One reason why I care about things like how Korean rappers are perceived in the United States is that, until fairly recently, I made a point of avoiding contemporary Asian music. Korean, Japanese–I didn’t care, I was an equal-opportunity avoider.
Then one day I saw You’re Beautiful, a Korean comedy about a pop group called A.N.Jell. I didn’t like the music (soft pop and ballad music is just not very interesting to me), but man, did I ever love the show. (Still do!) I loved it so much that I wound up reading about how it was produced, who the actors were, etc. And I discovered that two of the fictional members of A.N.Jell were real-life musicians.
But I assumed that I wouldn’t like their music–in fact, I assumed that their music would, empirically, suck. One day, though, I decided to be brave and take a peek. One of the actors hadn’t been a musician for very long, but the other had been in a band for a long time, and he was reputed to have a great voice.
I found this:
Words cannot describe how utterly blown away I was–not so much because of how good the song is, but because the song was good at all. There’s great guitar, the vocals are fantastic, and the song incorporates different musical styles in an innovative way that, in my book, works extremely well.
I’ll say it again–it wasn’t just that I liked the song: I was surprised (and delighted) by its very existence.
That sounds terrible, doesn’t it? Let me note at this point that I’m not some racist who thinks that Asian people are only good at math or something. But I freely admit that I had a very negative perception indeed of contemporary music from Asia, even though I knew that there certainly had to be good, talented Asian musicians out there somewhere.
What was I exposed to? Groups of interchangeable young women in panties. This is not only what’s been sold to Americans lately with K-Pop, but it’s been what been sold to Americans, I’d say, over the past 15-20 years–first with J-Pop and then with K-Pop. You know, this sort of thing:
I believe that group is called Nine Strippers.
Do you know the kind of person you attract when you try to sell your music that way in the United States?
In the States, we really do have this mentality that singers who have talent sell their voices, while singers who don’t, sell their asses. I remember back when Christina Aguilera used to run around looking like a mentally-ill exotic dancer, and people were genuinely anguished that she didn’t seem to realize that she was too good for that. She could wear clothes–she ought to wear clothes–because she could actually sing.
So, yeah, when you market scantily-clad Asian women as singers in the United States, you tend to both drive away everyone who actually cares about music and attract those non-Asians who have very peculiar and offensive notions about the way Asian women behave. (You know the drill–Asian women are docile, submissive, and TOTAL WHORES.) And unfortunately I think efforts to make these girl groups family-friendly or make them appeal to teenagers in their home countries–by, say, putting them in school uniforms–feeds into the whole Madonna/whore complex of the fetishists.
Again, I was sure there was good Asian music out there, but where to find it among all the sexbots? Back before the Internet was what it is now, I had the following conversation a few times before I just gave up.
ME: So, I hear there’s a Japanese pop group that you’re really into?
OFFICE WEIRDO: Yummy Hunny Bunny? Oh, yes, I love them.
ME: You love them! They’re really great, then?
OFFICE WEIRDO: They’re fantastic.
ME: They are? It’s Yummy Hunny Bunny, right? I should write that down. Their music is worth a listen, then?
OFFICE WEIRDO: Oh, God, no! Their music is terrible!