EPISODE 4: K-Pop
Welcome to one of the big two.
If you’ve read the Anime Self-Doc already, this is the other of the big two.
If you haven’t, congrats, you’ve been spoiled, this is one of the big two, and Anime is the other of the big two.
You will find this same intro in the Anime Self-Doc already because I am unoriginal and yet find humor in that.
To the general public, I’m about 99% sure that K-Pop—aka the Korean pop music scene—is either a sore subject, an annoying subject, a weird subject, or not a subject at all because they don't even know it's a thing.
Welp. Here goes nothing.
I got into K-Pop around 3.5 years ago now, in mid October of 2016. I remember the exact date, the exact time, because this dumb little interest of mine changed me almost completely.
And I think I’m afraid to say that outright to the world at times because, let’s face it, it sounds typical. The Rabid Fangirl narrative where said fangirl claims a band (and a boy band at that) changed her life, blah blah blah. It’s the stuff of cliche teen whatever.
And I’m not about to go out and say Well it was Different for me and Here’s Why! even though that’s pretty much exactly what I’m doing, because in all honesty, it was the typical narrative. That’s not the problem.
The problem is that the narrative isn’t taken seriously. That the fangirls aren't taken seriously. (I say fangirls solely because... well that's the mainstream stereotype. Keep in mind that people anywhere on the wide spectrum of gender identities can be, and are, fans.)
I had several interviewees of mine bring up the stigma of their fandoms—how people look down on the things that are important to them, on the hypocrisies of inter- (and intra-) fandom discourse.
For more re: fan stigma, see my interviews with Miss A, Anna, Sam, Arya, Jei, Christine, and Abbie (which, wow, I guess the frequency of the topic speaks for itself huh), the Fandom vs. The World (Society) vignette, and this TED Talk by Yve Blake entitled “Why are Fangirls scary?” I found on my Twitter timeline (see below because I love linking the same video in 3 different places on this site).
(Hang on, there’s a musical called FANGIRLS? I knew there was the musical K-Pop—a two-story musical with different paths to choose? Sign me up—and a book called Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell—really good take on fanfic culture except for my oNE CRITIQUE THAT SHE COULD’VE JUST CHANGED THE NAMES AND SETTING AND N O T TELL HER PROFESSOR IT WAS A FIC. Gotta finesse the system, sweetie, half my original ideas started as fics.)
Defending fangirls aside, the K-Pop fandom is indeed crazy and enormous and intimidating and obnoxious. There, I said it. Send tweet. No amount of good deeds or charity work (which I will get to) can hide the fact that certain areas of this umbrella fandom (and many others, not gonna lie) can be toxic as hell.
Let’s back up for now, though, keep this more individual for a bit. Mid 2016 I broke up with my first relationship of several years. Rough times, man. Y'all know how it is. The next few months, I admittedly felt pretty lost, as one would. I had my hometown friends to help me cope, though, plus I joined up marching band again, dove headfirst into the fandom for French cartoon Miraculous Ladybug (fiction therapy, y'all, ayoo), and one day reconnected with a high school friend of mine.
We bonded again pretty quick about shows, fanfics, and this mobile game Mystic Messenger (That. was a TiME, bro,,,). Then one day my friend turns to me and is like “Wanna try checking out K-Pop again?”
Rewind (I just saw Hamilton ok leave me alone). Somewhere between 2013 and 2016, this friend had attempted to get me into checking out the dramatique af boy group VIXX, and I did for a time, except I got some discouraging comments from my then-boyfriend (the one who I mentioned earlier) and shied away from it. That whole deal plus the handful of 2nd gen (aka 2nd generation of K-Pop [generation timeframes are a common debate, but here's one take], or artists from the mid to late 00s like SNSD, Super Junior, Wonder Girls, Rain, etc.) songs I had on my phone back in high school were the only interactions I’d had with K-Pop since. Here's one for your viewing pleasure. A classique. I have vivid flashbacks of playing a creepy part of Wind Waker with this blasting in the background so I wouldn't be too freaked out.
Oh, and I guess the fan made animations—Mambostuck for the Homestuck fandom, featuring Block B's "Nillili Mambo," which I mention in my interview with Mandark, and the Wi ing Wi ing fan video for the Undertale fandom—count towards my interactions, as well. I've actually brought up the Wi ing Wi ing video in a blog post from ye olde 2017.
Hmm... Do I wanna post both here for easy viewing? Would that bog down this self-doc with too many videos?
Meh, my project. Idc.
Okay, I'm putting two more videos, then I'll relax. Just wanna show the diversity of the music scene via two MVs that I watched that day in October 2016. (Fun fact: I know the day because that's when "Healing" by SEVENTEEN dropped. I'm restraining myself from looking further into the implicit irony in that.)
Now I’m into… I’m not gonna even try to count how many artists I like, but it’s a lot. Nowadays it’s more the solo artists that have my attention, but I still have my groups that I love.
(Actually. A present for you. A carefully curated K-Pop Crash Course playlist, made back in early 2018 and courtesy of me and my Kakaotalk group chat buds. Love those nerds.) You can find it on the Radio page, too!)
As you might be able to tell from the playlist if you checked it out, K-Pop is… a lot different from the American music scene, or the Western music scene in general. It’s (almost) unapologetically over-the-top, the production quality is incredible, and its selling point is the artists themselves, dubbed “idols,” who… who…
Cynic time. I’m struggling with how to phrase this without a) sounding like a creep, and b) showcasing complete support of this practice. Essentially, “idols” are marketed as available significant others for the fan population. Sounds like garbage, I know. Look past that bit, though, and you can “get to know” these artists, "feel connections" with them, and feel genuinely supportive of them and their career. So it’s lovely if you’ve got blinders on. :)
Oop, found the term for it. Parasocial interaction/relationship. I'm learning along with y'all, lookit that.
I think it’s time for another plug, actually. Last year, for a final project of my Networked Narratives class, I explored the similar topic of Where Is The Line? as a fan with a focus on K-Pop. And so. Here it is.
Truthfully, I could go on about the K-Pop industry and fandom (and, oddly, I have done so with 10-year-olds at a theatre camp once; they were surprisingly thoughtful about the topic). I won’t bog you down with any more than I’ve already told you.
So. Back to me.
I’ve already talked about my increased cultural openness and knowledge in my anime entry, so if you’d like to see my breakdown (in both senses) re: “how to healthily enjoy another culture’s content without being an ignorant asshole,” go ahead and run over there. It’s pretty much just [game announcer’s voice] Round 2, only with a few upgrades:
Much less embarrassing journey of learning the fandom's culture's language.
As of now, I have the writing system down but hell if I'll be able to get the grammar and vocab down anytime soon.
No blurting out random Korean bit phrases in public where anyone can hear me. :)
I get a pretty good appreciation v. appropriation lesson.
Something many fans keep forgetting and that a few interviewees touched on.
Bouncing off that: you see, K-Pop has a tendency to appropriate aspects of Black culture in an attempt to portray a “hip hop” concept. The topic is one of pretty intense debate between the international and Korean fanbases, as well as amongst the international fanbase on its own.
For additional insight on the current relationship between the Black community and fandom at large: "The Joy & Rage of Being Black In Fandom Right Now."
And that’s something that I had to learn, honestly. Cultural appropriation was never something that affected me, and that speaks to my own privilege, let's be real.
That’s another thing people forget, I think. Just because something doesn’t affect you doesn’t mean that it’s not important, or that it doesn’t affect someone else.
Just… the lack of empathy in the world is baffling.
But! I'm going to step away from this topic for a bit. Because it's a very intense one and I believe requires and deserves more than just one voice in discussion and a single article link.
Alright. Back to me. Again.
I mentioned over in my Anime Self-Doc that the cosplay community helped fans discover themselves. I can honestly say that that’s what I have been able to achieve through being a part of this community. Thinking on it, yeah, it was definitely a mix of content and community that “brought me out of my shell,” if you’ll pardon the cliché.
I think some of the biggest things that changed were my perception of gender, masculinity/femininity, interpersonal relationships… To my (VERY limited, 3-year-based) knowledge, South Korea is interesting in its same-sex social dynamics—(and hypocritical, i.e., Hatred Of The Gays and Exuberant Same-Sex Idol Fanservice exist in tandem somehow [eyeroll emoji]). Also, skinship is a thing—I’m not gonna try to define it myself so have a lovely UrbanDictionary definition—that is far removed from same-sex friendship dynamics for American men (and for women as well, but mostly for men, let’s be real) but is normal for Korean society.
Similar socio-cultural differences, plus my deeper dive into fanfiction written by and exploring lives of people in the LGBT+ community (which I also covered in my anime entry), ended up leading me to my current, Gender Is A Social Construct and Toxic Masculinity Is A Disease mindframe.
Overall, K-Pop itself, exploration of Korean culture, and new friendships as a result of this newfound interest opened me as a person to different interests, different arts, different styles, different parts of myself in relation that I don't think would have risen to the surface otherwise, or at least would have taken far longer for me to realize.
One of those interests/arts that will act as a good segue for me is music.
I think I've mentioned how I’ve been a music kid my entire life. (Literally from birth. Parents played Vivaldi and Bruce Springsteen for me as an infant. Fast forward and I got a music minor in undergrad, play several instruments, and I'm working on my vocal range in secret so don't tell anyone shhhh...) So I can't really talk about the K-Pop music scene without talking about my relationship with music, particularly in recent years. Though, I will say that I never really dipped into music fandom until K-Pop hit.
Long story short, my music tastes have gone like this: Whatever My Parents Listened To ➜ Country (Martina McBride, anyone?) ➜ Rock and Indie (OMAM my pride and joy) ➜ J-Rock/J-Pop (anime openings/endings/OSTs mostly; y'all Better listen to this masterpiece from Promare by Superfly I stg I feel that downbeat in my Heart of Hearts) ➜ video game OSTs (here's some faves) ➜ ???? ➜ K-Pop
It's been a journey, and I'm sure there's some fancy takeaways from this progression. Some of my interviewees (Abbie, Joanne, Miss A) had similar transitions (pop punk ➜ J-Rock/J-Pop [and anime, let's be real] ➜ K-Pop). Be cool to look into that.
This next bit is more of a self indulgent, cast-into-the-void, Anyone Else Feel Like This? kinda thing.
Y'know how they say that smell is the sense most closely related to memory? Valid. Very true. Agreed. You'll smell lemon pledge and suddenly you're 10 y.o. in your great aunt's house in Totowa again.
I feel the same with music. Or, at least, I try to feel that way, I think. I'll listen to oldass songs I used to listen to in… undergrad, high school… and for just a fleeting moment I'll feel like I'm back there or back then, or it reminds me of something I watched or read or engaged in in some other way. (Probably why I listened to video game OSTs and anime themes for a while. Bruh, I got "again" by Yui aka one of the FMA Brotherhood opening themes down.) And it feels nostalgic, even if it really wasn't that long ago. I like feeling that way—that small bit of time travel, in a sense. Maybe it's related to self-reflection. Looking back on the music I listened to, the songs I loved/love, shows what kind of person I've been. They say you can really tell a lot about a person by their music, and… yeah, LMAO.
(Shit, I could do an analysis of how my life over the past three years lines up with BTS' discography, specifically. I think that in particular makes sense since I'm the same age as the members. Even if their current music isn't my favorite of theirs, I can still feel like it lines up. Case in point: "Black Swan" and fear of losing creative passion.)
So yeah. Music. Connections. Remembrance. Reference points of life. Self-reflection. Good shite.
Oof, and sometimes… sometimes… Ever hear a song and you feel like you level up, in a way? I've tried describing it as Reaching A New Level of Enlightenment, but I don't think Buddha would appreciate the analogy. Ugh, but. It's like. A song resonates with you so much you feel it every time you hear it. Like… it hits the same vibrations as your soul or your heart or some deep shit like that. If someone has a better word from that, please throw it at me. I have a Need.
But yeah. That kinda feeling has been one I've noticed in past years, when I started being more conscious of the way I listen to/support music and engage in a music fan community. Hell, here's a lil playlist of some songs that've hit me like that, just for funsies.
Bringing it back to K-Pop again… I think getting into this music scene has, like I said, enhanced my appreciation for music, broadened my views of music and repertoire of genres that I listen to—(me at 10: TECH IN MUSIC IS EVIL. RAP IS BAD AND NOT MUSIC. Damn, you little prescriptive elitist, can u chill?)—and… made me even more of a critic kdhshdjd. Curse of a music kid, I guess.
And that's just from the music perspective. That's the thing, I think. Every fandom has countless facets, countless angles, that people can draw from and engage with.
And it's deep. Fandoms stick with you, man. Sometimes they root deep in your identity and… change you… to the point where a threat or insult to that fandom is a threat or insult to you.
Which. Sounds unhealthy. But that's where self-reflection and management come in.
To circle back, from a content perspective, no, it ain’t really that deep. (Love your faves and don’t trash others’, will ya? F&*^’s sake.) From an experience perspective, personally, for me, it’s deep. And I’m sure it’s that way for a lot of people. “I was at a low point when I found ______.” That’s the narrative that gets missed. That fan experience that, again, relates strongly to your sense of identity and the way you fit into a community and society overall.
Whew. I think I'm spinning this bigger and bigger than I need it to be. I could go on forever about those different aspects (the recent boom of the fandom, falling out of fandom, avoiding fandoms with bad rep, etc.) but! I'll end it here.
Look for my hopefully eventual podcast where I’d like to talk more about different elements and discourse of fandom.
Tbh, going through this self-doc after I've written it and doing some edits, I find that I've been really cynical. Just wanted to say that, aside from all the problematic and deep stuff, K-Pop is a fun time. Fandoms are a fun time. So... I critique because I care, y'know? Doesn't mean I'm any less of a fan. At the beginning of it all, I join these fandoms because they're fun and I enjoy them.
Alright. Now I'm satisfied. </mid-edit retrospective aside>
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