Category Archives: back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth

BigHit and big hype


When I first read that BigHit had had a real gangbusters 2017, my thoughts were, “Good for them! It’s no surprise considering how well BTS has been doing! Awesome!”

But then I started coming across a lot of very enthusiastic (and occasionally financially illiterate) fan translations, and I started to think, Whoa, I’d better do a post about all this.

Here’s the thing: BigHit is planning on becoming a public company, with an initial public offering (IPO) planned for next year. (If you don’t know the difference between a private company and a public company, look here. If you don’t know the difference between revenues and profits, coughcoughPannChoacoughcough, look here.) I was a business reporter during the dot-com boom–believe me, I have seen many IPOs get hyped to fucking moon, and that’s what’s happening here.

Why is it happening? Given the Korean media‘s penchant for printing anything that gets it clicks, it could be pumping up BigHit for that reason alone. But the important thing to remember about IPOs is that they are often an exit strategy for the original investors in the company, and that the original investors plus the banks that handle the IPO want to sell all the shares they have for offer at a good price. That means that right now, we are in the middle of a marketing campaign to sell shares of BigHit to a larger circle of investors.

That’s just how IPOs operate, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with it. What troubles me is the combination of IPO hype and K-Pop fans who are younger and obviously very inexperienced as investors. Remember, good investors have 1. clear financial goals, 2. realistic strategies to meet those goals, and 3. the discipline to stick to those strategies and work the plan.

Not a reason to invest. I’m sad about that, too.

The good news is, there’s actually quite a bit of financial information out there about BigHit, because shares are being traded over the counter. The bad news is…how accurate is this information? In the United States, being an unlisted security means that you don’t have to comply with all those pesky SEC regulations–you know, the ones that protect investors from fraud.

Now, as BigHit nears its IPO date, it is going to have to dot its Is and cross its Ts and get in compliance with stricter accounting standards. But we’re not there yet, which is why breathlessly comparing its results to those of actual public companies is a little naive. BigHit doesn’t have to play by the same rules as a public company, and if reporters are currently getting information about BigHit from anyone with an interest in seeing the IPO go well…you start to see the conflict of interest there. (And don’t get all excited because the people hyping the company are being called economists. The kind of economists who hype companies are the kind of economists who work for the banks that handle IPOs.)

Where does this get especially naive?

Yeah. That 35% (!!!) profit margin sure is impressive, isn’t it?

Of course, BigHit does not yet have to comply with the costs of being a public company (which are considerable), but the main thing there is that seven-year contract timeline: BTS debuted in 2013. BigHit will go public in 2019.

One year after the company goes public, BTS’ contract will be up for renewal.

You want to know a secret about BigHit’s $23 million net profit? It is coming out of the pockets of the members of BTS. They are the ones earning that money, and under their current contracts, they are just letting it go again. They may well decide not to do that any more when their contracts come up for renewal. A six figure salary may seem like a lot–until you realize that your company is running a fucking eight-figure profit off your labor!

The downside of a company hyping a profit margin is that, generally speaking, the talent can read (and hire lawyers) just as well as the investing public. Of course, thanks to this IPO, by 2020 the members’ contract demands will no longer be the problem of BigHit’s original investors–a very fortuitous bit of timing there.

But of course there’s always Option B: Hold a firm line against those BTS punks, so that various members or even the entire group walks!

Ah-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! Oh my God, can you even imagine! HA! HA! HA!

Yeah, this is the long-term problem with BigHit: They are not diversified. Like, at all.

This graphic made me cackle:

Gee, why did YG have such a slump in its operating income last year? Because BigBang didn’t release a new album in 2017. Investors have long complained about YG’s reliance on BigBang to make money, and the company’s stock reliably takes a beating whenever investors worry about BigBang’s members going into the military or a member has a scandal.

And YG is about a thousand times more diversified than BigHit. Jesus.

Does this mean that BTS and/or BigHit don’t have a bright future? Not at all! But it does means that you might want to hold off on sinking your retirement savings into BigHit’s IPO, even if you really love Suga a whole, whole bunch.


No, children, Bruno Mars did not invent funk music


You know, I don’t often feel like there’s this enormous generational gap, but when people talking about “Men’z Night” apparently know of only one funk musician, that honestly troubles me. (And don’t get me started on the “Bruno Mars + Daft Punk” thing–kids, you do realize that Daft Punk is retro, correct? They’re like, Daft Punk, The Retro Music Group. It’s their mission statement or something.)

So, I figured I’d do a little musical tour of the world of funk. Most of these songs came out before Bruno Mars was even born–OMFG!!!! And if you like Bruno Mars, you’re about to get very happy!

Begin at the beginning: This is why James Brown is famous.

Sly Stone was another pioneer. (Yes, he’s probably high.)

This is not Bruno Mars + Daft Punk. Nor is it ripped off from Snoop Dogg (many hip-hop artists sample funk songs!). It is George Clinton–this is a later song of his but Clinton kind of rounds out the trifecta of Funk’s Founding Fathers. (ETA: RC in the comments made me feel remiss about not including the older “Flashlight,” so check that one out; like “Atomic Dog,” you’ve heard it even if you haven’t.)

The Gap Band! This is the first funk song I remember hearing on the radio! Check out them spangles! No, seriously, take careful note–disco and funk were popular at around the same time, so there was a lot of overlap. Also, note the cowboy hats and truly awesome fringe. (They were from Tusla.)

Can’t leave out Rick James!

Remember way back to last year, children, when some guy named Prince (or maybe something else, that was a little confusing) died and everyone (including Bruno Mars!) got all upset? Think of Prince as Old Bruno Mars, OK? A popular musician who was very, very into funk, Prince kind of moved funk away from that heavy early-1980s sound.

(That video is a lot funnier than I remember.)

There you go! If you want further entertainment–well, let’s just say funk attracts some real characters and leave it at that.

You might want to hold off on the torches and pitchforks there


So, from ScandalLand, we now have some kid named Han Jong Yeon from Produce 101 being accused of being a terrible bully in elementary and middle school.

Of course it sounds really bad–assuming a word of it is true.

Honestly, I’m a little confused by how easily people believe this stuff; people are actually saying things like “Why would someone lie about this???” as though no one has ever lied about this kind of thing before. I’m sorry to tax people’s memories by bringing up The Ancient History of 2015 here, but I seem to recall the last time the Horrible! School! Sex! Bully! thing came up, it turned out to be the invention of someone who was lying about 1. their age, 2. their gender, and 3. everything else.

I’m also not quite sure why screenshots provided by the accuser are being considered as Holy Writ. This may shock you, but sometimes in K-Pop, people invent things.

Do I know that this accusation is a lie? Of course not. But here’s the thing–even if every word is true, you’re talking about someone trying to punish somebody else for what they did as a child.

Now, obviously, I think bullying is bad, and if the accuser actually went through everything they are claiming they went through, I think that was really terrible.

However: He’s an adult, blaming a kid for what happened to him. Back in elementary and middle school.

Hey, here’s a true story: When I was in middle school, one of my classmates was someone who went on to have quite the storied career as a singer! She is extremely beloved by lots and lots of people.

She was a bitch to me, though–the standard-issue Mean Girl shit, including humiliating me in front of people.

Here’s another true story: When I was in high school, one of my classmates went on to found a company that became a pretty high-profile firm.

In high school, though, he was a . . . wait for it . . . wait for it . . . Nazi! No lie! He wasn’t just racist or right wing–a Nazi. And a PROUD Nazi–he let everyone know (the more people the better!) that he just loved Hitler!

I went on to become a reporter in New York City, where both these people ended up, with their high-profile careers.

Guess what? I never “outed” them. I never even seriously considered it!

Why not?

Because they were kids!!! Seriously, the Mean Girl was 13 years old! Who wasn’t a bitch at that age? And the Proud Nazi was, in my estimation, the Emotionally-Disturbed Teenage Boy Who Is Being An Attention Whore.

It’s not like I was so perfect, either: Rest assured, in elementary school I did not understand that reading was not as easy for everyone else as it was for me. In fact, I once spotted another kid’s report card and said, “You got a D in reading? You must be dumb!

I said it to his face, and I said it in front of people. Kids are assholes!

And yes, what Han is being charged with is much more serious. But this kind of thing always raises one question for me: WHERE WERE THE ADULTS???

My sister works in schools with special-needs kids. Stuff like:

And even with our teacher present, [Han] fought with [censored] and [censored] kept getting hit[.]

He was the typical school bully, the school’s problem child. He undermined the teachers and kids in his class, picked on them, and would even throw his fists at anyone who touched him.

Is pretty fucking par for the course when you’re talking about these kinds of kids–they often have behavioral problems, and sometimes those problems are quite severe. Which is why my sister and everyone else who works in special education has a job in the first place: It’s the responsibility of the adults to ensure that “the school’s problem child” isn’t so much of a problem for everybody.

Unfortunately my impression of the Korean education system is that they tend not to handle special-needs kids very well.

That isn’t good for anyone–the special-needs kids suffer, and of course the other students also suffer if the special-needs kids are acting out in harmful ways.

Being all judgmental about problem kids is not helpful. It is definitely a human tendency–my sister often has to interrupt and redirect the “He’s just a bad kid!” comments coming from her fellow educators, even though they are experienced at dealing with these kinds of kids. But she does it, because it doesn’t do anyone any good to dismiss a problem kid as a bad kid who can’t possibly be helped. They usually can, and if they can’t (some kids have serious mental-health problems–we’re talking, hearing voices and all that–that are quite resistant to treatment), they can at least be put in a situation where they can’t harm the other students.

And, I’m sorry, with all due sympathy to anyone who was bullied by Han, I really can’t see taking the He’s just a bad kid! thing and applying it to a fucking adult. Is Han sexually assaulting people today? Is it possible that, even if he was a horrible bully as a kid, he might have figured out in the course of, you know, growing up that that’s not a good way to treat people?

ETA: And now more charges are being leveled against more contestants, which is doing nothing to reduce my skepticism. I mean, look at the Jung Joong Ji business: Assuming that every word is true (which is a BIG assumption), what happened, exactly? A young lady went on a bad date with Mr. Gropey. And instead of leaving–which according to her own account, she was free to do–she stuck around until the bitter end, and then she screencapped everything stemming from that disastrous evening in hopes of one day ruining her date’s career should he ever get his big break!

Yeah, that sounds reasonable. (Seriously: If you find yourself in that kind of situation–leave. Don’t let the guy take you home, get home on your own–the relationship isn’t going anywhere anyway. If he is a rapist, you’ll be safer; if he’s not a rapist, you’ll have given him a crystal-clear message about what is acceptable.)

EATA: The Iron business is just completely different–somebody got stabbed, and somebody got a bone broken. Those are facts, not screencaps. The police are involved, as well they should be.

K-Pop labels: Not people, not families, but businesses


So, yeah, I come back from the Illionaire concert to stories of more illegal contract terms in K-Pop!

What’s kind of annoying to me is that, LIKE ALWAYS, this information is being used by K-Pop fans for no better purpose than to bash other fans. So the take-away from that story is apparently, “Nya-nya-nya! This label is better than that label!”


OK, the problem with that mentality is not just that it’s juvenile and obnoxious. It’s not even that people are stanning labels (which arguably makes sense in K-Pop, because the labels usually generate the music and develop the performance styles).

The problem is that good companies can go bad.

I’ve seen this a lot in book publishing. Once upon a time–we’re talking, less than ten years ago–there were certain things that a reputable player in the publishing industry would simply never do. A reputable reviewer, for example, would never, ever charge a fee to review a book. Only scammers did that.

But then digitization hit the industry in a big way. Reputable firms of all stripes–you name it, agencies, review publications, publishers–came under strange new pressures.

Just like that, all the old rules fell away. Do “reputable” book reviewers charge authors for reviews nowadays? You betcha! (Do I still think that’s sleazy as fuck? You betcha!)

And that is what’s really wrong with all the side-taking: K-Pop labels are businesses. The people running them can change, their business models can change, everything about them can change (and arguably should change if the labels want to survive in the long term).

You can’t count on a company to not screw you over. You always have to protect yourself. How do artists do that? Through contracts and legal agreements. That’s why I didn’t care when KQ Entertainment appeared–Block B’s contracts hadn’t changed, so why did the rest matter?

It’s not like there was this person named Seven Seasons, and another person named KQ Entertainment murdered them to take their place. Some people clearly think that’s pretty much what happened, though–they see a name change, and they think that’s HUGELY important. But what matters is the contract.

And since I just was at an Illionaire concert, I’ll point out that their artists’ contracts are extremely different, no doubt because of their experiences elsewhere:

On the road to those riches, Illionaire has cut out all of the middlemen. Unlike K-pop groups on mainstream labels with multiple members (sometimes as many as 12), Illionaire has only three self-sustaining artists. Road managers don’t chauffeur them, they don’t maintain a lavish office, and the majority of their music is created from home. Aside from one employee who coordinates schedules, oversees contracts, and assists in production, there are no salaries to pay.

And all of this with no paperwork: Neither partners Dok2 and the Quiett nor Beenzino are bound by [traditional record label] contracts. Which means, nobody has to pay back label advances and everybody controls his own masters. Each rapper is only required to set aside 10-to-20-percent of the profit they make on gigs or album sales to Illionaire’s savings account, which then later gets put back into album production and marketing. The remaining money from shows, album sales, appearances, and ads becomes net profit for each individual.

So, thanks to Illionaire’s generous profit split, Dok2 makes in excess of $880,000 a year on profits that are presumably around the $1 million mark.

Do you know how big a profit Exo would have to turn from music sales in the Korean market for a member to see that kind of money under their contracts? About $80 million.

What is supply & demand?


Supply & demand (and I’m going to use the ampersand, because these are two concepts that are typically presented as one–hey, at least I didn’t go with “supply ‘n’ demand”) is probably one of the first things someone who teaches economics will try to teach you. They will carefully explain the concept, and you will sit back in your chair, going, “This is crap! I can think of a thousand exceptions to this right off the top of my head!”

That’s because supply & demand is a fundamental concept in economic theory. Theory is lovely and wonderful, of course, but we don’t actually live in the world of theory.

Except when we do. Ooooooh.

OK, let’s go back to the beginning here: What is supply & demand?

Supply & demand has two halves: Supply and . . . (wait for it . . . wait for it . . . ) demand. Both of those things together are supposed to explain why stuff is priced the way it is.

What’s awesome about supply & demand is that it comes with pretty artwork! Here’s Wikipedia‘s version:


OK, it’s not that pretty. But look at the red lines marked “D1” and “D2.” The “D” stands for demand. (“Q” stands for quantity; “P” stands for price.)

What is demand? It’s how much people want something.

Here’s what you need to know about the demand curve: The cheaper something is, the more people want it.

The blue line marked “S” indicates supply. Here’s what you need to know about supply: The more expensive something is, the more people want to be the ones selling it.

Demand is usually not a hard one for people to grasp. Do you stock up on your favorite shampoo when it’s on sale? Congratulations, you are right there on the demand curve.

Supply can be trickier, because most people don’t think about selling stuff. But let’s say you had a job that you liked that was close to your house, and it paid you $15 an hour. What would you do if a very similar job, with very similar hours, became available in a very similar location–and it paid $20 an hour. $25? $30? $35?

You’d switch jobs–and the bigger that raise got, the more likely you would be to switch.

That’s you, a supplier of labor, finding your place on the supply curve.

Where supply meets demand is where the price is! There you go! It’s all explained! Simple as that! Blog post over!

But . . . what about those thousand exceptions? I learned about supply & demand curve in high school in the 1980s, and of course the first thing we said was, “What about Vaurnet sunglasses? People can’t get enough of those, and they cost an arm and a leg!”


So cool, man!

In the world of economic theory, goods are the same–sunglasses are sunglasses are sunglasses; in the real world, not to much. This is why, in the real world, branding matters so much–you need to convince people that your product is so super-special that it’s totally worth paying a premium for.

(Is there a really dull term economists use to describe that wonderful feeling that comes from buying a really fancy, sexy pair of sunglasses, because by God you’re worth it and people are going to swoon at your feet when they see how awesome you look!?! You betcha! It’s–get ready for some seriously sexy econo-speak here–called utility.)

The other thing to remember is that, in the real world, price is not simply measured in dollar terms. Is doing something a huge pain in the ass? Does it take a long time? Do you need to travel somewhere special to do it? All these things are included in people’s perception of the cost of getting something (and is why J-Pop doesn’t have the global audience K-Pop does).

From the supply point of view, the important thing to remember about the real world is that suppliers are focused on profit, not revenue. Think of you, supplying labor: If that job with that big raise is located so far away that the commute is absurdly expensive, then suddenly that higher hourly wage isn’t so appealing after all.

Because profit is what matters to suppliers, it can sometimes be difficult to understand why everyone’s pushing Product X instead of Product Y when, to the consumer, both products are priced the same or maybe Product X is cheaper.

But if the expenses of producing Product X are lower, then Product X is more profitable than Product Y, and all the suppliers will be running in that direction. (If you make Product X, then that can be a problem, because the competition will undercut you on price. So again branding is important, as is having areas of expertise that it’s hard for other people to replicate. These kinds of things are called barriers to entry, and suppliers want them so badly that they have to be carefully regulated to ensure that they don’t start hiring armed thugs to kill their competitors.)

Does all this real-life complexity mean that supply & demand are truly useless concepts?


Let’s take as an example: My chocolate consumption. Like many older people (shut up), when I buy chocolate, I cough up some serious money for a single bar of Fancy-Schmancy Chocolate–I don’t buy the three-pound bag of Cheapo Chocolates, even though the cost is the same.

Why not? Well, I have certain unique perceptions of utility. I don’t think Cheapo Chocolates taste as good as Fancy-Schmancy Chocolate, for one thing. Even so, I know that if I buy a three-pound bag of chocolate, I will probably eat it all that day–and then I’ll feel sick and get fat and not sleep very well. The manufacturers could cut the price of a bag of Cheapo Chocolates in half, and I still would not buy them, which seems to suggest that supply & demand is really just a bunch of hooey.

However, were the wholesale price of chocolate to double, I would probably eat less chocolate.

Why? Well, the makers of Fancy-Schmancy Chocolate know that I’ll pay, I dunno, $5 a bar, but am I really going to pay $10? Probably not. So they’re going to start selling a smaller bar for the same price, and hope that I don’t mind.

Some people will mind, though.

And it’s not just Fancy-Schmancy Chocolate who will be doing this–the amount of actual chocolate in anything chocolate that I buy will be less. There will be less chocolate in chocolate ice cream, less in chocolate cake, less in chocolate sauce . . . you see where this is going. There may even be new products introduced to get me to eat less chocolate!

Why? Because everyone knows how the demand curve operates–if chocolate products get too expensive, I just won’t buy them. I’ll start looking for substitute goods–which is bad if you sell goods containing chocolate, so you’d better get ahead of the game and start swapping in substitute goods yourself.

All right–so let’s start looking at supply & demand in K-Pop.

The big thing where you see supply & demand having an impact not just in K-Pop but in the global music industry (as well as many other industries) is the move to digital media.

Digital has come and conquered the music industry because it is much cheaper to consumers. And by “cheaper,” I don’t just mean it costs less, I also mean that it takes less work to buy digital music–click a few buttons and you’re done. (When I was young, we had to walk five miles through the snow to get to Tower Records! And the clerk was super-creepy and kept hitting on us!)

Now, there is no country in which the suppliers of music have been eager to get into digital–when you’re set up to sell things one way, it’s a big shock to have to completely revamp your business model and sell them another way. But digital has come anyway because the demand is so strong. The music industry has been left with two choices: Do you want people to pay for digital, or do you want them to pirate it?

Since the businesses that make up the music industry are suppliers, they sure as hell don’t want people to pirate. So the challenge for them has been to make money even without the larger revenues you get from selling CDs.

Of course, one of the things that helps (which industry associations tend not to advertise) is that digital music can be more profitable, even as it gives you lower revenues. The other thing is what we’re seeing now in Korea and the U.S.: The cheaper and easier digital is to buy, the more demand there is for it. And lots of demand = lots of money in the digital world, because the cost of replicating a song digitally is extremely low.

Now, I’m sure people are thinking of exceptions to this whole Digital Has Conquered All Thanks To Supply & Demand story. For example, many K-Pop groups rely on CD sales, and in Japan, Johnny & Associates won’t produce digital music at all!

But in all these cases, you are seeing the importance of branding. The good news if you’re in the music industry is that every song is different! As a result, while consumers will, say, switch music formats because one is significantly cheaper or more convenient than the other, they are actually not that likely to see one song or group as a straight-up substitute for another. That means that the suppliers of music do have some power. Indeed, if your brand is strong enough, you can create your own shortages if that is your business model!

The bad news here is that if you’re a performer in the K-Pop industry, certain labels want you to be regarded by consumers as interchangeable with other performers. These labels build brand for the label, not the artist. That way they can treat individual performers or even entire groups as substitute goods, swapping out these largely homogenized products without it much affecting demand. It won’t affect their supply of entertainers, either, because there’s always another trainee in the wings.

Are you getting a little uppity as a supplier of labor? See ya later, substitute good!

The Chinese music market–wazzup?


I’ve been wondering what the dealio is with the Chinese music market for some time–you know, it’s right there by Korea, it’s big, and the large K-Pop labels always seem to be gunning for it.

Block B seems to be doing pretty well these days in Hong Kong and Taiwan, but there’s just not that many people in either market–Hong Kong has 7.2 million people and Taiwan has 23 million. (Japan has 127 million, which explains why it gets so much more attention from the group.)

China, in contrast, has 1.3 billion people. And the numbers Block B was able to attract just screwing around online were quite shocking to me.

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When My Music Taste was trying to put together a Chinese concert last year, they did a voting page, and (I’m having to rely on memory here) both Beijing and Shanghai got something like 20,000 votes. You know, each.

So I decided to go poking around. Not surprisingly, a lot of the U.S.-based media approaches the Chinese music market from the perspective of U.S. companies–so China kicks out iTunes, and it’s this HUGE story.

But there is quite a bit of stuff in English that’s more focused on the Chinese music market itself. This article and the IFPI’s China page give good overviews–basically the market is very small from a revenue perspective (smaller than Switzerland!), but that is changing.

China Music Radar, an English-language blog focusing on independent Chinese music (I told you there was a lot in English out there!) notes that while Western media tends to blame China’s small market size on entrenched piracy, the truth is more complex:

Piracy is not a “barrier” or cultural characteristic. It is an entrenched structural flaw.
It’s the same rule as anywhere in the world – if pirating a piece of music is easier than jumping through the logistical hoops to acquire it legally, the choice is a no-brainer for most people.

It’s definitely true that music piracy is entrenched in China–so much so that for years Chinese digital-music companies typically offered pirated music!

But it’s also true that music piracy was once every bit as entrenched in the United States. I remember when Napster was a media darling, with the company’s founder appearing on magazine covers and investors clamoring for a piece of the action–all for a company whose business plan was based entirely on an illegal activity. (The 90s were an interesting decade.) Nonetheless, the United States managed to convert to a paid model for digital music.

Convenience is key in any digital market: Even selling my own book, I’ve seen people ignore a coupon for a free digital copy on one retail site in favor of paying for the book on another, because the second site was easier to use. So I tend to agree that, in a digital market, piracy will largely cease being a serious issue if you make it easier for people to buy something than to pirate it. And thanks to some recent regulatory changes, that seems to be where China is heading.

But it’s not a motherlode yet.

Look at Luhan’s record-setting album sales in China–those numbers are nice, sure, but they certainly would not be considered a huge deal in the United States, which has about a third of the population of China. Clearly not everyone is on the “Let’s pay for it!” bandwagon yet (and given how recent the changes have been, it would be a miracle if they were).

The other wrinkle is the price music sells for in China, which is pretty low. Obviously if you make music too expensive, no one will buy it (if forced to choose between food and music, most people will opt for food). But when you’re selling a full album for $3 and a mini-album for 60 cents, even healthy unit sales aren’t necessarily going to result in major revenues.

That probably matters less to musicians living in China, where the cost of living is lower. Being based in China and being with a larger label has another advantage: Your right to be paid is more likely to be respected.

So, yeah. China is definitely a promising market, but a promise is not a sure thing. Block B may have loads of fans in China, but are they seeing equally large revenues from there? I doubt it.

Still, things are changing, and it’s certainly worth it for Block B to reach out to the Chinese market and to do things like the Chongqin event.

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 Taeil the tattooed trade diplomat

Same gay planet, different gay worlds


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I’ve been going back and forth on doing a post like this for a while now, but I think the recent sanctioning of the Korean SNL provides a good opportunity to talk about how the issue of gay rights in Korea gets perceived by English-speaking K-Pop fans.

Anyone who witnessed the “Tough Cookie” brouhaha has to notice that the accidental use of an American homophobic slur in a song written by someone whose English is not so great got a LOT more attention in international K-Pop circles than an instance (not the first!) of institutionalized, government-sanctioned homophobia. Given the silliness of the skit, with this sanction the KCSC has effectively ruled that any portrayal of homosexual activity, regardless of context, is inappropriate for a teen audience.

Because the Sexual Orientation Fairy doesn’t visit until your 18th birthday, don’t you know.

Anyway, the commission took up this issue because the skit generated complaints (so these people were busy). It is going to be interesting to see if they also respond to this skit, which aired about a week later:

or if Jackson just doesn’t have sufficiently committed haters.

I do think it says a lot that this kind of government action didn’t touch a nerve internationally the way “Tough Cookie” did. I’m sure one reason is that K-Pop fans tend to perceive idols as these kind of puppets to judge and control. No one is getting in a lather because the KCSC isn’t shaving its head and groveling before them because it’s too abstract, and an entity like that isn’t going to listen anyway.

But I also think that this kind of homophobia is largely outside the experience of (oh my God I’m actually saying this) Young People in America Today. There’s this kind of naivete about how acceptable homophobia can be–which is a good sign, I think, but it can blind people. When I was in high school in the latter half of the 1980s, for example, nobody else at school knew what the word “homophobia” meant. When I explained it to them, they thought the concept was hilarious–There are people out there who actually think there’s something wrong with hating gay people!! HA HA HA!!!

Those were the days….

But having had that experience is why I didn’t assume Zico’s apology for “Tough Cookie” was bullshit, as so many other (younger) Americans did. As I hope the sanctioning of SNL made clear, “[Zico] has no prejudice or negative intention with respect to homosexuals, and he has respect for sexual minorities” was not a statement that his label had to release, otherwise he’d lose his audience because everyone would hate him–that’s just not the case in Korea (at this point).

That naivete about Korean attitudes toward homosexuality can be quite startling. For example, here’s an interview with a very out young gay man about how awesome it is to be in Korea and back in the closet.

The truly scary thing is, he doesn’t even realize he’s in the closet! He has fallen into the Tolerance Trap that was so very popular before AIDS came along–everyone “tolerates” you for being gay until they find out that you are gay. It’s exactly the same way we “tolerate” child molesters!

[ETA: And the video I put up in my next post has a great example of the kind of thing that can create the impression that Korea is really open to gay people–but that doesn’t really mean that at all.

Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 4.46.18 PM

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Yup, just a couple of dudes, sleeping on each other in the same bed. Looks pretty damned gay to us, but as Ask a Korean notes, that’s because we’re simply more aware that homosexuality is a possibility. The Zico/Park Kyung kiss got dinged because it removed all deniability from the subject.]

The communication gap runs the other way, too. I mean, obviously, if people aren’t going to accept “[Zico] has no prejudice or negative intention with respect to homosexuals, and he has respect for sexual minorities” as some kind of statement in favor of gay rights, then there’s not much hope. But it’s also true that things that Mean Something to Koreans don’t necessarily Mean Something to international fans.

Things like:

#블락비 동생들. 최고핫한 #아이돌 멋지고 착한

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블락비 지코와

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have a certain meaning in Korea, and it’s not “I hate gay people!”