The Quantification of K-pop

The Quantification of K-pop
Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

Numerical data dominates the discourse around K-pop. In order to get a fuller view, we need to contextualize those numbers with other kinds of information in order to understand K-pop’s worldwide appeal.

With the focus on awards, streams, views and tweets, numbers lead the way we talk about K-pop. 2020 has seen K-pop venture into new territory, with high appearances on Billboard charts, high-profile performances and unprecedented winning of awards. K-pop fans urge others to view and stream to increase the visibility of their favorite groups. Scholars also use numerical data to study the use of social media and understand the spread of K-pop globally. Some see research based on numerical data as the gold standard: “Quantitative research is more preferred over qualitative research because it is more scientific, objective, fast, focused and acceptable” (Formplus Blog).

However, the hyperfocus on numerical data can skew our understanding of K-pop. Numbers are not as objective as many think.  Data can be manipulated and misrepresented. Even when the data is valid, it only presents part of the story. Harry Gough notes: “Sometimes we are so hypnotized by data, we gaze past our own humanity. To get the whole picture, you need the story behind the data – the ‘so what?’, otherwise all you have is data. Which is why qualitative data can be so valuable.”

Twitter data featured in Tamar Herman‘s “10 Years On, Twitter is Shaping the Spread of K-pop,” shows the strengths of numerical data, but also the need for  additional perspectives to understand the whole story of K-pop’s global spread through social media.  Twitter Korea “tracked  data from the past year between July 1, 2019 and June 30, 2020” and “added it to its analysis of the past decade’s growth,” which includes data from Twitter usage from 2010-2020 (Herman). The long-term Twitter usage data reveals a pattern of increase in Twitter conversations related to K-pop.  Such conversations show the domination of boy groups, the increase of usage of Twitter by K-pop artists and the prominence of  certain artists  in certain countries (Herman).

At the same time, the data has limits, meaning there are things it does not take into account. This data covers only Twitter. While it is a major social media platform, there are many K-pop fans on Twitter who never participate in conversations. Other K-pop fans intentionally avoid Twitter in favor of other social media platforms, such as Instagram, YouTube, Tumblr and private Facebook groups.  These K-pop fans are not captured in this data, so what it tells us pertains only to a certain segment of K-pop fans. If we take its conclusions as representative of most or all K-pop fans, we could be misrepresenting the data and what it actually tells us.

Moreover, this data does not tell us why boy groups dominate or why certain artists are popular in certain countries. We need non-numerical data, which could add to the numerical data by understanding “underlying reasons, opinions and motivations” (Gough).  Mentions are just that: mentions. They do not tell us why something is being mentioned.  Asking individuals about the motivations behind their actions, their attitudes and opinions may not be generalizable, but it helps to explain the numbers.

With the rise of research in K-pop, we need multiple methods to comprehensively understand it.

Source

Formplus Blog. “15 Reasons to Choose Quantitative over Qualitative Research.” Formplus Blog. 25 Jun. https://www.formpl.us/blog/quantitative-qualitative-research#:~:text=Quantitative%20research%20is%20more%20preferred,and%20approach%20to%20the%20problem (Accessed 23 Sept 2020).

Harry Gough. “Qualitative vs Quantitative Research: What Is It and When Should You Use It?” qualtrics. 16 Apr 2020. https://www.qualtrics.com/blog/qualitative-research/ (Accessed 23 Sept 2020).

Tamar Herman. “10 Years On, Twitter is Shaping the Spread of K-pop.” Forbes. 21 Sept 2020. https://www.forbes.com/sites/tamarherman/2020/09/21/10-years-on-twitter-is-shaping-the-spread-of-k-pop/#5795c78399a7 (23 Sept 2020).

 

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

What We Are Listening To: “Keep It Simple” by Samuel Seo

What We Are Listening To: “Keep It Simple” by Samuel Seo

Samuel Seo (Seo Donh-hyeon) released his first album in 2015. His 2018 album Unity features the track “Keep It Simple,” composed by Seo and arranged by Sung Ki-moon, Joseph Choi, Jaeho Kim and Jun Beck. Featuring jazz pianist, the track sports a sparse arrangement that allows the twinkling jazz piano and soft percussion to complement Seo’s always stellar vocals. As Seo’s vocals increase in intensity, so too does the improvisation on the piano and the prominence of the drums.  For someone often associated with hip-hop, this track showcases the versatility of Seo’s style by delving into jazz.

Sources

서사무엘 / Samuel Seo. “Keep It Simple.” YouTube. 12 Sept 2018. https://youtu.be/RAlU0UXeolc (Accessed 13 Aug 2020).

The Once and Future Fandom: How Media Shapes Perceptions of K-pop Fans

Image of varying tones of gold in a kaleidoscope
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Whether K-pop fans are praised political activists or denigrated as delusional enthusiasts, both characterizations reduce K-pop fans, especially Black fans, and fail to recognize their value beyond politics.

Up until recently, K-pop fans had a questionable reputation. On March 19, 2020, I did a search for K-pop fans, and these are the search terms Google offered:

Screen capture of Google search for k-pop fan
Screen capture, Google search for K-pop fan

This is what today’s search (June 24) for K-pop fan brings:

Screen shot of Google search for K-pop fan
Google search for K-pop fan

In the span of a few months, the perception of K-pop fans has changed, largely due to several events with political ramifications, including overwhelming the Dallas police iWatch Dallas app, taking over the #whitelivesmatter hashtag, and most recently, disrupting President Trump’s Oklahoma rally. Coverage by mainstream media outlets have praised these actions, suggesting that K-pop fans now have value because they are politically active.

However, others are pointing out that calling K-pop the newest wave of political activists is not as positive as it seems. Abby Ohlheiser does a really great job of explaining the complexity surrounding K-pop fandom and why the sudden characterization of K-pop fans as activists is problematic:

Some stans, and the academics who study them, say that while it’s great to see fans use these platforms for good, the rapid veneration is overshadowing the more complex dynamics underlying K-pop fandom. And, they say, the newfound reputation for anti-racist heroism largely ignores the voices of black K-pop fans, who have struggled with racism and harassment within the community.

The K-pop fan-as-activist is the other side of the K-pop-fan-as-crazy coin. Both are imposed by the media and narrowly construe K-pop fandom. K-pop fan activity did not suddenly become important or significant just because it intersects with the political arena or because major outlets say so. Fans were always important and significant, in and of themselves. K-pop fans’ ability to organize and mobilize for a cause can be seen as early as 2012, when fans of Seo Taiji, often credited with being the first major figure in K-pop, fundraised to create the “SeoTaiji Forest” in Brazil to support conservation. It’s the same organizing used to support groups when they promote. But it’s also scores of smaller, collaborative projects that collect information in informal archive projects. K-pop fans have always been proactive in producing culture around K-pop.

This has a particular impact for Black K-pop fans. While Black K-pop fans have been part of K-pop fandom since its early days, they are increasingly being brought to the fore solely within the context of K-pop activism around Black Lives Matter, or increasingly, to articulate their negative experiences within the fandom. While both are important in understanding the experiences of Black fans, they are not the only way to understand those experiences. Raising Black K-pop fan voices only to tell stories of racism and discrimination suggests that Black fans cannot talk about just being a fan, who they like and why. It excludes Black fans from having a voice on any other aspect of K-pop and silences them under the auspices of giving them a voice.

Black fans, and Black people in general, have a complex experience one that includes joy.  Imani Perry recently wrote for The Atlantic: “My elders taught me that I belonged to a tradition of resilience, of music that resonates across the globe, of spoken and written language that sings. . . . The injustice is inescapable. So yes, I want the world to recognize our suffering. But I do not want pity from a single soul. Sin and shame are found in neither my body nor my identity. Blackness is an immense and defiant joy.” Calling on Black voices only confirm their negative experience with ignoring their opinion on everything else in the fandom excludes them from being fans in the truest sense of the word. If the only way the public sees Black fan is as a tragic victim, we reduce the Black fan.

K-pop fans in general, and Black K-pop fans in particular, are having characterizations imposed on them by entities that do not have the best track record on K-pop coverage.  This narrative of activism is being generated by mainstream media outlets rather than the fans themselves. As a result, it continues the age-old tendency of the media reducing K-pop fans to the simplest of terms.

Sources

Abby Ohlheiser. “How K-pop Fas Became Celebrated Online Vigilantes.” MIT Technology Review. 5 Jun 2020. https://www.technologyreview.com/2020/06/05/1002781/kpop-fans-and-black-lives-matter/ (Accessed 24 Jun 2020).

Imani Perry. “Racism Is Terrible. Blackness Is Not.” The Atlantic. 15 June 2020. https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/06/racism-terrible-blackness-not/613039/ (Accessed 24 June 2020).

Kim Rahn. “Fans Name ‘Seoetaiji Forest’ in Brazil.” The Korea Times. March 2012. http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/nation/2012/03/113_107088.html (Accessed 24 Jun 2020).

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The Once and Future Fandom: How Media Shapes Perceptions of K-pop Fans by Crystal S. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Soul in Seoul Playlist: g.o.d (Groove Overdose)

Image by SanderSmit from Pixabay

Veteran “idol” group g.o.d (Groove Overdose) is the first K-pop artist explored in-depth in Soul in Seoul: African American Popular Music and K-pop. When writing the book, I always knew that g.o.d formed the foundation of understanding the use of R&B rhythm and vocals for later “idol” groups. Their consistent use of funk rhythms and vocals, especially gospel-inflected vocals over their decades-long career allows for an exploration of their sound over time, which remains remarkably consistent. The group’s engagement with black popular music ranges from soul ballads to upbeat dance tracks. Below find a collection of the best examples of g.o.d’s engagement with black popular music. (*Tracks marked with an * are explored further in the book).

  1. Observation, Chapter 1 (1999)* | 2. So You Can Come Back to Me, Chapter 1 (1999) | 3. With Little Men, Chapter 1 (1999) | 4. Promise, Chapter 1 (1999) | 5. Love and Remember, Chapter 2 (1999) | 6. Dance All Night, Chapter 2 (1999) | 7. Friday Night, Chapter 2 (1999) | 8. Five Men’s Story, Chapter 2 (1999) | 9. 21C Our Hope, Chapter 2 (1999) | 10. One Candle, Chapter 3 (2000)* | 11. Need You, Chapter 3 (2000) | 12. Lie, Chapter 3 (2000) | 13. Dance With Me, Chapter 3 (2000) | 14. Road, Chapter 4 (2001) | 15. The Place You Where You Should Be, Chapter 4 (2001) | 16. Let’s Go, Chapter 4 (2001) | 17. Report to the Dance Floor, Chapter 5: Letter (2002) | 18. Lately, Chapter 5: Letter (2002) | 19. The Reason Why Opposites Attract (Bandaega Kkeulrineun Iyu), Ordinary Day (2004) |  20. I Don’t Know Your Heart (Ni Mameul Molla), Into the Sky (2005) |  21. It’s Alright (ft. G-Soul), Into the Sky (2005) | 22. Crime (Mujoe), Into the Sky (2005) | 23. Change, Into the Sky (2005) | 24. Sky Blue Promise, Chapter 8 (2014)* | 25. Stand Up, Chapter 8 (2014) | 26. Saturday Night, Chapter 8 (2014)* | 27. G’swag, Chapter 8 (2014)

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.

How We Get Down: KPK Documents Your Stuff!

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

As part of KPK’s decennial year, we are launching K-pop Commons, a repository of K-pop project ephemera – documents and artifacts that were not created for formal publication or commercial display (e.g., books, book chapters, galleries/exhibitions), but that are meaningful to the creators of the items and that reflect the impact of K-pop on those who know it best: fans. 

Continue reading “How We Get Down: KPK Documents Your Stuff!”

Mini Data Note: Why Fans Like Red Velvet

Source: Kpopmap

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

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

Dual-Concept

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

Music

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

Personalities

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

Image

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

Sources

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

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

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

Panelist at #ICA19!

Source: Pixabay

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.

#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).

U Go Girl! The K-pop Girl Group Fan Study

Source: Pixabay

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 (andersoncs2@longwood.edu).

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.

Who can take the survey?

Anyone who is 18-years-old or older.

How long does the survey take?

About five minutes.