K-pop Was Not Born Last Night

Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay

K-pop is old enough for us to recognize that it has a bonafide history, and the way we divide up that history affects the way we see K-pop.

Some scholars place K-pop within a larger history of Korean popular music. In the article “Mapping K-pop Past and Present: Shifting the Modes of Exchange,” Keith Howard begins a theorization of the K-pop music industry with an overview that begins in Korea’s colonial period. Similarly, John Lie contextualizes the exploration of K-pop within the development of music stretching back to the Choson era. These moves provide some legitimacy to K-pop based on its proximity to what some may view as more substantial forms of culture found earlier in Korea’s history.

However, K-pop is a distinct mode of Korean popular music, distinct in its production, sound and global reach. Solee I. Shin and Lanu Kim argue that “Despite the Western influences that have morphed Korean popular music into an expression unrecognizable from the standpoint of traditional music, K-pop has undeniably clear origins.” In addition, media have recognized that K-pop has gone through different phases throughout its almost 30-year (and counting) run. Their attempts to periodize K-pop suggests that it is worthy of a history of its own. At the same time, such attempts are also largely defined by “idol” groups, which skews our understanding of K-pop’s past when it fails to include other genres.

Nearly everyone agrees on first-generation K-pop, beginning with the debut of Seo Taiji and Boys in 1992 and ending in 2002 with the disbandment of several of the first K-pop groups. Both a staff reporter for KPopStarz and TAKE-KR list Seo Taiji, H.O.T, Turbo, Sechs Kies, g.o.d. and Fly to the Sky as part of first-generation. TAKE-KR adds Shinhwa and KPoPStarz includes BoA. At the same time, both publications overlook several genres within early K-pop, including Korean hip-hop acts like 1TYM, R&B groups like 4MEN, bands such as Jaurim and Nell and solo artists like Park Hyo Shin, Wheesung and Rain. Such lists tend to be “idol”-centric, but in fact, there is much overlap and influence among these artists under the large K-pop umbrella.

There remains a level of consensus for second-generation K-pop, which runs from 2003 to 2009. Articles from KPopStarz and TAKE-KR both list TVXQ, BigBang, SS501, Girls’ Generation, SHINee, 2NE1, BEAST, f(x), UKISS, 2AM, 2PM as part of second-generation K-pop. KPopStarz includes Epik High and several girl groups, including TARA, KARA, After School, 4Minute, Brown Eyed Girls and Secret. TAKE-KR includes MBLAQ and the bands FT. Island and CN Blue. Second-generation K-pop did produce a different variety of “idol” groups. It also continued to produce solo artists, such as Lee Hyori, Kim Tae Woo and Se7en, as well as several significant hip-hop groups, including Dynamic Duo, Supreme Team and Mighty Mouth.

There is much dissent for subsequent generations of K-pop. TAKE-KR identifies two more generations: EXP Generation (2010-2014), which includes BTS, EXO, Miss A, GOT7, Red Velvet and Mamamoo, and the XFMR Generation (2015-present), which includes Day6, Ikon, Seventeen, Twice and BlackPink. KPopStarz counts EXO, BlackPink, BTS, GOT7, Red Velvet, Ikon and Winner as part of a third generation that runs from 2011-2018. Again, the periodization does not include other genres.

Why does it matter? It matters because how we talk about K-pop shapes the perception of K-pop. As a mode of popular music, K-pop already suffers from the perception that it is trendy, faddish and disposable. Despite many predictions of its demise, not only has K-pop remained, it has developed over time. When the media talks about K-pop, it tends to focus on the popular “idol” groups of the moment, rather than putting those groups in the context of K-pop history or putting them in relation to other contemporary groups in different genres. We can only understand K-pop if we contextualize it within a comprehensive history.  That history does not have to go back to the beginning of recorded music or popular music in Korea in order to recognize that K-pop has a legitimate trajectory of development.

 

Sources

Howard, Keith. “Mapping K-pop’s Past and Present: Shifting the Modes of Exchange.” Korea Observer 45.3 (2014): 389-414.

Lie, John. “What is the K in K-pop?: South Korean Popular Music, the Culture Industry, and National Identity.” Korea Observer 43.3 (2012): 339-363.

Shin, Solee I. and Lanu Kim. “Organizing K-pop: Emergence and Market Making of Large Korean Entertainment Houses, 1980-2010).” East Asia 2013,DOI 10.1007/s12140-013-9200-0.

Staff Reporter. “Generations of K-pop.” KPopStarz. 14 Jun 2019. https://www.kpopstarz.com/articles/289260/20190614/generations-of-kpop.htm   (4 Feb 2020).

“TAKE-KR K-pop Generations Chart.” TAKE-KR. 4 May 2019. https://www.take-kr.com/take-kr-magazines-k-pop-generations-chart/ (4 Feb 2020).

 

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K-pop Was Not Born Last Night by Crystal S. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

The Multiple Meanings of Manufacturing in K-pop

Image: Pixabay

Media coverage and scholarly writing about K-pop often negatively characterizes it as a manufactured mode of music. However, there are other connotations of this term that more comprehensively address  the process by which K-pop is made.

It is common for stories about “idol”-based K-pop (singers and groups who sing and dance, appear on television shows and engage in promotional activity) to  characterize K-pop as manufactured, which is regarded as negative, not real, and disposable.  This is common in stories that seek to expose the “seedy underbelly” of K-pop. For example, Kathy Benjamin writes: “And it might not even be their choice. K-Pop bands are highly manufactured, and if your manager says you need to go under the knife to be beautiful enough to be a star, you probably do it.” Benjamin links what she sees as the manufactured nature of K-pop to appearance, rather than the music.  The unqualified assertion that K-pop is manufactured is echoed by Euny Hong: “Bands are treated like consumer products from the beginning. Producers design the band they want—down to the precise look, sound, and marketing campaign—before they even audition members.” Hong extends the description of K-pop as manufactured beyond appearance to the music, but with the same result. Both Benjamin and Hong assert that K-pop is manufactured in a way that makes creativity impossible.

The same approach can be found in scholarly writing. John Lie likens K-pop to a product, produced by “a business in which financial and other business concerns consistently trump musical or artistic considerations” (357). In other words, K-pop is a commodity, and as such, does not embody the creativity associated with other modes of music.

However, these negative characterizations are not the only way to view manufacturing in relation to K-pop. Manufacturing can embody creativity. Instead of being an esoteric, solely personal experience, Gil-Sung Park views the creativity in K-pop as a collaborative effort as part of “manufactured creativity,” which “signifies opening the entire global music industry to musical talents and audiences from all corners of the world, allowing them to participate in an endless interactive communication and discourse about music” (16). Negative characterizations perceive this musical interaction as coercive or manipulative, but Park sees them as creative.

Moreover, the results of such collaboration are truly innovative musical creations. Using SM Entertainment as an example, Park observes that “the internal modification process (or localization) requires a set of creative skills (i.e. tacit knowledge). . . . Production requires creativity and processes created by geniuses, but the SM style of localization also demands a steady supply of high-quality performers, which is the most important factor in local production of K-pop” (25). Unlike the product that Lie purports it to be, K-pop is the result of creative processes on the part of global and Korean music personnel making the music as well as the K-pop artists who perform it. Vocal ability and dance talent are indispensable to K-pop: “Understanding the K-pop phenomenon requires the knowledge of K-pop’s sustainable business model that is firmly based on musical talent and creativity” (16).

While the concept of manufacturing is often applied to K-pop, there are alternative uses of the term that recognize its creativity.

Sources

Benjamin, Kathy. “The Disturbing Truth Behind K-pop Music.” Grunge. n.d. https://www.grunge.com/92002/disturbing-truth-behind-k-pop-music/ (Accessed 29 Jan 2020).

Hong, Euny. “The Lean, Mean, Star-Making K-pop Machine.” The Paris Review. 6 Aug 2014.  http://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2014/08/06/the-lean-mean-star-making-k-pop-machine/ (Accessed 29 Jan 2020).

Lie, John. “What is the K in K-pop? South Korean Popular Music, the Culture Industry, and National Identity.” Korea Observer, 43.3 (2012): 339-363.

Park, Gil-Sung. “Manufacturing Creativity: Production, Performance and Dissemination of K-pop.” Korea Journal 53.4 (2013): 14-33.

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

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.

#WheeWednesday: “Heaven,” EXO

Source: Channel Korea

Crystal S. Anderson, PhD

Director, KPK: Kpop Kollective

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!

Sources

Video: EXO. “Heaven.” YouTube. 8 Nov 2016. https://youtu.be/VK6-n9SyFlI (27 Mar 2019).

Image: “EXO Members Profile (Name, Birthday, Weight and Religion) and Facts.” Channel Korea. 9 Mar 2018. https://channel-korea.com/exo-members-profile-and-facts/ (27 Mar 2019).

#WheeWednesday: “With Me,” Wheesung (2003)

Crystal S. Anderson, PhD

Director, KPK: Kpop Kollective

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).

Source: wheesung.com

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!

Sources

Video: Wheesung – Topic. “With Me.” YouTube. 25 Apr 2018. https://youtu.be/F2Hms2TGzeA (19 Mar 2019).

Image: “bnt 화보 -13.” wheesung.com 20 Jan 2018. http://wheesung.com/photo_view.html?dummy=1553027451677 (19 Mar 2019).

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#WheeWednesday: “With Me,” Wheesung (2003) by Crystal S. Anderson, PhD is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Streams and Views: What the History of Music Charts Can Tell Us About Popularity and K-pop

Image credit: Pixabay

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.

 

Sources

Billboard Staff. “Billboard Finalizes Changes to How Streams Are Weighted for Billboard Hot 100 & Billboard 200.” Billboard. 1 May 2018. https://www.billboard.com/articles/news/8427967/billboard-changes-streaming-weighting-hot-100-billboard-200 (8 Mar 2019).

Parker, Martin. “Reading the Charts – Making Sense With the Hit Parade.” Popular Music. 10.2 (1991): 205-217. https://www.jstor.org/stable/853061.

 

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Streams and Views: What the History of Music Charts Can Tell Us About Popularity and K-pop by Crystal S. Anderson, PhD is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Not Just Pretty Faces: K-pop Idols and Quiet Storm Masculinity

2PM_kpopluv

KPK Director Crystal S. Anderson writes about a different kind of masculinity in K-pop

“However, members of 2PM are more than pretty faces and fit bodies. Like many K-pop idol groups, 2PM is heavily influenced by R&B. While the group has its share of uptempo tracks, it is are also known for ballads informed by R&B vocals. Tracks like “Good Man” from the No. 5 (2015) album draws heavily from quiet storm”….Read the rest here!

Black Popular Music and K-pop

Black Popular Music and K-pop

dance-295134_1280

Crystal S. Anderson, PhD

Associate Professor of English, Longwood University

One of the major forces driving the appeal of K-pop around the globe is the music, but it seems to receive the least attention.  When commentators do turn their attention to K-pop, they recognize that it draws from a variety of musical genres and styles. But in making such generalizations, they often overlook the crucial influence of black popular music on K-pop.

Journalists and scholars tend to generalize the musical influences on K-pop. John Seabrook points to musical elements of K-pop without referring to any particular genre:  “The music features lush soundscapes made with the latest synths and urban beats. The hooks are often sung in English, and sometimes suggest a dance move.”  Others describe K-pop as a repository for the world’s musical talent. Jungbong Choi and Roald Maliangkay note the many hands were involved in the Girls’ Generation’s song, “I Got A Boy,” a track “‘crafted’ by composers from England, Norway, Sweden, and Korea” (4). This shows the global impact of transnational music production, but doesn’t tell us much about the type of music produced. Other scholars describe K-pop as generic “dance music.”  In their analysis of music chart data, Solee I. Shin and Lanu Kim coded top K-pop songs “dichotomously into .  .  . ‘hip-hop and dance’ (most representative of K-pop) and ‘others.'”  In doing so, they do not explain the criteria for characterizing a song as hip-hop or dance. As a result, K-pop is generally perceived to be a mixture of a variety of Western musical styles, with a heavy nod to dance music.

However, black popular music stands out as a significant influence on K-pop.   In a journal article, John Lie quotes Lee Soo Man, founder of SM Entertainment, one of the Big Three Korean entertainment agencies:  “South Korea has best consumed black music in Asia. Just as J-pop was built on rock, we made K-pop based on black music” (357). What does he mean by “black music”? It is often used to refer to a range of music genres developed mostly, but not exclusively, by black people, initially, but not solely, for black audiences. Academics and critics alike have tackled the topic of black music through several publications, including Amiri Baraka‘s influential work Black Music, Mark Anthony Neal‘s What the Music Said: Black Popular Music and Black Public Culture, James HaskinsBlack Music in America: a History Through Its People and Mellonee V. Burnim and Portia K. Maultsby‘s African American Music: An Introduction. Black music is a thing.

While some people may mean all music produced only by black people, many mean genres of black popular music defined by certain elements; one could say they refer to genres that bear a black musical aesthetic.  For example, the hallmarks of R&B music include a unique use of vocals and/or distinct uses of rhythm. Richard Rischar describes the difference between white and black pop singers in their use (or failure to use) certain vocal elements:

Compared to white pop singing of the same period (such as Bryan Adams, Wilson Phillips [a vocal trio], Madonna, Celine Dion, George Michael, Meat Loaf, Taylor Dayne, and Michael Bolton), vocal ornamentation (as somewhat distinct from timbre, intensity (belting to breathy), and other performance aspects) seemed to be more primary to the expression of feeling in African-American pop. (408)

Similarly, the rhythm structure that still undergirds much of pop music can be traced back to musical innovations at Motown. Jon Fitzgerald argues that Motown songwriters introduced “a new style of mainstream popular song–thoroughly based in gospel and conceiving of song structure in an innovative way, where the hidden architecture supporting the melodic/lyric hook is now primarily rhythmic” (8).

When fans listen to K-pop, they hear elements of a range of black popular music genres, including R&B, funk, black pop, soul, disco, house and techno (yes, house and techno originated in black musical communities).  When writers elide the musical influences of K-pop to general dance music, they erase K-pop’s rich genealogical relationship with black popular music and repeat what has happened with black popular music and other music genres. Essentially Eclectic makes the point that the influence of black music was erased by music journalists in the 1960s and 1970s:  “As music writing developed into a platform for academic critique in the ’60s, with magazines such as Rolling Stone, Cream and Crawdaddy all discussing music as a serious art form, black music was pushed aside in favor of the supposed complexities of rock. . . . That white music was rock/metal and black music was soul/funk was a common generalisation in the music press of the ’60s and ’70s. Many musicians of both races abhorred this.”

The same seems to be happening with the characterization of K-pop as general dance music  If we look at Osman Khan‘s interactive infographic that visualizes the evolution of Western dance music, you see just how many black musical genres inform the dance music that many use to describe K-pop.  It’s only until the 1960s that dance music emerges from the United States and Caribbean, beyond black musical genres like disco, funk, old R&B, jazz, blues and soul. In the mid-1980s, we see the emergence of house from Chicago and techno from Detroit, before it goes on to influence Germany’s trance and breakbeat from the UK.

To argue that K-pop is greatly influenced by black popular music is not to say that K-pop is merely imitative of black popular music.  While European producers like Pelle Lidell may be heavily involved in the process of producing K-pop, ultimately, K-pop is produced by Koreans who leave their mark musically.  Many fans of K-pop say they like it because the songs are catchy, and Gil-Sung Park notes that Korean producers are responsible for that: “SM acquires samples of universal musical content from Europe and the United States and then modifies them into a unique SM composition that is not yet globally universal, but has the potential to become the next global norm” (24).

At the same time, K-pop producers have demonstrated that they are clearly students of black popular music. Producers like Yoo Young Jin and Jin Young Park reflect their familiarity with black popular music in their own music.

This is significant, because being able to authentically participate in the legacy of black popular music is not something that everyone can do or has done.   Roberta Freund Schwartz recalls that critics of British R&B complained about the inability of British vocalists to capture the unique sound of black vocalists (140). Richard Ripani notes that because of the difficulty involved in emulating the uniqueness of R&B vocals, “it has remained difficult . . . for any person outside the African-American community to produce an acceptable black vocal style” (190). However, we see K-pop groups often feature singers who can sing R&B vocals, as well as Korean R&B solo vocalists.

More discussion of the actual music of K-pop will allow us to understand the complex interplay between Korean and African American musical cultures.

Sources

Choi, JungBong and Roald Maliangkay. “Introduction: Why Fandom Matters to the International Rise of K-pop.” K-pop: the International Rise of the Korean Music Industry. Ed. Jungbong Choi and Roald Maliangkay. New York: Routledge, 2015. 1-18.

Fitzgerald, Jon. “Motown Crossover Hits 1963-1966 and the Creative Process.” Popular Music 14.1 (1995): 1-11.

Lie, John. “What is the K in K-pop?: South Korean Popular Music, the Culture Industry, and National Identity.” Korea Observer 43.3 (2012): 339-363.

Park, Gil-Sung. “Manufacturing Creativity: Production, Performance and Dissemination of K-pop.” Korea Journal 53.4 (2013): 14-33.

Ripani, Richard J. The New Blue Music: Changes in Rhythm & Blues, 1950-1999. Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 2006).

Rischar, Richard. “A Vision of Love: An Etiquette of Vocal Ornamentation in African-American Popular Ballads of the Early 1990s.” American Music 22.3 (2004): 407-443.

Seabrook, John. “Factory Girls: Cultural Technology and the Making of K-pop.” The New YOrker. Web. 8 Oct 2012. Evernote. 10 Jun 2013.

Shin, Solee I. and Lanu Kim. “Organizing K-pop: Emergence and Market Making of Large Korean Entertainment Houses, 1980-2010.” East Asia. DOI 10.1007/s12140-013-9200-0.

“What is ‘black music’? How are race and identity conveyed in the music media?” Essentially Eclectic. N.d. Web. 24 Jul 2015.

Video

Yoo Young Jin – Unconditional Kismet” YouTube. 19 Jun 2012. Web. 25 Jul 2015. 

“You’re The One – JYP [ LYRICS HD ].” YouTube. 20 Jun 2012. Web. 25 Jul 2015.

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Black Popular Music and K-pop by Crystal S. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.