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WWLT, Vol 1. No. 1

Image by heliofil from Pixabay

Welcome to the inaugural issue of WWLT, or What We’re Listening To, which features mini music analyses that provide context and introduce readers to K-pop music that may be new-to-them.

This issue features tracks from EXO, TVXQ, Jeon Somi, CL, Jonghyun X Youngbae, VIXX, Red Velvet, SEVENTEEN, SF9 and 2AM from contributors who are members of the K-pop music research accelerator, HWAITING! (managed by KPK: Kpop Kollective).

EXO, “Stronger,” Ex’Act (2016)

Crystal S. Anderson

EXO follows in the footsteps of large groups at SM Entertainment, including Super Junior and Girls’ Generation. In addition to the creation of sub-units (EXO-K and EXO-M; EXO-CBX) several members embarked on solo careers, including D.O, Baekhyun, Lay and Suho.  The group is known for its impressive choreography to upbeat, rhythm-driven dance tracks. “Stronger” appears on  the 2016 album, Ex’Act, which was repackaged as Lotto later that year. Ex’Act was released after Exodus (2015), which included “Call Me Baby”, and Love Me Right, which was released the same year with the title song as the promo track. Agnes Shin, Chung Joo-hee, Lee Joo-hyung,  Andreas Oberg,  Gustav Karlstrom wrote the lyrics and Karlstrom, Lee, Oberg composed the music. “Stronger” departs from EXO’s uptempo tracks by showcasing vocals accompanied only by a piano at a slower pace. The piano creates sparse instrumentation without electronic songs, which makes the vocals shine even more. Relying on members Suho, Baekhyun, Chen and D.O., the track showcases their individual vocal talents as well as their harmonization, traversing the gamut of the vocal range and using various vocalists to punctuate the vocal performance of others. The structure of the song is also non-traditional, diverging from a straight verse-chorus arrangement.  This track offers a different side of the group, showing vocal versatility as an additional element to their dance repertoire. 

Sources

EXO. “Stronger.” YouTube. 8 Nov 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AuDhioEWnMI (29 Oct 2021)  

TVXQ, “Tri-Angle,” Tri-Angle (2004)

N. Lina Anuar

After debuting with the song Hug on Boxing Day 2003, then 5-member group TVXQ from SM Entertainment released Tri-Angle from their first studio album The Way U Are in 2004. The music video of this song emulated the aesthetics of visual-Kei like elaborate hairstyles and makeup (Throwback Thoughts, 2019), which one could trace back to the times of glam rock of KISS and David Bowie.

The song credits SM Entertainment’s in-house songwriter Yoo Young-jin as composer, lyricist and arranger; with Groovie K having a hand in the composition as well. While the entire album is labeled as Kpop, dance, contemporary R&B and teen pop, Tri-Angle sampled Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G minor (Hallyu Reviews, 2021), and is heard as the hook and an overlay in the chorus.

This song is built on the typical pop song structure of verse-chorus-bridge which could be labeled as K-pop. However, it features a mishmash of other styles that includes classical nuances heard by the small string orchestra, sounds of grunge/punk rock through the guitar effects of distortion and overdrive in the bridge, and the powerhouse pop vocals of BoA, dubbed as the Queen of Kpop.

Tri-Angle was really a representation of SM’s hottest artists in the early millennium of TVXQ, BoA and TraxX, who unfortunately now is a defunct-rock group creating a trifecta of collaborations of their time.

Sources

Car Door Guy’s Girl. (2019, April 18). Throwback thoughts: Tri-angle- TVXQ (ft. Boa and TRAX). https://cardoorguysgirl.wordpress.com/2019/04/18/throwback-thoughts-tri-angle-tvxq-ft-boa-and-trax/.

Hallyureviews. (2021, February 14). Song of the moment: TVXQ – tri-angle (with Boa, TRAX). https://hallyureviews.wordpress.com/2021/02/17/song-of-the-moment-tvxq-tri-angle-with-boa-trax/.

TVXQ! 동방신기 ‘tri-angle (extended ver.) (feat. Boa & Trax)’ MV. YouTube. (2009, November 23). https://youtu.be/GM8wZRaHXTg.

Jeon Somi, “XOXO,” XOXO (2021)

Andrew Ty

Somi was an aspirant in Sixteen, the 2015 Mnet competition show that produced JYP girl-group Twice. She earned first-place a year later in another Mnet show, Produce 101 (Season One) and debuted with I.O.I., which disbanded in 2017. Two years later, Somi released her solo debut “Birthday.” 

Her fourth single “XOXO” was released in October 2021, the title track to her first full-length album with lyrics by Teddy, Danny Chung, Vince, Somi, and Kush. Teddy also composed the music alongside Pink Sweats, Pacific, and 24 who also handled the arrangement. Like “Birthday,” previous singles “What You Waiting For” and “Dumb Dumb,” and almost every song on her full-length, “XOXO” showcases Somi’s signature bright bubblegum sound. 

“XOXO” is especially anthemic, centered on the hook-filled chorus that opens the song, with layers of chanted vocals over muted arpeggios and sparse beats sounding almost too large, too insistent. This effect is tastefully capped by how Somi sings “hoo-hoo” after each chant of “XOXO!”—soaring high above the wall of sound, creating an opening in the song that both verse and pre-chorus fill, making the chorus hit harder. The effect is unexpectedly reminiscent of “Where Is My Mind?” by American alt-rock group the Pixies. I can’t imagine Somi’s next single sounding larger than “XOXO”; the bigger impact might be in swerving towards an unexpectedly understated sound.

Sources

Jeon Somi. “XOXO.” YouTube. 29 Oct 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H8kqPkEXP_E (08 Nov 2021)

Pixies. “Where Is My Mind?” YouTube. 21 Feb 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=49FB9hhoO6c (08 Nov 2021)

Somi. “Birthday.” YouTube. 13 Jun 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oDJ4ct59NC4 (08 Nov 2021)

Somi. “Dumb Dumb.” YouTube. 02 Aug 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tg2uF3R_Ozo (08 Nov 2021)

Somi. “What You Waiting For.” YouTube. 22 Jul 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lBYyAQ99ZFI (08 Nov 2021).

CL, “SPICY”—ALPHA (2021)

Hannah Lee Otto

CL, known for her rapping, edgy unconventional styling, and melismatic vocals, perhaps represents an anomaly of the K-pop and entertainment industry: a post girlband veteran to go solo by severing ties with a big-name entertainment company, forging her own way through richly diverse collaborations and friendships across the industry and across the world—ranging from Diplo, ReQuest Dance Crew, Method Man, and ReQuest Dance Crew, to name a few. The diversity of CL’s collaborations and talents seem to reflect her diverse background, growing up in Korea, Japan, and schooling in France prior to her landing a spot in Kpop girl group 2NE1 in 2014 (Myers, 2021). Considered a pioneering Kpop female group, 2NE1’s tomboyish and punk attitude countered the image of cutesy girliness typical to Kpop at the time (Lee, 2021). CL’s independent projects reflect a continuation of 2NE1’s edge on her own terms, evolving her I AM THE BEST anthem swagger to self-reflective and self-empowering tracks in her truly independent full-length ALPHA (Kwak, 2021). ALPHA emerges after years of efforts in becoming an independent K-pop artist, formally leaving YG Entertainment in 2019, working a move stateside with Scooter Braun, and now under her own label, Very Cherry Record (Myers, 2021). ALPHA is CL’s first full-length album, following a train of collaborations, singles, and a mini album since going solo in 2014. 

SPICY opens ALPHA with John Malkovich asking for “that sauce that is spicy made in Korea” and chanting “energy, power, chemistry” looping in his meditative voice in the background. CL answers the request for spicy with a battle-like rap declaring herself as the alpha, proud of her Korean spice, a metaphor that is sweeping culture worldwide. With a catchy beat and staccato, straightforward lyrics delivered over John Malkovich’s meditative echo, the song provides an accessible entry into the album and the signature CL attitude.  

Sources

CL. “SPICY.” YouTube. 24 August 2021. https://youtu.be/QMwJtMJLXE0

Kwak, Kristine. “CL Reintroduces Herself as the ‘Alpha.’ Rolling Stone, 20 Oct. 2021,   

https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-album-reviews/cl-alpha-1244017/ Accessed 8 

Nov. 2021. 

Lee, Christine. “Review: On ALPHA, CL finishes what she started.” NPR, 27 Oct. 2021, 

https://www.npr.org/2021/10/27/1049329622/on-alpha-cl-finishes-what-she-started
Accessed 8 Nov 2021. 

Myers, Owen. “K-Pop Queen CL on making her indie comeback: ‘My album is like me writing a 

book.’” Billboard, 16 Jan. 2021,  https://www.billboard.com/music/pop/cl-new-album-alpha-interview-k-pop-comeback-9510948/

Jonghyun x Youngbae, “It Must be Autumn” (2015)

Ngan Tran

Kim Jonghyun, the main vocalist of SHINee, was also known as an extremely talented songwriter. A hidden gem from his discography is “It Must be Autumn” (also translated as “I guess now it’s the fall”), which debuted as a single on the Mnet show Monthly Live Connection. Featuring guest vocals from Go Youngbae (lead vocalist of the band SORAN), the song is co-written and co-composed by Jonghyun and Youngbae, with the arrangement done by Youngbae, Seo Myeon-ho, Lee Tae-wook, and Pyon Yoo-il. This is a delicate acoustic track that perfectly captures the sentiment of autumn.

The song opens with a simple guitar melody that would form the backbone for the rest of the track. As if letting listeners into a secret, the acoustic strumming combined with Jonghyun and Youngbae’s quiet vocals immediately set the tone for an intimate late night conversation. Lyrically, it is about receiving a random call from an ex-lover who has moved on long ago, and then mentally falling apart like autumn leaves. It is easy to slip into the territory of ambient coffee shop music here, but a steady percussion beat arrives just in time for the second verse to give it a much-needed depth. Jonghyun’s soft, airy vocals and Youngbae’s warm, gentle timbre complement each other extremely well as their gorgeous harmonies flutter into the bridge, where the song finally flourishes – in its own subdued fashion. The bass ripples, the keyboard tiptoes, and the catalytic moment comes, ironically, when the narrator admits that “today, too, I am still standing here,” stuck in memories of the past. And so the track ends with the same restrained energy it started with, completely unable to move on.

Sources

Jonghyun x Youngbae. “It Must be Autumn.” YouTube. 29 October 2015. https://youtu.be/neftAitSVw8?t=127 (9 November 2021).

VIXX, “Fantasy,” Hades (2016)

Nykeah Parham

No strangers to fantastic, other-worldly, or supernatural ideas, VIXX, the heralded “Concept Kings” of K-pop, announced the year-long project, VIXX 2016 Conception Trilogy. Each album in 2016 had a different concept based on a Greek deity, beginning with Zelos and the title track “Dynamite,” Hades and “Fantasy,” and ending with Kratos and “The Closer.” The Trilogy follows a man in his attempt to win over his love and the “fate” or “ruin” that befalls him. In “Fantasy,” the mortal man, N, has lost his love to Leo, someone in the underworld.

Produced by the LA-based production team, Devinne Channel’s Kei Lim and Ryan Kim, “Fantasy” begins with Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata,” establishing the dark concept of Hades and the Underworld alongside Ravi’s deep and raspy tone in contrast to Leo’s falsetto. As soon as the introduction moves to the first verse, Ken’s mid-range vocal is underscored with not-so-subtle bass and snapping that resembles a clock ticking. There is a quick transition to Leo’s higher tone and the introduction of a rolling hi-hat that is all meant to showcase the main character losing his sanity as time progresses. By the time the pre-chorus and its marching drum begins, the energy and harmony have risen to an anxious heartbeat with the added string instruments in the chorus. There is a whiplash at the second verse, but that energy continues to build until the music stops suddenly and Moonlight Sonata plays again as a soft reprise even though the character has met a tragic end and not the fantasy he once imagined. In the end, all that is left is the admittance of defeat, “It’s all my fantasy.”

Sources

VIXX. “Fantasy.” YouTube. 14 August 2016. https://youtu.be/IuaRdAozUI0 (08 November 2021)

Red Velvet, “Knock on Wood,” Queendom (2021)

Luisa do Amaral

Red Velvet debuted in 2014 with the promise to bring together the elements that distinguished their predecessors, Girls’ Generation and f(x). One’s magical, sunny mass-appeal, and the other’s more experimental edge – through the fresh “Red” and the luscious “Velvet” concepts. Celebrating their seventh anniversary, the group made their first official release since ‘The ReVe Festival’ Finale (2019) with the six-track mini album Queendom (2021), released in August. The record includes the electro-punk track “Knock on Wood,” a B-side that uses a magical motif to compare the anxious desire for requited affections akin to casting a little spell (Yun, 2021).

The track is credited to duo Moonshine (Jonatan Gusmark and Ludvig Evers), Cazzi Opeia and Ellen Berg, who have worked together in previous RV tracks such as the B-side “In & Out” (2019) and the title track “Peek-A-Boo” (2017). The Korean lyrics were written by Seo Ji-Eum from Jam Factory. “Knock on Wood” opens with bewitching wobbly synths; enchanting ad-libs and vocals are layered over little finger snaps, squelches and glassy sounds (Daly, 2021) for an eerie feeling that heightens the magical element. The lyrics switch between anxiously hopeful confessions and spells, with each member adding to the atmosphere. Irene’s and Yeri’s lines are playful, mischievous – complementing Seulgi’s honey-glazed uneasiness, as well as Joy’s innocent sweetness and Wendy’s buoyant brightness, whose voices lead the pre-chorus into the chorus. The more distressed undertones of the song are resolved at the whimsical bridge, and the fairytale-like story ends with a modified chorus that expresses the assurance of getting the desired outcome. All the red flavors are there, but with the otherworldly magical edge that Red Velvet carried on from the sweet witchcraft of f(x).

Sources 

Red Velvet. “Knock on Wood.” YouTube. 16 Aug 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PHINkx2So0s (8 Nov 2021)

Yun, Sanggeun 윤상근. “레드벨벳, ‘Queendom’으로 전할 감각적 음악 세계..위트 더한다” [Red Velvet to deliver a sensory music world through ‘Queendom’.. with increased wit]. 스타뉴스 STARNEWS, 9 Aug, 2021, https://entertain.naver.com/read?oid=108&aid=0002979163 Accessed 8 Nov, 2021. 

Daly, Rhian. “Red Velvet – ‘Queendom’ review: a safe but sometimes spellbinding return from SM’s ruling girl group” NME, 18 Aug. 2021, https://www.nme.com/reviews/album/red-velvet-queendom-review-3022231. Accessed 7 Nov. 2021. 

SEVENTEEN, “Ready To Love,” Your Choice (2021)

Tan Puay Shuang

Being given the title of ‘self-producing idols’, SEVENTEEN is best known not only for their entertaining presence on variety shows, but also for being actively involved in various aspects of their comeback productions since debut. While one could visibly tell that the group’s music has drastically evolved and matured with time, not many were prepared to learn that the song-writing credits of their eighth mini-album Your Choice would include “hitman” Bang Sihyuk, the founder of HYBE Corporation that has just acquired their label Pledis Entertainment last year. Apart from him, the song also introduced the participation of Danke, Kyler Niko, Wonderkid, Christoffer Semelius, and H.Kenneth, some of which would be familiar to fans of other HYBE artists like TXT and ENHYPEN.

Your Choice was released as the second part to SEVENTEEN’s yearlong project “The Power of ‘Love’”. Its title track “Ready To Love” features a prominent electric guitar and an anthemic chorus, which combined with the typical EDM beats forms an upbeat dance track that sings about the emotions of someone who has fallen in love with a friend (Chakraborty, 2021). Besides departing from the retro vibes that they have featured in their previous mini albums, Heng:garæ and Semicolon, the song also stands out for the amount of English being used in their lyrics. Despite the high energy and optimistic lyrics, the song eludes a somewhat melancholic tone, and the adlibs done by the members hold equal importance as the main melody, with the choreography during the last chorus specially made to highlight Seungkwan’s voice towards the end of the final chorus. 

Sources

HYBE LABELS. “SEVENTEEN (세븐틴) ‘Ready to love’ Official MV.” YouTube. 18 Jun 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j4ffQuYFfY8 (8 Nov 2021).

SEVENTEEN. “[Choreography Video] SEVENTEEN(세븐틴) – Ready to love.” YouTube. 20 Jun 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YxWowt5Oc9Y (8 Nov 2021).

Chakraborty, Riddhi. “Seventeen Get Ready to Risk Everything in ‘Ready to Love’.” Rolling Stone India. 18 Jun 2021. https://rollingstoneindia.com/seventeen-get-ready-to-risk-everything-in-ready-to-love/ (8 Nov 2021).

SF9, “Hey Hi Bye,” Turn Over (2021)

Vitoria F. Doretto

SF9 (shortened from Sensational Feeling 9) is the first dance boy group formed by FNC Entertainment. Known for their dynamic stage presence and experimental sound, and following their contract renovation, the nine members released on July 5, 2021, their ninth mini-album, Turn Over, with “Tear Drop” as the title track. The album follows their participation in Kingdom: Legendary War, where “Believer” was released as their final round song (which also appears on this album). The mini-album is the last part of the “9lory” series, which conveys their narrative world. In it, they show their willingness to pioneer fate on its own without yielding to what was already set.

“Hey Hi Bye” is the last track with synth-brass-laden and peppy beats. The lyrics are written by Han Sung Ho (한성호),Young Bin  (영빈), Zuho (주호), and Hwiyoung (SF9s lead rapper). The composers are Han Sung Ho (한성호), Park Soo Suk (박수석), Bong Won Seok (봉원석), Moon Kim, and Tiyon TC Mack, and the arrangement was made by Park Soo Suk and Bong Won Seok. It is a fun track with a captivating mix of retro influences and a synth-like filter that adds to the instrumental – and their voices are capable of staying above it all, which is surprising. The track wraps up the album with a sweet tone, as its last verses are “Can’t nobody, can’t nobody love you like me/ Hey, hiya, bye.” Its first live stage was at the “2021 SF9 Online Fan Meeting ‘Reply FANTASY‘” (Laure, 2021).

Sources

에셒구. [SF9] Hey Hi Bye 응답하라 판타지 210815 팬미팅. YouTube. 16 Aug 2021.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i37Tw6310dc (9 Nov. 2021).

Laure. Exclusive Review: SF9 Cheerfully Spends Time At “2021 SF9 Online Fan Meeting ‘Reply FANTASY'”. Kpopmag, 17 Aug 2021. http://www.kpopmap.com/exclusive-review-sf9-cheerfully-spends-time-at-2021-sf9-online-fan-meeting-reply-fantasy (9 Nov. 2021).

2AM, “Should’ve known” (가까이 있어서 몰랐어), Ballad 21 F/W (2021)

Mariam Elba

After 7 years, 2AM released its first, long-awaited EP after their hiatus that began in 2013 on November 1. Formed as a part of One Day, a project of JYP Entertainment in 2008, members Jinwoon, Changmin, Jo Kwon, and Seulong broke off to form 2AM. They quickly became known as the ballad-idol quartet, different from their One Day counterparts, 2PM. each bring different vocal styles elements to their ballads. Park Jin-young of JYP Entertainment as well as “hitman” bang, or Bang Si-hyuk, and now the chairman of HYBE, were both frequent producers and songwriters for the group.

“Should’ve known” is their first of two title tracks on 2AM’s new EP, Ballad 21 F/W, written and composed by “Hitman” Bang, and arranged by Megatone and Score.  The song starts with a simple piano harmony as Jinwoon starts the song in an almost-hushed voice, Seulong ushers in the bridge, and builds a gradual crescendo as Jo Kwon and Changmin’s voices carry the crescendo into the chorus with soaring high notes, evoking the emotion of the lyrics charged with regret of a lost love. The third bridge highlights 2AM’s frequent harmonizing, a signature characteristic in their songs.

A unique aspect of the music video is that it tells the first part of a story that the second title song’s music video continues. Starring One Day counterpart, 2PM’s Junho and Kim So-hyun, re-enact the story the lyrics tell in Should’ve known, and second title song No good in good-bye (잘 가라니).

Sources

2am – 가까이 있어서 몰랐어 (Should′ve known) MV. YouTube. 1 Nov 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d5NyZsDz0oI (10 Nov 2021).

 
 Creative Commons License WWLT Vol. 1, No. 1 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

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).

 

Creative Commons License
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).