Post #100! Thanks for reading.
k-pop & critical thinking
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written by M. LEE
My First Love Story
Post #100! Thanks for reading.
Brown Eyed Girls for Dazed & Confused Korea
2PM, “I’m Your Man”. More J-pop! In the interest of making some kind of year-end roundup I’ve been going through things I missed (deliberately or otherwise) and oh man, 2PM’s Japanese singles are so good! I’ve mentioned "Take Off" before, but I think the whole breezy electronic J-pop thing works well for them, especially coming off of a string of dark rap-and-revenge Korean singles. They really do sound much better when they’re able to chill out. Their Japanese singles work with their abilities and play to their strengths. In both “Take Off” and "Ultra Lover", the song is able to disguise weak singing as tremors of emotion, and for all the songs sound similar, they do succeed in having two different moods.
And here, in “I’m Your Man”, they manage to convey passion and drama without sounding rigid and overwrought, as was the problem with similar-sounding Korean singles like "I’ll Be Back", where they all sounded on the verge of tears the entire song and not in a good way. Here, smart production regulates the drama, and the singing is smooth and controlled, not strained. (That might just be a happy accident of language - now that I think about it, they’ve always sounded like they’re singing really hard in their Korean singles, but perhaps in the Japanese ones they concentrate more on the sounds and less on screaming to the back of the theatre.) The Backstreet Boys frame helps, too, and mixing the rap in with the singing keeps it fresh.
Before you say anything, I’m not linking this article because I endorse it, but because I want to point out why it stinks.
It stinks because earlier this year another Seoulbeats writer pointed out the ethnocentricity of laughing at “Engrish”, which is an article I do endorse. To wit:
The thing with “English-speaking privilege” (akin to white privilege, straight privilege, etc.) is that as English speakers, we expect the world to be suited towards our English-speaking needs, and we try to measure all usage of the English language by our own narrow standards. And why? Well, to us, we feel that English has been widely accepted as the “norm” – the supposed “standard” for modernization. As English speakers, we expect English to have one purpose and one purpose only: as a vessel for the coherent and syntactically-and-semantically correct communication of words, thoughts, and ideas. So when we see English used in an unfamiliar context, we treat it with the same regard as any other example of English we see in our everyday lives, instead of acknowledging the possibility that to others, the entire concept of the English language may hold a different meaning than that of our own.
Granted, that’s not entirely the same conversation - she’s talking about the use of English in Korean lyrics, while the writer of “Ruining Idol English” is talking about how fluent English speakers (native or otherwise) are reduced to being English-sound vending machines, thus supposedly chipping away at their language skills (though the article does briefly invoke lyrics like Rainbow’s “easy access line”, presumably to point out the low fluency standard for English in K-pop/the kinds of things these poor native speakers are forced to say).
It stinks because it takes the fact that language proficiency - or really, proficiency in anything - atrophies with disuse and makes it out to be controversial, problematic, and/or artificially imposed (“your company hacks away at your English”). It’s a fact, and it’s only a problem if you view English fluency as something precious and valuable that must never be corrupted by using Other languages, and I do mean to capitalize that. It has little to do with K-pop, other than the fact that idols are people who more or less need to speak in Korean in public all the time with fewer opportunities to speak non-Korean languages in public or in private.
And finally, it stinks because it says Jessica and Tiffany “sound like bimbos”. (How does a bimbo sound, pray tell?) The video the writer cites is not a real interview in which they have to give their opinions, but a promotion for a smartphone application. Despite the article’s title, here the writer is not concerned with their grammar or fluency, but with their “cotton candy for brains”. I think any vapidity in the video (which actually sounds like casual conversation to me, not exceedingly stupid) comes from a lack of improvisational skill, not intelligence.
To associate English proficiency (the article’s main topic) with intelligence is WAY ethnocentric, and anyway it’s a different, longer, and way more tired argument: Why do pop stars all sound like airheads?
Just got this book as a belated birthday present! I’m excited to get into it, especially to get some background on Hallyu. And hell no I am not going to put a jacket on it when I take it on the bus.
Any other academic books on K-pop of the past 10 years or so?
and you’re going to have to repeat it so many times.
Last month I started learning Korean for real with Rosetta Stone, like I said I would. (Actually, I’ve progressed ahead of my brother, if just because he’s started university and has no time and I’ve finished and have lots.) Not sure if it’s improved my comprehension or my grammar skills at all - the only two sentences I can form without 5 minutes of preparation are “The man is drinking water” and “The egg is white”, and don’t ask me how to say “bicycle”. And no, I’ve never thought of “안녕하세요” as a question as the software insists it is (like 10 times a unit) because that’s not how the lady at the grocery store says it.
The one time recently that I have noticed my Korean comprehension improving was, strangely, at the end of Bruce McDonald’s Hard Core Logo 2. Without giving too much away, there’s someone speaking in Korean at the beginning and at the end. What he says at the end isn’t translated, but I understood him saying hello to his family (mother, father, older brother, older sister) and then saying “Lady Gaga 너무 예뻐”, “Lady Gaga is very pretty”. Okay, so any SHINee fan could have gotten that last one, but for a moment I felt both really awesome for immediately hearing and understanding what he said and really sad to realize the full extent to which K-pop has colonized my brain.
Big Bang, “Beautiful Hangover”. Ugh, they had so much potential in 2010, and then they had to go and make “Love Song” AND LOOK WHERE THAT’S GOTTEN THEM. Seriously though, right now this is my favourite song.
The latest Wonder Girls album has a track mysteriously called, in English, "Me, in". It’s a Gaga-does-Xtina (or the other way around?) rock stomper featured in their first teaser for their latest album:
Many international fans, who generally prize Fierceness above all else, were disappointed with “Be My Baby” and wished that “Me, in” could have been the lead single. The general conclusion was that the saccharine “Be My Baby” was meant to perform well in the Korean market while “Me, in” would be better suited for the North American-charting pop market. Apparently, bitchstomping is anathema to the South Korean mainstream.
In reality, though, it’s “Me, in” that has deep Korean roots, albeit in the world of rock, not pop - it’s a reworked version of a Shin Jung-Hyeon song (Korea’s “grandfather of rock”) from 1974 called “Beauty”, which in Korean is “미인”, transliterated as mi-in (geddit?). What’s more, the Wonder Girls aren’t the first to cover it, nor technically the first modern K-pop group. A quick tour, in YouTube link form:
The original from 1974. Pre-“WG brought me here!” comment: “Korean Deep Purple & Beatles. wonderful”
A cover by 80’s K-rock group Sinawe, the leader of which was Shin Jung-Hyeon’s son. Appropriately, the group also once included Seo Taiji, the daddy of modern K-pop, on bass.
Aside: I have a hunch that rock is becoming trendy in K-pop right now, but I’d like more evidence of a crossover before I make declarations. After all, F.T. Island and CN Blue have been around for a few years now. So far all I’ve got is “Me, in”, the Muse-y solo career of 2AM’s Jinwoon (which has produced some great songs so far and really merits its own post), that one member of After School, and Kim Yoon-ah of Jaurim being a contestant on idol talent show I Am A Singer.
Edit: Oh, right, and Big Bang’s transformation into U2, which I had forgotten about for a reason.
Edit #2: Also, B1A4’s debut single, "OK", the backing track of which, aside from some questionable synth noises, might be entirely instrument-based? Wow!
Blackstreet, “No Diggity”. Actually, it makes perfect sense that Teddy Riley is getting work in K-pop right now. Listening to “No Diggity”, it has the exact structure of the average K-pop song, minus the opening rap: verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, rap, chorus plus main vocal adlibs. The vocal adlibs also sound a lot like Junsu’s in 2PM’s “10 Points Out of 10”. Still deciding if this is fairly universal to pop. Do modern Western pop songs still do this and I just haven’t been paying attention?
Vigilant Citizen “Illuminati alerts” make me miss writing English or film papers where I just looked for any possible symbolism that could fit my thesis. There’s an analysis of Narsha’s “Bbi-Ri-Bop-A” and SHINee’s “Lucifer” here, and the screenshot of SHINee actually made me chuckle. Really though, this is probably a better review of the “Sixth Sense” video than anything I could come up with.