Gateway Korea Foundation

The Gateway Korea Foundation provides opportunities for the Heartland Community to learn about and experience Korean culture. Based in St. Louis, Missouri, the Gateway Korea Foundation will draw from communities across the American Midwest to nurture a greater understanding and appreciation for Korean culture.

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Kent’s Korean Wanderings Blog - September 13, 2019

Filtering by Tag: Gangnam Style

Kent's Korean Wanderings: Part III

Part III – Beyond Gangnam Style

Welcome to Part III of my column.  For those of you who are new to this, you can see Part I and Part II here.

Last week we left off with me having stumbled across K-pop accidentally.  I had just watched Gangnam Style and was about to fall victim to the “evils” of Youtube as my epic journey continued.

So, I had just completed watching “Gangnam Style” several times. 

It was at this point that I happened to notice a bunch of other Korean music video thumbnails being suggested by Youtube.  So, I started clicking on some videos.  The next video I clicked on was 4Minute’s “Volume Up” as I had read that Kim Hyuna who was in Psy’s video was in that group, so I thought I would check it out.  That was probably a good video to click as I later found it was a very high budget video and it showed not only in the quality of the song, but the quality of the video. 

Within a few hours I had discovered several artists such as Girls’ Generation, 2NE1, Big Bang, K. Will, Sistar, IU, etc.  While some songs weren’t my cup of tea, I found a lot that were.  In a future column I plan to discuss the highlights of the music I discovered that first night and first week and why those videos hooked me on K-pop and slowly started my descent Korean culture.

I was also Googling furiously to try to learn more about the Korean music industry and these groups.  I was really impressed with the production values of the songs and videos and the choreography that so many videos showed.  I had not really followed American pop music as I was more of a classic rock and jazz listener, but these K-pop songs were such ear worms or featured such great choreography in so many cases that I was really intrigued.

Somewhere in the course of that evening, I ran across my first clips of a Korean variety shows such as Running Man where members of one of these groups were doing something ridiculous and I started laughing even though in many cases I couldn’t understand a word of what was being said.  I found all sorts of videos that fans of the groups had put together of clips of them being funny on variety shows.   I also found clips of interview shows such as “Happy Together” and “Star King.”  I began to learn who MC’s are such as Kang Ho Dong and Yoo Jae Suk.  Many of these videos were only in Korean, but fortunately some of the more popular groups’ English-speaking fans had subtitled videos, so even though I spoke no Korean, I could follow along with these videos I was finding. 

Also, that evening I found some English-language Korean entertainment news sites such as Soompi and AllKpop that also helped expand my knowledge and turned me on to other groups and shows.

Over the remainder of that weekend, over the next several months, and now nearly seven years, I took a deeper dive into the world of K-pop and Korean variety shows.   I was enjoying learning about the fan culture, the industry, the groups, and the soloists.  Along the way I also began to dive into Korean history, geography, culture, food, and even language. 

I branched into watching shows like “Immortal Songs” and learned more about the history of Korean pop music and even a little about Korean history and politics.  I caught movies like “A Taxi Driver” spurring me to read quite a bit about the May 18 Gwangju Democratization Movement, I also traveled virtually all over Korea through the shows “Family Outing” and “1 Night & 2 Days.”  I saw the good in Korean culture and the bad.

Despite some of the negatives that I ran across at times, I found that my interest in K-pop and Korean entertainment was positive.There was something about the music, the way the artists presented themselves, and the format of the variety shows that almost always made me smile and laugh. When friends ask me why I am so into K-pop, my simplest answer is that, if there is a soundtrack to happiness, it’s K-pop.

To be concluded next week…Part IV

Kent't Korean Wanderings: Part II

Part II – Atlanta, Fall 2012

Welcome to Part II of my column.  For those of you who are new to this, you can see Part I below.

Last week we left off with our hero (That would be me) about to embark upon an epic journey to Atlanta. 

So, I headed off to Atlanta to attend Dragon Con.  While there, I was sitting in a bar that looked out over the crowd in the atrium of the JW Marriott in Atlanta.  That is a very large convention (Back in 2012 50,000 people attended over four days) so there were well over a 1,000 people milling about below. 

That is when I noticed these young Asian men that kept going up to people in the crowd and trying to get them to do this dance with them while their buddy was filming them.  The three of them that were dancing stood out a bit as they were dressed in a tuxedo, a yellow suit, and a kind of cowboy outfit.  I figured it was something from some anime I had not seen or something that was trending in Asia that I wasn’t familiar with and didn’t think much more about it.

That weekend I had joined Twitter for the first time as many of the cosplayers I went to take pictures of in their costumes were using it to say where they would be at certain times in their costumes.  While at my hotel room that evening I kept seeing tweets that referred to doing something “Gangnam Style.”  At the time “Gangnam Style” had not yet gone mainstream viral in the US.  It was just starting to go viral with those attuned to East Asian trends.

At first, I had thought that Gangnam was an intentional misspelling of the word Gundam which was from a popular anime series.  At the time, it was popular for many people to use “Oh My Gerd” instead of “Oh My God” or “OMG” in posts as a way of being cute.  However, I kept seeing this throughout the evening and started to wonder if something more was going on with “Gangnam Style”, so I Googled it.

Due to my fondness for anime, I was aware of Japanese pop and rock music as it is often used for the opening and closing theme songs for various series or movies.  I was a big fan of a Japanese rock band called L’arc en Ciel and was used to listening to and enjoying music from anime soundtracks even if it wasn’t sung in English.  While I wasn’t aware of K-pop specifically at the time I was aware of a Korean artist called BoA who was popular in Japan and had sung the ending theme for a season of one of my favorite anime series.  I had also read an article several years before that discussed how popular the Korean drama “Winter Sonata” had become in Japan and had heard the term Hallyu.  So, I wasn’t completely unaware of the Korean entertainment industry.

So, on that fateful night in Atlanta as I Googled “Gangnam Style” I was open to what I would find due to my background and interests.  A further stroke of good luck was that the first thing that popped up on Google other than the video itself was a legitimate article written for The Atlantic magazine (Article) that treated it as something other than a musical oddity and instead explained something about Psy (The singer), the song, its message, who some of the folks in the video were, and listed some American artists that had positive things to say about it.  Therefore, when I first clicked on the video on Youtube, I was doing so with real anticipation of what I might find.

I wasn’t disappointed.  The song was catchy, and the video was funny.  The production value was much higher than I anticipated.  I watched the video a couple times trying to catch things that had been mentioned in the article and enjoying the humor used in the video.  Also, I realized after watching it that those guys I saw going around the convention doing that odd dance earlier in the day were dressed as Psy, Yoo Jae Suk, and Noh Hong Chul  from the music video and were getting people to do the “Horsey Dance” with them.

To be continued next week…Part III