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.


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.

This piece reinforces the notion that it is strange for African Americans to like K-pop, even as it tries to disabuse readers of that notion. Given that K-pop utilizes R&B and hip-hop and that K-pop artists have been collaborating with black music artists since the 1990s, it should surprise no one that K-pop has black fans.  In addition to the K-pop’s godfather, Seo Taiji, artists such as uber-producer Yoo Young Jin, first generation girl group Baby V.O.X and pioneer hip-hop group Jinusean collaborated on tracks with African American artists.  Often, these collaborations occur on albums, not on promoted tracks where casual K-pop fans spend most of their energy.

The piece also features black K-pop fans who share their views on the web via YouTube and tumblr. While they are the most visible on the Internet, they are not necessarily the most representative.  Like most global K-pop fans, black K-pop fans access their K-pop through the Internet, but do not participate in K-pop via the Internet. Many do not make reaction videos, write about K-pop or leave comments on social media. In other words, a more realistic look at black K-pop fans would be to see who shows up to concerts, or track their viewing habits, something increasingly difficult with the changes in the information provided by analytics of social media sites.

Moreover, while hip-hop has a clear impact on K-pop, R&B has even more. All of the Big Three Korean agencies produce groups that delve into a variety of R&B genres. This makes sense, especially for those seeking wide mainstream appeal. Despite its long and staid history, hip-hop is still viewed by some as youth culture that challenges authority and the status quo, something that turns off older generations.  However, a wider variety of people find soul ballads or even R&B-inspired dance tracks appealing.  By suggesting  “the genre’s hip-hop influences act as a gateway drug,” it ignores the wide variety of music within K-pop as well as the ability of black fans to like aspects of K-pop that do not involve hip-hop.

The article also continues to promote the reductive argument that combines misappropriation, authenticity and K-pop.  Given that both black culture and K-pop are hybrid types of cultural production, drawing hard and fast rules who can and cannot borrow and under what circumstances is nearly impossible, as consensus is hard to come by.  Are black K-pop fans required to express “a genuine desire to connect” with Korean culture? When the article takes the expected turn to blackface in Korean popular culture, it makes it seem that racism runs rampant in K-pop, and in doing so, recycles this tired cliché about race and K-pop:  “Incidents of blackface and other similarly offensive events happen so often in Korean pop culture that one might attribute it to some sort of cultural naiveté or ignorance of historical context.”  There are far more incidents of blackface in the country that originated it than in Korean pop culture and the article distorts instances of blackface to make a false point about racism and K-pop.

Black K-pop fans are quite savvy and diverse, and this article only shows a glimpse of them.

See on Scoop.itKorean Wave

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.

숨결/Sumgyeol (Breath), Mad Soul Child, Ten OST

Ten, OCN

Ten, OCN

Mad Soul Child‘s  haunting track, “숨결 (Breath),” plays over the ending credits of OCN’s crime drama, Ten, starring Joo Sang Wook and Kim Sang Ho.  The mood of the song fits the decidedly dark tone of the drama. The sonorous piano and cello intro of this slow tempo track leads to the slightly raspy voice of the female lead singer, which is punctuated with a simple rhythm.  The song gains vocal momentum in the choruses, where the vocals increase in volume and intensity.

Such a musical arrangement perfectly complements the K-drama.  By the time the viewer reaches the end of the show, they have seen an unusual crime explained. The somber music not only underscores the depravity of the crime, but also the unsettled emotional state of the characters.  Yeo Ji Hoon, played by Wook, leads this small unit of unusual investigators. While he has a stellar track record of bringing murderers to justice, he is forever haunted by his failure to prevent his own girlfriend from meeting her end at the hands of a serial killer. The song is the perfect capstone for the complicated emotional drama.

Paradise, T-Max, Boys Over Flowers OST

Boys Over Flowers, KBS2

Boys Over Flowers, KBS2

T-Max‘s “Paradise” for the Boys Over Flowers OST shows how a song can become the defining sound for a K-drama. Anyone who has watched the K-drama, starring Lee Min Ho and Kim Hyun Joong, was treated (tortured?) by this track, which made frequent appearances during the show. While it begins with a simple piano intro and chimes, it is not long before the vocal, featuring the phrase “Almost Paradise,” increases the momentum of the track, complemented by showtune-like horns. Its pop-inspired rhythm and reliance on horns contribute to the upbeat tone of the song.

The K-drama featured this track throughout the series’ run. It was often used to underscore the exotic settings and upscale locations frequented by F4, the snobby male clique of the exclusive school attended by the drama’s heroine, Jan Di, (played by Koo Hye Sun).  It also served as the background for makeovers or other schemes hatched by the characters. Love it or hate it, this song defined this drama.

Did You Forget, Lee Seung Chul, Feast of the Gods OST

Feast of the Gods, MBC

Feast of the Gods, MBC

OSTs are a great way to find new vocalists beyond mainstream K-pop artists, and Lee Seung Chul‘s contribution to the Feast of the Gods OST showcases his vocals as it complements this drama focused on food and romance.  The K-drama, starring Sung Yoo Ri, Joo Sang Wook (again!) and Lee Sang Woo, follows the development of two female chefs, their romantic exploits and the price of ambition.  “Did You Forget” begins with Lee’s voice against the backdrop of simple instrumentation. The mid-tempo song slowly gains momentum through the verses, aided by simple rhythmic elements, such as fingersnaps, as well as the introduction of electric guitar. The music swells during the choruses, carried by Lee’s strong vocals.

Given the complicated romantic dynamics, dynamics further complicated by ambition, resentment and revenge, the song often reintroduced a sense of innocence into the scenes that featured it. It also played during scenes of loss and despair, and gives a nostalgic longing for better times.

No matter the series, OSTs are an indispensable part of the drama.


“Boys Over Flowers OST (2012),” Kdrama Kommentary, accessed September 6, 2014,

“Boys Over Flowers/꽃보다 남자 (2009), Main Poster ,” Kdrama Kommentary, accessed September 6, 2014,

“Feast of the Gods/신들의 만찬 / Shindeuleui Manchan (2012),” Kdrama Kommentary, accessed September 6, 2014,

“Ten/ 텐 (2011),” Kdrama Kommentary, accessed September 6, 2014,


“Lee Seung Chul (이승철) – Did You Forget (잊었니) (English Hangul Romanization Subs).” YouTube. 3 Mar 2012. Web. 6 Sept 2014.

“[MV] T Max – Paradise (BOF ost).” YouTube. 4 Apr 2009. Web. 6 Sept 2014.

“Mad Soul Child- 숨결 (Breath) lyrics [Eng. | Rom. | Han.].” YouTube. 12 Dec 2011. Web. 6 Sept. 2014.

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The Right Sound: K-drama OSTs by CeeFu is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

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



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.

The Music

As an omni-fan of K-pop, I listen to a lot of K-pop. I may spend more time viewing music shows, interviews and behind-the-scene shows that featured male groups, I listen to all manner of K-pop (thanks, iTunes shuffle option).  When I hear something I like, I just put it on my special K-pop playlist.  It shouldn’t surprise anyone that “Tell Me Your Wish (Genie)” by Girls’ Generation (SNSD), “Nu Abo” by f(x) or “Clap Your Hands” by 2NE1 ended up on the list. These are K-pop standards.  But putting my K-pop collection on shuffle also allows me to discover non-promotional songs by K-pop girl groups that I like, such as “Utja,” by SNSD and  “Beautiful Goodbye” by f(x).

It’s not my place to tell you what you should be listening to, but I do like to share what I’m listening to.  I like these songs!

The Fans

K-pop fans are often energetic in their support for their favorite groups, and this is also the case for fans of K-pop girl groups. We’ve all seen fans of girl groups mobilize, like SNSD fans did for the YouTube Video Awards. They also maintain some amazing fansites, like YGLadies, which keeps fans up to date on 2NE1 activities and SNSD Korean, which features a helpful “Soshictionary.”  Fans of K-pop girl groups love their groups, and their enthusiasm for their groups is kinda infectious.  Fan projects like the 5th anniversary SNSD project by SONES in Italy shows their support:

So cute!

The Concepts

While girl groups seem to rely on a certain number of concepts (you can always count on somebody going the cheerleader route at some point), they have more options when it comes to high-fashion. How many times can you put a guy in a suit? (Ok, a lot, and I fall for it every time).   I like pretty outfits, so fashion editorials like Miss A in The Star Magazine, SISTAR in High Cut and Girl’s Day in CeCi work for me:

The Criticism

Now, I know what you are going to say. Girl groups promote stereotypes that focus too much on helpless femininity. They tell girls to be dependent on a man. They infantilize women. They define girls by a difficult-to-attain-and-maintain appearance.  Girl groups are created by male-dominated agencies to appeal to male desires.  To take on all of these is a whole ‘nother post, but in a quick drive-by, I would say: suggesting that women adhere to a standard that eliminates being girly by beating down on things like skirts or pink or tiaras can itself be a limiting discourse.  And somebody needs to explain the logic of a Korean agency creating girl groups for men when the fanbase is majority-female, because I’m not getting the cost-benefit analysis on that one.

Still, to a certain extent, some of these critiques are valid.  But I find that Rachel of Social Justice League does a great job of suggesting why we can still be a fan of “problematic things:”

After all, most texts have some problematic elements in them, because they’re produced by humans, who are well-known to be imperfect. But it can be surprisingly difficult to own up to the problematic things in the media you like, particularly when you feel strongly about it, as many fans do. We need to find a way to enjoy the media we like without hurting other people and marginalised groups.

That last part bears repeating in the context of K-pop girl groups, because while they might be problematic on some level, what is MORE problematic is the way some individuals advocate harm to the ladies in these groups or the praise given to those who do.   Because we might argue about whether putting skirts on members of girl groups contributes to a limited brand of femininity, but what actually causes harm is hateful discourse urging members to  “disappear” or name-calling younger members of fandoms because of their support.

Moreover, if you actually ask why individuals are fans of K-pop girl groups, you might be surprised at the answers. They are as likely to say they like girl groups because of their appearance as they are to say they like them because they work hard, or that they are goofy.  In other words, fans draw meanings about these girl groups in ways that may deviate from intention.  At this point, we all should know that many K-pop fans could care less what other people think about their support for their favorite K-pop groups.

Do what you want, be who you are. I’m a girl that likes K-pop girl groups because I like K-pop.


“f(x), Marie Claire Korea,” Hallyu Harmony, accessed August 17, 2014,

“Girl’s Day, CeCi Magazine (KpopBot),” Hallyu Harmony, accessed August 17, 2014,

“Miss A, The Star Magazine (Fan Pop),” Hallyu Harmony, accessed August 17, 2014,

“SISTAR, High Cut Magazine (,” Hallyu Harmony, accessed August 17, 2014,

“A Pink, CeCi Magazine (Blossoms),” Hallyu Harmony, accessed August 17, 2014,


Rachel. “How To Be A Fan of Problematic Things.” Social Justice League. 18 Sept 2011. Web. 17 Aug 2014.
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How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love K-pop Girl Groups by CeeFu is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

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.


Dong Ha, Golden Cross

In Golden Cross, the family of Kang Do Yoon (played by Kim Kang Woo) unwittingly gets caught up in a high-stakes game of national finance, corruption and revenge. While we feel immensely sorry for the ever-increasing tragic events that befall the family, we are also appalled at the lengths that Seo Dong Ha (played by Jung Bo Suk), the drama’s villain, goes to maintain his illusion. His ambition is fueled by his delusion, his attempt to cover the sky with his hand. On a personal level, he deludes himself into thinking he deserves a “world’s greatest dad” t-shirt when he tries to keep his nefarious and illegal deeds away from his prosecutor daughter. There are several times during the drama when it actually looks like he believes the lies he tells. As his violence escalates, so does his delusion: it’s ok to kidnap, threaten and attempt to kill people.  Even when he’s caught red-handed, he tries to pull a Jedi mind trick in order to escape responsibility and blame.

On a public level, he deludes himself into thinking that his ambition serves the national interest. After Do Yoon exposes Dong Ha’s illegal bank activities and involvement in murder on national television, Dong Ha doesn’t miss a beat. He looks straight into that camera and makes himself the victim.  What makes Jung Bo Suk’s performance so icky is that no matter what the evidence is before him, he’s sticking to his story!


Kim Suk Joo, A New Leaf

Kim Suk Joo (played by Kim Myung Min) starts out the same way in A New Leaf, but as the title suggests, he changes.  Before his unfortunate accident, you do not want to run into Suk Joo in the courtroom equivalent of a back alley. There is no buildup: Suk Joo is introduced as a cutthroat lawyer, and he likes being that way.  He has no problem beating down on Korean workers exploited by the Japanese in the first episode! Everyone is afraid of his cool demeanor. He’s not one to be crossed. And while his work often puts him on the opposite side of honor and justice, he’s ok with that. He’s bending the law as far as it will go, and he has no problem breaking it too. It’s only after he loses his memory and comes to grips with his former life does he realize just how corrupt he was.  He slowly sees that he was trying to cover the sky with his hand by acting like his actions did not have consequences. Unlike Dong Ha, Suk Joo tries to rectify his mistakes by taking cases where the weak are being trampled by the strong. This makes him a redeemable character, but it also shows him to be unique, as his firms continues its shady dealings as it makes inroads into government and business.

While these Kdramas have characters who either remain delusional and never see the error of their ways, or change their course after realizing their delusion, there are other characters who do not have the luxury of being delusional. Suk Joo’s father always thought his son was a schmuck, but my favorite is Do Yoon’s mother, Oh Geum Shil (played by Jung Ae Ri). Once she decides Dong Ha is the villain, she never lets up. While Do Yoon is initially taken in by Dong Ha’s scheme to frame his father, Geum Shil is “omma of the year” because she is never taken in.

Golden Cross Main Poster

Golden Cross Main Poster

Images:  1, 2, 3, 4

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Trying to Cover the Sky With Your Hand: Delusion and Corruption in Golden Cross and A New Leaf by CeeFu is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

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.

In June 2014, major English-langauge K-pop media sites reported a “scandal” involving Park Bom. Many based their coverage on Korean-language sources that characterized the resurfacing of a drug investigation of Park Bom four years ago as a “scandal.”  Based on a report by Segye Ilbo, a Korean-language publication published in New York, allkpop reported:  “However, it has been revealed that the prosecutors (back in 2010) decided to suspend her case, meaning they would neither investigate nor punish her for the crime. This news has left many wondering why she was let off so easily and whether it was due to her celebrity status.”  seoulbeats used sources that include Ilyo, a Korean site:  “But despite registering a case against her, the case was suspended a month later, with presumably no progress made on the case since. ‘Since’ being late 2010, because this case happened four years ago and we’re only learning about it now. Naturally, questions are being asked. Mainly: how did Bom get away without being charged?”

Similarly, Korean media cited by English-language outlets characterized fan response as a backlash.   hellokpop cited an article from the Korean portal site Naver that called for Park Bom to retire:  “The top comment on a Naver article, which has more than 1,100 thumbs up said Park Bom should ‘retire’:  ‘She needs to retire from the industry. Doing drugs alone is an extreme crime but smuggling them in? If this was China, she’d be given the death sentence.’ A similar comment received more than 7,500 thumbs up in another Naver article.”



A similar pattern happened with the “scandal” involving Sulli and Choiza (of Dynamic Duo).  Sulli’s relationship with Choiza was characterized as a “dating rumor” by Korean media, a characterization passed on in English-language coverage.  Using sources from Star News, a Korean language site, and Nate, another Korean web portal, Koreaboo reported that “Dynamic Duo’s Choiza and f(x)’s Sulli are under fire once more with rumors rebounding about their relationship.” Koreaboo had earlier reported on “a scandal after photos of their alleged date circulated online.”

English-language media outlets using Korean-language sources is nothing new.  The practice is essential for global fans who want information about Korean artists. In the case of “scandal,” these stories highlight the cultural differences between fans. I am reluctant to give such responses the side-eye just because they do not resonate with my own experience as an American fan. Our celebrity culture is quite different.  Global fans may be perplexed at how a four-year-old investigation of Park Bom and rumours about Sulli’s dating life are relevant, but Korean media suggests that Korean fans see such incidents as scandalous.

In addition, the displeasure of Korean fans has real-world impact. Korean K-pop fans are unique in that they are at ground zero for K-pop.  They are often the first and primary audience for the activities of K-pop artists, including concerts, fan meetings and television shows. Many Korean fan clubs have developed formal relationships with Korean agencies through official fan clubs, many of which international fans are not able to join.  While some believe this arrangement puts Korean K-pop fans at the mercy of Korean agencies, “scandals” in K-pop demonstrate how much agency such fans have.

Both Park Bom and Sulli have withdrawn from professional activities as a direct result of the negative perception of very vocal Korean fans.  Negative public perception played a role in Park Bom’s withdrawal from the variety show Roommate:  “Park Bom said through her agency, YG Entertainment, ‘I am very sorry to all for having a great controversy because of me. Because I feel terrible, I don’t have the confidence to film for ‘Roommate’.'”  SM Entertainment’s official statement offered this explanation for Sulli’s break from promotions:  “Because she is suffering physically from her ailments and mentally from the malicious and untrue rumors that are spreading about her, Sulli has requested that she take a break from all entertainment activities.”

Such events suggest that the perception of Korean fans are contextualized by Korean culture. Rather than pawns in the public relations game of Korean agencies, Korean K-pop fans have in impact on the careers of Korean artists. At the same time, those perceptions are shaped by Korean media for global fans.


Images: 1, 2


CallMeNOONA. “Park Bom Will Not Attend ‘Rommate’ Filming.” Soompi. 5 Jul 2014. Web. 27 Jul 2014.

—–.  “f(x)’s Sulli to Take a Break From All Entertainment Activities.”  Soompi. 24 July 2014. Web. 27 Jul 2014.

Gaya. “Park Bom Revealed To Have Tried Drug Smuggling.” seoulbeats. 30 Jun 2014. Web. 27 Jul 2014.

ohgelie. “Sm Entertainment and Amoeba Culture Respond to Sulli and Choiza’s Dating Photos.” koreaboo. 26 Sept 2013. Web. 27 Jul 2014.

Philip. “Breaking: 2NE1′s Park Bom hit with drug smuggling allegations.” hellokpop. 1 Jul 2014. Web. 27 Jul 2014.

—–. “Netizens saying Park Bom should ‘retire’ and be thrown in jail.” hellokpop. 1 Jul 2014. Web. 27 Jul 2014.

“Rumors About Dynamic Duo’s Choiza and f(x)’s Sulli Dating Re-Ignite From Photos of Sulli Found in Choiza’s Wallett + Amoeba Culture Releases Statement.”  koreaboo. N.d. Web. 27 Jul 2014.

“[Updated] 2NE1’s Park Bom revealed to have attempted to smuggle drugs + YGE preparing to release a statement.” allkpop. 30 Jun 2014. Web. 27 Jul 2014.

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Media, K-pop Fans and Scandal: Park Bom and Sulli by CeeFu is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.


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,

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

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!


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.


“Empress Ki/기황후 (2014), Main Poster,” Kdrama Kommentary, accessed July 12, 2014,

“Empress Ki/기황후 (2014), Wang Yoo,” Kdrama Kommentary, accessed July 12, 2014,

“Empress Ki/기황후 (2014), Emperor,” Kdrama Kommentary, accessed July 12, 2014,

“Empress Ki/기황후 (2014), Empress Ki/Sungnyang,” Kdrama Kommentary, accessed July 12, 2014,

“Empress Ki/기황후 (2014), Tal Tal,” Kdrama Kommentary, accessed July 12, 2014,
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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


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,

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 …


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


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)”


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”


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


“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.

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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?  

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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. 

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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. 

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