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WWLT, Vol. 2, No. 3

Image by Mary Theresa McLean from Pixabay

Welcome to 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 analyses of tracks by Super Junior featuring Yunho and Yoochun (TVXQ!), NU’EST, VIXX, Jay Park, T.O.P (BigBang), Ahn Ye Eun and Hoppipolla by members of HWAITING!, KPK’s K-pop music research accelerator.

Super Junior (feat. U-Know Yunho and Micky Yoochun of TVXQ!), “이별… 넌 쉽니 Heartquake” Sorry Sorry (2009)

N Lina An

TVXQ! and Super Junior are no strangers to Kpop. A more well-known collaboration between both groups was a joint CD single titled Show Me Your Love in 2005. They reunited again with a more mature sound by releasing the song 이별… 넌 쉽니 or its English title, Heartquake (lit. Saying Goodbye… Is It Easy For You).

Heartquake is the 8th track on Super Junior’s 3rd studio album Sorry Sorry released in 2009. This monster collaboration featured the rap-unit of TVXQ!, members U-Know Yunho and Micky Yoochun, together with the vocal unit of Super Junior, K.R.Y. (Kyuhyun, Ryeowook and Yesung). While the song Sorry Sorry catapulted Super Junior to greater heights, this collaboration saw TVXQ! members U-Know and Micky as featured guests, writing the rap parts for the verses and Super Junior’s vocalists Kyuhyun, Ryeowook, Yesung (K.R.Y) carrying the melody in the chorus and bridge.

The song opens rather cynically with the titular line “이별… 넌 쉽니” which is a colloquial way of saying “breaking up, it’s easy for you eh?” before going into the verse where the lyrics continue in the tone of hurt and abandonment. The last line of the first verse reads “연예인이 하는 사랑… 다 그런거지…” (t/n: Love of a celebrity… it’s always like this) could have hinted that the context of this song is about a relationship between a non-idol with an idol. The words of the rap verses were presented in the order of disbelief of the breakup, longing for the love to return, blame — in the last line that sings “모두 부수고 떠난 너” (t/n: You who destroyed everything and left) — and finally, acceptance that the love will not return. The chorus sings about how one carries on with life after heartbreak and despair, but the bridge questions why should this suffering be one-sided?

The song in a minor key indicates emotions of sadness and hurt; echoing its negative connotation in the lyrics. The use of synth and sampled beats gives the song an electronic vibe, while the strings and piano adds on an acoustic touch. These electro-acoustic sounds fill up the spaces, giving the song an eclectic mix of textures. There is a distinct repeated descending piano riff that is heard in the verse, and the vocals imitates this in the first phrase of the verses. The song modulates in the last chorus bringing the overall “pain” to its highest point where the rap and vocals overlap each other, creating a polyphonic texture before tapering off and a sudden drop of dynamics and texture all together at the end.

Sources

Super Junior. “이별… 넌 쉽니 Heartquake” YouTube. 2 August 2019. https://youtu.be/k7QLEL-4Yjw (14 March 2022)

Gil Hye-sung. “Lee Yeon-hee and TVXQ are featured in Super Junior’s third album” . Moneytoday (in Korean). March 9, 2009. https://star.mt.co.kr/stview.php?no=2009030908325038262&type=1&outlink=1 (14 March 2022)

Lyric Translation. “이별… 넌 쉽니 Heartquake”. AZLyrics. No publication date information. https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/superjunior/heartquake.html (14 March 2022)

NU’EST, “Look (a starlight night)” CANVAS (2016)

Ngan Tran

Debuted in 2012 as Pledis Entertainment’s first boy group, NU’EST was considered a formidable rookie among their peers like EXO and B.A.P. In 2017, four members of the group, JR, Baekho, Minhyun, and Ren, appeared on season two of Mnet’s survival show Produce 101. (The last member, Aron, did not appear on the show). Produce 101 quite literally saved their career and brought their popularity to an explosive high. Their sonic identity post-Produce 101  is best characterized by a sophisticated maturity that just sounds effortlessly stylish, a continuation of where their 5th mini album CANVAS left off before the boys went on the show. It’s a coincidence that NU’EST’s narrative is much like a K-pop fairytale on its own. Their return to success is often compared to a modern day Cinderella story, and their 6th mini album in 2019 after reuniting as a quintet was even named Happily Ever After. But all things must come to an end, and the group effectively disbanded on their 10th anniversary with a compilation album. 

“Look (a starlight night)” is the last track in CANVAS. It is composed by Bumzu, Jun Byoung-sun, and Hong Young-in, with words by Bumzu, JR, and Baekho, and arrangement by Joseph Park. The song is an electronic dance number that oozes swagger with a dash of mystique allure. Allow me a second to explain these nondescript words. The verses are built on a pair of looping synths and pulsating drum beats that allow the vocals to be delivered with reassured confidence. The pre-chorus comes sweeping in with gorgeous synths and a soft piano sound before coming to an abrupt halt, and almost immediately the bombastic chorus yanks us right back to reality with an addictive melodic hook. Here is a good example of utilizing different vocal timbres to add flavor to a song: the interplay between Minhyun’s airy falsetto floating lazily on the dreamy soundscape and Baekho’s fiery, powerful belt in the chorus is simply mesmerizing. The rich harmonies are brought to the front of the mix, giving their vocals much needed weight instead of being drowned out by the instrumental. “Look (a starlight night)” is like the sonic equivalence of looking up to the night sky and mistaking the skyscraper lights for the stars – a fleeting urban fairytale.

Sources

NU’EST. “[Choreography Video] NU’EST 5th Mini Album CANVAS ‘Look(A Starlight Night)’.” YouTube. 17 November 2016. https://youtu.be/rKNL7eME7JY (15 March 2022)

VIXX, “대.다.나.다.너 (G.R.8.U)” Jekyll (2013)

Luisa do Amaral

VIXX debuted in May 2012 with a bright art pop visual concept and a catchy dance sound, with “Super Hero”, followed up by “Rock Your Body”. It wasn’t until their April 2013 comeback, with single album On and On, that they first showcased the dark, impactful image they became known for. The group presented a vampire concept, with heavy makeup, color lenses, and choreography inspired by Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”. Later that year, in May, when they released their first EP hyde, they carried on with that new bold image, borrowing from “Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” for the title track of the same name. 

In that sense, “G.R.8.U”, lead single of the repackaged version of hyde, Jekyll (2013), was a contrast; the visual concept is sunny and bright, fitting for a fun summer track. The song is credited to hit producers Hyuk Shin and Ross Lara, who discussed the creative process in a video for Full Sail University in August, 2013. They wanted to bring together different elements of multiple genres, like disco house, with “groovy happy chords” and “dancey vibes” (2013). The big chorus layers anthemic hooks on top of a heart-fluttering melody that expresses the joys of being young and in love in the Summer. The buildup is aided by bass and electric guitars; according to Lara, the addition of acoustic elements to the electronic composition helped bring the music to life (2013). The lyrics are the real tick of the song; they were penned by Kim Eana, credited in numerous number-one songs on Korean charts, such as Brown Eyed Girls’ “Abracadabra” and IU’s “Good Day”. The opening scene of the music video for G.R.8.U is a TV showing scenes of the MV for their previous title track, “hyde”, whose lyrics are also credited to Kim. Even though their visual concepts differ widely, both songs share the same overarching theme, inspired by Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – finding a different, unexpected side of oneself next to one’s significant other. While the former approaches it from a dark, crazy evil perspective, “G.R.8.U”’s endearingly explosive sound is perfect to sing about being crazy in love.

Sources

VIXX. “대.다.나.다.너 (G.R.8.U) Official Music Video.” YouTube. 31 Jul 2013. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9vIZT-aIUKc (15 Mar 2022)

Full Sail University. “Behind the Scenes of VIXX’s “대.다.나.다.너 (G.R.8.U)” with Hyuk Shin and Ross Lara.” YouTube. 1 Aug 2013. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I8_jERfgzGc (15 Mar 2022).

Jay Park, “GANADARA (Feat. IU),” GANADARA (2022)

Vitoria F. Doretto

Park Jaebeom (박재범), mostly known as Jay Park, is a Korean-American b-boy, dancer, rapper, producer, CEO, model, and actor. He debuted in 2008 as the leader of K-pop group 2PM (now a former member) and also participated in the Seattle b-boy team, Art of Movement.

The single “GANADARA” is his first release under MORE VISION, the record label he recently created. The title (가나다라) is the beginning of the Korean alphabet and a recurrent order of consonants used to teach kids —similarly to ABC in English or Portuguese. The lyrics address the difficulty in speaking Korean and how one uses body language to express their feelings – the Ga Na Da Ra Ma Ba Sa repeatedly in the chorus is easy-to-sing and portrays the desire to connect and communicate with someone effectively without the language barrier. It was written by HAON (김하온), Woogie, and Jay Park, composed by Jay and Woogie, and arranged by Slom & Woogie.

The track is a mix of R&B and Hip-hop with a subdued, mid-tempo beat and strummed guitar loop. It features singer-songwriter IU, the South Korean superstar and nation’s sweetheart whose impressive voice blends so well with Jay’s soothing vocals that is surprising. Overall the track is simple, and the chorus is catchy. The most astonishing is that its arrangement enables one to focus on their vocals.

The music video is refreshing and silly, with this awkward vibe in the background, which is a good point and signals the concept of More Vision (a nice place to work and all). In it, Jay is “starstruck by the songstress IU with her unmatched visuals, glimmering vocals, and an ability to leave you speechless,” as Agrawal (2022) points out.

Sources

JAY PARK. “박재범 (Jay Park) – ‘GANADARA (Feat. 아이유 IU)’ Official Music Video”. YouTube. 11 Mar 2022. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gFb1TftvdoM (16 Mar 2022)

Agrawal, Ayushi. “Jay Park and IU are reflections of their star lives in hilarious ‘GANADARA’ music video”. Pink Villa, 2022. https://www.pinkvilla.com/entertainment/jay-park-and-iu-are-reflections-their-star-lives-hilarious-ganadara-music-video-1044296 (16 Mar 2022)

T.O.P (of BIGBANG), “DOOM DADA,” (2013)

Mariam Elba

After a four year hiatus, YG Entertainment announced in February that BIGBANG would be making their long-awaited comeback in early April. This would be their first musical release after 2018’s Flower Road single and after a tumultuous scandal and criminal case involving a now-former member. 

This announcement came with a particular spotlight on BIGBANG member, T.O.P, (real name Choi Seung-hyun), as the agency also announced that he would be ending his contract with YG Entertainment after 16 year with the company. His last solo single, DOOM DADA, released in 2013 (only one of two singles he released as a soloist so far) was written by Choi himself, and co-composed and arranged with Choice37. The song is a fast-paced, hard-hitting rap song, the the sharpness of a diss track with lyrics like: I’m a 21st century, extraordinary Korean; A god-given rap Basquait with a mic; I’m warming up my mouth for the first time in a while, I’ll be done in just one song.”

The song is atypical within K-pop, as Choi himself described it as “experimental” at the time of release. Reviewer R. Jun wrote for Soompi, “The song has rough, yet abstract lyrics, and has a surrealistic feel.” Taylor Glasby of Dazed astutely observes, “The lyrical rhythms are both inviting and alienating, while the beats align to trap and M.I.A’s jagged tribalism. But go deeper and recognisable cadences reveal themselves…. it’s K-Pop but sly, frenetic and slippery.”

The music video is peppered with influences from Choi’s family background in the arts, with nods to the artist, Salvador Dali and themed based off of Stanley Kubrick’s film, 2001: A Space Odyssey. 

While DOOM DADA was Choi’s last solo work released to the public, he spoke to the press for the first time since 2017 in an interview with Prestige Magazine in Hong Kong in which he hinted at more solo work to come.

Sources

BIGBANG. “T.O.P – DOOM DADA M/V.” YouTube.  15 November 2013. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tAoME_aMm1w&ab_channel=BIGBANG (accessed 20 March 2022).

Maisie Duff. “K-Pop Music Video Breakdown – T.O.P ‘Doom Dada.’”UNITEDKPOP. 17 November 2013. http://unitedkpop.com/2013/11/k-pop-music-video-breakdown-t-o-p-doom-dada/.  (accessed 20 March 2022). 

R. Jun. “T.O.P Hits 2 Million Views in 2 Days with “Doom Dada” MV.” Soompi. 18 November 2013. https://www.soompi.com/article/551465wpp/t-o-p-hits-2-million-views-in-2-days-with-doom-dada-mv. (accessed 20 March 2022).

Taylor Glasby. “Top ten K-Pop of 2013.” Dazed. 10 December 2013. https://www.dazeddigital.com/music/article/18097/1/top-ten-k-pop-of-2013. (accessed 20 March 2022).

Nathan Erickson. “T.O.P is Back – A Star Reborn.” Prestige. 9 March 2022. https://www.prestigeonline.com/hk/people-events/people/top-choi-seung-hyun-interview-march-2022. (accessed 20 March 2022).

Ahn Ye Eun, “CHANGGWI,” CHANGGWI (2021)

Tan Puay Shuang

When two founders of prestigious K-pop entertainment companies decided that Ahn Ye Eun’s  musical direction was not what they were looking for in the K-pop music they had in mind, It was Yoo Hee-yeol, the founder of Antenna Music, used his wild card to give her a chance to continue as a competing contestant in a survival show, citing that her “unique, never-seen-before style is what makes it all the more refreshing to see in the industry”. This is how the runner-up of K-pop Star 5 began her career in the Korean music industry. The soloist debuted in late 2016 with a self-titled album, and despite being a versatile artist who is backed up with a sea of knowledge as an alumnus of Dong-ah Institute of Media and Arts, Ahn Ye Eun is probably most well-known for her distinctive vocal timbre reminiscent of the various traditional chang singing styles – which almost never goes unnoticed as the artist herself often incorporates traditional flavors into her music. Previously, Ahn Ye Eun has garnered attention for writing and singing the soundtrack for the Korean TV series, Rebel: Thief who Stole the People, which featured songs that were previously performed on K-pop Star 5 like ‘Red Tie’ and ‘If Spring Comes’ as well as alternate renditions to the former songs and several new tracks. Ahn Ye Eun then continued to sing in a few more original soundtracks, including the well-received ‘Night Flower’, featured as the theme song of the Korean webtoon Painter of the Night.

After her first horror-themed single ‘Trumpet Creeper’ in 2020, Ahn Ye Eun continued her series with ‘CHANGGWI’ almost exactly a year later. As the title suggests, she sings from the perspectives of the changgwi – a Korean mythological creature that takes the form of the ghost of a young man who was eaten by a tiger in the tall mountains, and occasionally strikes a lyrical conversation with the ghost as the tiger itself. Hoping to find a sacrifice to aid him as he continues on his road to reincarnation, he lures a passer-by in the middle of a dark night into listening to his story as they approach his final demise. As usual, Ahn Ye Eun shows her dedication to storytelling through the way she crafts the lyrics and melody to this song. The use of Korean traditional instruments is not a surprise to her loyal listeners, but she has also brought attention to her lyrics that include difficult Korean and Sino-Korean words that are not commonly used in urban conversation. She also effectively demonstrated the musical concept of text painting by reflecting the playful tone of the changgwi in the second verse through her soft yet well-articulated lyrics inviting the passer-by to place his bets, and the deafening roars of a tiger in her well-grounded belts, especially on the very last note of the song. The engaging storytelling experience through Ahn Ye Eun’s memorable singing, combined with the repeated chanting in the background, never fails to keep the listeners of ‘CHANGGWI’ stuck in the never-ending cycle of listening to this song.

Sources

xxentertainment. “안예은(AHN YEEUN) HORROR SINGLE 창귀 CHANGGWI LYRIC VIDEO.” YouTube. 1 August 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8UUDyQyuvwI (20 March 2022).

xxentertainment. “ ‘다들 책 펴’ 일타강사 안예은 선생님의 ‘창귀’ 가사 특강.”

YouTube. 2 August 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=13-YRd7pOM0 (20 March 2022).

Hoppipolla, “Your Ocean (너의 바다),” And Then There Was Us (2021)

Nykeah Parham

In 2019, South Korea added another music show to their national repertoire by the name of Superband. This talent survival show produced by JTBC gathered indie musicians from street performers to classical musicians that would be placed in bands together by the judges (referred to as “Producers” in the show) that would compete against one another. Each stage performed by the competing bands were evaluated by the judges (Yoon Jong-shin, Yoon Sang, Kim Jong-wan of Nell, Joe Hahn of Linkin Park, and AKMU’s Lee Su-hyun) and the lowest ranking musicians from the losing bands would be eliminated. The band that emerged as the winner was the rock ballad Hoppipolla, consisting of vocalist and keyboardist frontman, I’ll, cellist, Hong Jin-ho, vocalist and guitarist, Ha Hyun-sang, and guitarist, Kim Young-so. Their name, which means “jumping into puddles” in Icelandic, displays their hopes that people around the world can immerse themselves in their music and find solace. They made their debut in November 2019 with the single album “About Time.”

“Your Ocean” is a rock ballad that correctly defines what Hoppipolla hopes to do with their music. The song begins quietly with Hyun-sang’s soft, almost breathy vocals over a solo piano that then builds with I’ll’s stronger singing and Jin-ho’s added cello. At the chorus’ beginning, the drums are added in to give the song a bit of bass and tempo alongside what sounds like an antique music box that figuratively plays on the listener’s heart strings and nostalgia. It sounds like deep love, but that of longing for a past memory—which is hinted at in the lyrics, “just like always, should we chat all night and fall asleep?”—or of childlike love. The chorus ends almost in silence again, like the ebbs and flows of the ocean. After the second verse and chorus, there is a guitar solo that then becomes a duet between the guitar and cello showing off the skills of the other members, and then leads into a crescendo of vocals, harmonies, and instruments. That is until I’ll completes the song with the same question and in a similar soft vocal of the beginning, “Shall we go to the ocean?”

Sources

호피폴라 Hoppipolla. “Hoppipolla – Your Ocean.” YouTube. 20 Jan 2021. https://youtu.be/2OPsHmrWQ7I (22 March 2022).

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WWLT, Vol. 2, No. 3 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Featured

WWLT, Vol. 2, No. 2

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Welcome to 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 analyses of tracks by Super Junior, ATEEZ, Shinhwa, TVXQ!, Sam Kim, Suho, B.I., and Jo Jung Suk by members of HWAITING!, KPK’s K-pop music research accelerator.

Super Junior, “Why I Like You,” Sorry, Sorry (2009)

Ngan Tran

The year is 2009. Super Junior still has 13 members. (Deep breath and say it with me now: Leeteuk, Heechul, Hangeng, Yesung, Kangin, Shindong, Sungmin, Eunhyuk, Siwon, Donghae, Ryeowook, Kibum, Kyuhyun!) Everybody is rubbing their hands together and apologizing without really meaning it to the addictive tune of “Sorry, Sorry.” Indeed, four years into their career, the group gave K-pop one of the most iconic songs in existence with the release of their third album Sorry, Sorry. We all know how great the title track is, so this review will be dedicated to the slightly underappreciated B-side off of the album: “Why I Like You.”

The song is written by Shiro, with music composed by Jimmy Burney, Steven Lee, Sean Alexander (Avenue 52), and Pascal Guyon. Steven Lee also handled the production. Coming right after the earworm title track, “Why I Like You” has a lot to live up to – and it wastes no time in getting to the point. It is a moody dance number, driven by a thumping drum beat and catchy guitar loop. What’s so great about straightforward pop music like this is how it creates an atmosphere of urgency and tension that begs to be resolved. And the climax comes, like an overflowing confession of love, in the bridge leading to the soaring final chorus. Ryeowook’s bright, youthful timbre and the honeyed warmth of Kyuhyun’s voice sound especially gorgeous together here, stacking another layer of emotional pain on top. This is the sound that Super Junior excelled in early in their career, and would be explored further in the brooding, dramatic “It’s You,” the lead single to their repackage album later that year.

Nearly 13 years down the line, perhaps the biggest strength of “Why I Like You” lies in the sheer nostalgia of it. Okay, it’s mostly the gratuitous autotune on their vocals. But as time goes by, the autotune adds a special charm to the song, reminding you of a time when things were simpler. When it was 2009, and Super Junior still had 13 members…

MBCkpop. “Super Junior – Why I Like You, 슈퍼주니어 – 니가 좋은 이유, Music Core 20090314.” YouTube. 7 February 2012. https://youtu.be/7hgqPXXQ_GI. (4 February 2022).

SMTOWN. “SUPER JUNIOR 슈퍼주니어 ‘너라고 (It’s You)’ MV.” YouTube. 8 June 2009.  https://youtu.be/7ErgffP0wVw. (4 February 2022).

ATEEZ, “Answer,” Treasure Epilogue: Action to Answer (2020)

Andrew Ty

“Answer” is the lead single of the release that concludes the “Treasure” concept around which ATEEZ debuted in 2018. Despite two years of narrative and thematic buildup, the anthemic power of the song itself makes it a striking introduction for anyone new to the sound of the group’s eight members: Hongjoong, Minji, Seonghwa, Yunho, Yeosang, San, Woosung, and Jongho. 

ATEEZ rappers Hongjoong and Minji contributed lyrics to music strongly shaped by Ollounder and LEEZ who both wrote, composed, and arranged the song, alongside EDEN on writing and composing and BUDDY on composing and arranging. “Answer” eschews the heavy guitars so essential for the songs that LEEZ and Ollounder make for Dreamcatcher. Instead, the synths in the ATEEZ song generate an EDM sound tinged with slight hints of Latin pop and hip-hop parts. 

“Answer” still rocks hard though, less club-friendly and more arena-ready. The crucial element is a melodic component where the song’s hook is placed front and center with the song beginning with the chorus from singers San and Jongho. San’s part, when it reappears, switches to Seonghwa, and a new addition to the chorus, punctuated by an epic group “oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh,” introduces Wooyoung in a single line that nevertheless stands out for its catchy phrasing: “불러 불러 우릴 지금 불러” (“bulleo bulleo uril jigeum bulleo”).

The song has many other elements to it: the transitions from  Hongjoong’s rap parts to those of Minji are thrilling and Yunho has a pre-chorus chant made memorable for how its percussive feel creates tension for the chorus to release, but the chorus is really a standout, for both its composition and its position within the song’s structure.

Many of the singles released prior to “Answer” share a trademark sound that clearly identifies ATEEZ music: larger-than-life emotions expressed musically through in-your-face compositions often built around the darkness of a predominantly minor-key tonality. Steadfast commitment to this musical identity is a strong part of the group’s appeal. “Answer” is no exception, but I feel it also achieves something different.

When ATEEZ performed a rearrangement of this song for the Mnet show Kingdom: Legendary War, choral parts from Beethoven’s 9th Symphony (“Ode to Joy”) performed by South Korean classically-trained vocal group La Poem were combined with chugging rock guitars. The result was pretty much symphonic metal performed by K-pop idols on television, a dual gesture to the grandiose emotionality of Romanticism and the arena-ready sounds of metal. As impressive as that was, they are simply enhancements that made explicit the power the original recording of “Answer” already possessed. 

Sources

Stone Music Entertainment. “ATEEZ (에이티즈) – ‘Answer’ Official MV.” YouTube. 06 January 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dTT3MRODUsA. (07 February 2022).
Mnet K-POP. “[풀버전] ♬ Answer : Ode to Joy – 에이티즈(ATEEZ).” 27 May 2021. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YDOYmJedFF8. (14 February 2022).

Shinhwa, “T.O.P (Twinkling of Paradise),” T.O.P (1999)

N Lina An

The sudden sforzando to the trembling sounds of the strings before the oboe comes in, almost lament-like. Suddenly, synthesized sounds echo that melodic lament, and the drum beat drops before the rap takes place. The melody to the opening of Act 2 from Tchaikovsky’s famous ballet Swan Lake Op. 20 is synonymous in K-pop, belonging to the longest surviving idol group, Shinhwa. Shinhwa has 6-members (Eric, Minwoo, Dongwan, Hyesung, Junjin and Andy) debuted under SM Entertainment on 24th March 1998.  T.O.P is an acronym for Twinkling of Paradise, written by SM’s resident composer Yoo Youngjin with lyrics by both Yoo and member Eric was released in 1999 in their second studio album also titled T.O.P.

There are 2 main themes to the slightly less than 3-minutes opening of the ballet. T.O.P samples both themes, using them in different sections of the song. In fact, Shinhwa’s melody of the chorus is the first melodic theme, and the second melodic theme is heard in the bridge when member Hyesung sings 니가돌아오는 길에 내가 서있을게. The lyrics itself presents multiple uses of acronyms, most of which may not present any proper English meaning to it, but merely a rhyme to the song title itself. Some of the meanings to the acronyms were briefly mentioned in a group interview in 2012, showing SM Entertainment’s heavy use of acronyms in their early days (for example H.O.T, S.E.S).

In the music video, all members wear white against a backdrop of greenery dancing on what looks like a lake. The choreography incorporated what looks like movements of swans, but it was mostly towards the hip-hop/dance genre of which the group is known for.

Sources
Shinhwa Official. T.O.P. Twinkling of paradise (audio only).  Youtube. 2 Aug 2019.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kE9TXY4gazk (Accessed on 12 Feb 2022)

SHINHWASubs&Cuts. SHINHWA (신화) – T.O.P. (Twinkling Of Paradise). 12 Nov 2013. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ORFX3yIe6Kw (Accessed on 12 Feb 2022)
Note: meaning of acronyms are in the video descriptionMarcel Simader. Tchaikovsky – Swan Lake Ballet, Act II, Op. 20 (Sheet Music). Youtube. 28 March 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q_kJosheX7k&t=0s (Accessed on 12 Feb 2022)

TVXQ!, “Maximum,” Keep Your Head Down (2011)

Mariam Elba

TVXQ!, acronym for Rising Gods of the East (or Dong Bang Shin Ki, Tohoshinki in Japanese), released this album over 10 years ago, their first since becoming a duo (Max, Shim Chang-min, and U-Know, Lee Yun-ho– the group was originally a quintet but splintered in 2010).  The album set the stage for how TVXQ would move forward in their new circumstances. “Maximum,” written, composed, and arranged by the frequent SM Entertainment songwriter Yoo Young-jin, is the third song off the album. The song starts with gayageum (a Korean zither) in its intro, then shifts into a high-energy dance-pop song mixing in traditional exclamations (“ulsooh!”), held together by bass drum and clapping rhythm. The lyrics prominently portray overcoming hardship and developing a pride and love for oneself. A notable aspect of the chorus is the chanting of: “소리쳐! 너는 세상에서 제일 아름답다!” or in English, “Scream! You’re the most beautiful in the world!” 

As the duo affirmed in their recent performance of “Rising Sun,” at SMTOWN: SMCU Express 2021, their brand of pop, frequently mixed with orchestral arrangements, hip-hop, and R&B with some of the most elaborate choreography from their contemporaries, and continues to stand out and influence contemporary K-pop. “Maximum” had its live debut at SMTOWN 2010, the first TVXQ performance since the quintet split. It was received well by fans and reviewers, Soompi described the song as “a great fusion number tying Eastern and Western elements into one.” SeoulBeats praised the song, calling it “ it’s dynamic without being heavy or overdramatic.”

Mnet K-POP “TVXQ_Intro+Maximum.” YouTube. 11 February 2011. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sJyLqUS3wjg. (Accessed 02/14/2022) 

TVXQ! “Maximum.” Youtube. 2 August 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QWKkc3JwRAE. (Accessed 02/14/2022)

Sam Kim, “The One,” Sun and Moon (2018)

Nykeah Parham

If the neo-soul genre was looking for a new generation to which to pass the torch, one person emerges to the forefront in the name, vocals, and musicality of Sam Kim. Sam Kim first stepped into the K-pop scene as the runner-up to SBS’ reality competition show, K-pop Star 3, which debuted names like Bernard Park, Jamie Park, Akdong Musician (AKMU), Lee Hi, and Winner’s Hoony. After signing with the legendary Yu Hee-yeol’s label, Antenna Music, Kim released his debut EP, I Am Sam, in 2016 which featured collaborations with R&B singer, Crush, and labelmates Kwon Jin-ah, Lee Jin-ah, and Jung Seung-hwan. His debut could have prepared listeners for his first studio album, Sun and Moon; however, as the lyrics to his song “The One” says, listeners are already “in deep” and cannot let go.

“The One” is the epitome of Sam’s musical style and playfulness with a genre, lyrics, and language. Composed and arranged from the minds of Sam, producer and keyboardist, Hong So-jin (aka Hong Ttochi/Hong Ttochi Soulchild, because that says a lot about her), and Jukjae (initially known for his work as a former guitarist and arranger for IU, Taeyeon, AKMU and Sam Kim), this B-side track invites listeners to this intimate and wistful confession of Sam’s. Albeit short, the track has a kind of start-and-stop, push-and-pull flow with the drumbeat, complete silence, and vocals. It seems quiet at first, but around the first chorus, trumpets, brass, and saxophones are introduced. Lyrically, Sam begins in all Korean, and then whips in the English where both languages play on the rhythm of the bass and drums. Every few seconds of the song, there is a beat drop that creates this bass and snare snap and groove that continues throughout the entire song. It’s difficult to not dance, groove, snap, or bob your head to this. 

In the middle of the track, there is another beat drop pause that, at first, only allows Sam to repeat the words, “I know.” He does this in a way that is reminiscent of Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” (1971) and it seems listeners are finally in on this hidden joke of love. He laughs joyously and knows exactly what to do with that guitar solo, particularly in the live performance of this song. Sam must be in something “better than dreaming” since he “won’t sleep” and “won’t dream.” So, “catch [him] if you can, Z, Z, Z.”

Sources

안테나 Antenna. “샘김 Sam Kim ‘The One’ / Live Performance.” YouTube. 08 March 2019. https://youtu.be/kvyq6JKOyME. (Accessed 14 February 2022).

안테나 Antenna. “샘김 Sam Kim ‘The One’|Official Audio.” YouTube. 27 November 2018. https://youtu.be/qqyMt6PdHtc. (Accessed 14 February 2022).
Bill Withers. “Bill Withers – Ain’t No Sunshine (Official Audio).” YouTube. 12 June 2015. https://youtu.be/YuKfiH0Scao. (Accessed 14 February 2022).

Suho, “O2”, Self-Portrait (2020)

Vitoria F. Doretto

In his debut as a soloist, Suho, the leader of the Sino-Korean group EXO, brings a mini-album full of poetry and heart, and it is not different in “O2”, the first track of Self-Portrait, an album with concept and visual style inspired by Vincent van Gogh.

Along with “사랑, 하자 (Let’s Love)”, “Made In You”, “암막 커튼 (Starry Night)”, “자화상 (Self-Portrait)”, and “너의 차례 (For You Now)”, featuring Younha, “O2” is a powerful and emotional track. As Conway (2020) said, “the heart of Suho’s vulnerable self-portrait is his emotional lyrics,” and “O2” provides a picture of some of the complex emotions that the idol overflows in the album. Titled after the chemical formula of oxygen, the song starts calmingly, almost like holding the breath before the start, and some seconds pass until his voice washes over us, singing about lovers who need each other like oxygen. Suho’s words soothe the listener; wrap in tranquility, comfort, and peace. It is like a breath of fresh air. Merging breath and water, Suho is capable of transporting us to a beautiful beach immersed in a dream-like reality.

The track is a dreamy, slow-tempo acoustic pop song with string instruments and was written by Ryan Colt Levy, Bryan Cho, Cliff Lin, and Suho himself and arranged by Lin, Levy, and Cho.

Sources

EXO. “SUHO 수호 ‘O2’ Live Session.” YouTube. 30 March 2020. www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Ydjda6SBlQ (10 February 2022).
Conway, Sara. “Suho Blends Musical & Artistic Inspiration with “Self-Portrait”.” Seoulbeats. 5 April 2020. https://seoulbeats.com/2020/04/suho-blends-musical-artistic-inspiration-with-self-portrait/ (13 February 2022)

B.I, “해변 (illa illa)” WATERFALL (2021)

Luisa do Amaral

25-year-old rapper B.I has often remarked on the importance of movies and poetry in his songwriting, as means of experiencing, feeling or articulating things he hasn’t experienced for himself, but that can result in vivid images and evoke strong feelings from listeners. The song “illa illa”, released on 1 June, 2021 as lead single of his first full-length album, is no exception to his style of painting strong images – the song’s Korean title 해변 [haebyeon] means “beach”; the English title, although a nonexistent word, bears close resemblance to the Korean ideophones that represent the undulating movement of waves. The whole track, along with its cinematic music video, make use of seaside metaphors to talk about finding yourself washed up on the shore after nearly being swallowed by the waves of an ocean which, in this story, is made of his own tears – “at the end of my sleeves there’s a beach/ because of the tears that I wiped from my cheeks.” This specific metaphor, which structures the song, was taken from the poem “The Taste Of Candy And Beach” [사탕과 해변의 맛] by poet Seo Yun-hoo.

Originally the leader of 7-member boy group iKON, which debuted under K-pop powerhouse YG Entertainment in 2015, he was credited for every release of the group up until his departure, in mid-2019, being awarded “Songwriter of the Year” in 2018 at the Melon Music Awards, one of South Korea’s major awards shows, after their megahit “Love Scenario”, crowned “Song of The Year” at two major award shows that same year. Much like “Love Scenario”, “illa illa” doesn’t come across as particularly happy nor sad on a first listen; the production favors a minimalist approach, but without ever losing depth, with enough room for the layering of sounds to boost the vocals to an echoed atmosphere that intensifies a catchy chorus that perfectly encapsulates the spirit of the song. However, unlike his movie-inspired songwriting, these lyrics feel very personal; when  his album was released, B.I was still under public scrutiny due to allegations of illegal drug purchases, the reason for his withdrawal from his former group and agency. Though still awaiting final sentencing when the song came out, in the swirling of waves, as much as it is about the sinking, “illa illa” is about the emerging; like Kat Moon (2021) writes for TIME, “On the other side of the water is dry land, and in the song’s final verses the artist triumphantly sings of not shedding new tears. “Though I know it will crumble/ I’ll probably build a sandcastle again,” he declares. With the breadth and depth of emotions he conveys, B.I. shows he’s as much a storyteller as he is a songwriter.” The music and arrangement are also credited to Millennium, Sihwang, Kang Uk-jin and Diggy, who had previously worked with B.I in iKON, as well as other artists associated with YG Entertainment, such as AKMU, WINNER and Lee Hi. 

Sources

B.I. “해변 (illa illa).” YouTube. 1 Jun 2021.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5GaVA3ebKCo  (14 Feb 2022)

iKON. “‘사랑을 했다(LOVE SCENARIO).” YouTube. 25 Jan 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vecSVX1QYbQ (14 Feb 2022)

Moon, Kat. “The Best K-Pop Songs of 2021 So Far” TIME, 1 Jul. 2021, https://time.com/6077450/best-kpop-songs-2021/ Accessed 14 Feb. 2022.

조정석 (Jo Jung Suk). “Aloha,” (2020)—cover of original song “Aloha” by Cool, (2001)

H. Lee Otto

Actor Jo Jung Suk (조정석) showcases his musical talents on the OST (original soundtrack) of popular drama series Hospital Playlist (슬기로운 의사생활), earning a top spot on Melon charts 20 days following its release (Soompi, 2020). As the lead vocalist of the series’ hobby band ensemble, Jo’s character Ik-Jun covers “Aloha,” an earlier K-pop track by the band Cool (쿨), reminiscing his days in medical school with his closest friends and band members.

Whereas Cool recorded “Aloha” as a duet with a male and female part, Jo covers the song solo, perhaps reflective of the memory of unrequited love that is a prevalent theme within Hospital Playlist. “Aloha” lies between pure pop and ballad, as its lyrics are directed toward a lover in a wholesome and devoted romance typical of a ballad (You light up my life/you’re the one in my life), while the tempo is more playful and upbeat. In the original song, Cool released Aloha in 2001 as part of album First Whisper under the label SM Entertainment (Stanley, 2014). Cool member Yuri provided female vocals while both Lee Jae Hoon and Kim Sung Soo provided male vocals.   

The feature of a recording artist in new K-drama series has become an expectation of the genre, such that a contemporary OST (original soundtrack) does not lack a popular K-pop artist or emerging soloist. As Oh (2021) notes in her work regarding this pop culture strategy, “[d]rama characters and K-pop idols…affect people through their affective labor, encouraging them to engage in other types of affective labor such as transmitting the appreciation of media content throughout diverse media” (p. 16). However, unlike other featured soloists on an OST, Jo’s background is in broadway and theatre, debuting in The Nutcracker in 2004, and then moving to big screen features and series in 2012 (Rakuten Viki, n.d.). The acclaim for Jo’s cover of Aloha, sung by a star with formal musical training, perhaps makes Aloha a surprise to many, including Jo himself (Soompi 2020).  

The threads that compose the calculated and complex cultural fabric of the contemporary K-drama collectively mobilize central areas of pop culture, national pride, and economy. The convergence of South Korea pop culture media in the K drama can be seen as a historiographic enterprise, archiving a nation’s pop culture media, which did not hold the same significance in official history until recently. The valorization of Korean pop culture in music is seen in the Melon charts, as well as in series such as Hospital Playlist, which showcases K-pop contextualized in time. 

Sources

Cho Jung Seok. “Aloha.” YouTube. 26 March 2020. https://youtu.be/3DOkxQ3HDXE (7 February 2022). 

Cool. “Aloha” YouTube. 15 January 2015. https://youtu.be/004x09gOAJI (14 February 2022).

Rakuten Viki. “Jo Jung Suk – 조정석.” n.d. https://www.viki.com/celebrities/15574pr-jo-jung-suk?locale=en (25 February 2022).

Oh, Youjeong. (2021). Pop City. Cornell University Press. Kindle Edition.

Soompi.  “Jo Jung Suk Expresses Surprise and Happiness Over Chart Success of His “Hospital  Playlist” OST.” 16 Apr 2020, https://www.soompi.com/article/1394735wpp/jo-jung-suk-expresses-surprise-and-happiness-over-chart-success-of-his-hospital-playlist-ost (Accessed 10 February 2022. 

Stanley, Adrienne. 2014 Aug 30.   https://www.kpopstarz.com/articles/107129/20140831/k-pop-rewind-cool-aloha.htm (26 February 2022).

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WWLT, Vol. 2, No. 2 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Into the New World: Research Suggests Multi-Fandom the Norm for Veteran K-pop Fans

Source: Pixabay

While it may seem that the current norm in K-pop is single-fandom (the tendency to support just one artist), data suggests that older K-pop fans started and continue to be multi-fandom. This may be another way the overall K-pop fandom has shifted in the past few years.

With the rise of K-pop groups, their individual fandoms have also garnered more attention, leading some to focus on using a single fandom to define K-pop fandom in general. However, 316 responses collected between April 29, 2011 and March 4, 2015 suggest that K-pop fans of that era exhibited very different behaviors and attitudes. Respondents were asked the open-ended question, “How did you become interested in K-pop?”

Many respondents related their entrance into K-pop with specific groups, and overwhelmingly with one group in particular: SHINee. Other high recurring groups include BigBang, Super Junior and TVXQ. Rain was the most-cited solo artist. What is interesting is that these groups all debuted between 2003 and 2009. The first responses collected in 2011, so none of these groups were brand new to the K-pop scene at the time that respondents encountered them. For this generation of K-pop fan, the appeal of K-pop was asynchronous, meaning that individuals became fans, not as a result of debut promotion or marketing, but by other means.

More importantly, respondents routinely noted that once they discovered one K-pop group, they were motivated to look for additional groups. One noted, “My friend showed me SHINee’s Lucifer video, and I was immediately addicted to them.  So then I started looking up other groups too.”  Another responded wrote: “I started listening to more BigBang, and then other groups such as 2NE1 and SHINee, and then read a ton of Wikipedia pages about different groups and record labels and learned about the training system that K-pop stars go through before debuting. I also started watching variety shows that K-pop idols appear on, and find that whole concept really interesting too.” I call this phenomenon branching.

Some respondents go through a great deal of effort to expand to additional K-pop groups. One respondent explained how a search to find one K-pop song led to more: “However, the obsession didn’t just stop with that song. During the many hours that I spent trying to find the name of that song, I discovered many other catchy tunes and fell in love with a new genre of music that I had never heard of before.”  Several respondents use the term “research” to describe the activity of looking for more K-pop groups:  “I became interested in K-pop when I accidentally happened upon a Super Junior song on YouTube about 3-4 years ago. I don’t remember what song it was. But after I heard it I was thinking… Wow. This is good stuff. I want more. I wanna hear more. I researched, found more groups I absolutely fell in love with. Then 2-3 years ago, I found Big Bang, followed by 2NE1. And now all of the other amazing groups I love.”

For some, the quest for more K-pop groups takes them to other forms of Korean entertainment. K-drama and K-pop are linked, as members of K-pop groups often star in Korean television dramas and perform on soundtracks for the shows. One respondent noted:  “I happened across Kdramas and liked an actor in it. I found out he was a singer and then discovered other singers, groups, bands, etc.” Another explained:  “Hulu.com recommended a Kdrama to me called “Boys over Flowers” and as I became more interested in the characters and the OST for the show, I started to look up various actors/singers on YouTube.”

And while “idols” may be the way many are introduced to K-pop, the phenomenon of branching may take fans far afield. One respondent wrote:  “I think, what’s 2pm? I think my friend had mentioned groups named 2pm and 2am to me before, and I thought they were silly names. But I really liked Jason in Dream High, so I decided to look up this Wooyoung on YouTube. That day I discovered my love for K-pop. I became a hardcore Hottest, and expanded the groups and genres I listened to little by little until I was listening to anything from rap to pop to ballads to indie. All in a language I can’t completely understand.”

One respondent summed up the branching phenomenon with this formula:

JPop = discovered Tohoshinki = wiki = O.O = OMG! = google other kpop artists

Such findings suggest earlier generations of K-pop fans tend to develop more broad interests in K-pop that go beyond one group, while more contemporary fans seem to be more devoted to single groups. By only focusing exclusively on one group, they may be less knowledgeable about the larger K-pop and as a result may have distorted perceptions of it.  These findings also support  earlier findings that point to a more diverse general K-pop fandom, one that at the very least, is made up of those who support individual K-pop groups and those who support K-pop in general. Both may be needed for the continued viability of K-pop. Such findings reveal fan behavior that suggests that the appeal of K-pop is more complicated.  The K-pop landscape continues to change.

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Into the New World: Research Suggests Multi-fandom the Norm for Veteran K-pop Fans by Crystal S. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

REVISED Last Fans Standing: Veteran Fans of K-pop

Crystal S. Anderson, PhD

Associate Professor of English, Longwood University

One of the things that happens when conducting qualitative surveys is that they can raise more questions than they answer. This is what happened with the preliminary data from Last Fans Standing: Longtime and Adult Fans of Korean Popular Music (K-pop). Response rates were unusually low, which was unusual given the rising number of fans who have been fans for more than five years. I speculated that respondents may think that only adult fans who had also been fans for five years or more could take the survey. So, I revised the survey to focus solely on veteran fans of K-pop, individuals who had been fans for five years or more. This means all you fans of ZE:A, CN Blue, SISTAR, Infinite, Miss A, Teen Top, Nine Muses, T-ara, f(x), BEAST/Highlight, SHINee, UKISS, 2PM, IU, Wonder Girls, KARA, FT. Island, Girls’ Generation, SS501, Super Junior, BoA, Dynamic Duo, Epik High, Lee Hyori, Kangta, Se7en, TVXQ, K. Will, Big Bang, 2NE1, 4Minute, Fly to the Sky, g.o.d, H.O.T, Jinusean, S.E.S, Sechs Kies, Shinhwa, and any other group that debuted more than 5 years ago need to get on it!

The revised survey can be found here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/vetfans

Fault Lines in Transcultural Fandom

Stock photo from Pixabay
                                                                           Stock photo from Pixabay

Crystal S. Anderson, PhD

Associate Professor of English, Longwood University

A recent clash of opinions over the status of Kangin, a member of the Korean pop group Super Junior, exposes fault lines that can occur with transcultural fandoms.

SM Entertainment issued a statement about Kangin’s recent DUI accident.  Not satisfied with the common period of self-reflection that typically follows a scandal,  a group of Korean fans created a petition to have Kangin leave the group entirely. Citing Kangin’s previous drunk driving incident and other controversies, the fans argue that Kangin’s continued presence will damage the group’s reputation:   “We see this series of acts not benefiting Super Junior’s image and career at all. Instead we view them as actions that only cause damage. From our position as fans who support Super Junior, we cannot help but discuss this issue that will influence their image greatly” (soompi).    However, comments on soompi’s Facebook post for the story reveals criticism of those who support Kangin’s departure. This is typical of several posts:  “Not true fans of Super Junior, if they want Kangin to leave the group.”

Such opinions reveal fault lines in the fandom that fall along lines of national identity. The original petition was brought by members of the Korean community site DC Inside, which cannot be accessed by those outside of Korea. While all who support Kangin’s departure are not Korean, the non-fan and anti-fan characterization of those who do certainly applies to the Korean fans who created the petition. Such statements overlook the contextualization of these fans. Operating within Korean culture, they reveal the danger they see to the reputation to the group, which plays differently inside of Korea than it does outside of Korea.  Subtly, fans who criticize the Korean petitioners ignore the Korean context and unwittingly impose their own cultural expectations.

Bertha Chin and Lori Hitchcock Morimoto argue that transcultural fandom offers “the possibility that a fannish orientation may (at times) supersede national, regional and/or geographical boundaries” (99). This certainly describes times when the transcultural fandom is in agreement. However, controversies often reveal how national perspectives inform how fans interact with one another over a controversy. Fandoms contend with notions of authenticity generally, creating hierarchies to determine who is a “real” fan. However, a scandal seems to make these existing fault lines even more pronounced.

With no in-depth knowledge of the petitioners, some fans question their identity as real fans. This is particularly odd given the history of the E.L.Fs, or Everlasting Friends, the Super Junior fandom. These fans reportedly have a history of taking action surrounding the membership of the group. Reportedly, they protested at SM Entertainment when it appeared the agency planned to add additional members to the group. Others have suggested that E.L.F’s pooled their money to buy SM Entertainment stock to become stockholders and have a say in such decisions. Documentation of such events are difficult to locate, but such stories point to the tendency for this particular fandom to be deeply concerned about the membership of the group. Moreover, given that this is a Korean pop group, it is intriguing that fans largely outside of Korea would question the fan identity of the petitioners.

Sources:

Adrian. “Some Fans ‘Abandon’ Kangin; Ask Him to Leave Super Junior.” hellokpop. 26 May 2016.

Chin, Bertha and Lori Hitchcock Morimoto. “Towards a Theory of Transcultural Fandom.” Participations: Journal of Audience & Reception Studies. 10.1 (2013): 92-108.

Soompi. “Do you think 슈퍼주니어(Super Junior)‘s Kangin should leave the group?” Facebook. 26 May 2016.

kokoberry. “SM Entertainment Releases Official Statement About Kangin’s DUI Accident.” soompi. 24 May 2016.

kokoberry. “Super Junior Fans Petition for Kangin to Leave Group.” soompi. 25 May 2016.

 

 

Fan Commentary: Nostalgia and Fly to the Sky

Fan Commentary: Nostalgia and Fly to the Sky

Fly to the Sky
Fly to the Sky

Crystal S. Anderson, PhD

Associate Professor of English, Longwood University

As their 2014 comeback shows, Fly to the Sky (FTTS) remains a potent force in K-pop, even after a five-year hiatus. However, even before the rumors of a comeback, the group was ever-present in the minds of fans, who recalled Fly to the Sky’s emotional impact and place in K-pop history.

A review of 361 YouTube comments posted between 2006 and 2011 on videos uploaded to YouTube show a lingering sense of nostalgia for the group.  These comments appeared on uploaded videos for “Day By Day” (music video), “Sea of Love” (performance and music video), “Condition of the Heart” (music video, performance and audio), “Missing You” (music video, performance and audio) and “Habit” (performance).

Some still associate even veteran K-pop groups with American boy bands from the 1990s.  Most frequently, viewers compare Fly to the Sky to the Backstreet Boys (BSB). bgurl1210 explains:

vujonny89 stated that FTTS are the Korean version of BSB. And ForeverJunjin wondered y she or he chose BSB rather than NSYNC. I was explaining that being compared to BSB is a compliment. NSYNC was never really praised for the outstanding vocal abilities. They were more known for their dance songs than their vocal abilities. IMO, JC was the strongest singer of the group. BSB is considered by many as a true vocal/a capella group and have been praised for them. That’s what I mean.

However, other commentators reflect a more emotional attachment to the group that they associate with the past. Sometimes, such nostalgia relates to how long one has been a fan and the length of FTTS’s career.  hyegyo1 writes: “THE song [Missing You] that made me a FTTS fan and brought me into K-pop way back then… Am forever in love with this song and this duo.” Similarly, Amy L writes: “Miss them. I’m just looking forward to Hwany finishing his military service and FTTS releasing their new album. I’ve been a huge fan of them for more than 7 years, and I will always be their big supporter. Love you guys.” These are sentiments of long-time fans of the group, who follow their activities even during periods of inactivity. Other comments relate the group’s emotional impact in terms of personal memories related to FTTS’s music. Jenny Leem relates: “Wah. I finally found it [MIssing You]. My parents used to play this song when we went on road trips and I didn’t know its name or who it was by I just really loved the song… But I found it! I’m so happy ^^”

In addition to nostalgia, fans also recognize FTTS as a pioneer in K-pop and an influence on newer K-pop groups. Beating the odds that befall many K-pop idol groups, such as the so-called “five-year curse,” where male groups would disband or be dissolved by agencies in the light of mandatory military service, FTTS’s decade-long career is also reflected in its impact on other K-pop groups.

Their songs have been covered by a variety of K-pop groups and singers. These covers not only show the group’s lasting impact, but also the way they bring new fans to FTTS. Perhaps owing to the time FTTS spend on the label, SM Entertainment artists tend to cover their songs frequently. Yesung of Super Junior and Jonghyun of SHINee covered Fly to the Sky songs at the SM Town concert in Los Angeles in 2010. MissAshleyCakes notes how the cover of FTTS’s “Sea of Love” changed her perception of the group: “If Yesung and Jonghyun wouldn’t have sang this song at the SM TOWN concert in LA I would have NEVER found this song! I was never a big fan of Fly To the Sky. I only knew 1 song by them.. But now that I’ve heard this song by them, I love them! They are an amazing band! BRIAN<3.”  D.O of EXO and Ryeowook of Super Junior, covered Fly to the Sky’s “Missing You” during the SM Town show in Seoul in 2014, as well as on the Sukira radio show in 2013. haz reen writes: “I was looking for the original version of this song . And here I am. Big thanks to D.O and Ryeong who brought me here. I love both version ok.” Other artists cover Fly to the Sky songs as well. K-pop male group ZE:A, with the Star Empire Entertainment agency, performed Fly to the Sky’s “Missing You” live on MBC in 2014.  “Missing You” was chosen for performance as part of The Voice of Korea television show.

With frequent criticisms that K-pop is a fad or a passing trend, such comments during Fly to the Sky’s inactive period shows how fans feel a sense of nostalgia for K-pop groups. FTTS emerges as a foundation Korean R&B group, one that fans refer to with nostalgia and as elders to more contemporary idol groups.

Image: “Fly to the Sky (Soompi),” Hallyu Harmony, accessed April 20, 2015, http://kpop.omeka.net/items/show/452.

Sources

bgurl1210, comment on theaptidah, “Fly to the Sky – Sea of Love,” YouTube, June 20, 2006, http://youtu.be/CtkQ1F_Xe5c.

hyegyo1, comment on uws, “Fly to the Sky – Missing You (Live),” YouTube, May 26, 2006, http://youtu.be/JrNLbMAK-kk.

Amy L, comment on doolielove, “Fly To The Sky- Day by Day,” YouTube, January 6, 2009, http://youtu.be/uFhubvJhCKE.

Jenny Leem, comment on uws, “Fly to the Sky – Missing You (Live),” YouTube, May 26, 2006, http://youtu.be/JrNLbMAK-kk.

MissAshleyCakes, comment on theaptidah, “Fly to the Sky – Sea of Love,” YouTube, June 20, 2006, http://youtu.be/CtkQ1F_Xe5c.

haz reen, comment on Kuiskaava, “[DL] Fly To The Sky – Missing You,” YouTube, January 13, 2011, http://youtu.be/tWTq_PMXfBE.

 

Like Vs. Love: Research Reveals Degrees of Attachment Among K-pop Fans

K-pop is well-known for the introduction of new groups, even while established groups continue to thrive. But are fans fickle in their K-pop choices? Do they abandon older groups for newer groups? Research suggests that while K-pop fans readily accept new groups, they have a deeper connection with veteran groups. These conclusions are based on data collected online through the Hallyu Korean Music Survey, part of a five-year study on international K-pop fans by Crystal S. Anderson.

The survey asks respondents to check all of the K-pop groups they like from a pre-determined list. This list emerged from earlier research that revealed a group of K-pop artists that global fans consistently identified as their favorites.  Out of 5099 responses from 282 respondents, the following groups represent the top 10:

  1. BigBang
  2. 2NE1
  3. SHINee
  4. Super Junior
  5. f(x)
  6. BEAST/B2ST
  7. MBLAQ
  8. B.A.P
  9. SNSD/Girls’ Generation
  10. TVXQ/DBSK

Respondents were then asked to name any group they liked not found in the predetermined list.  Out of 1229 responses from 237 respondents, the top 10 responses were:

  1. EXO
  2. Block B
  3. BTOB
  4. B1A4
  5. VIXX
  6. NU’EST
  7. Teen Top
  8. BTS
  9. SISTAR
  10. Secret

Respondents were then asked to list their three favorite K-pop groups. Out of 788 responses from 268 respondents, the top 10 responses were:

  1. BigBang
  2. SHINee
  3. EXO
  4. Super Junior
  5. Infinite
  6. 2NE1
  7. SNSD/Girls’ Generation
  8. JYJ
  9. MBLAQ
  10. TVXQ

This data suggests that K-pop fans are receptive to newer K-pop male groups. Nearly all of the groups not included in the predetermined list are groups that debuted after 2010. Female groups continue to lag behind, probably due to the fact that most K-pop groups that debut are male. However, established K-pop groups dominate when fans are asked to identify their favorite K-pop groups.  This list mirrors the predetermined list, which suggests that the longer the group has been active, more connected fans feel to the group.  Infinite has become a group that fans consistently say they like, replacing a group like BEAST/B2ST, which may have been out of the spotlight for a period of time. The notable exception is EXO, who fans identify as a group that they live and a favorite group. EXO debuted in 2011, and has managed to create a level of fan loyalty equal to more established K-pop groups.

So, what does this mean? It seems to suggest that fans of K-pop make choices about the degree of their fan loyalty based on the longevity of the group. K-pop group longevity (or how long a group has been active) makes a difference to fans. This has long-term implications for how K-pop continues to be promoted. Agencies who focus on churning out new groups without cultivating the fandom may see less of an impact than agencies who take time to establish a long-term fan relationship between artists and fans. Such activities may include creating the fan name so that fans can identify with a particular group, creating behind-the-scene shows where fans can see artists when they are not performing, and creating other opportunities for artists to remain in the public eye, such as endorsements and television appearances.

Images:

“BigBang, Love Song (Korea.com),” Hallyu Harmony, accessed July 14, 2014, http://kpop.omeka.net/items/show/347.

“EXO, Promo Dark Sky (seoulbeats),” Hallyu Harmony, accessed July 14, 2014, http://kpop.omeka.net/items/show/369.

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Like Vs. Love: Research Reveals Degrees of Attachment Among K-pop Fans by Crystal S. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Hallyu Harmony Update: Super Junior, It’s You Dance Version

SUPERJUNIOR_kpophotline
The choreography for “It’s You” demonstrates several strategies that showcase the dance moves of the 11 members of Super Junior featured in this video.  The video uses the large number of members, repeatedly breaking them up into smaller groups to perform choreography and punctuating the overall choreography with synchronized dancing and individualized performances. . . . Read more and see video at Hallyu Harmony.

Bring The Boys Out!: Fan Attitudes on Male Kpop Groups Differ

Big Band and Super Junior
Big Bang and Super Junior

By Crystal S. Anderson, PhD

Elon University, NC (U.S).

Some people think that male K-pop groups are all the same. However, research suggests that fans differ in their attitudes towards individual male K-pop groups. Responses collected from fans of Super Junior and BigBang reveal that they also hold different opinions on their music and group dynamic.  Such responses suggest that while some do not distinguish between male K-pop groups, fans do.

Media Representations of Male K-pop Groups

Because many male K-pop groups are idol groups, they tend to be painted with the same broad, generalized brush.  Sometimes, they are described as being too similar to each other. An editorial in The Korea Times, suggests that people “seem fed up with similar ‘idol’ dance groups cropping up like mushroom[s].”

Other times, they are seen as promoting the same musical style or image.  Part of this is attributed to the training program Korean agencies use for idols. Solee I. Shin and Lanu Kim argue that “constant monitoring of the tastes and preferences of the consumers and factoring the successful elements back into the products. . . [make] successful products increasingly predictable and. . . homogenizes the entire domestic music scene.” Nabeela at seoulbeats echoes the concern about groups being the same by speculating about “how much of the content in K-entertainment is standardized and recycled.”

Fan Responses

However, a comparison of the responses from fans of Super Junior and BigBang reveals that fans like the groups for different reasons. This data represents a convenience sample collected via an online survey between December 8, 2012 and May 1, 2013. Respondents were asked to explain why they considered themselves a fan of the respective groups. 80 respondents identified themselves as fans of Super Junior, and 119 respondents identified themselves as fans of BigBang.  Of these 199 respondents, 95.7% were women and 4.3% were men.  Participants were: Asian (42.3%), White (41.2%), Latino (8.4%) and Black (7.9%).  They largely hail from the United States, Hungary, United Kingdom, Philippines and Australia.  Respondents range in age: 32.6% were 16-18, 31.6% were 18-21, 12.8% were 22-25, 14.4% were 25-30 and 8.6% were 30 and over. This data was analyzed using phenomenological methods.

Music

Both fandoms cite music as a major factor in the appeal of the groups, but Super Junior fans liked the upbeat nature of the music, while BigBang fans valued the edgy and unique nature of the group’s music.

Super Junior fans like the cheerful nature of the music.  One respondent noted:  “I can listen to their songs any time even if I sad or depressed” (Anderson).  Another stated:  “Their music always makes me smile no matter how depressed I am” (Anderson).  Super Junior fans also cited the pop-oriented style that the group reflects, as well as a range of styles.    One respondent  wrote:  “Their music has gone from happy, bubbly pop to funky dance tracks”  (Anderson).

Reviews of Super Junior albums reveal that the group is generally known for pop-oriented fare that also ranges across genres.  Jung Bae describes their 2012 release, Mr. Simple, as “cleanly divided into club/dance and pop ballad(s),” where singles like “Opera” are “a standout, paced by an intoxicating stutter beat and a sublime sense of kinetic energy throughout.” Emily Wu references the “Super Junior Funky Style” in her review of the album:  “It contains a catchy and addicting tune and melody that is sure to grab your attention from the get-go.” 

BigBang fans focused more on the unique nature of the music. Some cited the specific genre of hip-hop as a major reason for the appeal of the group. One respondent noted:  “Their style of music is what I enjoy most in American music, even if I don’t listen to American music as much anymore. Hip hop and R&B were genres that I grew up on but then it started changing too much for me. But Big Bang has a style to them that makes me love the genre all over again” (Anderson).   Such opinions dovetail into another theme that emerged from the responses, namely, the unique nature of the group in respect to BigBang’s music. One respondent noted: “Their music caught me when I first listened to it and it is nice to listen to whenever I want to something different then the usual Kpop” (Anderson). Another noted:  “Their music is distinguishable and stands out amist all of Kpop” (Anderson). BigBang has a reputation for being more adventurous in terms of their music.

Ashleigh Gregory describes the 2011 album Alive as partaking in a range of genres:  “This album combines a variety of safe, pop style songs and pairs them up with slightly more experimental electro sounding tracks that create a great mix and leaves you wanting to replay the album as soon as it’s done.” Such eclecticism makes its way into their live shows as well. Jon Caramanica writes: “The band wove an interpolation of the signature guitar crunch of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” into a song. Multiple members of the group beatbox, a technique that’s hardly, if ever, used in mainstream American hip-hop, its birthplace, but is a routine part of the K-pop star arsenal.”

Group Dynamic

Both fandoms cite group dynamic as another major factor in the appeal of the groups, but Super Junior fans describe that dynamic in terms of cooperation and a close-knit bond, while BigBang fans focus on the individual members’ contribution to the group.

Super Junior
Super Junior

Despite the large number of members, Super Junior fans described the group as close-knit.  Some respondents focused on how they act as one or a team.  One respondent noted:   “They have their own personality but still can be one” (Anderson).  Another wrote:  “Not typical boyband material.  They have a strong bond despite being a huge group” (Anderson).  Other respondents focused on the close bond between members and several used the metaphor of family.    One wrote:  “Watching their bond as a group really influenced me. Seeing how they trust each other.  I can feel and see their brotherly love, how they care about each other” (Anderson).  Another wrote:  “Super Junior are a big group because they have lots of members but despite that they all get along like a family” (Anderson).  Another responded:  “What I really like from them is their close relationship with each other. They are truly like a family, they’re like brothers” (Anderson).

This may be related to fans watching Super Junior’s participation in extra-musical activities in the form of television and radio appearances.  Members of Super Junior hosted and/or starred in the Korean variety show Strong Heart from 2009-2012 and the radio show Kiss the Radio from 2006 to the present.  In these spaces, fans develop opinions about the dynamic between the members.   One respondent wrote:  “I understand and love that they’re an entertainment group with members doing radio shows, acting, variety shows and hosting! This has given me the chance to get to know them through many mediums and it’s reassuring to know that at least a few members are still active during their non-promotional period!” (Anderson).  In addition to scripted shows, Super Junior also appears on variety shows, which are often based on improvisation and require more participation.  One respondent noted:  “I didn’t actually like Super Junior much at first, but I kept watching them on variety shows that I liked and the SJ members were always making me laugh so much” (Anderson).

BigBang
BigBang

While fans of BigBang cite group dynamic as part of the appeal of the group, they focus on the individual members within the group.  Most respondents focused on the unique nature of the individual members.  One wrote:  “I also like how distinct the members are from each other” (Anderson).  Another said:  “Each member has their own talents and strengths when it comes to vocally and lyric writing and Big Bang along with YG utilizes that talent extremely well” (Anderson).  Still another wrote: “Each of the members have very different but equally interesting styles from their style of singing to the dancing” (Anderson).  Others cited individual members as part of their reason for liking the group.  Of these responses, the largest number cited G-Dragon as their reason for liking the group.  One respondent noted:  “G-Dragon has also been very successful on his own drawing me into the group as a whole” (Anderson).  Another noted:  “G-Dragon is probably one of the reasons why I like Big Bang so much. I like the music he produces and I appreciate that a lot since not all groups produce their own music. The fact that someone from the group produces their own music is pretty awesome” (Anderson).

What Does It Mean?

Fans of Super Junior like the group because they are traditional idol group. They like the pop nature of their music.  They value the camaraderie they see within the group as a result of television and radio appearances.   In contrast, fans of BigBang like the group because they challenge this notion of a traditional idol group.  Despite being the product of the same kind of training system that produced Super Junior, they see the group as more innovative and creative in their music.  They perceive the group as a collection of individuals rather than a cohesive unit. Because of the fewer number of television appearances, their fans may not develop the same kind of sense of camaraderie among the group.

Fans of Super Junior and BigBang represent just two individual K-pop fandoms, but this comparison suggests that fans do not view male K-pop groups in the same way.

Images: 1, 2, 3

Video

“BIGBANG – FANTASTIC BABY M/V.” 6 Mar 2012. YouTube. Web. 19 Dec 2013.

“Super Junior 슈퍼주니어_Mr.Simple_MUSICVIDEO.” 3 Aug 2011. YouTube. Web. 19 Dec 2013.

Sources

Anderson, Crystal. “Super Junior/BigBang Data Set.” Unpublished raw data.

Bae, Jung. “Album Review: Super Junior – Mr. Simple” hellokpop. 12 Aug 2011. Web. 19 Dec 2013.

Caramanica, Jon. “BigBang Performs at the Prudential Center.” The New York Times. 9 Nov 2012.

Gregory, Ashleigh.  “[UnitedKpop K-pop Album Review] March: BigBang – Alive.” UnitedKpop. 26  Mar 2012.

Nabeela. “Does Hallyu Only Have a Short Time Left on a Global Stage?” seoulbeats. 27 May 2012. Web. 19 Dec 2013.

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

“Will ‘Hallyu’ Last Long?” The Korea Times. 10 Aug 2012. Web. 19 Dec 2013.

Wu, Emily. “Album Review: Super Junior – Mr. Simple. ” Ningin (blog). 2  Aug 2011. Web. 19 Dec 2013.

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Bring The Boys Out!: Fan Attitudes on Male Kpop Groups Differ by Crystal S. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

iFans Case Studies Status Update

Infographic based on data collected by Crystal S. Anderson as part of the iFans research study
Infographic based on data collected by Crystal S. Anderson as part of the iFans research study

If you keep with research on K-pop, you may be aware of the iFans: Mapping Kpop’s International Fandom project.  The surveys that make up the qualitative studies seek to understand how the fandoms differ from one another and their relationship to the groups they support. K-pop fans know that the fandoms are unique. Because they have detailed knowledge of the groups they support, they provide a unique perspective on the appeal of their respective groups. Too often, commentators make assumptions about K-pop fans, while the iFans studies goes to the source: the fans.

As the chart above shows, fans of 2NE1 and BigBang have participated the most in the surveys, while fans of Shinhwa and Aziatix have participated the least.   Other groups with high participation rates include SHINee and TVXQ, while other groups with low participation rates include Epik High and f(x).

These participation rates are interesting, because groups like Super Junior and Girls’ Generation have very active global fandoms, yet those numbers are not reflected in participation rates.  Rates may not reflect all fans, just fans who are likely to take (and complete) a survey.  Participation rates may be affected by the activity of the groups.

The iFans Case Studies survey is still active, and now, individuals can take the survey for multiple or  individual groups.

Now that a good deal of data has been collected, look for new research reports on what K-pop fans say about their favorite groups!