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By Crystal S. Anderson, PhD
Elon University (U.S.)
Most people identify K-pop by its use of Korean language and culture. Some see these as obstacles to the spread of K-pop worldwide. However, 142 responses by 18-to 30-year-olds show that Korean culture, and especially Korean language, appeals to global fans. These responses are part of a five-year study on international fans of K-pop housed at KPK: Kpop Kollective.
To view entire “The ‘K’ in K-pop Infographic, click here.
Writers often point to the use of English as crucial to the success of K-pop in non-Korean speaking countries. Miketastic argues: “Many would say that the single biggest obstacle is the language barrier. . . . For K-pop artists, it’s going to be much tougher as very few of them can really speak English well enough to win the hearts and minds of America.”
Academics like Jaime Shinhee Lee also write about how important English is for K-pop: “K-pop provides discursive space for South Korean youth, either artists or audiences, to assert their self-identity, to create new meanings, to challenge dominant representations of authority, to resist mainstream norms and values, and to reject older generations’ conservatism” (446). In other words, Korean artists tend to use English for specific purposes. Lee also says that the use of English decreases the importance of Korean to a certain degree: “English makes K-pop less nationally marked and more regionally accepted” (447).
Some K-pop fans echo this idea. They say that they do not need to understand the Korean language in order to like K-pop. One notes: “Because of the songs that can touch you, even though you don’t understand what they are singing.” Another responds: “I like to sing along in Korean even though I don’t always understand what the lyrics means” (Anderson).
However, research suggests that global fans find the Korean language and culture important. A majority of respondents say that they listen to K-pop, in part, because of the Korean language. Several like the qualities of the Korean language itself. One respondent says, “I love being able to learn songs that aren[‘]t in English and I find Korean to be such a beautiful language,” while another “like[s] the sound of Korean language.” Others indicate that the Korean used in K-pop songs encourages them to learn the language better: “I also like being able to learn small words and phrases in Korean. It is a lot more fun than trying to learn a foreign language in the usual way” (Anderson).
Others link K-pop to Korean culture in general, despite its incorporation of American culture: One respondent explains: “Moreover, I love the US influence but its remains the “Korean detail” that makes this kind of music different.” Another notes, “I got dragged into KPop. . . because of Korean culture. Their culture is very addictive” (Anderson).
Global fans also learn about Korean social relationships through the way members of K-pop groups interact: “I am also fascinated by the whole Kpop culture which would refer to many things such as “stars relation” – the senior-junior (sunbae-hoobae) relationship; the start training system; some unwritten rules in the business; the variety shows just to name a few.” Another respondent says: “Not only the music, dancing and other talent, but with this K-Pop culture it teaches audiences to respect elders and their peers – also to respect themselves because of the Asian culture.”
Others note the impact of Korean cultural products, such as variety shows, which feature a combination of language and culture: “I also like the language more, but the reason I fell in love with K-Pop is the personalities of the Idols. If they weren’t all those variety shows, I wouldn’t have been that interested in K-Pop” (Anderson). For example, Shinhwa provides entertainment to audiences by playing a game where knowing the words to a Korean song is key on Happy Together:
Asian American respondents also find the use of Korean language and culture appealing. One noted: “I think that it is really relatable. I’m Asian-American, so I don’t see Asians much in entertainment. I like seeing people like me doing something cool like rapping, singing, and dancing.” Another explained the appeal of Korean culture in K-pop as a source of pride: “Being a[n] adopted Korean American (adopted in the 80′s) it was a way for me to discover my cultural roots when Korean people did not accept me because of my lack for Koreaness.’ Also in the 90′s and early 2000′s it was a way to show ‘Azn Pride’ as we called it” (Anderson).
This research may reveal the impact of conscious efforts by the Korean government to use K-pop as a vehicle for spreading Korean culture. Korea.net, the official website of the South Korean government, maintains a section devoted to Korean Wave in the K-Culture section of its website. In 2012, the Korean Cultural Center in Washington DC hosted a Hallyu Camp “designed to give fans of Korean pop culture in the Washington DC region a deeper understanding of the country, people, and society from which Korean pop culture originates.” Activities included “a variety of interactive workshops, lessons, discussions, and creative projects related to Korean traditional and pop culture, led by professional instructors and cultural experts” (Han Cinema).
Such use of Korean culture represents an example of soft power, defined by Joseph Nye as “the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payments. It arises from the attractiveness of a country’s culture, political beliefs, and policies” (x). The Korean government uses K-pop to spread Korean culture in an effort to get other populations to engage with it. Doobo Shim also writes: “Motivated by the phenomenal success of Korean popular cultural products abroad, the government designated ‘cultural technology’ (meaning the technologies that produce television drama, film, pop music, computer games, animation, etc.) as one of the six key technologies along with IT and BT (Bio –technology) that should drive the Korean economy into the 21st century” (28).
Global locations like the United States do not have a tendency to embrace foreign-language musical culture. This has led some to speculate that K-pop must use English to be successful. However, these findings show that K-pop has already gained success with global fans as a result of K-pop’s use of Korean language and culture.
SHINee. Digital Image. “16 KPOP Idols and Groups Dressed for Chuseok.” 30 Sept 2012. Ningin. 11 Dec 2012.
Anderson, Crystal. Infographic. “The ‘K’ in K-pop.” 11 Dec 2012. Web.
Anderson, Crystal S. “Data Set: Hallyu Kpop Survey 2 and Kpop Kollective KiFs Survey 2, 18- to 30 Year Olds.” Korean Popular Music International Fanbases Project. 29 Apr 2011 – 15 Apr 2012.
Crystalis0324. “(Eng Sub) 040930 [H@p py][T0g 3th er]- Shinhwa (4/5).” 26 Sept 2010. YouTube. 11 Dec 2012.
“Hallyu Camp 2012: Exploring Korean Pop & Traditional Culture.” 22 July 2012. Han Cinema. 7 Dec 2012.
Lee, Jamie Shinhee. “Linguistic Hybridization in K-pop: Discourse of Self-Assertion and Resistance.” World Englishes 23.3 (2004): 429-450.
Miketastic. “[OP-ED] Will K-pop Make It in America?” 23 Jul 2012. allkpop. 11 Dec 2012.
Nye, Jr., Joseph. Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics. Cambridge: Perseus Books, 2004.
Shim, Doobo. “The Growth of Korean Cultural Industries and the Korean Wave.” In East Asian Pop Culture: Analysing the Korean Wave. Ed. Chua Beng Huat and Koichi Iwabuchi. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2008. 15-31.
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Earlier this year I introduced KPK readers to the work I’m doing to collate and annotate as much scholarly information about Hallyu as I can. Without further ado, I share with you the first section, focusing on books covering Hallyu. Subsequent parts of this series will be identified by SUBJECT rather than format. Please note that these entries are listed by year, starting with 1991 (TIP: If you know about a title or author and you want to see if it’s included in this listing, use the CTRL +F function).
While collaboration is a huge part of digital humanities, is it the only way to do DH? If you are working on a digital humanities project by yourself, does it count as DH?
Crystal Anderson writes on romance gone awry in “Where Is The Love?” for the Popular Romance Project:
“Korean television dramas (K-dramas) rarely present a straightforward romance. They are often driven by convoluted courtships where likeable couples spend the series overcoming obstacles in order to eventually embark on an uplifting relationship. . . . Not every K-drama is so morally tidy, however. Consider the 2010 K-drama Baker King Kim Tak Goo, which features a couple whose romance is based on dysfunction rather than love.”
Read more at the Popular Romance Project!
As you know, KPK is dedicated to collecting information about Hallyu-era K-pop. To that end, we are in the process of creating enhanced profiles of Kpop artists and groups, with even more information!
KPOPIANA is a collaborative digital humanities project that aims to collect and organize information about Korean popular music of the Hallyu era (1992-present). It is built on the Omeka platform, which” is web-publishing platform that allows anyone with an account to create or collaborate on a website to display collections and build digital exhibitions.” This allows us to present information in a more interactive kind of way.
Members of KPK are in the process of migrating profiles from WordPress to Omeka, as well as creating new profiles in Omeka. Check out some of your favorite profiles:
AND, one new profile:
Don’t worry! You will always be able to find links for old and new profiles here on the KPK blog, or you can navigate straight to KPOPIANA as we migrate more profiles, so you never have to worry about where to find your K-pop info! We’ll be rolling out new enhanced profiles over the next few months, so stay tuned!
So, like a lemming, I’ve signed up to do DigiWriMo, a challenge to write a ridiculous number of words in the month of November online, or complete some similarly Herculean task.I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to jumpstart my iFans digital project. iFans: Mapping K-pop’s International Fandoms, examines K-pop fan behavior and attitudes.
“Do Not Re-Upload! If we found [sic] out that the — clip is re-uploaded, we won’t share a — clip again!” - Seen on YouTube (video uploaded on December 18, 2011).
“Credits and shot by b——y. For foreign fans: Please DO NOT modify the film and DO NOT take out without permission. – Please take out with full credits and don’t add yours [sic] credit in photo. – Do not modify the film & don’t cut the logo.” - Seen on YouTube (video uploaded on February 9, 2012).
“[Korea Data Blackout] is a movement of support for administrators of Korean fansites as well as fans all around the world who work very hard …to provide pictures and videos of Korean artists. It is also a movement to make international fans realize just how much these people provide to their fandom experience…and to help them understand how important it is to follow their rules.” - Korean Data Blackout website, September 2012.
Earlier this year KPK published an essay about American law-makers’ attempt to pass a bill that would hinder the free flow of information on the Internet. Described as a piece of legislation that would protect copyright on the World Wide Web – with particular regard to how those protections manifest outside the United States – the bill was deemed too far reaching in its scope, targeting websites who so much as linked to questionable information with severe penalties.
Seo Taiji: President of Culture is the first digital essay for Hallyu Harmony: A Cultural History of K-pop.
Pioneering a hybrid Korean popular music with global aspirations, Seo Taiji set the tone for contemporary K-pop through his fusion of multiple music genres with a Korean sensibility, global fan activity, and groundbreaking industry practices. These activities continue to be staples of K-pop today.
Read the entire digital essay at Hallyu Harmony.
Image: “Seo Taiji, Gaon Chart,” Hallyu Harmony, accessed October 9, 2012, http://kpop.omeka.net/items/show/48.
I just finished my first digital essay, Seo Taiji: President of Culture, for my digital humanities project on the cultural history of Hallyu-era Korean popular music, 1992-2009. But as I continue to build this Omeka site and design the project, I wonder: Is my project a digital humanities project? What am I doing? And am I doing it right? Such questions reflect recurrent anxiety about doing digital humanities with a popular culture project and how it might be perceived in the digital humanities and Korean popular culture studies realms.
Academic research suggests adults like K-pop for a variety of reasons, the chief of which is music. These findings complicate assumptions about the identity of international K-pop fans and their preferences. According to 638 responses among 18- to 30-year-olds from around the world, other top reasons include choreography and idols.