What I’m Listening To: “Maria,” Heo Young Saeng

HEOYOUNGSAENG_jpopasia

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

Heo Young Saeng, of SS501 (because, as every Triple S knows, they are NOT disbanded), recently made his comeback with “The Art of Seduction,” from  Life, his new mini-album. That’s great, but his comeback reminds me of my favorite song, “Maria,” from his last mini-album, Solo.

Who Does It

Young Saeng is a major vocalist in SS501, best known for ballads that show off his range, both in SS501 songs as well as his solo work. He’s best known for slow songs, like “Rainy Heart,” although he did switch it up by releasing “Let It Go,” a dance track, as the first single from his first mini-album of the name. Anyone who is familiar with his work knows that dude loves love.

Why I Like It

So, most people know that Young Saeng is my bias in SS501 (go Bad Boy Otter Prince!), and I’m not even going to try to hide how much I liked this song from the get-go. I like “Maria” because it allows Young Saeng to break from expectation and belt out a rock ballad. As the video shows, he has a live band behind him at this performance, and his voice is a great complement to the guitars. Idol groups are so often pigeon-holed and it’s really great to see Young Saeng show his vocal range. It also tickles me that this song is the longest (over 5 minutes!) on the album.

Image: Heo Young Saeng

Don’t Hate The Playa AND The Game: Recent Criticism of Kpop

Originally published on KPK: Kpop Kollective on June 4, 2011 by CeeFu

So, this week I ran across a brief story by Esther Oh on the “failure” of Kpop.  While I’m always open to hearing what others have to say about Kpop, good or bad, I disagreed with several points that she made.  Ok, it’s not just I don’t agree with what she says. What she says is not the Kpop world I know.

First of all, her story had “tone.”  It just didn’t take a position on Kpop, it set out from the get-go hatin’ on Kpop. It’s clear she has no love for Kpop.  She says she “cringe[s]” when she hears about the Wonder Girls or Rain. Personally, I have a different reaction when I hear about Rain, but that’s just ME, and I’m not even the biggest Rain fan in the world.

Rain; Credit: Esquire

That attitude runs throughout the story. She doesn’t think Kpop is all that, and look, according to her, “the world’s biggest music markets simply don’t care” either. As evidence, she takes shots at BoA, who “bombed” despite working with famous music industry types, and Se7en, who produced “complete flops.”  She says that both BoA and Se7en’s forays into the American music scene were “disastrous.” In other words, if a Korean artist fails to break into the American mainstream music scene, this translates into “failure.” By that standard, there are a whole lot of American music artists who are “failing” as we speak, because they are not super popular according to some secret measure. Hey wait, she never says what she means by “failure.” Are we talking record sales? concert attendance? popularity? There are many ways to measure success, none of which she clarifies. I think the popularity of Kpop sites, online fan clubs, twitter accounts and Facebook pages attest that SOMETHING is going on.

What I find very interesting is who she uses as examples of Kpop’s “failure.” She points to BoA and Se7en’s efforts from YEARS ago and ignores one of the most significant examples of Kpop’s attempts to interact with the pop scene in the United States just in December of last year: JYJ, who by measures of even mainstream success did respectable. And what about SM Town Live LA in 2010 that brought the biggest names in SM’s stable to a pretty large American audience?

Also, the United States does not equal the world. Um, the U.S. is part of the world, not the entire world. I looked on a map and checked. Plus, I live here. At the beginning of the article, she claims to talk about the failure of Kpop’s “global domination,” but only gives examples of artists and their experiences in the United States. Given that Hallyu is a global phenomenon, and not one solely directed at the United States, I find her conclusions to be, less than convincing. Especially given the love that other countries have for Kpop: Peru’s love affair with Changmin of TVXQ,  ELFs (fans of Super Junior) in Saudi Arabia, and Paris’ demands for an additional SMTown show.

Finally, there is a slippery slope when she talks about the use of American producers in Kpop. She asks the question:  “BoA and Se7en have sung songs in English that were produced by Americans, and were transformed and marketed (albeit, unsuccessfully) in a way to suit the American public. Is there, therefore, anything that is so specifically and exclusively “Korean” about their U.S. debuts or their music?”  Now, given that she chose two examples of artists who are consciously looking to break into the U.S. market casts some doubt on her conclusions.  But once again she completely ignores international fans who like their Kpop straight outta Korea with no changes, complete with actual Korean. It doesn’t bother us. She implies that Americans want American things, and won’t accept things that aren’t “American.” AND, that any kind of collaboration between US and Korean artists and producers must produce something palatable to the American mainstream. Psst, here’s a not-so-secret secret: Hallyu Kpop has always mixed Korean and Western influences (that’s a WHOLE OTHER POST). She seems to be completely ignorant of how often American producers are involved in Kpop albums and the great collaborations that result.  For example,  Sean Alexander and Steven Lee, producers both based in Los Angeles, worked on Heo Young Saeng’s (of SS501) album, Let It Go.  Yes, that album is SLAMMIN’ and YES, I am biased, but I also know what I like.  That’s some groovy stuff, and it is Kpop.

Esther Oh seems to assume that Americans don’t want Kpop and rumors of its success have been greatly exaggerated. Yeah, I’m taking this article with LARGE grain of salt.  In the end, it just seems to be just a very narrow take on Kpop, especially its international effects. So rarely do you see someone hate the playa AND hate the game.

SS501: This One Is All About You

“In my eyes,” SS501 is the brightest star in the kpop universe. I’m not hatin’ on anybody else, but I am a SS501 girl. I like them so much that I will occasionally tease them also.  It’s all peace and love. Just think of me as that cool noona always cheering them on.  Yeah, I’m working on research that is all intellectual, how they represent a transnational masculinity that negotiates between two ethnic cultures (having a degree means you can work the academese!) and what not, but this post is about the fangirl/boy in all of us.

Why do I like SS501? What’s not to like? Really, if you are going to like to SS501, you have to embrace ALL of SS501, from the sexy manly of “U R Man” and “Love Ya” as well as that cracktastic choreography of “A Song Calling for You.”  They are the wonderful embodiment of what I like in a kpop band: pretty and silly. That’s not easy to pull off.  Yeah, Kim Hyung Joon, we all know that you like to flaunt that tattoo in the “U R Man” video, but I’ve seen footage of you screaming in a Japanese cemetery. Yeah, Kim Hyun Joong, you are all pimptastic cool in “Love Ya,” but I’ve seen footage of you when you first wake up in the morning. It certainly goes against the complete pretty boy image that could be defining feature of a kpop boy band (oops, I mean idol band, because they are “men” now, y’all).

Contrary to popular belief, it is not all about how they look. According to the count on my iTunes, my most played SS501 song is “U R Man,” with “Deja Vu” close behind (what is even more curious is that Nicholas Tse’s “Huang Zhong Ren” outpaces them both–what’s up with that? clearly, another post).  I really can’t say which member is my favorite. Heo Young Saeng has a beautiful voice, and Kim Kyu Jong is a really strong dancer.  And Park Jung Min will tell you about all of his fantastic qualities! I like them each for different reasons; they each have different talents and personalities, which would warrant successful careers on their on, but you put that together, and it’s something special.  And I would venture to say that the reason why fans like SS501 is that they genuinely seem to like one another. How else are they going to be five united as one forever?

It’s an interesting time to like SS501, with all the emotional appeals and outbursts on the net about whether they are together (or not), will put out a new album (or not), etc. Leader Joong has to be one of the hardest working idols out there; it seems it’s everyday I hear something about him. Baby Joon is in a musical and Jung Min is about to drop his album in the new year (you know, if North Korea doesn’t act up). KyuSaeng showed up for a fan meeting recently.  BIG SHOUT OUT to all the Green Peas and Triple Ss running blogs, sites, Facebook groups and pages, because there is no way this SS501 train keeps moving without people who speak and read Korean translating for those of us who don’t. How else can we sing along IN KOREAN! What people should really pay attention to is the truly international appeal of SS501. Sisters are holding it down from the Philippines to the Middle East. I just found a student here in NC that shares my adoration of the band (hey, Michelle!). SS501 fans are everywhere. That, my friends, is deep.

So as we wait for the next SS501 “thing,” I have one thing to say:

“Baby, one more time!”