Here’s Why The Wall Street Journal Is Wrong About K-Drama Fans

You Who Came From The Stars“A study by Seoul National University researchers in 2013 found that loyal fans of Korean soap operas tend to be less educated, and therefore more susceptible to the genre’s unrealistic plot twists, which include old standbys like the car accident-induced bout of amnesia or the twins who are separated at birth,” reads a recent Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article titled “Psy-chology 101: Academics Put Spotlight on Korean Pop Culture” by Jonathan Cheng. It was published on November 1 and covered the academic study of Korean pop culture including, but not limited to, the Hallyu (Korean Wave) phenomenon.

Having studied Hallyu in both American and Korean universities, I expected to not really come away with any particular feeling other than elation about the fact that my field of study was being highlighted in one of the most respected newspapers in the world. So imagine my surprise at being insulted as “less educated” because I am a “loyal fan” of Korean dramas, or what the WSJ calls, “soap operas.”

I’ve been watching them since I was in high school, throughout college and studying abroad, and now as a post-grad. But the Wall Street Journal quotes a study then lets it hang as fact without further discussing it at all throughout the rest of the article, insinuating that I’m uneducated because I’m currently binge watching “She Was Pretty,” a 16-episode show about a childhood friends who don’t recognize one another after they’ve been separated for nearly 20 years.

Siwon "She Was Pretty"

Credit: MBC, gif via irrational obsessions gottcha78 on Tumblr


Also on KultScene: K-Dramas as a Window into the Realities of Korean Society

I spent a few minutes looking up this study, only to find a Wall Street Journal article from 2013 titled “South Korean Soap Operas: Just Lowbrow Fun?” that first introduced the survey to WSJ audiences. The survey they based their research on was conducted in China and had a small sample size, with only 400 Chinese candidates between the ages of 20-60 answering about their television watching preferences.

However, there are multiple issues with this survey and the Wall Street Journal’s recurring use of the results determined by Seoul National University staff in 2013 to insult K-drama fans. In fact, more than just a few people are upset by being fit into this neat, uneducated box; Chinese K-drama fans took offense with the survey, and protested the results in 2014.

The international use of a survey that utilizes such a limited sample size to represent the millions of Korean-drama fans around the world belittles the wide range of international popularity dramas have. Similarly, the point of the survey was unclear. Were the researchers trying to find out how popular Korean dramas were in China or were they trying to see international viewing trends among Chinese nationals? The difference may seem minimal, but the WSJ does not offer readers any further information about the intention of the survey or the type of questions posed to surveyees that may shape their responses.

Many Chinese students study abroad in the United States because English is important and studying abroad is perceived as something elite and a way up in the business world (Korea is similar). It seems far more likely that highly educated people in China would pick American, English-language television over Korean shows. Of course they would. Why would any educated person have incentive to pick Korean dramas, which are similar to Chinese dramas in all but production value and language, over the American, Hollywood productions? 

Most of China, actually. The Seoul National University’s results don’t seem accurate anymore, since Korean television shows are immensely popular in China today. In 2014, branches of the Chinese government met to question why Korean dramas are so popular following the wide spread success of the Korean drama “My Love From The Stars,” even as Chinese cultural products were lacking local and international appeal. In fact, members of the government considered K-dramas as such a threat to China’s cultural prowess that one called the Korean soap operas “the distillation of traditional Chinese culture.”

Regardless of perceived flaws in the survey itself, when it comes down to it it is highly problematic that the WSJ is continuously implying that Korean dramas are lowbrow based on a (limited) study that featured a handful of highly educated people dismissing Korean dramas in favor of “The Big Bang Theory,” a show about a sexy, uneducated woman who manages relationships with four highly intellectual, socially awkward nerds.

That’s how it works in California, right?

Putting the realm of reality on hold for a moment, “The Big Bang Theory” has just as many intellectual issues as Korean dramas, and maybe even more. Korean dramas are created in the imaginary Disney-esque world of Cinderellas, Prince Charmings, and Evil Stepmothers, where there are usually happy endings for all. In comparison, “The Big Bang Theory” is very much set in a stereotypical version of this world, where the blondes are dumb, the scientists have few social graces, the Jewish character (Wolowitz) is small and often thought of as “disgusting” by the other characters, and the Indian character fits into longstanding views of the effeminate Asian: Raj’s Indian background is not only used for jokes, but he fits into the stereotypical idea of the emasculated Asian male. Raj is always somewhere between straight, gay, and asexual depending on each episode, and never the most powerful person in the room but almost always the subordinate in every situation on “The Big Bang Theory.”


Also on KultScene: 4 K-Dramas That Need To Be On Your ‘To Watch’ List Right Now

Perhaps the 400 Chinese nationals who were surveyed missed out on the nuances of American (stereotype promoting) humor, but if they pick racist comedy over unrealistic drama plots, I have to question their emotional intelligence and legitimacy as the yardstick for all fans of internationally popular television shows. (That does not mean that I think anyone who is a fan of “The Big Bang Theory” is racist. The show perpetuates stereotypes, and I am questioning the survey’s validity as an accurate reflection of K-drama viewers around the world).

Sure, Korean dramas are dramatic, silly, pretty ridiculous, and nowhere near the pinnacle of fine arts. But the audience is not innately any dumber than any other fandom. Saying that a person is “less educated” because of their preferred form of entertainment, their preferred form of escape from the banality of everyday life, is a bit absurd and honestly offensive.

Watching K-dramas requires putting your grasp of reality on hold. I don’t believe that the unrealistic situations can occur, but I still laugh, gasp, and cry in a way that I don’t when I watch many other television shows. Why should one preferred form of storytelling make the audience innately less educated than others? It doesn’t, and quoting one, small survey time and time again does not change the fact that K-dramas are watched by people from all walks of life.

Korean dramas are watched in South Korea as prime time television. Yes, they’re soap operas. No, not every person in South Korea is watching them, but they are immensely popular. South Korea has one of the most literate, educated populations in the world with more than 80 percent of adults going on to university, according to The Economist. But you say “loyal fans of Korean soap operas tend to be less educated”?

Outside of South Korea, maybe you can suggest that the audience is less educated, but that’s not remotely true. According to 2013 statistics from DramaFever, one of the most popular sites for international audiences to watch Korean dramas, 53 percent of their audience had college or grad school education in 2013. In 2015, DramaFever reaches around 20 million viewers. Viki, another site where many people watch Korean dramas, goes above just having educated viewers and actually has audience members build the subtitles, including translation and editing, for entirely free.

But, after all, these are the “less educated” fans of Korean dramas.

What do you think about the Wall Street Journal’s use of this survey? How do you feel about Korean dramas? Share your picks in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

The Curious Case Of Super Junior’s Kim Kibum’s Quiet Departure From SM Entertainment

"Sorry Sorry" Kim KibumOn August 18, a member left one of SM Entertainment‘s most popular groups and the K-pop world hardly stopped to consider the usual questions. There was no “why?” or “what now?” as there had been following departures from EXO, Girls’ Generation, and f(x) over the past two years.

Instead, Kim Kibum’s departure from SM Entertainment led, yes, to sadness from many Super Junior fans, but also to an almost overwhelming sigh of “it’s about time” from the larger K-pop community.

For a fandom that has seen a lot of dramatic exits, Kim leaving SM Entertainment was one of the quietest major events to happen to one of K-pop’s top acts. Which leads to the question of why the calm? Why didn’t K-pop fans freak out about a departure from Super Junior?

Probably because Kim Kibum in actuality left being an active Super Junior member long ago, and the official statement that was shared by Kim on Instagram is just the final nail in a coffin that was already buried years ago.

[Just a note, several Super Junior members posted support for Kim’s departure from SM, showing that there were no hard feelings, and fans were quick to notice that that Kim’s official Instagram post said that he was leaving SM Entertainment but not Super Junior.]

 

2015 august 18th. Finished with S.M. ent. Lets begin my new life…!! 그동안 함께했던 SM 감사합니다.

A photo posted by 김기범 (@mub_ik_mik) on

 


Also on KultScene: Super Junior’s Music Video Evolution

Since debuting in 2005, Super Junior has seen a lot of scandals and drama amidst personal loss, accidents, fights, lawsuits, line-up changes, enlistments, and much more. But Kim’s departure was something that had been expected, and accepted, almost since 2009 when he first went missing from the group amidst “Sorry, Sorry” promotions.

After he was absent from the follow up track to “Sorry, Sorry,” “It’s You,” SM Entertainment announced that Kim would focus on his busy solo promotions. The group wasn’t suffering, and had just seen legendary success with “Sorry Sorry,” so the fact that Kim went MIA at this point in the group’s career sent a pretty clear signal that he was happy to do his own thing. And Super Junior and SM Entertainment were, from the outside point of view, fine with that (it is unclear what arrangement the company had with Kim regarding compensation and Super Junior’s career following his initial absence from the group.)

In essence, Kim Kibum left Super Junior unofficially in May 2010, when SM Entertainment confirmed that Kim would officially not partake in Super Junior activities for the time being. ELF, Super Junior’s Everlasting Friends, continued to support Kim’s solo career, and Super Junior even recently discussed welcoming Kim back if he were interested, but that ship had truly sailed long ago.

Why wasn’t this a big deal then, and why isn’t it now? In comparison to the departure of Hankyung (Han Geng) during the same period (2009-2010,) and the JYJ-TVXQ lawsuit (and the more recent Kris-Luhan-Jessica-Tao- Sulli exits), Kim’s departure was phrased as anything but. He’s been under the company until now, taking a few acting jobs now and then but essentially sitting as a lame duck. Why did SM Entertainment put up with it? That leads us to the fact that Super Junior probably should win the award for being the K-pop Group That Shouldn’t Exist.


Also on KultScene: Super Junior Makes Epic Comeback

The fact that Super Junior began its tenth anniversary promotions this summer with the release of “Devil” is absolutely insane, to put it easily. Super Junior debuted as the project group Super Junior ‘05, with the intention of SM Entertainment rotating members in and out. The original line-up of twelve members was not supposed to stick. The addition of Kyuhyun and the removal of the year from Super Junior’s name was momentous not only for the group’s loyal fans because it meant that Super Junior was there to stay, but it also meant a change of path for the members.

Prior to debuting in Super Junior ‘05, Kibum was the most prominent member in Super Junior. As a model and actor, Kim was responsible for getting Super Junior’s name out there, and took the role as one of the group’s so-called visual members. And he got the job done, promoting as Super Junior’s Kim Kibum on television.

Following the initial success of the group and then the 2009 glory of “Sorry Sorry,” it was clear that Super Junior was going to stick around the K-pop world. So someone who had initially prepared to graduate from being a K-pop idol in a few years was forced to look at a possibly daunting career. As an ELF myself, I can admit that Kim Kibum’s raps were decent at best, while his heart was truly in acting and modeling. For whatever reason, SM Entertainment didn’t promote him well after he went on hiatus from the group, but Super Junior had gained exposure thanks to Kim’s presence on television, and then when he wanted to call it quits, it seems like SM let him go at a time when bad PR would tank the company’s stocks even more.

Kim Kibum was never integral to Super Junior, and Super Junior was never integral to Kim Kibum. So when he left initially, it was fine. And in 2015, when his contract expired, there was no drama. There was no lawsuits, or shocking interviews with the Korean press, or outrage from either side. There was civility, and an adult attitude towards the whole thing. Which is quite impressive for K-pop.

How do you feel about Kim Kibum’s exit from SM Entertainment? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

‘Unpretty Rapstar’ is Sexist & Promotes Girl-On-Girl Hate

[Disclaimer: This article is based on the first three episodes of the show and season three of ‘Show Me the Money,’ and contains cuss words and minor spoilers.]

With the surge in popularity of Korean rap domestically and abroad, it surprised no one that competition shows like Show Me the Money [SMTM] sprung and did as well as K-Pop Star. However, right from the start, the absence of women in the various SMTM installments was evident. Sure, there were some female contestants, but they never made it far or became relevant for their spit (some exceptions apply, of course).

That’s why when Unpretty Rapstar was announced, –despite the offensive title and the omission of male contestants– it seemed like progress, for female rappers would finally be in the spotlight and given proper credit. While I’m not sure if the creators of Unpretty Rapstar are the same as Show Me the Money, they were both televised on Mnet. What’s more, the former’s cast is sprinkled with reject contestants from the latter and other rappers who are already well-known. So from its inception, Unpretty Rapstar was created with SMTM in mind, and therefore sets a striking, sexist contrast.

Right from the start, it was apparent that the only thing Unpretty Rapstar and Show Me the Money had in common was the competition factor. Show Me the Money was all about some good ‘ol fashioned friendly and healthy competition, with contestants choosing their own mentors, being in teams, and focusing on the talent onstage. The feuds between the participants were addressed through verses onstage, with the interview portions only adding background information on them or reactions. On the other hand, Unpretty Rapstar’s format is meant to highlight and promote the pettiness women can have with each other, otherwise known as girl-on-girl hate.

As Tavi Gevinson, creator of Rookie Magazine, put it:

Girl hate is not hating someone who happens to be a girl, it’s hating someone because we’re told that, as girls, we should hate other girls who are as awesome as or more awesome than ourselves. That there can only be ONE cool girl, ONE funny girl, ONE smart, etc., in a circle of people.

girlscompete-540x786

To sum up, it’s basically Mean Girls. Starting with the cast, the producers created tensions with their selections. Some rappers had seniority over the rest, some had beef between them, and others were already famous and popular. Jimin, from girl group AOA, is always given preferential treatment, especially from the MC San-E who doesn’t even try to hide his bias (on the first episode, he broke off a tie where the idol won, even though she didn’t even rap in the intro cypher). Jolly V and Tyme brought their SMTM3 feud onto this show, with the producers highlighting and trying to pin them against each other further more. The inclusion of Jessi, a Korean-American who has already debuted and is one of the eldest in the cast, intimidates some of the contestants and unevens the playing field. And then of course is the prodigy, SMTM3’s Jidam who also gets away with things out of potential, which she undoubtedly has, but the exceptions are not a luxury given equally to all of the girls.

‘Unpretty Rapstar’ is Sexist & Promotes Girl-On-Girl Hate
‘Unpretty Rapstar’ is Sexist & Promotes Girl-On-Girl Hate

‘Unpretty Rapstar’ is Sexist & Promotes Girl-On-Girl Hate

via unpretty-rapstar @ Tumblr

Also on KultScene: Victim Blaming In Kim Hyun Joong & Ray Rice Cases Minimize Realities Of Domestic Abuse

Read more

YG Entertainment and Authenticity in K-Pop

The idea of authenticity in pop music is always a contentious one. In the west, every effort is made to make sure the pop star is seen to be the real deal. While in Asia, the idol system is a transparent one in which the fans know young girls and boys train for years to debut and are almost completely controlled by their company. YG Entertainment pride themselves on their more authentic than usual idols and roots in hip-hop. From the acquisition of rap royalty Epik High to the home grown writer producer G-Dragon to the real rappers of iKon, YG has continually put its faith in authentic talent. YG still deal in pop music though, and Yang Hyun Suk and producers like Teddy and Kush are well known as big parts of the music in the company.

Money making and authenticity tend to not go together well, but all pop music is made to make money. So can there be authentic pop music and is YG it? Is their style true or a clever marketing trick? I want to examine YG’s output of 2014 to try and get at some answers. I won’t necessarily be looking at the specific quality of the songs, although it can’t be avoided, but mostly how they were marketed compared to how authentic or interesting they turned out to be.

There is no doubt as to YG’s hip-hop roots being fairly legitimate. YG has come a long way since then however, and are now the second biggest music label in South Korea. In order to get to where they are now though, they have sacrificed some of their ideals in order to get ahead. The idea of authenticity has changed within the company as it becomes more focused on idol groups. The illusion of authenticity has proven to be more effective than putting the work into originality, and 2014 was the year it all came together.

Also on KultScene: YG Entertainment Wants You To Know It’s Different

Last year, YG debuted two new groups, AKMU and WINNER, and created a new one to debut later this year, iKON. Without even getting into the details of the groups, we can see a difference between them and YG’s roots. A lot of them come from talent shows; this immediately raises alarms about the authenticity of these groups. That’s not to say everyone who auditions at talent shows is inauthentic, but it is hard to find true artists through them. There are many talented singers, dancers, and rappers, but how many are the brand of supposed authentic that YG claims it wants?

Akdong Musician were one of these, and were a huge sensation after K-Pop Star. Their music appealed to the Korean market but brought with it an interesting undercurrent thanks to Lee Chanhyuk’s compositions and the vocal dynamic between him and Lee Suhyun. After winning the show, they had the choice themselves to choose between the big three companies. They chose YG explaining that they felt they could express themselves the best there. YG’s image was working for them before even signing Akdong to their label. I have no doubt about the talents of AKMU and they had the right idea by singing with YG, but I wonder if Akdong still feel the same today.

YG has taken the soul of what Akdong Musician are and diluted it with the “YG style.” This is a disservice not only to Chanhyuk and Suhyun but to fans who came to love Akdong’s original sound and image. Their debut single 200% was a generic soft hip-hop pop song which did nothing to showcase the possible talents of Akdong. They even made them dance for the live shows which looked awkward for all involved. They even changed their name to AKMU. It’s not all bad for Akdong though, as their other big song of the year, Melted, is an incredible social critique with a stripped back piano accompaniment, and one of the best music videos of the year.

While Akdong Musician were taken from outside of YG’s doors, WINNER were created in a reality show made by the company. WIN: Who is Next? followed two different boy groups made of YG trainees as they fought to debut as the first YG boy group since BIGBANG. They were Team A and Team B, with Team A eventually winning, being christened as WINNER and given a debut.

Pop music is a business, and in business, major companies do not take risks on letting the public have a say in their next move. So when a show like this runs, I can’t help but be sceptical. YG ultimately would have total control over what was shown and it would be naive to think that they wouldn’t have made edits in accordance with their own plans. Favour was more than likely thrown in Team A’s direction to keep in line with these. The fact that Bobby from Team B, or iKon now, couldn’t make the top team even though he is the hottest property on the K-pop market right now shows there was a plan for each group prior to shooting the show. Considering that YG had the ultimate say in who won confirms this to be nothing more than a vanity project attempting to showcase their authenticity.

I realise these are completely unfounded claims, but I can’t help but feel that show was completely manipulative. Putting these aside, I want to look at WINNER’s highly anticipated debut. The promo for it was one of the best ever seen in not only K-pop but all pop in recent years. It featured micro films with each member, short documentaries about their feelings leading up to their debut and even an incredibly produced instrumental track over interesting visuals. Everything was done in a consistently stylish and artful manner. Expectation was high for something truly interesting.

… Then they released a ballad.

Ballads are the safest, most mainstream and dull kind of song in all of K-pop. Ballads from drama soundtracks consistently top the charts and have been doing so more and more recently. So when WINNER, after the amazing build up, released Empty, I was severely disappointed. That’s not to say it’s necessarily a bad song, just a completely safe one considering the teasers and YG’s talk of WINNER being more than just a Korean group. So of course Empty went on to be a huge success making WINNER the fastest boy group to win a music program award and winning more awards at the MAMAs and Melon. As soon as YG saw the success they doubled down by releasing a solo song from WINNER’s rapper Mino, I’m Him which sounded like a rejected G-Dragon album cut.

Also on KultScene: Let’s Discuss: WINNER As A New Type Of Idol

I want to save any criticism or praise for iKon for when they properly debut. I will say however that Bobby seems to be trying to make a legitimate career for himself, but doesn’t see that he is now an idol because of this. Trying to distance himself from other idols won’t help him at all as it will only make him seem like a try-hard boy group member.

All of 2014’s releases stem from an apparent move from YG to become a more global company. Even Epik High have lost the personal touch that made their earlier music so good. With CL making her way over to America and PSY already achieving huge crossover success, YG can obviously see themselves as the biggest K-Pop players –in the U.S. at least.

In order to continue attacking the western market though, they are losing any sense of true authenticity in place of a corporate illusion of reality. They put the main focus of their groups on their supposed legitimate rappers to give a sense of originality to them. Yet when music is released, it is generic and uninteresting. YG has essentially tricked their fans into believing everything they do is true artistry, that everything they release comes 100 percent from the members themselves. In the pop music world, this is impossible. This is the true quality of YG, making corporate look authentic.

What do you think of YG’s authenticity? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

K-Pop’s Cringiest Moments of 2014

K-pop had not seen a worse year than 2009 in terms of scandals and shocking news. But then 2014 and the so-called K-popcalypse came, and 2009 didn’t seem like such a nightmare anymore. And while members leaving groups and fatal accidents were the biggest headlines of the year, not all scandals were sorrowful. Truth is, most of the scandals made us face palm and experience third person embarrassment for idols and their companies. These controversies involved cultural insensitivities, misogynistic messages, entitlement sentiments, and uncalled for beef, and they all prove that if K-pop wants to compete in the worldwide market, changes must be enforced.

Hyomin’s Nice Body

Back in June, T-ara member Hyomin released her solo song Nice Body, which was well-received by the public. Many publications complimented her for her even slimmer body and provocative dance moves. However, this, to other publications, proved to be a disconcerting release and reaction. Nice Body seemed to be a song about wanting to have a fit figure, but a closer look at the lyrics and music video revealed it to be a misogynistic mess.

Nice Body objectified and promoted the idea that a woman’s body’s sole purpose is to serve men. It also promoted girl-on-girl hate, comparing a fat and a skinny girl (even though both characters were played by Hyomin), while highlighting the latter as the ideal one and shaming the former as undesirable.

But even if the song was cringeworthy for its overall offensive and destructive message, the public’s acceptance and lack of understanding of this was even more alarming.

BTS’ First Few Episodes of American Hustle Life

BTS embarked in, most likely, the most challenging and important journey of their careers in 2014, when they spent a month in Los Angeles under the mentorship of hip hop legends. The boys were set to learn about hip hop culture and history through a boot camp-like reality show. By the end of the program, BTS learned new skills like beatboxing, intricate choreographies, and soulful singing, which they displayed in a showcase with fans. All of this sounded great, but anyone who saw the show can attest to the awkwardness and downright embarrassment of the first few episodes of American Hustle Life.

For starters, nothing promotes black stereotypes like having a bunch of African Americans simulate a kidnapping and take BTS to a safe house in Compton, California (“the ghetto”) while scaring the life out of them. And who can forget the most cringiest moment when V spouted out words he had heard in rap songs but had no idea what they meant at Coolio? Or Rap Monster cosplaying as Stevie Wonder, by donning a wig and acting blind. Those scenes were highly edited, but it was impossible to miss how pissed off Coolio was.

american hustle life coolio bts

via jungsoojung @ Tumblr

bts american hustle life coolio v

via cutthroatcitycutthroatcity @ Tumblr

By the end of the show, BTS did show they had learned a lot about what American hip hop music and culture is all about, but those first few episodes will forever make audiences face palm.

Zico’s Tough Cookie

Another person who spouted out English words that he had heard in Western rap songs and recreated them in his own song was Block B’s Zico. In 2014, the rapper released his solo track Tough Cookie, which sounded and looked more “hip hop” than his stuff with Block B. The music video included a whole lot of faceless women shaking what their mommas gave them, Zico decked out in jewelry, and, of course, violence. But even if this imagery is somewhat problematic, the bigger issue came with the rappers use of the “f word” in his lyrics.

The outrage, as expected, began in the West. Audiences were baffled that a K-pop idol used an offensive and derogatory term for homosexuals. And yet, Zico had previously come under fire for similarly using the “n word” in his lyrics. In this instance, after fans educated him on why the usage of the term was problematic, the rapper changed the word, only to bring it back later on. Zico’s agency claimed he had no knowledge of what the word actually meant and didn’t want to disrespect anyone; he never personally apologized.

With this situation, there are two options: either Zico genuinely thought that word was just another cuss word or, like many Western artists, knew and meant it. Either way, Zico should’ve apologized personally, not through his agency, and changed the lyric. And since this is Zico’s second offense, he should really be schooled on foreign cultures or at least properly research what the words he writes mean.

Also on KultScene: SM Entertainment Goes Disney

Red Velvet’s Wendy Black Stereotypes Impressions

Another artist who recently came under international criticism was Red Velvet’s Wendy. Back in November, the group was featured in a radio program and, as is typical in Korean shows, when the hosts asked the girls to show off a talent, Wendy proceeded with her impressions. While many singers often imitate actors or comedians, Wendy chose to imitate female and male black stereotypes. For women, she acted sassy and stressed that their eye expressions were important. As for the men, she went as far as to say they were thugs and acted “gangsta.”

A non K-pop international publication caught wind of the video and called the singer out for her ignorance and racism. However, K-pop fans knew that this wasn’t just another case of Koreans not knowing Western culture. Wendy is from Canada, a country as diverse as the U.S., and should’ve known better than to go off to a country where people are not as well acquainted with black people and promote stereotypes. Neither the singer nor SM Entertainment apologized for the situation.

Pritz‘s Nazi Costumes

Continuing on the downward spiral of cultural insensitivity, we find rookie group Pritz. A video of one of their performances made headlines around the world due to the resemblance of Nazi imagery in their outfits. The girls wore a red arm band that featured a logo similar to the Nazi swastika: a white circle with a black cross.

pritz nazi arm bands

Even if their intention was not to push Nazi propaganda, the international press was baffled at the idea that not a single person involved in the creative process of putting Pritz together thought that the armband was a bad idea. With matters of cultural insensitivity, audiences often defend idols by saying “they didn’t know better” or that they’re not obliged to know about every country’s history. World War II, however, is world history, and at least one person in that company must have seen a picture of Nazis at least once in their lives.

Pandagram, the group’s agency, contested with complete surprise. They admitted they didn’t even understand why people would think the logo drew Nazi comparisons and said that was never the intention. They also explained the logo was actually a Korean speed limit traffic sign. They never edited the music video to take out the arm bands.

Red Velvet’s Happiness Music Video

Prior to Wendy’s scandal, Red Velvet debuted with a bang of public outcry last summer. The music video for Happiness was mostly a collage of colorful images that showcased the girls’ youthful energies. However, a closer look at the music video revealed two problematic images. The first were a set of American newspapers triumphantly announcing the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The second pertained to the burning Twin Towers from the 9/11 attacks in New York City, while one of the members played with a toy plane atop. As expected, not only were American fans upset, but also Japanese. You know, the two largest music markets in the world, where the real money is.

red velvet hapiness controversy twin towers

SM Entertainment responded rather quickly to the controversy and stated that the director had used generic imagery for the music video. The company also announced that it would edit the images out and re-upload the video. And while in this particular case the girls weren’t at fault, they did come under criticism. Like with the Pritz issue, audiences were incredulous at the fact that no one caught the images before the release and that such headlines would be a generic image.

Netizens Response to Taeyeon and Baekhyun’s Relationship

Earlier last summer the K-pop world was shaken with the news of SNSD’s Taeyeon and EXO’s Baekhyun’s relationship, which SM Entertainment later confirmed. Taeyeon followed group mates Tiffany, Sooyoung, and Yoona in going public with their relationships, and yet, hers wasn’t smoothly accepted by fans. Sones and EXO-L went on a rampage, searching both artists’ Instagram accounts for clues of their relationship before it was announced. What they found was a whole bunch of vague codes which fans claimed proved that the artists had deceived them. They claimed that Taeyeon had opened her Instagram account for her fans, but since they claimed she had actually used it to post code messages with Baekhyun, she had essentially betrayed them.

Fans bullied Taeyeon to the point where she was spotted in an airport apologizing to fans and crying. SM Entertainment never addressed this particular issue, but kept Taeyeon from appearances and Baekhyun continued with his world tour outside of Korea.

The fans’ reaction to the relationship and the faux scandal of the Instagram betrayal only proved that not all fans are ready to see their idols date. Even if Taeyeon had indeed used her Instagram account to communicate with her boyfriend despite her vow that the account was for her fans, fans should’ve given her her right to live normally, at least through SNS.

Also on KultScene: Playlist Sunday: New Year’s Edition

Diss Battle

One of the most bizarre collective scandals of the year included a spark in diss tracks throughout K-pop. In the summer, Kemy from rookie group A.KOR released a diss track directed at 2NE1’s Bom for her drug scandal. She called the singer out for having her company bury the story, plastic surgery, getting preferential treatment by law enforcement, among other things. And while the rap has some truth to it, audiences viewed the track as uncalled for and disrespectful given that Bom is her sunbae (elder in the music world).

Another rookie idol believed to be causing trouble last year was YG Entertainment’s Bobby, who had gained recognition from the hip hop community for his rapping while filming the competition show (which he won) Show Me the Money. Although it wasn’t confirmed, fans dissected a series of raps throughout the year and claimed that Bobby had dissed rappers in BTS, VIXX, and Boyfriend. Shortly after the diss, VIXX’s rapper Ravi responded with his own track, putting him in his place as a sunbae and pointing out how he was an idol rapper as well. Then, without being addressed, M.I.B’s SIMS jumped into the situation by dissing Bobby as well.

The whole diss battle seemed to come out of nowhere and for no real reason. Both instances included rookie artists insulting their sunbaes in the name of rap. And while this practice is often seen in America, it’s important to point out that the U.S. doesn’t have a rank society like Korea. Bobby and Kemy are both rookies and might think they’re above idol-dom, but they should be aware of their place and realize they are, indeed, idol rappers as well.

What K-pop scandal or piece of news made you cringe the most in 2014? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

[Renders by: Kate1710, 4ever29, VipArmy, Neilchannn]

Brave Brothers and the Culture Industry

K-pop exists in a strange musical universe in which the biggest labels can afford to take creative risks and produce the most diverse range of music while the smaller labels have to play it safe and bet on already successful names. While the big three companies (SM Entertainment, JYP Entertainment, and YG Entertainment) often buy songs from foreign songwriters (SHINee’s Lucifer, Girls’ Generation’s Run Devil Run) or use in-house producers, all the smaller labels rely on outside Korean hitmakers to write and produce potential chart toppers. While there are benefits to both methods, the reliance on using the same third party producers is having a negative effect on the creativity of the industry.

In recent times, Brave Brothers (Kang Dong Chul) has been one of the most successful of third party Korean producers. Ever since Sistar’s Alone in 2012, he has been the most prolific and profitable. This song, which promoted Sistar from a lower tier girl group to the top tier of Korean girl groups, gave him a template to work off in order to continue creating commercially and critically successful music. That template is one of a simple verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus structure with similar melodies and usually some sort of hook with “oooohs.” With this template Brave Brothers has led K-Pop into a conveyor belt system.

This may not seem strange to any regular viewer of pop culture as all other pop music markets are the same, but the timing of this for K-Pop makes it even more disheartening. The music landscape of South Korea had been going in an interesting direction with the trend of songs that played with the structure and average traits of a pop song instead of simple “template” songs.

SM were the leaders of this direction with EXO’s Mama, Wolf and Girls’ Generation’s I Got A Boy amongst others. These were songs that required and rewarded repeat listens. They played with the idea of what a pop song could strive to be and saw something so much more than just another cookie cutter production. When they were jarring, they were meant to be so in order to make the listeners actually think about what they were hearing. Even when they weren’t jarring, it was because the songs were produced so masterfully that it was not as noticeable but still always there. They were songs with no obvious chorus or hook, the exact opposite of what Brave Brothers produces.

This style of pop song is not one that is ever consistently popular, however. The fact that this trend lasted over a year in Korea was really exciting. One could see a possible changing of the industry with songs that did not conform to a factory accepted product, somewhere where creativity was put ahead of economy. This was all wishful thinking however, as the paying public did not agree and the companies reverted back to tried and tested ways. Focusing just on SM Entertainment we can see where this failure came from. I Got A Boy was a small seller in terms of the Girls’ Generation giant and received a lot of backlash from fans while EXO experienced their biggest hit with Growl, which was a more standard kind of song compared to Wolf and MAMA.

Also on KultScene: Artist Spotlight: Sistar

At the same time as this progression, Brave Brothers’ regression was also happening. After the success of Sistar, songs like Gone Not Around Any Longer by Sistar19, Love Options by BESTie and 4minute’s two singles, What’s Your Name? and Is It Poppin? (which sound somewhat different but are in fact structurally the same with a few new bells and whistles) were the biggest hits for these groups’ careers. The simple structure and catchiness of these songs were the final forewarnings before his total takeover in 2014.

AOA’s Miniskirt and Short Hair, BTOB’s Beep Beep, Hyorin’s One Way Love, and Hyomin’s Nice Body were all big hits for these singers. Even JYP Entertainment succumbed to the trend, with Sunmi’s Full Moon bringing rave reviews. SM’s most trendy group, EXO, released another simple song Overdose and was again hugely successful at the same time as F(x)’s more ambitious Red Light faltered in terms of sales in comparison.

You might think this is not so bad. These are mostly great songs but there is something deeper going on here and this can be explained with help from German philosopher and critic Theodore Adorno. A little bit of history first. Adorno was part of the Frankfurt School, which was a Marxist school of theorists who wrote about many ideas regarding society but mostly centred on media and communications, which was active from around the 1920s to 1950s. Adorno was a major figure in the school and wrote extensively about popular culture and its effect on society at large. He wrote about pop culture as a culture industry, in that it had ceased to be an artistic endeavour and became a purely money making business.

This is where Adorno connects for us. We have seen that this is where K-Pop has reached finally but that is still not the most troubling thing. Adorno’s theory continues to say that this culture industry eventually does more than just make money but also serves the state in keeping the masses in line with their views. In musical terms this means that these songs are being created in an identical way in order to stop us from critically thinking about them and in turn nullifying our ability to critically think about any aspect of our lives.

Also on KultScene: Let’s Discuss: Sulli & F(X)’S Future

For me the work of Brave Brothers falls directly into this category. His recent work has had a profound influence on the rest of the industry and continues to be some of the most recognized. This is a direct problem for the state of music in South Korea and indicative of the conservatism of the country itself.

Considering pop music’s effect on society and how it reflects society is crucial for understanding and helping it grow. Right now, K-Pop is in a precarious position of completely yielding to the Brave Brothers template and being forever stuck with it. If the answer is not in I Got A Boy or Red Light then there is another way out there which we have probably seen before. It could be the melding of western and eastern styles we see so often or in the trot tradition of South Korea itself. Ultimately though, I don’t think there is an answer that can truly change the status quo.

Do you think Brave Brothers’ music is bad for the industry or do you love his music? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

Why Are K-Pop Year-End Comebacks Scarce & Disappointing?

Year-end comebacks are, by nature, tricky things in the K-Pop world. A comeback is usually teased at least a week before the release and it involves numerous amounts of promotions, not to mention singing and dancing to the same song over and over again. But in K-Pop, there are multiple events to close out another year. With that, it is difficult to calculate when to schedule a year-end comeback in order to get the most recognition. Alas, it would be nice to have a few comebacks that are memorable around this time of year. Here are a few reasons why this year’s end of the year comebacks were disappointing.

When end of the year comeback is mentioned, the thoughts of a new song, a new dance, and a new video are all related to the phrase. Instead of an actual single, relatable all year round, the fans get season-appropriate songs and music videos. Don’t get me wrong, at times these are just what we need during the holiday season, but we don’t always need them. We also don’t need a slew of them. Because after a while, things just get recycled and are not special or different or interesting anymore.

There were a few holiday releases that were used to help further promote a group or capitalize on their popularity, as seen last year. One of those was EXO’s 2013 release Miracles in December, which showcased the four guys’ spectacular vocals, but nothing else. It was a nice treat for fans, but an actual comeback with all of the members would, obviously, be more enticing.

Also on KultScene: K-Pop Inspired Gift-Giving Guide

Park Bom and Lee Hi got together and did their rendition of All I Want For Christmas last year as well. In my opinion, that cover should have never happened or should have been done differently. Taking such an iconic Christmas song and completely altering it is extremely bold, but hard for fans like myself to appreciate.

kpop year end releases 2014

via Tumblr

And then there was Crayon Pop’s Lonely Christmas, which capitalized on their rise to popularity after Bar Bar Bar. In these instances, the songs seemed like an afterthought; just there to release to the public to get a little more attention and intrigue before the year ends.

kpop year end releases 2014

via fanpop

It would definitely alter the dynamic if K-Pop groups released a Christmas and/or holiday album once in their career. A full-album with appropriate songs that highlight the season would be a nice treat. Aside from one holiday/season-related single that didn’t receive the same amount of attention (behind the scenes) as a normal single, a whole album that is produced well and thought out, yet still season-specific, could make a nice year-end treat for fans.

But aside from holiday-related comebacks, there are also the comebacks that just seem to show up without any notice. Granted, a lot of that has to do with the entertainment company and their PR approach. There is also the fact, at least in my case, I am at work for the majority of the day, I am in a different timezone than Korea, and I don’t spend all of my free time hounding the internet for K-Pop/Korean- related stuff, that I do not hear about these comebacks or see much promotions for them. Thinking about this year in K-Pop, I only really remember songs and mini and full albums that came out early in the year and during the summer. They were teased well and promoted well and therefore stick out in my mind.

In general, there aren’t many year-end comebacks that aren’t holiday related. And to me, this is unfortunate. I would love to round the year with a few bad-ass, amazing songs, dances, and music videos. Don’t get me wrong, there are a few good ones that have been released recently, such as Yoon Mirae Angel, Hi Suhyun I’m Different among others, but I would like to have a single from some veterans who then release their second single in the new year.

Also on KultScene: K-Pop Idols Who Need To Release Holiday Songs

Aside from these examples, there have not been very many noteworthy K-Pop releases. Is everyone taking a break until the new year (doubtful)? Obviously there are certain groups and solo artists who are preparing for the year-end events, whether they are actually performing, presenting or just attending. But the end of the year always just seems a little bit empty and forgotten. What if Big Bang released a new single and music video the first week of December, or SHINee, or any other well-known K-Pop group? People would go crazy and they would go unbeaten on the charts! I mean, end the year on a high note and make this time of year memorable for more than the MAMA awards and Gayo Daejun.

Until my wishes come true, the end of the year specials will definitely keep my thirst at bay. Do you wish there were more year-end comebacks? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

Hello Venus and Sexism in K-Pop

The release of Sticky Sticky has completely transformed what kind of a group Hello Venus is. This is not a new type of change either; it is one which we have seen more and more in the past two years. The sexy concept has become a staple of the K-Pop industry to the point where if a girl group is not doing so well, they immediately revert to it. I think this comes from Sistar‘s success with Alone, which may not seem too sexy right now but it was at the time. After Alone, Sistar gradually became one of the most popular girl groups in Korea. So naturally other girl groups would follow but at what price?

Hello Venus had been one of the more popular girl groups who debuted in the busy year of 2012. Their quirky, cute sound stood out in a crowd of groups who offered nothing new to being cute. What Are You Doing Today? was one of the songs of 2012 and Would You Like Some Tea? got to number six on the Gaon music chart. These songs were also interesting enough to foreshadow Hello Venus becoming big. I imagined them growing gradually and maturing in a similar way to Girls’ Generation who had started slowly and became megastars, with the multi-talented Lime becoming their star of Hello Venus. This was not to be though, as a big change occurred that caused Hello Venus to change.

Pledis decided to pull out of the deal with Fantagio to co-produce the group and took the Pledis members, Yoo Ara and Yoonjo, with them. Fantagio kept the other four members and the Hello Venus name, so added two more members and decided to continue with their promotions. It also gave Fantagio a chance to alter Hello Venus’ style quickly in order to pander to current trends. As I said, they went the sexy route and went for it in a big way.

Also on KultScene: Sexualization In K-Pop: The Bare Truth

As this trend grows, it becomes more of a problem. There was a time when sexy concepts were used to differentiate from the regular and shock an audience. Even at this time it is a tenuous subject as there is always a problem of objectification and fetishization of the body. As sexy songs continue to sell, women’s bodies will continually be used as objects to help these sales. This activity reinforces a sexist agenda in society and punishes women who do not conform. It even punishes those who act on sexuality, even though they are taught this is what woman should be like. Especially in a conservative country such as South Korea, girls cannot be seen to be sexually active even if being sexy is the hot topic of the time.

If this type of performance is allowed to become normal, the sexism of the K-Pop industry will never stop. Girl groups will forever have to strip in order to succeed. Female idols will forever be seen as sex objects to sell records. Their bodies will forever be fetishized into whatever their company decides. There is already criticism of these things in the K-Pop industry to some degree, and girl groups becoming sexier to sell their music will just make the criticism even worse.

The reason I’m singling out Hello Venus for now is because they are the most recent group to go this way, and also because of the increased effort they are putting into grabbing attention with their “sexiness.” Hot off the viral success of a fan cam of EXID’s Hani, Fantagio obviously saw an opportunity to drum up some publicity for Hello Venus with their own viral hit. The recent release of a dance practice video to Jason Derulo’s song Wiggle Wiggle, in which the Hello Venus girls danced along to the song, was their attempt at creating a sensation. I am not condemning the girls themselves here but those who led them to this. I fully believe people can do whatever they want with their own bodies but this video does not show us a group of girls who are just dancing for fun. This is blatant pandering to a male audience to stare at young girls gyrating their bodies, a cheap way of drumming up attention by essentially exploiting these girls.

This is not specific to Hello Venus though. We have seen recently Girls’ Day move from their cute comedic songs like Twinkle Twinkle to sexy songs like SomethingExpectation and Female President. This change also brought Girls’ Day new success to the point where they are winning weekly music shows. AOA had a similar change of fortune when they adopted the sexy concept. Miniskirt boosted their sales in a big way and only grew with subsequent singles Short Hair and Like A Cat. It is clearly a trend which is in full flow but all trends eventually die, whether it’s a few weeks or a few years. So do we wait and let it pass over?

Also on KultScene: 5 Reasons To Watch ‘Korea’s Next Top Model’

I think we should not. Another trend will take its place immediately after and the issue will be forgotten. Allowing this to pass over means the patriarchal reign on K-Pop will always remain whether through sexy concepts or something else. I don’t think sexy performances should be completely eradicated but I think the decision making has to be changed to allow female idols to speak up if they do not agree. At this moment in time female idols are not at an equal level to their male counterparts. We as fans must speak up against this; we must not allow this to continue. It’s time for there to be a level playing field for genders in K-Pop.

What do you think about Hello Venus’ comeback and of the sexy concept? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

VIXX & its Successful Use of Themes

In 2012, VIXX were just one of a multitude of new groups in Korea. The amount of group debuts that year was approximately double from 2011. Competition for attention and sales was fierce. Some groups had the backing of a big company, like EXO, and others used strange gimmicks, such as AOA’s half angel concept. However, most were forgotten as they had little marketing coming from a small company (Phantom, Skarf), were too generic to stand out (Tahiti) or were just not good enough (Two X). So how did a group from a relatively smaller company at the time, with a low-key debut end up with eight music show wins and upcoming solo concerts in Chicago and New York?

The answer to that is theme. Or rather VIXX’s use of themes in their songs. Most groups take a concept with each new release, like a sexy, aegyo, hip-hop or dark, and use it as their visual scheme. But very rarely does it influence the rest of their song. VIXX on the other hand, starting with On and On took a theme and expressed it in every aspect of their release. The music, lyrics, costumes, choreography, and delivery are all tied to one theme. This offers a thoroughly satisfying and cohesive song whereas we are used to snippets of a concept.

What they did was to take a dark fantasy concept and built upon themes based on this niche. This helped them first of all to stand out from the crowd of boy groups doing powerful concepts like Beast or hip-hop concepts like Big Bang, but it was the clarity of their themes which raised them above in terms of quality.

Starting with On and On, we see the much used vampire concept. This concept does not exactly inspire great confidence as a start. However, VIXX’s execution of the concept did, as we were seeing vampires as more than just a costume. The theme started with the visual, which was instantly striking as all the members wore contact lenses for the video and their performances. This set the other worldly feeling they were looking for, and they followed through with all other aspects.

As soon as you start listening to the song it is compounded with a sample of the theme song from Phantom of the Opera which not only sets the tone but fits thematically with the lyrics. These are about a dangerous woman whom VIXX cannot stay away from. They are willing to become vampires just to be with her. This mirrors the story of the Phantom of the Opera as it also revolves around a dangerous relationship similar to On and On.

With nearly every one of the lyrics, they match the choreography along with it too. For example, Leo sings, ‘She pokes me again and runs away’ as an arm stabs through him. In one line of a performance, everything comes together: music, lyrics, visual. and choreography. This is well thought out pop music. This happens many more times in the one performance, like in the chorus when they sing the line ‘I’m on my knees and ready to get hurt,’ where all the members except Hongbin are on their knees while he mimics ripping his heart out, ready to be hurt. There is even some vampire imagery in the dance, the hands across their chest as if they are in a coffin and Leo going to bite Ken in the neck as the other members crowd around him. It is this consistency of theme which makes VIXX’s performances so satisfying to watch, but it may not be obvious all the time

Also on KultScene: Let’s Discover: Crush

On and On brought VIXX into the eye of the public and was their biggest selling single at the time. It was an obvious choice to continue with this type of concept. What we expected was a lesser version of the same thing, but what we got was so much more.

Hyde was based on the character of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde written by Robert Louis Stevenson, which is about a doctor who invented a serum that turns him into a huge hulking man. The story is associated with split personalities, and this is where VIXX takes their inspiration. The song is about a boy who said some nasty things to a girl but cannot believe he said them and begs the girl to believe that it was not the real him.

Again, the theme is fitted onto every element. The visual is one of black and white, usually split half and half between the six members. The choreography right from the start is in line with the lyrics and concept. At one point, Leo sings,

There’s no way I said those words
There’s no way I said I’d leave you

He utters these words as he looks at his hands as if it is the first time he has seen them and moves his body as if something is trying to get out.

Throughout the whole performance the duality motif is kept up. Most of the dance moves are mirrored on both sides by the two opposing colors. This means that when some of the choreography does not fit the theme that there is something still there going on to connect to. It’s utterly satisfying for a viewer and is just as much a reason for the quality of their performances as their powerful movement. The attention to detail is masterful and elevates VIXX above their contemporaries.

In contrast, G.R.8.U was a disappointing follow up to these two singles. VIXX had continued success with it, but the theme was not as well thought out. There was no real engagement with a theme to speak of at all. There was an interesting rewind effect in the video, but this did not factor into the performance in any real way. They delivered a snippet of a concept rather than a complete song.

For example, they reused a move from Hyde, where the members’ line up form a shadow like effect as they each move out a bit. In Hyde, this symbolizes VIXX’s change from the human Jekyll into the monster Hyde. In G.R.8.U, it is little more than a cool move. Also, unlike the previous two singles, the rest of the choreography does not back up any of the lyrics. This is by no means a requirement of every song, but it is somewhat disappointing considering what VIXX can achieve. If it was supposed to be a Jekyll version to Hyde, it also doesn’t work as there is no sense of darkness here.

Also on KultScene: K-Pop Stand Out Remixes Part 2

After that misstep, VIXX were back on thematic form with their preceding singles Voodoo Doll and Eternity. The theme of Voodoo Doll is obvious, but their use of a prop pin was the inspiration –before it was censored, of course. Their puppet-like dancing was perfect. On the other hand, Eternity was not as dark as the others, but stuck with a theme of time, and performed it excellently.

This leads us to today with Error, which VIXX have been promoting for the last few weeks. It feels like the culmination of their hard work as it is their highest charting single to date and comes right before their landmark concerts in the U.S.

This time VIXX are cyborgs who are trying to forget a past love. Hongbin laments:

I was afraid that I’d get cut by your sharp, knife-like words
I just need to breathe and eat to endure through this

It is almost as if he wished they were actual cyborgs because it would make everything much easier. The choreography of this part smartly helps this idea, as Hongbin seems to be a robot booting up and Ravi sticks his arms through Hongbin’s as if they were a robots.

Like their previous singles, the robot motif sticks throughout the rest of the song and dance. It blends seamlessly with their choreography and, thankfully, never delves into cheesy robot dances.

These are rare complete performances from VIXX, tonally and thematically, as they hit the mark on every aspect of their song while connecting them all together. This type of craft is rare in pop music, let alone just K-Pop. Themes are so important to all forms of art. How a piece engages with a theme conveys to us what that piece really wants to say.

While pop music is not expected to be a politically striking, there should still be an engagement and commitment to themes. This is what VIXX has been doing; creating pieces of music which can be enjoyed on every level and the use themes to infuse each of these.

If any of you are lucky enough to see them in Chicago or New York, try taking some time to notice this. A lot of hard work has gone into it, and it’s a big reason why VIXX are standing on that stage.

What do you think about VIXX and their use of themes? Let us know! Be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

The Double Standard of Guns & Murder in K-Pop

The latest netizen outrage out of the K-Pop world surrounds rapper Swings’ perceived insensitivity for posting a video recreating an execution just for fun. The internet critics say it is reminiscent of the recent executions of American journalists by the terrorist group ISIS, and that the timing is disrespectful towards Ladies’ Code’s tragic accident. Netizens have a reputation of blowing things out of proportion, and this is not an exemption. Was the video in poor taste? Yes. Should Swings be scrutinized for it? Probably not if you condone and/or disregard murder and guns in music videos by your favorite artists. The truth is, the whole incident and the exaggeration of it is one big double standard for K-Pop fans.

In the controversial video in question, Just Music rappers C Jamm and Swings kneel at the edge of a swimming pool while Giriboy stands over them and mimics pulling gunshots to their heads, making C Jamm and Swings fall into the pool, and floating face down as if dead. Netizens claim that the execution-like prank is similar to those actually carried out by ISIS recently and done too soon since people are still mourning RiSe and EunB’s deaths. Had this video happened at another time where it couldn’t be contrasted with these two events, netizens probably wouldn’t have said a thing. But alas, it did.

swing execution guns

So following these netizens’ logic, executions, guns, and murder are tasteless, and for doing that, those involved are apathetic, immature, and —what was that other thing they were spouting on the comments? –oh yeah, psychotic. And while the term psycho was probably just thrown in there for emphasis, the only true demented thing behind this ordeal is the undeniable double standard most of these netizens have.

Again, following the logic, murder and guns are not acceptable only in cases following a tragic episode in the world’s history. But if murder and guns are not making headlines worldwide, then, by all means, it’s fair game. Because acting out murder and executions are only distasteful if a major incident happened recently, right? Kind of like when Infinite took out the plane crash scene in their Destiny music video because it was too soon to the Asiana Airlines crash. If that version would’ve been released a month prior, it would have been totally fine, right? But I digress… Netizens nitpick which idol and situation they blow out of proportion, since violence has never stopped in the world… ever (just now, think Syria or Gaza)…

Adding insult to injury, another problem here is the normalization and glamorization of murder and guns in pop culture. Opposite to the United States, Korean civilians can’t bare arms. It’s a common thing in American culture and music to hype up firearms and feature them in videos as if they were one more accessory on set. In Korean music videos, the use of guns generally follows spy or gangster plotlines. But then we have the was that really necessary? instances. No one linked BTS’ No More Dream choreography when Suga symbolically blows V’s brains out to any school shootings anywhere, even if the song is about not wanting to follow the path your parents set up for you and the setting is, well, in a school.

However, at least BTS was playing the typical teenager who hates life and their parents in their music video. 2NE1 with their video for I Am the Best, on the other hand, is one big question mark. These ladies are synonymous with fierceness within K-Pop, and the song is about being better than everyone else and no one measuring up to you. Apparently, being the best equates power which, it seems, also equates guns. What exactly was the purpose of this scene? Nothing. Just everyday glamorization of guns in a country where they could not have done that outside the set.

Was there any outrage? No, because this is normal for everyone and is also seen as cool…

But the double standard goes beyond just netizens and reaches the heads of television companies. Entertainment companies bend over backwards to accommodate the guidelines set by the TV companies so their artists can promote on their music shows. The raunchier songs on a given album are generally pushed to the b-sides, never being singles so the same TV companies won’t ban them. But you know what the crazy thing about this is? Companies that are so invested in protecting youth from seeing U-Kiss have implied threesomes or Trouble Maker grind on each other are ok with them seeing murder.

B.A.P doesn’t just wave guns in the air for their One Shot music video, it actually follows the gangster plotline. However, there’s a scene where we actually see thugs shoot and kill Youngjae. There’s blood everywhere, there are guns being used unsafely, you can see they guy’s face as he dies of gunshot –but no, that doesn’t corrupt a child’s mind like sex does… TV companies also didn’t ban One Shot or asked for the choreography involving a gunshot à la BTS be readjusted.

However, the point is not to ban these types of scenes and behaviors, for censorship is never the answer. The point is for netizens to stop nitpicking particular incidents and judging them under extraneous standards if you’re not going to do so with e-very-thing out there. Remember, separate is not equal. Swings’ video was indeed unnecessary, but it didn’t deserve the outrage it got from people who would probably have let it slide if done by bigger artists.

What’s your take on Swings’ video? Be sure to share your thoughts and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and Bloglovin’ so you can keep up with all our posts.