Finding The Most Important K-pop Stuff So You Don’t Have To
The Return of the Kings
TVXQ broke attendance records by attracting one million to their “Begin Again” Tour in Japan that began in November 2017. This also sets a new record for most concertgoers in a single tour for a foreign artist in Japan. This is significant, as the tour is the first following their mandatory military service. As a veteran K-pop group that has been together over 15 years, the concert attendance shows that TVXQ remains popular in the competitive Japanese market. (See Soompi: “TVXQ Sets New Record in Japan for Foreign Artists With Most Concertgoers At A Single Tour“)
New videos this week from Longguo (aka Kim Yong Guk, formerly of JBJ) and Nano (formerly of History), OSTs for Are You Human? and About Time, newcomers DPR Live and BlackPink and veteran K-pop group SHINee.
Longguo, “Clover” Ft. Yoon Mirae
Lyn, Hanhae, “Love,” Are You Human? OST Part 2
DPR Live, “Playlist”
Hui, “Maybe,” About Time OST Part 3
Nano, “Walkin’ (ft. Pry)”
SHINee, “I Want You,” The Story of Light EP. 2
BlackPink, “뚜두뚜두 (DDU-DU DDU-DU),” Square Up
Choreography videos from fromis_9, A.C.E and Viction.
fromis_9, “두근두근(DKDK)” Choreography Ver.
A.C.E, “Take Me Higher” Relay Dance
Viction, “Time of Sorrow (오월애)”
Choon Entertainment. “[MV] 용국(LONGGUO) – CLOVER(Feat.윤미래).” YouTube. 13 Jun 2018. https://youtu.be/-Ot30Tlslfs (13 Jun 2018).
SUPER SOUND Bugs! “[M/V] LYn, HANHAE(린, 한해) – LOVE.” YouTube. 12 Jun 2018. https://youtu.be/py4nem_e-nA (18 Jun 2018).
Dream Perfect Regime. “DPR LIVE – Playlist (OFFICIAL M/V).” YouTube. 12 Jun 2018. https://youtu.be/n0LYGzYt6DU . (18 Jun 2018).
Stone Music Entertainment. “[멈추고 싶은 순간 : 어바웃타임 OST Part 3] 후이 (Hui) – Maybe MV.” YouTube. 12 Jun 2018. https://youtu.be/-VsOrKThs3Y (18 Jun 2018).
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.
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!
Korean popular music includes many genres – Jazz, Hip-Hop, Rock, Rhythm & Blues – even Ska and Bossa Nova. One of the reasons Kpop is so addictive and has continued its growth globally is because, despite language differences, the music seems so familiar to its listeners, particularly for non-Asian audiences. Fuhr (2015) writes, “K-pop producers strongly follow the formulaic production standards set by Western mainstream pop songs…, but they combine all the well-known elements in a way that audiences in the East and West equally seem to receive as refreshingly new but also familiar.” (pp. 238-239)
Not only do Korean producers strive to mix (and remix) Eastern and Western musical elements, they work closely with Westernsinger/songwriters and producers or purchase western-based music tracks for use by Korean artists (Note: purchasing tracks is a popular practice in the global music industry. Demo tracks, guide vocals, backing vocals are some terms you can search to learn more).
KPK members have noted that Kpop fans may not be familiar with why many songs sound familiar to them. This realization was crystallized when TVXQ released their strong R&B ballad “Before U Go,” (2011) which includes a partial guitar riff from the Isley Brother’s song “Voyage to Atlantis” (1977) – many people, instead, could only reference Chris Brown’s song “Take You Down” (2008) – which still echoes the musical composition of the aforementioned Isley Brothers song. Moreover, recognition gaps go beyond music composition to include singing styles, choreography, and song instrumentation or arrangement. Additionally, we’ve found that such oversights are glaring in academic literature, which overwhelmingly focuses on K-pop music as a political tool or economic commodity (Lee 2008, Jang & Paik 2012, and see this bibliography).
The “Let KPK Introduce You To…” blogpost series hopes to help Kpop fans discover links between what they hear in Kpop songs (or see in Kpop promotions) and the recent history of American music and popular culture – from a particular song or a musician’s vocal runs to costuming, training, dancing, or overall presentation. The primarily audio/visual – and brief – blog posts will open with the K-pop artist song,concept, or performance and then readers will be introduced to the “why it sounds familiar” song, concept, or performance. The entry will end with brief biographical or explanatory text of the “original” artist, sound, idea, or concept. Simple right?
Part lay ethnomusicology and part historiography, the series offers a gateway for music enthusiasts to contextualize the foundation and development of Kpop music, and for critics to move beyond discussions of cultural appropriation in K-pop and toward the more likely premise of global creative collaboration.
If you’ve ever heard or seen a Kpop song, dance, styling, or presentation and and thought “that sounds like/looks like/feels like/reminds me of…,” this series is for you! Look forward to it.
Fuhr, Michael. Globalization and popular music in South Korea: Sounding out K-pop. New York: Routledge. (2015).
Jang, Gunjoo & Won K. Paik. Korean wave as tool for Korea’s new cultural diplomacy. Advances in Applied Sociology, 2(3): 196-202. (2012). http://file.scirp.org/Html/22229.html(16 June 2016).
Lee, Keehyeung. Mapping out the cultural politics of the “Korean Wave” in contemporary South Korea. In C.B. Huat and K. Iwabuchi (Eds.) East Asian Pop Culture: Analyzing the Korean Wave. pp. 175 – 189. Aberdeen: Hong Kong University Press. (2008).
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.
IFANS: Mapping K-pop’s International Fandom is a scholarly research project that examines global fan attitudes and activities through surveys, collection of information on online communities and analysis of websites. Crystal S. Anderson, PhD (Elon University) is the Principal Investigator of the studies and Curator of the iFans project site.
Kpop is subject to a lot of criticism. A LOT. The most repeated charge against Kpop is that it is manufactured. But is that really true? Usually when critics level this charge, they make sweeping generalizations about the whole landscape of pop. In doing so, they perpetuate stereotypes about the lack of originality in Asian popular culture.
So, Nabi has given you a pretty good overview of the book and our general observations of it. Chapter 2 includes Sun Jung’s reading of the masculinity represented by Bae Yong Joon. We here at KPK have pretty strong opinions because most of the time, we are fairly confident in what we’re talking about. This is the reason why I’m not going to talk about Sun Jung’s analysis of Bae Yong Joon. I haven’t seen Winter Sonata, so I can’t tell say anything about her reading of the way “middle-aged Japanese women” (her phrase) read Bae Yong Joon’s masculinity.