Back In The Day: Nostalgia in K-pop

While K-pop remains a subculture in many places, it tends to attract a wide variety of fans.  One of the reasons for such appeal is that K-pop provides a sense of nostalgia on several levels, a feat not easily achieved in the pop music world.

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K-pocalypse 2014?: Contract Disputes, Unanswered Questions and EXO

Fans of K-pop have dubbed 2014 the year of Kpocalypse in light of a spate of  lawsuits by members from EXO.  While it’s hard to separate fact from speculation as a global K-pop fan, these lawsuits do say something about the role of nationality and the motives of the members who bring lawsuits.

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The Daily Beast Takes on Black K-Pop Fans?

Hear those rap interludes, ultra-catchy choruses, and dance breaks? MisterPopoTV is here to show you that African Americans can be into Korean pop music.

Source: www.thedailybeast.com

It’s nice when major news outlets recognize that black K-pop fans are part of the general K-pop fandom. However, this piece trades in overused tropes about race and K-pop.  Many of the black K-pop fans I know would not recognize themselves in this piece. However, they would recognize the repeated assumptions made about African Americans and K-pop.

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The Right Sound: K-drama OSTs

Boys Over Flowers OST Reissue
Boys Over Flowers OST Reissue

The tantalizing goodness of Korean dramas don’t just come from romantic angst, historical intrigue and heart-stopping action. The emotional highs and lows would not mean as much without an Original Sound Track, also known as the Official Sound Track, or OST.

OSTs can come from any genre, and often features artists performing in styles that differ from their usual ones. OSTs can feature collaborations as well as solo performances by individuals in groups. They may feature vocals or exist solely as instrumentals.Everyone has their favorites, but  here are a few examples to show how K-dramas make effective use of music in different ways.

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How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love K-pop Girl Groups

f(x)
f(x)

Like many K-pop fans, many of my favorite groups are male (shout out to SS501, Shinhwa, Super Junior and SHINee!). Part of this may be because there are more male groups to choose from, but I have to admit that initially, the female groups like Girls’ Generation and Miss A didn’t do much for me. However, eventually I embraced the K-pop girl groups and here’s why.

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Trying to Cover the Sky With Your Hand: Delusion and Corruption in Golden Cross and A New Leaf

A New Leaf, Main Poster
A New Leaf, Main Poster

If you are a frequent viewer of Kdramas, you may have heard a character accuse another of “trying to cover the sky with your hand.” The idea is that the person thinks s/he merely placing the hand in front of their face makes the sun go away. It may…from that person’s point of view, but the reality is that the sun remains. In the K-dramas Golden Cross and A New Leaf, such delusion is linked with corruption, and everybody suffers.

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Media, K-pop Fans and Scandal: Park Bom and Sulli

Park Bom
Park Bom

K-pop fans often engage in creative and productive fan activity, but sometimes they don’t and media is always there to capture it. Nothing stirs up the spectre of the “obsessed K-pop fan” like a “scandal.” As we know, K-pop fans are diverse, but the kind of recent “scandals” experienced by Park Bom (of 2NE1) and Sulli (of f(x)) shed some light on the role cultural context and media plays in global fans’ understanding of “scandal.”  Unlike global fans, Korean K-pop fans experience K-pop within the context of Korean culture and their responses are captured by Korean media. Because of their proximity to the K-pop scene, the displeasure of Korean fans can affect change beyond the control of the Korean agencies.

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What I’m Listening To: Inoo (Soldier/God of War OST), Kyuhyun,

Kyuhyun (of Super Junior)
Kyuhyun (of Super Junior)

I love a soundtrack, and OSTs for Kdramas are no exception. Lately, I’ve been listening to “Inoo” by Super Junior‘s Kyuhyun.  Best known as one of the major vocalists for Super Junior and Super Junior K.R.Y, Kyuhyun lends his vocal talent to the soundtrack of the historical Kdrama, Soldier/God of War.

“Inoo” was frequently heard playing over the ending credits of episodes in roughly the first third of the Kdrama, and represents a departure from Kyuhyun’s usual style.  “Inoo” sounds like standard soundtrack fare, quite different from Kyuhyun’s usual vocal talents on Super Junior’s R&B ballads like “Sorry Sorry The Answer” or Super Junior K.R.Y’s “Promise You.

Image: “Kuhyun, Lotte Duty Free Magazine January 2014 (Super Junior ELF Forever),” Hallyu Harmony, accessed July 27, 2014, http://kpop.omeka.net/items/show/381.

Video: “[Official audio] 인우 Inoo – Kyuhyun OST for God of War (eng sub / 中字).” YouTube. 15 Mar 2012. Web. 27 Jul 2014.

Divided Loyalties in Empress Ki

empresski_sungnyang
Empress Ki
Empress Ki

Many historical K-dramas (sageuk) revolve around royal figures involved in romantic quadrangles involving male and female leads. However, political realities complicate amorous entanglements, family relationships and general camaraderie in Empress Ki.

I know. Watchers of this K-drama were divided early on into Team Wang Yu (Wang Yoo, King of Goryeo, played by Joo Jin Mo) and Team Emperor (Emperor of Yuan, played by Ji Chang Wook).  Wang Yu is in a tough position: king of a country under the thumb of an empire. He doesn’t have much power, and he can’t ally with another country. Most of all, he can’t stop the Yuan empire from taking the resources from Goryeo, including its women.Bbecause he’s frustrated, he has an unhappy smiley face though much of this K-drama.

Emperor-to-Be of Yuan doesn’t have it much better: pawn of the much more powerful and violent El Temur, the regent. He’s also the puppet of his overprotective mother/guardian Empress Dowager (played by Kim Seo Hyeong). In order to survive, he has to appear as naive as possible, lest he end up like every other powerful male in his family: dead!

empresski_sungnyang

These political realities complicate their romantic interest in the female lead, Empress Ki/Sungnyang (played by Ha Ji Won), who has to choose between the two. She’s not just some cute subject of the realm. Wang Yoo has to overcome the side-eye of liking one of his subjects and the fact that he has very little power to protect her when he sends her on missions impossible. The Emperor has to overcome criticisms by those who look down on his fraternization with the enemy aka “that Goryeo wench.”  I found myself cheering Sungnyang on for her bravery (and the random decisions to have her shoot arrows in her royal finery!) and work on behalf of the Goryeo people. I admit, I was Team Wang Yoo all the way, so I like the few opportunities they had to have  relationship. I was less impressed  so when she looks like she is out for self, gets sucked into Yuan politics and looks like she has real feelings for that punk the Emperor, who never seems to grasp that he can’t have a love relationship when his world is collapsing around him.

empresski_taltalSungnyang isn’t the only one grappling with politics and relationships.   One of my favorite characters is Tal Tal (played by Jin Lee Han), the ever-practical second-in-command to Baek An (played by Kim Young Ho). He is nothing if not consistent! Scarily good at strategy, he’s the one character who seems to always know all angles to a situation. Tal Tal is the moral pillar of the Yuan court. He’s cool with the Yuan empire, but he and his clan has suffered under the yoke of El Temur too, so they are keen to take him out. In the meantime,  he’s working to get his clan some power by playing the political game, but he also has a love for the Yuan people, which Baek An and the Emperor do not. Tal Tal draws the line when Baek An goes supercray. When Baek An’s unscrupulous activities threaten the people, Tal Tal steps in and does the unthinkable.

No one escapes the impact of politics in Empress Ki, making it more than your standard historical Kdrama complicated by romance.

Images:

“Empress Ki/기황후 (2014), Main Poster,” Kdrama Kommentary, accessed July 12, 2014, http://kdrama.omeka.net/items/show/51.

“Empress Ki/기황후 (2014), Wang Yoo,” Kdrama Kommentary, accessed July 12, 2014, http://kdrama.omeka.net/items/show/52.

“Empress Ki/기황후 (2014), Emperor,” Kdrama Kommentary, accessed July 12, 2014, http://kdrama.omeka.net/items/show/53.

“Empress Ki/기황후 (2014), Empress Ki/Sungnyang,” Kdrama Kommentary, accessed July 12, 2014, http://kdrama.omeka.net/items/show/54.

“Empress Ki/기황후 (2014), Tal Tal,” Kdrama Kommentary, accessed July 12, 2014, http://kdrama.omeka.net/items/show/55.
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