Café Seoul Season 5, Episode 5: What *is* K-Pop?

After a very popular article published on the Ask a Korean blog, it appears that the definition of the term “K-Pop” is under dispute. So in the second half of this episode Rob and Eugene try to hash it out and come to a more solid definition, but still end up not totally agreeing on it. Oh well!

All of this music is post golden age… 1992-2002.” -hipster Eugene

News of the Weird

We also talked about this picture. 100 million you say? Click to enlarge.



On the Pulse:

So here is where we dive right in and get down to try to define K-Pop. After about 20-30 minutes of discussing it, we decide to make a scoring test to see if your group of choice is or is not K-Pop. We also spent a lot of time talking about a group called EXP Edition which has no Korean members, debating whether or not it is K-Pop… We said if they promote on Korean TV then they definitely are… and well….

Watch at your own risk… We are not fans…

Rob actually wrote a blog post on this subject where he published the rubric (or his later edited version of it) which I have copied into this post.

Group 1: Necessary? Sufficient?
__ Marketed toward Koreans in Korea (50 points)
__ Sung in Korean (50 points)
__ Marketed toward Korean diaspora (15)
__ Group is signed with either: A Korea-based, Korean-owned label (15) One of the “big three” Kpop labels (YG, SM, JYP) (30)
__ Group promotes itself on Korean shows like Music Bank, Inkigayo and Music Core (40)
__ Group is NOT signed with a Korea-based, Korean-owned label (-20)
__ Group/singer was active before the 1990s (DISQUALIFIED)
__ Group/singer was active since 2007 (3 points)
__ They play their own instruments at live shows (-80: they’re not K-pop anymore. They’re K-something else.)
Group 2: Makeup and Formation
__ Add 5 points for every member the group has after the first five (so, a six-person group gets 5 points; seven-person = 10 points; a 12-person group = 35 points)
__ Subtract 3 points for every member of the group who was not born and raised in Korea
__ Subtract (__) more points for every member of the group who could not pass for Korean in physical appearance (ethnicity/race is important to some people, who will want to put a point value here. I don’t really care as long as the next requirement is satisfied).
__ Subtract 8 points for every member of the group who is not fluent enough in Korean to make appearances on Korean television
__ Group was chosen and trained by the label (15 points)
__ Group members are on restrictive, probably unfair long-term contracts (7 points)
__ Group members are all gorgeous by conventional standards of attractiveness. (12)
Group 3: Aesthetics
__ Creative choices for songs, videos and dances are made by the studio, not the performers (8)
__ Music videos all have a “concept” (5)
__ 3 points for each group member with a designated role (“the visual” “the bad girl” “the vocal”)
__ Music is driven by synthesizers and sounds like a mash-up of other popular music genres (4)
__ Features rap solos that add nothing to the songs, or dance breaks that sound like the trendiest EDM styles of the day. (4)
__ Cute poses and extreme close-ups feature prominently in videos (3)
Group 4: Promotion
__ Subtract 4 points for every single released only in a language other than Korean (lose too many points, and you’re not K-pop anymore: you’re Asian pop, J-pop or something else)
__ Subtract 2 points for every single released with a Korean version and a version in another language
__ Subtract 5 points if the group has a “sub-group” targeting markets outside Korea
__ The Korean government has actively promoted their music (12)
__ Add 2 points for every advertising campaign they appear in in Korea.
__ Add 1 point for every advertising campaign they appear in in the rest of Asia.
__ Has an online fan club (10 points) with a quirky nickname (3 more points) run or closely managed by the label (8 more) pumping fans for more money through special offers and deals (5 more) whose fans will fucking dox you SWAT you and cut you if you diss their group (12 more)
Group 5: Other
__ White men over thirty living in Asia who don’t listen to it sneer at it contemptuously and talk about it as if they were experts on it (7 points)
__ James Turnbull has written 3000 words about them (3 points)
__ One or more performers were discovered on a Korean audition reality TV show (__) add value here: I don’t care about this but some might.
__ Nobody has suggested a different hyphenated K-genre for their music (For example, “She isn’t K-pop: she’s K-indie!”) 5 points

UPDATE!Here are some suggested additions to the checklist from Facebook. Thank you, Jon Dunbar!

__ Band is mixed-gender (-20)
__ Band name could be mistaken for a chemical corporation (good one: wish I’d thought of it) (5)
__ Band wears a uniform or uniforms (5)
__ Minus one point for each year above 25 of the band members’ ages

(Rob riffing on those:)
__ Band does a video in thinly veiled fetish gear (3)
__ Plus 3 points for each year below 19 of the band members’ ages

5 responses to “Café Seoul Season 5, Episode 5: What *is* K-Pop?

  1. Great podcast, as usual guys. Though the re-occurring theme of Hollywood racial injustice is is starting to wear. Perhaps Eugene might just dedicate an entire episode to Hollywood racial injustice, and kind of use that as a vent to release his frustration in a single, very organized episode?

    White ninja characters and mystical Caucasian journeys of self-discovery and ancient martial arts lessons in the ‘Orient’ make me cringe too. Can’t even watch. Embarrassing and just ridiculous. And when the white ninja character beats up all of the Asian Kung Fu master characters, and rescues the Asian princess, I feel like vomiting, and I’m just an average white guy.

    On that note, have you ever thought that perhaps there aren’t many Asian characters in Hollywood that are ‘likable’ among the general public? I don’t mean actors dragged over from Hong Kong, but Asian Americans. Can they be true to their “Asianness” and still sell tickets to a broader audience (white, black, Hispanic)?

    I read lots of whining about Ghost in the Shell and how Scarlett Johansson was cast instead of an Asian actress, but last time I checked, the main character was a robot (yes, I’ve watched the Anime, and know the back story). And as far as I know, most robots don’t even really have an ethnicity. Furthermore, the character in the Anime version has giant blue eyes, which leads me to believe that even the original creators of Ghost in the Shell, intended the cyborg cop to be more of a robot than a member of any ethnicity.

    But it also comes back to this; with Asian making up 5.6% of the US population, we must admit that this is much more of a minority group than blacks or hispanics. When a movie studio goes out of their way to cast only a specific racial group into a movie (think movies with all black casts), they are essentially either directly or indirectly, intentionally or unintentionally making that racial group their target audience. If your target audience is 5.6% of Americans, many of whom are not even interested in this type of movie, you are setting yourself up for financial failure. Hence, they cast an actress people recognize, and a diverse cast that doesn’t really exclude any particular group, and they produce a money making vehicle to pay back investors and hopefully make a little cash.

    By the way, did you watch the 2010 remake of Hawaii Five-O? What do you think about Daniel Dae Kim’s role? What do you think about casting Canadian Grace Park as an ethnic Hawaiian of Japanese descent and not just a ‘Korean’? Do you think that within the limits of the Hawaii Five-O original story line, that the roles of indigenous Hawaiians and Asians are minimized at all? Series kind of sucked, but I like Hawaii so I watched it.

    • Also that 5.6% “Asian population” is divided into many different groups. Even the broad grouping is East Asian, Southeast Asian and South Asian. So a movie directed towards a East Asian audience is not necessarily going to be much of a draw for South Asians. Then one can continue this theory within the broad groups themselves. Is a Chinese-American going to feel included/represented if a Korean-American is part of the cast? Speaking for my friends, maybe for some but definitely not for all. This kind of gets to the Hawaii 5-O question.

  2. Pingback: Café Seoul Season 5, Episode 6: Wonder Woman Spectacular | Café Seoul

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