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.
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