Monthly Archives: January 2014

If you like it low

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There was a little MNet segment on “cavernous”–i.e., low and raspy–voices.

Of course it featured TOP and P.O. But hey! Why stop there? Personally I love a low, raspy voice (I wish TOP wouldn’t Autotune his), and Korean hip-hop has oodles of them.

There’s Bang Yong Guk, now of B.A.P.

BTS has Rap Monster.

Mino, who was in Block B’s original lineup, is now in Winner.

Lessang’s Gil Seong Joon sometimes channels Barry White.

Hangzoo of Rhythm Power isn’t quite as deep, but he’s got a booming quality. And this video is (of course) hysterical–watch it until the end.

If that’s getting a little too high, there’s also !ncredible–he’s a rookie and his Mixtape 0.1 is hard to find, but I think it’s great.

Of course, since P.O and Mino are both in this post, I feel an obligation to point out that they didn’t always have such deep voices. Or such fashion sense.

This is the best video ever.

Big in . . . China?

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Some stories came out recently (original Korean version here–the only way I could get it to show me the text was to hit the print icon) saying that Block B was going to release an album in February, but they’ve decided to delay the release to 1) polish the album more (fine, as long as Zico doesn’t turn into Brian Wilson–which I don’t think he will, because in all honestly I don’t think that he can afford it), and 2) promote more in Japan and China, where they apparently have been selling quite well.

I wasn’t surprised at all to hear that they were doing well in Japan–since November, Block B has been doing 2-3 concerts in Japan each month. (Typically a single appearance is actually two concerts, one in the afternoon and one the evening–ah, the things you learn when you run a Schedule page!) Presumably if the demand wasn’t there, they wouldn’t be doing that–plus, Japan is the second-largest music market in the world, and a lot of Korean acts make a good hunk of their sales there.

I wasn’t exactly surprised about China, although it wasn’t quite as obvious as Japan. But China is definitely an up-and-coming music market. According to this article in the Wall Street Journal (yes, I read the Wall Street Journal–I’m old):

In Beijing alone, last year’s ticket sales for live performances totaled 1.5 billion yuan, or roughly $250 million, up 9% from a year earlier, according to the Beijing Trade Association for Performances.

As an added bonus, China, like Japan, is close to Korea, so performing there won’t break the bank. (And that story is about heavy-metal music, so there’s definitely an audience for harder music.)

While Block B has been performing in Japan since they were wee laddies, they made their very first appearance in China just a couple of weeks ago, appearing at a Lunar New Year’s celebration at a mall in Hong Kong. It was interesting to me because by some standards, the event might not have seen like much of a big deal–they only performed two songs, it was free, and according to news reports, only 300 people came. (Of course, this was a mall, not a concert hall, so it’s probably a good thing the event didn’t attract thousands of people–it looked plenty crowded in videos.)

Obviously, it was a huge deal for the Hong Kong fans, and they made a solid ton of fancam videos. And I don’t know if they contacted media outlets as well, or if there’s just a lot of interest in K-Pop in China right now (Exo keeps nearly getting torn to bits by rabid fans there, which is bound to make headlines), but I was surprised by how much coverage the event got in Chinese-language media.

(Two of the three English translations of the recent story about Block B delaying their new album say that China’s major broadcaster, CCTV, has been focusing on the group, while the third just says that CCTV has been focusing on K-Pop lately. Plug the Korean sentence into Google Translate, and you get, “CCTV in China in recent Korean K-pop star in public broadcasting dwae local fans’ interest in the spotlight even more increased,” which obviously clears everything right up. For what it’s worth, I haven’t seen any CCTV footage of Block B around.)

I do think that Block B did very well at the Hong Kong event, and clearly that did not hurt them.

They were funny, they were entertaining, and they performed their two songs really nicely, despite some sound system problems with “Very Good.”

I was glad that they did that–people don’t always try 100% in a market that is new to them or that they’re not sure they can do well in. Of course, that can be a self-fulfilling expectation, because if concert organizers and other industry people in the area see you give a crap performance, they’re not exactly going to go beat down your door with offers.

Also, in people’s comments and the Chinese news videos, I noticed a certain . . . focus?

Be it the Hong Kong-based ONTV:

Or the Shanghai-based Kankan TV:

Yeah! It’s that oh-so-handsome dimpling devil B-Bomb and . . . six other guys! Who follow him around for some strange reason!

Fine, Park Kyung was onto something, and B-Bomb clearly fits Chinese beauty standards (apparently he looks like a popular actor), which never hurts. (I think in the U.S., The Handsome One would be U-Kwon, on account of his Popeye arms–but the straight dudes would like P.O, because he’s masculine without being intimidating. That’s my prediction, anyway.)

Borrowed words

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We had an interesting discussion in Korean class the other day about borrowed words.

Korean as it is spoken in South Korea borrows a lot of English words. I’ve noticed this in Block B interviews–there was one where U-Kwon and his interviewer discussed his eye makeup, and the term “smokey eye” came up again and again. I kept thinking, Why use English for this? It should be easy enough to say in Korean. Last term we learned both the Korean word for hand–sun–and the Korean word for cell phone–handphone (actually it’s pronounced more like handipone, but that’s as close as you’re going to get to handphone in Korean).

English words are not used in North Korea (if that is a surprise to you, please go read a book–or at least Wikipedia). So borrowed terms like “iced water” can really throw a North Korean.

North Korea’s commitment to pure Korean speech sparked an attempt in South Korean to at least reform handphone. (And, as our teacher pointed out, the term isn’t particularly useful to Koreans who visit English-speaking countries.) So a pure Korean term meaning mobile phone was created and publicized.

And it didn’t take. Handphone will forever be the term for cell phone in Korea.

I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: Languages would make so much more sense if actual people didn’t speak them.

(Speaking of nonsensical terms–cell phone? The British term “mobile” makes more sense–hell, “hand phone” has “cell phone” beat as a descriptor. “Cell phone” is clearly a term invented by an engineer–I know! Let’s name it after some obscure aspect relating to the way it operates, even though that’s completely unapparent to the average person!)

Class resumed, and lo and behold, we were taught the word nugu.

If you follow K-Pop, you know what nugu means–it means a nobody. A nugu group is a less-popular group.

If you’re learning Korean–hey, guess what? Nugu means no such thing! It means who, that’s all. Nugu yae yo Who’s this? 

My Korean teacher was surprised to learn that nugu has been borrowed–she had no idea. I was fascinated–you can see the trail of logic (“Who’s this?” => you can’t be famous, otherwise I would know you already), but nugu has a very different meaning to English-speaking K-Pop fans than it does in Korean. There’s nothing insulting about nugu in Korean, and you’re not calling someone a nobody when you use it; it’s a neutral word.

People have always borrowed words, but I think you see it more now because the Internet makes foreign media so much more available. I don’t even blink now when someone writes “Block B Fighting!”; the first time I heard fighting used that way I had to pause the show I was watching and look it up because it was so weird to me. My sister-in-law is from Beijing, and she was mentioning that Chinese people have now borrowed the English word fans–a change in the language that was particularly confusing to her because the word used to refer exclusively to a kind of noodle.

Maybe one day we’ll all be like the United States and Great Britian: Separated by a common language….

By “collaboration” you mean “orgy,” don’t you?

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Maybe this comes from having to monitor Tumblr for my Block B fan page, but….

One thing that totally baffles me about K-Pop fans (fine: those K-Pop fans who are on Tumblr and post in English) is this whole, you know, thing about groups collaborating. They get very, very excited about the idea of different idol groups collaborating.

The weird thing is, very recently Zico posted a picture of him working in the studio, making music in actual collaboration with Jay Park.

Here’s the picture:

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The only text was the hashtag #AMOG (AMOG is Jay Park’s label).

So, you might expect an actual collaboration–you know, they are apparently writing (and presumably recording) music together–to generate some excitement among the collaboration-philes?

Or maybe this picture would:

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Showing the various musicians Zico was making music with this very week?

Of course not!

I mean, I suppose that if you were some lame old lady who liked the music of these various musicians, then you might feel some joy at the idea that they were making music together. And if you were, say, a former business reporter with a bone to pick about the way artists are often treated, it might delight you further, because Zico and Jay Park are a couple of musicians who have suffered at the hands of the K-Pop industry. They both have decided to take their business into their own hands, and now they are joining forces (strains of “La Marseillaise” start playing in the background here) to end the oppression of artists everywhere!!!

But apparently this does not capture the imagination of the average K-Pop fan as much as fantasy “collaborations” between:

1. Groups that have nothing in common musically.

Yeah. Block B + Boyfriend! or any other group whose music is totally unlike Block B’s. If you are in a K-Pop group, and you are hot, and the music you perform is not remotely connected to hip-hop and R&B in any way, rest assured there’s some fan out there who WILL NOT BE HAPPY UNTIL (that’s how the Tumblr posts read: I WILL NOT BE HAPPY UNTIL) you “collaborate” with Block B. Hopefully with your pants off.

Since Zico once applied to be a trainee with the label that produces the group Shinee, there are lots and LOTS of people who wish they could travel back in time and make Zico a member of Shinee.

That would work great, right? This guy:

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Joins these guys:

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Is the hope here that Zico would have committed suicide by now? Because after, say, his fifth plastic surgery and the 50th time he’s told that he may not write music for the group, that’s pretty much the outcome I would be expecting.

2. WAAAAAAY too many people.

Block B + BTS + B.A.P. + Exo + [Insert Random K-Pop Group HERE] = like, a few dozen people? How is that supposed to work, exactly? The only time this sort of thing is ever done is to raise money for a charity, and the result, while lauded for its good intentions, is usually extremely forgettable musically and quite disappointing to anyone who wanted to see their favorite musician do anything more than sing three notes before getting cut off because they have fulfilled their time allotment.

There was an idol-group “collaboration” with Drunken Tiger recently.

Yes, it wasn’t really one, which JK Tiger readily admitted. But what did people focus on? Oh, see how they looked at each other! Did one loooong for the other? Was there cock-blocking? (Did Yoon Mi-Rae kick CL’s ass all around the town? Yes, yes, she did. Learn to rap, CL–you are officially part of the problem.)

This focus on relationships I find truly unsettling–I mean, it’s kind of the logical extension of the whole mania for fan service, so of course it fosters delusion, because peddling a sexual fantasy is what fan service is all about.

But this particular delusion isn’t simply based on fantasies about boy-on-boy action–it’s based on (far more pernicious) fantasies about the work conditions of K-Pop artists.

I mean, go to the 20:29 mark of this video:

Yeah, that’s probably how most of your idol “collaborations” go–a 1-second hug, followed by a wistful look. “We never get to talk any more!” they’re both probably thinking. “There’s never time!”

Or, you know, the 3:14 mark here:

Where a lady performer (I have no idea who that is) fantasizes about having the time to hang out with her friends! Like she did back when she was 23! Wouldn’t that be marvelous!?! Imagine a world (if you dare!) where such a thing was remotely possible!!!

The magical land

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A few weeks ago, Radio Palava made a post about a political statement made by a K-Pop artist that has stuck with me. RP wrote:

Kpop as we [i.e. non-Korean fans] know it is not explicitly political, and it is easy for us to believe that kpop is context-free.

That statement resonated with me because an assumption that I’ve seen many times is that K-Pop and Korean dramas are somehow accurate depictions of life in Korea. People can mock this idea (The Korean does so expertly here with the cameras and the street lamps), but I’ve seen it taken VERY seriously, especially by more-socially-conservative people who enjoy Korean media in large part because a lot of it is very clean. The idea is that because Korean dramas are (mostly) G-rated, and Korean pop songs are (mostly) G-rated, then Korean life must be G-rated.

Just throwing this in here. No reason.

It’s kind of like someone getting their idea of life in America by watching Disney movies: Good guys always win, love is always true, and animals are bizarrely intelligent and can often talk.

I’m a little sensitive about this because I grew up in California, home of Hollywood.

Wait a minute! you may be asking yourself, Didn’t you grow up in a horribly racist community?

YES.

Despite (or perhaps because of ) the fact that Hollywood is located in the state in which I grew up, the California depicted in Hollywood movies and TV shows was totally unrecognizable to me. It was like this:

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Or maybe this:

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When the part of the state I grew up in was a whole lot more like this:

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Yup: Bikers, gang-bangers, meth dealers, survivalists, corrupt public servants, fundamentalists, and LOTS of white supremacists (not to mention some of the worst air quality in the country). Sons of Anarchy is the only Hollywood product I have ever seen in my entire life that acknowledges that California doesn’t disappear once you hit the Coast Range.

I think Hollywood focuses on the glamorous, likable side of California because that’s what people want to see: A perfect place where everyone is beautiful and tan (and they never wrinkle or get melanoma). Korean mainstream media is very kid-friendly because it has to be: Get just the tiniest bit adult, and you get an age restriction slapped on you that can strictly limit where, when and how you can make your product available.

Ever notice the little number in the upper-right-hand corner of a Korean music video?

That’s the age restriction. Children below the age of 15 are not supposed to watch “Nillili Mambo.” (Yes, my five-year-old niece loves that video as well. We’re just bad people.)

The irony is, once you get past the dramas that appear on Korean broadcast TV and the songs that are played during the daytime on Korean radio, Korean media isn’t clean at all. I’ve seen some things in Korean movies that I’ve never seen in American movies, and I watch the unrated versions of things all the time. (I’ll just say that Korean movie-makers are a lot more comfortable with anal humor.)

As I’ve come to learn a tiny bit of Korean, I’m also noticing that things can get cleaned up when they are translated into English. For example, one Korean word I have learned (not in class) is shibal, which is A Very Bad Word that is usually translated as either fuck or shit.

So, the other day I was watching a Korean film that featured a violent, angry gang boss. He used shibal like nobody’s business–it was literally every other word. I mean, I was impressed, and my books get reamed for language all the time.

But you wouldn’t know it from the subtitles–they featured an obscenity every now and again, but they did not nearly keep up. They would say something along the lines of, “Tell him to get over here now, or I’m going to fuck him up!” when the character was saying something more like, “Fucker! You fucking tell that fucking piece of fucking shit to get the fuck over here right fucking now, or I’m fucking going to fuck his ass the fuck up!”

This was the sort of movie where characters get beaten to death on camera, and as I mentioned, the subtitles didn’t forgo obscenities completely, so I don’t think anyone was really trying to bowdlerize anything. I think it had more to do with the nature of subtitles–most people don’t read that fast, so the people who do subtitles often compress what’s being said so that it is easier to read. My theory is that whoever was writing the subtitles decided, eh, all these obscenities are a lot of extra words that don’t really convey literal meaning–let’s cut them out.

Sacrificed some character development, and helped foster the notion that Korea is a place that is so polite and respectful that even the horrible mobsters aren’t such potty-mouths. But saved the subber some work, anyway.

This is what annoys me

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One of the truths of book publishing is that having a new book come out will boost sales of an author’s existing books. Indeed, having a nice, fat backlist is a really good thing, because it means that the marketing money put behind the most recent title will also boost sales of however many books you have out under your name.

So it really annoyed me when Very Good came out, and it became obvious that, rather than have lots of lots of copies of Block B’s older albums available, their old label had chosen instead to stop production. I mean, you can’t really expect more from a label nicknamed “StarDumb,” but it struck me as especially, well, dumb given that Block B and their new management company were taking on all the expenses of promoting Very Good and marketing the group. That’s pretty much the best situation to be in as a business: All their former label had to do was to make Block B’s old albums available for sale, and then they could sit back as new people discovered Block B and the money rolled in.

Instead, Blockbuster and then New Kids on the Block sold out at a variety of retailers, and the only people who really made money were the resellers, who pumped up the prices of those CDs and, you know, sat back as new people discovered Block B and the money rolled in.

That went on until quite recently, when finally somebody got their shit together and reissued the old albums.

Guess what? BOTH albums are on the Korean Gaon album chart for this weekBlockbuster, which came out in October 2012, is #23, and New Kids on the Block, which came out in freaking June of 2011, is #26. Both are ranked higher than the latest album, Very Good, which came out in October 2013 at #1 and is now #39.

I’m glad the albums are out (although I feel really badly for anyone who coughed up the crazy amounts of money the resellers were asking), but honestly, how many more albums could have been sold if they had been available when Very Good was #1?