Why I used to avoid Asian music

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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!

ETA: Ask a Korean has a post from SXSW describing the serious creepster crowd that certain kinds of Asian pop tends to attract. Happily, all of the other shows he went to were nothing like that.

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20 responses »

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  12. Ahaha, this is so late (a few years late, actually) but I loved this because you described my current feelings better than I could describe them. Except I’ve considered myself a fan of j-music for a while now – I’ve been watching anime for nearly a decade, and because of that I knew many songs and artists I truly enjoy. But I despised k-pop until the other day. I guess it’s because k-pop took j-pop’s place in the asian music scene and, while I knew at least a few good j-pop artists, I couldn’t say the same about any of the k-pop artists my friends were crazy about because all I saw in their MVs was expensive production and booty.
    Three or four weeks ago, an acquaintance asked me to watch a few k-pop videos. I watched them out of politeness, totally disheartened. One of them was Block B’s HER and this is exactly how I felt. “It wasn’t just that I liked the song: I was surprised (and delighted) by its very existence.” I’ve listened to a lot of korean artists in the past month and enjoyed a few. I’m still a bit prejudiced towards korean music scene (and its fans) but I’m left wondering how many k-pop fans went through this. From what said acquaintance told me, it’s not that uncommon. I’m still bitter that it took me nearly a decade of having k-pop shoved into my face to learn to appreciate it, but yeah, at least I’m learning a lot. Thanks for the blog and the informative posts, I’m really appreciating them. 🙂

    • Well, you know, the advantage of having ignored the music for so long is that there’s lots to discover! The Ask a Korean blog has a massive bunch of posts on the history of Korean popular music–he’s mainly into rock, but he does delve into other genres, and there’s lots to look at. I’m (much) more of a Korean hip-hop/R&B fan than a K-Pop fan, so I would recommend looking into Drunken Tiger and the labels Amoeba Culture, Brand New Music, AOMG, and Illionaire.

      The important thing to remember about K-Pop is that it’s basically the Korean equivalent to One Direction/Britney Spears/Justin Bieber–it’s geared to teens and is often just not that focused on the actual music. But once you get outside it, there’s a lot of really good stuff.

      • Ahaha, it’s true, isn’t it? I’d say it’s a bit easier to find information nowadays, too. To be fair, I liked TVXQ way back when I was 13, around the time they became famous in Japan, and I reckon it was hard to find anything about them (or any korean artist other than BoA really) in english. Fast forward a few years and I’m spending so much time watching translated videos, they’re endless lol.
        Thank you! 🙂 I tend to like R&B as well so I’ll check out these artists.

        Yes, it’s true. I don’t mind, I do like some pop as well. I don’t like these three at all, but I will admit to liking, say, Lily Allen or Fall Out Boy. I guess the same goes for k-pop – it was a matter of looking a bit further, but it took me so long to realize that. While the big name k-pop groups I knew still don’t do much for me, I’ve come to really appreciate acts like Wings, Royal Pirates and 15& as well.

        Anyway, thank you for the tips, and keep up the good work! 🙂

        • Oh, if you like R&B, I have LOADS of recommendations: Jay Park, Zion T, Crush, Elo, Bumkey (and the group he’s part of, Troy), Hoody, Cha Cha Malone, Mayson the Soul, Mamamoo, Jerry K, and Kye Bum Joo (or Kye Bum Ju, or Kye Bum Zu–sometimes it’s easier to search for him as 계범주 since he can’t see to choose a romanization).

          And if you like Royal Pirates, you’ll probably like CNBlue if you haven’t tried them already.

          • Aw, thanks again! I’ll take a look. Just been listening to Jay Park and I like some of his songs, particularly Joah. I’m hopeful! (lol, I also read about Kye Bum Joo/Ju/Zu’s issue on the other post, so I guess it’s really better to search 계범주.)
            Hmm, I did listen to some CNBlue before but I wasn’t very excited. Too… BSB-like? Which I don’t really like. Although me liking Royal Pirates is strange, but I’ve seen them compared to Maroon 5 which I guess says a lot about catchy ballads/dancey kinds of songs I like! ahah.

            • The CN Blue songs I’ve liked were on Bluetory, First Step, and Re: Blue. Their more recent stuff has been really blah to me–I feel like they’ve gotten a lot more generic. That seems to happen a lot with K-Pop groups–they debut with a very unique sound, which gets them a following, but then the label decides to make them more mainstream by eliminating all the qualities that made them special and different…. And then they wonder why these groups don’t last!

        • The other ones who skew a bit too poppy for me, but they do have an R&B element and lots of people like them are Taeyang of BigBang and the group Exo. B1A4’s album “Who Am I?” has a lot of R&B flavor to it as well, although their other albums are not that way.

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