Monthly Archives: July 2014

Yay yay yay!

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There’s been a lot of yay! out there for me recently when it comes to Block B fans reaching out to English speakers.

The first yay! Block B International has redesigned B on the Block to make it easier for people to find all their content!

That’s wonderful, because at this point they have:

1. A Tumblr page

2. Two Twitter feeds

3. Three Turtledoves

4. An Ask.fm account

5. A forum

6. A Facebook page

7. Multiple video-service accounts

Aaand I’m probably forgetting a couple. (Wasn’t there a something in a pear tree?)

These all tend to be under different names, too, so making it more integrated is going to be super-helpful to people.

The second yay! Block B’s Wikipedia page!

Back in the bad old days, Block B’s Wikipedia page was a mess–it was flagged twice for being sub-standard, the grammar was off–and that was a problem, because if you Googled the group, you got their Wikipedia page and then all this crap from their old label about how they didn’t owe Block B a penny. (Turns out that they owed them 40 million pennies. Oopsie!)

This bothered me (and prompted me to start BlockB.com), but I’d never done anything with Wikipedia before, and I really didn’t want to wade in.

Then one day, following the announcement of the suicide of the former CEO of their label, someone edited the Wikipedia article to read that Block B’s fans all blamed the group for the suicide (you know, because obviously the guy had no outstanding personal problems) and wanted them to break up.

I looked at that for about a week, and then I learned how to edit a Wikipedia article.

Now, initially, it really was just me cleaning that thing up. But (and this is further evidence that the broken-windows theory is completely true), once the article started to get cleaned up, more and more people jumped in to edit. Now, when I go, “Oh, I should update the Wikipedia article,” most of the time it’s already been done and done quite well, which is excellent!

And first one sub-standard flag, and then the other sub-standard flag went away–the last quite recently.

That’s really good, because if you Google nearly anything Block B-related, the first result is almost always Wikipedia, and it probably always will be.

The third yay! Block B’s Wikipedia presence–namely, there is now a Zico page and a P.O page!!!

Oh, that excites me. I tried to expand Block B’s Wikipedia presence by doing a member page last spring, and it was fucking impossible! Wikipedia has some very…quaint rules about sourcing.

Now, I am all for reliable sourcing. But Wikipedia tends to define “reliable” as “print”–which is astonishing to me because I used to work in the encyclopedia industry, which, as I’m sure you know, is gone now, largely thanks to Wikipedia.

According to Wikipedia, a video of, say, Park Kyung and Zico discussing how they met when they went to kindergarten together in the Mapo district of Seoul–they show photos and everything–is not a reliable source. You cannot cite that source when you write, “Zico met Park Kyung while attending kindergarten in the Mapo district of Seoul.”

Why not? Well, that video’s on YouTube, so it might get pulled down, plus it might not be available in all countries–in other words, Wikipedia’s definition of “reliable” has nothing to do with whether or not the information provided by the source is true. A source could be could be 100% factually accurate, and still not pass muster with Wikipedia as being reliable. (AllKPop, on the other hand? Totally reliable!)

This is a very different definition of “a reliable source” than the one used by journalists.

Anyway, when I tried doing member articles last spring, I decided to start with Zico, because there was the most information out there about him. I submitted a 700-word article with, I think, 27 footnotes–? Something like that. And of course it was rejected because it used “unreliable” sources.

There wasn’t much I could do about that (it’s not like there’s so much English-language print out there about Korean hip hop), so I just gave up.

Other people did not give up so easily, though. Look what’s there now–the body of the Zico article is 1,000 words, and it has 50 footnotes! Hah!

Koreanization; or, Why there is more than one right way to say Block B

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I’ve been thinking about doing this post for some time, but today (which was an annoying day in many respects) I saw not one but two references to Koreans not being able to pronounce English words correctly because of their (hilarious!) accents.

Groan.

OK. Obviously, yes, there is such a thing as a Korean accent. That is true.

Buuuut…when Korean speakers pronounce English words “incorrectly,” oftentimes they are pronouncing the words perfectly correctly–in Korean.

What the hell do I mean by that?

OK, remember my post on consonants, and how romanization is completely unreliable if you are attempting to pronounce a Korean word correctly? I wrote:

Because English vowels are so unstable, when Korean is romanized, extra consonants are thrown in to force English speakers to pronounce the vowels correctly.

There are examples of unreliable romanization there, and here’s another: Woo Taewoon’s name contains NO w sounds whatsoever. NONE.

Imagine a Korean person saying, “Oh, those English speakers can’t pronounce Woo Taewoon’s name correctly, because of their funny accents!”

That person would be pretty ignorant, wouldn’t they?

Do you know who is even more ignorant? The people who think that it would be so nice if someone would take those silly Koreans and teach them how to “properly” pronounce English words. For example, certain people would just love it if someone could teach the Korean fans of Block B to not chant the group’s name like this, because it is so wrong:

And if the Korean fans were saying “Block B,” the patronizing dipshits would–well, they’d still be patronizing dipshits, but at least they wouldn’t be quite so hypocritical on the subject of ignorance.

The thing is, the Korean fans aren’t saying, “Block B.” They’re saying, “블락비.”

If Hangul doesn’t show on your computer, that’s a three-syllable Korean word that is pronounced beul-lok-bi–in other words, exactly what the fans are chanting. They are saying the word that way because it is spelled that way, just as English speakers say Woo when they read the word “Woo.”

They’re not stupid, they’re not silly, and they’re not ignorant: They’re literate.

With romanization, Korean words get all messed up because of 1. the necessary efforts to tame our wild vowels, and 2. the completely different way consonants work.

When an English word is Koreanized and put into Hangul, it gets messed up because there are certain rules regarding how each syllable in Hangul must be crafted–rules that do not always work so well with English.

Going back to my first post on Hangul, I wrote:

Now Hangul has characters that, if you’re me, look kind of like Chinese characters, but they couldn’t be more different. Hangul is a phonetic alphabet, so each letter makes a sound–just like English. Each character contains between two and four letters. . . . [T]he first letter in a character is always a consonant, the second letter is always a vowel, and any following letters are always consonants. (If the word starts with a vowel sound, the initial consonant is a special silent consonant that looks like a zero.[)]

Each Hangul character represents a syllable. In other words, in Korean: No syllable can start with two consonants.

St-? Tr-? Sp-? Not possible. Doesn’t happen. (Well, OK, you can do sh- and any consonant combined with a w or sound, but those don’t count in Korean because the second “consonant” sound is actually a part of the vowel.)

Guess what else you can’t do? Bl-!

The only way to get those two consonant sounds into the beginning of a word is to put them into separate syllables. The shortest choice is either beul-lok-bi or beu-lok-bi. There’s no blok-bi–you just can’t do it.

Needless to say, some English words are a real mouthful in Korean. “Christmas” goes from two syllables to five (keu-ri-seu-ma-seu), and that’s with dropping a consonant sound!

(But wait! you shriek, They could make it four syllables! There’s no need for the -s at the end to get its own syllable!

You are so wrong, I sorrowfully reply. Remember that consonants at the end of the syllables are have different rules of pronunciation. You’d wind up with keu-ri-seu-mat, which wouldn’t help anybody.)

“Ice cream” also becomes a five-syllable word–not just because of the cr- but because Korean vowels are such Steady Eddies. It takes two vowel sounds (and therefore two syllables, since you can only have one vowel sound in each syllable) to mimic that long sound. (The result is a-ee-seu keu-rim.)

Imagine Koreanizing Yiddish!

Another factor in Koreans’ “incorrect” pronunciation is that there are certain consonant sounds that exist in English but not in Korean. Since Hangul is a phonetic alphabet that was designed specifically for use with Korean, letters representing those sounds do not exist.

That’s why “Zico” is pronounced Jee-ko by Korean speakers–there’s no zuh sound in Korean, so there’s no letter to represent it, so in Hangul his name is written with a j. There’s no fuh or vuh sound, so English fs and vs become Hangul ps-slash-bs.

I guess all this is a really long way of saying (once again): If you want to learn Korean, learn Hangul. And don’t call people ignorant when you don’t know the first thing yourself!

Block B reviewed in Billboard again!

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(I swear to GOD I am going to bed REALLY soon!)

So, the “H.E.R” video got reviewed in Billboard–right here! Whoo-hoo!

As I’ve mentioned, this does not happen by accident. In fact, the reporter e-mailed me back today (I was about to e-mail him a thank-you note–always thank reporters for stories!) and said, Hey, you should encourage fans to share this story on social media, because the more they do the more Block B stories Billboard is going to want. So: Consider yourself encouraged…..

I’m guessing this is a good sign

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(I’m going to bed very soon….)

I had three times the normal traffic to BlockB.com today. Most of the search queries were about buying H.E.R, and the most popular page was the Albums page, which has links to–guess what?–where people can buy H.E.R.

I typically get more traffic when new music is released, but I don’t remember seeing that abrupt a spike before.

ETA: Caitlyn asked, so here’s the little data graph. I pay attention to unique visitors (aka “Audience Size”).

Screen Shot 2014-07-23 at 10.21.50 PM

The line counters

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This came out today:

Love it! (Except for the talking in the middle–whhhhyy must you interrupt my soooong with your taaaalking? And I can’t fast-forward in good conscience because then the view doesn’t count!)

Anyway, it came out at 2 a.m. my time, but luckily I had to get up at 4:30 a.m. anyway to take some people to the airport!

Or maybe that just sucked…I’m really tired now.

In any case, “H.E.R” brought out something that I see a lot of in K-Pop, namely, line counters. Line counters are like bean counters, but instead of counting beans, they want to know exactly how many lines each member of the group got, and if the division is anything less than perfectly equal, my God, do they squawk.

Line counters are endemic in K-Pop (I have never heard this concern expressed by fans of any other kind of music). I assume this is because you have these monster groups whose many, MANY members have absolutely no freedom or control over their singing careers. Because of that, fans feel obligated to step in and protect the members’ interests–and indeed, in some cases, it’s really important that they do.

But with a group like Block B–? Of course I have no idea what their contracts are actually like, but obviously none of them are afraid to complain about things they don’t like. This is one of the things I like about Block B–they stand up for themselves, so I feel like I can rely on them to look after their own interests. In addition, stuff that might seem like bad news to line counters (Taeil has relatively few lines in “H.E.R”–you know, for Taeil) is probably good news for the member involved (Taeil’s voice is stressed plenty as it is).

I also feel like one of the great things about Block B is the members’ vocal talents are really utilized. That isn’t always the case in K-Pop. For example, here’s a song from Speed, which is headed by Zico’s brother, Taewoon.

I would say that the line distribution in that song is EXTREMELY fair–Speed’s label really, REALLY wants to keep ALL of its fans happy.

If the Montessori approach resulted in great music, I’d be all for it. But I’d argue that “Don’t Tease Me,” while not a bad song (I happen to own it), isn’t a great song either, and that’s largely because of this huge emphasis on doling out lines fairly. If everyone is going to sing one line at a time to keep everything fair, then the entire song has to be written at a mid-range that everyone can reach. No one can bring too much virtuosity or individuality to bear, because the next member might not be able to keep up.

“Don’t Tease Me” certainly doesn’t show you what Taewoon can do.

What about Block B? Well, in the group’s early days, Zico paid a lot of attention to dividing up the songs and keeping everyone satisfied. Guess what the result was?

YUP.

Nowadays, he clearly doesn’t worry much about who gets how many lines, and you know something? That suits me juuuuust fine. The guy who can speed rap is of course going to have many more lines than a vocalist–the alternative is that he doesn’t get to speed rap, because that isn’t “fair” to the vocalist, and then the whole song is that much crappier.

And honestly, it’s better for the vocalist. The big cause célèbre among Block B’s line counters is Jaehyo, who is known for being a total doormat who is unwilling to complain about anyth–oh, God, I can’t even type that with a straight face.

I will admit to having been a little concerned about Jaehyo being underused, since he can handle a solo just fine.

He’s really quite good!

Then I saw Block B live. You see this?

This is how pretty much all of Block B’s songs go when performed live: Jaehyo hops out about two-thirds or three-quarters of the way through the song. He sings something that no one else in the group could possibly sing. The audience goes apeshit.

I’m not quite sure what part of that is supposed to be so absolutely awful for Jaehyo.

I also feel like the whole line-counting thing feeds into a myth you’ll see a lot in the arts, both among wannabe artists and fans: The if-only myth. If only I didn’t have kids. If only I didn’t have to work for a living. If only I didn’t have this to do or have to do that, then I could be a great artist.

And in some cases in K-Pop–sure! The if-only thing is totally valid because the labels have all the power. San-E was clearly being kept down by JYP, for example. He got the hell out of there and has done quite well for himself!

But in a lot of cases…and I mean a loooooot of cases…it’s just fans filling in a blank slate with what they wish was true. (UNBELIEVABLE talent!!!) Typically people are what they are, and the if-onlies are just excuses.

Musical hip-hop

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I am not Korean, nor do I have any particular connection to Korea. I don’t fetishize Korean men or Korean culture. I enjoy some Korean dramas (others I find unwatchable), but that can be said for literally any country’s media–I’ve never minded subtitles. I am learning Korean, but that’s more because I think the fact that I love the music so much will help me retain the language (a difficulty when you live in a part of the States where pretty much everyone speaks English) than because of any feeling that deep down inside, I am a Korean person.

I love a lot of Korean hip-hop–LOVE IT. I don’t love all of it, but I love enough of it that at this point I’m more likely to know that a Korean hip-hop artist is coming out with a new album than to know that an American hip-hop artist is.

So, what gives?

I guess I have to start with the sort of American hip-hop music that I love. When I was about 13, something called rap started to make the rounds. People rapped instead of singing, which was a VERY novel idea at the time–they were talking! Fast! Immediately various parodies emerged. Funny, sure, but the general reaction to rap was that it wasn’t really music. These weren’t really songs, because no one was actually singing–it was just someone talking over music.

Then one day I heard this:

That was a real eye-opener. It was a rap song. It was rap music. There was a melody and everything!

Later on, this type of more musical rap got a name: hip-hop.

They bleeped “Burger King”! I can’t believe it! He once got busy in a Burger King bathroom. Now you know.

Nowadays, hip-hop is used more generally, and you have to be more specific about the sound you like. For example, I like R&B-flavored hip-hop, and I don’t like what’s usually called hard hip-hop, where it’s just some dude yammering away in a really predictable fashion (sometimes not even over a beat). And you really do have to specify, because in the United States, there are many different kinds of hip-hop, including fusion genres (which often get started in other countries) like reggaeton, dancehall, and hick hop.

But as I’ve discovered poking around international hip-hop music, in other countries the hip-hop scene is usually a lot smaller. As a result, if you have a successful hip-hop artist or group who is willing to take leadership in the music scene, they can really impact that country’s sound.

For example, if you like this:

You will probably like a lot of the hip-hop that comes out of Australia. That’s because the Hilltop Hoods have been successful and have made a point of fostering other hip-hop groups. Not shockingly, they’ve been quite influential.

New Zealand’s hip-hop? Quite different, thanks to a guy named Che Fu:

Now, obviously I’m not saying that ALL Australian hip-hop sounds like the Hilltop Hoods and ALL New Zealand hip-hop sounds like Che Fu, or that it’s somehow impossible for an Australian hip-hop group to sound like Che Fu or a New Zealand hip-hop group to sound like the Hilltop Hoods (or to not sound anything like either). But both the Hilltop Hoods and Che Fu have been influential in their home markets, so it’s not hard to find other artists in those markets who sound like them.

In Korean hip-hop, I feel like if you like these guys:

You’ll find a lot to like. Dynamic Duo aren’t just popular on their own, they started the label Amoeba Culture and launched many other artists. Because of that, I feel like they’ve been influential in a way that even someone like Tiger JK has not–he’s a legend, sure, but he’s pretty much focused on doing his own thing, while Dynamic Duo (especially Gaeko) has been more focused on the scene as a whole.

You will be shocked to hear that I really like Dynamic Duo….

* * *

One thing you’ll notice about Dynamic Duo is that they are very musical, and that Gaeko sings as well as raps.

That’s not common in the United States–our singers sing, and our rappers rap–but you’ll hear that more in Korean hip-hop. In addition, I’ve noticed that there’s a big emphasis placed on flow.

What’s flow? It’s the singsong quality raps have–the rhythm and phrasing. Flow is what separates rap from words spoken over music.

Here’s a good video for listening to flow–it’s a video of an unreleased song by Block B, and the background music is muted. Initially Park Kyung and Zico are just kind of screwing around, but then the flow starts at the 32 second mark–you can hear it kick in.

Obviously, Americans notice flow (Notorious B.I.G.!), but I feel like we’re much more focused on the technical side of rap. For example, I don’t think G-Dragon is any great shakes as a rapper. Why not? Simple: He can’t double-time.

To an American, you can’t be a great rapper if you can’t double-time. Period. It’s like insisting that T.O.P. and P.O are great tenors: It’s just absurd. If you can’t sing in the tenor range, you can’t be a great tenor–even if you are a great singer in all other respects. Great rappers, by definition, can double-time–that level of virtuosity is required.

But that’s judging on technical elements, which as it turns out, is more of an American approach. Even Korean music experts who say wonderful things about Zico’s talent never mention his technical expertise–which is what impressed the hell out of me. Instead, they talk about much more subjective elements–how great his flow is, how powerful his rap is–just like you would when talking about a singer.