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

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