Featured

WWLT, Vol 1. No. 1

Image by heliofil from Pixabay

Welcome to the inaugural issue of WWLT, or What We’re Listening To, which features mini music analyses that provide context and introduce readers to K-pop music that may be new-to-them.

This issue features tracks from EXO, TVXQ, Jeon Somi, CL, Jonghyun X Youngbae, VIXX, Red Velvet, SEVENTEEN, SF9 and 2AM from contributors who are members of the K-pop music research accelerator, HWAITING! (managed by KPK: Kpop Kollective).

EXO, “Stronger,” Ex’Act (2016)

Crystal S. Anderson

EXO follows in the footsteps of large groups at SM Entertainment, including Super Junior and Girls’ Generation. In addition to the creation of sub-units (EXO-K and EXO-M; EXO-CBX) several members embarked on solo careers, including D.O, Baekhyun, Lay and Suho.  The group is known for its impressive choreography to upbeat, rhythm-driven dance tracks. “Stronger” appears on  the 2016 album, Ex’Act, which was repackaged as Lotto later that year. Ex’Act was released after Exodus (2015), which included “Call Me Baby”, and Love Me Right, which was released the same year with the title song as the promo track. Agnes Shin, Chung Joo-hee, Lee Joo-hyung,  Andreas Oberg,  Gustav Karlstrom wrote the lyrics and Karlstrom, Lee, Oberg composed the music. “Stronger” departs from EXO’s uptempo tracks by showcasing vocals accompanied only by a piano at a slower pace. The piano creates sparse instrumentation without electronic songs, which makes the vocals shine even more. Relying on members Suho, Baekhyun, Chen and D.O., the track showcases their individual vocal talents as well as their harmonization, traversing the gamut of the vocal range and using various vocalists to punctuate the vocal performance of others. The structure of the song is also non-traditional, diverging from a straight verse-chorus arrangement.  This track offers a different side of the group, showing vocal versatility as an additional element to their dance repertoire. 

Sources

EXO. “Stronger.” YouTube. 8 Nov 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AuDhioEWnMI (29 Oct 2021)  

TVXQ, “Tri-Angle,” Tri-Angle (2004)

N. Lina Anuar

After debuting with the song Hug on Boxing Day 2003, then 5-member group TVXQ from SM Entertainment released Tri-Angle from their first studio album The Way U Are in 2004. The music video of this song emulated the aesthetics of visual-Kei like elaborate hairstyles and makeup (Throwback Thoughts, 2019), which one could trace back to the times of glam rock of KISS and David Bowie.

The song credits SM Entertainment’s in-house songwriter Yoo Young-jin as composer, lyricist and arranger; with Groovie K having a hand in the composition as well. While the entire album is labeled as Kpop, dance, contemporary R&B and teen pop, Tri-Angle sampled Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G minor (Hallyu Reviews, 2021), and is heard as the hook and an overlay in the chorus.

This song is built on the typical pop song structure of verse-chorus-bridge which could be labeled as K-pop. However, it features a mishmash of other styles that includes classical nuances heard by the small string orchestra, sounds of grunge/punk rock through the guitar effects of distortion and overdrive in the bridge, and the powerhouse pop vocals of BoA, dubbed as the Queen of Kpop.

Tri-Angle was really a representation of SM’s hottest artists in the early millennium of TVXQ, BoA and TraxX, who unfortunately now is a defunct-rock group creating a trifecta of collaborations of their time.

Sources

Car Door Guy’s Girl. (2019, April 18). Throwback thoughts: Tri-angle- TVXQ (ft. Boa and TRAX). https://cardoorguysgirl.wordpress.com/2019/04/18/throwback-thoughts-tri-angle-tvxq-ft-boa-and-trax/.

Hallyureviews. (2021, February 14). Song of the moment: TVXQ – tri-angle (with Boa, TRAX). https://hallyureviews.wordpress.com/2021/02/17/song-of-the-moment-tvxq-tri-angle-with-boa-trax/.

TVXQ! 동방신기 ‘tri-angle (extended ver.) (feat. Boa & Trax)’ MV. YouTube. (2009, November 23). https://youtu.be/GM8wZRaHXTg.

Jeon Somi, “XOXO,” XOXO (2021)

Andrew Ty

Somi was an aspirant in Sixteen, the 2015 Mnet competition show that produced JYP girl-group Twice. She earned first-place a year later in another Mnet show, Produce 101 (Season One) and debuted with I.O.I., which disbanded in 2017. Two years later, Somi released her solo debut “Birthday.” 

Her fourth single “XOXO” was released in October 2021, the title track to her first full-length album with lyrics by Teddy, Danny Chung, Vince, Somi, and Kush. Teddy also composed the music alongside Pink Sweats, Pacific, and 24 who also handled the arrangement. Like “Birthday,” previous singles “What You Waiting For” and “Dumb Dumb,” and almost every song on her full-length, “XOXO” showcases Somi’s signature bright bubblegum sound. 

“XOXO” is especially anthemic, centered on the hook-filled chorus that opens the song, with layers of chanted vocals over muted arpeggios and sparse beats sounding almost too large, too insistent. This effect is tastefully capped by how Somi sings “hoo-hoo” after each chant of “XOXO!”—soaring high above the wall of sound, creating an opening in the song that both verse and pre-chorus fill, making the chorus hit harder. The effect is unexpectedly reminiscent of “Where Is My Mind?” by American alt-rock group the Pixies. I can’t imagine Somi’s next single sounding larger than “XOXO”; the bigger impact might be in swerving towards an unexpectedly understated sound.

Sources

Jeon Somi. “XOXO.” YouTube. 29 Oct 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H8kqPkEXP_E (08 Nov 2021)

Pixies. “Where Is My Mind?” YouTube. 21 Feb 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=49FB9hhoO6c (08 Nov 2021)

Somi. “Birthday.” YouTube. 13 Jun 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oDJ4ct59NC4 (08 Nov 2021)

Somi. “Dumb Dumb.” YouTube. 02 Aug 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tg2uF3R_Ozo (08 Nov 2021)

Somi. “What You Waiting For.” YouTube. 22 Jul 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lBYyAQ99ZFI (08 Nov 2021).

CL, “SPICY”—ALPHA (2021)

Hannah Lee Otto

CL, known for her rapping, edgy unconventional styling, and melismatic vocals, perhaps represents an anomaly of the K-pop and entertainment industry: a post girlband veteran to go solo by severing ties with a big-name entertainment company, forging her own way through richly diverse collaborations and friendships across the industry and across the world—ranging from Diplo, ReQuest Dance Crew, Method Man, and ReQuest Dance Crew, to name a few. The diversity of CL’s collaborations and talents seem to reflect her diverse background, growing up in Korea, Japan, and schooling in France prior to her landing a spot in Kpop girl group 2NE1 in 2014 (Myers, 2021). Considered a pioneering Kpop female group, 2NE1’s tomboyish and punk attitude countered the image of cutesy girliness typical to Kpop at the time (Lee, 2021). CL’s independent projects reflect a continuation of 2NE1’s edge on her own terms, evolving her I AM THE BEST anthem swagger to self-reflective and self-empowering tracks in her truly independent full-length ALPHA (Kwak, 2021). ALPHA emerges after years of efforts in becoming an independent K-pop artist, formally leaving YG Entertainment in 2019, working a move stateside with Scooter Braun, and now under her own label, Very Cherry Record (Myers, 2021). ALPHA is CL’s first full-length album, following a train of collaborations, singles, and a mini album since going solo in 2014. 

SPICY opens ALPHA with John Malkovich asking for “that sauce that is spicy made in Korea” and chanting “energy, power, chemistry” looping in his meditative voice in the background. CL answers the request for spicy with a battle-like rap declaring herself as the alpha, proud of her Korean spice, a metaphor that is sweeping culture worldwide. With a catchy beat and staccato, straightforward lyrics delivered over John Malkovich’s meditative echo, the song provides an accessible entry into the album and the signature CL attitude.  

Sources

CL. “SPICY.” YouTube. 24 August 2021. https://youtu.be/QMwJtMJLXE0

Kwak, Kristine. “CL Reintroduces Herself as the ‘Alpha.’ Rolling Stone, 20 Oct. 2021,   

https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-album-reviews/cl-alpha-1244017/ Accessed 8 

Nov. 2021. 

Lee, Christine. “Review: On ALPHA, CL finishes what she started.” NPR, 27 Oct. 2021, 

https://www.npr.org/2021/10/27/1049329622/on-alpha-cl-finishes-what-she-started
Accessed 8 Nov 2021. 

Myers, Owen. “K-Pop Queen CL on making her indie comeback: ‘My album is like me writing a 

book.’” Billboard, 16 Jan. 2021,  https://www.billboard.com/music/pop/cl-new-album-alpha-interview-k-pop-comeback-9510948/

Jonghyun x Youngbae, “It Must be Autumn” (2015)

Ngan Tran

Kim Jonghyun, the main vocalist of SHINee, was also known as an extremely talented songwriter. A hidden gem from his discography is “It Must be Autumn” (also translated as “I guess now it’s the fall”), which debuted as a single on the Mnet show Monthly Live Connection. Featuring guest vocals from Go Youngbae (lead vocalist of the band SORAN), the song is co-written and co-composed by Jonghyun and Youngbae, with the arrangement done by Youngbae, Seo Myeon-ho, Lee Tae-wook, and Pyon Yoo-il. This is a delicate acoustic track that perfectly captures the sentiment of autumn.

The song opens with a simple guitar melody that would form the backbone for the rest of the track. As if letting listeners into a secret, the acoustic strumming combined with Jonghyun and Youngbae’s quiet vocals immediately set the tone for an intimate late night conversation. Lyrically, it is about receiving a random call from an ex-lover who has moved on long ago, and then mentally falling apart like autumn leaves. It is easy to slip into the territory of ambient coffee shop music here, but a steady percussion beat arrives just in time for the second verse to give it a much-needed depth. Jonghyun’s soft, airy vocals and Youngbae’s warm, gentle timbre complement each other extremely well as their gorgeous harmonies flutter into the bridge, where the song finally flourishes – in its own subdued fashion. The bass ripples, the keyboard tiptoes, and the catalytic moment comes, ironically, when the narrator admits that “today, too, I am still standing here,” stuck in memories of the past. And so the track ends with the same restrained energy it started with, completely unable to move on.

Sources

Jonghyun x Youngbae. “It Must be Autumn.” YouTube. 29 October 2015. https://youtu.be/neftAitSVw8?t=127 (9 November 2021).

VIXX, “Fantasy,” Hades (2016)

Nykeah Parham

No strangers to fantastic, other-worldly, or supernatural ideas, VIXX, the heralded “Concept Kings” of K-pop, announced the year-long project, VIXX 2016 Conception Trilogy. Each album in 2016 had a different concept based on a Greek deity, beginning with Zelos and the title track “Dynamite,” Hades and “Fantasy,” and ending with Kratos and “The Closer.” The Trilogy follows a man in his attempt to win over his love and the “fate” or “ruin” that befalls him. In “Fantasy,” the mortal man, N, has lost his love to Leo, someone in the underworld.

Produced by the LA-based production team, Devinne Channel’s Kei Lim and Ryan Kim, “Fantasy” begins with Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata,” establishing the dark concept of Hades and the Underworld alongside Ravi’s deep and raspy tone in contrast to Leo’s falsetto. As soon as the introduction moves to the first verse, Ken’s mid-range vocal is underscored with not-so-subtle bass and snapping that resembles a clock ticking. There is a quick transition to Leo’s higher tone and the introduction of a rolling hi-hat that is all meant to showcase the main character losing his sanity as time progresses. By the time the pre-chorus and its marching drum begins, the energy and harmony have risen to an anxious heartbeat with the added string instruments in the chorus. There is a whiplash at the second verse, but that energy continues to build until the music stops suddenly and Moonlight Sonata plays again as a soft reprise even though the character has met a tragic end and not the fantasy he once imagined. In the end, all that is left is the admittance of defeat, “It’s all my fantasy.”

Sources

VIXX. “Fantasy.” YouTube. 14 August 2016. https://youtu.be/IuaRdAozUI0 (08 November 2021)

Red Velvet, “Knock on Wood,” Queendom (2021)

Luisa do Amaral

Red Velvet debuted in 2014 with the promise to bring together the elements that distinguished their predecessors, Girls’ Generation and f(x). One’s magical, sunny mass-appeal, and the other’s more experimental edge – through the fresh “Red” and the luscious “Velvet” concepts. Celebrating their seventh anniversary, the group made their first official release since ‘The ReVe Festival’ Finale (2019) with the six-track mini album Queendom (2021), released in August. The record includes the electro-punk track “Knock on Wood,” a B-side that uses a magical motif to compare the anxious desire for requited affections akin to casting a little spell (Yun, 2021).

The track is credited to duo Moonshine (Jonatan Gusmark and Ludvig Evers), Cazzi Opeia and Ellen Berg, who have worked together in previous RV tracks such as the B-side “In & Out” (2019) and the title track “Peek-A-Boo” (2017). The Korean lyrics were written by Seo Ji-Eum from Jam Factory. “Knock on Wood” opens with bewitching wobbly synths; enchanting ad-libs and vocals are layered over little finger snaps, squelches and glassy sounds (Daly, 2021) for an eerie feeling that heightens the magical element. The lyrics switch between anxiously hopeful confessions and spells, with each member adding to the atmosphere. Irene’s and Yeri’s lines are playful, mischievous – complementing Seulgi’s honey-glazed uneasiness, as well as Joy’s innocent sweetness and Wendy’s buoyant brightness, whose voices lead the pre-chorus into the chorus. The more distressed undertones of the song are resolved at the whimsical bridge, and the fairytale-like story ends with a modified chorus that expresses the assurance of getting the desired outcome. All the red flavors are there, but with the otherworldly magical edge that Red Velvet carried on from the sweet witchcraft of f(x).

Sources 

Red Velvet. “Knock on Wood.” YouTube. 16 Aug 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PHINkx2So0s (8 Nov 2021)

Yun, Sanggeun 윤상근. “레드벨벳, ‘Queendom’으로 전할 감각적 음악 세계..위트 더한다” [Red Velvet to deliver a sensory music world through ‘Queendom’.. with increased wit]. 스타뉴스 STARNEWS, 9 Aug, 2021, https://entertain.naver.com/read?oid=108&aid=0002979163 Accessed 8 Nov, 2021. 

Daly, Rhian. “Red Velvet – ‘Queendom’ review: a safe but sometimes spellbinding return from SM’s ruling girl group” NME, 18 Aug. 2021, https://www.nme.com/reviews/album/red-velvet-queendom-review-3022231. Accessed 7 Nov. 2021. 

SEVENTEEN, “Ready To Love,” Your Choice (2021)

Tan Puay Shuang

Being given the title of ‘self-producing idols’, SEVENTEEN is best known not only for their entertaining presence on variety shows, but also for being actively involved in various aspects of their comeback productions since debut. While one could visibly tell that the group’s music has drastically evolved and matured with time, not many were prepared to learn that the song-writing credits of their eighth mini-album Your Choice would include “hitman” Bang Sihyuk, the founder of HYBE Corporation that has just acquired their label Pledis Entertainment last year. Apart from him, the song also introduced the participation of Danke, Kyler Niko, Wonderkid, Christoffer Semelius, and H.Kenneth, some of which would be familiar to fans of other HYBE artists like TXT and ENHYPEN.

Your Choice was released as the second part to SEVENTEEN’s yearlong project “The Power of ‘Love’”. Its title track “Ready To Love” features a prominent electric guitar and an anthemic chorus, which combined with the typical EDM beats forms an upbeat dance track that sings about the emotions of someone who has fallen in love with a friend (Chakraborty, 2021). Besides departing from the retro vibes that they have featured in their previous mini albums, Heng:garæ and Semicolon, the song also stands out for the amount of English being used in their lyrics. Despite the high energy and optimistic lyrics, the song eludes a somewhat melancholic tone, and the adlibs done by the members hold equal importance as the main melody, with the choreography during the last chorus specially made to highlight Seungkwan’s voice towards the end of the final chorus. 

Sources

HYBE LABELS. “SEVENTEEN (세븐틴) ‘Ready to love’ Official MV.” YouTube. 18 Jun 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j4ffQuYFfY8 (8 Nov 2021).

SEVENTEEN. “[Choreography Video] SEVENTEEN(세븐틴) – Ready to love.” YouTube. 20 Jun 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YxWowt5Oc9Y (8 Nov 2021).

Chakraborty, Riddhi. “Seventeen Get Ready to Risk Everything in ‘Ready to Love’.” Rolling Stone India. 18 Jun 2021. https://rollingstoneindia.com/seventeen-get-ready-to-risk-everything-in-ready-to-love/ (8 Nov 2021).

SF9, “Hey Hi Bye,” Turn Over (2021)

Vitoria F. Doretto

SF9 (shortened from Sensational Feeling 9) is the first dance boy group formed by FNC Entertainment. Known for their dynamic stage presence and experimental sound, and following their contract renovation, the nine members released on July 5, 2021, their ninth mini-album, Turn Over, with “Tear Drop” as the title track. The album follows their participation in Kingdom: Legendary War, where “Believer” was released as their final round song (which also appears on this album). The mini-album is the last part of the “9lory” series, which conveys their narrative world. In it, they show their willingness to pioneer fate on its own without yielding to what was already set.

“Hey Hi Bye” is the last track with synth-brass-laden and peppy beats. The lyrics are written by Han Sung Ho (한성호),Young Bin  (영빈), Zuho (주호), and Hwiyoung (SF9s lead rapper). The composers are Han Sung Ho (한성호), Park Soo Suk (박수석), Bong Won Seok (봉원석), Moon Kim, and Tiyon TC Mack, and the arrangement was made by Park Soo Suk and Bong Won Seok. It is a fun track with a captivating mix of retro influences and a synth-like filter that adds to the instrumental – and their voices are capable of staying above it all, which is surprising. The track wraps up the album with a sweet tone, as its last verses are “Can’t nobody, can’t nobody love you like me/ Hey, hiya, bye.” Its first live stage was at the “2021 SF9 Online Fan Meeting ‘Reply FANTASY‘” (Laure, 2021).

Sources

에셒구. [SF9] Hey Hi Bye 응답하라 판타지 210815 팬미팅. YouTube. 16 Aug 2021.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i37Tw6310dc (9 Nov. 2021).

Laure. Exclusive Review: SF9 Cheerfully Spends Time At “2021 SF9 Online Fan Meeting ‘Reply FANTASY'”. Kpopmag, 17 Aug 2021. http://www.kpopmap.com/exclusive-review-sf9-cheerfully-spends-time-at-2021-sf9-online-fan-meeting-reply-fantasy (9 Nov. 2021).

2AM, “Should’ve known” (가까이 있어서 몰랐어), Ballad 21 F/W (2021)

Mariam Elba

After 7 years, 2AM released its first, long-awaited EP after their hiatus that began in 2013 on November 1. Formed as a part of One Day, a project of JYP Entertainment in 2008, members Jinwoon, Changmin, Jo Kwon, and Seulong broke off to form 2AM. They quickly became known as the ballad-idol quartet, different from their One Day counterparts, 2PM. each bring different vocal styles elements to their ballads. Park Jin-young of JYP Entertainment as well as “hitman” bang, or Bang Si-hyuk, and now the chairman of HYBE, were both frequent producers and songwriters for the group.

“Should’ve known” is their first of two title tracks on 2AM’s new EP, Ballad 21 F/W, written and composed by “Hitman” Bang, and arranged by Megatone and Score.  The song starts with a simple piano harmony as Jinwoon starts the song in an almost-hushed voice, Seulong ushers in the bridge, and builds a gradual crescendo as Jo Kwon and Changmin’s voices carry the crescendo into the chorus with soaring high notes, evoking the emotion of the lyrics charged with regret of a lost love. The third bridge highlights 2AM’s frequent harmonizing, a signature characteristic in their songs.

A unique aspect of the music video is that it tells the first part of a story that the second title song’s music video continues. Starring One Day counterpart, 2PM’s Junho and Kim So-hyun, re-enact the story the lyrics tell in Should’ve known, and second title song No good in good-bye (잘 가라니).

Sources

2am – 가까이 있어서 몰랐어 (Should′ve known) MV. YouTube. 1 Nov 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d5NyZsDz0oI (10 Nov 2021).

 
 Creative Commons License WWLT Vol. 1, No. 1 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

KPK Seeks Members for Its K-pop Music Research Accelerator!

KPK Seeks Members for Its K-pop Music Research Accelerator!

Are you outside of academia yet do research on K-pop music or related topics? Are you an advanced undergrad or grad student researching K-pop music, but lack a research community? Do you want an opportunity to hone your analytic skills and publish on K-pop music? Consider applying to HWAITING! The K-pop Music Research Accelerator!

HWAITING!: The K-Pop Music Research Accelerator cultivates and produces public scholarship on global Korean popular music (K-pop). Managed by KPK: K-pop Kollective, the oldest and only aca-fansite for K-pop, HWAITING! houses an online research community that also publishes small-scale music analyses. Its mission is to generate comprehensive, well-informed discourse around K-pop music that contributes to an understanding of its content, history and impact. The HWAITING! Accelerator functions as a: 

  • study group that reads scholarly writing and discusses topics related to K-pop music to keep members current with K-pop music discourse
  • listening group that shares music recommendations to expand the knowledge base of its members and help them find music beyond their favorites  
  • writing group that publishes music analyses accessible to a general audience to provide opportunities for members to share their knowledge

Criteria. Ideal applicants come from within or outside academia, work on K-pop or related topics, and would benefit from being a part of an active K-pop research community. This includes advanced undergraduates, current/former graduate students, bloggers, journalists and podcasters. Knowledge of or familiarity with multiple K-pop artists/groups is required.

Expectations. Generally, members can expect to spend 1-2 hours a week on HWAITING. They will be expected to:

  • write a 150-200-word musical analysis of at least one K-pop track bi-monthly, to be published on KPK: Kpop Kollective. (For an idea, see What We Are Listening To: ‘Rising Sun’ by TVXQ!)  
  • recommend at least one K-pop track to the group every two weeks 
  • participate in weekly discussions about scholarly writing and critical topics relevant to K-pop music
  • provide progress reports on individual projects as needed

To apply. Complete this short form, which will also ask you to provide a reference, someone who can confirm your interest in K-pop. References will be contacted. Deadline: Oct 18, 2021. Questions? Contact Dr. Crystal S. Anderson, csaphd5@gmail.com.

MUSIC REVIEW: Sam Kim, Sun and Moon (2018)

MUSIC REVIEW: Sam Kim, Sun and Moon (2018)

By the time Sam Kim released Sun and Moon (2018), he had already established a reputation for mellow tracks with singles like “Don’t Worry Mama” and “Seattle,” both of which appear on his 2016 release, I Am Sam. Sun and Moon continues his signature style.

Kim’s voice complements the acoustic and sparse instrumentation that frequently accompany his tracks. The use of featured artists, often singers who have R&B and hip-hop reputations, allows a contrast to his vocals. While “It’s You” (ft. Zico) uses a common structure that places the rap verse near the middle of the song, “Make Up” (ft. Crush) uses Crush’s rap and singing vocals to contrast with Kim’s plaintive vocal.  The track is also punctuated with a recurrent, driving electric guitar riff that provides a bit of flair. As the promotional tracks for the album, they also feature music videos.  “It’s You” makes use of a colorful palette and deconstructed living room, which underscores the track’s upbeat feel.  “Make Up” follows Kim’s emotional spiral that eventually lands him in the back of a police car for graffiti.

While instrumentation in Kim’s music evokes a chill atmosphere, it also draws on elements from several genres. “The One,” written by Kim and composed by Kim and frequent collaborators Hong So Jin and Jeog Jai, strategically introduces horns on the chorus and throughout the verses. As the song continues, they gradually swell in a way that intensives the jazz feel of the track, providing for a nice extended outro.  “Would You Believe,” written and composed by Kim, starts out as a piano-based ballad. Gospel choir-like backing vocals support Kim’s expressive and emotional voice, filling out the choruses in contrast to the more stark verses. The instrumentation becomes more complex as well, with an electric guitar complementing the initially plaintive piano, bringing with it a gospel cadence.

Track List

  1. Sun and Moon
  2. It’s You (ft. Zico)
  3. Make Up (ft. Crush)
  4. Sunny Days, Summer Nights (그 여름밤)
  5. The One
  6. Would You Believe
  7. The Weight (무기력)
  8. If

Image: Antenna Music

Video

Antenna. “샘김 Sam Kim ‘Would You Believe’|Official Audio.” YouTube. 27 Nov 2018. https://youtu.be/4pV2Btw-lUc

SecretlyRian. “SAM KIM (샘김) – THE ONE [han|rom|eng lyrics/가사].” YouTube. 25 Nov 2018. https://youtu.be/Y3RMC9me-Xs

Creative Commons License
MUSIC REVIEW: Sam Kim, Sun and Moon (2018) by Crystal S. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Spotify, YouTube and the Shaping of the K-pop Listening Audience

Spotify, YouTube and the Shaping of the K-pop Listening Audience

Spotify has become a benchmark for measuring K-pop success, but it limits the growth of the K-pop listening audience. Despite changes in its algorithm, YouTube remains the place to develop and grow as a K-pop listener because of the input of other K-pop fans.

Spotify is recognized for spearheading the music streaming revolution, changing the music distribution model that gave music away for little to nothing to the public and profited from artists in other ways, as Michael Hann explains: “[Spotify’s] main business is not helping listeners discover new music (something it’s not very good at), but collecting information about listeners in order to sell its audiences to advertisers.”

When Spotify began to feature K-pop, it was seen as a win for global K-pop fans. Finally, they had a (legal!), reliable site to access their favorite groups. For some, it was an opportunity to draw attention to their faves with high streaming counts. Kate Whitehead credits the increased global spread of K-pop to Spotify: “In 2014, Spotify launched its K-pop flagship playlist K-pop Daebak, which now has more than 2.4 million followers. Between January 2014 and January this year, K-pop streams increased more than 1,800 per cent and during the same period users listened to more than 134 billion minutes of K-pop on Spotify.” For many K-pop fans, it has become the primary source of K-pop.

However, that access comes at a cost in terms of the variety of K-pop to which fans are exposed, a variety that is vital in creating a listening audience with diverse tastes. Ben Beaumont-Thomas and Laura Snapes argue: “Spotify prides itself on its personalised recommendations, which work by connecting dots between ‘data points’ assigned to songs (from rap, indie, and so on, to infinite micro-genre permutations) to determine new music you might like. Its model doesn’t code for surprise, but perpetuates “lean-back” passivity.” Using data to curate the listener’s experience, Spotify de-emphasizes the discovery of new music that may be far afield of a listener’s preferences.

This is contrast to other ways that global fans develop their K-pop preferences in the past. My own research reveals that K-pop fans have a tendency to seek out new groups and artists after their initial exposure to K-pop. This branching is guided by recommendations from friends as well as YouTube playlists and recommendations. YouTube represents a fundamentally different way of accessing music, one that gives a larger role to the human component in the form of other fans. For example, listeners can access playlists compiled by fans that include entries based on their likes.

The presence of simply more music outside the bounds of those determined by data shapes our conception of the music in general. I compiled a playlist a YouTube playlist for my book, Soul in Seoul: African American Music and K-pop. For example, I was able to find examples by R&B artists who incorporate a monologue at the beginning of their songs, like the Chi-Lites‘ “Have You Seen Her,” the same kind of monologue that K-pop group Shinhwa incorporates into their 2004 track “Crazy.”

 

When I went to create my playlist on Spotify, Shinhwa’s album Brand New was missing from the artist listing, which is a serious omission. Brand New was Shinhwa’s first album after their departure from SM Entertainment, the company with which the group debuted. Not only is it incredibly significant in terms of the development of the group’s sound, it features several hit songs, including “Crazy” and “Brand New.” But a Spotify listener would not know this. In this way, Spotify shapes the listening experience of an individual in a way that omits significant parts of an artist’s musical trajectory.

What does this mean for K-pop? The inability to encounter music outside of a data-driven model means that K-pop listeners are limited if they largely access their K-pop from streaming sites that use such a model,  which can skew their overall perception of K-pop.

Sources

Cloud. “The Chi-lites “Have you seen her.” YouTube. 10 Apr 2009. https://youtu.be/xVYxKRXDT2I

Kate Whitehead. “How Spotify Had a Hand in K-pop’s Meteoric Rise BTS, Blackpink and EXO Among App’s Top Streamed Bands.” South China Morning Post. 27 Feb 2020. https://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/entertainment/article/3052419/how-spotify-had-hand-k-pops-meteoric-rise-bts-blackpink-and

Michael Hann. “How Spotify’s Algorithms Are Ruining Music.” Financial Times. 2 May 2019. https://www.ft.com/content/dca07c32-6844-11e9-b809-6f0d2f5705f6

Ben Beaumont-Thomas and Laura Snapes. “Has 10 years of Spotify Ruined Music?” The Guardian. 5 Oct 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/music/2018/oct/05/10-years-of-spotify-should-we-celebrate-or-despair

omega. “[역대1위곡] 신화(Shinhwa) – 열병(Crazy).” YouTube. 10 Sept 2016. https://youtu.be/BxsSmAXRaXo

Shinwha Official. “GROUP SHINHWA – ‘Brand New’ Official Music Video.” YouTube. https://youtu.be/YowZgL1AOTA

Creative Commons License
Spotify, YouTube and the Shaping of the K-pop Listening Audience by Crystal S. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

The Quantification of K-pop

The Quantification of K-pop

Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

Numerical data dominates the discourse around K-pop. In order to get a fuller view, we need to contextualize those numbers with other kinds of information in order to understand K-pop’s worldwide appeal.

With the focus on awards, streams, views and tweets, numbers lead the way we talk about K-pop. 2020 has seen K-pop venture into new territory, with high appearances on Billboard charts, high-profile performances and unprecedented winning of awards. K-pop fans urge others to view and stream to increase the visibility of their favorite groups. Scholars also use numerical data to study the use of social media and understand the spread of K-pop globally. Some see research based on numerical data as the gold standard: “Quantitative research is more preferred over qualitative research because it is more scientific, objective, fast, focused and acceptable” (Formplus Blog).

However, the hyperfocus on numerical data can skew our understanding of K-pop. Numbers are not as objective as many think.  Data can be manipulated and misrepresented. Even when the data is valid, it only presents part of the story. Harry Gough notes: “Sometimes we are so hypnotized by data, we gaze past our own humanity. To get the whole picture, you need the story behind the data – the ‘so what?’, otherwise all you have is data. Which is why qualitative data can be so valuable.”

Twitter data featured in Tamar Herman‘s “10 Years On, Twitter is Shaping the Spread of K-pop,” shows the strengths of numerical data, but also the need for  additional perspectives to understand the whole story of K-pop’s global spread through social media.  Twitter Korea “tracked  data from the past year between July 1, 2019 and June 30, 2020” and “added it to its analysis of the past decade’s growth,” which includes data from Twitter usage from 2010-2020 (Herman). The long-term Twitter usage data reveals a pattern of increase in Twitter conversations related to K-pop.  Such conversations show the domination of boy groups, the increase of usage of Twitter by K-pop artists and the prominence of  certain artists  in certain countries (Herman).

At the same time, the data has limits, meaning there are things it does not take into account. This data covers only Twitter. While it is a major social media platform, there are many K-pop fans on Twitter who never participate in conversations. Other K-pop fans intentionally avoid Twitter in favor of other social media platforms, such as Instagram, YouTube, Tumblr and private Facebook groups.  These K-pop fans are not captured in this data, so what it tells us pertains only to a certain segment of K-pop fans. If we take its conclusions as representative of most or all K-pop fans, we could be misrepresenting the data and what it actually tells us.

Moreover, this data does not tell us why boy groups dominate or why certain artists are popular in certain countries. We need non-numerical data, which could add to the numerical data by understanding “underlying reasons, opinions and motivations” (Gough).  Mentions are just that: mentions. They do not tell us why something is being mentioned.  Asking individuals about the motivations behind their actions, their attitudes and opinions may not be generalizable, but it helps to explain the numbers.

With the rise of research in K-pop, we need multiple methods to comprehensively understand it.

Source

Formplus Blog. “15 Reasons to Choose Quantitative over Qualitative Research.” Formplus Blog. 25 Jun. https://www.formpl.us/blog/quantitative-qualitative-research#:~:text=Quantitative%20research%20is%20more%20preferred,and%20approach%20to%20the%20problem (Accessed 23 Sept 2020).

Harry Gough. “Qualitative vs Quantitative Research: What Is It and When Should You Use It?” qualtrics. 16 Apr 2020. https://www.qualtrics.com/blog/qualitative-research/ (Accessed 23 Sept 2020).

Tamar Herman. “10 Years On, Twitter is Shaping the Spread of K-pop.” Forbes. 21 Sept 2020. https://www.forbes.com/sites/tamarherman/2020/09/21/10-years-on-twitter-is-shaping-the-spread-of-k-pop/#5795c78399a7 (23 Sept 2020).

 

Creative Commons License
The Quantification of K-pop by Crystal S. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Dancing in September : Cultural Translation in Hallyu Performance

Image by Steven Iodice from Pixabay

In order to comprehensively examine the hybrid nature of music and performance in the Korean wave,  we should recognize the multiple meanings embedded in these cultural modes that transcend language.

This cultural translation is clearly illustrated in Lia Kim‘s choreography for Earth, Wind and Fire‘s “September,” a single released by the iconic R&B group in 1978. Kim is known for her choreography for K-pop artists, including the girl group Mamamoo. Uploaded to 1MILLION Dance Studio’s YouTube channel in February 2020, the dance video for “September” translates the exuberance of the song, an exuberance that transcends language. The choreography uses dynamic handwork and travels through the dance space with sharp body moves that highlight the distinctive horns of the song.  The energy the dancers is matched by yells from the audience.

 

While the song’s lyrics tell a story, Jefferey Peretz also points to the groove in the track itself: “There’s four chords in the chorus that keep moving forward and never seem to land anywhere–much like the four seasons. . . . It’s the end of summer, it’s the beginning of fall, it’s that Indian summertime; it’s the transition from warm to cool” (Charnas). Israel Daramola says, “The reason ‘September’ is iconic has little to do with its lyrics–as White would tell you–but instead its majesty and intricate musicality. It is funk and disco and R&B and rock ‘n’ roll, all at once, designed to get you moving and smiling.” Both Peretz and Daramola point to the embedded meanings in the music itself.

Kim’s choreography for the track also reflects a hybridity that transcend language because African American cultural production contain meanings that transcend language. In A Change is Gonna Come: Music, Race & the Soul of America, Craig Werner notes that that genres such as hip-hop, gospel, soul, funk, reggae and disco are not just “a black thing”:

While those strategies are grounded in the specific history of blacks in what Bob Marley called ‘Babylon,’ they’re available to anyone who doesn’t call Babylon home. (xiii)

Music, visuals and performance transcend language because they draw on experiences that people share.  Daramola cites major genres of black popular music, which carry what Werner calls “impulses” that draw on black experiences. Such impulses are embedded in the music and are accessible to anyone who can recognize them.  For example, Werner describes the record label Philadelphia International Records, a major figure in the soul sound, as creating “a socially uplifting music that would appeal to everyone in the black community and as many as possible on the other side of the rapidly re-forming racial line” (197).

If the cultural flows that produce the hybrid music and performance of the Korean wave ripple across national and linguistic boundaries, then our examination of it should also.  The embedded meaning is the reason why people who don’t speak the language respond to it. It is also the reason why we can study the cultural production of Hallyu without knowing the language. While language is important, it’s not the only important vehicle for the transmission of meaning.

Sources

1MILLION Dance Studio. “Earth, Wind & Fire – September/Lia Kim Choreography.” YouTube. 14 Feb 2020. https://youtu.be/6mb76aRJxaw (Accessed 28 Aug 2020).

Craig Werner. A Change is Gonna Come: Music, Race & the Soul of America. Plume, 1998.

Dan Charnas. “The Song that Never Ends: Why Earth, Wind & Fire’s ‘September’ Sustains.” npr music. 19 Sept 2014. https://www.npr.org/2014/09/19/349621429/the-song-that-never-ends-why-earth-wind-fires-september-sustains (Accessed 29 Aug 2020).

Israel Daramola. “Taylor Swift’s ‘September’ Cover is Completely Joyless.” SPIN. 13 Apr 2018. https://www.spin.com/2018/04/taylor-swift-september-earth-wind-fire-cover-review/ (Accessed 28 Aug 2020).

Creative Commons License
Dancing in September : Cultural Translation in Hallyu Performance by Crystal S. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

What We Are Listening To: “Keep It Simple” by Samuel Seo

What We Are Listening To: “Keep It Simple” by Samuel Seo

Samuel Seo (Seo Donh-hyeon) released his first album in 2015. His 2018 album Unity features the track “Keep It Simple,” composed by Seo and arranged by Sung Ki-moon, Joseph Choi, Jaeho Kim and Jun Beck. Featuring jazz pianist, the track sports a sparse arrangement that allows the twinkling jazz piano and soft percussion to complement Seo’s always stellar vocals. As Seo’s vocals increase in intensity, so too does the improvisation on the piano and the prominence of the drums.  For someone often associated with hip-hop, this track showcases the versatility of Seo’s style by delving into jazz.

Sources

서사무엘 / Samuel Seo. “Keep It Simple.” YouTube. 12 Sept 2018. https://youtu.be/RAlU0UXeolc (Accessed 13 Aug 2020).

For Your Reading Pleasure: A Hallyu Bibliography, Part 14: POLITICS and SOFT POWER

waters-3178574_1920
Photo credit: jplenio, Pixabay.

Kaetrena Davis Kendrick, M.S.L.S.

Winthrop University

Welcome to Part 15 of my ongoing series of bibliographic entries about Hallyu.  These entries are listed by year, not by author (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).

To learn more about my searching parameters, information-gathering processes, and your ability to access these items, see my earlier essay titled For Your Reading Pleasure: Introducing A Hallyu Bibliography.”  Click for Part 1 , Part 2, Part 3, Part 4,  Part 5 , Part 6, Part 7 , Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13, and Part 14 of the bibliography.

This is a working post, so if you would like to submit items to this list or to the bibliography, please contact me directly at kaetrena@mailbox.sc.edu.

POLITICS and SOFT POWER

Kim, H. (2005). Korea’s soft power through Hallyu (Korean wave). thesis: Seoul National University. 

Hayashi, Kaori and Eun-Jeung Lee. (2007). The potential of fandom and the limits of soft power: Media representations on the popularity of a Korean melodrama in Japan. Social Science Japan Journal, 10(2): 197-216. doi: 10.1093/ssjj/jym049 (see also, Fandom/Fan Activity)

Janelli, Roger and Dawnhee Yun. (2007). Soft power, Korea and the politics of culture. Institute of East Asia Studies, University of California, Berkeley.

Lee, Keehyeung. (2008(. Mapping out the cultural politics of the “Korean Wave” in contemporary South Korea. In C.B. Huat and K. Iwabuchi (Eds.) East Asian Pop Culture: Analyzing the Korean Wave. pp. 175 – 189. Aberdeen: Hong Kong University Press.

Lee, Shin Wha. (2008). Soft power and Korean diplomacy: Theory and reality. Wisemen Roundtable on Soft Power in Northeast Asia. Accessed 4 April 2012 from http://121.78.112.190/data/bbs/kor_report/2009090911303012.pdf

Nam, Siho. 2008. Media imperialism waned? The cultural politics of Korean Wave in East Asia.Global Communication and Social Change Division of International Association Conference. May. (see also, Korean Popular Culture in Asia)

Tsai, Eva. 2008. Existing in the Age of Innocence: Pop stars, publics and politics in Asia. In C.B. Huat and K. Iwabuchi (Eds.) East Asian Pop Culture: Analyzing the Korean Wave. pp. 217- X. Aberdeen: Hong Kong University Press.

Lee, Geun. 2009. A soft power approach to the Korean Wave. The Review of Korean Studies, 12 (2): 123-127.Lee, Sook-Jong. 2009. South Korea’s soft power diplomacy. EAI Issue Briefing no. 1

Park, So Young. 2010. Transnational Adoption, Hallyu, and the Politics of Korean Popular Culture. Biography, 33(1): 151-166.

Luguusharav, Byambakhand. (2011). Soft power in the context of South Korea. Thesis, Central European University. Accessed 23 August 2012 from http://www.etd.ceu.hu/2011/luguusharav_byambakhand.pdf

Choi, Jung-bong. 2012. Of transmutability of Hallyu: Political culture and cultural politics. Presented at the Nam Center for Korean Studies’ Hallyu 2.0: The Korean Wave in the Age of Social Media Symposium. Accessed 28 August 2012 from https://ii.umich.edu/ncks/news-events/events/conferences—symposia/hallyu-2-0–the-korean-wave-in-the-age-of-social-media/hallyu-program/hallyu-2-0–jung-bong-choi.html

Jang, Gunjoo & Won K. Paik. (2012). Korean wave as tool for Korea’s new cultural diplomacy. Advances in Applied Sociology, 2(3): 196-202. Accessed 16 June 2016 from http://file.scirp.org/Html/22229.html

Watson, Iain. 2012. South Korea’s State-led soft power strategies: Limits on Inter-Korean relations. Asian Journal of Political Science, 20(3):304-325.

Howard, Keith. (2015). Politics, parodies, and the paradox of Psy’s ‘Gangnam Style.’ Romanian Journal of Sociological Studies, (1): 14-29. Accessed 17 June 2016 from http://journalofsociology.ro/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Full-text-pdf.1.pdf

Kim, Youngmi & Valentina Marinescu. (2015). Mapping South Korea’s soft power: Sources, actors, tools, and impact. Romanian Journal of Sociological Studies, (1): 4-12. Accessed 17 June 2016 from http://journalofsociology.ro/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Full-text-pdf..pdf

Gan, Xi Ni. (2019). Soft power of Korean popular culture on consumer behavior in Malaysia. Thesis, UTAR. Retrieved from http://eprints.utar.edu.my/3479/

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

The Once and Future Fandom: How Media Shapes Perceptions of K-pop Fans

Image of varying tones of gold in a kaleidoscope
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Whether K-pop fans are praised political activists or denigrated as delusional enthusiasts, both characterizations reduce K-pop fans, especially Black fans, and fail to recognize their value beyond politics.

Up until recently, K-pop fans had a questionable reputation. On March 19, 2020, I did a search for K-pop fans, and these are the search terms Google offered:

Screen capture of Google search for k-pop fan
Screen capture, Google search for K-pop fan

This is what today’s search (June 24) for K-pop fan brings:

Screen shot of Google search for K-pop fan
Google search for K-pop fan

In the span of a few months, the perception of K-pop fans has changed, largely due to several events with political ramifications, including overwhelming the Dallas police iWatch Dallas app, taking over the #whitelivesmatter hashtag, and most recently, disrupting President Trump’s Oklahoma rally. Coverage by mainstream media outlets have praised these actions, suggesting that K-pop fans now have value because they are politically active.

However, others are pointing out that calling K-pop the newest wave of political activists is not as positive as it seems. Abby Ohlheiser does a really great job of explaining the complexity surrounding K-pop fandom and why the sudden characterization of K-pop fans as activists is problematic:

Some stans, and the academics who study them, say that while it’s great to see fans use these platforms for good, the rapid veneration is overshadowing the more complex dynamics underlying K-pop fandom. And, they say, the newfound reputation for anti-racist heroism largely ignores the voices of black K-pop fans, who have struggled with racism and harassment within the community.

The K-pop fan-as-activist is the other side of the K-pop-fan-as-crazy coin. Both are imposed by the media and narrowly construe K-pop fandom. K-pop fan activity did not suddenly become important or significant just because it intersects with the political arena or because major outlets say so. Fans were always important and significant, in and of themselves. K-pop fans’ ability to organize and mobilize for a cause can be seen as early as 2012, when fans of Seo Taiji, often credited with being the first major figure in K-pop, fundraised to create the “SeoTaiji Forest” in Brazil to support conservation. It’s the same organizing used to support groups when they promote. But it’s also scores of smaller, collaborative projects that collect information in informal archive projects. K-pop fans have always been proactive in producing culture around K-pop.

This has a particular impact for Black K-pop fans. While Black K-pop fans have been part of K-pop fandom since its early days, they are increasingly being brought to the fore solely within the context of K-pop activism around Black Lives Matter, or increasingly, to articulate their negative experiences within the fandom. While both are important in understanding the experiences of Black fans, they are not the only way to understand those experiences. Raising Black K-pop fan voices only to tell stories of racism and discrimination suggests that Black fans cannot talk about just being a fan, who they like and why. It excludes Black fans from having a voice on any other aspect of K-pop and silences them under the auspices of giving them a voice.

Black fans, and Black people in general, have a complex experience one that includes joy.  Imani Perry recently wrote for The Atlantic: “My elders taught me that I belonged to a tradition of resilience, of music that resonates across the globe, of spoken and written language that sings. . . . The injustice is inescapable. So yes, I want the world to recognize our suffering. But I do not want pity from a single soul. Sin and shame are found in neither my body nor my identity. Blackness is an immense and defiant joy.” Calling on Black voices only confirm their negative experience with ignoring their opinion on everything else in the fandom excludes them from being fans in the truest sense of the word. If the only way the public sees Black fan is as a tragic victim, we reduce the Black fan.

K-pop fans in general, and Black K-pop fans in particular, are having characterizations imposed on them by entities that do not have the best track record on K-pop coverage.  This narrative of activism is being generated by mainstream media outlets rather than the fans themselves. As a result, it continues the age-old tendency of the media reducing K-pop fans to the simplest of terms.

Sources

Abby Ohlheiser. “How K-pop Fas Became Celebrated Online Vigilantes.” MIT Technology Review. 5 Jun 2020. https://www.technologyreview.com/2020/06/05/1002781/kpop-fans-and-black-lives-matter/ (Accessed 24 Jun 2020).

Imani Perry. “Racism Is Terrible. Blackness Is Not.” The Atlantic. 15 June 2020. https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/06/racism-terrible-blackness-not/613039/ (Accessed 24 June 2020).

Kim Rahn. “Fans Name ‘Seoetaiji Forest’ in Brazil.” The Korea Times. March 2012. http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/nation/2012/03/113_107088.html (Accessed 24 Jun 2020).

Creative Commons License
The Once and Future Fandom: How Media Shapes Perceptions of K-pop Fans by Crystal S. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.