Divided Loyalties in Empress Ki

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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Divided Loyalties in Empress Ki is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

What I’m Listening To: 담배가게 아가씨, Brown Eyed Soul

BROWNEYEDSOUL_gokpop

Brown Eyed Soul

 

I have a great love for Brown Eyed Soul, and 담배가게 아가씨 (romanization: Dambaegage Agassi) one of the reasons why. This song is from the group’s third full-length album Brown Eyed Soul (2007). A non-promotional track, the song shows the versatility of K-pop.

People often want to measure a singer’s vocal talent by how high they sing or their ability to perform vocal runs, but placing a voice within an acoustic musical context tells you even more about vocal ability. I am torn between the vocals and the guitar of this song.

Image: “Brown Eyed Soul, Promo (GoKpop),” Hallyu Harmony, accessed July 8, 2014, http://kpop.omeka.net/items/show/250.

Video: “Brown Eyed Soul – 담배가게 아가씨.” YouTube. 1 Nov 2012. Web. 8 July 2014.

 

Is MBC’s Lip Sync Ban Good for Global Fans?

In a possible industry changing move, the MBC Show! Music Core chief executive producer (CP) Park Hyun-suk made a statement earlier this week pronouncing that the show is not going to allow singers or artists on stage that rely solely on MR (music recorded). According to him, about 10-20 percent of the singers who go …

Source: seoulbeats.com

Producers for MBC’s Show! Music Core may think that its decision to ban acts that use MR (music recorded) is a good one, but such a move makes assumptions about what viewers expect from such performances.

 

Expectation is key. While one may have an expectation of a live vocal performance by someone singing a national anthem at an event, one may not have the same expectation for a live vocal performance in a different setting. Producers may think lip-synced performances on Show! Music Core are misleading, but that assumes that viewers expect these performances to be live vocal performances.  Do viewers expect such performances to be live vocal performances?  Many viewers look forward to such performances for other reasons. These shows have a long tradition of being a showcase for a variety of performances, which represent a combination of vocals, styling and choreography.  Many global viewers tune in for this combination, as many will never have the opportunity to see such acts perform live in their country. 

 

In addition to vocal reality shows, there are other outlets to experience the vocal talents of idols.  The format of Yoo Hee Yeol’s Sketchbook is specifically designed to allow artists groups to showcase their live vocals, and has hosted a variety of acts, from individuals known for their vocals such as Lyn, Park Hyo Shin and Hwanhee, to hip-hop acts such as Drunken Tiger and Dynamic Duo, to K-pop idols such as Girls’ Generation, Wonder Girls and 4Minute.  Idols also have opportunities to sing live on radio shows such as ShimShimTapa, performances that are also video-recorded and accessible through YouTube.

 

As the article suggests, this may have an impact on choreography-heavy comebacks for groups if this is undertaken as an industry standard, which will not be good for global K-pop fans who routinely cite choreography as one of the appealing aspects of K-pop. 

What I’m Listening To: “Monster,” Super Junior

SUPERJUNIOR_kpophotline

Super Junior

Ever so often, I like to share what’s on heavy rotation on my iPod. It isn’t always the newest thing, or the most popular thing, but for some reason this is the stuff that I’m grooving to.  I make no distinction between idol and non-idol Kpop, popular and obscure, mainstream and indie. It’s just what I like, and some info about it. Maybe you might like it too.

What I’m Listening To

Who Does It

Super Junior is better known for dance tracks like “Sorry, Sorry,” but “Monster” is a little different. A non-promotional track, it is an electronic song with a slower tempo that has a heavy but slow bass-line that is lightened by the use of synthesizers on the choruses. The lyrics reveal a sense of anguish.

Why I Like It

This song reminds me of some of my favorite 80s fare mixed with K-pop. It’s a nice break from the heavy dance and R&B tracks that Super Junior is known for.

Image: 1

Video: YouTube

Editions of You: Remixes and Covers in K-pop

One of the most appealing things about K-pop is its variety. K-pop is not unique in producing different versions of the same song or having covers, but the differences in versions showcase the complexity of a music type often criticised for being cookie-cutter.

Seo Taiji, “로보트 (Robot)”

seotaijiasiatoday

Seo Taiji

Seo Taiji is the godfather of K-pop, and so it should not be surprising that he takes the track “Robot” in two different directions.  “Robot” originally appears on Seo Taiji’s 7th Issue (2004) album. This version’s thinly orchestrated intro begins with an odd guitar chord countered by mid-tempo drums. The song then transitions to a more regular rhythm and tonally resonate guitars, which complement Seo Taiji’s recognizeable vocals, all of which give the song a heavy feel.  However, the guitars become less heavy in the first verse, complemented by a less vigorous rhythm section, where cymbals become more prominent.  The song alternates between these two distinct sounds, always overlaid with Seo Taiji’s vocals.

However, when Seo Taiji performs the song live on [&] Seo Taiji 15th Anniversary (2007) album (originally appearing on the Seo Taiji Live Tour Zero ’04 album (2005), it has a completely different feel.  Here, the intro features a softly strumming guitar barely audible over the hum of the crowd.  After 30 seconds, a sole electric guitar comes in, along with Seo Taiji’s vocals, but these are not the vocals of the original song.  Only after a full 40 seconds do guitars play the chords that signal the beginning of the original song. Even then, the song is significantly less heavy than the original.

Epik High, “Paris”

Epik High

Epik High

Veteran hip-hop group Epik High is known for its use of intrumentation in its music, and “Paris” is no exeception.  “Paris,” featuring Jisun of Loveholic, originally appears on the group’s 2005 album, Swan Songs.  The intro featuring female vocals and a single guitar hearkens back to the musical stylings of the 1960s, and then transitions into a light-hearted rap by the group. This rap is complemented by Jisun’s vocals throughout the song.

However, “Paris” on the Black Swan Songs (2006) repackage is radically different.  Jisun’s pop intro is replaced by the more forceful vocals of Epik High, against a more brooding instrumental backdrop.  This intro is followed by thinly orchestrated verses, featuring driving rhythms with prominent drums and bass, the solo rap vocals and strategically placed distortions. As the track continues, the piano from the vocal is introduced against Jisun’s vocals.  Overall, this version is more sonically powerful.

Brown Eyed Soul, “Love Ballad”

BROWNEYEDSOUL_gokpop

Brown Eyed Soul

This kind of musical variety can also occur in other K-pop genres.  Brown Eyed Soul‘s “Love Ballad” single hearkens back to vocally-driven American ’90s R&B with synthesized instruments along with a soft organ and finger snaps over which the group alternate parts of the verse.  At the chorus, they harmonize their voices in Boyz II Men style.

The piano version of “Love Ballad” invests even more heavily in the black male vocal group tradition.  The intro is thinly orchestrated, with only finger snaps that echo on the track, broken only with the introduction of the voices of the group singing in unison. This arrangement showcases the vocal abilities of the members, both in the intro and throughout the song. During the rest of the song, the vocals are accompanied only by the piano and fingersnaps.

Girls’ Generation/Lyn, “The Boys”

Shifts in musical style on a track does not only occur with remixes. Covers also allow an opportunity for alternative arrangements, some of which go far afield of the original.  For example, Girls’ Generation, known for their catchy songs, released “The Boys,” the title track from their 2011 album.  The song begins with the members’ vocals against synthesized sounds, and then explodes into its heavily produced glory, driven by heavy rhythms and synthesizers.

However, Lyn takes the song in an entirely different direction in her acoustic performance. Featuring her lead vocals and vocals from backup singers, Lyn’s version infuses a bluesy feel with the minimal instrumentation provided by piano, bongos and an acoustic guitar.

These alternative versions of songs show that music is central to K-pop.

Images: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Sources

“seo taiji-robot.”  YouTube. 27 June 2009. Web. 15 Mar 2014.

“Seotaiji – Zero Tour – 08. 로보트 [Live].”  YouTube. 5 Mar 2009. Web. 15 Mar 2014.

“Epik High - Paris ft. 지선 {Jisun}.” YouTube. 3 Sept 2012. Web. 15 Mar 2014.

“Epik High- Paris (정재일’s Black Swan Remix) [Black Swan Songs Repackage].” YouTube. 9 Jan 2009. Web. 15 Mar 2014.

“Brown Eyed Soul – Love Ballad.” YouTube. 1 Nov 2012. Web. 15 Mar 2014.

“Brown Eyed Soul Love Ballad (Piano ver.) [러브 발라드 피아노 버전].” YouTube. 11 Jun 2010. Web. 15 Mar 2014.

“[MP3/DL] SNSD The Boys (Korean Version) + Lyrics.” YouTube. 18 Oct 2011. Web. 15 Mar 2014.

“Lyn – The Boys (SNSD) acoustic ver. Hamchoonho Yooheeyeol E132 Feb17.2012 1080p HD.” YouTube. 4 Mar 2012. Web. 15 Mar 2014.

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Editions of You: Remixes and Covers in K-pop by CeeFu is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Michael Porter and K-pop: An Analysis

See on Scoop.itKorean Wave

K-pop is a business, through and through. No matter how original a concept is or how natural fan interactions may seem, the details even down to how much a performer weighs are all calculated.

Crystal “CeeFu” Anderson‘s insight:

This article begins by looking at K-pop through an economic lens, but falls into a familiar trend of boiling the success of K-pop down to profits and business models and echoing the much-repeated mantra about the manufactured nature of K-pop. At the same time, it leaves out the key to the global spread of K-pop, namely the fans, who have exerted tremendous influence on K-pop.

See on seoulbeats.com

The Way Forward: Sam Hammington

See on Scoop.itKorean Wave

The entry of non-Koreans in to the Korean entertainment scene has gained a steady momentum in the past few years. These non-Koreans have mainly stuck to the idol industry — debuting with girl and guy groups too many to mention.

Crystal “CeeFu” Anderson‘s insight:

Just some questions: Why is Korean entertainment obligated to embrace non-Koreans in its industry? Are other national entertainment industries obligated to do the same? if so, how is the United States, home of Hollywood, one of the biggest entertainment industries on the planet, doing with embracing international stars into its entertainment industry?  

See on seoulbeats.com

Roundtable: 2NE1 vs. SNSD

See on Scoop.itKorean Wave

It’s been a while since we had such a matchup of industry titans going head to head.

Crystal “CeeFu” Anderson‘s insight:

This article features various opinions about the simultaneous comebacks of two of K-pop’s most successful and popular girl groups. Members refer to the "anti-aegyo" discourse often targeted to SNSD, as well as the continued use of the "fierce" concept for 2NE1. Described as a competition between the two girl groups, it overlooks the fact that some fans like both groups. 

See on seoulbeats.com

Super Junior talks to gov’t

See on Scoop.itKorean Wave

Super Junior, Left to Right : Choi Si-won, Eun-hyuk, Sin Dong-hee, Sungmin, Henry and Zhou Mi Members of the K-pop group Super Junior visited the National Assembly in Yeouido, western Seoul, yester

Crystal “CeeFu” Anderson‘s insight:

K-pop artists frequently represent not just sources of entertainment for fans, but also participate in government conversations related to Hallyu, the Korean wave. 

See on www.hancinema.net

ICYMI: iFans Update – Girls’ Generation (SNSD) Into the New World Remix Cover Dances

Girls' Generation (SNSD)

Girls’ Generation (SNSD)

The iFans project rolls on with more cover dance!  The second section of the exhibit, Dance Like Everybody’s Watching: K-pop Cover Dances, features Girls’ Generation‘s “Into the New World Remix.”  Click HERE to view K-pop fans from around the world performing one of the most complicated dance routines by a girl group.

Image: 1

The Korean Wave does not really exist

See on Scoop.itKorean Wave

The Korean music scene has changed vastly in the past decade.

Crystal “CeeFu” Anderson‘s insight:

While this article attempts to address the varied uses of the term "Korean wave," it does not address the complex factors that go into the term.  It fails to define the Korean Wave itself, its links to multiple modes of cultural production, such as K-drama and Korean film. The Korean wave is more than a mere marketing tool; it is a phenomenon that has economic, cultural and political implications. Using Psy to make an argument about the Korean wave and its longevity ignores the 20-ish old years of music, television and film that make up the Korean wave, and the fact that K-pop was enjoying global popularity before Psy’s appearance. There needs to be more context provided to make these kinds of assertions about the Korean wave. 

See on beyondhallyu.com

ICYMI: iFans Update – EXO Growl Cover Dances

EXO

EXO

In addition to the case studies, the iFans project documents other mode of fan activity. The first section of the new exhibit, Dance Like Everyone’s Watching: K-pop Cover Dance, is up! Click HERE to view K-pop fans performing some of the most difficult K-pop dance routines.

Image: 1

ICYMI: Ethnicity, Glamour and Image in Korean Popular Music

Lee Hyori, Promo Image, Monochrome

Lee Hyori, Promo Image, Monochrome

The 1960s girl group concept makes regular appearances in K-pop. While some think that this kind of image represents a lack of ethnic identity in a quest for mainstream acceptance, I suggest that the 1960s girl group image promoted by women of color represents an ethnic glamour aesthetic.

Read the rest at KPK: Kpop Kollective….

What I’m Listening To: At That Time (그 때) (ft. Brian) by Supreme Team

Supreme Team

Supreme Team

Ever so often, I like to share what’s on heavy rotation on my iPod. It isn’t always the newest thing, or the most popular thing, but for some reason this is the stuff that I’m grooving to. I make no distinction between idol and non-idol K-pop, popular and obscure, mainstream and indie. It’s just what I like, and some info about it. Maybe you might like it too.

What Is It

Who Does It

“At That Time (그 때)” is from Supreme Team‘s 2010 album, Supremier, and features Brian Joo, vocalist from the legendary Korean R&B group, Fly To the Sky.  The song introduces Brian by referring to his 2009 album, Manifold. 

Why I Like It

This song represents a little change of pace from Supreme Team’s highly respected  hip-hop fare.  The tempo and tone of the song sounds matches the lyrics: it sounds like a throwback to more pop-inspired R&B, which goes to show that we all share the “back and the day” vibe. This is the kind of song that all generations could jam to, mixing Brian’s singing on the chorus with Supreme Team’s rapping on the verses. The combination illustrates the kind of frequent collaborations that occur in K-pop.

Image (1)

“Supreme Team – 그 때 (Feat. 브라이언).” YouTube. 18 Jan 2013. Web. 9 Feb 2014.

“Steady Shaking the Ground”: Lyrical Skill in Epik High’s Music

Epik High

Epik High

Epik High garners respect as a Korean hip-hop group in part because of their innovative use of lyrics.  Because many of their songs are in English, they provide an opportunity to appreciate the complexity of their rhymes and their skill manipulation of language.

While many critics focus on the social and political message of rap, Mtume ya Salaam reminds us that rap is an art, and when done well, “possesses at least one–and usually more than one–attribute such as sincerity, originality, honesty, or creativity” (303).  We should not focus on critique to the exclusion of the artistry found in hip hop.  Looking at the lyrics of a rap song is comparable to appreciating poetry. Both make use of  “simile, metaphor, and alliteration as well as creative expression, originality, and conveyance of emotion” (305).

With that in mind, Epik High songs frequently use creative metaphors and innovative verbal phrases to describe the skill of rapping or critique the industry in which the group participates.  Frequently, Epik High positions itself as cerebral rappers, targeting the minds as well as the feet of their audience.  That stance marks them as unique in the K-hip hop world.

Follow the Flow (ft. Myk, D-tox)

“Follow the Flow” comes from the 2005 Epik High album, Swan Songs.  The track reinforces the intellectual appeal of the track through references to the mental powers of the audience.  Lyrics such as “I just did flipped your lid and gave your brain a kiss” demonstrate that the group targets the way people think and suggests they want to leave the audience pondering their words.  Because of this kind of originality, they diverge from other groups:   “We travel on into unknown don’t follow the roadsign/We just try to form the rhymes that read yo’ mind.”

Epik High frequently also includes plays on words in their lyrics.   “Like an empty hospital/I’m out of patience” uses the word “patience” both in its literal meaning (lacking the capacity to remain calm when waiting) and its related meaning to patient (someone who needs medical treatment) within the context of a hospital.   “I’m a prohibition MC – I speakeasy” uses the context from the 1920 and 1930s to underscore lyrical skill.  In the United States, the prohibition era created speakeasys, or illegal clubs, so when the song references a “prohibition MC,” it taps into the rogue nature of the rhyme.

“Follow the Flow” also uses literary references to celebrate originality.  The song draws from Irish literature to establish his skill as an MC:

Yes I am…the rap game’s voice

Every cat’s main choice, the rap James Joyce

It’s a piece of cake, gimmie a break,

I kill MCs, then speak at they Finnegan’s Wake

I’m much mo’ than a cheap CD

Any student forced to read the Irish writer James Joyce would understand the resonance of the reference. Joyce represents one of the most challenging writers in the English language. His novels, such as Ulysses, are complicated and dense, but also innovative, thus contributing to his reputation as a classic writer. The song uses this literary giant to underscore his own lyrical prowess in the song. The MC is rap’s James Joyce, which suggests that his raps are equally deep and complicated.

Free Music (ft. Myk)

While “Follow the Flow” celebrates the skill of the MC, “Free Music,” from the 2009 album Map the Soul,  is a critique of an overall lack of originality in rap.  In the first verse, MYK contrasts the mental work he puts into his rhymes (“I jog my mind around the writer’s block/Till it’s out of breath and asthmatic”) with the preoccupation with fame he notices in the industry:

I’ve had it with the paper chase, need I mention?

The rap game is all show and lyrical dissension

Pretension, obsession for physical possession

MYK faults the commercialism and quest for money as the primary motivator for some rappers. This has a negative impact on the creativity and artistry of their production. It is all show and no substance.  Tablo’s verse focuses more on his skill:

Temporary relief so I’m makin’ it last

Takin’ it fast, lacin’ buds in raps, tracin’ raps with facts

Steppin’ up the game but not reppin’ for fame

Spittin’ truth up on the booth, then we settin’ it in flames

Here, Tablo focuses on his own skill. He is all business in the recording booth, seeking to be the best for his own sake, not to gain attention and make money. His rap is more substantial, filled with “facts” and “truth.”

In both of these tracks, Epik High seek to distinguish themselves thought their thought-provoking and creative lyrics.

Image: 1

Sources

“Epik High – Follow the Flow ft. MYK & D-Tox + Lyrics (HQ) (HD).” YouTube. 29 Jul 2011. Web. 1 Feb 2014.

“Epik High – Free Music (Tablo And MYK) (Ft. MYK).” YouTube. 29 Mar 2009. Web. 1 Feb 2014.

Salaam, Mtume ya.  “The Aesthetics of Rap.” African American Review 29.2 (1995): 303-315.

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“Steady Shaking the Ground”: Lyrical Skill in Epik High’s Music by Crystal S. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.