Monthly Archives: December 2013

A field guide to wild dancers

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I feel like I’ve been all negative lately, so I thought I’d do something fun: Someone was complaining on Tumblr that they can’t tell Block B’s two dancers, B-Bomb and U-Kwon, apart. So, here is a guide to these two:

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Always with a K-Pop group things like hair color are a red herring, since they can change with the tides. (Although at this point, U-Kwon has been blond/light brown for so long that I was actually surprised to see his roots and be reminded that black is in fact his natural hair color.) Makeup can make things more confusing, and even something like height can be fudged. But even when these two are styled similarly and you can’t get a good look at their faces, it’s easy to tell B-Bomb and U-Kwon apart.

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That’s U-Kwon.

He does insist on wearing sleeves sometimes (it’s awful, I know), but U-Kwon is always considerably heftier than B-Bomb (he’s also shorter, but it’s not as dramatic).

B-Bomb works the long and lean thing:

Guess how you say “sexy dance” in Korean!

Beefy = U-Kwon. Willowy = B-Bomb.

Both are flexible, but U-Kwon is freakishly so–and I do mean freakishly. Here’s him winning a flexibility contest:

It’s the lack of any apparent effort on his part that gets me.

What U-Kwon is to moving your body in directions it was never meant to go, B-Bomb is to popping. This is him back in high school:

This is not the only video like this that I’ve seen of him–I get the feeling B-Bomb could do this all day.

Since B-Bomb is long and lean, he “shows” well: When he makes a flourish or turns a part of his body, you can really see it.

Quiz time! Pick B-Bomb out from the other dancers in this blurry, pre-debut performance!

If you answered, “The guy in the zip-front hoodie with the white decoration over the heart,” congratulations! You’ve gotten as scary as I am!

U-Kwon’s dancing is marked by the fact that his muscles aren’t just for show–he’s powerful, very fast (check out the head snap at 2:36), and of course, freakishly flexible.

So, there you go! The next time you see something like this:

you’ll know which is which, hair color be damned. And you can appreciate them both!

Here’s a little etiquette lesson

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Do you want to know something about celebrities? They are people. I know that celebrities can seem so exotic and strange–but the fact of the matter is, if it would upset a stranger or acquaintance, it’s probably no less upsetting to a famous person.

For example, you go into someone’s house for the first time. You say:

A: What a cute house!

or:

B: Oh, God, did a blind person pick out this rug? It clashes horribly with the curtains. None of your furniture even remotely matches, either, and–is that exercise equipment? Out in the living room? Were you raised by wolves? And would it kill you to buy some shelving to hold all the crap currently lying all over your floor?

Yes, choice B might be more honest, and you know, you’re certainly expressing your opinion, but how do you think the person is going to react to all that negative criticism?

That might seem like a no-brainer of a choice, but throw some faraway celebrities into the mix, and you get this:

This was an on-line Meet & Greet that took place the other day with Block B (it’s an hour-and-half long with no subtitles, so be warned). People bought CDs or calendars to enter into a drawing to get signed prizes.

And when Block B picked an entry, they read the little comments that people had attached to them.

I think part of the problem was that, judging from what some people wrote after Meet & Greet, a number of entrants didn’t think that their comments would actually be read by the members of Block B. Most of the members of Block B don’t read English well, but technology came to the rescue and the comments were automatically translated into Korean (and people could have figured out what was going to happen by watching a previous Meet & Greet). In general, once you put something in writing, you have no idea who is going to wind up reading it–something fan fiction writers would be well-advised to remember.

Luckily nothing was especially porny, but I saw things along the lines of:

  • I don’t consider myself a fan
  • I like this other group better than you
  • I don’t like your music as much as my friends do
  • I haven’t bothered to listen to much of your music.

Wow. I mean, just WOW. I’m not of the opinion that celebrities should be especially coddled, and of course Block B’s fans make fun of them all the time, but this is just a lack of basic courtesy. What really baffled me about this is that these people paid money to enter this drawing for material from a group that, you know, apparently they don’t much care for.

The rationalization for this is always that the person was “just” expressing their honest opinion. That is entirely beside the point–it’s self-absorbed and rude behavior, right up there with some complete stranger walking up to you and “just” sharing his totally honest and heartfelt opinion that you need to lose some weight and start wearing makeup.

And you can be tactful without lying–you just have to take 30 seconds and figure out how this is going to read from the other person’s point of view. Compare:

A: My friend Cindy loves your music so much! Her birthday is coming up, so I entered this drawing–she would be so thrilled to get something signed from you guys!

to:

B: I don’t like your music, but my friend Cindy loves your music so much! Her birthday is coming up, so I entered this drawing–she would be so thrilled to get something signed from you guys!

That little bitchy “I don’t like your music” just puts a whole different spin on things, doesn’t it? And it’s totally unnecessary–if you’re asking Block B to sign something to Cindy for her birthday, then choice A gives them complete and adequate instructions. They don’t need to know that you don’t like them–unless you were really hoping they would write, “Happy Birthday, Cindy! Your friend Julie wants you to know that she hates your favorite group!”

Do you have to be beautiful to be successful?

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Eat Your Kimchi did a recent video on plastic surgery in Korea that bothered me quite a bit.

What really got to me began at the 4:19 mark:

MARTINA: We all kind of know that if you are good-looking in North America, you will probably get more perks.

SIMON: You get more advantages if you are more objectively, universally understood as good-looking.

MARTINA: Yeah. Now it may not be fair, I totally agree with it, it is not fair that someone would get a raise over you or get a day off. . . . It’s totally not fair.

SIMON: It totally freaking sucks. But this is, unfortunately, the way of the world.

Now, this is something that I’ve heard from other people defending things like, how in much of Asia, you are expected to attach a photograph to a resume, and (as Simon and Martine do here) why plastic surgery is so acceptable. The idea is that life is unfair, so you just have to embrace that and go along with it and get your face cut up.

Do you know what else is unfair? If you have rich parents, your life will be easier than if you have poor parents. This is true, no matter what, and it’s always going to be true.

Which leaves a society with two choices:

Choice #1: Accept it! Life is unfair! Set up your society so that wealthy families will always stay wealthy, and poor families will always stay poor. Have a lot of hereditary privileges, limit access to decent education and health care to wealthy families (by law if possible!), and make sure the burden of taxation always falls hardest on the poor, even though they get the least amount of services.

Choice #2: Resist it! Set up your society so that opportunities for advancement exist–scholarships, decent public programs, progressive taxation, income support, and the like. Things are still going to be more difficult for the children of poor families, but do what you can to reduce that difficulty as much as possible.

Even though life is always going to be easier for the children of wealthy families, most democratic countries lean very much toward Choice #2. The fact that the playing field is never going to be perfectly level is not seen as a reason not to try to level it as much as possible.

When it comes to appearance, sure, the North American attitude that Everyone Is Beautiful is unquestionably unrealistic–it’s a statement of an ideal. But is that ideal a bad one to have? All Men Are Created Equal is patently untrue, and yet it has served the United States quite well as a guiding principal of governance. (And those two statements have a lot more in common than you might think–there’s a reason Malcolm X spent so much of his time attacking the white-is-right beauty standards of his day.)

I also feel that the benefits of being good-looking are significantly exaggerated–at least in the United States, where we don’t do things like put photos on resumes. There’s definitely the fantasy that Beautiful People have the world at their feet–red carpets! mink stoles! bevies of tuxedo-clad young men jockeying to light your cigarette!–but reality is a lot less dramatic.

For example, an economist studied the issue and found that, in the United States, a good-looking person will earn $230,000 more in his or her lifetime than someone who is unattractive.

Wow! $230,000! That sure is a lot, right? Definitely you should run out to the plastic-surgery clinic right away!

Except that, oh, let’s see, getting a college degree will boost your lifetime earnings by almost a million dollars. So, if your choice is between putting time, effort and money into your looks, or putting time, effort and money into your education, then I’d say the latter is a much more efficient use of your resources. (And the notion that plastic surgery is some kind of equalizer for poor people–HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Sure it is! Just like payday loans are!)

The beauty = success research never seems to get into the sticky question of why someone might be ugly. I’ve seen studies where they tried to control for flattering hairstyles and makeup by having people pose for pictures with no makeup and their hair pulled back (turns out that hair and makeup don’t usually make that big a difference). But they don’t control for health and lifestyle factors–factors that affect your appearance, and that also often affect your earnings for reasons that have nothing whatsoever to do with your appearance.

Depression, cancer, substance abuse, eating disorders, heart disease–the list goes on and on–can all dramatically affect your weight, your skin tone and texture, and your overall appearance. Not shockingly, if you look unhealthy, employers are likely to steer clear–you probably wouldn’t jump to hire any of the Faces of Meth people, either. But would you not hire a meth addict simply because they don’t look pretty? No. You’d avoid hiring a meth addict because, you know, they’re addicted to meth.

All these health and lifestyle issues can dramatically affect a person’s energy level, ability to concentrate, mood, reliability, and many other factors that seriously influence how productive they can be. If you have to go on disability because of health problems, you’re not going to be a top earner. You’re also probably not going to look your best. But the fact that these two things are happening at the same time does not mean that the latter is causing the former. And given how weak the overall effect of looks on income is, I think there’s plenty of reasons to be skeptical about causation.

The N-word, hip-hop, and Korean music

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I was poking around on-line, and I came across this post by someone wanting to start a petition to discourage Korean musicians from using the N-word because a K-Pop* rapper yelled, “Drop that shit, nigga!” during a concert. And then, in American hip-hop news, Schoolboy Q is encouraging white people to use the N-word at his shows, saying, “Yeah, just say it. It’s 2013. I don’t really care.”

And behold the totally schizophrenic attitudes toward the N-word!

I will note that I am white, I was born in 1970, and I grew up in a very racist community. (One of the history teachers in my high school believed–and was open about this belief to the extent of discussing it in front of students, African American as well as white–that all the smart African Americans were killed off during slavery. No, he never got in trouble for it. He was also SPECTACULARLY stupid, but I’m going to assume you knew that already.) The only time I heard the N-word was when it was said by white people about (or, on some very nasty occasions, to) African Americans. There was never any redeeming context: The N-word wasn’t reserved (as it often is in the African American community) for African Americans who were particularly idiotic. It was meant as a term of general disparagement, and it was used out of a belief that African Americans were racially inferior.

Needless to say, it was a word I did not use. Neverevereverever. I was absolutely certain about one thing: Decent human beings did not use the N-word.

That was an attitude that served me well in college (a place, I should note, that was filled with African Americans who were TONS smarter than that history teacher), but after college I moved to New York City.

Hip-hop is HUGE in New York City, a city with a large and well-established African American population. I won’t say that racism does not exist in New York City, but it tends not to affect people’s lives in a material way or meaningfully restrict their opportunities the way it often did where I grew up.

And people used the N-word ALL THE TIME.

Mainly, these were African American people. Depending on their age/enthusiasm for hip-hop, they used it one of two ways: To indicate that a particular person (who was usually African American, but not always) was an idiot, or to indicate that that person (who, again, was usually African American, but not always) was friend or maybe just a down-to-earth individual.

Non-African Americans tended to not use the N-word, but there was one big exception: Hip-hop loving teenagers. Not just white hip-hop loving teenagers, but Latino hip-hop loving teenagers and, yes, even Asian hip-hop loving teenagers.

My God, did they ever use the N-word! But did they ever use it to mean someone was an idiot? No. Did they ever use it to indicate that someone was African American? They certainly did not. They used the N-word to indicate that someone was their friend, or was simply like them–you know, a normal person. Unpretentious. A ’round-the-way person. My N-word.

I also attended a function as a business reporter in which Russell Simmons got on stage, and in front of an audience of business luminaries, proceeded to discuss how well N-words were doing in the world of business, and how the strides N-words were making were really fabulous, and how great it was to see New York City’s N-words doing so well. (At the time he was still married to Kimora Lee, who rather hilariously kept shouting, “Stop cursing!”)

I never stopped being surprised by it (and I still don’t use the N-word), but there it was!

The fact is, in hip-hop circles at least, the N-word has been re-appropriated, much like the word queer has been re-appropriated by gays. I ultimately decided that the fact that people weren’t afraid to use the N-word is a good thing–they don’t see it as a harmful word because they’ve never seen it do harm, and that’s actually pretty wonderful. (And in any case, what was I supposed to do about it? Stop every other random teenager on the street and lecture them about Ye Olden Dayes? Interrupt Russell Fucking Simmons and inform him of the appropriate way to refer to his own race?)

Of course, I don’t think that means it’s OK for people to use the N-word the way it was used when I was growing up. And no, I don’t give a pass if a non-African American is referring to an African American who is a real asshole–why can’t you just call him an asshole and be done with it?

But at this point, am I really going to get my panties in a wad because a Korean rapper uses the N-word?

No. No, I am not.

Blackface and trivializing Malcolm X I can totally see getting upset about. But unless the N-word is being used specifically to express the opinion that people of African heritage are inferior to everyone else, I am not going to worry about it (and then the problem isn’t so much the word as the sentiment). That ship has sailed: The N-word belongs to hip-hop now.

* I do think that a big hunk of the controversy is because this was a K-Pop group, and unlike underground Korean hip-hop (in which the N-word as well as any other objectionable word you might care to hear are used quite often), mainstream K-Pop is usually very G-rated.

ETA: So, it’s, like, three months later, and some very agitated people are JUST NOW figuring out that Zico has (GASP!!!!) USED THE N-WORD!!!

No shit, Sherlock.

Mostly these are his older mixtapes–so, people are getting upset over something that happened in 2009, good luck fixing that one–but he has used it more recently!!! And he’s performed this song live even MORE recently!!!! PREPARE FOR OUTRAGE!!!!!

Right–it’s a cover of a Nicki Minaj rap. Was Zico supposed to . . . go bleep whenever that word came up or something? What about “bitch”? What about “Indian giver”?

Performance styles

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One of the fun things about watching Block B perform is the way they interact with each other. Or, perhaps more accurately, the way they mess with each other.

Earlier, when they were still under their old label’s thumb, they used to do highly choreographed routines. I didn’t think that was particularly a strength, because depending on each member’s dance skills, they tended to look either bored or like they were concentrating really hard to remember the right moves. In other words, they weren’t having much fun.

Now even when it’s choreographed, they’re definitely having a lot more fun:

What’s really interesting to me is the difference between the way Zico is when he performs with Block B, and the way he is when he performs solo.

He just gets up there and suffers, doesn’t he? I mean, I’m sure his rap songs require more concentration than a verse or two in a Block B song, but oy–it’s kind of an agony for him. He’s just so serious.

Then there’s Park Kyung:

Happy as a clam. That man just loves performing. Even with songs that aren’t supposed to be fun, he cannot stop the grinning. If you wonder why audiences respond so strongly to him, that’s why–he has a wonderful time on stage, and that’s infectious.

(It was actually kind of a shock during their label-suing hiatus to realize that Park Kyung is not, in fact, happy all the time. Pictures like this would go up:

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And I’d be like, What is that? Wistful? Sad? Not grinning? Park Kyung??? What’s happening to you? It was surprisingly stressful.)

As for P.O–OK, P.O, we need to talk. I hate to point this out, because it’s embarrassing for everyone, but have a gander at the 0:50 mark:

Or, oh God, the 0:20 mark:

That…gives SpeakShow a whole new meaning….

Uh, a dance belt, maybe? Less-elastic pants? Don’t tuck in your shirt? Something? Please?

ETA: Just back to the “it’s good to see them enjoying themselves” bit:

Although I normally dislike a focus, it is funny to see at times how much U-Kwon cannot help but rock out.

Female voices, part 2

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I did a post a while ago about female voices in K-Pop, and how to an American the vast majority of female voices in K-Pop just suck ass.

I stand by that, but (as I’ve mentioned before) the idea that women somehow can’t really appreciate music as music REALLY annoys me. I’ve also seen hosts on Korean music shows (including Zico and P.O, who ought to know better) say things like, “Well, that was [female vocalist], a treat for the eyes! Now we’ll move on to [male vocalist], who is a treat for the ears!” and I cannot even begin to explain how incredibly insulting that is, both to women in general and to those specific female vocalists.

So, in the spirit of lighting a candle instead of cursing the darkness (although I always manage a lot of darkness-cursing anyway), I decided to do a little post celebrating some female Korean vocalists who I think are very fine indeed. Obviously these aren’t the only good ones, but they’ve been in my head a lot lately.

What I tend to find with Korean popular music is that I’m often disappointed by how bad it is when I listen to the really mainstream commercial K-Pop, but I’m often very pleased with how good it is when I listen to music outside that genre. So, if you find female K-Pop singers to be uninteresting, I suggest that, instead of making the same mistake I did for so many years and writing off all Korean music, start poking into other genres. Genres like:

Folk. Coreyah (clever name, no?) is Korean folkie band that desperately needs to have more of its music on iTunes. Their singer is Kwon A-Sin, and I think she’s pretty amazing. This is their version of the traditional “Farewell Song”–it doesn’t start until the 2:30 mark on this video, because they put a flute solo first.

Hip-Hop. Drunken Tiger’s Yoon Mi-Rae (aka Tasha) is freaking awesome. When I first heard Drunken Tiger I assumed there were two female vocalists: A ethereal singer, and a hard-edged rapper. Nope! Same lady!

Rock. If you know anything about Korean rock music, you know what’s going to go here: Jaurim! JAURIM!! JAURIM!!! And Jaurim’s singer, the mighty Kim Yoon-Ah!

And I’m going to update this to add:

Funk/R&B. Or whatever you want to call Mamamoo. Whatever it is, they are doing it very nicely!