Monthly Archives: October 2015

The Block B in the USA DVD came today….

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Oh my God. It’s only 30 minutes long, but it’s pretty much everything I had hoped for. A few highlights:

  • They leave Taeil behind on the bus, and no one notices.
  • P.O nearly loses the Pyo family jewels.
  • U-Kwon gets the camera.
  • Park Kyung cunningly escapes his manager and accosts helpless fans.

It’s marvelous. I’ve already shown it to the nieces (shoehorned in between trick-or-treating expeditions), and they also thought it was hilarious.

And I’m in it! They got me after I introduced myself to Park Kyung in New York (I guess we weren’t furtive enough), and I’m laughing and saying “no.” I don’t remember what that was about, exactly, but I’m assuming that most of Park Kyung’s interactions with women end that way.

The photobook is 99% pretty pictures, so I’ll probably give that away at some point. But not the DVD. Never the DVD!

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ETA: They didn’t sub all of the thought bubbles, so I thought I’d translate them here. SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

At the 5:40 mark, the older guy thinks, “What’s with these people?” and the younger woman thinks, “Dad, they’re K-Pop idols.”

At the 5:50 mark, Taeil thinks, “America! Why do your hot dogs taste so bad?”

At the 7:17 mark, Taeil thinks, “I am not ashamed. Not ashamed,” and Park Kyung thinks, “I would be ashamed.” Then Taeil thinks, “It’s not like everyone knows. They don’t even know.”

At the 7:36 mark a young lady in the background thinks, “Is it this oppa’s first time trying to ride an American bus?”

At the 12:18 mark, the caption reads “U-Kwon TV’s attempt at a CF.”

Fans abuzz after Zico posts romantic photograph with Mal

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Fans of Block B’s Zico are speculating as to the exact nature of his relationship with Jeju Island’s Mal after this picture was posted:

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In the romantic, black-and-white photo, Zico demonstrates his warm fondness for Mal by embracing her lovingly. The photo was taken on the exotic and romantic Jeju Island, a popular and romantic destination for romantic honeymooners and other romantic lovebirds. The romantic photo was posted by Zico’s agency, Seven Seasons, indicating that the relationship between Zico and Mal is “official.”

“I’m not a BBC, but BBCs should be upset,” wrote one netizen. “Zico and Mal are clearly envisioning their glamorous future together paid for by his deluded fangirls.”

“He sure likes animals!” wrote another.

The latter comment appears to be a reference to the potential impact of the romantic photograph of Zico and Mal on Gae, who was lovingly embraced by Zico in this romantic, black-and-white photograph:

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Although it could be a reference to the potential impact of the romantic photograph of Zico and Mal on Miss Ostrich, who was lovingly embraced by Zico in the romantic video to the romantic song “H.E.R”:

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Backstage footage of the video shoot, however, indicated that theirs was a more-troubled relationship.

Playing in traffic

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Having put up a traffic chart for most of 2015 pretty much on a whim (or a frantic need for reassurance!), I thought I’d talk about it and how it compares to 2014.

So, here’s the chart for most of 2014:

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As I said in the post that accompanied it, February 2014 and January 2015 are just fragments, so there are unreliably low numbers for both months.

But you can see that there were three peaks, which were caused by three events: The announcement of the U.S. tour in March 2015, the release of H.E.R in July of 2015, and Block B’s appearances on year-end shows in December 2015.

Now we’ll see the (mostly) 2015 chart–this is from today:

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What’s interesting to me is that pretty much the same rule applies: more activity = more traffic (and presumably more popularity). There’s a dip in June 2015, because Block B had just done a big push in Japan and didn’t have much booked, and then what they had booked was canceled thanks to the MERS outbreak. There’s also a slight slump in March because they were finishing up their European tour and getting ready for Bastarz, so they weren’t that active.

The year 2015 trends so differently from 2014 because overall it was simply much busier. There was:

  • The Japanese debut in January
  • Unpretty Rapstar and the release of “Well Done” in February
  • The European tour in February and March
  • Bastarz in April
  • A Japanese release and seven-venue tour in May
  • Show Me the Money from late June until early September
  • KCON-LA in August
  • The release of “Ordinary Love” in September
  • The release of “Say Yes or No” and the announcement of a U.S. tour in October

So, that’s a lot of peaks there, and you can see the whole thing start to build–the big, dramatic peak in March 2014 took BlockB.com to 3,000 unique visitors a month; meanwhile July, August, and September of 2015 all got about that number of visitors, and October 2015 will probably break the 4,000 mark tomorrow. (ETA: Actually, it broke 4,500–not too shabby!)

That’s all good, and I think it demonstrates the viability of “unpacking” Block B and pushing solos and sub-units–it’s not hurting the group, because they are still in demand as a unit, but it gives them (at times much-needed!) flexibility and keeps them in the public eye.

I do agree that Block B will need to do a full comeback at some point, if only because people will tire of hearing all the same songs. But they’re well-positioned for it–they haven’t been forgotten by any means. And it’s certainly nice that they don’t have to make these decisions from a position of desperation and can do things like prioritize members’ health when they need to.

And if you’re wondering if the hate over Zico’s appearance on “Traveler” is significant (it is allegedly coming from f(x) fans, but I’m suspicious, because I’m not seeing it on Tumblr, which would mean that it’s actually coming from the same people it always comes from), here’s traffic from the last few days:

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And, you know:

OK. I think this one has it right.

This gives me a chill

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This isn’t me right? Nor is this, right? Right?

Ugh. I think the thing that made me cringe the most about the crazy 17 fansite administrator was that she responded to criticism by waving her money in everyone’s face. I mean, yes, obviously I could afford to do BlockB.com–that’s why I did it. But that’s just happenstance–ten years ago I couldn’t have. Having money makes life easier for sure, but it doesn’t make you a superior sort of person who everyone else must kneel before. (And just FYI if you do have or come to have money: The people who are happy to drop to their knees before you are also trying to rip you off.)

Anyway, I know I can be a little strident regarding how fans in leadership roles should behave, but this is why–I think it’s really easy for fan activities to stop being about helping and to start being about ego. It’s not like I don’t have an ego (hahaha!), and it’s certainly not like I’ve never gotten carried away, but that’s why I blather over here and not on BlockB.com. In fact, if I didn’t think it was important that people know for sure that BlockB.com is not official, I would keep this blog completely segregated and wouldn’t link to here from there at all.

OK–I feel my angst has subsided a bit. Let’s look at BlockB.com’s traffic stats for the past year! That ought to cheer everyone up!

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(And yes, by “everyone” I mean “me.” Why, is there something wrong with that?)

Corporate relations

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Periodically I come across comments written by people who are trying to understand why certain decisions are being made in the Korean music business. Some people do quite well with it (I do recommend Kpopalypse), but often the people making these comments lack experience in the business world and tend to fill in the blanks with whatever they know.

This is why there’s often a focus on personalities and markers of popularity, because these commenters have been to high school and are quite possibly still there. Other wells of (mis)information is the whole PR-generated mythology of K-Pop being one big happy loyal family, assumptions that all Korean music is generated via SM Entertainment-style “factories,” and certain incorrect beliefs about the Korean economy that are actually quite prevalent even outside of K-Pop circles.

I wanted to talk about Korean hip-hop for two reasons. The first reason is that Korean hip-hop is becoming more prominent–so much so that CJ E&M recently acquired Paloalto’s Hi-Lite Records, which is a very interesting deal for reasons I will get to in a bit. The second reason is that Korean hip-hop engages in certain practices that I think tend to be misinterpreted by fans of conventional K-Pop.

What do I mean by that? Well, I’m going to start with a misconception that doesn’t sound very business-y, but that I do think is germane.

Misconception #1: When Korean hip-hop artists perform together, it is because they are the best of friends. The is the whole SM/YG family thing (which isn’t actually true in the first place) being imposed onto the hip-hop scene.

The thing about Korean hip-hop is that it is hugely common for different artists to collaborate on songs in varying combinations. It’s easily more common for that to happen than for people to perform only with artists from their own crew or label. I assume this is a result of the Korean hip-hop scene being so small for so long: You had to stick together if you wanted to get by!

Working with different artists is the norm, and it is expected. This is why contestants on Korean hip-hop shows are always being judged on teamwork–if you are a Korean hip-hop artist, you will wind up performing with different groups of people, and you’d better be able to deal with that.

But there’s no reason why you all have to be friends. These days, you can collaborate on a song without even meeting–you just e-mail sound files around. These are work relationships, and if you’re a professional, you’re mature and emotionally stable enough to get the job done even if you don’t particularly like the other person.

If you watch the Jay Park episode of The 4 Things Showat around the 31-minute mark Simon Dominic talks about how he had a big blow-up with Swings. However, he most certainly did not try to prevent other artists at his label from working with Swings, even though the two of them haven’t really patched things up yet–that would be inappropriate. Simon Dominic doesn’t have to be friends with Swings, but he clearly does feel like he has to be professional and allow collaboration.

The They must be best friends!! misconception seems to lead to another misconception:

Misconception #2: When Korean hip-hop artists perform together, it is because their labels have a close business relationship. No. You don’t have to be blood brothers, and neither do your labels.

Obviously, unless they are exceptionally generous, when someone features on someone else’s song, they are getting paid. But a one-time payment or a royalty share being paid to a specific artist is not the same thing as one artist’s label owning the other artist’s label–even if, let’s say, the label gets a cut of any independent work by their artists. (That would suck, by the way, but that is how a lot of the big K-Pop labels do it. Because their contracts are horrible.)

Again, it’s very, very uncommon in Korean hip-hop for artists to stick to their own labels. That’s a K-Pop thing, because K-Pop labels want fans to be loyal to the label, while viewing the label’s talent as interchangeable and disposable. Korean hip-hop has a different history and is much looser.

I think it’s notable that once things get international, people seem to get much less confused by this concept. Krizz Kaliko appeared on a Rap Monster song; no one seems to believe that Big Hit Entertainment now owns Strange Music, or that Strange Music has been secretly funding Big Hit Entertainment all along.

On to our next misconception!

Misconception #3: Having a corporate partner is the same thing as having a corporate owner. Wow, no. It is pretty much impossible to be indie and actually make money without a corporate partner, but having, say, CJ E&M as a distributor is very, very different than having CJ E&M as an owner.

Obviously, yes, you do comply with what a corporate partner wants if you want to keep them as a partner. You also have to comply with what the power company wants if you want to have electricity in your home. That does not mean you work for the power company.

It’s a huge difference in degree of control. I put books out through Amazon; that means I have to format the files in a certain way. That’s it. I am not an employee of Amazon who has to show up at a certain time, dress a certain way, etc., or I lose my relationship with Amazon. I am not contracted as a writer with one of Amazon’s publishing imprints; I do not have to write certain kinds of books or deliver them on a particular schedule if I wish to maintain my relationship with Amazon.

Why did CJ E&M have to buy Hi-Lite Records? Because CJ E&M wanted to exercise a certain degree of control over Hi-Lite Records, and it could not exercise that degree of control as a corporate partner.

It doesn’t matter that CJ E&M is part of CJ Group, a large Korean conglomerate with ties to Samsung, while Hi-Lite is small. It doesn’t matter if Hi-Lite was using CJ E&M’s services. If CJ E&M wants to run Hi-Lite Records, they have to buy it.

Why am I harping on this point? After all, if we were talking about a large American company that decided it wanted complete control over a smaller American company, it wouldn’t be such stumbling block for people to accept that the large company has to buy the small company in order to own them.

Buuuuuut when the companies are Korean, we run into:

Misconception #4: All businesses in Korea are secretly controlled by chaebol.

What’s chaebol? A large Korean conglomerate (like Samsung! OMFG!). Historically chaebol had close ties with the Korean government, although the financial crisis of the late 1990s demonstrated that even such ties couldn’t keep a poorly-run chaebol afloat.

If you watch Korean dramas, chaebols pop up all the time! Those beautiful, wealthy, emotionally-stunted heroes? All inheritors of chaebol! (It helps that the term has been expanded to mean just about any largish company.) And they (or their evil mothers) are always making sneaky back-door deals via their chaebol!

Chaebol! Chaebol! Chaebol! Oh my God they’re everywhere!!!

The only problem is that, out in the real world, chaebol are not the only or even the dominant form of business in Korea. Ask A Korean did a great post last year about how deeply embedded stereotypes about Korean businesses are–they’re not overwhelmingly these large, corporate operations. Significantly more Koreans than Americans are self-employed; Korea has a ridiculous number of restaurants; etc. In other words, small business is huge in Korea.

Guess what? Large corporate conglomerates are very rarely interested in putting money into Mom & Pop businesses. Mom & Pop businesses have to go to the bank or maybe hit up friends and relations if they want cash. Secret payments from huge corporations rarely make it onto the ledger.

And Mom & Pop businesses are what a lot of Korean hip-hop labels actually are. Dok2 runs an extremely successful Mom & Pop business in Illionaire Records, but it’s a Mom & Pop business (three artists!) all the same.

What’s damned interesting about the CJ E&M/Hi-Lite deal is the very fact that a large corporate conglomerate decided to buy one of these dinky labels. That’s fascinating. I think it’s not just because they want to stay on top of music trends; I think it’s because they’re trying to figure out how these Mom & Pop labels are managing to do so well these days. The music industry in Korea is changing, and CJ E&M doesn’t want to be left behind–and they’re not just worried about the rise of trap.

ETA: I think the fact that SM Entertainment went to so much trouble to try to tank JYJ is one reason people assume that large corporations are, as a matter of course, super-interested in what the small fry are doing. But that situation, I would argue, was the exception, not the rule–SM couldn’t even keep its interference secret, and JYJ was able to prosper regardless. I think any sane business person would conclude that SM’s paranoia about the “threat” of JYJ and its interference with the group hurt the company far more than anything JYJ could have done.

Little fun things

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You know what I really like about “Say Yes or No”? The bit at the end where a live audience takes over the chorus.

The song’s been a real sing-along barnburner live (in fact someone has done an entire playlist of “Say Yes or No” live fancams–awesome!):

So it was nice to hear a little acknowledgment of that in the studio version.

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TS has started doing recaps of Jaehyo’s What the [VARIES ACCORDING TO TRANSLATION] Is Going On? You can read the first one here–BeeSubs shared their translations, which, TS noted, saved her from having to make stuff up. (You’ll never make it in K-Pop journalism with that attitude, TS!)

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And SubKulture has started selling concert goods, including hoodies and T-shirts. The clothing is U.S. adult unsex sizes (ETA: No, I’d say it’s women’s sizes) ranging from Small to Extra-Large, so that’s really nice–no more Korean “free size” or Japanese “large”! You can order from anywhere in the U.S. or abroad–they will ship. (If you’re going to be at the concerts, you can pick them up at the venue, and then there’s no shipping charge.)

If you are not American, U.S. adult unisex size is basically equivalent to U.S. men’s size–typically you go down a size from what you would wear in woman’s sizes, and even so, the cut will be somewhat baggy rather than an hourglass shape. This is the stereotypical sloppy American cut, designed more for comfort than for letting every single person within eyesight know that you’ve got a hot body.

ETA: They’ve released a detailed size chart.

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Note that the clothing does not go in at the waist. It is a unisex cut, not a girlie cut. Behold the T shirt on SubKulture’s model.

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Rice pizza and Korean defamation law

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So I should preface this post by noting that I am not a lawyer, I have never lived in Korea, and I am certainly no expert on Korean law.

I also have never made nor eaten rice pizza.

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I am a little knowledgable of U.S. defamation law, and I was curious about Korean defamation law. Of course what you hear is that it’s horrible, horrible, in no small part because, unlike in the United States, a statement can be deemed defamatory even if it is true. But honestly, “their laws are horrible!” is what you always hear about every other country’s laws–Americans are very chauvinistic about their legal system and tend to think it’s the only one (in the entire world! USA! USA! USA!) that protects people’s freedoms in any meaningful fashion.

A while back, Asian Junkie linked to a Website called KLawGuru, and the blogger there (who, if he isn’t really a Korean lawyer, does an excellent imitation of one) has posted quite a lot about Korean defamation law.

So I read it back then, and I’ve been thinking a lot about it now because of Block B’s recent announcement that they may go after haters legally.

KLawGuru has an interesting example of a case where someone was found guilty of so-called Cyber Defamation (i.e. on-line defamation), even though the statement was true. A fellow named Mr. Kim received botched plastic surgery and started a campaign against the clinic, even going so far as to hire a PR firm (!) to help him in his quest. The clinic sued for defamation and won.

KLawGuru writes:

Unlike offline defamation under the Criminal Act (형법), “Cyber Defamation” (via a true statement) always requires the element of “purposely to disparage.”

Normally, posting something “solely for the public interest” automatically negates the above “purposely to disparage” element.

So, a defendant such as Mr. Kim would have to argue what he did was “solely for the public interest.” I’m sure the argument was made.

Here, that argument was not recognized because the court probably felt Mr. Kim’s actions went overboard. His actions, as a whole, were probably seen as being (at least) partly retaliatory. They weren’t “solely for the public interest.” Had he posted just on “relevant” websites and done so less “systematically,” the outcome could have been different.

Now in the United States, this Mr. Kim could not have been punished for defamation, because his statement was true, plus the statement itself would probably not be considered injurious enough to the clinic’s reputation (he’d have to spice things up by claiming the procedure was botched because the doctor was drunk or something). But I’m pretty sure that Mr. Kim would have been punished for something–he sounds like he was completely off his rocker.

And look at the result of Mr. Kim’s conviction: Because what he said was true (which results in less penalties than if the defamatory statement is a lie), he was fined 3 million won (a couple of thousand dollars). I could totally see someone who started up a vendetta against a clinic in the United States facing a similar penalty–it just wouldn’t be for defamation. Harassment, stalking, interference with commerce–there’s plenty there to protect a business from a vengeful client.

Indeed, if an American court found against someone who was hassling a clinic that botched his plastic surgery, the logic behind it would be very similar: You’ve gone past the point of fair restitution, you’ve gone past the point of serving the public interest, you are just engaged in some vendetta. That is not OK.

Certainly in the United States (and I’m guessing this would be true in Korea as well) if Mr. Kim hadn’t been the one who was actually damaged–he just thought someone else might have been damaged–the likelihood of him being found guilty would be much higher, and the penalty would be more severe.

Which brings us to Block B: Back in 2012, the guys said that they didn’t like rice pizza.

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This was seized upon and repeated over and over again by people who were in no way damaged by this statement as evidence that the members of Block B were horrible people.

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It seems pretty reasonable that this would become legally actionable as defamation in Korea very quickly (even though no one is questioning the fact that Block B said they didn’t like rice pizza).

After all, what is the public benefit of telling everyone that Block B doesn’t like rice pizza?

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It’s not just that the public benefit is obscure–people are bringing this incident up specifically because they want everyone to believe that the members of Block B are horrible people!

Hm, that seems like it would fit the “purposely to disparage” standard very nicely….

This gets even more interesting with something like the Thailand scandal, because the common refrain is that Block B did not engage in self-reflection.

Public apology, head-shaving, many months on hiatus, a nervous breakdown, repeated mentions of how tough it was, much more appropriate responses to other disasters…at what point would a Korean court decide that claiming that Block B did not engage in self-reflection is a lie?

Why would that be interesting? Because while you can be convicted of defamation in Korea if you tell the truth, if you’re convicted of it for telling a lie, the penalties get much more severe, including jail time.

Indeed, one of the Tablo haters went to jail for falsely claiming that Tablo had never attended Stanford University. Tellingly, another who was convicted of defamation appealed, but the conviction was upheld. Right now, it looks like one of the Seo Ji Soo haters may well go to jail for defamation because they appear to have violated the terms of their settlement.

I think it says something about the K-Pop subculture that the people in it are that out of touch with Korean law–even when they get into trouble, they can’t seem to accept that they may have done something illegal, so they make the situation worse. I’m guessing it’s a result of that whole history of the industry encouraging fans to think of K-Pop idols as some lesser form of human being who exists only for their pleasure. It’s honestly a little alarming to see people scoff at the threat of legal action when the law is so strict and other people have so recently gotten into trouble for the same thing.