My Favoritest Favorite. . . Songs By Bias K-pop Groups!

I like a lot of K-pop groups (a LOT…of K-pop groups), but I have four bias groups (SS501, Shinhwa, SHINee and Super Junior), my favoritest favorites. I looked at my iTunes to see which songs by my bias groups I played the most. I was surprised!

Continue reading “My Favoritest Favorite. . . Songs By Bias K-pop Groups!”

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


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

Dancing in the Street: Choreography in Kpop

TVXQ, Wae (Keep Your Head Down)(screen capture); Source:

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.

Continue reading “Dancing in the Street: Choreography in Kpop”

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.

Renie, “Is K-pop Too Perfect?”
Lucy Williamson, “The Dark Side of South Korean Pop Music,” BBC News
Bill Lamb, “K-Pop,”
Jangta, “How K-pop May Have Lowered Korean Music Standards,”
IATFB, Critical Eye: Soompi’s Editorial On ‘Sick of K-pop Cult’ Article a Hypocritical Mess,”
Wikiality, Wikipedia in Culture,
The Monkees,
Dominic Mastroianni, Hegemony in Antonio Gramsci,
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,
mydeko, hyungjun sings love like this,
mugglestudio, SS501 Acapella in Japan 2007,
SM Entertainment, Mr. Simple,
SM Entertainment, Lucifer Dance Version,
SM Entertainment, Keep Your Head Down Dance Version,


The REAL SM Entertainment Conspiracy

People, you have been fooled! SM Entertainment has distracted you with multi-year contracts, lawsuits and tales of exploitation, but I know what the REAL conspiracy is.

Are you ready?

SM is CLONING idols!!! YES!  I am 84.7 % positive that SM has a team of scientists whose sole job is to clone idols. You haven’t noticed a slew of attractive Korean men who have cheeky cheeks and sing really well? Look!

Exhibit 1: Hye Sung of Shinhwa

Cheeky cheeks? Check! Pouty lips? Check! I suspect that Hye Sung is really the original, from which SM is taking genetic material for other idols. He is quiet and seems fairly sweet, and some have referred to him as a prince. These are things we will encounter with the clones. Oh, and let’s not forget about his singing ability!

Read more here at KPK: Kpop Kollective (originally published on July 1, 2011)

The REAL SM Entertainment Conspiracy

Originally published in July 1, 2011 by CeeFu

People, you have been fooled! SM Entertainment has distracted you with multi-year contracts, lawsuits and tales of exploitation, but I know what the REAL conspiracy is.

Are you ready?

SM is CLONING idols!!! YES!  I am 84.7 % positive that SM has a team of scientists whose sole job is to clone idols. You haven’t noticed a slew of attractive Korean men who have cheeky cheeks and sing really well? Look!

Exhibit 1: Hye Sung of Shinhwa

Cheeky cheeks? Check! Pouty lips? Check! I suspect that Hye Sung is really the original, from which SM is taking genetic material for other idols. He is quiet and seems fairly sweet, and some have referred to him as a prince. These are things we will encounter with the clones. Oh, and let’s not forget about his singing ability!

Exhibit 2: Young Saeng of SS501

Wait, you may say. SS501 is not an SM group; they were with DSP and are now in separate agencies. Oh, but don’t you remember that back in the day, Young Saeng was an SM trainee?! Note the similar cheeky cheeks and pouty lips.  Young Saeng is the quietest member of SS501. And what do they call him? The Otter PRINCE! SHY PRINCE! Oh, and don’t forget HIS ability to sing!

Exhibit 3: Yesung of Super Junior

C’mon, do I have to say it? Cheeks. Lips. LOOK AT HIM!!!  Oh, and what do they call him? THE CLOUD PRINCE OF SUPER JUNIOR! But the cloning wouldn’t be successful if he couldn’t sing:

SM isn’t even trying to hide it! They barely bother to change names from one clone to the next: Hye Sung, Young Saeng, Yesung! C’mon people! Wake up and smell the conspiracy! They make little changes so you don’t notice. They put them in groups so that you can’t focus on them. I’ve been taking one for the team, scrutinizing these guys to bring you this breaking news! And SM is smart. These aren’t exact duplicates. They make a little alteration here, a little change there, so the general public will not notice. I’m not saying that they are the SAME; I’m pretty sure that I’ve seen Young Saeng and Yesung in the same room. People can independently vouch that Hye Sung and Young Saeng are NOT the same person. But, I am 84.7% positive that we are working with the same basic genetic stock here.

However, I must say, I don’t mind this conspiracy. I can accept as many cheeky cheeked, pouty-lipped idols who can sing as SM can produce.  You don’t think this is merely my imagination, do you?  This isn’t at all like that other thing about Taeyang and Jay Park being the same person. I think we’ve all accepted that’s a fact.

Photo Credits:

Video Credits:
Young Saeng Sings Bogoshipda,

Shin Hye Sung Sings You Raise Me Up,

Yesung Sings Polaris,

Love Letter #1 to Kpop

Dear Kpop,

How are you? I hope you are well, but I have some concerns about our relationship.

First, you know that all lovers of Kpop are not in Korea, or even Asia, right? You do realize you got people who speak from Spanish and Arabic loving you, right? We are like the people of Whoville in Dr. Seuss’ “Horton Hears a Who.”  “WE’RE HERE!!” We may not have superlarge numbers, but we are here. And we know our SS501, Super Junior, TVXQ, SNSD, 2NE1, etc. WE KNOW YOU!!  We love you, you need to love us back!!! Come say hi sometime!

Second, you know we love you just the way you are, right? From the aegyo to the sexy, we got your back. So when I actually heard Ayy Girl by JYJ, I was afraid that you were changing, and not in a good way. I’m not going to jump on the bandwagon of Kanye West-haters, but that song should be credited this way: Ayy Girl by Kanye West, featuring JYJ.  That ain’t Kpop! Just because you have Korean boys singing doesn’t make it Kpop!!!! Where is my Korean? I know this is a CONSTANT gripe, but I can’t let it go.  If you aren’t careful, American producers will take the K out of Kpop, and then where will we be?

I know there is a certain kind of value attached to an English language album, but really, English isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. 🙂

Oh and no, I’m not even getting into the Crips-Bloods feud between TVXQ and JYJ. I will tell you this: GET OVER IT!!! You are going to look back and think, “I said WHAT!”  Give TVXQ their credit: Keep Your Head Down is slammin’, especially since they are down THREE sexy men.  JYJ: do your thing, there is enough adoration to go around.

So, Kpop, you just keep being you! We’ll always be here!  Don’t be like Netflix (we are TOTALLY seeing other people!!!)

Love Ya!

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!”

Boys Over Flowers: The Aestheticization of the Korean Male? Or THEY’RE SO PRETTY!!!!!!

Dedicated to my Kdrama Kousin, Emily!

Welcome to the inaugural post for the new category on High Yellow, the Kdrama Kafe! Spoilers ahead (like you haven’t seen it!)

Now, Boys Over Flowers is not my first kdrama, but I can see why it is much beloved.  And like many, I like it for the Boys! But let’s dispense with the girls first.  I can’t figure out if I’m not enamored with the actress who plays Jan Di, or Jan Di herself.  She starts out great: fiesty, sassy, and violent.  But as the series wears on, I can’t believe how passive-passive she gets.  Even her sidekick-friend Ga Eul has more character growth than she does.  But to her credit, she still wants to make her own way.  She could be nicer to Gu Jun Pyo.

Speaking of the men…..I know that this is based on a Japanese manga, Hana Yori Dango, which spawned a Japanese drama and a Taiwanese drama, but the Koreans showed why they OWN the drama.  Just for my own edification, I decided to watch the first episode of the other two, particularly the introduction of F4, to test a theory.  In Hana Yori Dango, the female progatonist seems more anti-F4, but F4 themselves do not strike me as particularly enviable.  In Meteor Shower, the Taiwanese version, the creators do a slightly better job of making you think these are privelged sons of industry (or in Woo Bin’s case, illegitimate industry). But the introduction of F4 in Boys Over Flowers convinced me that F4 was every bit as priveleged and snotty  as they are supposed to be, at least in the beginning.  They roll into school with that halo of light behind them with expressions that imply, “What?”

So why do I like them?  Because whoever styled them deserves a medal, hence the theme of this post!  These guys are dressed, I mean DRESSED.  Who sports white suits, canes and fur to go to school?  They are pimptastic! For real, it takes a special man to rock eyelet (yes, I’m talking to you Kim Bum!).  Now, some may argue that I am objectifying these young men, not allow them to be fully realized human beings with thoughts and feelings. Hey, I’m all ears to hear whatever they got to say. Hit me up on the blog! 🙂

But I think there is another way to read this.  Way back in the day, intentional clothes mattered. They were emblems of personal style and expression. When people dressed for dinner. You know you’ve caught yourself watching some old movie from Hollywood’s glamour period.  I can remember my mom talking about how they looked forward to dressing up on the weekend to go dancing (not even trying to put my mom in Hollywood’s golden age; she would kill me for putting her age on blast on the internet).  You don’t even have to go back that far. F4 reminds me of the New Romantics of the 80s. Clothes may not give us world peace, but there is a tradition of intentional dressing, significant to communities the world over.  It means something. And that’s what I like about the Boys in Boys Over Flowers.  THEY’RE SO PRETTY! And I say that with much love and affection!

So to close out the post in an appropriate manner, here’s a little video!  Gentlemen of the world, remember, women love a well dressed man! Shout out to SS501, who make that sneaky cameo in Boys Over Flowers! Oh, and one question: where does one find a Lincoln Continental in Korea?