ICYMI: iFans Case Studies Status Update

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

Originally published on KPK: Kpop Kollective by CeeFu

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.

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Can We Get Some Facts, Ma’am?: Erroneous Reporting on Kpop by Mainstream Media

Originally published on KPK: Kpop Kollective in May 20, 2012 by CeeFu

Kpop fans are known for being strident in their opinions, but there is one thing we should all be able to agree on, and those are facts.  If Kpop fans can do it, surely mainstream American media outlets should be able to get the facts right about Kpop. However, several recent stories show that some mainstream American media misrepresent Kpop, which can present a distorted view of Kpop in America to those who are less-informed.

To be clear, I am not talking about statements on which reasonable people may disagree.  In April 2012, Los Angeles Times ran a story on Kpop entering the pop consciousness of Americans.  We can have different opinions on whether the choreography of The Boys is “gently lascivious,” or whether the girl groups are “groups of women deploying butt-kicking superhero imagery,” or whether SNSD‘s Gee “drew the blueprint for a culture to come.”

I’m talking about fundamental errors that prevent individuals from making up their own minds about Kpop based on facts.

National Public Radio (NPR)

In December 2011, NPR ran a story on the worldwide fans of Kpop, but focused on SNSD.  Here’s where Claudine Ebeid gets into trouble:  “They [SNSD] sold out Madison Square Garden.”  You do not need to be a SONE to understand how that is misleading.  Here is an informational video about the SM Town show in Madison Square Garden to which Ebeid refers:

As you can see, this is not the SNSD Tour; it is the SM Town World Tour, where SM Entertainment showcases several of its artists in one large show. SNSD does not have “top billing.” All of the acts are promoted equally.  The actual show did not showcase SNSD. Rather, the groups took turns performing, and members of several groups even performed with each other, as you can see with this performance of Hip Hop Papillon featuring Shindong and Eunhyuk of Super Junior and Minho and Key from SHINee (SNSD is not in this number).

The early placement of this statement in Ebeid’s story makes it seem that SNSD demonstrated its popularity through the SM Town show. If you are knowledgeable about Kpop, you know that is not true: SNSD did not headline the show, and as a result, did not sell out Madison Square Garden.  If you are not, this misrepresentation of the SM Town show would skew your opinion of SNSD and its impact in the U.S.

Rolling Stone

On May 18, 2012, Rolling Stone ran a story speculating on Kpop groups are most likely to “break in America.”  We can have civil discussion about who is and isn’t on this list, but there is a fundamental error.  Jeff Benjamin describes Kpop this way: “K-Pop is a mixture of trendy Western music and high-energy Japanese pop (J-Pop).”  This is not Kpop. August Brown did a better job describing the multiple influences found in Kpop in the Los Angeles Times story:  “K-pop artists pull from techno, hip-hop, R&B and top-40.”  Kpop is a mixture of several musical genres, and Jpop isn’t even the most dominant one. How do we know?  Well, you could listen to some Jpop and Kpop, or you can compare the way people define Kpop.

Wikipedia:  K-pop (Korean: 가요, Gayo) (an abbreviation of Korean pop or Korean popular music) is a musical genre consisting of pop, dance, electropop, hip hop, rock, R&B, electronic music originating in South Korea.  In addition to music, K-pop has grown into a popular subculture among teenagers and young adults around the world, resulting in widespread interest in the fashion and style of Korean idol groups and singers.

Before you get up in arms about the Wikipedia entry, take a look at the citations for this definition. They include academics and authors of actual books:

Jung, Sun (2011). Korean masculinities and transcultural consumption: Yonsama, Rain, Oldboy, K-Pop idols. Hong Kong University Press.

Hartong, Jan Laurens (2006). Musical terms worldwide: a companion for the musical explorer. Semar Publishers.

Kim, Myung Oak; Jaffe, Sam (2010). The new Korea: an inside look at South Korea’s economic rise. AMACOM Div American Mgmt Assn

Holden, Todd Joseph Miles; Scrase, Timothy J. (2006). Medi@sia: global media/tion in and out of context. Taylor & Francis

What’s really problematic about Benjamin’s uninformed reference to Jpop and Ebied’s error regarding the SM Town show is that both writers fail  to present basic information about Kpop correctly. This can affect their credibility, which is why the first thing in the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics is: Seek Truth and Report It. Now, I know we are not talking about politics or the law, but oddly enough, SPJ doesn’t make a distinction. It doesn’t say “seek truth and report it” on national affairs, but “make it up” when you are talking about culture. Consistency is key.  If writers take it upon themselves to write on a cultural phenomenon, then it is their responsibility to get the basic information correct.

Sources:

August Brown, K-pop enters American pop consciousness, Los Angeles Times

Claudine Ebeid, K-Pop Blows Up: Korean Music Finds Fans Worldwide, NPR

SM Entertainment, SM Town Live in New York_Information, YouTube

iKimization, [SMTown New York] SHINee and Super Junior (Minho, Key, Shindong, Eunhyuk), YouTube

Jeff Benjamin, The 10 K-Pop Groups Most Likely to Break in America, Rolling Stone

Kpop, Wikipedia

SPJ Code of Ethics, Society of Professional Journalists

Dancing in the Street: Choreography in Kpop

TVXQ, Wae (Keep Your Head Down)(screen capture); Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=djJb5iSL0Do

Dance is a huge part of mainstream Kpop, and while many recognize the dances popularized by the groups and artists, few know the people behind them: the choreographers. Not only do choreographers impact Kpop through their routines, they also have an impact on fans as well.

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The Unsung And The Unsaid In Kpop

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.

Read more at KPK: Kpop Kollective (originally published January 1, 2012)

The Unsung And The Unsaid In Kpop

Originally published on KPK: Kpop Kollective on January 1, 2012 by CeeFu

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.

It seems almost obligatory for anyone writing about Kpop to describe it as manufactured. Critics frequently focus on Kpop idol artists, who, in addition to making music, participate in other forms of entertainment, including variety shows and Kdramas, fashion shoots, endorsements and commercial films. In some ways it make sense.  Idol artists dominate Hallyu, and tend to be the most visible to audiences outside of Korea.

But critics tend to describe all Kpop artists as manufactured.  In defining Kpop on About.comBill Lamb writes, “As Western influences grew in Korean pop, the concept of the manufactured pop band took root as well.”  Renie of Seoulbeats, in pondering whether or not K-pop is too perfect, writes:  “Of course this all goes back to how idols are trained and manufactured.”  Lucy Williamson of BBC News states: “K-Pop is expensive to produce. The groups are highly manufactured, and can require a team of managers, choreographers and wardrobe assistants, as well as years of singing lessons, dance training, accommodation and living expenses.”

These writers are not wholly wrong. Let’s be real. Given the number of Kpop groups in circulation and the kind of profits that can be made from even a moderately successful group, it is naive to believe their promotion is not deliberate. However, instead of qualifying their statements, critics suggest that it applies to every idol and all members of an idol group.  Critics rarely name the artists against whom they level the charge, thereby qualifying their statements.  As a result, calling all Kpop artists manufactured has resulted in negative connotations.  At the heart of Kpop beats an artificial heart. Because the description is repeated so often without any challenge, it has become accepted as fact.The widespread idea that all Kpop is manufactured is surely a case of wikiality, coined by Stephen Colbert as truth by consensus, where “all we need to do is convince a majority of people that some factoid is true.”

Just because everyone says that Kpop is manufactured does not make it true. In fact, there is a strong case to be made that all Kpop is not manufactured. What does “manufactured” mean, and what do people really mean when they say that Kpop is manufactured?  The Oxford English Dictionary, the grandaddy of dictionaries of the English language, defines it this way:

1. a. Of an article, goods, etc.: produced from raw material, esp. for sale or trade; b. Chiefly depreciative. Of a literary work, a speech, etc.: produced in a mechanical or formulaic way, with little or no creativity, imagination, or originality.

2. Of a story, statement, etc.: fraudulently invented or produced; deliberately fabricated, false.

When writers routinely describe Kpop as “manufactured,” they mean primarily two things: that Kpop idols lack talent, and that the process that creates Kpop is artificial and fake.

Wikiality “Fact” #1: Kpop idols lack talent.

To say that Kpop artists are manufactured suggests that the artists themselves lack talent, and in this way are “fraudulently invented or produced.” Renie suggests this when generalizing about idol trainees:  “Trainees go in as a blank slate but come out as a product that can sing, dance, and sometimes act.”  Similarly, Jangta makes a distinction between singers and entertainers using this spectre of fakeness:  “Many mainstream K-pop groups today are actually strong at only three things. . . Unfortunately, singing isn’t one of them.” (Full disclosure: I am an assistant chief editor and editorial writer for hellokpop. Hey Jangta! :))

But is this true?  Most people would agree that you cannot fake good singing. There is more than enough evidence to prove that many idols can, in fact, sing well. Because Korea still has a live radio culture, idols regularly sing on the radio, a place where they cannot rely on autotune or slick production tricks.  I would imagine folk would regularly call in to complain about an idol’s inability to sing on the radio.

These aren’t even the hardcore idols singers, like Junsu of JYJ (formerly of TVXQ!), Yesung of Super Junior and Heo Young Saeng of SS501, individuals known for their voices.  But wait, you may say, “Every group can luck up and have one person who can sing, but the others are just filler.”  Are they? What do we make of groups that can harmonize, which suggests that all of them can sing?

The point here is that the sweeping generalization that all Kpop idols lack talent is contradicted by the actual landscape of Kpop.

Wikiality “Fact” #2: The training and production process of Kpop creates fake music.

To say that Kpop is manufactured also suggests that the music and the process that creates it lack “creativity, imagination or originality” and is therefore “artificial.” Such music is created through a process that is “mechanical or formulaic” because it is “produced. . . for sale or trade.”   Renie writes, “It irks me that the industry thinks idols can be formulated as if they are some sort of math problem.”  In a review of a review of an article, IATFB suggests that the basis of the comparison of Kpop groups and American pop groups like *NSYNC and Backstreet Boys rests on, “a corporate-vetted, manufactured sound.”   These statements suggest that the people who are involved in the production of Kpop are also talentless hacks who produce sucky music and janky dance routines.

But does a deliberate process of training individuals to sing and dance equal artificiality?  Let’s explore one of the first “manufactured” groups on the planet: The Monkees. In 1965, two producers wanted to capitalize on the popularity of The Beatles by creating a television series about a rock and roll group. When they couldn’t find a group to star in the series, they made one. They cast four guys: two musicians (Michael Nesmith and Peter Tork), a singer (Davy Jones) and a guitarist (Micky Dolenz).  However, in need a drummer, they trained Dolenz to play drums. While they played their instruments on tour, they did not play on the albums.

Sound familiar? Here’s the thing: these guys were not just picked for their good looks or their charisma. They had talent, but more importantly, the artistic team behind them, the writers and composers of their songs, also had talent.  Some of their biggest hits were written by people whose talent credentials were hard to question.  For example, Neil Diamond, inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011, wrote I’m A Believer. The people who played the instruments on their albums were veteran musicians. Just because the process by which a group is created is deliberately designed to be commercial does not mean that the actual music and those who create it are fake.

Similarly, the creative people behind Kpop idols are talented, even as they produce music made for commercial consumption (which is no different from any other pop music artist, I might add). While we were mesmerized by the members of Super Junior in the intro to the Mr. Simple video, has anyone wondered who sings that jazzy intro?  Because it’s not anyone in Super Junior:

That is Yoo Young Jin. Most people don’t know who he is, but he is the man responsible in some way for nearly every hit by artists of SM Entertainment, and, a talented singer in his own right.  Have you heard Young Jin sing? Would a person who can sing himself produce lots of people who can’t sing? Would he deliberately make his own albums suck? No, because that does not make sense.

What about the choreographers?  Jangta refers to the “easy-to-do” dance moves of Kpop artists.  This is not easy:

I can’t do this, and I’m willing to bet most of you can’t either. Ask a dance cover team if these are easy moves. These moves do not make themselves. They are the product of trained choreographers, and one of the best known is Rino Nakasone.  Nakasone, along with Sim Jaewon, are responsible for the choreography of both of these routines. Before choreographing for SME, Nakasone was a principal dancer working with Janet Jackson and Gwen Stefani and a choreographer for Britney Spears.

Impact on Asian Popular Culture

So what?  Stating that Kpop is manufactured takes away agency from those who produce it (most of whom are Asian) and contributes to the larger misconception that Asian culture is mere an imitation of other (read Western) cultures.

Most people would have you believe that idols have no agency. Renie seems to believe they are automatons who just do what they are told. But let me get a little philosophical on you. Antonio Gramsci, an Italian philosopher, talks about hegemony, where dominance occurs as the result of consent, meaning that those who have less power are not just forced or coerced into their positions.  Just because you may not have a lot of power does not mean you don’t have any power. Your consent is needed by those who have more power than you.

In relation to Kpop idols, they give their consent by participating in the Kpop business, but they also get something out of it. They are not mindless automatons. For every story you hear about an idol suing their company, there are untold stories of idols traveling around the world, learning new languages, learning to write and produce music, receiving royalties from the songs they write and generally having experiences they would not otherwise have.  It is too simplistic to say that Kpop idols just do what they are told.

To repeatedly say that Kpop idols do not have agency participates in a long-standing discourse that says Asians do not have agency.  Any Chinese, Japanese or Korean history course can tell you about the repeated incursions by Western powers as well as other Asian powers, but I’ve found no better illustration of this than Bruce Lee‘s iconic scene in Fist of Fury, where he insists that China is not “the sick man of Asia.”

To repeatedly say that Kpop is mere imitation perpetuates the idea that any form of Asian popular culture, particularly those that are very successful, is merely imitative.   Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic write that success among Asian cultures has been explained in negative terms before. Asians are described as “chameleons who, with no culture of their own, take on the cultural coloration of the society around them. . . . The negative aspect of this stereotype is not the purported adaptability, which could be considered a positive trait. Rather, it is the specific form of that adaptation, which is described as purely imitative with no creative component. . . . Asians. . . have similarly been described as imitative and without a culture of their own” (581-581).  When Nakasone is a principal dancer with Janet Jackson or Gwen Stefani, or choreographing for Britney Spears, it’s all cool, but when she choreographs Lucifer for SHINee or Keep Your Head Down for TVXQ!,  her moves suddenly become robotic.  Why? Because the dancers are Asian?

Kpop needs as much critical attention as it can get. But, it’s problematic when it comes in the form of generalized statements that perpetuate erroneous notions about Kpop in particular, and Asian popular culture in general. More nuanced critiques supported by concrete examples would go a long way to making the discussion more fruitful and enlarging the conversation on the impact of the success of Kpop on its quality.

Sources:
Renie, “Is K-pop Too Perfect?” seoulbeats.com
Lucy Williamson, “The Dark Side of South Korean Pop Music,” BBC News
Bill Lamb, “K-Pop,” about.com
Jangta, “How K-pop May Have Lowered Korean Music Standards,” hellokpop.com
IATFB, Critical Eye: Soompi’s Editorial On ‘Sick of K-pop Cult’ Article a Hypocritical Mess,” asianjunkie.com
Wikiality, Wikipedia in Culture, Wikipedia.com
The Monkees, Wikipedia.com
Dominic Mastroianni, Hegemony in Antonio Gramsci, emory.edu
Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, Critical Race Theory: The Cutting Edge, Google Books, 580-581.
Video Sources:
vivioncifer, Onew singing 다행이다 (It’s Fortunate) @ Ten Ten Club, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZihcUx_Te-c
mydeko, hyungjun sings love like this, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SlR828XJqHA&feature=related
mugglestudio, SS501 Acapella in Japan 2007, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u_Las4JeRKY
SM Entertainment, Mr. Simple, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6TwzSGYycM
SM Entertainment, Lucifer Dance Version, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ovztfpWPo5M
SM Entertainment, Keep Your Head Down Dance Version, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mm490aUEAZ8

 

People Not Products

 

Sometimes when people talk about idols, they talk about them as if they were only products manufactured to make money, like an iPad.  However, idols are people whose talents, abilities and popularity is based on more than a Korean agency’s manipulation.

Read more at hellokpop.com (Originally published on September 12, 2011)

Babies, Tweens and Grandmas: Unsung Fans of Kpop

 

Fangirls.

Some people say it like it’s a bad word. All too often, I find people saying condescending things about Kpop fans, assuming that they are all 12-year-old girls. They deserve respect, and so do the other fans of Kpop that people do not recognize.

Read more at hellokpop.com (Originally published on August 29, 2011)

Kpop Success In The U.S.: At What Cost?

 

Everybody wants to know: can Kpop succeed in the United States? Well, that depends on your definition of success. In order to enter the mainstream American music scene, Kpop would have to change so much that it would become unrecognizable to current fans.  But, if Kpop remained an underground phenomenon in the United States, it could be successful without compromising its identity.

Read more at hellokpop.com (Originally published on August 16, 2011)

Style Over Substance: Weighty Matters in Kpop

 

This week, Piggy Dolls released their newest MV Know Her, sparking many comments from netizens, who immediately noticed the significant weight loss of the trio. While Kpop groups are well-known for their radical changes in concept, the Piggy Doll’s switch-up bothers me because it represents a shift not just in image but in talent as well.

Read more at hellokpop.com (Originally published on August 1, 2011)

Gentlemen, Gangsters And The Guys Next Door: The Many Faces Of The Male Kpop Idol «

 

I know you have heard about the “4D personality”, but what about the “3G idol”?

That’s what I call certain idols who manage to be gentlemen, gangsters and the guys next door without making you scratch your head. Some people say that all idols are the same, but the ability of certain male idols to present a variety of images makes them stand out and shows the many different ways one can be a man…….click on the link below to read more: 

Gentlemen, Gangsters And The Guys Next Door: The Many Faces Of The Male Kpop Idol «.

Published on hellokpop.com on July 2, 2011.

Why Kpop NEEDS Shinhwa To Make A Comeback «

 

“Shinwho?”

That’s what I saw one netizen post in response to the recent rumors of a Shinhwa comeback. For shame!  While I am ecstatic about the possibility of a Shinhwa comeback, there are skeptics, and worse, those who don’t even know about Shinhwa. Let me tell you something right now: a Shinhwa comeback is an earth-shattering event that would transform the Kpop world forever…….click on the link below to read more.

Why Kpop NEEDS Shinhwa To Make A Comeback «.

Published on hellokpop.com June 22, 2011.

NFT: Noonas For Taemin!

Originally published on KPK: Kpop Kollective on June 15, 2011 by CeeFu

Everyone knows that noonas the world over have a special relationship with SHINee, and particularly Taemin. I’m not talking about THAT kind of relationship! All noonas are not pedi noonas! As the maknae of SHINee, Taemin is the adorable center of the confection that is SHINee (yeah, Minho, I know you are in charge of aegyo, whatever).

Look, even Key mommy looks after Taemin. So easily does Taemin capture anyone’s heart, that we here at KPK we have dubbed him THE EVERYBOO, because he’s everybody’s boo!

So, I call on noonas from around the world to start a quasi-secret organization, and it will be called NFT, Noonas For Taemin! We would be like the Justice League, and when Taemin needed us, our sign would appear in the sky like the spotlight for Batman. Ok, I know don’t what our logo would look like, somebody would have to come up with one.  Ooh ooh, and we could have t-shirts and a secret gang sign!  And we’d roll like the Jedi, because “always there are two, a master and an apprentice.” Also, rolling in twos would be good for the noonas. Ok, here’s how it breaks down with Taeminnie. We all adore this Taemin:

Super cute smile sure to brighten up your day! This Taemin will give noonas candy. But then there is the OTHER Taemin. You know the one. THIS Taemin:

Yeah…..so in order for noonas to do their job properly, we need to roll in sets of two or more. Let’s face it, Taemin is a good-looking guy. At any age. But noonas only appreciate the pretty that is Taemin, at least until when the international countdown clock on Taemin’s age ticks down to legal……Ok, FOCUS! NOONAS LOOK OUT FOR TAEMIN! We do not take advantage of him like OTHER women will surely try to!

But you may ask, what does Taemin need to be protected from? And why are noonas the best people for the job?

Taemin needs to be protected from the crazy and evil of the world. He is such a sweet soul, going about his business, thinking about candy and puppies and rainbows, and then something like THIS busts out on the internet:  SHINee’s Little Taemin Gaining Weight?”  See, no. Do not try to give this boy a complex about his weight. He’s still growing, of course his appearance is going to change. He is perfectly fine any way that he is. THIS is why noonas need to protect Taemin. Only a noona would get all up in some stranger’s face over somebody she doesn’t even know. Remember, candy? That’s right. Noonas have a bond with Taemin and are tailor-made to be his protectors!

And, we could have adventures with our sidekick, Key mommy! Ok, let’s be real, we’d all be the sidekick to Key mommy. But still! Imagine us all united in purpose to protect Taemin! Now, all somebody has to do is tell Taemin and we can get this party started.

What do you think? :)