Monday, October 22, 2012

{Monday Morning(ish) Therapy with Dongsaeng} American K-Pop?

I alluded to this topic last week in my KCon report.  Today I want to delve a little deeper in to it and hopefully begin a discussion.  This may become a heated discussion.  That'd be fun.  We haven't had too many of those here before.  Okay, so we've never had one of those before.  It seems that we're pretty much always in agreement.  Oppas are hot, dramas rock even when they suck, and KPop is all that and a bag of chips.  This one maybe will spark some debate.  I normally don't like debate, but I'm really curious to get everyone's input on this one because it intrigues me as a concept.

So, when I was at KCon I attended a panel discussion with Simon and Martina of Eat Your Kimchi fame and some other people from the world of KPop.  The topic was on the rise of foreign influence in K-Pop.  One of the panelists goes by the name of "Chad Future" and is trying to break into the industry as an American KPop artist, or A-KPop.  He's not Korean.  He's not Asian.  He is a white guy that wants to be a KPop star.  Interesting, huh?  He argues that KPop is not just a culture anymore, that it is a fully developed genre in its own right and therefore the field is now open for anyone to jump right on in and call their stuff "KPop".


Maybe you can well imagine the conundrum I face with this.  I too am a person of European, not Asian, descent trying to make a spot for myself in this K entertainment world.  Except it's a little different as I'm not out there calling myself a Korean blogger.  Well, not exactly.  I guess sometimes it kind of sounds like that when I explain to people that I have a blog about Korean pop culture.  I sometimes feel like one of those people that we used to call "wannabes" - you know, like the scrawny white guy who acted like he was black or Latino or something other than what he was?  It was always laughable and seemed to border on (or even cross the line fully into) offensive.  But is it?  Should we stick to our own native cultures or try to bridge the gap?

Obviously I'm all for bridging gaps.  Why can't I enjoy a certain type of program or song because of where I happened to be born?  Does me being an "outsider" invalidate my opinions?  Our world is everyday shrinking thanks to the technologies that allow us to communicate across borders and miles like never before in our history.  I have virtual friends all over the world now.  I wish I lived in a more diverse area and had the opportunity to mingle in person with many different cultures other than my own.  Yet at the same time, I can appreciate wanting to maintain ones own culture and preserve it.  Our culture is part of what defines us.  I have my own culture that I associate with - though it doesn't have much to do with my genes as much as my lifestyle.  I belong to a faith that has a very strong community and its own unique culture.  It's something that I treasure.  Not that I avoid extending myself outside of that culture, but I'll admit, it's usually easiest just to stick with the known.  You don't have to always explain yourself when you do, say, or act differently than what is considered the "norm".  I see geographical or genetic culture the same way.  People tend to stick with people that share the same culture.  It's easier and takes less effort.  It's familiar and comfortable and part of what makes us us.  But obviously we need to extend beyond those borders and share ourselves and learn about others too.  We're all part of this human race and have just as much in common as we do differences.  Probably a lot more similarities than differences.

Okay, I can see myself going down the Kumbaya road here which is not what I'm trying to do here.  We all know the rhetoric - we're all human, we should all get along and embrace each other...yadda yadda.  That's really not where I'm trying to go with this.  The real question posed here is, is KPop a genre like unto hip hop, rap, country, whatever and therefore open to any and all to participate in in whatever way they see fit regardless of where they hail from?  Or is KPop a cultural thing that should stay exclusively in the Korean community with us outsiders remaining just that - outsiders looking in?  We can look and appreciate and support to our hearts content but don't try to create a sub-genre such as American KPop?  Remember, we're not talking about a KPop artist reaching into the foreign market (though that is part of it, just not the part I'm currently focused on at this moment), but a non-Korean entering the KPop industry as a KPop artist.

Before you decide, first, if you haven't yet heard it, listen to Chad Future's song Hello.

Okay, now, if you didn't see the video and the non-Asian face, would you assume that this was a KPop song?  I think I probably would.  It sounds like KPop.  Could I distinguish this from American pop?  Well, I'm no music expert, but yeah, I think I would have to say that if I heard this without knowing anything else about it I would probably not tag it as American pop.  Is KPop unique enough and distinct enough to be a genre in its own right?  I just don't know.  I would initially argue that no, KPop is such an all-encompassing blanket term.  There's KPop that sounds like hip hop.  KPop that sounds like R&B.  KPop that sounds very pop.  It's all over the board.  One group can have an album where every song is a different genre sound.  Can something like that be its own genre?  What makes KPop Kpop?  The fact that it comes from Korea/Korean artists and is popular, or is there a specific, unique sound/quality that makes it KPop regardless of where or who it comes from?

That is the question as I see it.  And it's a difficult one to answer.  It is intriguing though and thought provoking and a question that I would suspect that we will have to answer at some point as this world shrinks more and more and the borders and bounds are constantly pulled and pushed this way and that.  We have Korean artists making English albums specifically for an American/International audience.  We have Psy breaking down barriers and getting played on American radio.  We have collaborations between American and Korean music professionals.  There are all kinds of crossovers beginning to take place.  It's only a matter of time I suppose before this A-KPop becomes bigger.  As a KPop fan, I guess I would have to say that as long as KPop stays pure to what it is, whatever that "is" is, I'll be happy.  I don't, for example, want to see Psy immediately release an English album.  Except that I loved Junsu's English album.  Ack!  Mind-bending and thought provoking!  Am I over thinking this?  Probably.  But as KPop becomes more globally recognized and appreciated, I think it will quickly become something that we think more about.  And as people like me jump into the pool and start swimming around, will we be welcomed into that pool or asked to leave?

Either way, I would hope that we will continue to respect each other and the cultural gems that we each have to offer.  And like the idea of A-Kpop or not, I would have to say that I like this guy's sound.  He was fun to watch perform at KCon.  It was cool to see people of all ethnic backgrounds up on stage with him.  He had one African-American woman singing in one song and it nearly brought me to tears that there was such a diverse cornucopia of people gathered together, singing and sharing a message of unity.  Cheesy much?  Yes, I am.  I don't think you appreciate that I really have grown up unexposed to multiculturalism and it's something that I crave for myself and my children.  I love to learn about other places, people and cultures.  I wish I was fortunate enough to have friends from all over the world surrounding me on a daily basis.  I would LOVE that!  I love all my friends regardless of where they come from, but where they come from isn't very varied where I am.  At the same time, my biggest fear of the Hallyu wave hitting Western shores is that it will become too Western and will lose its way.  There's a reason why I choose KPop over Western music.  If KPop loses itself as it tries to conform and enter foreign markets, then we will have lost something special.  Will A-KPop kill K-KPop or add another level to it?  What about Spanish KPop?  Or Indian KPop?  Where do we draw the line?  Does fusion destroy too much of the original until the original is no longer distinguishable?  Can we liken A-Kpop to say Taco Bell?  Taking an unique cultural, in this case, cuisine, and Westernizing it so much that it is no longer recognizable to its origins?

What do you think?  What is your initial reaction to the idea of American KPop?  What about when you stop to think about it?  Does your opinion change or stay the same?  Please share - I'd love to hear what you have to think about it.

And that's all the philosophizing I have for us today.  How about a little music to see us through this Monday morning?  Epik High released some MVs this weekend.  This was my first exposure to them, and I really liked this first video in particular because it was so off-the-wall bizarre and fun.  And made me think of Halloween which has always held a warm place in my heart as it is my birthday (though this year I'm hitting a milestone that I'd rather not hit, so Halloween is about to get booted out of its warm spot in my heart).  Anyway, if you haven't seen it yet, or even if you have and want a giggle to start your week off right, here's Epik High's "Don't Hate Me".

Liked that one and want to see their other new one?  Here's "Up".

Is it just me or does it have an MC Mong vibe to it in the chorus?  I was definitely getting feeling some "Circus".  Don't know Circus?  Well, here ya go.  It's an older one - pre MC Mong scandal - but was a huge hit in its day (you know, 'its day' being allll the way back in 2008) ;).

I hope those help get you through your Monday and get your week started off right.  Happy Monday and may your week be filled with wonderful dramas and good things galore!


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