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 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

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

Why Is K-pop Coverage So Negative?

Much like the current tone of the Internet, wholly negative criticism threatens to skew our perceptions of K-pop. On any given day, one can wander out on social media and witness what has become the all-too-common negative critique of K-pop. A recent Twitter thread began by Yim Hyun-su pointed out how media tends to write stories disproportionately on “the dark side of K-pop” to the exclusion of other types of stories. This trend is also at play in academic scholarship. In an article for The Po

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

Why Mainstream Media Often Gets K-pop Wrong

Nothing raises the ire of the K-pop fan like having a mainstream media outlet provide sloppy coverage of K-pop. More often than not, writers for these outlets simply don’t know what they are talking about. Those who have been K-pop fans for a while feel ambivalent when they see a mainstream media outlet run a K-pop-related story. While some may see it as an opportunity to share K-pop with more people, others realize that such articles tend to get things wrong about K-pop. This isn’t just the hu

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

The Increasingly Elusive K-pop Fan

At a time when K-pop is more easily found than ever, it seems like the K-pop fan is disappearing. Increasing division driven by single-fandom obsession is becoming the norm. It seems strange to talk about back in the day, but not so long ago (2011), K-pop was hard to come by. So when K-pop fans found one another, they were just so happy to find someone else who knew about K-pop. It didn’t matter if their favorite groups weren’t your favorite groups. At least you had heard about their favorite g

The Music of INFINITE

Infinite consistently produces electronic pop. While they have their share of fans, their releases receive few reviews. However, “Amazing” and “The Chaser” have received a positive reception. Arnold notes: “This song is spot on when it comes to fusing Infinite’s voices and a flawless pop arrangement. It’s got a classic drum section, with a sparkly piano line that helps lift this song off of the ground.”  Nicola Rivera writes that “The Chaser” “is Infinite inside out. . . .

Shinhwa: Music and Video

Shinhwa’s longevity is in part due to the quality and consistency of their music production seen in their comeback releases. The Return is Shinhwa’s highly anticipated release following a four-year hiatus. Overall, critics note a  dual nature to the album, juxtaposing the classic sound of the group with more contemporary flourishes. Many praise “Venus” as the title track.  “On the Road” elicited positive reviews as well. Jung Bae (hellokpop) notes that the track “is an unexpected Brit-rock trac

EXO in LA!: A Report from Loge 10

As a K-pop fan in the United States, I’m always excited to see my beloved K-pop live. The EXO show in Los Angeles on February 14, 2016 was no exception. Having seen EXO “grow up” from those 23 teaser trailers to Sing for You, I was looking forward to the show very much! Let us never forget the epic backstory behind EXO’s concept, beginning when “the twelve forces reunite into one perfect root” to the current unknown EXO planet! I was in Loge 10, which was almost directly in front of the stage.

My Favoritest Favorite. . . Songs By Bias K-pop Groups!

I like a lot of K-pop groups (a LOT…of K-pop groups), but I have four bias groups (SS501, Shinhwa, SHINee and Super Junior), my favoritest favorites. I looked at my iTunes to see which songs by my bias groups I played the most. I was surprised! It makes sense that SS501 is first. This group is my first love K-pop group, and like other Triple S, it doesn’t even matter that they are on an extended hiatus (THEY ARE NOT BROKEN UP!).  I’ve always liked SS501’s unassuming ways and brotherhood.  Still

Caterpillars to Butterflies: The Progression of Veteran K-pop Artists

Despite the regular insistence that it is disposable and only for teenagers, K-pop has managed to have several groups and artists attain veteran status. Over time, these artists develop their image and sound in ways that also embrace their beginnings. I doubt even Lee Soo Man thought that H.O.T would have a lasting impression. (Especially since they, along with many first-generation idol groups, were disbanded within a few years). Their debut, “Candy,” introduced the bright colors and catchy mu

Black Popular Music and K-pop

One of the major forces driving the appeal of K-pop around the globe is the music, but it seems to receive the least attention.  When commentators do turn their attention to K-pop, they recognize that it draws from a variety of musical genres and styles. But in making such generalizations, they often overlook the crucial influence of black popular music on K-pop. Journalists and scholars tend to generalize the musical influences on K-pop. John Seabrook points to musical elements of K-pop withou
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