Writing about K-pop: Choose Your Disciplinary Adventure

In my previous article, I talked about how taking a historian’s approach to K-pop considers the past in making sense of the present. In this article, I’ll discuss how this informs my approach to K-pop in my book Soul in Seoul: African American Popular Music and K-pop. In making sense of K-pop, I choose several disciplinary approaches to increase our understanding of K-pop music. The first thing scholars do when writing about a subject is to think about how the study will contribute to what we a

The Quantification of K-pop

Numerical data dominates the discourse around K-pop. In order to get a fuller view, we need to contextualize those numbers with other kinds of information in order to understand K-pop’s worldwide appeal. With the focus on awards, streams, views and tweets, numbers lead the way we talk about K-pop. 2020 has seen K-pop venture into new territory, with high appearances on Billboard charts, high-profile performances and unprecedented winning of awards. K-pop fans urge others to view and stream to i

Writing About K-pop: History and Context

One of the first things I wanted to do with my book, Soul in Seoul: African American Popular Music and K-pop, is to recognize K-pop’s history and development. Placing K-pop within a historical context is crucial to the way we ultimately understand it. K-pop is often seen in present-day terms. It is described and treated as a short-term trend. Much of what many people know about K-pop comes through the media. Journalists tend to focus on the current developments and their coverage of K-pop is no

Dancing in September : Cultural Translation in Hallyu Performance

In order to comprehensively examine the hybrid nature of music and performance in the Korean wave, we should recognize the multiple meanings embedded in these cultural modes that transcend language. This cultural translation is clearly illustrated in Lia Kim‘s choreography for Earth, Wind and Fire‘s “September,” a single released by the iconic R&B group in 1978. Kim is known for her choreography for K-pop artists, including the girl group Mamamoo. Uploaded to 1MILLION Dance Studio’s YouTube cha

The Once and Future Fandom: How Media Shapes Perceptions of K-pop Fans

Whether K-pop fans are praised political activists or denigrated as delusional enthusiasts, both characterizations reduce K-pop fans, especially Black fans, and fail to recognize their value beyond politics. Up until recently, K-pop fans had a questionable reputation. On March 19, 2020, I did a search for K-pop fans, and these are the search terms Google offered: This is what today’s search (June 24) for K-pop fan brings: In the span of a few months, the perception of K-pop fans has changed,

What K-pop Can Teach Us About Engagement for Online Courses

One of the most common concerns about moving courses online is that engagement is lost. However, it could be useful to draw on the kind of engagement that is central to contemporary Korean popular music (K-pop) culture. Most articles you may read about the need to teach online courses (as opposed to the emergency remote teaching that most instructors engaged in in the spring) contains the often unchallenged assertion that online courses cannot replicate the engagement of the face-to-face course

Writing the Book I Wanted to Read – Soul in Seoul: African American Popular Music and K-pop

Soul in Seoul: African American Popular Music and K-pop (September 2020, University of Mississippi Press) is a scholarly book that examines the ways that Korean pop (“idols), R&B and mainstream hip-hop of the Hallyu (Korean wave) era incorporate elements of black popular music and how global fans understand that influence. As a senior scholar in transnational American Studies and Global Asias and writer on K-pop for the past 10 years, I thought a book on black music and K-pop should be the foll

Mission Impossible: Curating the History of K-pop

Some of us are using this unprecedented time to work on projects that have gotten away from us. My latest project, KPOPCULTURE, a never ending quest to create a history of K-pop, is one such project! From KPOPIANA to the Kpop Collaboration Project, I have been working on projects that seek to document and describe K-pop’s development, structure and how we think about it. Such research is the essence of a mission impossible research project, one that relies on ever-shifting sources on K-pop on t

Is K-pop Fandom Becoming Less Visible and More Fragmented?

Online platforms have been a major force propelling the spread of K-pop globally, but are shifts in how they are deployed contributing to a more insular fandom? When you ask K-pop fans about their journey into K-pop, YouTube usually features prominently. Over the last few years, K-pop fans have been treated to content by companies and artists who recognize the platform as a significant way to get content to fans. However, Jeff Benjamin reports a new trend that sees companies shifting their focu

Mini Data Note: Female American Fans, K-pop Girl Groups and a Critique of Empowerment

Survey responses suggest that American female fans of K-pop girl groups simultaneously critique Korean society and music industry and recognize the impact of their position as foreign fans on their perceptions of representations of empowerment in K-pop. These are findings from the U Go Girl: The K-pop Girl Group Fan Study and are based on 129 responses from female fans who identified their country of residency as the United States. Transcultural fandom, when fans admire something outside of the

K-pop Was Not Born Last Night

K-pop is old enough for us to recognize that it has a bonafide history, and the way we divide up that history affects the way we see K-pop. Some scholars place K-pop within a larger history of Korean popular music. In the article “Mapping K-pop Past and Present: Shifting the Modes of Exchange,” Keith Howard begins a theorization of the K-pop music industry with an overview that begins in Korea’s colonial period. Similarly, John Lie contextualizes the exploration of K-pop within the development

Labor from Below: What Neoliberal Capitalism Overlooks in K-pop

Scholars frequently use the neoliberal capitalism frame to contextualize K-pop within the Korean wave, but the over-reliance on critiquing capitalist forces further silences the creative personnel of K-pop. If we approach K-pop using the “history from below” framework, we can reveal the perspectives of the individuals in the industry. A number of scholarly articles that contextualize K-pop within Hallyu, or the Korean wave, invoke neoliberal capitalism as the interpretative frame for K-pop, a f

Who’s Better, Who’s Best: Competition and Manipulation in K-pop

Recent developments involving award and competition shows reveal the impact of mainstreaming on K-pop. As stakes increase for industry and media, accolades and competition are perceived as metrics for quality. However, they largely measure popularity, which is subject to manipulation. While many K-pop acts are managed by an agency and undergo rigorous training that may span years, others result from competition shows developed by broadcast companies. These shows produce a temporary K-pop group

Streams and Views: What the History of Music Charts Can Tell Us About Popularity and K-pop

Increasingly, K-pop songs are being measured outside of South Korea by chart performance. This relatively new development puts greater emphasis on using charts as metrics for popularity, which some equate with music value. However, such metrics are not neutral, and obscure other ways of ascertaining popularity among K-pop listeners. While subcultures in several countries have enjoyed it for years, K-pop music has recently experienced mainstream popularity, particularly in countries like the Uni

Into the New World: Research Suggests Multi-Fandom the Norm for Veteran K-pop Fans

While it may seem that the current norm in K-pop is single-fandom (the tendency to support just one artist), data suggests that older K-pop fans started and continue to be multi-fandom. This may be another way the overall K-pop fandom has shifted in the past few years. With the rise of K-pop groups, their individual fandoms have also garnered more attention, leading some to focus on using a single fandom to define K-pop fandom in general. However, 316 responses collected between April 29, 2011

The Creative Input of K-pop Artists

While many K-pop artists are managed to varying degrees by entertainment agencies, there have always been those who participate in the creative production of music. It is common for those who write about K-pop groups to bemoan the lack of creative input by K-pop artists, particularly those who are identified as “idols,” individuals who engage in extra-musical activities in addition to musical performance. When writers do recognize such input, they often do so to point to a handful of K-pop arti

New K-pop Stans, Here’s What You Missed: Fan Favorites, 2012-2015

The K-pop fandom landscape has changed in the past few years. Data suggests that the general K-pop “idol” fandom is more divided than it was less than 10 years ago and challenges some widely held notions about the preferences of global K-pop fans. With the expansion of K-pop globally has come increased division among the general fandom. An article on seoulwave bemoans the increase of tensions among fan groups: “The K-pop fan community is suffering from a plague right now. Fandoms everywhere are

3 Useful Things To Know About Cultural Appropriation and K-pop

It was great to be a part of the “Black Popular Music and K-pop” panel at #KCON17LA. The session was lively! In light of that discussion, here are three things that may be useful as people continue to think about the session or for those who could not attend. The session was important, not just for black K-pop fans to voice their experiences, but for ALL fans of K-pop, since we are getting joy from the influence of black popular music on K-pop.
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