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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 M.net. 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.

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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.