Category Archives: Kpop Culture

K Culture 7: A short behind the scenes glimpse of the Kpop Machine…..

Now, as all Kpop fans know, the world of Kpop is tightly controlled and manufactured to have the “best possible results”. Entertainment companies focus on creating a perfectly polished image in their hopes of getting to and staying on the top of Korean Entertainment. This is a fairly successful model, but there are other avenues for success for the select few. I look at Busker Busker, who started out on the Kpop machine route and wrenched themselves out of the grasp of controlling Entertainment companies and did things their own way. They undoubtedly have just as much influence as the major idol bands as they wrecked the billboards when they released their most recent album. For their story, I love to read the story written here: http://noisey.vice.com/blog/great-white-hope-how-bradley-ray-moore-accidentally-conquered-k-pop. It’s focused on Bradley Moore, the American drummer from Busker Busker, which gives it a biased feel in terms of culture, but because of this it doesn’t try to justify the Kpop machine, which makes me feel like it ends up being more honest.

Anyway, the reason I thought to write this post is because I’m a fan of Simon and Martina from Eat Your Kimchi and they were at the Youtube Music Awards backstage in Seoul. It was their job to do quick impromptu interviews with the Kpop stars performing there. Sistar, MissA and a Youtube performer from Korea (I’m having trouble finding his name so if anyone could tell me that would be awesome) that’s worked with GDragon and had a live performance with Hyorin from Sistar. One of the other main features of this show was that Shinee was supposed to do a long formal sit down interview and it would be posted several days after the Youtube event to keep the buzz up about the performances. Nasties (EYK fans) were super psyched about this interview, and I imagine many international Shawols would have been really happy that there were questions by international fans translated into English.

The interview we got, however, was about 2 minutes long and while it was awesome to see Key touch Martina’s hair and Jonghyun talk about how he was going to sneak off for 3 months and not tell anyone, it doesn’t compare at all to their other interviews. I mean UKISS has a 9 minute informal backstage interview, where they were just talking and relaxed. Simon and Martina explained their issues with the interview in their blog post here: http://www.eatyourkimchi.com/shinee-interview/. This blog post has the interview that they talk about imbedded, so I won’t post an additional link.

They talked about how they had planned and worked with the people running the Youtube event as well as Shinee’s managers. How they had them agree to the planned format and the questions ahead of time. How they made time in their tent after Shinee couldn’t make the sit down interview backstage and how they had to last minute change all of the requested questions to ask because Shinee’s managers changed their minds. After all this, Simon and Martina had a short clip ready about 4-5 days after the Youtube awards, all translated and full of rainbows. They sent a copy of the video to the PR staff, not for approval but just to check to make sure that a particular shot wasn’t bad or a response from someone put words into someone’s mouth or things like that. It was for minor changes. I will now remind you that the managers agreed to the video, the questions [twice, because they changed their minds], the location and were even present for the video filming. The PR staff said no don’t put it up. It’s filmed in a tent and it looks like it’s backstage. Obviously that didn’t fly with S&M after the video was agreed upon. EYK even offered to reschedule and refilm the interview using EYK’s or SM’s studio, but they still refused. Since they refused to reschedule, and since SM no longer has legal grounds after the agreement to film said interview and going through all the approval process during the interview, they posted the interview up and let all of us know what took them 2 weeks to get it out.

Note that Martina is about the same height as Jonghyun and how tired Onew looks. DEM DOUBLE BAGS.
Note that Martina is about the same height as Jonghyun and how tired Onew looks. DEM DOUBLE BAGS.

The thing is, SM, and arguably all of Kpop is extremely concerned about image. I’m betting that the real reason is that they did a standing interview and Martina is about 5’8″. She’s not a small girl that makes their idols look like tall lanky people. I assume it’s also because Shinee visibly looks tired. Having a crazy schedule is tough and it doesn’t help that it was in a tent. But their PR people screwed up by thinking that S&M weren’t going to talk about their experience. EYK has almost 300k facebook fans, they have almost 450k subscribers on their main Youtube account (and they have 3 total), a twitter, tumblr, blog and a bunch of Kpop fans that watch their videos and call themselves Nasties like Shinee’s fans call themselves Shawols. And Nasties have Kpop friends. And blogs. Nasties also don’t appreciate when the EYK staff is (according to EYK at least) laughed at while trying to explain the situation.

This isn’t like the Allkpop scandal with Ailee that will ruin the credibility of the company. I feel that it is instead, similar to the moniker “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” but instead, replace the word fool with douchebag. SM has had contract scandals before and their management style has seemed pretty cold, but getting a short glimpse into what PR looks like in the biggest Kpop company just confirms that I would never want to be a Kpop star and I hope that all the other entertainment companies treat their stars and the people surrounding them better than SM do.

❤ Rebecca

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Kpop Culture Day 6: Engl(r)ish?

English? I thought this was supposed to be KOREAN pop…

One of the most confusing aspects of Kpop to my friends that listen to other genres of music is the fact that I can sing along to many of the choruses in Kpop songs. I’ve listened to enough Korean to be able to get a feel for their syllables which really is weird for my friends, but they get really confused when THEY understand the choruses to the songs. Hence the subtitle to this blog post.

I always compare the relationship between Kpop and English to the relationship between American hip hop and Spanish. Since the market for rap in America is concentrated in urban areas, and because the Latino population is a decent sized chunk of major US cities, there’s a huge market for Spanish in hip hop songs. Likewise, English is often a secondary language in many nations in the world, meaning that even though English may not be spoken on the streets, it’s an effective language to learn if you want to communicate with many other nations. From a marketing stand point, the idea is that if a Korean song has several words in English, it hooks anyone who knows English into the song. That may be even more effective than hearing a whole song in English (Wow, fantastic baby?).

Culturally, English in Korea is viewed in a “hip” fashion. My Korean friend compares this to the American fad of getting tattoos or shirts with Chinese characters. Just like most people might know what the character means but not understand the character, Korean people might know what the English word means within the context of the Korean sentence but not understand the cultural implications or the usage of that particular word. This results in many songs with hit or miss English, what we call in America as Engrish. While English is viewed in Korea as hip, even if it is mispronounced, viewers who speak English find Engrish to be a spectacle and something that is to be laughed at. This is also hard when spreading the genre to people who don’t typically listen to foreign music as that becomes all they hear, while a typical Kpop listener views the Engrish as one aspect of a song. This reminds me of Yoseop Yang’s “Caffeine” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WFIzLovJdiQ). It’s a beautiful song, with a great meaningful video, but the one Engrish lyric “Girl, you’re like a caffeine” is jarring and pulls you out of the song, which is unfortunate because it’s part of every chorus. The most unfortunate thing is that this mistake could have easily been finished by an English speaker, with the fix “Girl, you’re like a coffee” or “Girl, you’re like my caffeine”, both which convey the original meaning while still using articles correctly.

Speaking of coffee, beware of these phrases, which are “Engrish” but so widely use in Korea that they have been adopted by Korea and put into their language. They’re not technically incorrect when spoken since this is the correct way to use the word in the Korean language:

cuhpe – coffee
hopeu- Bar
han deu pon- cell phone
bbaek – supporter, second, back up plan
skinship- excessive (for Korea) touching in a relationship, cuddly
hwiting – rooting for you
hoo ra ing pan – Frying pan
Ke to ra e – Gatorade
Sa e ta – Sprite (but pronounced like cider)
Tee Bee – Not tuberculosis. TV.
And pretty much every fruit.

Then there’s English that is just plain bad or mispronounced. Sometimes the English is said correctly, but drops an important word in a phrase, often an article or modifier, that makes the phrase incomprehensible. Other times the error is in the pronunciation, which makes sense considering the following sounds which are separate in English come out of one letter in Hangul:

ㄹ= L/R
ㅈ = J/unaccented CH
ㅂ= B/unaccented P
ㄱ= G/unaccented K
ㄷ= D/unaccented T

They also do not have a sound for v or f, which explains the Hw substitution in fighting (hwiting) above, although according to wikipedia’s list of obsolete hangul letters, a version of F had existed in the past. They also have an additional vowel, ㅡ which sounds similar to ew in English, except you close your jaw and smile with all your teeth showing when you say it. I like to think of something icky when I say it and the grimace makes the ewww come out properly as ㅡ in hangul.

Lastly, the English in the song could be perfect grammatically and pronounced correctly, but the meaning is mistranslated when they were converting from the Korean equivalent to English.

A video that shows off these Engrish phrases is BAP’s Hurricane:

In this video, they say “We hurricane” (the lyrics say We’re hurricane, but they lie) when what they probably meant was “We’re hurricanes” which is still confusing and much less catchy. The most obvious Engrish phrase is “The loof is on fire” which comes from the mispronunciation of r in roof. Then the last one is in the first verse, with “I wanna baby”. What they probably mean is that they want a girlfriend or someone they can call baby, but what they said is that they want to get something pregnant. Ok boys, calm down.

These Kpop videos are not the only ones with Engrish. What’s your favorite Engrish phrase? Make sure to link the video it comes from when you comment so I can laugh my butt off at the original or lament at how the Engrish ruined a perfectly good song.

❤ Rebecca

Alternate perspectives

Oppa, you're so dreamy... doesn't really work.
Oppa, you’re so dreamy… doesn’t really work.

Having listened to Kpop for several years, and converted all my friends to the point that they know bands by name (and I feel very proud of this because they primarily listen to indie), its hard for me to remember what my perspective on music was before kpop. In early high school I was in a Nu metal / rock phase and my musical journey has been peppered with some pop, hip hop and a healthy dose of classic rock. In a way, that really hasn’t changed. Instead of an ipod, I have a dinky mp3 player that has all rock on it, I can only listen to pop and hip hop in the car because rock makes me angry and classic rock makes me sleepy. Classic rock is music that I listen to with friends and when I just need some Jethro Tull or Led Zepplin in my life. Layla by Eric Clapton remains my favorite song of all time. However, no other musical genre has captured my attention the way Kpop has, and I think it has to do with the music videos that come out for each artist. What the music video looks like greatly impacts how I perceive the song being featured. Case in point, Orange Caramel’s “Lipstick” which is a mediocre squeaky song with a bloody brilliant music video. When music becomes less about music and more about the whole production (clothing, make up, dance, acting, etc.) if you are at all into the music being played you get sucked into the genre so far that you become disbelieving that others could like any other genre of music.

I very much appreciate the Fine Brothers for their react videos, and the following two videos have injected a little perspective back into my life, if only the realization that repeated viewing of Kpop videos has really imbued me with appreciation for Korean beauty ideals so much that they surpass many of the ideals indoctrinated by American society and that lack of exposure to a culture really does make everything seem the same.

First, kids react to Kpop (released 6 months before Gangnam Style):

And youtubers react to Kpop (released several days ago):

They also have reaction videos to both of Psy’s recent songs, but they treat those as viral videos instead of regular music videos, so they have a different vibe. It’s just useful to understand what non kpop fans see when they look at kpop, as to better understand passing youtube comments and trolls.

❤ Rebecca

Kpop Culture Day 5: Biases

Biases: Who’s YOUR favorite?

Biases as a concept are actually pretty easy to figure out. The only issue with translation might be when people say they have a “bias”in a band it means that they have a bias towards them, not away from them. You can’t be biased towards a solo artist, because there’s really nothing to compare them to in a unit (unless you compare them to all of kpop). It’s really a convoluted way of saying “______ is my favorite”.

As a new person, you might say that “I don’t have a favorite in this group, I don’t know them really well.” That may not be true. A bias isn’t always who you fan-gush over when the music video isn’t on. I think the easiest way to tell who is your bias in the group is to see who your eyes gravitate towards when watching a music video. If it stays consistent through several videos, it’s safe to say you have a bias towards that member. Because of this, biases don’t have to be the star you find most attractive, instead it can be the funniest member of the group or the best dancer.

Biases can also change, and may change pending on new information that you receive. For example, in Shinee, a group of RIDICULOUSLY good looking men, I was always biased towards Taemin (TAEMAN!!!) because he was the best dancer in the group. Therefore whenever the whole group was on screen I would look at him to watch his dance moves. Not anymore. I just watched a drama staring Minho, the rapper of Shinee, and now I am hard core smitten with his facial expressions.

So, I thought I would make a more casual and personal culture day by telling you my biases. I will only tell you biases out of the groups I show you videos for, so this post will grow as I review more and more videos. Feel free to tell me who you like in the comments below xD

SNSD: Sunny

She's so cute. Honorable mention goes to Hyoyeon.
Sunny! She’s so cute. Honorable mention goes to Hyoyeon.

2ne1: Minzy

The super swag maknae!
Minzy: the super swag maknae!

MBLAQ: Seungho

Great looks, great voice.
Seungho: Great looks, great voice.

F(x): Amber

Her English rapping is great.

Wonder Girls: Yubin

Yubin has excellent rapping skills. Especially in "Be my Baby"
Yubin has excellent rapping skills. Especially in “Be my Baby”

Shinee: Minho

Minho has great facial expressions, although I still love Taemin's dancing.
Minho has great facial expressions, although I still love Taemin’s dancing.

4minute: Hyuna

Hyuna. Even though I don't like her solo stuff, she's the one I watch in 4minute
Even though I don’t like how she is portrayed sometimes, I still love to watch her.

Brown Eyed Girls: Miryo

She's really powerful when she raps.
She’s really powerful when she raps.

BIGBANG: Taeyang

He's like the Korean Neyo. He just does everything, and looks good while doing it.
He’s like the Korean Ne-yo. He just does everything, and looks good while doing it.

Nu’est: Baekho

Attractive and a martial artist? Works for me xD
Attractive and a martial artist? Works for me xD Close second goes to Ren.

FTIsland: No Bias

Whole band is good.
Whole band is good.

Super Junior: Shindong

He was my very first bias. Funny and a great dancer. Kyuhyun and Siwon are pretty good too.
He was my very first bias. Funny and a great dancer. Kyuhyun and Siwon are pretty good too.

Miss A: Min

She's so cute.
She’s so cute. I want that grey dress by the way.

Ukiss: Kevin

Kevin has a great personality, although Eli and AJ also are easy going.
Kevin has a great personality, although Eli and AJ also are easy going.

B.A.P.: Zelo

He's 6 foot and he's only 16. I promise I'm no pedo noona.
He’s 6 foot and he’s only 16. I promise I’m no pedo noona.

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