Cheese, windmills and kimchi? – Kpop in the Netherlands

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When one thinks about the Netherlands, Kpop usually isn’t the thing that comes to mind. Most people would think of the stereotypical tulips, windmills, clogs and cheese. And while most Dutch people don’t wear clogs any more and don’t inhabit windmills, we do have a great import product in tulips and we do love our cheeses. Boy, do I love cheese!

But no matter my love for cheese, because I want to talk about the love for Kpop in the Netherlands. Though not widely known and certainly still seen as a plain weird music genre, it does have its place in Holland and perhaps Utrecht. And I use the term Holland not to refer to the Netherlands, but to the two biggest provinces; Noord-Holland (Northern Holland) and Zuid-Holland (Southern Holland). I’m referring to these two provinces and Utrecht, because I’ve only ever gotten the impression that this is where Kpop “lives”. (Dutch fans, please do correct me if I’m wrong.)

Since I’ve only got my own experience to draw from, I asked a couple of my friends and family who are also into Kpop a few questions about their experience with Kpop. I’ll be sharing my personal experience as well. I asked my friend Ankie whom I met back in high school, my niece’s niece Joy (does that make her my niece as well?) and my fellow JYJ concert-goer and hellokpop staff member Daisy –  the only other hellokpop-per from the Netherlands. The first question I asked was: “How were you introduced to Kpop?”

Now I myself discovered Kpop around 2006-2007, while I was in high school. I’d found my way to Jpop all on my own and as a fan of many anime, I listened to some Japanese music. While I was searching for songs by Namie Amuro, I stumbled upon a video of BoA. Girls on Top. It reeled me in pretty quickly. But because I hardly knew anything about Kpop, I asked a friend of mine to tell me more about it. Ankie – whose answers you’ll read in a few – introduced me to Se7en and Rain. After that, I was hooked to those three artists. It wasn’t until I saw the music video for Mirotic, that I became a fan of the genre and started to branch out.

Ankie herself came into contact with Kpop earlier, through her sister:

“I think it was late 2001 that I started to listen to Kpop. It was because my sister listened to the song I’m your girl by S.E.S. I really liked it, and I think it was that time I searched about Korean songs.”

Joy was sidetracked from her search for an anime opening, when Kpop entered her life:

“I found K-pop around 2009 when I was searching for an anime opening song and Super Junior‘s It’s You popped up in the related video’s and I really liked it. Plus my best friend discovered it exactly at the same time as me and together we got sucked in^^”

Daisy discovered Kpop (like Joy and me) through the Jpop channel to end up a Kpop lover:

“Around 2008, or something along the lines. I was into Japanese pop music and one time I found DBSK‘s Why Did I Fall In Love With You, which is a Japanese song. At first I though it was a Japanese band, and I listened to picture of you. Which was in Korean, so I was really confused by that time. I started liking them and other Korean bands, also a friend of mine happened to listen to Korean music too, so I learned some more bands etc~”

I believe Kpop is still a bit of an underground music genre in the Netherlands, though it’s definitely becoming more popular. It’s not yet really played on the radio, with the exception of F(x)‘s Electric Shock on Dutch radio station 3FM, though I think that has more to do with the fact that Dutch producers Future Presidents worked on it. A segment of Psy‘s Gangnam Style was shown on a Dutch news program called EditieNL, but the anchorman and woman had no idea what they were really looking at; they were just commenting on how the video was going viral and that it was immensely popular. 3FM also seems to be taken with Gangnam Style nowadays, but again I feel it’s because of its popularity worldwide and not so much because of the Kpop community in the Netherlands.

Of course, there have been instances where I was pleasantly surprised by finding another Kpop lover in my vicinity. I once was on my way to my school in Amsterdam and was seated next to an Asian girl on the bus. I had my earphones in and she had hers in. A great way to shut out the world and listen to your favourite kind of music without getting that overly familiar side-eye. We both reached for our iPods to change whatever song we were listening to and snuck a glance at each other’s playlist. (I know, rude, but don’t tell me you’ve never done it.) Lo and behold! We both had Big Bang blasting in our ears  – not the same song, but still. That was cause for us to smile at each other briefly and look away. We didn’t spark up a conversation, because 1) I rarely engage in conversations with strangers, 2) I’m not good with people and first impressions and 3) I don’t like people. (It’s not that I dislike them, I just don’t want to be around them all the time. Introverts and hermits, you know what I mean.)

And I was certainly surprised at the amount of Dutch fans in Berlin when I went to the JYJ concert with Daisy. There are also specific pages for Kpop artists and groups on the Dutch social media site Hyves (it’s somewhat like Facebook) but most have less than 200 members in total. This could be because Hyves is somewhat dying now that Facebook and Twitter rule the world, or because Kpop still isn’t as big as I’d like it to be here in the Netherlands. There have been many instances of Dutch articles being written about Kpop. One was written by a friend of mine – we did an internship together – and she had approached me to ask if I wanted to fact-check the article. She wrote it for the Dutch magazine Stars and had decided on Kpop because it’s on the rise.

But most of the time, people just don’t understand it. When I was in London for my minor, one of my classmates asked me to play some Korean music because she knew I listened to it. I was glad she was interested – and got the entire class interested – and since we were in our room at the hostel, I thought “What the heck. I’ll put on some BEAST.” Which I did: Bad Girl. Most of my classmates were all very surprised it sounded ‘just like’ American music, the only difference was the language. One of my friends commented that she thought Asian music would be faster. I don’t know why she thought that, but in answer to her comment I put on I Am The Best by 2NE1. And that was the pace she was talking about apparently. (Personally I think it had more to do with the Indian/Bollywood sounding music.) So I asked Joy, Daisy and Ankie: “Do you think Kpop is still an underground music genre in The Netherlands?”

Daisy disagreed with me as she answered:

“I don’t think it’s underground any more. There’s actually a lot of people who listen to it, I actually once met a girl in the train who had an EXO ring tone, and I talked to her about it.”

Joy said:

“It really is getting bigger here, at first I was scared that my best friend and me were the only ones, but I meet other fans everywhere, so I don’t think so.”

And Ankie apparently agreed with Joy about Kpop’s popularity:

“Kpop is starting to become more popular in the Netherlands through Asian parties and everything else.”

So, a lot of mixed feeling about whether or not Kpop is still underground or not. (Dutch Kpop fans, if you have insights about the state of Kpop here in The Netherlands, please sound off in the comments.) When I asked the three girls if they’ve ever tried getting other people into the Kpop fandom, it seems they all try to spread the love – though not all as passionately.

Joy has been spreading the gospel of Kpop a lot:

“I’ve made a lot of shawols and E.L.F.’s, but with the more skeptical people I don’t really try. But every one I showed Running Man to loved it, we even play it ourselves xD. I try, but I don’t mind if they don’t like it, at least they know what it is. I even got a nine for my English oral which was about Kpop, my teacher even listened to it =D.”

Daisy also had some success:

“I successfully converted two people into Kpop lovers. Both were quite open minded people and I let them listen to songs of Big Bang and other bands. One of the girls loved everything I showed her and the other had heard of Big Bang before, and I helped her get to know other bands.”

Ankie takes a more passive approach:

“Not really, I just put the songs on my Facebook and people just either listen or just not.”

I myself have had the success of one completed conversion. I converted my niece (the one Joy and I both share) when I showed her some videos of DBSK and Big Bang. She’s now a Kpop lover and though she has developed her own Kpop tastes (SNSD is one of her favourite groups), she’s often more knowledgeable about the general happening in Kpop. I have also had my best friend and my grandma – on separate occasions – listen to Love In The Ice and they both said they thought the DBSK members were great singers. That same best friend was actually with me when I went through my Rain and Se7en phase and we often quarreled about who was the better singer and who was the better dancer. She has not made a complete conversion, but she has admitted to liking Mirotic and DBSK and respects my love for Kpop. She even suggested we used the name Mirotic as a title for a magazine project we did at the Hogeschool van Amsterdam and worked very closely with me on creating Mirotic Magazine – about all things Asian. I still have a printed copy in my Kpop drawer.

The last question was “What are some of the reactions you’ve gotten when you told people you listen to Kpop?” I wrote an editorial for hellokpop called Getting the Side-Eye because of your love for Kpop and really, the title says it all for me personally. But the others have different experiences:

Daisy said:

“It depends on the kind of people or situation. If you’re in a private conversation people are like, OK then, your choice. However in groups people sometimes make fun of it, but my friend group has pretty much accepted it.”

Ankie’s love is pretty much accepted:

“Not much I guess, most already know I like Asian songs, so not many weird reactions.”

Joy gets mixed reactions:

“Mixed reactions, people I just met are mostly genuinely interested, my friends accepted it, my boyfriend even knows the careless careless part from EXO’s MAMA and he’s not a fan. The people at school react weird and make fun it, the other fans mostly keep it low profile about it, but I don’t really care. My friends accepted it and that what’s matters^^”

Of course, we are only four Dutch girls who happen to love Kpop. Dutch Kpop fans, what are your thoughts and experiences? Sound off in the comments!

Sources: Research –  Hyves.nl (1,2, 3, 4), kome-world.com, nlpop.bog.nl; Photos – 123rf.com, welections.wordpress.com, lyndhasarangonewhanhae.blogspot.com

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