As I tumble down the slippery Kdrama slope…

Main "male" leads of "To the Beautiful You"
Main “male” leads of “To the Beautiful You”

So last night, I was wandering around on the internet with nothing particular to do, which is always a bad sign for one’s productivity. I had been through all my manga novels again, the last few that I read being Hana Kimi, which is short for the Japanese phrase “Hanazakari no Kimitachi e”. It translates to “For you in Full Blossom” and is a manga about an Japanese-American girl named Ashiya that cuts her hair off and attends an all boys Japanese school so she can meet her favorite track star, the high jumper Sano. It’s a very middle school/high school style manga and I mostly read it still because I have fond memories from reading it back then. Foolish me remembered that even though there is no Anime for this, there is a Jdrama, Taiwanese Drama and a Kdrama for it. RIP my free time now. I’m totally in love with this show and I’m only 4 episodes in!

Sulli from a F(x) MV
Sulli from a F(x) MV

When I first saw the series, I thought Sulli was a poor choice of protagonist. Jae Hee as they call her in this series, is way too pretty to be a man. She makes Ren from Nu’est look jacked and super manly. I had wished just a little bit that they would typecast this and make her band mate Amber be the protagonist. Amber is perfect because she actually is a Korean American, and would have the language difficulties associated with her role. She would also look the part, just cool enough to pass as a man, just pretty enough to make the men question their sexuality. Then I went back and read the manga again, and questioned how Ashiya ever made it through without Nakatsu ever realizing that she was a girl, so Sulli was a dead on cast. Sorry for questioning your acting abilities Sulli, you were just staying true to the manga.

Minho from Shinee as the High Jumper
Minho from Shinee as the high jumper Tae Joon

Minho makes a good Tae Joon (Korean name for Sano) when he’s exposed, but in the manga I always felt that Sano was distant as opposed to icy, so the first episode turned me off from him for a bit. I’m excited to see the character he is going to become and how he will interact with Jae Hee now that he knows that she’s a girl.

Eun Gyeol and Jae Hee hugging.
Eun Gyeol and Jae Hee hugging.

The best thing about this Kdrama is definitely Eun-gyeol, which is the Korean Nakatsu, played by Lee Hyun Woo.  He makes a much better Nakatsu than the manga version and I feel so sad for him watching him fall in love and question himself, knowing that according to the manga his attempts will never be fruitful. I love the online journal and the constant picture taking, which is so Nakatsu and so Korean at the same time. His facial expressions are probably the best thing about him. They are so expressive, and for a comedic character, he ends up being so heartwarming that you want him to succeed, even if it doesn’t make sense in a plot line context.

I found the addition of Han-na, Jae Hee’s rival love interest for Tae Joon very interesting. It seems like they spliced her American friend into a Korean girl and gave her a celebrity complex. I think we as an audience are supposed to dislike this character a lot, but I’m waiting for the time when we get to see her in a better light.  The doctor seems altered as well, he doesn’t seem to be flamboyantly gay in this Kdrama. Jae Hee’s brother is also American and speaks flawless Korean and that’s slightly off putting to me. His Korean actually sounds better than his English, but that’s because he’s half Korean, half French-Canadian, so he’s faking an American accent. I do like the switch from a partial athletics school to a full on athletics school that retains the characteristics of each dorm based on the focused sports.

Watching just a few episodes allows me to understand how Kpop fans suddenly gain this urge fan completely over Kdrama stars. I have no such urge to fangirl over Sulli now, but I feel like I know a little more about her. Now if only Hyun Woo was a Kpop star….

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Kpop MV Day 15

Kpop Music Video: Day 15
Believe by Ukiss under NH Media

UKiss is currently a 7 member boy band. They debuted in 2008, and broke out into the Kpop in late 2009 with their song Man Man Ha Ni, which reached #6 on the M-net countdown (one of Korea’s music variety shows, like MTV’s Total Request Live [TRL]). Since then, they have been very popular via internet and social media, but still have not garnered the popularity within Korean life that other Kpop bands enjoy. When the group originally debuted, they had 6 members, adding a 7th in 2009. In 2011, two of the members contracts were terminated, and two new members were added to the band.  All of the current members of Ukiss are included in the single “Believe”

From left to right: Dongho, Kevin, Eli, Soohyun, Hoon, Kiseop, AJ.
From left to right: Dongho, Kevin, Eli, Soohyun, Hoon, Kiseop, AJ.

Ukiss actually is an acronym, standing for Ubiquitous Korean International Super Star. While usually I like to rag on the choice of English words that Kpop companies glue together to make a cool sounding acronym, I do no such thing with Ukiss because their acronym is dead accurate. Kpop as an industry is very hard to succeed in, and like many American celebrities, most stars do not make much money at all until they are chosen to be in advertizing campaigns. Much of the industry is controlled by the three big labels (SM, YG and JYP) and the other labels have to fight for the remaining attention (Cube, Starship, TS, Woollim, and more). Ukiss was formed to compete with these other groups internationally, as opposed to within their country, and the way that they were assembled helps the group to reach many more cultures more intimately than other groups. Ukiss was formed with language in mind, assuming that even though the average international Kpop fan wants to hear these songs in Korean, will also not mind versions of these songs in their native language, and would LOVE to have the stars answer questions directly instead of being translated. We see that some in other groups, where the members will be learning different languages to sing in and some may be fluent or semi-fluent in another language. Ukiss takes the cake in languages learned, as far as I’m concerned. While they were still young, one of their former members, Alexander, could speak 7 different languages (Korean, Japanese, Mandarin, Cantonese, English, Spanish, Portuguese). It seems that he is still producing music, but I think he should work for the Korean government giving tours if he knows that many languages. Their other former member touted Japanese as a second language, and the youngest member of the group Dongho can speak Mandarin.

The three members Kevin, Eli and AJ are of special interest to me, because they are the English speakers of Ukiss, although it should be noted that Eli also  speaks Mandarin. I really feel that Ukiss was constructed to be a great international group purely on the English speaking ability of these three members. Eli grew up in Virgina and he has gained a slight accent since he’s been in Asia since 15, but his pronunciation is still very clear. He studied abroad in China to learn Mandarin. Kevin was raised in the San Fransisco Bay area. His voice has a peculiar inflection that makes it hard to tell if he has an accent, but regardless his voice is very clear and easy to understand. AJ was raised in Korea, but went to an International School. International Schools are schools set aside for children of Ambassadors or other out of country individuals, and for families who can afford their high price tag. International schools are often taught in English or English and the native language and promote world perspective as opposed to the local culture. As a result AJ is more native to Korean culture since he grew up in Korea but shares the same ease of English speaking as Eli and Kevin, including many of the cultural nuances that pass by a non native speaker. In addition to speaking English, AJ has written some of Ukiss’ songs, and enjoys composing. This means that the English in Ukiss’ later songs is very accurate and sometimes artsy and strange.

Check out AJ, Kevin and Eli’s speaking abilities in this informal backstage chat with Eat Your Kimchi:

Not only do they include English in their Korean songs, sometimes they translate the whole song into English. If you’re feeling adventurous, check out their newest Korean single here: http://youtu.be/d_AwyTp9qb0 and the English version of that same song here: http://youtu.be/VbASnZHYxtY.

Ukiss has more English speaking fans than a band of their fame within Korea, but they also enjoy success in other international communities, especially Asian countries. They were the first Kpop band to perform in Columbia, and have held a concert in Paris. They were also the first Kpop band to hold a fan meet and greet in Cambodia. Their greatest success comes from Japan, where they have peaked at 5 on the Oricon charts for their hit Tick Tack, which you can check out the beginning portion of the song below. They have toured Japan, and enjoy higher sell rates for their 6 Japanese singles than many of their Korean singles, especially factoring out the Japanese fans purchasing the Korean versions of the songs in addition to the Japanese version.

In a genre where half of the promotion exists purely on the internet, it’s very smart for a company to form a band like Ukiss that can relate well to international fans. Similar bands to Ukiss include Wonder Girls, where every member is at least conversationally fluent in English, if not fully fluent in English (they are the first Kpop band to have a single on the Billboard Hot 100), Super Junior, who has a Mandarin subgroup, and successful bands in Japan such as Girl’s Generation and Kara. Many of these groups enjoyed a large Korean following before these avenues were pursued, but I think that more bilingual bands and band members will be seen down the road.

❤ Rebecca

Kpop MV Day 14

Kpop Music Video: Day 14
I Don’t Need a Man by Miss A under JYP Entertainment

CC included in this video

Miss A is a 4 member girl band that debuted in 2010. Two of their members are Chinese and are among the most famous Chinese celebrities in Korea. Their youngest member, Susy, was recently in a very famous Korean Drama, making Miss A more famous but conversely removing a lot of the spotlight from the other 3 members.

From left to right: Susy, Jia, Fei. Min
From left to right: Susy, Jia, Fei. Min

Koreans have an issue where women will be fairly dependent on finding a man to date and eventually marry. It’s not like Victorian style where they can’t survive on their own dollar, but it’s very post world war II America, where it was far more desirable for the men to make the cash in a relationship. In a country that doesn’t have a lot of room or capital, but the standard of living is exorbitant at the top, Korean women are pressured not only to work hard and get a good job, but to marry well. It is well noted that rarely does a woman marry a man in Korea that is shorter than her or lower in socioeconomic status. Since Koreans are also transitioning from a older matchmaking style engagement set up, where the family would find a suitor for their offspring to date, to a more Western dating style, family approval is also extremely important in finding a suitable life partner, and surely contributes to the aspirations to date a wealthier or more influential man.

Min: The price of your jewelry is TOO DAMN HIGH.
Min: The price of your jewelry is TOO DAMN HIGH.

Taking this in mind, this music video really goes against what Korean culture has to say about dating, while still maintaining the values of Korean society as a whole. Koreans are very work focused, and believe that the only way to be successful is to work hard. This music video’s goal is to tell women that as long as they work hard they should feel good about themselves. The first few lines of the first verse are about how proud she is about living paycheck to paycheck providing for herself, and paying her own rent. An important aspect of Korean culture is to note that renting an apartment by yourself is extremely hard, because “key money” as its called in Korea, is not first month’s rent but can be up to 2/3 of the worth of the location being rented, which would be paid back at the end of the lease (no rent is taken month to month in this system). What many locations elect to do is have their renters pay 1-2 years worth of rent up front as “key money” and then have a monthly rent from there. It requires a lot of saving and planning to be able to afford a location to live by oneself and therefore is a sign of affluence even though a person may be living a plain lifestyle as a result. This is why Min’s verse takes place in a jewelry store; she’s laughing at the people who look extravagant but are living a “comfortable” (boring) life.

Screams of Daddy's Little Girl syndrome right here.
Screams of Daddy’s Little Girl syndrome right here.

Since it’s so hard to rent a space by oneself, many young men and women live with their parents. This is acceptable in Korean society, because like other Asian societies, Korea has just recently transitioned from a “clan” or “family” first mentality. As a result, young women have a tendency to rely on their parents for the purchase of items, as shown in Jia’s first verse. The girl with the Kangaroo card keeps sucking up to her father to get items that she wants.

Dude in the corner, just casually fanning himself with money. No big deal.
Dude in the corner, just casually fanning himself with money. No big deal.

Going back to traditional marriage ideals, Fei’s section of the video shows a bar where women and men are hooked up by bartenders, like blind dating meets speed dating. We see the ladies crowd around one guy who might have a great personality, but the guy on the left (who is taller than the guy on the right) waves a pile of cash and the ladies come running over.

Ladies making it rain on this... hairstylist.
Ladies making it rain on this… hairstylist.

Suzy’s section has two meanings for me, one that seems to be showing a negative portion of world society as a whole, and one that is showing a positive side of female empowerment. The later is easier to see; the three ladies throw a whole heck ton of cash in the general direction of the male stylist and then he is forced to bend down and gather up all the cash. The negative spin to this is that Korean women may feel that it’s necessary to spend a heck ton of cash on beauty products and styling when they already have makeup on. Based on the body positions and facial expressions, I’m thinking that the goal was to show the positive side of female empowerment, however, it would fit with the general theme of the music video if the boxes were showing negative aspects of society, so my mind always spins it in the “why do you need so much damn makeup?” direction.

Economy sized perfume.
Economy sized perfume.

There’s also the added factor of being able to see “behind the scenes” in the music video, that you as the viewer know each room is a set and some camera crew was filming it. This is to represent media’s influence in the Korean dating scene. As media themselves, Miss A go in a Lipstick Feminism direction, and don’t give up traditionally feminine items throughout most of the music video as they are allowed to wear dresses and makeup. They even have giant beauty products dispersed throughout the video. It’s their lack of reliance on a man to purchase items for themselves and their disinterest in the dating scene that goes directly against the theme of most Kpop music videos and Korean Dramas.

Then at the end of the video, the rap scene showcases the 4 girls being their own men in terms of bread winning. All the ladies are dressed up in business attire and mustaches are a heavy theme. While too much of this can scream of Freudian themes, the fun they had during the filming of this portion got rid of any “penis envy” notions that immediately popped into my head when I saw the mustaches.

The last portion of the music video is the dancing. The hip hop style is perfectly suited for this song, as it doesn’t attempt to be overtly sexual, and leans more towards simple powerful dancing maneuvers. I feel that this is an excellent decision, because for once I can do a Kpop dance without making myself look like a fool, and that I don’t feel like I’m attempting to seduce my mirror when I try to do this in my bedroom at night. Sexy dances have their time and place (and appropriateness -.-), but this music video was well thought out in terms of all the parts syncing together.

To an American fan, this may look like Destiny’s Child’s kid sister, in terms of independent ladies. You might dismiss this video as being just another empowerment video, but in Korea this is a newer music video concept, so I encourage you to watch this video and use it as a reminder of what type of music video the kpop scene manufactures. Also, make sure that you watch this with the close captioning English translation on. So much of this music video is enhanced by the lyrics and you’ll miss out on a bit of the message if you don’t use them. Wishing I had posted this for all the ladies on Valentine’s Day, but this can serve just as well as a post Valentine’s day reminder. Go out and do you!

❤ Rebecca

PS. JYP, a famous Kpop star and the President of Miss A’s label is well noted for saying his name in his Kpop star’s music videos. It’s interesting to note that he does not say his name in this music video, which is what he says he does after he thinks his groups have made it big enough to be known by their own name and not the label (his label is one of the top 3 in Korea), but he is still in the music video. The money in the opening section thrown onto the table has JYP’s face on it.

JYP is pretty good at English, but numbers are pretty hard. JYP, you need another zero.
JYP is pretty good at English, but numbers are pretty hard. JYP, you need another zero.

Kpop Culture Day 4: What’s Aegyo?

Aeygo: The art of being cute!

In certain Kpop music videos, you might see fans commenting “OMG Oppa’s face, I love the aegyo” or “She’s so Aegyo in that pose ^.^” or even sometimes “I hate all this fake aegyo -.-“, which leads you to say, “What the heck is aegyo?” Aeygo (애교) is often translated into winsome (Attractive or appealing in appearance or character), however this word only describes a portion of aegyo.  Aegyo is winsome via (sometimes sickly sweet) cuteness. Popularly, it’s used by Korean girls into beguiling their male companion into buying things for them, often by over using the word “Oppa”. In music videos, aegyo concepts are used in order to pull fan’s heartstrings while they watch.

A band can make an aegyo video, while not being aegyo themselves. This is seen in Shinee’s “Hello” video, where all of Shinee’s members are nervous about asking a girl to go on a date with them. Compare this to the “Lucifer” video I showed you in Kpop MV Day 6 (https://kpopfornoobcakes.wordpress.com/2013/01/11/kpop-mv-day-6/), and you can see how by trying to get the members to look bashful, they’re attempting to appeal to their female fans.

Sunny from SNSD making a cute pose.
Sunny from SNSD making a cute pose.

On the flip side, Girl’s Generation (SNSD) is marketed as more of an aegyo type band, but they have several songs (Run Devil Run and The Boys) that are meant to show a cooler or more mature style. Some bands, like F(x), have specific members that are considered to be aegyo, and serve to create a balance between cool and cute in their group dynamic. The way that a girl would “act” aegyo (as in overact aegyo, which is what tends to happen in most music videos to get the point across) is to make cute gestures. Many of these gesures involve the hands being close to the face, like putting victory signs next to ones chin or puffing up their cheeks and poking them with their fingers. Fiddling with hair is also a sign of aegyo, and some body language such as crossing ones legs, is aegyo.

Male aegyo relies less on poses and more on facial expression.
Male aegyo relies less on poses and more on facial expression.

Men still use some of these poses, but it’s much more cheesy on a guy. Some of the more benign poses ones are used, like making a heart out of ones arms. Instead, a man may rely much more on facial expression alone, like smiling to one side or sticking out their tongue. Acting preoccupied with the thing they are doing, like looking at a girl to the point of tripping over something, or closing their eyes and singing to an empty room is also aegyo.

In real life, aegyo is much more toned down, especially because Kpop stars have to exaggerate their expressions for emotion to come across in the music video. Real aegyo also has this aspect of revealing the inner self, basically taking off a mask and letting your true personality slip out in front of other people. It’s this vulnerability that is so cute; it makes men more approachable and brings out this protective side in men when they see a woman this way.  One of the best real life examples was caught in a gif by sunieekiss on Tumblr. Ukiss, a kpop band was talking with Simon and Martina about their upcoming music video. They were talking about one of their other members when they broached the subject of fears. Take a look at Kevin’s hand motions:

Look at the guy in the lower right hand corner.
Look at the guy in the lower right hand corner.

And then look at Eli’s facial expressions in this gif:

He looks so nervous.
He looks so nervous.

They aren’t overreacting for the camera, and therefore their reaction is so much more believable. This to me is what aegyo should be, and not all of the over dramatic hand gestures. Sometimes, a good smile is all you need.

❤ Rebecca

Kpop Playlists

So since a good portion of what I write about revolves around Kpop music videos, I thought that I would show you the types of music videos I like. For this playlist, the challenge was to pick one song from each Kpop band that I enjoy. Solos and collaborations (but not features) are treated as extra bands. (TVXQ before and after the breakup will be treated as separate bands.) They may be the song I’m really into at the moment, or my favorite by that particular band, but all are pretty awesome. The playlist may change from time to time if I’m in the mood to hear a different song from a particular artist. Suggest bands that I haven’t put on here, and I will go exploring xD

I have also made a playlist for all the Music Videos I’ve reviewed. If you like those songs, listen to them in order of review on this playlist:

Have fun!

❤ Rebecca