Why Is K-pop Coverage So Negative?

Image: Pixabay

Much like the current tone of the Internet, wholly negative criticism threatens to skew our perceptions of K-pop.

On any given day, one can wander out on social media and witness what has become the all-too-common negative critique of K-pop. A recent Twitter thread began by Yim Hyun-su pointed out how media tends to write stories disproportionately on “the dark side of K-pop” to the exclusion of other types of stories. This trend is also at play in academic scholarship.  In an article for The Point Magazine, Lisa Riddick observed a level of “meanness” associated with the current culture of scholarly critique: “Repeatedly, we will find scholars using theory—or simply attitude—to burn through whatever is small, tender, and worthy of protection and cultivation” (“When Nothing is Cool“).

K-pop is particularly susceptible to negative criticism because it belongs to two fields often negatively criticized:  popular culture and fan studies. Popular culture falls on the low end of the culture hierarchy. Lawrence W. Levine locates the origins of the hierarchy in the United States at turn of the 20th century, with highbrow used “to describe intellectual or aesthetic superiority” and “lowbrow”used “to mean someone or something neither ‘highly intellectual’ or ‘aesthetically refined” (Highbrow Lowbrow, 221-2). K-pop is mass-produced and appeals to a wide audience, so writers assume that it could not have any aesthetic value.

Similarly, fans have long been negatively characterized. Matt Hills notes that “stereotypes of mass cultural consumption still hold that fans have an appetite for what seems to be trivia. . . . Fans are undiscriminating followers of mass culture. This locates fandom as a kind of tool of the media industry” (Understanding Fandom, 40). This line of thought assumes that fans have no taste and inherently follow unimportant things. This resonates with K-pop fandom, with its majority-female fan base, for female fans have been negatively characterized especially in relation to pop culture. Diane Railton observes:

A constant image of fans of this type of music is of a girl or young woman, screaming, out of control, totally absorbed in the bodily experience. And the image that is reproduced time and time gain is not usually of one girl but of a heaving, screaming ‘mass’ of femininity. ‘Pop’ music of this type is about losing control; surrendering the rational mind to the body and the emotions. it is here that we can get some clue as to the (horrified) fascination in which such music is held by the ‘serious’ music press. (328).

Such negative appraisals give the air of serious engagement, but the repetition of the same negative appraisals actually reflect a lack of true engagement with K-pop. It comes off as lazy and suggests that writers cannot be bothered to actually delve into K-pop because they feel it is superficial.  This gets worse when we look at coverage by English-language media, especially those located in the West and the United States. When these entities write the same negative stories about K-pop, it comes off as cultural chauvinism. Moreover, individuals parrot the same superficial observations, solidifying them as the “true” characterization of K-pop. Treating K-pop as a legitimate phenomenon would go a long way to improving media coverage of  K-pop.

Sources

Hills, Matt. Understanding Fandom: An Introduction to the Study of Media Fan Culture. New York: Bloomsbury, 2013.

Levine, Lawrence W. Highbrow Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988.

Railton, Diane. “The Gendered Carnival of Pop.” Popular Music 20.3 (2001): 321-331. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0261143001001520 (Accessed 18 Oct 2019).

Riddick, Lisa. “When Nothing is Cool.” The Point Magazine. 7 Dec 2015.  https://thepointmag.com/criticism/when-nothing-is-cool/ (Accessed 9 Jan 2020).

 

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Why Is K-pop Coverage So Negative? by Crystal S. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Decennium: #TenYearsWithKPK

Image: Pixabay

KPK: Kpop Kollective, the oldest aca-fansite for K-pop, celebrates its 10-year anniversary on these K-pop streets!

BRIDES says that the traditional anniversary gift for the 10th anniversary is tin or aluminum, symbolizing flexibility and resiliency. It seems appropriate for KPK, because no matter if we are many or few, we are still here using our powers for good. But what is KPK? While we started out providing accurate information that fans want to know about their favorite artists, KPK has always taken K-pop seriously and worthy of study and attention. It has always been about providing the public with information and context for K-pop. That means all of K-pop, not just our favorite groups, because we believe that context is key to understanding. We believe you have to constantly balance K-pop’s history along with other forces that impact it today. For that reason, KPK has always been in it for the long haul, not just when it is popular. K-pop has changed a lot since we started, but at the same time, it remains important and significant.

Because of KPK’s public mission, we have also helped students, academics, media and industry professionals and basically anybody who has asked because we view ourselves as part of the K-pop community. As scholars, we are interested less in rumors and sensationalistic coverage of K-pop, and more about trying to interpret its complexity.  At the same time, we are fans, so we also spend a lot (A LOT) of time experiencing K-pop on the ground (the ground often meaning social media).

We are celebrating our tenth anniversary all year long, looking back at some of most popular posts and continuing to provide unique insight into K-pop. We hope you will continue to join us on the journey.

Fun fact: Decennium is also the name of veteran K-pop duo Fly to the Sky’s 2009 album! Here’s Restriction, my favorite song from the album!

 

MBCkpop. “Fly To The Sky – Restriction, 플라이투더스카이 – 구속, Music Core 20090228.” YouTube. 7 Feb 2012. (Accessed 17 Jan 2020). https://youtu.be/PFn657LCBPk

Crystal S. Anderson, PhD

Director, KPK: Kpop Kollective

Labor from Below: What Neoliberal Capitalism Overlooks in K-pop

Image: Pixabay

Crystal S. Anderson, PhD

Director, KPK: Kpop Kollective

Scholars frequently use the neoliberal capitalism frame to contextualize K-pop within the Korean wave, but the over-reliance on critiquing capitalist forces further silences the creative personnel of K-pop. If we approach K-pop using the “history from below” framework, we can reveal the perspectives of the individuals in the industry.

A number of scholarly articles that contextualize K-pop within Hallyu, or the Korean wave, invoke neoliberal capitalism as the interpretative frame for K-pop, a frame which focuses on  political and economic conditions that surround K-pop. Hyewon Kim describes neoliberal capitalism as “a theory of practices that pursue the liberation of individual entrepreneurial freedoms through free market and trade” (422). The neoliberal capitalist frame makes sense, given that the rise of K-pop coincides with a particular mode of globalization.  Cho Hae-Joang notes that the neoliberal perspective “highlights the cultural ‘industry'”:

The bulk of editorials and columns by news reporters, government officials, and people in the culture industry are concerned with how to advance and continue the promotion of the Korean Wave. Lamenting a lack of strategies, people in the forefront of cultural export institutions sought clever ways to crack open the enormous emerging Asian market. To them, the origin or quality of cultural products did not matter as much as the market and the bottom line. (159).

However, when K-pop is seen only as an industry, artists become mere cogs in a machine, the ensuing narrative is one of exploitation  for how much profit they can generate, with little concern with what they actually produce or how they perceive themselves within the industry. In From Factory Girls to K-pop Idol Girls: Cultural Politics of Developmentalism, Patriarchy, and Neoliberalism in South Korea’s Popular Music Industry, Gooyoung Kim notes that “the management and production style of the K-pop industry is almost identical to that of the manufacturer industry”: “K-pop industry has rendered highly homogenized, predictable music commodities, female idols, whose only aim is to make viable financial profits” (9).

However, using the framework of “history from below”  recognizes the people and their actions in the industry. The Institute of Historical Research‘s website Making History notes that “history from below” “seeks to take as its subjects ordinary people, and concentrate on their experiences and perspectives, ” and “differed from traditional labour history in that its exponents were more interested in popular protest and culture than in the organisations of the working class.”

In his book, Race Rebels: Culture, Politics and the Black Working Class, Robin D. G. Kelley explains how people, even under the most controlling labor conditions, can resist the forces around them.   He recalls his own experience working at McDonald’s:

The terrain was often cultural, centering on identity, dignity, and fun. We tried to turn work into pleasure, to turn our bodies into instruments of pleasure. Generational and cultural specificity had a good deal to do with our unique forms of resistance, but a lot of our actions were linked directly to the labor process, gender conventions and our class status. (3).

Kelley adds that in studying the labor of people so often overlooked in favor of the mechanisms of labor, “we have to step into the complicated maze of experience that renders ‘ordinary’ folks so extraordinarily multifaceted, diverse, and complicated” (4). This is the thrust of much working-class scholarship, focusing on individuals overlooked in the focus on the industries that employ them, even if there is no formal labor movement.

If we apply “history from below” to K-pop rather than relying solely on the neoliberal capitalism frame, then we would focus on the stories and narratives of creative personnel of K-pop, including “idols,” as individuals, rather than always painting the agencies as entities that control every aspect of life. We would see the narrative of K-pop go beyond its “dark side” to fully encapsulate the experiences of those who work within the industry, and recognize their humanity even within capitalist forces. We would cease to erase the actual people who work in the industry.

Sources

Cho Hae-Joang. 2005. “Reading ‘The Korean Wave’ as a Sign of Global Shift.” Korea Journal  45 (5): 147-182.

“History From Below.” n.d.  Making History. https://archives.history.ac.uk/makinghistory/themes/history_from_below.html  (25 Nov 2019).

Kelley, Robin D.G. 1994. Race Rebels: Culture, Politics and the Black Working Class. New York: The Free Press.

Kim, Gooyoung. 2019.  From Factory Girls to K-pop Idol Girls: Cultural Politics of Developmentalism, Patriarchy, and Neoliberalism in South Korea’s Popular Music Industry. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

Kim, Hyewon. 2018. “Domestiating Hedwig: Neoliberal Global Capitalism and Compression in South Korean Musical Theater.” The Journal of Popular Culture 51(2): 421-445.

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Labor from Below: What Neoliberal Capitalism Overlooks in K-pop by Crystal S. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Who’s Better, Who’s Best: Competition and Manipulation in K-pop

Image: Pixabay

Crystal S. Anderson, PhD

Director, KPK: Kpop Kollective

Recent developments involving award and competition shows reveal the impact of mainstreaming on K-pop. As stakes increase for industry and media, accolades and competition are perceived as metrics for quality. However, they largely measure popularity, which is subject to manipulation.

While many K-pop acts are managed by an agency and undergo rigorous training that may span years, others result from competition shows developed by broadcast companies. These shows produce a temporary K-pop group that promotes during a fixed promotion period, and then often disbands.  Such shows have proven popular, drawing on the increased global popularity of K-pop. For example, Produce 101, created by CJE&M, has produced K-pop groups I.O.I, Wanna One, IZ ONE, and X1 in four seasons.

Such shows have not been without controversy. While fans may express their displeasure when their favorites do not win, police in South Korea have found that results of the shows were manipulated. Writing for soompi, D.S. Kim reports: “According to the police, the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency’s cyber investigation team found differences between the number of votes revealed on the final episodes and the raw data showing the actual votes that were sent in by viewers.”

Questions about vote manipulation are also leveled at accolades such as awards. Not very long ago, mainstream recognition was not an issue in K-pop because of its marginalized status. However, the mainstreaming of K-pop involves participation in award shows. When the K-pop girl group BLACKPINK recently won several People’s Choice Awards in November 2019, major American media outlets like Newsweek reported on the frustration of fans of BTS, who during the past couple of years had been the most recognizable K-pop group in the United States. Other media outlets revealed suspicions by BTS fans similar to those that sparked the Produce 101 investigation: “Others were confused at the group’s loss given how popular BTS is, with a few fans keeping tabs on fan voting for the People’s Choice Awards. ‘There is no possible way that blackpink beat BTS for this award,@peopleschoice you have some explaining to do,’ wrote @tae25 while tweeting out screenshots of Awards stats that show BTS leading in votes” (Ali).

While fans often lead the charge with accusations around manipulation, it is the personnel in the corporations that manage the competitions and awards. They encourage the use of popularity as a metric of quality. The Produce 101 competitions ultimately relied on fan votes that were based on the performances shown by the show itself, performances that generated profit for the companies when the shows aired. Similarly, awards like the People’s Choice Awards are popularity awards, popularity which results from exposure that the media helps to generate in the first place.

When accusations of manipulation are made, it is in part because of an environment that uses popularity as a metric for quality and benefits the very entities that create the competition.  This is only possible when K-pop goes mainstream, generating a certain level of popularity.

Sources

Ali, Rasha. “BTS fans upset after K-pop group lost to Blackpink at 2019 People’s Choice Awards.” USAToday. 11 Nov 2019. https://www.usatoday.com/story/entertainment/celebrities/2019/11/11/peoples-choice-awards-bts-fans-frustrated-k-pop-group-lost/2560369001/ (16 Nov 2019).

Kim, D.S. “Update: Police Find Suspicions That “Produce 101” Seasons 1 And 2 Were Also Manipulated + Mnet Responds.” soompi. 14 Nov 2019. https://www.soompi.com/article/1365570wpp/police-find-suspicions-that-produce-101-seasons-1-and-2-were-also-manipulated (16 Nov 2019).

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Who’s Better, Who’s Best: Competition and Manipulation in K-pop by Crystal S. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Let KPK Introduce You To…The Use of (Gospel) Choirs

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

University of South Carolina Lancaster

The use or application of the (gospel) choir aestethic or sound is a staple in popular Western music, and the artists who have used the imagery or sound go from rock  and pop to rapIn an essay discussing how the African-American creative and cultural tradition of gospel music is preserved or transformed as it moves around the globe, Burnim links the original context of gospel music and its role in the African-American community to its unexpected introduction into American mainstream music (solidified by creative and consumer success markers):

As a genre that came to most strongly define the worship of the vast majority of African Americans regardless of denomination, gospel remained largely in the domain of African American congregants — that is, church folk — until the late 1960’s, when Edwin Hawkins released Let Us Go into The House of the Lord, with its ever-popular single “O Happy Day” unexpectedly hitting the radio airways, claiming unparalleled chart success and subsequent sales in excess of one million copies… (2016, 471)

While gospel music is primarily the vehicle by which African-Americans practiced aspects of their religion, it is also a form of music that has close ties to the continent and cultures of Africa. With those multitudes of cultures come expanded channels of creativity, and you can hear those elements in gospel music, including:

  • call and response
  • syncopation
  • cross-rhythms
  • improvisation (Rucker-Hillsman, 2014)

Noting links to commercial success and the musicality imbued in the gospel choir,  international artists have also incorporated the sound into their music.

Let’s take a look at the gospel choir’s entry into K-pop:

Artist: Jonghyun

Press Play to Hear “할렐루야 ” (Hallelujah)” from Jonghyun’s album Base (released January  12, 2015).

In a 2015 interview, Jonghyun noted that he did not originally intend to have a choir but that his interest in gospel music spurred him to update the arrangement. 

Jonghyun documents choir members recording the background vocals for “Hallelujah.”

Works Cited

Burnim, M. (2016). Tropes of continuity and disjuncture in the globalization of gospel music. In S.A. Riley & J.M. Dueck (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Music and World Christianities. Oxford University Press (pp. 469-488).

Rucker-Hillsman, J. (2014). Gospel music: An African-American art form. Victoria, BC, Canada: Freisen Press.

 

This Week In K-pop: July 20-26, 2019

 

Finding All Kinds of K-pop Stuff So You Don’t Have To

Crystal S. Anderson, PhD

Director, KPK: Kpop Kollective

New pop releases in K-pop this week include three title tracks from the new EXO sub-unit, EXO-SC, including “What A Life.” Woosung (of the band The Rose) released “Face,” while Kang Daniel finally debuts as a solo artist with “What Are You Up To.” Younger groups round out this week’s releases, including NCT Dream with “Boom” and Boy Story with “Too Busy” (ft. Jackson Wang). Additional pop songs were released by Monsta X, Mamamoo, GWSN, CIX, Taeyong, VAV, 1TEAM and Hyo.

Notable hip-hop releases include BewhY and the epic video for “Gottasadae,” the collaboration of nafla, Loopy, Lee Young Ji, and Pluma for “I’m the One” and the laid-back summer jam by ph-1, “You Don’t Know My Name.” Veteran rock group Crying Nut released “다음에 잘하자 [Let’s Do Well Next Time], while UHA (“dawn”) and Red Chair (Insomnia) bring more mellow sounds to this week’s releases.  Additional songs came out from Far East Movement, UHA, Perc%nt, Onsu, Shin Youme, Electric Pad, Kimhwol, Heera, Jungmo, The Electric Eels, Seoulmoon and Kizan.

This week’s playlist:

  1. EXO-SC, “Closer To You” | 2. EXO-SC, “Just Us 2” | 3. EXO-SC, “What A Life” | 4. NCT Dream, “Boom” | 5. Woosung, “Face” | 6. Kang Daniel, “What Are You Up To | 7. Monsta X, Breathe For You | 8. Mamamoo, “Gleam” | 9. GWSN, “Red-Sun(021)” | 10. CIX, “Movie Star” | 11. Taeyong, “Long Flight” | 12. Far East Movement, “Glue (ft. Heize & Shawn Wasabi)” | 13. Boy Story, “Too Busy (ft. Jackson Wang)” | 14. UHA, “dawn” | 15. Jun, “Switch” | 16. BewhY, “Gottasadae” | 17. Crying Nut, “다음에 잘하자 [Let’s Do Well Next Time]” | 18. Perc%nt, “9” | 19. Onsu, “The Rain” | 20. Shin Youme, “Wanna Be Ur Love” | 21. nafla, Loopy, Lee Young Ji, PLUMA, “I’m The One” | 22. Electric Pad, “Small Fruit” | 23. Kimhwol, “Down” | 24. Shin Youme, Nights Without You | 25. Red Chair, “Insomnia” | 26. Heera, “Fantasy” | 27. VAV, “Give Me More (ft. De La Ghetto & Play-N-Skillz) | 28. ph-1, “You Don’t Know My Name” | 29. 1TEAM, “Ice In The Cup” | 30. Jungmo (ft. Henry), “Peach” | 31. The Electric Eels, “Yacht” | 32. Seoulmoon, “Last Summer” | 33. Kizan, “Give Me The Star” | 34. Hyo, “Badstar”

 

 

 

 

 

#WheeWednesday: “매력쟁이 (Charisma) ft. MC Mong,” LYn

Source: Officially KMusic

This #WheeWednesday is actually related to the previous #WheeWednesday with Dynamic Duo. Dynamic Duo started with the hip-hop trio CB Mass. Interestingly, CB Mass was also featured on two songs on Korean R&B songstress LYn‘s 2002 album, Have You Ever Had Heart Broken?  So LYn is no stranger to blending her vocals with hip-hop aesthetics. Which brings us to “매력쟁이 (Full of Charm) ft. MC Mong” from Lyn’s 2009 album, Let Go, Let In, It’s a New Day. Have fun!

Sources

Image: Officially KMusic. “LYn Wows In “Thank You My Dear” Music Video.” Officially KMusic. 13 Sept 2014. http://officiallykmusic.com/lyn-wow-new-music-video/ (12 Apr 2019)

Video: HANKOOK NORE. “린(LYn) 매력쟁이 (Featuring MC 몽) (가사 첨부).” YouTube. 14 Apr 2016. https://youtu.be/cqLIO3zW5hg (12 Apr 2019).

#WheeWednesday: “Art of Love (Primary Remix),” Dynamic Duo

Source: KCONUSA

 

Since I dropped the ball on #WheeWednesday, I have to double down with some Dynamic Duo. The Korean hip-hop duo made up of Choiza and Gaeko, began as members of the hip-hop group CB Mass in 2000. They later left and formed Dynamic Duo, and founded their own label, Amoeba Culture, in 2006.  Some might know the duo  for upbeat hip-hop tracks like “Chulchek” from Enlightened (2007) or their work with pop singers like Chen from EXO on tracks like 2018’s “Nosedive.” Today, I’m sharing the Primary remix of  “Art of Love,” one of my favorite Dynamic Duo songs from Dynamic Duo 6th Digilog 2/2 9 (2012). Enjoy!

Source

Image: “Play With Dynamic Duo at #KCON16NY!” KCONUSA. http://www.kconusa.com/play-dynamic-duo-kcon16ny/ (12 Apr 2019)

Video: Dynamic Duo – Topic. “Art of Love.” YouTube. 27 Oct 2018. https://youtu.be/p-qItSUMOfo (12 Apr 2019).

Mini Data Note: Why Fans Like Red Velvet

Source: Kpopmap

Survey results suggest that ReVeluv, fans of the female K-pop group Red Velvet, like the group because of its versatile concepts, its music and the personalities of the members. These are preliminary findings from the U Go Girl: The K-pop Girl Group Fan Study and are based on responses from individuals who identified Red Velvet as one of their favorite groups.

Out of a sample of 270, 15% of respondents identified Red Velvet as one of their favorites, making the group the most favorite girl group of the sample. Almost all of the respondents were women and represent a range of races/ethnicities from around the world.

Dual-Concept

Like other fans of K-pop girl groups, fans of Red Velvet like the variety of concepts. One respondent noted: “They can do cute concepts and out-of-the-box concepts and do sexier concepts yet it all fits their image. They are capable of pulling off so much, and I like seeing all the different concepts.” However, several ReVeluvs specifically pointed to Red Velvet’s unique dual-concept. One responded noted: “I also love the dual concept system they have going on. The Red side is bright and has a pop sound while the Velvet side is more R&B. I feel that they have a song for any of my moods.”

Music

Observers of K-pop girl groups often point to their appearance, but fans of Red Velvet indicated that they also liked the music of the group, particularly the diversity of their music. One responded noted: “I just love their music. They’re one of the most diverse girl groups in my opinion. They’ve tried so many genres and really nailed all of them!” Fan also revealed their familiarity with Red Velvet’s music.  Some, like this respondent, pointed to B-sides: “Their title tracks alternate in this way, giving fans variety, while they also get really amazing B-sides. Each member is really vocally talented, matching the amazingly well-produced music without disappointment.” Other respondents pointed to the group’s entire discography: “I love how diverse they are and their discography is one of the best if not the best in K-pop.”

Personalities

Respondents pointed to a genuine quality to the members and their interactions. One respondent noted: “The members all love each other so much, and I love when you can see the chemistry between group members. The girls also genuinely care about the fans and I love that connection.” Others, like this respondent, liked how the members seemed genuine:  “I think they are also very genuine, not playing up their personalities or bond and being open about their difficulties and struggles without exploiting them for popularity.”

Image

“Idols’ Idea Types Compilation: Red Velvet.” Kpopmap. 30 Aug 2018. https://www.kpopmap.com/idols-ideal-types-red-velvet/ (12 Apr 2019).

Sources

Jenirus. “Red Velvet – Somethin Kinda Crazy [Eng/Rom/Han] Picture + Color Coded HD.” YouTube. 11 Jun 2015. https://youtu.be/G3c6aO-O_4A (12 Apr 2019).

SMTOWN. “Red Velvet 레드벨벳 ‘Bad Boy’ MV.” YouTube. 29 Jan 2018. https://youtu.be/J_CFBjAyPWE (12 Apr 2019).

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Mini Data Note: Why Fans Like Red Velvet by Crystal S. Anderson, PhD is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.