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:
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”
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!
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!
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
Crystal S. Anderson, PhD, will be presenting as part of the panel, Deconstructing Cultural Boundaries: K-pop’s Participatory Culture in the Digitally Networked Era with scholars Dal Yong Jin, Seok-Kyeong Hon and Jee Wong Lee, Ju Oak Kim and Wonjung Min at the 2019 International Communications Association Conference (#ica19) in Washington, DC on Monday, May 27, 2019, 8:00 – 9:15 a.m. in Fairchild (Washington Hilton, Terrace Level).
Her presentation, ” ‘U Go Girl’: Transcultural Fandom and K-pop Girl Groups,” focuses on female fans of K-pop girl groups. See the abstract below:
Much of the scholarship on Korean pop girl groups focuses on the perceived uniformity of the members of the groups, the appeal of the female members to men and the affinity between female fans in Korea and Asia and the members of the groups. However, with the continued global spread of K-pop comes increased transcultural fan engagement. This paper seeks to discern the appeal of K-pop girl groups for global fans. Analyzing music videos and qualitative survey data, this paper argues that K-pop girl groups emulate a range of concepts which global fans find empowering and visual aesthetics that fans find appealing. Such appeal is significant because it challenges the dominance of a white, Western standard of beauty and female celebrity. The way that “idols” invite fans to participate in engagement encourages fans to see them as more approachable as compared to Western celebrities.
Last week, I kicked off the first #WheeWednesday with a song by an artist unfamiliar to many K-pop fans. This #WheeWednesday, it’s a song by a group most K-pop fans know: EXO!
EXO burst onto the K-pop scene seven years ago with 12 members and the Gregorian chant of “Mama.” Now with 9 members (we still see you, Lay!), they have become known for upbeat tracks like “Growl” (2013) and “Don’t Mess Up My Tempo” (2018). But EXO-Ls know that the group’s music also showcases the vocal talents of its members as well. “Heaven” from the group’s third album Ex’Act (2016) opens with Chen’s distinctive vocals and a lone piano. When the beat drops, Chanyeol continues the song’s easy rhythm with a laid-back rap. The track is a nice break from their dance-infused tracks. It’s a treat!
U Go Girl! The K-pop Girl Group Fan Study is the latest survey in the iFans: K-pop’s Global Fandom project. This survey seeks to understand the appeal of K-pop girl groups for female fans outside of Korea and will be open March 20, 2019-September 20, 2019. Click here to take the survey! If you have any questions about his research please contact Dr. Crystal S. Anderson, Research Scholar of Cultural Studies, Longwood University (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Why do a study on female fans of K-pop girl groups?
Academics have been writing about K-pop more and more, but the work on girl groups tends to focus on the way girl groups appeal to men, the perception that girl groups do not have a variety of concepts or that the members are styled to look alike. Few studies ask the female fans themselves what they think about K-pop girl groups. This study will help us understand what real life fans think about K-pop girl groups.
At KPK: Kpop Kollective, we are all about K-pop music. Kaetrena writes about the musical influences on K-pop in her series Let KPK Introduce You To… In that vein, I’m starting a new series, #WheeWednesday, where I share music by some of the lesser-known K-pop artists as well as deep cuts from musical releases by K-pop’s more popular artists.
Since it’s called #WheeWednesday, its appropriate that the first song is from Wheesung (Choi Wheesung).
Wheesung debuted in 1999, the same year as another major Korean singer, Park Hyo Shin. Unlike Park, Wheesung is known for choreography as well as hip-hop inflected tracks. He’s worked with other notable Korean R&B singers like g.o.d.’s Kim Tae Woo as well as veteran hip-hop artists like Masta Wu. Such collaborations show how easily he straddle genres in K-pop. His first album, Like a Movie (2002) was a straight-up R&B endeavor, solidifying his reputation as a vocalist. The intro not only features what will become his common shoutout using his stage name, “RealSlow,” but also announces that “you don’t know me yet.”
Here is your chance to get to know Wheesung! It’s a challenge to choose a representative song by Wheesung, since his work ranges from ballads to dance tracks. “With Me,” from the 2003 album It’s Real, shows off Wheesung’s strong vocals as well as his comfort with hip-hop rhythms and rap verses.
I hope you enjoy this track and see what else RealSlow has to offer!
Increasingly, K-pop songs are being measured outside of South Korea by chart performance. This relatively new development puts greater emphasis on using charts as metrics for popularity, which some equate with music value. However, such metrics are not neutral, and obscure other ways of ascertaining popularity among K-pop listeners.
While subcultures in several countries have enjoyed it for years, K-pop music has recently experienced mainstream popularity, particularly in countries like the United States. K-pop artists such as BTS, NCT 127 and GOT7 have appeared on American television, and several other groups, including MONSTA X, BLACKPINK, and Red Velvet, are embarking on tours of the United States in 2019. With this increased popularity has come increased attention to the performance of K-pop songs on music charts. In 2018, Billboard announced that it would include plays from services such as Apple Music, Amazon Music, Spotify and SoundCloud in its chart calculations, giving them more weight to plays on services like YouTube. Such changes gave K-pop fans more incentive to mobilize to increase the visibility of their favorite groups on such charts. Unofficial fanclubs rally their members to stream and view in large numbers.
In “Reading the Charts – Making Sense With the Hit Parade” from the academic journal Popular Music, Martin Parker explains that music charts are unique in their role as reference points for music listeners (205). On one hand, music charts serve the interests of the music industry: “The sales charts empirically demonstrate the successes and failures of record companies, producers, designers, managers and recording artists, on the assumption that the more units sold the better the individuals have done in their respective jobs” (208). On the other hand, Parker also argues that “the consumer is more deeply ‘involved’ in the play of figures and faces than the professional ever is, the latter’s enthusiasm ending with the (relative) autonomy of leisure, when the former’s begins” (209). Fans also have an investment in artist performance on the chart.
However, this was not always the case with K-pop music, especially for the global fan. Before the ease of access afforded by Spotify and iTunes, global K-pop fans relied on file-sharing sites like 4shared and MediaFire to obtain music. Fans also depended on other fans to upload K-pop music videos and music to YouTube, resulting in several versions appearing on the platform. However, that scenario does not help with chart performance, so increasingly, the number of copies of music videos dwindled as fans encouraged others to view the “official” versions.
A close look at the kinds of media on YouTube by K-pop artists shows how fans now view with an eye to charts rather than enjoyment of the music. K-pop media outlets frequently report the number of views a music video receives over the course of its life on YouTube, from the first 24 hours to milestones of millions of views. However, they do not disclose the views of other kinds of media related to K-pop artist, such as comeback stages on music shows, which are part of the promotional cycle for K-pop artists. Any comparison of music video views and views of music show appearances show a significant difference.
The rise in the significance of views and streams reflect a more active listener interaction, but Parker suggests that it is also tied to the increased interest in K-pop by the music industry, including the music industry media outside of Korea: “In terms of the music industry this myth of democracy tends to conceal the extent to which the agenda of consumer choices is set in the first place by an oligopoly of transnational entertainment corporations based on a logic of profit” (211). In other words, fans may be the ones doing the viewing and streaming, but it is corporations that have granted value to the activity and act as arbiters of the measure of popularity, the music charts themselves.
At the same time, Parker notes that as prominent as music charts are, they are not the only measure of popularity: “The chart is not central to all consumers and producers of pop music. Many either do not care about it or actively resist it” (206). This is true of K-pop music. Global fans make music recommendations through sites like Reddit, which completely bypasses the charts. Fans still upload songs, and in some cases, whole albums, which allow fans to listen new music without caring about chart performance. K-pop fans continue to introduce others to K-pop music through recommendations on their personal Facebook pages as well as tweets. Even as K-pop music continues to gain more global popularity driven by corporate interests in the mainstream, K-pop fans continue to determine popularity for themselves beyond the music chart.
While it may seem that the current norm in K-pop is single-fandom (the tendency to support just one artist), data suggests that older K-pop fans started and continue to be multi-fandom. This may be another way the overall K-pop fandom has shifted in the past few years.
With the rise of K-pop groups, their individual fandoms have also garnered more attention, leading some to focus on using a single fandom to define K-pop fandom in general. However, 316 responses collected between April 29, 2011 and March 4, 2015 suggest that K-pop fans of that era exhibited very different behaviors and attitudes. Respondents were asked the open-ended question, “How did you become interested in K-pop?”
Many respondents related their entrance into K-pop with specific groups, and overwhelmingly with one group in particular: SHINee. Other high recurring groups include BigBang, Super Junior and TVXQ. Rain was the most-cited solo artist. What is interesting is that these groups all debuted between 2003 and 2009. The first responses collected in 2011, so none of these groups were brand new to the K-pop scene at the time that respondents encountered them. For this generation of K-pop fan, the appeal of K-pop was asynchronous, meaning that individuals became fans, not as a result of debut promotion or marketing, but by other means.
More importantly, respondents routinely noted that once they discovered one K-pop group, they were motivated to look for additional groups. One noted, “My friend showed me SHINee’s Lucifer video, and I was immediately addicted to them. So then I started looking up other groups too.” Another responded wrote: “I started listening to more BigBang, and then other groups such as 2NE1 and SHINee, and then read a ton of Wikipedia pages about different groups and record labels and learned about the training system that K-pop stars go through before debuting. I also started watching variety shows that K-pop idols appear on, and find that whole concept really interesting too.” I call this phenomenon branching.
Some respondents go through a great deal of effort to expand to additional K-pop groups. One respondent explained how a search to find one K-pop song led to more: “However, the obsession didn’t just stop with that song. During the many hours that I spent trying to find the name of that song, I discovered many other catchy tunes and fell in love with a new genre of music that I had never heard of before.” Several respondents use the term “research” to describe the activity of looking for more K-pop groups: “I became interested in K-pop when I accidentally happened upon a Super Junior song on YouTube about 3-4 years ago. I don’t remember what song it was. But after I heard it I was thinking… Wow. This is good stuff. I want more. I wanna hear more. I researched, found more groups I absolutely fell in love with. Then 2-3 years ago, I found Big Bang, followed by 2NE1. And now all of the other amazing groups I love.”
For some, the quest for more K-pop groups takes them to other forms of Korean entertainment. K-drama and K-pop are linked, as members of K-pop groups often star in Korean television dramas and perform on soundtracks for the shows. One respondent noted: “I happened across Kdramas and liked an actor in it. I found out he was a singer and then discovered other singers, groups, bands, etc.” Another explained: “Hulu.com recommended a Kdrama to me called “Boys over Flowers” and as I became more interested in the characters and the OST for the show, I started to look up various actors/singers on YouTube.”
And while “idols” may be the way many are introduced to K-pop, the phenomenon of branching may take fans far afield. One respondent wrote: “I think, what’s 2pm? I think my friend had mentioned groups named 2pm and 2am to me before, and I thought they were silly names. But I really liked Jason in Dream High, so I decided to look up this Wooyoung on YouTube. That day I discovered my love for K-pop. I became a hardcore Hottest, and expanded the groups and genres I listened to little by little until I was listening to anything from rap to pop to ballads to indie. All in a language I can’t completely understand.”
One respondent summed up the branching phenomenon with this formula:
JPop = discovered Tohoshinki = wiki = O.O = OMG! = google other kpop artists
Such findings suggest earlier generations of K-pop fans tend to develop more broad interests in K-pop that go beyond one group, while more contemporary fans seem to be more devoted to single groups. By only focusing exclusively on one group, they may be less knowledgeable about the larger K-pop and as a result may have distorted perceptions of it. These findings also support earlier findings that point to a more diverse general K-pop fandom, one that at the very least, is made up of those who support individual K-pop groups and those who support K-pop in general. Both may be needed for the continued viability of K-pop. Such findings reveal fan behavior that suggests that the appeal of K-pop is more complicated. The K-pop landscape continues to change.