Shine On: Glamour, Image and K-pop

H.O.T

H.O.T

Visuals are an important part of K-pop, and understanding them is crucial to understanding the meaning of K-pop and its spread globally.

In addition to music videos, images that accompany promotions for music releases, photo shoots featured in magazines and endorsements for an array of products are seen, collected and exchanged by fans.  Not just important fan activity, such archiving in the lay sense is important to the preservation and memory-keeping of the visual narrative of K-pop.

In addition to the promotional function they perform, K-pop images also perform cultural work, constructing multifaceted representations of Korean identity.  Anne Anlin Cheng, professor of English and African American studies at Princeton University, sees “celebrity as a politics of recognition and glamour as a politics of personhood” (1023). This has special resonance for raced bodies:

Glamour’s imperviousness thus draws on a crisis of personhood that is inherently political and maybe even strangely liberating for a woman and a minority–liberating not in the simple sense of acquiring a compensatory or impenetrable beauty. . . but in the sense of temporary relief from the burdens of personhood and visibility.  It may seem counterintuitive or even dangerous to talk about the raced and sexualized body’s longing to be thinglike or to disappear into things, but it is the overcorporealized body that may find the most freedom in fantasies of corporeal dematerialization or, alternatively, of material self-extension (1032).

In other words, the highly stylized images that pepper K-pop represent a visual construction of Korean identities, visuals of how Koreans project themselves globally.  For ethnic people who have been constructed by others, such images are important because they do cultural work, deconstructing or altering images of Koreans and the ideas that accompany them.

I have started a new section in my digital humanities project, Hallyu Harmonyto document and curate images of K-pop groups and artists. In doing so, I hope to be able to make meaningful statements about the kinds of representations of Korean men and women that permeate K-pop, detecting patterns that become apparent when such images are collected together.

In the Visuals section of Hallyu Harmony, image galleries are organized into three broad categories:

  • Casual, images designed to appeal to everyone
  • Chic, images designed to represent more sophisticated styling attainable by most
  • Couture, images designed to capture more fantastic styling not designed for normal wear

Within these categories, images are further organized by concepts, magazine shoots and other promotional images. Concepts for music releases are placed in rough chronological order, allowing users to see how an artist or group’s image evolves over time.

The image gallery for Girls’ Generation, shows a greater variety of images than their reputation may suggest. A review of their concepts show that they are equally likely to promote a casual, chic or couture image. However, they are less likely to reflect a couture image in photo shoots for magazines. On the other hand, early observations of 2NE1’s image gallery (in progress) suggest that even though the group is known for its fierce reputation and image that many fans can relate to, the group reflect a chic image for many concepts.

Documenting such images presents challenges.  Many images gathered from the Internet are divorced from their original context as they are shared by fans and K-pop media. As a result, tracing an image’s origins is not always possible.  In some cases, the availability  of images within their context is related to the commitment of Korean agencies to preserve the context of images.  For example, the H.O.T image gallery (in progress) features many images, but few that can be placed in their original context. SM Entertainment‘s sites do not provide information for images on its H.O.T site.  On the other hand, many of  the concept images in S.E.S.’s image gallery can be associated with their original context due to the continued access to the group’s SM site.  Other sites, like DSP Media (formerly DSP Entertainment) only includes current artists on its website, so locating images for Fin.K.L‘s image gallery (in progress) will be challenging. Images will have to be obtained from other sources.  Moreover, it is easier to document 2nd and 3rd generation K-pop groups and artists like SNSD, while first generation groups like H.O.T and S.E.S prove more challenging because the groups are not active.

However, their fanbases are. Fan sites provide the bulk of the images documented, thus acting as valuable informal archives. As more image galleries are completed, I hope to write about the patterns that emerge from images from individuals and groups and compare them with other K-pop artists.

Images: 1, 2 and 34 and 5

Sources:

Cheng, Anne Anlin. “Shine: On Race, Glamour and the Modern.” PMLA 126.4 (2011): 1022-1041.

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Shine On: Glamour, Image and K-pop by Crystal S. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

iFans Update: What Fans Think….about 2NE1!

2NE1, Falling in Love Concept

2NE1, Falling in Love Concept

As part of the ongoing project that is iFans: Mapping K-pop’s International Fandom, I have been working on the fan responses to Case Studies surveys. Click here to read about what 2NE1 fans think about the group’s significance in K-pop as well as an in-depth interview with a BlackJack!

iFans Update: What Fans Think about SNSD

Slide08

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!

The Saturday Mini Survey: Collaborations

G-Dragon and Missy Elliott at KCON, Source:Hollywood Reporter

G-Dragon and Missy Elliot at KCON, Source:Hollywood Reporter

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!

 

Why Is This Taking So Long?: Behind the Scenes of K-pop Fan Research

Crystal S. Anderson, PhD

Elon University

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

lightbulb

Source: Light bulb

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.

 Source:  http://www.clker.com/cliparts/6/b/1/2/1194989167583201900aiga_waiting_room1.svg.med.png

Source: Waiting

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!

In the end, real research follows a plan and follows rules to provide a better understanding of K-pop and its global fans.

Sources

“Code of Federal Regulations.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. http://www.hhs.gov/ohrp/humansubjects/guidance/45cfr46.html

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