The Korean wave entices people from around the globe to learn more about Korean culture. K-pop and Kdramas are only the tip of the iceberg of Korean culture, which brings together the ancient and the modern.
Korea.net, the official website for the Republic of South Korea, says that its location contributes to its unique culture: “The geography of Korea – a peninsula jutting out from the world’s largest continent – has contributed greatly to the development of uniquely Korean characteristics. The foundation for the country’s culture and arts is the Korean identity: a combination of traits associated with continental and island peoples.” In fact, the English language translation of the characters for Korea translate into “Land of the Morning Calm”: “The title was most suited to South Korea because of its spellbinding natural beauty of picturesque high mountains and clear waters and its splendid tranquility, particularly in the morning ” (V. Kumar).
As a peninsula, Korea’s landscape includes beaches and picturesque mountains: “A peninsular country with four distinct seasons, Korea boasts picturesque valleys, mountains, rivers and beaches. Throughout this beautiful natural landscape, there are numerous ancient temples and shrines, royal palaces, sculptures, pagodas, archeological sites, fortresses, folk villages and museums” (Korea.net).
Influenced by many cultures, Korean culture is cosmopolitan. The Korea Tourism Organization traces this back to ancient times and can be found throughout Korean culture today: “Asian countries have been doing exchanges through culture and trade throughout history. . . . Interest in Korea, triggered by the success of leading Korean dramas and popular music, continues to escalated to include a host of other aspects of Korean culture, such as hangeul (Korean alphabet), hansik (Korean food), hanbok (traditional Korean clothing), hanok (traditional Korean houses), hanji (traditional Korean paper), as well as Korean music. In Korea, the aforementioned six cultural symbols are collectively referred to as “Han Style” (Korean Tourism Organization).
As with most cultures, food functions as an essential expression . While rice and noodles are common, Koreans also pride themselves on kimchi: “Kimchi represents Korea’s best known food. Koreans serve kimchi at almost every meal, and few Koreans can last more than a few days before cravings get the better of them.” (Life in Korea). Kimchi is “a mixture of various pickled vegetables such as Chinese cabbage, radish, green onion and cucumber. Certain types of kimchi are made spicy with the addition of red chili pepper powder, while others are prepared without red chili peppers or are soaked in a tasty liquid. However, garlic is always used in kimchi to add to its flavor.”
In addition to food, Korea features other elements of culture, including literature, ceramics, and historical sites. One aspect of culture that is rapidly developing is Korean design. From furniture to clothing, Korean designers create products that reflect their unique perspective. Advanced Technology & Design Korea observes: “While [Sae Yoon] Hong says the design inspiration comes from traditional Korean furniture, we can’t help but wonder if even more ancient Korean artifacts may have been his muse.” The 2012 Seoul Design Festival, sponsored by the Korean government, showcases the designs of several artists, including Hong, who designed this chair.
Please look forward to more stories on Korean culture by hellokpop, that you may have learned to love through K-pop and Kdrama!
The 2012 Design Festival. Advanced Technology & Design Korea.
Han Style. Korea Tourism Organization.
Kumar, V. “Why is South Korea called the Land of the Morning Calm?” Times of India.
Kimch’i. Life in Korea.
UNESCO Treasures in Korea. Korea.net
Have you ever wondered what fans think about the groups they support? How are SONEs different from Blackjacks? Who exactly are fans of Aziatix? Why are there TripleChanjos, fans of SS501 and Shinhwa?
This is your chance to find out and be part of the process! iFans: Mapping K-pop’s International Fandom is an academic research project that seeks to understand fan opinions and collects information on global fandoms. It is conducted by Dr. Crystal S. Anderson, Ph.D. (aka CeeFu, friendly neighborhood Editorial Writer and Assistant Chief Editor for hellokpop). Dr. Anderson is working with hellokpop, the only K-pop media outlet partnering with academics as part of The Hallyu Project.
Readers can participate in the iFans project in two ways. First, you can be a part of the Case Studies survey, which seeks to understand the attitudes and activities of fans of 12 selected K-pop groups. If you are a fan of 2NE1, Aziatix, BigBang, Epik High, f(x), MBLAQ, SHINee, Shinhwa, SNSD, SS501, Super Junior, and/or TVXQ, click here to take a 10-15 minutes survey about why you like these groups and how you show your support.
Second, you can contribute to the Fandom Directory, a resource that collects information on websites/blogs, forums, Facebook pages, Twitter and Tumblr fan communities for all K-pop groups. If you want your favorite online communities to be included, send the name and the link to: email@example.com.
You can see the progress of the iFans project at any time by visiting the site here.
Please support hellokpop and KPK: Kpop Kollective in The Hallyu Project by participating in future surveys, questionnaires, polls and interviews that will provide more insights of the Hallyu and Korean culture around the world!
Image: Dream in Blue
By Crystal S. Anderson, PhD
Elon University (U.S.)
Whether it’s excited yelling by fans or crying by K-pop artists, emotions run deep in K-pop. While some focus on obsessive emotional attachments and behaviors by fans, research shows that fans themselves describe a range of emotional responses to K-pop. 100 responses by 18- to 30-year-olds show that fans find K-pop to be a source of happiness, hope and motivation. These responses are part of a five-year study on international fans of K-pop housed at KPK: Kpop Kollective.
Some writers tend to characterize fan activities and emotional expressions in negative terms. Patricia of Seoulbeats describes emotional expressions of appreciation for K-pop as bordering on obsessive: “I think there’s something to be said about my stance on the emotional toll that idol fandom takes on its devotees. That’s why I become so alarmed when I see these SHINee fans writing these intense emotional outpourings about how SHINee has changed their lives, or how much SHINee means to them. It breaks my heart to hear fans say that they turn to K-pop as a distraction for real life because their friends and family can’t offer them the same comfort that K-pop idols do.”
Adeline Chia writes that such emotions translate into obsessive behaviors: “Then there is K-pop’s effects on listeners. It turns functional people into crazed addicts, acting in robotic idolatry. . . . K-pop is also unique in inspiring extreme behaviour from fans and generating psychosis. Cyber-bullying and online smear campaigns are common practices by anti-fans who target a certain entertainer they hate. Sometimes, anti-fans turn into stalkers or criminals.”
To view entire “Can’t Stop Loving You” infographic, click here.
However, fans talk about the emotional appeal of K-pop in more positive terms. Some talk about overall emotions that go beyond the lyrics. One notes, “Kpop has the power to touch people even for those like me who don’t understand the lyrics. I think [it] is the r[h]ythm, the emotion in the voices, the dances. Kpop is like a best friend, it is here for you whenever you are happy or sad. Powerful stuff.” Another said: “The music is more touching and you can feel the emotions of the singers when they sing regardless of what genre.” Others link emotions to performances: “They sing and perform with passion and emotions, so even if you can’t really understand the lyrics you will get to know what it’s about by just listening. Kpop is not just another type of music it’s much more, that I can’t describe it with words” (Anderson).
These responses echo what scholars have discovered about emotional responses to music that transcend cultural differences. In a study with Western listeners listening to Hindustani ragas, Laura-Lee Balkwill and William Forde Thompson find that it is possible for music to travel cross-culturally: “According to our model, this indicates that the psychophysical cues for joy, sadness, and anger were salient enough to enable listeners to overcome their unfamiliarity with culture-specific cues and to make an accurate assessment of the intended emotion. . . . That naive listeners demonstrated such a high level of agreement with expert listeners, who were deeply familiar with the culture-specific cues embedded in the music samples, is remarkable” (58). In other words, listeners from other cultures can identify emotionally with music of a different culture, and this may shed light on why global fans identify with K-pop emotionally.
This emotional response runs the gamut. Many respondents describe how they find K-pop to be fun and happy. One notes, “Cause the music is always so free and fun to dance to. It simply makes me happy.” Another adds, “The songs are really refreshing, and listening to it puts me in a happy mood because of their lyrics and beats.” Other respondents link the happiness they feel from K-pop to their lives in general: “It always puts me in a good mood and makes me feel energized. Kpop sometimes can make you feel like your part of something bigger. It’s hard to explain but the feeling it gives you is great” (Anderson).
Others related K-pop to more somber emotions. One respondent says, “Because it’s very different and the music touches something in me, I mean this is not superficial, there are feelings in every song, this could be happiness or some sad feelings.” Another notes, “When I listen to sad songs I find that it have feelings in it and it will touched me too.” One says, “There’s an upbeat to the music that sometimes make you want to dance other times depending on where you heard it from makes you sad” (Anderson).
Some fans talk about how K-pop helps them through hard times. One respondent notes, “It was introduced to me at a hard time in my life and it has been the only music I listened to help me get through it.” Another says, “Kpop appeared in my life all of a sudden. I was really depressed back then and it helped me get out of my miserable state, pulled me out of the worst” (Anderson). Music can have the therapeutic effect these respondents describe. Annemiek Vink explains therapy methods, such as Guided Imagery in Music, which is “based on the assumption that the most appropriate music can be selected for healing purposes.” She further finds that the choice of music impacts the therapeutic results of GIM: “In all aspects, carefully selected music based on the person’s preference and personal background was far more effective than standard relaxation music” (153, 154).
This range of fairly positive emotions challenges negative characterizations of their emotional expression. These responses come from adults rather than young teenagers, so it is less convincing to describe them as obsessive along the lines of Chia. She refers to incidents involving K-pop celebrities, but respondents speak about their emotions mostly in relation to the music. When they do comment on the artists, it is often in terms of the positive relationship they have with fans. One notes, “The singers are so dedicated to their music and their fans. They put their real emotion into every word” (Anderson).
This emotional connection that some K-pop fans feel also translates into a discourse of protection, the desire to protect their group or artist from mischaracterizations. The Triple S Pledge encourages fans of SS501 “To support and shield them through hard times…To ignore rumors.” The same sentiments can be seen in the “Prom15e to Bel13ve and 10ve” philosophy held by some fans of Super Junior, which acknowledges every member regardless of current status or sub-group membership.
These findings suggest that emotion plays a role in the attitudes and opinions of adult global K-pop fans, often in a positive way.
Anderson, Crystal. Infographic. “Can’t Stop Loving You.” 14 Dec 2012. Web.
European Kpop Fans. Digital Image. WeHeartIt. Originally posted on european-kpop-fans.blogspot.com. 14 Dec 2012.
Anderson, Crystal S. “Data Set: Hallyu Kpop Survey 2 and Kpop Kollective KiFs Survey 2, 18- to 30 Year Olds.” Korean Popular Music International Fanbases Project. 29 Apr 2011 – 15 Apr 2012.
Balkwill, Laura-Lee and William Forde Thompson. “A Cross-Cultural Investigation of the Perception of Emotion in Music: Psychophysical and Cultural Cues.” Music Perception 17. 1 (1999): 43-64.
Chia, Adeline. “Sick Cult of K-pop.” Originally published on Straits Times. 8 Dec 2011. SGSJELFs & SupershowSG. Web. 8 Dec 2012.
Patricia. “Fans Love Oppa, But Oppa Is Uncomfortable With Such Feelings.” 24 May 2011. Seoulbeats. Web. 8 Dec 2012.
TS Pledge. Triple S: The States. Web. 8 Dec 2012.
Vink, Annemiek. “Music and Emotion.” Nordic Journal of Music Therapy 10.2 (2001): 144-158.
Reprint of “Can’t Stop Loving You: Fans Find Happiness, Solace in K-pop” © 2012 Crystal S. Anderson, KPK: Kpop Kollective, used under a Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
By Crystal S. Anderson, Ph.D
Elon University (U.S.)
Most people identify K-pop by its use of Korean language and culture. Some see these as obstacles to the spread of K-pop worldwide. However, 142 responses by 18-to 30-year-olds show that Korean culture, and especially Korean language, appeals to global fans. These responses are part of a five-year study on international fans of K-pop housed at KPK: Kpop Kollective.
To view entire “The ‘K’ in K-pop Infographic, click here.
Writers often point to the use of English as crucial to the success of K-pop in non-Korean speaking countries. Miketastic argues: “Many would say that the single biggest obstacle is the language barrier. . . . For K-pop artists, it’s going to be much tougher as very few of them can really speak English well enough to win the hearts and minds of America.”
Academics like Jaime Shinhee Lee also write about how important English is for K-pop: “K-pop provides discursive space for South Korean youth, either artists or audiences, to assert their self-identity, to create new meanings, to challenge dominant representations of authority, to resist mainstream norms and values, and to reject older generations’ conservatism” (446). In other words, Korean artists tend to use English for specific purposes. Lee also says that the use of English decreases the importance of Korean to a certain degree: “English makes K-pop less nationally marked and more regionally accepted” (447).
Some K-pop fans echo this idea. They say that they do not need to understand the Korean language in order to like K-pop. One notes: “Because of the songs that can touch you, even though you don’t understand what they are singing.” Another responds: “I like to sing along in Korean even though I don’t always understand what the lyrics means” (Anderson).
However, research suggests that global fans find the Korean language and culture important. A majority of respondents say that they listen to K-pop, in part, because of the Korean language. Several like the qualities of the Korean language itself. One respondent says, “I love being able to learn songs that aren[‘]t in English and I find Korean to be such a beautiful language,” while another “like[s] the sound of Korean language.” Others indicate that the Korean used in K-pop songs encourages them to learn the language better: “I also like being able to learn small words and phrases in Korean. It is a lot more fun than trying to learn a foreign language in the usual way” (Anderson).
Others link K-pop to Korean culture in general, despite its incorporation of American culture: One respondent explains: “Moreover, I love the US influence but its remains the “Korean detail” that makes this kind of music different.” Another notes, “I got dragged into KPop. . . because of Korean culture. Their culture is very addictive” (Anderson).
Global fans also learn about Korean social relationships through the way members of K-pop groups interact: “I am also fascinated by the whole Kpop culture which would refer to many things such as “stars relation” – the senior-junior (sunbae-hoobae) relationship; the start training system; some unwritten rules in the business; the variety shows just to name a few.” Another respondent says: “Not only the music, dancing and other talent, but with this K-Pop culture it teaches audiences to respect elders and their peers – also to respect themselves because of the Asian culture.”
Others note the impact of Korean cultural products, such as variety shows, which feature a combination of language and culture: “I also like the language more, but the reason I fell in love with K-Pop is the personalities of the Idols. If they weren’t all those variety shows, I wouldn’t have been that interested in K-Pop” (Anderson). For example, Shinhwa provides entertainment to audiences by playing a game where knowing the words to a Korean song is key on Happy Together:
Asian American respondents also find the use of Korean language and culture appealing. One noted: “I think that it is really relatable. I’m Asian-American, so I don’t see Asians much in entertainment. I like seeing people like me doing something cool like rapping, singing, and dancing.” Another explained the appeal of Korean culture in K-pop as a source of pride: “Being a[n] adopted Korean American (adopted in the 80′s) it was a way for me to discover my cultural roots when Korean people did not accept me because of my lack for Koreaness.’ Also in the 90′s and early 2000′s it was a way to show ‘Azn Pride’ as we called it” (Anderson).
This research may reveal the impact of conscious efforts by the Korean government to use K-pop as a vehicle for spreading Korean culture. Korea.net, the official website of the South Korean government, maintains a section devoted to Korean Wave in the K-Culture section of its website. In 2012, the Korean Cultural Center in Washington DC hosted a Hallyu Camp “designed to give fans of Korean pop culture in the Washington DC region a deeper understanding of the country, people, and society from which Korean pop culture originates.” Activities included “a variety of interactive workshops, lessons, discussions, and creative projects related to Korean traditional and pop culture, led by professional instructors and cultural experts” (Han Cinema).
Such use of Korean culture represents an example of soft power, defined by Joseph Nye as “the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payments. It arises from the attractiveness of a country’s culture, political beliefs, and policies” (x). The Korean government uses K-pop to spread Korean culture in an effort to get other populations to engage with it. Doobo Shim also writes: “Motivated by the phenomenal success of Korean popular cultural products abroad, the government designated ‘cultural technology’ (meaning the technologies that produce television drama, film, pop music, computer games, animation, etc.) as one of the six key technologies along with IT and BT (Bio –technology) that should drive the Korean economy into the 21st century” (28).
Global locations like the United States do not have a tendency to embrace foreign-language musical culture. This has led some to speculate that K-pop must use English to be successful. However, these findings show that K-pop has already gained success with global fans as a result of K-pop’s use of Korean language and culture.
SHINee. Digital Image. “16 KPOP Idols and Groups Dressed for Chuseok.” 30 Sept 2012. Ningin. 11 Dec 2012.
Anderson, Crystal. Infographic. “The ‘K’ in K-pop.” 11 Dec 2012. Web.
Anderson, Crystal S. “Data Set: Hallyu Kpop Survey 2 and Kpop Kollective KiFs Survey 2, 18- to 30 Year Olds.” Korean Popular Music International Fanbases Project. 29 Apr 2011 – 15 Apr 2012.
Crystalis0324. “(Eng Sub) 040930 [H@p py][T0g 3th er]- Shinhwa (4/5).” 26 Sept 2010. YouTube. 11 Dec 2012.
“Hallyu Camp 2012: Exploring Korean Pop & Traditional Culture.” 22 July 2012. Han Cinema. 7 Dec 2012.
Lee, Jamie Shinhee. “Linguistic Hybridization in K-pop: Discourse of Self-Assertion and Resistance.” World Englishes 23.3 (2004): 429-450.
Miketastic. “[OP-ED] Will K-pop Make It in America?” 23 Jul 2012. allkpop. 11 Dec 2012.
Nye, Jr., Joseph. Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics. Cambridge: Perseus Books, 2004.
Shim, Doobo. “The Growth of Korean Cultural Industries and the Korean Wave.” In East Asian Pop Culture: Analysing the Korean Wave. Ed. Chua Beng Huat and Koichi Iwabuchi. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2008. 15-31.
Reprint of “The ‘K’ in K-pop: Research Finds Korean Language, Culture Appeals to Global Fans” © 2012 Crystal S. Anderson, KPK: Kpop Kollective, used under a Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Age is a frequent topic in K-Pop. While some criticize the young age at which members start the training process, others are also concerned about “old” K-pop members, those 30 and over. However, there is nothing wrong with being in K-Pop and being over 30. In fact, they are some of the most productive people in K-Pop.
Apparently, 30 is the new 90. It tickled me when I read how someone expressed surprise at the success of the 30-something members of Shinhwa, as if the members are ready to go to the K-Pop Retirement Home. The media marveled at PSY‘s success in Western countries, partly because of his age: “One Guardian columnist wondered if PSY, rather than breaking the K-Pop mould, had reinforced stereotypes of socially challenged, middle-aged east Asian men” (McCurry).
One reason for the shocked responses surrounding K-Pop groups and artists has to do with the centrality of youth in K-Pop. Groups continue to debut with young, teenage members. Some groups, like Boyfriend, featured members in their mid-teens when they debuted. The logic goes: K-Pop appeals to teenagers because it features teenagers.
But older K-Pop artists and industry folks, which I lovingly refer to as Old School, are still active and appreciated by K-Pop fans. Let’s start with the godfather of K-Pop, born in 1972 : Seo Taiji. Although you don’t see him much, you hear about this 40-year-old often because of his continued influence on K-pop. From career management to marketing, people are still following Seo Taiji’s example.
Right up there with Seo Taiji is Tiger JK.Born in 1974, Tiger JK continues to be active and vocal on a huge number of issues. In March 2012, he responded to several well-publicized incidents involving racial comments and behavior:
However, I think it’s time we should let the kids learn on what’s the right thing to do, and what’s wrong and what not to do. I think we should try to provide them with enough information and opportunities to change their minds regarding racial prejudices. Racial discrimination and prejudices used to exist in any country throughout the world. But now the world has shrunken into a small global community. Korea is currently enjoying attention around the world with the K-Pop phenomenon along with other human resource (Tiger JK).
One of my favorite members of the Old School is Kangta. Nobody expected a kid with a bowl cut to eventually become an executive at SM Entertainment. Not looking a day over 33, he also has a respectable catalog of material, and rumors persist around a Kangta comeback.
Everyone in Shinhwa is over 30, but that has not prevented the group from selling out their comeback concert and members like Minwoo and Hyesung selling out their own concerts. They have enough energy to star in several dozen episodes of Shinhwa Broadcast. In the episode below, Shinhwa meets SHINee, and even though old jokes occur throughout the program, you can tell that SHINee still has respect for the veteran group.
Old School K-Pop people also branch out into other areas of entertainment as a way of continuing their careers. Lee Hyori, 33, has not put out an album in a while, but she frequently does photos shoots for major publications. Former S.E.S member Eugene, 31, appeared in the Kdrama Baker King Kim Tak Goo. Also 31, Yuri Sung, maknae of Fin.K.L, starred in Hong Gil Dong, and most recently, Feast of the Gods.
Many of the producers behind your favorite K-pop groups are in their 40s. Yoo Young Jin, 41, has been involved with some of SM Entertainment’s biggest hits by H.O.T, S.E.S, TVXQ!, Super Junior and SHINee. In an interview, Yoo indicates he is in K-pop for the long haul: “I want to be a helper to SM and all of its singers. A helper who always does everything that he’s been given to do. I think I’d be very happy if I could sit down in a studio even when I’m eighty and still be creating rhythms” (Kang).
The man behind YG Entertainment, Yang Hyun Suk, 41, continues to be a force in the music industry long after his stint in Seo Taiji and Boys. Most recently, he has presided over the meteoric and global rise of Psy, as well as successful U.S. tours of Big Bang and 2NE1. He shows no sign of stopping, as SuPearls is only the latest group whose career he has managed: “Yang Hyun Suk is avidly doing what he can for the girls, training them to have amazing musicality and star quality similar to that of female vocal group Big Mama who has in the past worked with YG” (Leesa86).
Jae Chong, former member of Solid, one of the first R&B groups in Korea, currently produces Aziatix. He has an equally impressive track record at 40. He worked with an international array of artists, including BoA, Kim Gun Mo and JYJ. Chong recognizes his that years in the industry provides insight. In a recent podcast, Chong noted: “Most people that listen to Aziatix, a lot of them were born after Solid, or they were like, you know, still in their diapers….a lot of our fanbase back then are now in their mid-twenties, approaching their thirties or even in their mid-thirties” (“All Day With Jae!”). That’s right: not only are K-Pop artists and producers over 30, so are fans.
If you are listening to K-pop and are human, you too will eventually become “old.” So perhaps we should lay off all the criticism of K-Pop’s elders. Let’s not break out the walkers and canes just yet.
Is your favourite K-Pop artist/group over the age of 30? Tell us what you think about the central youth theme in K-Pop. Is it writing out the old K-Pop idols?
- Image: Shinhwa Cosmopolitan, Lee Hyori Marie Claire
- Video: [ENG] ShinHwa Broadcast EP 13 wit SHINee[part-1] 9th of June, YouTube
- ACAST Episode 7: All Day With Jae!, Aziatix
- Kang, Myeong-Suk. “[Interview] Record producer Yoo Young-Jin, Part 3,” Asiae
- Leesa86, “YG Entertainment to debut SuPearls & new girl group 2012 comes to a close,” allkpop
- McCurry, Justin. “K-pop stars: the lowdown on South Korean pop,” The Guardian
- Tiger JK, “[OP-ED: Guest Post by Tiger JK]A simple suggestion on Racial Prejudice,” allkpop