Tuesday, November 13, 2012

snippets and comments on The New Yorker's k-pop article

9-girl group Girls' Generation,
photo by Matthew Niederhauser.
My friend sent me a lengthy feature article from The New Yorker on K-pop entitled "Factory Girls," by John Seabrook. It has taken me a while to read the whole thing, mostly because the first half was a lot of background on things I already knew. For those with an existing knowledge of K-pop, skip ahead to page four or five to get to the good stuff. That's when he starts talking more about the current attitudes toward K-pop and what's going on in intersection between the Western and Asian music industry.

I've pulled some quotes from the article that I found of interest and wanted to share. Click on the link above to access the full article. Some of the quotes, which are given below in italics and include page references in parentheses, are followed by my own thoughts and comments in normal type:

Annals of Music

Factory Girls

Cultural technology and the making of K-pop.

by October 8, 2012

"Hallyu, far from seeming like a benign export from a nonthreatening country, is now commonly described as an 'invasion,' as though it were a sort of mental Asian carp that is clogging up the minds of the young." (3)
Nice insertion on the imperialistic nature, perceived or actual, of the Korean wave. Someone I once knew referred to it as "colonialism." Do not appreciate the "Asian carp" metaphor though, especially as a fish does not really hold up as something that clogs minds - kind of reaching there, aren't we?

"Lee and his colleagues produced a manual of cultural technology—it’s known around S.M. as C.T.—that catalogued the steps necessary to popularize K-pop artists in different Asian countries." (5)
Interesting paragraph on page 5 here. I didn't know about this! Reminds me of Facebook's extensive manual on acceptable and unacceptable behavior on their social media site, as well as what sort of actions monitors are supposed to take.

"The rapper and producer Swizz Beatz has spoken of wanting to pair Chris Brown with Y.G.’s BIGBANG, a five-member boy group, and Nicki Minaj with the agency’s other big success, 2NE1, a fashion-forward four-member girl group. 'Bridging the gaps with collaborations can be the start of a global phenomenon,' he told the music magazine The Fader." (5)
This is interesting! I know collabs have happened and they are a possible future avenue, though I'm not sure how much they'll really be able to be normalized in the near future. I see this happening, if it does, more in my granny years. But I want to look up and read this article and see what Swizz Beatz has to say.

" 'China is obviously a huge opportunity for us in five to ten years’ time.' " (5)
A statement by a music executive quoted in the article, as the central impetus for this interest and involvement in Asian pop music. An interesting prediction - I wonder if copyright and licensing, and/or buyer responsibility and support, will actually advance enough to make this true.
"Touring, which the label is counting on the Girls to do, could also be a problem." (6)
First sentence in an interesting paragraph contrasting the touring culture of American entertainers versus the television-based publicity of Korean singers. Also gives a representative reference of the repetitive failure K-pop entertainers have met in America with the Wonder Girls example. I don't really see anyone of the K-pop prototype breaking out of this cycle.

Jacobson said that he was commissioning hundreds of songs from a broad range of songwriters—Asian, American, and European—as more and more Western writers become aware of K-pop’s potential. “I don’t want to lose the Asian flavor. I want songs that speak to Girls’ Generation’s brand and also speak to the sound in America right now.” (6)
(Bold emphasis added) Okay, a little strange and possibly unintentionally offensive. Would someone care to take a stab at what exactly is "Asian flavor"? No smart-alecky answers like "soy sauce," please. My exasperated Asian face --> -_-

"When you replicate the American entertainment business, and add the Confucian virtue of rigid respect for elders to the traditionally unequal relationship between artists and suits, the consequences can be nasty." (7)
A little obvious but true. Still very engrained in Korean business. Reminds me of that chapter on Korean Air's distastrous past in Malcom Gladwell's book, Outliers.

"He’s a Korean pop star, but he’s not K-pop, and by satirizing standard K-pop tropes in 'Gangnam Style,' PSY may have subverted K-pop’s chances of making it big in the West." (7)
I wouldn't make this sort of hypothesis - I would say his a success is a reflection of the divide in taste between Asia and America, and the mass audience that "Gangnam Style" has reached will hardly know enough about K-pop to recognize characteristics to be subverted in the future. It's just those characteristics themselves that subvert their own chances of "making it big in the West."

" [...] I found myself wondering why overproduced, derivative pop music, performed by second-tier singers, would appeal to a mass American audience, who can hear better performers doing more original material right here at home?" (8)

And this is pretty much the thing.
"Connection, he explained, was the essence of pop music, according to his boss, Jimmy Iovine. 'Jimmy always says it’s all about the connection between the artist and the fans,' he said." (8)
That's true. Explains zealous Asian fangirl screaming. I have a theory in my subconscious that much of the exuberant fan culture surrounding Asian pop music relates to the fantasy/vicarious element capitalizing on romanticism and adding excitement to a very suppressed life, or at the least, supposed life, be it in culture or relationship. Sorry, kernel of thought, I will not do you justice here.

"At one point, the crowd watched a slightly creepy video with cartoonish illustrations about the love that the S.M. family members feel for each other." (8)

"Occasionally, the concert seemed like a giant pep rally." (8)
:x I can totally see this.

" 'First, beauty. Second, graciousness and humility. Third, dancing. And fourth, vocal. Also, brevity. Nothing lasts more than three and a half minutes. Let’s time it.' " (8)

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