Archive for the ‘Popular Culture’ Category

This Wave Probably Won’t Crash American Shores

October 19, 2011 3 comments

Here’s the latest effort from Girls’ Generation (all English version):

So the Korean version is an uninspired, if decent enough Kpop example and an interesting break from the former SNSD image. The English track? Cringe-worthy (I did actually cringe with each “Girls’ Generation make you feel DA heat). I’m sure the ladies put a lot of effort in getting the words down (probably much more work than it takes for a Korean song) but in the end, like most English Kpop efforts, it just doesn’t work. Quite frankly, the worldwide Kpop fans out there are listening to the music for the words, but instead the polished production, dance moves and style that has been discussed on this blog before. If they really want to know what’s being sung they’ll simply look up a translation, trying to shoe-horn in a completely different language than the song was written for really just makes it worse. Let’s look at some examples:

Call an emergency
I’m watching the phone ring
I’m feeling this in my heart~ my heart~

I think Seohyun might require some medical attention (probably due to undereating)

Wanna know my secrets
From them I’ll never tell
‘Cause I got them magic
Touch them
Imma try and I fail
That’s right

Well at least Jessica was honest about the failing part…

All the boys want my heart
Better know how to rock in their stop

I seriously hope I am wrong on this lyric, “rock in their stop” what is that? It’s what I hear and all unofficial sources have the same right now. I guess I won’t be getting Hyoyeon‘s heart since I most certainly don’t know how to complete the required task.

It’s great for the international appeal of Kpop if the artists can speak and interact with their fans in English (or Chinese or Japanese, really any native tongues) but trying to perform in a second language tends to end up incredibly difficult and just an all around bad idea. I also hope this isn’t a prelude to a Wonder Girls style attempted Western expansion, as really such an effort isn’t good for anyone. I don’t want to seem to cynical as I can appreciate the ladies as great performers and sort of the mastheads of the current Kpop generation, but really don’t see this going anywhere good.

Quick Hits: Chris Gohomely, Samsung Firing Back and the USA RSVP

October 15, 2011 Leave a comment

Maybe now he can finally pursue that degree in Korean women’s studies

I assume he was struck by lightning just moments prior

So in the wee hours last night, I hate to admit that I was awake watching Superstar K3 live (but to be fair it was with my wife…even if she was asleep), and unfortunately Chris’ rendition of “Run Devil Run” (SNSD), dedicated to a soul-crushing ex-girlfriend, wasn’t enough to get him through to the top 5. To his credit, Mr. Golightly, whose hair was getting progressively crazier each week (as you can see), didn’t whine, cry or complain about his “huge talent” to the cameras like he did the first time he thought he was eliminated, but seemed to almost expect the decision. Really just as the wonderful 윤미래 pretty much told him strait out at the audition, a completely non-Korean essentially had no shot at this winning the competition, so getting this far was probably enough. Personally, I do find him to be a halfway decent entertainer and if he gets some Korean language skills, could maybe have some sort of mini-career here and at the very least continue to write songs and other behind the scenes work in the industry. So with Chris out, we’re now left with Hipster Brad as the only completely non-Korean face, so he’d better to be ready to absorb a lot more of the awkward English attempts, Nic Cage comments and camera shots focused squarely on the big 외국 schnoz. I do predict Busker Busker is on the block next week, but really there’s no competition anymore as vocal group Ohlala Session has essentially already been crowned. Now I’ll go back to pretending I don’t care.

Iconic CEO deaths cannot save you from the power of Patent 234

Samsung's legal department preparing their patent cases

Recent weeks have seemed to mark the decision of Samsung to take of the gloves and go on the offensive against Apple, both domestically abroad, in the two companies’ increasingly tangled legal dispute. In my view, the main difference between the two attacks is that where Apple has based their cases on “look and feel” arguments, Samsung is countering with patent infringement suits, something that has much stronger legal precedence. While Apple might not be shaking at the might of patent 234 “resolving the relevant problems without damaging the algorithm of the current standard system”, I do really have to wonder if they’re prepared for what Samsung can bring to bear. As the world’s largest electronics manufacturer, the Korean giant also has one of the largest technology patent collections as well. While there might not be a single smoking gun patent that can kill the whole Apple product line, the shear amount of patents undoubtedly can create a virtual Hwacha of patent cases, where at least one of the arrows can hit the mark. I’m not a lawyer, but I have to wonder if that’s a fight Apple can actually win (not to mention what will happen if their new part manufacturers isn’t up to task). The first salvo has already generated a ruling in the Dutch courts, with Samsung being told their 3G technology patent is open to use under FRAND (Fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory) practices for technologies considered industry standards, however also rejecting Apple’s argument that they didn’t violate patents, meaning if the two companies don’t come to agreement giving Apple licencing to use the technology, Samsung could bring it back to court. Not a win for either side, but a definite example of how muddied this case will become in the near future.

Now this party’s official (and I even hear they’re bringing a case of PBR)

On Thursday, Sec. Clinton and the US State Department officially announced participation in the upcoming Yeosu Expo. The privately funded 12,000 sq. foot Pavillion USA will feature “the United States’ unique shoreline through displays and programming that highlight the diverse nature of America’s ocean environments and coastal communities.” The public face and behind the scenes manager for the efforts is adventurer, author and famous grandson Phillipe Cousteau, Jr and will also feature Student Ambassadors, chosen from US universities, proficient in Korean to interact with visitors. Even a shiny new website has been set up to detail the project,, and twitter as well

Not to sound too Ameri-centric, but I really feel US participation was fairly necessary to making this Expo truly legitimate, so while it might have never been in doubt, the announcement might be a good shot in the arm as the preparations enter the final stages. Honestly, I am also impressed by the scale and depth that is going to be brought by this pavilion, as by all accounts it should be one of the largest on site and having a name like Cousteau involved with an ocean-based event is a big coupe. After many found the USA’s efforts at Expo 2010 in Shanghai disappointing, it would be great to see stronger efforts, even for a smaller scale event like Yeosu. On a mildly related note, the long-running official Yeosu Halloween party is going to be held at the Yeosu Hotel 여수관광호텔 this year, right next to the Expo grounds. Can’t wait to see where the progress has come on the site. (By the by, for those in country, if you have no Halloween plans, how about spending the weekend down here? Quite nice in the fall and a great party. Just bring a costume).

The Curious Case of Chris Golightly

October 2, 2011 Leave a comment

One of these things is not like the others

Over the past couple years, Korea really got bit hard by the reality/audition “become a star” type show that has been sweeping the rest of the world for a while now. One of the first to bring this wave upon 대한 was SuperstarK on Korean cable’s This near carbon copy of American Idol has also been one of the most popular shows, despite stiff recent competition from network audition programs, and many top competitors have been able to have some success on the Kpop scene following their time on the show (probably thanks in no small part to M.Net‘s powerful music label).

Last month saw the third iteration beginning and while I am not personally a huge fan (I can’t stand the “joke” auditions during the opening auditions) the wife does enjoy the show so I am catching most of the episodes. Now down to the final 9 and in the real teeth of the competition, one contestant does most certainly stand out.

2009 Version

Ardent fans of American Idol might just be able to recognize the waygook in the above picture. Chris Golightly was an announced as a final 24 contestant on season 9 until some controversy about prior contracts resulted in him getting the boot from the show. He gained a bit of notoriety for his sad orphan back story and big, curly hairdo. Well now he’s landed here, just with much bigger hair.

2011 using all the bleach in Korea

The trail of Idol loser to SuperstarK final stage had already been set by gyopo John Park, a fellow season 9 contestant with Chris and K second season runner-up. Alluded to in the show, Golightly was already in Korea working as a songwriter for Star Empire Entertainment groups such as Jewelry and ZE:A, including some writing on the girl group’s semi-hit Back It Up. The story goes that John encouraged Chris to try out for Superstar K and, despite worries about his ability to succeed on a Korean show, the judges were wow’ed enough by his talent to keep bringing him back.

A Born Star

Now, call me a skeptic, but really this story seems a little too coincidental. I think all TV watchers realize that “reality” TV really doesn’t have too much of it and even in these audition shows, there is a lot of script and planning done (especially in the early going before it goes to audience voting) to create the mix and stories they want to present. It just seems a bit convenient to me that a foreign singer with a pedigree and backstory like Chris just happened to already be in Korea and decided of his own accord to try out. This isn’t to take anything away from him as a singer, because really he is among the most talented on the show and by far the most polished performer, I can’t help but feel that all the screen time he’s gotten, the emotional response to being cut and then brought back and everything just feels a bit scripted. This seems especially true to me given a sudden trend of audition shows featuring one completely non-Korean contestant. Probably the most notable example of this was on MBC’s Star Audition over the summer, where Canadian Youtube cover artist Shayne Orok, aka 셰인, aka The Most Awkward Looking Teen in the World (as I called him), made it all the way to the final 4 on the back of strong vocal talents and a bristly, teenage mustache.

I would be remiss in failing to note that Golightly is not the only wayguk remaining on the show (a few gyopos made it to the final stage as well) nor even the only white guy as finalist band Busker Busker features be-soul patched, Caucasian hipster drummer as well. Although, outside of a couple lingering camera shots and getting called Nicolas Cage by the show MC, really nothing has been said about him, nor could I find anything on the net (if any readers out there are heavy into the Seoul indie music scene, got any clues?). I can appreciate the producers trying to make the show a bit more global, but really I’m not quite sure what the goal is. I can say that I am nearly certain that Chris will not win as, like Shayne before, his curiosity-based appeal will eventually give out to a native (looking) son or daughter. I do really wish him the best, however, and think if he keeps working on his Korean skills he could probably forge out a minor celebrity career here much easier than he could back West. As said before, he does have legitimate skills and I’ll keep watching, even without the wife, to see how far he winds up going. So I guess I might as well leave it with a hearty, 크리스 아자 아자 화이팅!

For those interested, here’s Chris’ performance from last week that got him into the top 9. The song is 진심 (Sincerity) by Kim Kwang-jin. (Not sure why the video is inverted right-to-left, copyrights maybe? Still the best quality I could find). Strong performance, the wife even commented that his pronunciation was good, so enjoy.

비 비 Go Away, Come Again Another Day (in 21 months) – Alternate Title: “A Farewell to Abs”

September 25, 2011 Leave a comment

Alright, lame title (EDIT: is the new alternate title any better?) I know but it’s the best I could come up with for a subject that none of you readers are likely all that interested in. On Friday, South Korean mega-everything star 비 (Rain) announced he would finally begin his mandatory military enlistment on Oct. 11th. For those of you outside Korea, you may have seen him as Taejo in the awful Speed Racer movie, or perhaps even as Raizo in the also awful, but awful in an amusing way, Ninja Assassin. I would hope you’ve,  at the very least, seen his absolutely hilariously dance-off with Steven Colbert, but if not see it here.

I would argue these appearances make Rain, by far, the most successful South Korean star to enter Western entertainment. I also believe, probably more than any other star, 비 has also been the most successful branching out in different areas of South Korean media and that said I can say I am a fan of his work. First off, he’s an absolutely incredible dancer (I would rank him right up with Michael Jackson in his prime) and very engaging as an actor. I would recommend any Korean drama newbies to watch Full House (풀하우스), really a staple of the genre and what took Rain from a popular singer to megastar status. Finally, I would literally kill for those abs (and guys out there, be honest with yourself, you would too).

He should fire his new hairstylist

It’s an unfortunate reality for 대한민국-born male musicians, TV/movie stars and athletes that they will lose almost two years of their prime to their countries mandatory military service. The news is always right on top of whoever is enlisted, such as 현빈 who immediately following his big star break on Secret Garden not only began his service, but signed up for the ROK Marines (which means an extra three months and infinitely more hazing and beat downs). Even bigger are the stories of those who try to get around it, like rapper MC Mong who may or may not have had his own teeth intentionally pulled. The biggest names get hero’s welcomes when they return, but undoubtedly mandatory service has hampered or outright derailed a large number of careers (not only for stars).

Personally, I’m of two minds on the subject of mandatory military service and could easily do a whole post outlining my views on it. I understand that the unique situation of South Korea pretty much requires the military man-power that only mandatory military service can provide and while you don’t want to be giving preferential treatment, it also seems a waste to have the most talented young men in your society lose two years of their careers. There are already exceptions to the rules, such as gold medal winners from the Olympic and Asian Games and professional footballers can possibly serve their time playing for Sangju Sangmu Phoenix, a K-League side ran by the military, so it would seem to me that other options should exist for exceptional people in all fields. It does become a slippery slope for who would qualify and who doesn’t though, so I understand the difficulties. Anyways, I will end by wishing Rain (and all those serving in the military forces here in Korea) the best and hope for a safe and successful return to the entertainment soon.

2NE1 and Ugly

August 9, 2011 1 comment

To steal a feature from the Grand Narrative, the go-to blog for gender and society issues in Korea, I would like to discuss a music video. I know I can’t hope to do it nearly as well as the above blog, but I find this song very interesting so here goes.

I would hardly consider myself an avid Kpop fan, but during my time living here it has become music I primarily listen to for perhaps no other reason than it’s what’s around. In the mornings, I have Mnet music videos on TV while I’m getting ready and the wife and I will watch the live music countdown shows for a lack of anything better on. For the most part, I give much thought to the songs or the artists, one of the primary appeals of Kpop being that is doesn’t require much thinking at all. One exception to this, and one of the few groups I can honestly say I specifically enjoy listening to, has been 2NE1. From the start their image has struck different chords than other girl groups and while the competition varies their look and feel wildly between cute, sexy, good girl, bad girl and everything in-between 2NE1 seems to be sticking to their niche. While they very well could be just as fabricated as the rest of the genre, the consistency at least feels more honest. This combined with their talent and the quality of their productions puts them heads and shoulders above the rest and, outside of Park Baum’s yo-yo dieting and penchant for plastic surgery (probably not by choice), makes them strong role models and representatives of Korean music.

Another important point about 2NE1 is that I feel their music has gotten better with each new release, with this newest mini-album Ugly being the best yet.  This kicked off a comeback to Korea after spending time working overseas and the promotion lead with the strong 내가 제일 잘 나가 (I am the Best) which the Narrative already did a great breakdown of here.

The latest MV release this past week is the title track Ugly and provides a great counter to the picture of the girls presented in Best. The repetitive all-English chorus pretty much tells the story of the song:

I think I’m ugly
And nobody wants to love me
Just like her I wanna be pretty I wanna be pretty
Don’t lie to my face tellin’ me I’m pretty

I think I’m ugly
And nobody wants to love me
Just like her I wanna be pretty I wanna be pretty
Don’t lie to my face cuz I know I’m ugly

Looking at the ladies, it’s quite obvious that there must be some subtext to what their singing. This isn’t Piggy Dolls singing about being fat and it’s okay (and then promptly power dieting and losing about 50lbs. each), but rather looking past the outer image and going to a deeper subject than most Kpop tends to tread. As member Dara put it:

“There are moments where people think that they’re ugly or lacking something, but people need to realize that there’s a unique beauty within all of us that other people don’t have. I hope that a lot of people listen to our song, ‘Ugly’, and find strength.”

A quick scan of entertainment in Korea will tell you that there’s something wrong with body image here and while it does extend to most genders, the typically male-dominated society also puts a lot of pressure on women’s self mental image as well. While I doubt 2NE1 played much a part in writing the song themselves, I have no doubt that they have experienced these feelings because everyone has. While it’s a common theme in Western music though, this is the first mainstream Kpop song I have heard in my time here to really go into such ideas. Simple lyrics displaying not so simple themes also seems fairly rare to me within the genre. Outside of the lyrics, we have the music which while familiar, doesn’t quite sound like anyone else. The beat is good with a nice blend of guitar and electronic with a great hook. As usual Bom‘s vocals are the stand-outs, but the ladies also each have their time and share the stage well.

While I am sure that sometime in the future I will be disappointed with a 2NE1 release, it hasn’t happened quite yet and I hope they can keep their hit streak as long as possible. I believe they, and on the boy’s side their label-mates Big Bang, really raise the bar for the music and can only make the music better.