I find your review problematic. You’re judging Yongguk by your own Western standards and completely ignoring the society from which his views come. You call BAP imperialist because you claim their song wants all other cultures to confirm to Korean ideals, yet you criticize Yongguk because you want him to conform to your own Western ideals.
Yongguk may not fit your perfect image of a politically correct person, but how could you expect him to? He didn’t grow up in a culture that emphasizes equal treatment of all races (though neither did any of us, I won’t act superior). Yongguk is one of the few Korean idols who not only respects other cultures but genuinely is interested in them. He sponsors orphaned children in Africa, has visited them, and wants to adopt children from foreign countries in the future. Yet you have the audacity to suggest that because he does not understand your views that you cultivated as a result of numerous years growing up in a completely different culture and social environment, he is fetishizing other cultures.
You claim that because BAP doesn’t understand the intricacies of American political correctness in their /music video/ that they are racist. You do exactly as I said. You judge these people from an entirely different culture by YOUR cultural ideals, without bothering to research any of the sociopolitical culture within Korea. Stop trying to cause problems within our fandom, you’re only acting like hypocrites anyway.
Since you’re talking to me, I thought I should respond. Sorry that it’s taken me so long.
This is the "cultural relativist" defense that I mentioned in my blurb, and like I said then, it is fair. Obviously, I can’t help but judge this video from my Western viewpoint, the one that wags a finger and says, “He should know better,” rather than one that accepts that “he doesn’t know any better”. But what I am suggesting in my blurb is: why do we leave it at that? B.A.P come from a different cultural point of origin, yes, and I respect that. But why is it bad to want cross-cultural understanding to go both ways?
I see a parallel between this and the use of B.A.P’s image in One Direction’s “Best Song Ever” video. Some fans were upset at the mere association between B.A.P and 1D, but there was also the implication that somehow, they had gotten it wrong; that they only looked at B.A.P and saw identical hair colours and used this to represent the idea of a homogeneous, bland boy band, whether or not this was reflective of reality. Whoever chose to use this image didn’t know any better, either, and yet the hurt of misrepresentation was still there, and more importantly, still valid.
As Jessica illustrated in her blurb, there are B.A.P fans that this video has caused hurt to, regardless of its point of origin. These are fans that did not grow up in the same culture as B.A.P, it is true, but that shouldn’t invalidate the fact that this video has hurt them. Intent means a lot, yes, but so does execution. I wouldn’t want an American film crew to go to a foreign country and make a movie that portrays the local people in a way that they perceive as harmful, even if they have respect for these people - and this has happened countless times in history, and it’s not okay when they do it, even if they are coming from the same place as my Western standards.
In short, it’s true that I am judging them from my own cultural ideals because I can’t help it, and it’s true that it is wrong of me to assume evil intent. But I’m judging the product they have created, and it’s also true that there are genuine problems with this video, regardless of the place where it comes from.
And just 14 hours after the VMAs, it remains PROBLEMATIC O’CLOCK!
Madeleine Lee: What to make of this level of cultural appropriation — not the flash style-skimming we’re used to from the YG roster, but one that comes perilously close to invoking the word “soul”? For “Badman” is not entirely the product of some context-poor upper-level corporate decision. B.A.P’s leader and creative nucleus Bang Yongguk, whose Neruda-quotin’, Kahlo-admirin’ ways have surely earned him a Complex interview by now, has made reference to MLK in his lyrics, once citedBlack Like Me as a book he reads several times a year, and is the kind of guy who tweets about "becoming one through music beyond race." So this is coming from a more enlightened place than it may seem, but enlightened fetishization is, well, still fetishization. If anything, the problem with “Badman” may be that it knows too much, and so tries to do too much. The song stumbles from post-Kanye electronica to dub to generically “exotic” breakdown to their usualslogan-shouting, all without apparent forethought; the last one seems more like a default safe stance than an attempt to bring things together. The video is just as confused: Is it helping Detroit or exploiting it? What’s with the painfully obvious kissing white couple/violent black men parallel? Does its portrayal of a riot glorify violence or glorify the struggle, and which is worse? Half a black face doesn’t count, right? Of course, expectations can be adjusted. This is still pretty bold for a mainstream idol group, and for the other stuff, stans have continually invoked the cultural relativism defense, which is fair. But the thing is, “Badman” positions B.A.P as global saviours. And when you’ve decided a bunch of people need saving, but insist your own cultural standards be upheld, that’s not aid — that’s imperialism. 
Neither here nor there: As an ex-Givenchy-head, I like the drapey costuming a lot. And I feel the need to pre-emptively emphasize that I like Bang Yongguk - the art appreciation thing goes very far with me - it’s just that I’m not always willing to back him up when I don’t agree with him.
In addition to getting ni hao’d earlier this week while trying to buy a chocolate bar (should’ve gone for an apple, I guess) and then being asked to explain why I didn’t speak Chinese, today a guy pulled me over while I was waiting on my bike at a red light and asked if I wanted to hang out with him because he liked my eyes. We talked for a bit, I missed my green light, he asked some invasive questions about my facial paralysis. But it was when he said, “So where are you…your parents from?” that I decided I’d had enough. I said “They’re from Canada,” shook his hand, and biked off.
I’m done with this. On my ride home, I fumed and planned to make pamphlets with my family’s immigration history and give them to strangers who asked, because clearly they’re not interested in interacting with me as a human anyway. But now I’m thinking a business-sized card would suffice: “WHY DO YOU EVEN CARE?” And to be clear, I have had good, interesting “where are you from” conversations before - with white people, even - and I myself am interested in these things too, both as someone with mixed-culture, mixed-immigration heritage and as someone who studied sociolinguistics (I mean, that whole thing is basically “what language did your parents speak and why do you speak this way”). But I know better than to ask it of a stranger under the guise of getting to know them better, when I’m really just collecting data or satisfying my own personal curiosity, an interaction out of which they get nothing but the discomfort of being reduced to an anecdote. And my immigration history is fairly recent, too. I can’t even conceive the indignity of having family roots here from before your grandparents were even born, sometimes with ridiculous pains taken to establish them, and still being asked, “What are you doing here?”
All this is to say I need to learn to say, “Fuck off, it’s none of your business.” My mother once got mad at me for sharing a private family story at a writing workshop for Asian youth, with fair reason that it was private. I understand that, but I wish that I had also grown up learning and internalizing that these private stories are okay in safe spaces (among family, or peers who have similar histories), but that not everybody deserves to hear them just because they ask. I want to teach this to any children I have, and maybe to my current relatives, too: You can’t stop it from happening, but you don’t have to put up with it.
The very real and very dangerous reality of expats and military people overseas in Asia.
Note: the piece opens with a description of the video’s content that may be triggering (abuse and racism).
It’s not clear that the woman in this video was seeking out Western men — if anything, it looks like she was minding her own business when they set upon her — but it’s difficult to imagine what it must be like for other Korean women who see the video online. First they watch the young woman being harassed by two Western men, pushing her around like a disobedient animal, then they see her scolded on Korean social media and Web discussion boards, told by Korean men that she deserved what she got. The moment when she stands up and brushes off her assailants — with no help from anyone in the bar, it’s difficult to miss — is the closest this story gets to having a hero.
Been having some conflicting ideas and need to pick your brains. What are your thoughts on aegyo and/or sajiao?
how do you define aegyo and/or sajiao?
is there a difference between aegyo and sajiao?
how do they reflect notions of masculinity and femininity in Korean/Chinese culture?
can men use aegyo and/or sajiao? under what conditions is it acceptable?
can aegyo and/or sajiao coexist with feminist ideals?
does using aegyo and/or sajiao with non-Korean/non-Chinese men reinforce stereotypes of Asian/Asian American women being submissive, passive, and helpless?
is aegyo and/or sajiao necessarily bad?
Figured I might as well re-blog for commentary instead of trying to fit my answer into Tumblr’s limited reply box.
both aegyo & sajiao are meant to make someone appear cute & endearing
aegyo to me is more evolved/developed than sajiao; aegyo is more diverse and has its own trends and memes of the moment whereas sajiao is more a specific way of talking
for both, cute = acting childlike, self-effacing, vulnerable/deserving of “protection”
yes, men can do aegyo/sajiao, though I think the acceptability is limited to significant others, older siblings, or before the start of official adulthood - but age plays a large role regardless of gender, imo
re: co-existing with feminist ideals… I’m going to say yes. And disclaimer, I’m totally guilty of sajiao, even as an adult. I joke that I watched too many Taiwanese dramas while growing up so now my default way of speaking Mandarin skews toward sajiao (think of it as a Chinese Valley girl accent), but it feels natural to me, and I have to consciously will myself to stop.
I sajiao all the time to my parents (the amount of times I say “别气愤我了!!”…) and I did it a lot to my ex-boyfriend, who was Taiwanese. He was okay with it in private, mildly embarrassed when I slipped into it in public like in Chinese restaurants, etc, and very uncomfortable when I did it to his mom (but his mom loved it, so… know how to pick your battles). I definitely do think there’s some reinforcement of gender roles and stereotypes, but I see aegyo/sajiao the same as shaving your legs - yes, you’re buying into a patriarchal paradigm, but women can decide for themselves whether the social capital gained from it is worth the trouble or not.
I don’t have a good localisation for this. Uhhh it lies somewhere between “being coquettish” and “whining, but in a cutesy way”. It’s all unexplored territory for me. I can’t do it and utterly fail to see the point. That said if you can and it works for you, do it all you want, no skin off my back, why should I care? XD I think as long as you don’t say things that are anti-feminist, you can sajiao all you want. Personally I don’t see the point, but then I’m more Christina Yang than … you know, I can’t even name one, which should tell you something. Uncute all the way.
I understand aegyo as an aesthetic (like kawaii) but sajiao as… an approach to interpersonal relations? I’m hobbled by the fact that only one of these words is in a language I speak and understand the nuances of.
I don’t like the performative aspects of aegyo/kawaii, because I find them alienating — I have to assume I’m not the intended audience, nor do I identify with the performer, and it all seems very studiously parametrized and artful (I’m puzzled, for instance, by commentators who get a genuine sense of warmth off SNSD music videos). The visual and sonic trappings of girly cuteness I have nothing against, can sometimes quite like. I don’t see any part of this aesthetic as coding inconsequentialness, at least not more than any other music video aesthetic.
As for sajiao, it’s pretty foreign to my upbringing. XD If the term came up at all my dim sense is that it was in early childhood, associated only with early childhood, and defined as manipulative, if mild, misbehaviour — I would have been told that “some children sajiao in order to get their parents to buy them things, it’s good that you’re the type of child who doesn’t;” or (mockingly) “oh, she knows how to sajiao, does she!” But then, I’m an after-80, which in mainland Chinese terms is v. different from an after-90. In a Communist paradigm sajiao isn’t only infantilizing and anti-feminist, it’s anti-revolutionary. The spoilt bourgeois Lotties of the world engage in it, not the independent-minded proletarian Tianas.
Anyway; like most women I’ve engaged in the odd bit of eyelash-batting, playing the hapless lady driver before the traffic cop if nothing else, so I’m not going to judge. But again, insofar as sajiao is results-driven, there is literally no one in my life on which it would work or would ever have worked, even though I was an adorable looking child; and children abandon interpersonal strategies that don’t work very quickly.
Unlike most of the people in this thread, I have the opposite language issue: aegyo (애교) is a concept I intuitively understand but have never heard of sajiao.
Thoughts on aegyo:
- Don’t know if it helps my Chinese friends or not, but the 漢字 for 애교 = 愛嬌
- Naver translates it into English as “act charming” but the Korean definition is a lot more precise: “behaving in a manner to appear cute to others.” There’s a certain voice I associate with 애교: high pitched and slightly nasal, with a lisp, and the extreme form of Seoul dialect.
- I think there’s a broad definition of 애교, which is just “being cute” in general, whether it be to family or friends or strangers, and that definitely does not have to be gender-specific. 남자들도 애교 떠는 것 분명히 봤다. Though it is always a gendered term, even when someone who identifies as male is doing it. The narrow definition of 애교 is specifically female and targeted to a male audience. Usually in practice one’s romantic partner.
- 애교 is a gender norm: how many times have my parents told me to 애교 좀 부리면 더 좋겠다. Though it’s always presented as a matter of social lubrication, a means of managing how you are perceived by others. Better to 애교 떨다 than be 무뚝뚝하다. I wonder if that’s not what contributes to the general perception of falsity in 애교; that it’s fundamentally an inauthentic presentation because it is strategic.
- I have been privy to several conversations about 애교 among Korean-Americans, primarily 1.5-gen and tending towards immigration at later ages, as exhibited by the fact that all these conversations happened exclusively in Korean. The one I remember specifically involved an 언니 I know asking the men in the group whether they really preferred girlfriends who showed 애교. The men all answered no because they found it embarrassing. The woman who posed the question retorted, “Men always say that they don’t prefer girlfriends to show 애교, but when it comes down to it, they actually do.” Regardless of whether or not the men were answering truthfully or not, I think there is definitely this underlying connotation to 애교, that it always evokes an embarrassment squick, both on the part of person performing and the person audiencing. Think for example how often an awkward attempt at 애교 is used as a source of humor on variety shows. My take on the issue is that to actually pull off 애교 requires a level of self-assertiveness that is not in fact a traditional gender norm for Korean women. It requires you to openly admit that you want attention and that you want to be noticed. It’s telling that Kpop groups that I hear associated with the term 애교 (well, at least in English-speaking fandom) are also the same groups that I hear associated with words like “disrespectful” and “shameless” (well…at least in Korean-speaking fandom). This of course is not even touching upon the sexual undertones to the 애교 dynamic, which happens most frequently in heterosexual relationships.
- In short, 애교 is a gender norm for women, but it’s a relatively modern one. Insofar that it is a norm that sets expectations of “feminine behavior”, it could be called anti-feminist. But I think that’s a facile analysis. I would say it is problematic but I can also see how it can coexist with feminist ideals…it just depends on what those ideals are.
- As a tangent, re: feminist ideals, I had a conversation with my mother (now in her mid-60s), who was surprised that I considered her to be a feminist. When I asked her what her image of a feminist was, the first descriptor on her list was “a woman who wears make-up.” (Code for a woman who is explicitly sexual and confident about it.) Yeah, sorry, second-wave and third-wave definitions do not translate well here.
- I have met more Korean-American women (1-, 1.5- or 2-gen) who are not comfortable with 애교부리는 것 than those who are. Displays of 애교 are usually performed (어섹하게 = awkwardly) as a joke. Also, there’s a lot of negative judgment about women with too much 애교 — phrases like 닭살난다 (lit. “getting goosebumps” but idiomatically used to express disgust) or 느끼하다 (lit. “greasy” but in context tends to mean “nauseating”) get thrown about. Plus, sometimes when young girls show too much 애교, they are judged to be too precocious for their own good rather than behaving in an age-appropriate manner, which to me says 애교 is not as simple as just engaging in infantile behavior; there is a “maturity” associated with the form of “cuteness”. That being said, there is probably an effect of cultural fossilization at work there (cf. what I said above about 애교 being a relatively modern gender norm).
- I’m temperamentally unsuited to showing 애교. The closest I can get is when socializing with older Korean women. Somehow the 언니/동생 dynamic brings out what few dregs of cuteness I’m capable of mustering. But I can’t manage the voice in English at all. Once I tried as a joke to 애교부리다 for S. and collapsed laughing before I could get out a full sentence.
Additional perspectives! This is more interesting than ever because none of the terms under discussion seem to be fully commensurate. (Bing suggested 卖萌 as a better Chinese synonym for aegyo; it seems closer, but not quite it either. “sajiao” is 撒娇 btw, and Kristina suggested that it’s closer to the Japanese 甘える、which would also be my instinct — insofar as the Chinese usage is drifting toward unisex. And of course we all have this sense that these words mean different things to different generations… the judgements you mention exist in Chinese too, it’s exactly what my mom would say.)
I can only +1 this conversation, not having a cultural relationship with aegyo (and especially not sajiao) aside from what I’ve absorbed from following K-pop. (For what it’s worth, my mom made an awesome face when I told her that some Korean women call their boyfriends “oppa”.) But I guess this is as good a place as any to clear out these notes and discussion questions on aegyo from my drafts, many of which are addressed above:
Aegyo is a cultural thing, BUT I feel like it’s valid for me not to like it/say that it makes me uncomfortable - as long as I can then examine why it makes me uncomfortable (is it because of me? is it because of what aegyo is for?)
Aegyo makes me uncomfortable =/= aegyo must be stopped
Discussions of aegyo often elide instances of male aegyo completely, even though they’re frequent in K-pop - why?
Do women dislike aegyo more than men do? Do men dislike performing aegyo more than women do?
Look at discussions of lolita fashion + sexuality + perception, because like aegyo, lolita is often perceived as sexual/infantilizing rather than empowering - how do we make it empowering?
Is my discomfort with aegyo personal, because I’m used to infantilizing representations of East Asian women here? (Answer: Yeah, but not 100%.)
The problem with aegyo is the same as the problem with fierce, or the problem with diva - not content, but delivery. Whether aegyo is irritating or endearing is a matter of preference; but the debate over whether it’s infantilizing or empowering is a theoretical one that ignores aegyo’s real-world, hard presence as a meme and cultural force. It’s not just a single representation of femininity - increasingly, it is the only femininity, and that is what makes it problematic, not its validity but its dominance.
Let me preface this by saying that I have great respect for G-Dragon as an artist; I think he’s a great and capable songwriter with an endless supply of interesting ideas and an obvious command of what it is that he does. I say this not to ward off attacks from stans (“don’t worry guys I like him too!”), but rather to excuse the fact that I’m inclined to view him charitably at all, or willing to take the time to understand what’s going on here. It’d be easy to watch this, say “screw this ego trip” and move on, but because I want to like G-Dragon, I want to give him the benefit of the doubt. By the same token, it’d be easy to watch this, say “masterpiece!” and move on, but because doing that doesn’t quite sit right with me either, I want to understand why.
1. We could start with the song itself. It’s immediately recognizable as late-00’s hip-hop pastiche, with its the autotuned hook and the gimmicky vocal tricks. Acknowledging conscious influences is not the same thing as calling something a rip-off or drawing an equivalency; and in fact, it would probably be more insulting to G-Dragon not to bring up Nicki Minaj when talking about this song, as if he didn’t know what he was doing. (There’s “geeeeeeee”, of course, but he also spends almost that whole second verse occupying the role of a hater, bemoaning his own ubiquity before stepping in as himself: "So you just can’t live without me, huh?") But he adds in a few tricks of his own, like the nice and chewy saturi rap and the various voices and styles he adopts throughout the song.
However: “One of a Kind” is not a title song, but a video-only advance release. So, in a way, it’s designed to be consumed with the video, and the meaning of one is linked to the meaning of the other. Therefore the rest of this post is about the MV, of which the song is only one element.
2. So what do we see when we look at the MV? It’s quite similar to the song, actually - a collage of hip-hop video tropes (the kids in tracksuits, the conspicuous luxury brand flashing), but also elements specific to YG and G-Dragon (it looks similar to GD&TOP’s "Knock Out", and the black room with the glass cases is reminiscent of "I Am The Best", with the glass-smashing signifying about the same thing as it does in that video). This is logical: as an artist, G-Dragon is a master synthesizer above all else, equal parts curator and creator.
That said, being a pop curator does not exempt one from participating in appropriation, and I see as much appropriation of specifically black culture as general hip-hop culture. The styling is a dead giveaway, especially the hair on Taeyang as he appears at 3:05. And this isn’t the first time this has happened with a YG artist, either, nor with these specific YG artists. The presence of black (or part-black) children is a step, but as has been noted by others, black adults are nowhere to be seen in any of YG’s videos, even as symbols and signifiers taken from black/rap culture abound. (Well, there’s probably a few in "High High", but trying to see anyone in the background of that video is like playing Where’s Waldo at 100km/h.) Obviously, I’m not very qualified to talk about it since I’m closer to G-Dragon’s tribe than any other, but this is why this video does not sit entirely right with me.
3. To elaborate on that point: YGE’s relationship with blackness is complicated. (The country’s relationship with blackness is too much to get into here; regarding the depiction of blackness in popular media, I strongly recommend Gusts of Popular Feeling’s post on the history of blackface in Korea.) Of the Big Three, they’re the agency that’s built the most on rap culture (a quick, extremely oversimplified breakdown: YG = electro + rap; SM = R&B + pop + rock; JYP = soul + R&B). They probably use the word “respect” a lot when talking about hip-hop culture and black culture. They have been known to employ stereotypes with a straight face, such as in the video for "How Gee". But when Papa YG was a judge on TV talent show K-Pop Star, both he and fellow judge JYP championed half-black, half-Korean contestant Lee Michelle despite her unpopularity in audience polls. After the show ended, YG signed her alongside other contestants on the show, and is planning to place her in their upcoming girl group Su:Pearls. So as a company, YG puts its money where its mouth is - even if that mouth sometimes likes to engage in blackface.
4. But there’s another obstacle to my being able to read this video properly, one that actually must be cleared before the topic of appropriation: How much of this is serious?
After all, this year especially, YG has proven they’re not above releasing a satirical MV. (I’d argue that SM is the only one of the Big Three that is always earnest in everything they do, and I’d also argue that that correlates to my earlier equation of companies to genres.) And G-Dragon is known to approach idol work as dress-up - there’s thevariousguises he adopted for his last solo album, Heartbreaker, and his recent tendencies towards androgynous dressing and gender play. And the video he released a week after this one, "That XX", has an entirely different visual tone, more “Blue” than “Fantastic Baby”. Then there’s the past examples of what appropriating rap culture in earnest looks like, namely Big Bang’s videos for "La La La" and "Good Bye Baby". So it’s clear that “One of a Kind” is at least a little ironic, not 100% serious.
But the lyrics aren’t joking around, and G-Dragon’s persona is nothing like Psy’s - if Psy is the rapper as gagman/everyman, bringing the viewer in on the joke, G-Dragon is the rapper as tastemaker/insider, whispering the joke in the viewer’s ear so nobody else knows it. Punchlines like the dining table scene from 2:05 to 2:15 lose their impact as commentary if it’s all meant to be a joke. (It may well do to bring Nicki back into this, as she has a similarly outsized, cartoonish approach as “One of a Kind”, but her context is entirely different: she’s a woman, for one, and operating in a musical culture that historically 1. is masculine and 2. equates artistry and skill with seriousness.) Visual cues don’t clarify anything: returning to the YG MVs this looks like, “Knock Out” is meant to be fun, but “I Am The Best” is not. “That XX” complicates things, as well; that video is entirely G-Dragon as Artist, so what does that make this one, which is so different?
5. The problem of how seriously to read this MV is further complicated by adding appropriation back into the picture. If we read it as entirely satirical or ironic, it dismisses the appropriation that’s happening here and trivializes whatever actual hurt it causes (“I’m just kidding! Don’t take it personally”). Conversely, if we take it entirely at face value, it ignores whatever artistic/intellectual credibility G-Dragon does have in favour of a blanket dismissal of ignorance that’s all too common against Asians in hip-hop, not to mention Asian pop in general. (Imagine how disappointing it would be if “Gangnam Style” were being taken at face value.)
6. Perhaps, then, the most logical way to read this video is to follow my first impulse and call it what it is: a 3-and-a-half-minute ego trip, reflective of G-Dragon in all his irony and all his earnestness, the places where he unfairly appropriates rap culture and the places where he successfully reinterprets it. Perhaps that’s the only way to read it.
shabei said: Oh so you're half Chinese, half Korean? I'm half Chinese myself (on my mother's side as well), and she basically completely dominated my cultural upbringing, so I always end up cheering for China during international competitions haha. Can you talk a little bit about how your upbringing shaped your cultural identity and interests? I know it's not quite kpop-related, but I do admire your blog and think it'd be cool to get to know the author a little better :)
Hi! Thank you very much for this message, and I’m sorry it took me so long to respond. You’re literally the first Korean-Chinese person I’ve met that isn’t related to me! (Besides my brothers, I have some distant cousins.)
Actually, my dad is Chinese and my mum is Korean, so the reverse. (My mum complaining when my dad cheers for Korea against China tells you everything you need to know about my parents, haha.) Our upbringing was very Canadian, because both my parents are fairly removed from “the motherland” - my dad was born in Canada and my mum immigrated when she was a child. (We’re the comfortable end result of the immigrant dream, rather than being caught up in the pursuit of it.) Honestly, the strongest connection I have to my heritage on either side is through food rather than ritual or language. But generally I’ve always felt a bit closer to the Korean side of my family because we see them more often, as we live in the same city whereas my dad’s family mostly lives in the suburbs. The immigrant-vs.-not immigrant thing probably has something to do with that as well - I would say that growing up in Canada, especially in a very white neighbourhood, my dad feels more solidarity with “Asian” as an identity rather than specifically Chinese, though I’d have to ask him about that.
I think being part Korean did make me more interested in K-pop, though I’d always been interested in learning more about my cultural background, which I felt had been withheld from me a little - we only speak English at home, and I didn’t know how to use chopsticks until I was 10 years old. (The first person to say the word “banana” gets a kick in the ass.) But I feel like it’s more acceptable now to be open about your cultural background than it was maybe 20 years ago. I have noticed my mum being more open about her Korean-ness lately, sharing childhood stories or talking about Korean words, and my dad’s side of the family seems to talk more about Chinese-ness than I remember.
I would say one of the major influences on my cultural upbringing/awakening was attending the Asian Arts Freedom School, a radical writing workshop for API youth founded by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha and Gein Wong, when I was in high school. Freedom School got me to think about my background and identity more, ask questions, recognize oppression and privilege (including my own), and put it into writing and art. This way of thinking is what led to me making this blog, since I had the feeling that my interest in K-pop related to my overall cultural identity project but wasn’t sure exactly how. Of course, it’s gotten away from that now, but I still have a possessive or “mine” impulse towards K-pop sometimes because of being Korean.
We always thought she (Minzy) was only good at singing and dancing. But judging from the artwork she randomly draws and scribbles during her alone-time, you can tell she has extraordinary artistic dexterity. We also thought that the only genre of music she would ever know and love was Hip-Hop, but she has recently been falling into the sounds of Rock and Roll as well. Now we know the exact reason why 2NE1 is called a group of “artists”. But out of the four members, Minzy’s cultural sensibility is even more than what we expected… and so are the artworks she has drawn herself with her favorites musicians as motives.
RADIOHEAD While working as 2NE1, I really enjoy listening to Hip-Hop often. But I also really enjoy listening to the sounds of Rock. And of all the Rock music I listen to, RADIOHEAD is a group that no one can replace in my heart. They are also a group of musicians who are so great that I could never forget to include in my playlists. I’m disappointed that I will not be able to attend the Jisan Valley Rock Festival, in which I chose Radiohead as my #1 priority to see, because it overlaps with our 2NE1 concert. If only I had the time, I would definitely go…. there will come a day when I’ll be able to watch Radiohead live with my own eyes, right?
MICHAEL JACKSON Michael Jackson is the world’s greatest artist that everyone respects. Even his greatest classics, gestures, and strong sense of fashion are well-respected. I bet there isn’t a single person who hasn’t attempted the moonwalk as a child. Especially the scene in his “Smooth Criminal” music video where he looks like he’s about to fall over, I think I watched that part over 100 times in one sitting. When it comes to Michael Jackson music videos, I’ve watched every single one of them so many times to the point I’ve memorized them all. He is an artist that has given me an enormous amount of influence with his many dances. I remember crying a lot while watching the scene in his movie <This is It> where he dances to Billy Jean for the last time before his death. I think I might listen and dance to Michael Jackson even when I become a grandmother.
NIRVANA When I listen to the guitar riff that comes out in the beginning of Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, I feel like my heart is going to explode. I also think there is a strong spell that cannot be forgotten when listening to Kurt Cobain’s voice in their classic ‘Come As You Are’. I became a fan the very moment I first listened to Nirvana’s music. From records to DVDs, I have collected everything related to Nirvana. And I’ll say this for future reference, my ideal man is Kurt Cobain. How great would it have been if Nirvana still performed until this very day and had a world tour? I know for sure that I would have followed them around, like a groupie, to every nook and cranny of the world just to hear them live.
ROLLING STONES Rolling Stones is practically another word for “Rock N Roll” and also the #1 musician of my life. I have drawn several pictures using lips and mouths as a motive in the past, and I think it’s safe to say that I was greatly influenced by the witty Rolling Stones tongue symbol. I know they are a group that came into being way before I was even born, but Mick Jagger was extremely charismatic and charming when he was young. Even his unique and famous groove moves were impressive. If you watch the DVD of the Rolling Stones’ commemorative concert for Brian Jones at Hyde Park in 1969, you’ll be able to see and realize just how explosive and popular they were back then. It’s one of the few DVDs I cherish the most because it perfectly captures the Rolling Stones members, their hundreds and thousands of fans, and also the fashion trend back in 1969.
Q: Have you been learning and receiving art lessons since the past? A:Ever since I was little, I attended an art center similar to a daycare for kids. Thanks to those art lessons, I hadn’t forgotten about or let go of art, even up until I reached middle school and high school. However, I am only enjoying art and drawing as a hobby because I still think music is the more suitable path for me.
Q: I think you are good enough to become an illustrator in the future. A: I really like rock bands, especially the Rolling Stones. And I also love Andy Worhol’s Marilyn Monroe print. So by combining the two, I would often get inspired to draw Marilyn Monroe’s beauty mark (mole) to my Rolling Stones-inspired lip drawings. Whenever I’m feeling tired or getting stressed, I like to cram myself into my room and just draw. That eventually helps release all the stress away.
Q: When people think of 2NE1, the first thing that pops into their mind is a hip-hop genre based group. But surprisingly, you have more of a rock-spirit than the others. Are there any musicians you are inspired by on a daily basis? A:I love hip-hop, of course. But I have recently been focusing on rock sounds more. I like the Rolling Stones, Nirvana, and Guns N’ Roses a lot. I’m sad because I wasn’t able to go to a Lenny Kravitz concert when he visited Korea not long ago because I had other schedules to attend. I also want to go see Radiohead at the upcoming Jisan Valley Rock Restival, but I’m disappointed that I’m not going to be able to go because it overlaps with our concert.
Q: Aside from music, what are some other cultural aspects have you been fixiated on? A:I’ve been falling deeply for the fun in reading lately. I recently read Guillaume Musso’s <Girl On Paper> in no time because I couldn’t stop reading it; it was that good.
Q: I also heard you really enjoy movies. A: I was so intrigued by <Leon> that I rewatched it over 300 times. Whether it be artistic value, literary value, or mass appeal, there isn’t a single thing about <Leon> that I would criticize. I think it’s the greatest movie that has ever captured an extreme measure. The scene that leaves the greatest impression is when the flowers are planted and Sting’s ‘Shape of My Heart’ begins to play in the background; I cried so much at this scene. It was so sad. My heart hurt so much. I cried so much as if I had become Matilda (character in the movie) myself and everyone seemed surprised.
Q: Do you usually watch a movie by engaging your full emotions? A:I don’t really have many tears, nor do I cry often. I watched <The Eraser In My Mind> with Bom and she sat beside me bawling the whole time. I kept thinking to myself ‘why is she crying?’ and felt completely fine throughout the whole movie. That’s why the people around me kept teasing, “You’re so cold-blooded.” But I cry every time I watch <Leon>.
Q: I recently watched <Avengers> and cried because I was so absorbed in the science fiction…. A:Oh, then have you seen <Spiderman>? Isn’t it really fun? I feel like we have similar taste.
Q: Then what other social activities do you often enjoy? A:I usually watch movies all the time. There was a time when I didn’t have any schedules, so I practically lived at the movie theater for a whole week.
Q: Ultimately, what kind of artist do you aim to become? A:I want be an entertainer that doesn’t just work in one specific field, but a variety of things. If I become an artist that influences people in many different directions and aspects, I think I would be satisfied for having achieved my biggest goal. I will not be picky about any genre. I want to become an artist that only receives love and credit though music and not through art, movies, or acting.
The upcoming 16 episode drama titled “Answer to 1997”, is going to be focusing on the extreme fan culture that emerged in the 90s as idol groups started to form. The drama will star Eun Jiwon from the 90s group Sechskies, along with Jung Eunji from A Pink, and Hoya from Infinite.
The pacing of the movie will move backwards and forwards between the 1990s and the present day, following the lives of a set of high school friends in Busan. The main character, Sung Siwon (played by Jung Eunji), is an 18 year old girl who is infatuated with a boy band member. Taking the term “bbasooni”, a word used to describe obsessive girl friends, Sung’s idolization is followed. The drama aims to examine the social phenomena that derives undying fan devotion to specific “oppas”.
Jung Eunji stated that she’s never been one to become obsessive over members of boy groups, however she says she can empathize with the fans from an idol standpoint. “I see just how much our fans appreciate us, and I guess I can emphasize with the character I’m playing because I see it happen up close.”
What do you think about the upcoming series “Answer to 1997”?
I was looking forward to this sitcom anyway (the Busan setting seems fun and the teaser video looks really cute), but it’ll be interesting to see the perspective they’ll take on fan culture. I wonder how much it’s meant to comment on the present, considering that two of its stars are current-generation idols, or if they’re simply presenting it as a time capsule. The stunt casting of Sechskies' Eun Jiwon (as a high schooler, oddly) and H.O.T's Tony An will surely be milked for all it's worth, too.
An excellent editorial from Gaya at Seoulbeats on kpop encountering other cultures - and how kpop generally succeeds in offending the cultures it attempts to integrate. To date, I actually don’t know of any examples in which kpop has creatively and acceptably showcased another culture.
I completely agree with and support the request of the author of “Four Minutes to Make a Case for Cultural Sensitivity,” namely, that if an artist is going to incorporate/appropriate elements of other cultures into his work, that it be done respectfully. In fact, I think that doing so actually enriches the work, adding levels of meaning and connecting with new audiences. For me, that’s a huge part of why hiphop is so incredibly rich - it’s full of appropriation that takes on new meaning, both in words and in samples. One of my favorite examples of this is Modenine’s “My Skinis Black,” in which Modenine samples Nina Simone’s “Four Women” and speeches by Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X to generalize a message to people of African descent all over the world. Even though Modenine has no personal claim on the black American experience or culture, he recognizes commonalities between their struggle and his own and respectfully builds on the work of black Americans to make his argument. (That’s Pan-Africanism!)
But in the case of kpop, there are two structural/cultural problems that prevent this kind of synergy from happening, and that is why we see the same offensive mistakes repeated over and over again.