All right, time to talk about Rain and Sun Jung‘s treatment of the Almighty Godfather of Modern Kpop. I will try my best to point out both the good and the bad in this chapter, but unfortunately there is a lot more of the bad than the good. Let’s begin.
From the beginning of the chapter, you can see that things are going to be problematic: Jung takes a quote from Brian Walsh‘s Time magazine article for the 2006 Top 100 Most Influential People (the specific article was titled “The Magic Feet from Korea”). She wants to use a selection from this article to point out that Rain embodies three levels of transculturation, or the three levels of culture-mixing. The problem is in her first point: “First, it shows how Rain, a popular South Korean cultural product, is highly influenced by Western (American) popular culture” (73). The problem is the word product – she is instantly making a claim that Rain is a passive tool in the larger realm of the international music industry, rather than a human being whose image or persona is being sold.
However, the part where she mentions that he is “highly influenced” is a good move by Jung, because it hints away from Walsh’s statements that Rain’s style “virtually clones American pop,” rather substituting the process of ‘glocalization‘ as the first level of transculturation: “Rain localizes elements of Western popular culture even as he adopts them,” meaning that he makes those Western elements fit into his own personal context (Korea) while transforming them to their own unique form (which is what she means by “adopting” them). Her other two points here, technology helping Rain become popular throughout Asia, and his entrance into the United States music market, support the other two levels well. She calls the flow of culture through technology throughout Asia regionalization, and his entrance into the US globalization of popular culture.
She starts becoming problematic again when she quotes Jin Young Park (aka JYP) but criticizes his comment for not possessing the information that she wants it to have: JYP “claims that Rain is hybridized. He explains that ‘Rain expresses Korea’s sentiment and Asia’s delicacy which are elements African-American music does not have.’ … JYP says that Rain’s music expresses aspects of South Korean culture and tradition in the musical form of American popular music” (75). She goes on to say that he doesn’t explain “how Rain’s music and performance style is hybridized through the process of glocalization and regionalization.” To put this in a more poignant light, she asks the question “Why is Rain, and not Usher, popular in the Asian region?”
Two points of problematic scholarship: JYP seems to have explained how Rain’s music and performance are hybridized in his quote! The last time I checked, African-American music didn’t originally come from Asia. Just sayin’. On top of that, Usher is popular in Asia, along with numerous other American music stars! How could Usher not be popular in Asia when SHINee‘s own Minho performs Usher’s OMG in their first touring concert?
She goes on to use a passive voice when talking about Rain and masculinity, saying that his masculinity “has been constructed,” as if outside forces completely controlled every aspect of his music and performances. Her theory as to why he has become popular in other regions of Asia (particularly South Asia) is because of the nouveau riche in those countries – people who have suddenly become middle class and have more disposable income than before and are looking for ways to spend it. That I can agree with her on – it’s an interesting aspect of the economic drive between supplier and consumer (South Korea and, in her specific case, Singapore) as far as the popularity of Kpop goes. She specifically says that these fans are trans-pop-consumers: “Trans-pop-consumers demonstrate three main characteristics: they are culturally hybrid; they pursue a global consumerist lifestyle oriented towards the procurement of leisure and entertainment; and they are technologically savvy.” I can agree with her on this, and I can see how she classifies the Singaporean faction of Cloud (Rain’s fan club) as this type of consumer.
She still fails to see Rain as more than a Walkman Cassette player or a Samsung TV, though: Her next section is titled “Rain: A Globalized and Mugukjeok South Korean Popular Culture Product.” There’s that word again – product.”Mugukjeok” (무국적) is Jung’s term for “non-nationality” (3): “I use the concept of mugukjeok here within the paradigm of transcultural hybridity, to refer to how popular cultural flows enable the mixing of particular cultural elements (national, traditional, and specific) with globally popular cultural elements, which then causes those particular elements to become less culturally specific.”
Translation: Rain is a Kpop idol, without the “K.” While my translation may seem a bit extreme, it’s what she’s arguing – in order to become a global success, Rain has been constructed to be more hybrid, and therefore more American, and less Korean. The “American” part really doesn’t make sense, since there are many other countries and cultures in this world besides America, so why becoming less Korean=becoming more American=becoming hybrid=losing ones cultural context in favor of becoming “culture less” is never actually explained. Really, all you have to do is just look at Rain to see why I’m confused with her conclusion:
This is her main argument for the entire chapter: Rain can’t be a global star and be Korean, he must be one or the other. Oh, and he’s like an electronic appliance, without a will of his own.
She uses a quote from Jeong Chang-Hwan to try and back herself up, saying that “As Jeong explains, the American-pop-idol-like Rain can be described as a product resulting from the globalization strategy of entertainment planning companies” (79).
Except Jeong is from SM Entertainment, not JYPE. Jeong’s quote is explaining how SM forms their idols (which includes SHINee, Super Junior, SNSD, and more), and if it’s one thing that SM knows, it’s how to work the market. Jeong’s quote, though, does not mention American music idols, or Rain, or even a specific idol. Here’s the quote Jung is referring to, with brackets removed: “We study foreign popular music styles and make data out of them. Then, we analyze what kind of generational market we aim for and what kind of group we want to create.”
So, it’s a quote about marketing research. Jeong is talking about marketing research, not idol manufacturing! I know that SM has been touted as an idol factory, but that idea aside, the quote is about marketing research in preparation of concepts for upcoming idol groups, and is from an entirely different company. If you know anything about Kpop, you know that the companies operate in entirely different ways, so using a quote from one company to ‘prove’ something about another company is lazy and ineffective.
Jung goes on to blame JYP himself for ‘Americanizing’ Rain: “As a songwriter, producer, and manager of Rain, JYP’s inclination towards African-American music and his ambition for the globalization of his own music critically influenced Rain’s musical career so that Rain has become Americanized, hybridized, and mugukjeok” (80). Please, go look at CeeFu’s editorial “Why I Do Kpop, Even Though Chuckleheads Keep Giving Me The Side Eye” before jumping on me for this next comment: African-American music has been mixed everywhere. Jung’s essentialist stance on who may and may not use African-American music is just wrong! America does not own African-American music, it has spread throughout the globe all on its own. Jung may have well said that African-American music neutralizes Rain’s Korean nationality to make him mugukjeok. Oh, and also more American. Again, how does being hybrid=mugukjeok=being less Korean=being more American?
Jung details Rain’s career in the Kdrama Full House to explain his local success, and talks about his two stints in Hollywood in Speed Racer and Ninja Assassin. She comments that the two movies prove that he’s mugukjeok because he plays an ambiguously Asian character in each of them (with no specific country of origin), but what she’s actually pointing out is the problems with American directors envisioning Asians in American cinema as simply “Asian” without a country of origin. That’s a general American problem anyways. Best joke about an American view of Asia: “Kon-itchy-wah. That’s Asian for ‘hello.'” That’s what the general population of America envisions Japanese, Chinese, Malaysian, Korean, Vietnamese, and all the other Asian countries as: Asia. And their residents are just ‘Asians.’ Informed American folk know better, but that problem of an overarching term ‘Asian’ in America is very different from assuming that Rain took those two roles specifically because of their ambiguity. We have actors from the wrong nationality play specific nationalities all. the. time. Example: Jake Gyllenhaal in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.
Excuse me, Mr. Gyllenhaal, but your Swedish is showing. That’s right, Gyllenhaal has a Swedish heritage, and yet he was chosen to play a character that was supposed to be Persian. We’re America. What did you expect?
She gives a history and an account of the cultural and economic changes in Singapore. For the most part, I trust her information here, and at the very least I know that I am not qualified to talk about her writing in this part. I don’t know a thing about Singapore’s socio-economic structure.
But I do know a thing or two about Kpop, Rain, and Cloud. And this next part is very shoddy indeed.
Jung starts off by detailing the origin of the specific website that she is studying, RainSingapore.com. One of the comments that she ends up ignoring in her later conclusions is the fact that the website was started because he was so popular in his Kdrama Full House (93). On the next page, she details what she is going to focus on in this particular fan base’s relationship with Rain: “the convergence between virtual masculinity and actual masculinity; the convergence between yangban masculinity and American-pop-idol masculinity; and the convergence between Japanese kawaii masculinity and sexy momjang masculinity.”
That third aspect already has me concerned. First off, Japan and Korea are NOT the same country! At all! Ever! Both Japanese and Koreans would take offense at a statement like that! Second, in the light of the fact that they are two different countries/societies, it’s ridiculous to use a Japanese term to describe a distinctly Korean aspect of masculinity! Kawaii is not the same as ‘cute’ Korean masculinity, which, by the way, HAS IT’S OWN TERM. That term is aegyo, or the act of being cute. Aegyo is a KOREAN word for the ‘cute’ KOREAN masculinity, and if Jung had done the work to really look at Kpop fan bases she wouldn’t have had to look for long to find this term and its proper meaning. She uses aegyo, though…once….at the end of the book….and places it under the category of being kawaii. For those of us who know a little bit about Japanese and Korean popular culture, we know for a fact that kawaii does not equal aegyo! Kawaii refers to the physical appearance of things or people, and when it’s used to refer to people it usually means that they look or possess something kawaii. Aegyo, on the other hand, is the act of being cute, it’s about the people and them being in a state of aegyo or doing something aegyo rather than their appearance, and it’s almost never applied to physical objects. These two ‘cute’ masculinities (and I doubt that kawaii is a masculinity) have two entirely different connotations because they are from two entirely different societies, and equaling them as well as favoring the Japanese term over the Korean term is infuriating and ridiculous. It’s bad scholarship.
Her first point, about the convergence between virtual and actual masculinity, is really about how the fans who run RainSIngapore.com will look for information about him on the internet, and also host fan activities in real life. The internet activities, she specifies, include postings and pictures made by the group that are specifically sexual about Rain, such as one member listing her location as “in Rain’s arms” (97). She talks about the pictures, the statuses, the posts that are all about how sexy Rain is. However, talk to any Kpop fan, and while they’ll admit that they think their favorite idols are sexy and don’t mind appreciating their sexiness, they don’t become their ‘favorite’ just for their bodies. Most Kpop fans will say that they like an idol because of their singing, dancing, general music, or their personalities as shown through variety shows. Very rarely does a fan like an idol only for physical appearances. Jung ignores this, since she’s looking for anything about Rain and sexiness. She says that pictures of Rain without a shirt on, and the fans on the website who like them and say they want more of them, show “how fans express their desire for Rain’s sexy masculinity by practicing online participatory culture, that is, by recreating, posting, and consuming media products” (97).
She then goes on to talk about how the fans travel to see Rain’s concerts, even if they are in different countries. And she commits another almighty sin against Kpop fans: “For these fans, they travel to see his concerts even if these concerts are exactly the same as the concerts they have seen before: ‘When I saw his MV … WOW!! And I went to Hong Kong for his concert and I saw him in person … then … WOW!!!!! … that’s how I cam to love him. After that I try to go to every single concert … try … (Ri, 52, focus group interviewee)” (99). One, no two concerts are alike for any musical artist anywhere. I have seen the group Relient K in the same venue quite a few times, and never has one show been identical to another, even though it was an annual tour and, as I mentioned, the same venue and the same band – every show was different. Two, what exactly did Ri, the interviewee, say during all those dot-dot-dots? Because it looks like Jung took out key elements of her quote in order to make it fit with her original assumption: that fans like Ri only like Rain because he’s sexy. Between those dots could have been hours of talking about singing and dancing and image, but we’ll never know since Jung cut them out and was only looking for a sexual desire to see Rain, which is where the fact that the website was started because of his Kdrama gets pushed to the side, because his character is never described as “sexy.”
She moves on to the Confucian idea of yangban masculinity and American-pop-idol masculinity mixing. I don’t mind so much that Confucianism is being talked about in tandem with Korea, because it’s a philosophical system that spread throughout Asia and rooted itself deeply within those societies that it touched. I’m fine with it because I have a degree in Religious Studies, and I did a huge project that dealt with Confucianism in Japanese society, so while I’m not an expert I do know enough to know that this isn’t so highly problematic. But here’s another part that I’m not so sure I agree with: ” Here, both the obnoxious and innocent images of Young-Jae [Rain’s charter in Full House] embody traditional Korean sadaebu yangban masculinity: first, his obnoxious behavior reflects authoritarian South Korean sadaebu yangban masculinity; second, his innocent image reflects respect for the Confucian value of chastity within the sadaebu yangban class” (103).
Sadaebu yangban basically describes a type of masculinity associated with Confucianism via the government officials and aristocratic level of society, aka the dominant class, during the Joseon dynasty (26, 203). What Jung really wants to get at, though, is the fact that in his Kdrama, Rain’s character is of the dominant class because he is male. He is neither a political or governmental figure head, and is only a part of “high society” because he is (ironically) an actor. So, really, Jung wants to discuss the patriarchal systems set in place by Confucianism, rather than a specific type of masculinity, since she goes on to explain his character’s interactions with the love interest character in a dominant-subordinate, male-female way, with no mention of government officials or aristocracy. She says that “Young-Jae wields the decision-making power in the household, just as a Sadaebu Yangban man did in patriarchal Joseon society” (104). Um, okay….but how exactly is he sadaebu yangban? It’s unclear. She would have been better off if she had abandoned this sentence in favor of the one that follows it: “In this sense, Young-Jae is a modern version of an East Asian traditional patriarchal male who has the absolute authoritative power in the household.” Yes, I can agree with that, especially since the origins of this society gender role expectation came from Confucianism.
Jung talks about how the drama upholds certain traditional values in regards to sex, mostly that sex never happens between the couple until after marriage. She links this to the Confucian ideal of chastity and how many Singaporean people still uphold such values. But this is, again, problematic! Jung doesn’t take into consideration any female/feminist movements in Singapore in regards to sexual right and freedom, she doesn’t say that there are many other dramas that also do the same (*ahem* Boys Over Flowers, anyone?), and she fails to mention that this isn’t just a specialized ideal to Asia. Believe it or not, and I know that non-American readers will probably not believe me, but there are still abstinence campaigns in our schools and churches, there is a certain reputation that you get if you have sex with someone outside of a committed relationship or under a certain age (usually, if the person is in college, it’s more “acceptable”), and women still become associated with being ‘loose’ depending on the clothes they wear. It exists here, too.
To move on to Rain’s performance persona, Jung says that he is highly influenced by the West. Remember when she asked why Usher isn’t popular in Asia? Well, she definitely slipped up on this one, because one of her interviewees, Ni, knows enough about both Rain and Usher to agree that there are similarities in their touring concerts: “I do see similarities between Usher’s tour and Rain’s Rainy Day (some say that it was almost blatant copying :P) – but to me, Rain has made his Rainy Day wholly his, just by virtue of his stage magnetism. So, even if he was ‘copying’ certain aspects – if he can surpass the original – that’s an accomplishment itself” (107). Jung speculates that Rain is preferred to American artists because he is “an Asian artist” who can imitate American pop culture, a claim that she has deduced from certain comment from RainSingapore.com (107) – and I don’t necessarily disagree with this.
What I don’t understand is her comment on the next page, that “although Rain is Americanized, fans still desire him over many American idols because he is an ‘Asianized’ Americanized product: ‘Instead of saying that he copied Usher’s moves, I would think a more appropriate description will be that he learnt from Usher instead. to [sic] copy is easy, but to adopt that skill & turn it into something of your own is not'” (108). The second part is a quote from interviewee Mi, but to me the conclusion Jung draws from this isn’t correct. So, Rain’s Korean, and therefore Asian, but he’s Americanized, but he’s taken American stuff and Asianized it, so that he’s an Asianized Americanized Asian (but not Asian since he has to be mugukjeok) idol? Yikes.
This is the part where she starts to talk about kawaii and momjjang masculinity. I’ve already explained kawaii, but momjjang is a Korean term for having a very toned, sexy body (which means thin and toned for girls and 6-pack abs and ripped for boys). She ties in this strange campaign that Singapore had going on in order to increase marriage and birth rates, called “Romancing Singapore,” and ties it to an increase in economy because of the (somehow) hand-in-hand liberation of sexual (heterosexual) expression and it’s permission to then “sex up” commercial products. Honestly, I don’t know if I buy this. Again, I’m from America. We have abstinence programs that no one knows about, and we shout loud and proud “SEX SELLS” through our advertisements and television programs. Go figure.
Jung starts going into kawaii, and – oh, wait, look! – she explains that it’s mostly a marketing thing. She incorrectly states that “in many Asian societies, ‘cute’ is often understood as kawaii” (112) which I disproved above with aegyo. She attributes fans’ attraction to his character Young-Jae’s immaturity and childishness to a connection with teen fantasies, which are so often the center of shojo manga. I can give her that one! It’s been well proven that Japanese women of all ages will often read shojo manga in order to escape their lives or experience a different sort of life vicariously through the protagonist. It’d be easy and smart to connect this to the popularity of dramas, those that are based off of shojo manga, are popular in Asian countries outside of Japan. Okay, I’ll give her that, since she say the interview group’s use of “girl” instead of “woman” to describe themselves indicates “that their adult fantasies are retrospective adolescent desires” (113) and I can agree with that, although it’s unfortunate that she doesn’t go further to talk about escapism.
Then it’s on to momjjang, and you know what that means:
Yep, it’s time to talk about his body. Jung states that Rain’s physique “reflect his adoption of globally popular masculine elements and reconstruct South Korean global masculinity as sexy, postmodern, and in like with global wellbeing lifestyles” (114). YES, I AGREE WITH YOU. Asian masculinity has the unfortunate connotation of being feminine, and therefore not ‘real’ masculinity (there’s a ton of scholarship on it, search around if you want to know more), so Rain’s super-toned body reshaping South Korean masculinity in the eyes of the world is a great conclusion to draw from his popularity. I don’t know one girl who would look at him and say “he’s girly” if it’s a picture of him like the one above.
Sadly, she gets into trouble again. She states that, of the FIVE people in her interview group, all of them answered her question of “explain the most significant aspect of Rain, the one which attracts you the most” with something about how sexy he is (114). I don’t think she realizes that if you as a Kpop fan about something that “attracts” them to an idol, they’re going to assume you mean “physically attracts” them. A question like “Please explain why Rain is your favorite idol” would probably have yielded a wider variety of answers, many of which would include dance skills, singing and music, and personality, as well as his body. One of the interviewees says that Rain’s body “appeals to everybody’s basic nature” (114), and who could really say that wasn’t true? Women (and some men) want him, and Men (and some women) want to be him.
But now, it’s time to get to my ‘favorite’ part.
The Shower Show and Misplaced Metaphors
Yeah, that’s right, I just made it its own section. The “shower show” is a part of Rain’s concerts where he gets water dumped on him (‘rained’ on him, as it were) while he’s shirtless. Classic sexy male pop idol move, which many within and without Asia have imitated, one of the most recent ones being Kim Hyun Joong‘s King of the Pirates concert, which was danced entirely shirtless with continuous water. Anyone know about “wet shirt” contests? Something similar, but for the ladies to do for the guys’ pleasure. Okay, so talking about how this is sexy and appealing isn’t a stretch.
But there’s more.
Jung says that the shower show was one of the things her focus group enjoyed the most about his concerts. Granted. She states that it’s the part of the show that specifically refers to his name, “Rain.” Granted. Then she starts talking about Chinese literary metaphors of sexual intercourse.
I’m going to re-type the majority of the paragraph here, so you can see her words for yourself:
Historically, “cloud and rain” have been the representation in Chinese literature of sexual intercourse. Clouds were interpreted as the “ovum” of the earth, and rain as the “sperm” of the sky (Zhang et at. 1999:583). At the climax of the concert, when the fans reach the peak of their excitement, water (that is, “rain”) falls down to simulate ejaculated sperm. The fans, in turn, experience a simulated orgasm. Further evidence of this connection is that according to Rain’s official fan site, “all his fans are officially called ‘cloud'” (RainSingapore.com 2005). In this sense, the ritual of the shower show between Rain and the entire audience represents an act of sexual intercourse between a man (rain) and a woman (cloud). Here, one can argue that the fans compensate for their possibly desexualized everyday lives by submitting to the simulation of sexual intercourse in the shower show ritual. In the social context of Singapore, where women are faced with the contradictory demands of having to have reproductive sex but yet maintain the standards of sexual purity, these fans satisfy the nation’s demands by participating in the collective symbolic intercourse offered by the shower show at Rain’s concerts. (Jung, 115)
I kid you not, that is, to the letter, what she says in her book about the shower show. Natinonalism, sexual practices, gender role expectations, sexual freedom, performance, and Chinese literary metaphors. And none of it makes sense.
- If you ask any of Rain’s fans, any of them, I guarantee you that they will not say that the shower show is like a Chinese literary metaphor. They will not say “I am the cloud, he is the rain, and hooray now I’m pregnant with his symbolic babies!” And those MALE fans of Rain would be horrified to hear that the shower show was described this way. I’m not saying that the shower show is every male fan’s favorite part of a Rain concert, but I don’t think they thought of it as simulated sex. Poor male clouds.
- Kpop idols choose their fans’ names very, VERY carefully, and often with a deep, complex reasoning that has nothing to do with sex. Ji-Hoon Jong got to choose his stage name, Rain. From there, the fan name “The Cloud” was developed. Why? “The Clouds bring the Rain” (Hellokpop.com), therefore Rain needs his fans – The Cloud – to exist. Without clouds, there would be no rain. Honestly.
- Chinese metaphor time: okay, honestly the Chinese metaphor in and of itself doesn’t really make sense – doesn’t rain come out of clouds, not go into them? But that’s an issue for Asian literary scholars. The issue with the cloud metaphor and the shower show is that, thus, the “sexual intercourse during the shower show” is sterile. Think about it – the fans are the cloud, he is literally Rain, but the water is poured on him, not them. So, he’s impregnating himself? He’s pleasuring himself? He’s ‘premature’? I know those seem crude, but clearly ‘rain’ is not being poured onto the ‘cloud’ so nothing close to simulated sex actually occurs.
- Singaporean nationalism: really? REALLY?! If these women have sexually deprived lives (and I’m not trying to make an assumption either way), then do you really think that simulated (sterile) sex at a concert would actually satisfy them, or their government that wants them to have babies? It in no way “satisfies the nation’s demands” for reproductive sex, as Jung claims, because none of the women actually become pregnant by Rain from the shower show. Rather, it’s a direct contradiction of the duality these women go through because it’s sex without reproduction and thus for pleasure, which is in contradiction to the Confucian standard of sexual purity.
- She’s now combined Chinese metaphors with Korean popular culture in a Singapore fan base in the Singaporean socio-economic and political structures while using a Japanese term. Yes, let’s continue to hop all over Asia, since it’s just one great big country that’s totally homogenous, right?
Her conclusion seems to be missing something: “The Singaporean female fandom of Rain can be conceptualized through the pragmatic conjunction between two different desires for globalization in the region: the desire of the South Korean popular cultural industry for globalization, as exemplified by the manufactured global popular cultural product, Rain; and the desire of the new rich in Asia for globalization, as signified by the trans-pop-consumerist lifestyles of Singaporean female fans” (116). She make Rain a passive product yet again, and seems to want to focus on the Singaporean female fans. How many Singaporean websites are devoted to Rain? How many female fans live in Singapore? How many might have a different opinion than the five women in Jung’s focus group?
If you can’t already tell, I am really disappointed with Jung’s scholarship in this chapter. She could have chosen to focus on the female Singaporean consumption of South Korean cultural products like Kdramas (and thus still have been able to talk about Rain); she could have chosen to concentrate on how other non-Korean areas of Asia view and interpret Rain’s masculinities through his various cultural products (and therefore left out all the implications that he is a passive tool). Instead, she wants to make the Singaporean female fans seem sex-obsessed and show Rain as an object rather than a human being who has input into his own career and image.
If Rain was a passive tool, nothing more than a television or cassette player, then how could he have started his own record label, J.Tune Entertainment? How could he have formed his protege group, MBLAQ? How could he help produce MBLAQ’s music and be there for every recording and film shooting, if he was just an object? How could he have decided that it was his time to go into the military? He couldn’t. This chapter tells me that Jung may have wanted to take a look at Kpop, but it was nothing more than a passing glance.
Remember in the introduction when I said that she is one of those “you can’t understand Kpop unless you’re Korean” people? Well, this proves her wrong. She is Korean, and she didn’t understand the nature of the fan and fan reception of Kpop idols. I am American, and I understand it very, very well. If she had really been doing her scholarship in a way that was truly into finding out how Kpop fans view the masculinities of their idols, she should have done more.
She could have done a lot better than this.