When K-pop Gets Under Your Skin…

city of girls' generation gangnam(Source)

My latest piece for Busan Haps, on the contributions that K-pop has made to cosmetic surgery medical tourism.

I chose the topic because I’d always assumed that K-pop was easily Korea’s #1 cultural export. And, building on from that, that surely most medical tourists to Korea would be coming for cosmetic surgery. After all, what would this blog be without all the posts on dieting and body-image narratives in K-pop songs? On stars’ cosmetic, beauty, and dieting-related endorsements? Or, of course, on the ideals set by their bodies themselves?

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

First, because K-pop only accounted for just five per cent of the revenues from cultural content exports in 2013, as demonstrated in this Arirang news report from January. That worked out to $255 million, out of a total of $5.1 billion.

Korean Content Industry Exports for 2013(Source)

Next, because cosmetic surgery tourists only comprised seven point six percent of medical tourists in 2012. Yes, really.

When I wrote the article, I mistook that for the 2013 percentage, which isn’t available yet. But, assuming it remained the same (although the trend is for rapid growth), that would have resulted in a paltry $7.6 million in revenues in the January to November 2013 period, based on these figures that incorporate revenues lost from Korea’s surprisingly high numbers of outgoing medical tourists (unlike the grossly inflated KTO figures).

No wonder “a renowned business professor” recently dismissed the economic benefits of K-pop.

Frankly, another reason I chose this topic was because I expected I’d quickly prove him wrong. Instead, I soon found myself chagrined, forced to concede that perhaps he had a point.

But the long-term benefits? He’s dead wrong about those. To find out why, please see the article!

“This is why Korea needs people like Velvet Geena and the RockTigers”

The Rock TigersClick on the image to find the reasons, in an Paste Magazine article by Rachel Baily I was interviewed for this summer (and promptly forgot about — sorry!). Make sure to check out Busan Haps for a 2011 interview too, or here, here, and here for more on Waveya, Ga-in, and Wonderbaby also mentioned by Rachel.

Meanwhile, sorry for the slow posting everyone, but I’ve had — still have — a lot of offline deadlines, and the new semester is proving a lot of work. But I aim to have a big post up next week! :)

Update: Make that the week after next — I ended up catching one of those frustrating, lingering colds sorry.

Quick Hit: CNN on Saseng Fans

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A good introduction to saseng (사생) fans by Collette Bennett at CNN, and I’m not just saying that because I get a mention towards the end(!). But if anyone’s confused by the connections I make to the Korean advertising industry and celebrity endorsements though, please see here for links to many posts and articles I’ve written about the subject.

Also, for related reading, see here for a discussion of the article at a JYJ fansite (they’re mentioned in the article), Asian Junkie for “Korean Executive Says K-Pop Fans Are A Cult + The Fandom Scares An American Journalist,” and XX Factor for “Your Pop-Culture Obsession Is Not a Sickness.”

p.s. Apologies to Colette if it’s my fault (I made the same mistake in my email), but it’s sa (“a” as in “hat”) seng (“e” as in “pet”), not “saesang” (pronounced “say-seng”) as reported in the article. Or is that some Seoul variation that I’m unaware of?

The Economist on K-Pop’s Role in Celebrity Endorsements

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Well, I covered it in passing in an opinion piece in The Korea Herald over a year ago, and many times on the blog (and on Busan Haps) since, but hey: I admit that The Economist is probably a more authoritative-sounding source. See here then, for a discussion of how the dynamics of the Korean digital music industry are forcing labels to financially rely on celebrity endorsements, and which is a big factor behind why 2 out of 3 Korean advertisements feature them, one of the highest rates in the world.

While frustratingly brief, it does have some money quotes:

…SM Entertainment’s boss complains that even 1m downloads cannot cover the cost of making a music video….

….SM Entertainment and other purveyors of K-pop cover this shortfall at home by having their stars hawk the latest phone, or appear on television variety shows. The biggest labels have become adept at squeezing cash out of their pop stars’ names, rather than their music. But only a handful of musicians are famous enough to benefit.

South Korea’s old business model, perfected by its carmakers, was to use a captive home market as a launch-pad from which to invade foreign shores. The country’s pop musicians have turned this model upside down: they have to export their tunes to make up for meagre pickings at home.

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See bloop69’s comment also, who contends that things are not as dire as they seem (for a similar discussion between abcfsk and myself, see here):

A huge chunk of the money is made in “collectable” CDs and DVDs, which can run north of $150 per shot and are constantly churned out. It’s not a case of INVADING other shores you clueless dolt. It’s a case of using Youtube and videos as LOSS LEADERS to capture a small number (tens to hundreds of thousands) of hardcore fans who spend $100s US EACH to support their “fandom”

You don’t even begin to perceive it but in fact the Koreans are using a very progressive model… similar to League of Legends or FarmVille to give customers a free “taste” of the music. Like Kpop free to play MMOs also rely heavily on “whales” and heavily invested customers to carry the rest of the customer base. It has nothing to do with “invading” other shores. This is the strategy they have been using in Korea and are using around the world.

Finally, a quick request: please ask your Korean partners, friends, colleagues and so on if they know what “celebrity endorsement” is in Korean. If they struggle to answer, as my wife did, then I think that will be testament to just how pervasive they are here! (Eventually, she came up with “유명인 보증”).

The Korean Media’s War on Women (and Men)

Via 10 Confessions, here is a short but quite rare “expo on the focus of the mass media and internet news sites on superficial looks of the entertainers in the industry, and how this trend needs to change.” Sorry that it’s all in Korean, but 10 Confessions provides a good (English) description of it, and it’s the least I can do to pass on the videos themselves (especially after spending half an hour looking for them!).

To see the segment, jump ahead to 2:30 in the first video. It lasts until 4:10 in the second.

Pray (기도) by Sunny Hill (써니힐): Lyrics, Translation, and Explanation

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…Sunny Hill have shaken things up in K-Pop by releasing unconventional music – at least as far as Korean pop is concerned – and they’ve garnered a new following by doing so. Sunny Hill is a talented group and they’re in the hands of creative people who understand the purpose of a concept, in that a concept not only melds visuals with music, but is designed to evoke a powerful response from their audience (Allkpop, September 2011).

Hey, I do like what I’ve heard of Sunny Hill (써니힐) so far, but still: nothing about their music really strikes me as really different. Rather, to me they stand out for their collaboration in in Mamma Mia (맘마미아) by Narsha (나르샤), the first(?) and only(?) Korean music video to feature a Korean woman kissing a Caucasian man, and then for their rare critique of the Korean rat race in The Grasshopper Song (베짱이 찬가). And I’d love to hear of any more such “socially-conscious K-pop” by them.

Pray (기도) though, doesn’t really qualify. But it is one of the darkest music videos I’ve ever seen (for which it was banned on MBC and KBS), and can be very moving. As the reader who asked me to translate it admitted:

Seriously. . . I was crying within the first 15 seconds.  I was a WRECK by the end.  My roommate came in and asked ‘Who died?’  Me? ‘The *hiccup* man in the *hiccup* videooooooo!’  The main character is the type that truly tugs at my heart strings.  Of course, Joseph Merrick comes to mind, but the character has such an. . .how do I put it…almost unspoiled nature.  Innocent in the most pure sense of the work – like the innocence of a child (that’s getting much harder to find today).  What I truly loved, though, is that it fit with the tone of the song but wasn’t melodramatic.  Dramatic, yes, but not melodramatic.

See here for an excellent discussion of all the symbolism in it. Meanwhile, the “mutant” is played by veteran movie actor Lee Jae-yong, and fans have noticed that only three of the five members of the group actually sing, although all of them are featured in the music video:

Save me from broken time

라라라 라라라 라라라 라라라

그 어떤 누군가가 기도하라 꿈꿔라

이뤄진다 했던가 어떤 모든 것들도

다 내게 말해 넌 나를 보고 말해 이젠 제발 멈추라고

한숨은 잔혹하게 거칠게만 들리네

허나 들리지 않아 어떤 구원의 소리

난 기도하네 또 나는 소리치네 누가 나를 꺼내주길

Did someone say your dreams would be achieved if you prayed?

Tell me everything

Now you look at me and tell me to stop

A sigh sounds so cold-hearted and coarse

But I can’t hear the sound of a rescue

I pray, I scream out, I hope someone will help me break out

The chorus is next:

Stand by me and necessary

점점 깊어만가 너를 앓을수록

라라라 라라라 라라라 라라라

Cry for me and I’m sorry

점점 패여만가 너를 잃을수록

제발 다시 안아달라고

멈춰 있던 나를 깨워줘 멈춰 있던 시간 돌려놔

어제처럼 그렇게 나에게만 웃어 보여줘

감춰 있던 슬픔 조여와 감춰 있던 아픔 올라와

헤어지잔 그 말은 아니 아니 아니 아니야

Stand by me, and necessary (pronounced “nesary”)

The more I long for you, the deeper I get

La la la, la la la, la la la, la la la

Cry for me, and I’m sorry

The more I lose you the more empty I am

Please, I beg you, hold me again

Please wake me from my paralysis, please give me back my frozen time

You showed me your laugh like that yesterday

Hidden sorrow is strangling me, hidden pain is rising

“Let’s break up” – those words, no no no

그 어떤 누군가가 사는 게 다 그렇다

무뎌진다 했던가 어떤 모든 것들도

다 내게 말해 넌 나를 보고 말해 제발 정신 차려 좀 달라고

눈물은 빗물 되어 내 몸을 다 적시고

온몸이 얼어붙어 땅에 늘어뜨리고

몸서리치네 또 나는 울부짖네

따라라라 라라라라

Did someone say that life is like that, that you just get used to it?

Tell me everything

You look at me and tell me to hang in there

My tears become like rainwater, I get drenched

I lie down, my whole body frozen to the ground

Dah la la la, la la la la

The chorus is repeated, then finally:

간절히 난 기도하네 listen to the song

대답은 또 나를 울리네

날아가는 나를 잡아줘 날아가는 우릴 돌려놔

떠다니며 잡히지 않아 너를 붙잡지 못해

하루만 더 살아보려고 깨물었던 나의 입술을

사라져가 이제는 아니 아니 아니 아니야.

Save me from broken time

라라라 라라라 라라라 라라라

I sincerely pray, listen to the song

And the answer makes me cry again

Grab me from flying away, turn back our fleeting relationship

It flouts around but cannot be grasped, I cannot grasp you

Just to live one more day, I bite down on my lips

But now it’s vanishing, and it’s not not not not there

Save me from broken time

La la la, la la la, la la la, la la la la

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A confession: just before I started translating the final verse, I stumbled across this translation on Youtube (embedding on blogs isn’t allowed sorry), and, finding nothing wrong with it, decided to use it for the final verse here too. Also, I have to admit that the whole translation is much more elegant than mine, so I strongly encourage readers to check it out, especially if you want to read the lyrics as you watch.

But there are some differences though, so I’d be happy to elaborate on those, and/or any other parts of the translation if Korean learners are interested. Alternatively, by all means please correct me if you think I’ve made a mistake!^^