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Writing the Book I Wanted to Read – Soul in Seoul: African American Popular Music and K-pop

Image: University of Mississippi Press

Soul in Seoul: African American Popular Music and K-pop (September 2020, University of Mississippi Press) is a scholarly book that examines the ways that Korean pop (“idols), R&B and mainstream hip-hop of the Hallyu (Korean wave) era incorporate elements of black popular music and how global fans understand that influence.

As a senior scholar in transnational American Studies and Global Asias and writer on K-pop for the past 10 years, I thought a book on black music and K-pop should be the follow-up to my first book, Beyond the Chinese Connection: Contemporary Afro-Asian Cultural Production.  It’s a labor of love and it has something for everyone.

What’s In It for Fans

It talks about people you know. It covers K-pop as a 20-year-old music tradition with genres that have developed over time and significant musical acts. It recognizes the development of “idol” acts ranging from veterans to their successors as well as the Korean and African American music producers behind the music, including Yoo Young Jin, Teddy, Teddy Riley and Harvey Mason Jr.  It explores Korean R&B singers and groups as well as mainstream Korean hip-hop artists. Musical acts covered include g.o.d., Shinhwa, 2PM, Wonder Girls, SHINee, TVXQ, Rain (Bi), Fly to the Sky, 4MEN, Brown Eyed Soul, Big Mama, Park Hyo Shin, Lyn, Zion T., Wheesung, Dynamic Duo, Epik High, Primary, Jay Park and Yoon Mirae.

What’s In It for Scholars

It critically engages K-pop through an interdisciplinary lens. Soul in Seoul draws on popular music studies, fan studies and transnational American studies to examine the intertextuality at the heart of K-pop music, an intertextuality that includes African American popular music and distinct Korean music strategies. This intertextuality sounds different through time, across genres and among artists because it draws from a variety of aspects of black popular music. At the same time, the book highlights the critical function of fans, who are responsible for its global spread and function as its music press. It places African American popular culture within a global context, thereby disrupting the homogenizing tendencies of globalization that obscure the impact of an African American popular culture with a complicated relationship to the West. The book is accessible to undergraduate and graduate students and suitable for courses in music and ethnomusicology, ethnic studies, Asian studies, African American studies, American studies, popular culture and media studies.

What’s In It for Everybody

Soul in Seoul is about the music, so it is for anyone who is curious about the ever-changing phenomenon that is K-pop.  Look for the Soul in Seoul Playlist leading up to the book’s release in September 2020 on KPK: Kpop Kollective to hear what all the fuss is about.

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Writing the Book I Wanted to Read – Soul in Seoul: African American Popular Music and K-pop by Crystal S. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

What We Are Listening To: “Girls” by Wheesung

Wheesung (Choi Wheesung) debuted with boy group A4 in 1999 and as a solo artist with YG Entertainment in 2000. Although his roots are in rock, he is known as a solid R&B artist. Wheesung also uses the stage name Realslow, and named his company such when he started it in 2017. 

“Girls” is from Wheesung’s 2010 CD Vocolate (an almagam of the words “voice” and “chocolate”). This album also highlights the continuing hallmark of Korean music artists working with African-American music producers: Vocolate features collaborations with Rodney “DarkChild” Jerkins and Ne-Yo. I was originally introduced to this song via Jonghyun (he was a fan of and worked with Wheesung). “Girls” made a recent showing on my YouTube random play. Add it to your work-out list to keep you going through those next-to-last rotation squats or that final treadmill level-5 incline run.

Source

Wheesung-Topic. “Girls.” YouTube. 14 July 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gte–D_eLS0 (Accessed 9 Mar 2020).

Let KPK Introduce You To…D’Angelo

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

University of South Carolina Lancaster

Song: “Aurora”

Artist: Jonghyun (Kim Jonghyun)

Album: 좋아 (She Is)

Album Release Date: May 24, 2016

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R3WjWXDBlq8

Caption: Press Play to Hear “Aurora” by Jonghyun.

“Aurora” echoes…

Song: “Lady”

Artist: D’Angelo

Album: Brown Sugar

Album Release Date: July 4, 1995

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nmdUMwlrezs

Caption: Press Play to hear “Lady” by D’Angelo.

ELEMENTS OF NOTE:

  • Clapping and jazz percussion
  • Syncopated lyrics
  • Lower vocal registers for stanza performance, falsetto for ad-libs and chorus
  • Use of two- or three-part harmony
  • Background vocals feature artist
  • Both songs discuss willingness and confidence of being the best choice for the love interest and in turn, that the love interest represents his ideal (see English interpretation of “Aurora” lyrics)

TRADE OFFS:

  • D’Angelo’s strong bass-line vs. Jonghyun’s use of bass drum and modulated guitars and bass.
  • D’Angelo’s use of a catch-line (“I can tell they’re lookin’ at us”) to interrupt the traditional song composition vs. Jonghyun’s traditional lyric-chorus-lyric-chorus-bridge-chorus composition
  • D’Angelo’s piano chords vs. Jonghyun’s synthesizers

Learn more about D’Angelo.

See also: Dwele, Bilal, Ledisi

Happy Listening!

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

What We Are Listening To: “You Don’t Know My Name” (Prod Mokyo), pH-1

Image by Sabine van Erp from Pixabay

pH-1 (Park Jun-Won, also known as Harry Park) is a Korean-American rapper on H1GHER Music Records, which also houses GroovyRoom and G.Soul. While people want to make harsh distinctions between K-pop and K-hip-hop, I actually found out about pH-1 from the K-pop sub-Reddit. From the 2019 release Summer Episodes, this is one of those songs that you LOVE upon first hearing. It sounds like summer.

Source

pH-1. “You Don’t Know My Name (Prod. Mokyo).” YouTube. 23 Jul 2019. https://youtu.be/PJux2vLbQMw (Accessed 6 Mar 2019).

What We Are Listening To: “Rising Sun” by TVXQ!

 

chris-slupski-eKYgEj1U97k-unsplash
Photo by Chris Slupski on Unsplash

TVXQ! (also billed as Dong Bang Shin Ki/DBSK in Korean and Tohoshinki in Japanese) was a five member group from 2004 to 2010. In 2011, the group continued with two members (Jung Yunho – U-Know, and Shim Changmin – MAX). The group is known for their harmonies and sensual dance moves, and “Rising Sun” choreography is one of the group’s more dynamic musical and visual accomplishments. 

“Rising Sun” is from the group’s second Korean studio album and was also featured in an American film. In a review of the album, Pop Reviews Now asserts that “Rising Sun” “is one of DBSK’s most technically-challenging and most remembered songs and for good reason.” Every member’s vocal or rap ability is highlighted, with Changmin’s signature range/ note-holding on display. As a note to the longevity and importance of this song, the two-member group continues to perform it live.

View the visuals and hear the vocals of five-member TVXQ’s “Rising Sun”:

 

And two-member performance, as well:

Sources

DBSK – “Rising Sun.” Pop Reviews Now. 28 Jul 2014. http://popreviewsnow.blogspot.com/2014/07/dbsk-rising-sun.html (25 Feb 2020).

Kpopcorner2. “DBSK [Mirotic Concert] – Rising Sun.” YouTube. 10 Feb. 2010. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0bLxrl5NRfM (25 Feb 2020).

laura bustamante. “TVXQ! – Rising Sun – Special Live Tour T1STORY in Seoul.” YouTube. 15 Jun 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HEQ7ICbYhYg (25 Feb 2020).

What We Are Listening To: “Destiny (우린 결국 다시 만날 운명이었지),” Mamamoo

Image by tookapic from Pixabay

Mamamoo is a girl group well known for its vocal talent, but the members also show themselves to be musically versatile. The group performed “Destiny (우린 결국 다시 만날 운명이었지)” for its finale on the music competition show Queendom, and the track was later included on the 2019 album Reality in BlackKpopmap notes that “It is hard to pinpoint a specific genre as the track seemed to have a mix of various tempos and rhythm, causing listeners to get surprised time to time.” Those unique elements include the prominent guitar and the staccato vocals during the repeated breakdown.

Sources

Mnet K-pop. “[ENG sub] [최종회] ♬ 우린 결국 다시 만날 운명이었지(Destiny) – 마마무 @ FINAL 경연 컴백전쟁 : 퀸덤 10화.” YouTube. 31 Oct 2019. https://youtu.be/i0bHc8k-FdM (24 Feb 2020).

“Mamamoo ‘Destiny’ for Mnet ‘Queendom’ Has Fans Confused For It’s Genre.” Kpopmap. 25 Oct 2019. https://www.kpopmap.com/mamamoo-destiny-for-mnet-queendom-has-fans-confused-for-its-genre/ (24 Feb 2020).

 

What We’re Listening To: 015B, 잠시 길을 잃다 (feat. 신보경)[ Lost Temporarily feat. Shin Bo-kyung/Boni]

Image by DWilliams from Pixabay

It is notoriously difficult to find in-depth information about 015B in English. What Wikipedia and some other sites seem to agree on is that the group started out with four members and later became a duo, brothers Jeong Seok-won and Jang Ho-il. However, listening to several of their albums reveals that they are keen to try just about any genre under the sun, and they do it well. Case in point: “Lost Temporarily” featuring Shin Bo-kyung (also known as Boni) from the group’s 2006 album, Lucky 7.  As Jung Bae points out, the track has “no frills on the arrangement, just a slow and soulful beat, and Shin sang the chorus with skill and conviction beyond her years.”

015B debuted in 1990, merely two years before  the appearance of Seo Taiji and Boys in 1992. They avoid the kind of spotlight we see “idol” groups bask in, but the ease with which they play in multiple genres foreshadows the kind of mixing of genres that will become a staple in K-pop.

Sources

skys0802. “015B Feat 신보경 잠시 길을 잃다.” YouTube. 23 Feb 2010. https://youtu.be/nkrqNKbFoBc (3 Feb 2020).

Jung Bae. “Album Review: Boni – Love.” hellokpop. 24 May 2015. https://www.hellokpop.com/review/album-review-boni-love/ (3 Feb 2020).

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What We’re Listening To: 015B, 잠시 길을 잃다 (feat. 신보경)[ Lost Temporarily feat. Shin Bo-kyung/Boni] 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

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.

JYJ: Kings or Princes?

JYJ, KPOPIANA, http://kpoparchives.omeka.net/items/show/815
JYJ, KPOPIANA, http://kpoparchives.omeka.net/items/show/815

JYJ (originally known as Junsu/Jaejoong/Yoochun in Japan) includes members Junsu (Kim Junsu; Xiah), Yoochun (Park Yoochun; Micky), and Jaejoong (Kim Jaejoong; Hero). After performing for several years as members of extremely popular male group TVXQ!, in 2009, the trio brought forward a lawsuit against their management company SM Entertainment, alleging significant problems with the contract’s length and associated distribution payments. . . . Click here to read more at KPOPIANA.