, fans of BigBang like the group because they challenge this notion of a traditional idol group. Despite being the product of the same kind of training system that produced Super Junior, they see the group as more innovative and creative in their music. They perceive the group as a collection of individuals rather than a cohesive unit. Because of the fewer number of television appearances, their fans may not develop the same kind of sense of camaraderie among the group.
Fans of Super Junior and BigBang represent just two individual K-pop fandoms, but this comparison suggests that fans do not view male K-pop groups in the same way.
“BIGBANG – FANTASTIC BABY M/V.” 6 Mar 2012. YouTube. Web. 19 Dec 2013.
“Super Junior 슈퍼주니어_Mr.Simple_MUSICVIDEO.” 3 Aug 2011. YouTube. Web. 19 Dec 2013.
Anderson, Crystal. “Super Junior/BigBang Data Set.” Unpublished raw data.
Bae, Jung. “Album Review: Super Junior – Mr. Simple” hellokpop. 12 Aug 2011. Web. 19 Dec 2013.
Caramanica, Jon. “BigBang Performs at the Prudential Center.” The New York Times. 9 Nov 2012.
Gregory, Ashleigh. “[UnitedKpop K-pop Album Review] March: BigBang – Alive.” UnitedKpop. 26 Mar 2012.
Nabeela. “Does Hallyu Only Have a Short Time Left on a Global Stage?” seoulbeats. 27 May 2012. Web. 19 Dec 2013.
Shin, Solee I. and Lanu Kim. “Organizing K-pop: Emergence and Market Making of Large Korean Entertainment Houses, 1980-2010.” East Asia (December 2013): doi 10.1007/s12140-013-9200-0.
“Will ‘Hallyu’ Last Long?” The Korea Times. 10 Aug 2012. Web. 19 Dec 2013.
Wu, Emily. “Album Review: Super Junior – Mr. Simple. ” Ningin (blog). 2 Aug 2011. Web. 19 Dec 2013.
Bring The Boys Out!: Fan Attitudes on Male Kpop Groups Differ by Crystal S. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Crystal S. Anderson, PhD
Many know that K-pop fans play an active role in K-pop, but few may know just how complex K-pop fandoms are.
Crystal S. Anderson, PhD
Last week, I wrote a piece, Who Can Speak For K-pop, for my public blog, High Yellow and received a huge response. As I suspected, there are a variety of fans in the United States whose voices are not being heard in the larger discussions of K-pop. In order to capture those opinions, my iFans project has added a new survey! U.S. K-pop Fan Study seeks to understand the attitudes and opinions of all K-pop fans in the United States, but especially African American, Asian American and U.S. Latino fans. In other words, it is the first academic survey that wants to understand the K-pop experience of U.S. fans of color. To take the survey, click here. Tell your friends!
The Saturday Mini Survey (SMS) is a two-question survey based on current events in K-pop. It allows fans to see research results on K-pop a little bit faster. Today’s SMS is on collaborations in K-pop. Click on the link to take the survey!
Crystal S. Anderson, PhD
Anybody can ask some questions about your favorite K-pop group but scholarship involves a lot more. Enter the glamorous(?) world of K-pop fan research!
What is research?
That’s a good question. Most K-pop fans have taken polls asking for their opinion, but these are usually for market research or for fun. Academic research is different. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines research as “a systematic investigation, including research development, testing and evaluation, designed to develop or contribute to generalizable knowledge.” There is a method to the madness, so the first thing that research involves is knowing the method. Some people work with quantitative methods (i.e. statistics), but I use qualitative methods (examining text in the form of responses and interviews) to explain what K-pop fans think about K-pop. In either case, you need to know what you are doing, and while a degree isn’t required, it helps. But long before the questions go up, you need a healthy dose of curiosity.
The Bright Idea
Some people look at K-pop and think nothing of it. However, I, as a researcher, wonder: Why do fans like K-pop? How do they support their groups? What do they get out of being a fan? As K-pop becomes more popular, news media and online commentators talk more and more about it. They find the whole phenomenon strange and make assumptions. For example, outlets like CNN talk about the groups and fans that support them as if they are all the same.
As a K-pop fan, though, I know those observations do not match what I see among K-pop fans. From my experience, I know that the groups are different. SHINee and Shinhwa may both be male groups, but they are different. I know the fandoms are different. Shawols are not like Shinhwa Changjos.
In addition, these outlets never talk about fan culture. I know that fans of SS501 know why Park Jung Min and Kim Hyung Joon are called Tom and Jerry. Shinhwa fans know who Mama Bird and Baby Bird are in the group. SHinee fans know what Onew Sangtae is. K-pop fandoms are wonderfully complicated so I wanted to explore how the fandoms are different and how they interact with one another, since they are a central part of the global spread of fandom.
But first, I needed to find out what had already been written on K-pop fans.
What Others Say
Research differs from opinion polls in that part of its purpose is to contribute to new knowledge. There is no need to do a research project if it’s already been done. You don’t want to look like a boob saying something that’s already been said. I found that there were a few studies on K-pop fans, but they focused on K-pop fans in East Asian countries, and they didn’t address the unique nature of individual fandoms (see Sung Jung, Korean Masculinities and Transcultural Consumption: Yonsama, Rain, Oldboy, K-pop Idols). For example, Shu-han Chiou did research for a master’s thesis which identified fans as “devotee, insider, intermediate of devotee-insider, and low-consumption-and-self-centered.” No K-pop fan talks about themselves that way. You are a A+ (fan of MBLAQ) or a SONE (fan of SNSD). People also form online fan communities that support multiple groups, like DongBangBLAQ (fans of TVXQ and MBLAQ), f(snsd) (fans of f(x) and SNSD), TripleKISS (fans of SS501 and UKISS) and SuperGeneration (fans of Super Junior and SNSD).
Once I got the lay of the scholarly land, it was time to develop the study!
Just Do It!
The iFans project was born! I developed a series of surveys where fans could talk about their perspectives about being a fan and promoted them on the KPK site as well as social media such as Twitter and Facebook.
Then, I waited. In order to study the data, you have to collect the data and you need to collect enough data to form valid conclusions. You wait for people to share the survey with their friends (hint, hint). In this way, part of the research is beyond your control.
You also may have to tweak your survey instrument. Sometimes a link doesn’t work. Sometimes you see you can get information in a more effective way, like providing text boxes for answers rather than having respondents list answers in just one big text box.
At some point, you get enough data to work with. Analyzing the data is the most unglamorous part of research, but it’s also the most exciting. It means reading each and every response and finding patterns in what people say. For example, the iFans general Case Studies survey had over 300 respondents, but generated hundreds of statements to analyze.
By systematically analyzing the data, I get to see what K-pop fans think about themselves, other fandoms and the artists themselves. I can now say things based on evidence about K-pop fans. As a result of my research I know, for example, that no matter the fandom, fans are fans of groups because of the music. I know that fans of SS501 like the group because of the brotherhood they show, and that fans of SNSD like the group because they are cute and dorky.
So, this is why it takes so long! If you’ve taken one of the longer surveys, you’re probably wondering where your answers are. Some of them make up the infographics you’ve been seeing on the site. Other responses are in the research reports. Still others will be the basis of articles and chapters for academic journals and books. In all cases, analyzing and writing up the reports takes time because of the large amount of response involved.
So, I’ve created the SMS: Saturday Mini Survey. This two-question survey is based on current events in K-pop so that fans can get research on K-pop a little bit faster. Be on the lookout for it!
“Code of Federal Regulations.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. http://www.hhs.gov/ohrp/humansubjects/guidance/45cfr46.html
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License