Open Thread #7: Candy to my Ears

(Source: Nbbang)

Sorry, but it had to happen eventually: I’ve fallen in love with K-pop.

Well, with 3 more remixes from Greek trance DJ Areia to be precise. With apologies for dispensing with my normal analysis of the songs on this occasion, but I can’t remember the last time that I liked new music so much that I’ve lost sleep listening to it over the next few days.

Seriously, this music makes me feel like a smitten teenager, and hopefully it will some of you too.

The first track is My Ear’s Candy by Baek Ji-young, from her mini-album EGO that came out in August last year (the MV also features Ok Taec-yeon of 2PM). Curious about her music after recently writing about her soju ad, this is the gateway video got me hooked:

But not so much because of the cinematography and costumes, although I confess I have always loved that look with the white wig. More because Baek Ji-young looks like she’s genuinely enjoying herself, which makes a refreshing change from the forced smiles of Girls’ Generation in Oh! for instance, or alternatively the seeming disdain for the viewer that U.S./Barbadian singer Rihanna displays in Shut Up and Drive that SM Entertainment has been accused of plagiarizing.

Granted, Rihanna’s persona is appropriate for the title of the song, and I’m not so naive as to not be aware that Baek Ji-young’s may be just as carefully choreographed for this one also. But still, she does look like someone great to go clubbing with ;)

As for the remix, arguably it is very similar to the original (as is the next song too), so you may well be wondering what the point is. But there are differences, and which, as all trance aficionados are well aware, unfortunately you’re likely to be completely missing if you’re listening via your tinny computer speakers. Please try headphones instead, and you may be pleasantly surprised!

Next is Like the First Time,  by T-ara (say “tiara”). Put off by their simply atrocious Bo Peep Bo Peep (보핍보핍) last year though, and which even Areia’s remix could not save, then I’d never have suspected that this one would become my new favorite:

As happens to many viewers of K-pop these days, you might be very surprised to learn that one member of the group, Park Ji-yeon, is still only 16 (as is one girl in the next video too, but she looks her age). But that’s a long discussion I already had earlier this month; instead, consider this assessment of the of the the dancing and clothing in the video by Areia himself, as it partially inspired the topic of one of next week’s posts, and I’m very curious to hear your own opinions of it before I start writing:

The girls are supercute throughout the video and I find them very sexy at the scenes with the black dresses. The way they slowly move to the melody just kills my heartbeat every single time. To the untrained western eyes the video might just seem a bit cute or even silly. “It’s just some girls with short black dresses trying to look good, so what?” my overexposed-to-western-sexiness friends back home would say. But there is a huge difference here and this difference is very representative of the gap between the eastern and western stereotypes. It’s not okay to express too directly in Korea and that leaves you with only one acceptable weapon to tease your target: charm. And this is exactly what these girls are doing with their moves in this video – I’m not referring to the cute scenes. Whoever did the choreography and the dresses knew very well what they were doing. And the girls of course have done an excellent job at being charming. When I watch some sexy western video clip (let’s say Buttons from Pussycat Dolls) it hits my eyes. But this charm here hits me straight in my heart – I feel like wanting to hug the girls not…. Perhaps that’s the reason I’m into Asian pop in the first place.

Finally, here is Please Don’t Go by CL and Minzy (the 16 year-old) of 2NE1 (투애니원; say “to anyone” or, confusedly, “21”). No music video being made, then this one of a performance of theirs is unremarkable, but this remix at least is virtually unrecognizable from the original song, and in my opinion a vast improvement:

Update: For reasons explained here, unfortunately Areia had to delete that video, but the MP3 is still available for download.

Click on the titles of all the remixes for links to where you can download MP3s of them, and detailed explanations of what when into making them. I hope you’ve enjoyed them, but if not then thank you for bearing with me, and please remember that this is still *cough* an open thread, where you can raise anything on your mind.

Speaking of which, as of yesterday I am now officially in the job market again, and so would very much appreciate any readers help in getting jobs teaching adults in either Busan or Seoul, or of course anything not involving teaching at all. Unfortunately with having a family to support then I’ll need at least 3 million won a month before moving to Seoul especially, but hopefully that won’t prove too difficult?

Wish me luck!

26 thoughts on “Open Thread #7: Candy to my Ears

  1. If you like kpop remixes I recommend:

    Gsweet10

    Karizma1128

    DJAMAYAOFFICIAL (His Please Don’t Go Remix is very good too)

    Robotaki

    they have some very good remixes ^^ I posted a link to the remix thread I do at Allkpop.

    Hope you find more stuff you like.

  2. It’s always great to see somebody get passionate about music, esp. if it’s about a semi-guilty pleasure (e.g. me on Buono!)….

    Some interesting stuff here. I think the similarity of the lyrics of the T-ara song to SNSD’s Oh! deserve comment, and Please Don’t Go! is in the same region. I need to look more closely at J-pop lyrics again but I think this is another area where there’s a big difference from the recent Korean girl group stuff where the lyrics seem to lurch between “I’m so hot you can never have me” and “Oh, oppa, I need you–just give me a chance and you’ll see I’m not so young and innocent…”

    But more at another point……

    • Thanks, and it is indeed a guilty pleasure come to think of it…I really could have done something more constructive than listening to these 3 songs at least a hundred times this week!^^

      I honestly hadn’t really noticed the connections until you pointed them out though, as I was too caught up in the music rather than the lyrics per se. Now that you have though, you’ve definitely got a point, and it certainly adds another layer of interest to all the girl bands that have emerged recently.

      Still, I’m curious as to what examples of “I’m so hot you can never have me” songs you’re thinking of? (and any other readers of course) Change by Hyunah is all that I can think of off the top of my head, but again because of the video rather than the lyrics, which I will belatedly start paying more attention to.

  3. As far as the job thing, you may want to check out Wall Street Institute in Seoul. I interviewed there some time back and was offered a job. Ultimately I ended up taking a university job somewhere else, but I was very impressed with their program. The salary was more in the 2.5 to 2.7 range (if I remember correctly), but still worth checking out

    • Thanks I’ll keep them in mind. Actually a couple of years ago I met a friend of a friend that worked there, and he said he was given a curriculum to teach the actual classes were randomized, and so everyday he turned up not knowing which ones he would have that day. Of course, my memory might be faulty, and it (surely) might be more complicated than that really. But if not then I don’t think I’d like teaching like that, nor think that it’s particularly effective, although he did seem to like it and had been there many years.

  4. I’m with Areia re: the T-ara video.

    I found it sexy as well. Infinitely more so than something like Christina in cowboy chaps.

    Certainly the outfits and the dance movements.

    But also that there are several moments in the video where the forefront dancer looks directly into the camera. For the same reason you chose Ha Ji Won’s commercial as the sexiest ever, I think a seductive look from a woman can be a powerful thing.

    • Naturally all agreed, although I found the effects of staring directly into the camera were lost a bit by being so short, and in each case not having not having close-ups on their faces.

      Must go to bed as I type this sorry, but in hindsight those comments of Areia’s I quoted are a little vague and/or very open to debate really: I really wish he’d defined what he meant by “charm” a little better for instance, and I don’t think the sexuality in some of the dance moves is quite as subtle as he seems to make out!

      • Seamus did refer to the most obvious example of the “I’m so hot you can’t have me” genre I was thinking of. There is another one very much like it that isn’t coming to me at the moment. I’ll look for more. Actaully, I think WG project a somewhat aloof image in their other big vids even if they are at odds with their lyrics. Tell Me and Irony are both slapdowns on men, and JYP is the butt of the joke in Nobody, where they perform more or as less as unindividuated whole (again cf. Robert Palmer).

        Re the looking directly into the camera that Anon mentions: I fully agree, and also agree that Areia is vaguer than I’d have liked. I think it’s all relative: Okay, if compared with Christina Aguilera or the Pussycat Dolls, there may be a bit more subtlety, or at least projection of a slightly classier image with the black dresses in the T-ara video, but it’s all still plenty overt.

        To again go back to the J-pop comparison, I think another crucial difference is in the way the band members return the camera’s gaze. If I can make a sweeping generalization here that I’d need to go back and support with examples: In a lot of recent K-pop, (and to be fair in a lot of J-pop, but one thing I also want to emphasize is the difference between solo performers and girl group ensembles) the look is “I am announcing my sexual availability” whereas in J-pop the look (with a wide, innocent smile) is “I invite you to fall in love with me because I’m so adorable”. In something like SNSD’s “Gee” what I find somewhat irritating is that although the look ostensibly announces the latter, it’s all so studied, with the hands to the face poses, that it actually seems to indicate the former. Not that J-pop isn’t calculated to an equally significant level, but it’s calculations are different, and at least want to convey what Anna over at Appears calls “unblemished sincerity.”

  5. Thank you for taking the time to listen to my remixes and I’m glad they inspire all of these thoughts. For me the east means escape from the rudeness and cockiness of the west, a phenomenon that it’s not that easy to notice by growing up in the west society because it’s actually a part that defines this society and most of us.

    Up to 18, I’ve grew up in a place with 0% asian population. The only place I’ve actually seen any was on the TV. All I knew was that Japanese make games and cars. China was just a vast mystery country and Korea just its neighbour. Things have changed dramatically when I came to UK to study. Like a young child eating chocolate for the first time in his life, I couldn’t get enough of these “mysterious” people.

    The opening to the east came for me at a totally unsuspecting moment – about 10 years ago- and started from Japan. Back at that times internet was still growing in functionality and there was no way that you could find all this information – even mp3s not to mention videos – were rare. The only way was actually meeting people. As a boy it was just a matter of time to fall in love with the “different”. I’m glad it worked, at least for a few months.

    I never took any step back since then. I’ve been exploring the east to all extents – at least the ones related to modern life. Korea is a rather new chapter in my life – about 3 years – but due to certain similarities with Japan, it was a bit easier to chew down.
    During these 10 years I mainly met Japan and Korea through girls. Don’t take me wrong; I’m not such a playboy. But 10 years it’s a really long time and quite a few strong relationships have been developed. Through this relationships I’ve dedicated myself to the “other side”. The west ceased to exist for me; my life has changed forever.

    One of the first things I’ve found out about these countries was a certain style of hiding this internally. This was extremely frustrating and hard to understand in the beginning since in my home town, people that keep their feelings for themselves are actually regarded the worst people. Opening up yourself it’s a rule that your mum and grandmother teach you from day 1 in the world. How could these people get it so wrong? You can imagine all the situations with my girlfriends. Other people (especially from US or Canada) could have the chance to experience this from the day they were born but all this was new to me.

    After a few hard years and when I already had many male friends as well and learning the language better, I have started realizing that things have started forming a pattern. It was not just random behaviour, it was actually a philosophy. Even more than that: it was a stereotype. Just like what my mum told me, what my aunt implied when she smiled at me when I was 6, what my teacher meant when he said that thing when I was 8. It was obvious that these people grew up in societies with different experiences that can vary to the extent that what is good and what is wrong is totally different.

    While I’ve seen this around European countries, this time it was not just small things here and there, it was almost everything – a grand cloud that covered the whole range of behaviour and understanding.

    After the long intro and to finally get into the topic, as you may already noticed due to the Confucian philosophy that is the fundamentals of the eastern societies, personal pleasure (including riches and sex) is generally regarded a negative thing. This has been embedded in the very social and mental DNA of Korea, China and Japan at least. My European mindset says that sex is one of the most important reasons to live and it’s a totally open matter not just to talk about but also it’s totally normal to pursue it – now compare and contrast this.

    For some reasons that it’s beyond my complete understanding – I also don’t want to involve politics here – these eastern societies have been pushed towards a more open-minded approach to sex. For asian boys it’s not easy at all – they need to be successful in life and make their family proud; they have to keep the fierce line that their parents and teachers taught them and protect their sisters from the phenomenon. For the girls is kind of different – they always have the excuse that they need to find a good man, so it’s easier for them to bite the apple. At least that’s how it looks from the outside.

    When stereotypes blend in though, you get a (wonderful in my opinion) mix of the “pretend to be strong” and “hide-your-weaknesses” Confucian stereotypes with the modern passion to live an exciting life away from all these social constrains. This exact mix is the very reason of the differences in flirting the eastern way.

    An excellent example is the “girl/motel” scenario. Now, in the west, the boy would make a small move but the girl would give a good hint whether she is up to it or not. In the east though it’s more “illegal” for a girl to imply she wants to have sex that actually stealing. So she won’t ever show anything, no much how she wants it. The only way to go on is the excuse: Just like children you need to exchange some kind of excuse – the ones you both know it’s no valid but free you up from the ethical constrains. The most common excuse for the motel case by the way is “having some rest”.

    That said and after years and years of sucking the far east modern culture, I can guarantee you it’s definitely safe to generalize the above example to the whole society. Dramas it’s a very good source to confirm this – just check how many excuses are used for “things” happening: handkerchiefs are left behind so you meet again or a man and a woman accidentally falling down and kiss each other and so on.

    I hope that helps you understanding the music videos better as well. They are not innocent and all and everybody knows it – especially the producers and the singers. Just like a night out in Hongdae where all kinds of things happen, nobody will actually comment about it because it’s supposed to be hidden. But it’s not dirty as well. It’s exactly that blend I’ve described above. The only ones that seem to care a bit are Koreans raised abroad (sorry for any actually reading this – no offence intended) that seem to be a bit confused between some stereotypic “pure” Korea that their parents told them about and something completely different they come across in modern reality.

    • Don’t know where to start with all of that Areia(!), but thanks very much for writing it, and you’ve certainly given me food for thought. And thanks very much for your great remixes especially, I’m quite serious when I say that I probably wouldn’t haven’t gotten into K-pop without them!^^

  6. I really liked what Areia wrote, and this prompted me to join the discussion. James, I also enjoy reading your analyses, but sometimes I find you guilty of looking at Korean society through Western eyes. Well, a) that’s inevitable considering you ARE Western, and b) not necessarily a bad thing, as the outside perspective can give valuable insights, looking at the forest rather than just trees – and it definitely does in your case. I remember though that you and others on other blogs, complain about two frequent comments by Koreans, which are ‘It’s just Korean culture, you should understand it’ and ‘A Westerner cannot understand Korean culture’. You said somewhere that you don’t accept that as an explanation. And I think you’re right, it’s not an EXPLANATION, it’s a PREMISE. Before we begin with any analysis of Korean social phenomena, we must accept that Korean culture is an entirely different system, and that Westerners tend to evaluate it by applying external criteria, rather than judging it on its own terms. That’s like growing up as a coffee drinker and tasting tea for the first time as an adult. Inevitably, you’ll be biased because your taste buds are used to coffee, and you may think that those people who served you that tea have no idea about how to prepare a good hot beverage. Yet what you’re doing then is applying coffee criteria to tea, basically saying that ‘tea is really bad coffee’.

    The other analogy I’d like to submit to your judgment is a bit radical, but I hope to be able to make a point. With regards to soju advertisements and music videos (and it seems to be an underlying assumption to many of the things you write), you wrote something along the lines of ‘why can’t they admit that it’s all about sex’. Areia’s point about certain things being hidden from the public is spot on. It’s like analysing gastronomic creativity and then say ‘why can’t they admit it’s all about shitting’. But to most people it would appear rude to make the explicit link between eating something delicious and defecating. Someone making that explicit connection while still sitting at the dinner table could just justify it though by pointing out that shitting is absolutely natural – just as sex is, right? We’re all eating and we’re all shitting, in the same way we are looking at young girls and thinking about sex. Yet, people usually DO NOT think about shitting while eating (although that may happen occasionally). Food is just perceived as delicious — now, the Wondergirls are food for your eyes. Thinking about ‘banging’ them while watching them dance would be the equivalent of thinking about shitting while eating.

    I wonder if others will agree with me, but the Korean perspective would rather be to keep the two activities (cute young girls and sex) conceptually separate (something you knew but which puzzled you, James), while Westerners may see an obvious connection. But remember again that we as Westerners (I’m not sure it’s an anthropological universal) also keep eating and shitting conceptually separate – I’m of course not saying that the Korean perspective would not incorporate sex anywhere, but it would be in a different mental universe, such as prostitution, but even you wouldn’t make an explicit connection between girlie pop and prostitution, would you?

    Finally, I’d like to address another point made by Areia when he said that Korean Pop was less vulgar and more charming than Western Pop. The ‘least subtle’ Korean video clip that comes to my mind is ‘Shee’ by Baby Vox, which is very reminiscent of the Pussycat Dolls’ style of displaying their bodies. To me the question is not whether Korean Pop is devoid of vulgar moments, I’ve seen some very awkward dancing on Korean TV where you could admire the girl’s underwear – it’s rather whether we can find or imagine Wonder Girls style ‘innocent’ school girlish behaviour in Western Pop. By the way, I do not understand why you’re so obsessed with some Korean singers being only 15-16 years old. It seems to me that many Western singers also start their careers around that age. Britney Spears was 17 when she released ‘One more time’, Christina Aguilera must have been 18 when singing ‘Genie in a bottle’; Mandy Moore was 15 at her first success! So I don’t think it’s specifically Korean. But apart from their age, is there anything comparable in style to Wondergirls and Girls’ Generation in the West? After all, it was one of Areia’s main claims that there isn’t…

    I wanted to stop, but I have another suspicion that I want to mention: EVEN IF the Korean girls made exactly the same movements as the most vulgar Western singers, we would still probably perceive them as comparatively less vulgar, just because young Asians girls look cuter than young Western girls. Which is reminiscent of James’ citation of photos where men imitated female advertisements. Exactly the same gestures – but a totally different interpretation.

    • Thank you for your comment Iberiquito, but I’m afraid I completely disagree with just about everything you wrote..

      Being a Westerner writing about Korean society, I am often accused of either never being able to understand Korean culture, or of evaluating it using Western criteria and value systems and so on that are inappropriate in a Korean context. Like you say, the former is not an “explanation” of any phenomena, although I wouldn’t go so far as to give it some undeserved credibility by saying it’s a “premise” either; in my experience, merely something reflexively brought up by some Koreans when a Westerner brings up some embarrassing fact about Korean society instead, resorted to because the Westerner’s point is valid and can’t be as readily dismissed as due to their inexperience, ignorance, and/or a language barrier as face-saving dictates (you know how Koreans are at pains to always show Korea in the best light). By no means do all Koreans subscribe to the view that non-Koreans have nothing valid and useful to say about Korean society though, although naturally they do all hate to be lectured on it by people fresh off the boat.

      The latter however, in fact I have never had brought up by Koreans, and in particular when you say:

      Before we begin with any analysis of Korean social phenomena, we must accept that Korean culture is an entirely different system, and that Westerners tend to evaluate it by applying external criteria, rather than judging it on its own terms.

      I don’t at all accept that Korea is “entirely different,” but regardless when I’m accused of being Eurocentric or whatever, I have never heard from my accusers what Korean society’s “own terms” are that I should be applying instead. And indeed neither do you provide them, instead with your analogy about a coffee drinker trying tea for the first time, implying that: I’m a complete beginner when it comes to all things Korean; then adding insult to injury by accusing me of being so inconsiderate of Korean sensibilities that I thrust sexual topics into conversations like a bull in a china shop and base my opinions of Koreans’ attitudes to them solely on that; and finally, positing a conceptual separation that not only do you not provide any evidence for either, but manage to patronize Koreans in the process.

      Yes patronizing, because although I do see your point about wanting to keep shitting and eating conceptually separate (but actually a bad analogy considering how most Koreans have few problems talking about shitting when eating), on that basis somehow getting into Korean men’s heads and saying that that is so important they’re not able to “think about” banging WG and SNSD and so on? Puh-lease. The translation that I posted recently more than demonstrates that they do, and that their reluctance to talk about it has absolutely nothing to do with the nationality of the inquirer either.

      I’ll grant you that you may have meant “discussing” WG and SNSD instead, but it’s hardly like wanting to keep “cute young girls and sex” conceptually separate is the sole preserve of Koreans, as millions of fathers of teenage daughters the world over will be able to attest to. Of course Koreans in general do seem to have a stronger desire to keep them separate than most, but that is precisely the point, as instead of sticking its head in the sand Korean society as a whole sorely needs to accept the facts that: teenagers have both sex and sexuality; they need better education about both; teenage prostitution is a big problem here; and finally that yes, 15 and 16 year-old girls thrusting their buttocks in our faces on TV, and Korean porn sites being full of images of that, may well have some influence on the industry.

      Positing it as an example of Korean difference however, you seem to imply that criticizing that reluctance is beyond the pale for Westerners.

      You continue by completely contradicting yourself with comments about Western singers the same ages – again, something that invariably seems to get mentioned by people who accuse me of imposing my Western viewpoint on Korea – and demonstrate that you’ve missed the point of much of my writing on girl groups in Korea. For the nth time, Westerners admit that they’re being marketed in a sexual way; like you have said yourself, Koreans don’t. And finally:

      EVEN IF the Korean girls made exactly the same movements as the most vulgar Western singers, we would still probably perceive them as comparatively less vulgar, just because young Asians girls look cuter than young Western girls.

      Who’s projecting their own viewpoints onto others now?

      I’ll be dealing with your final point about ‘feminine’ depictions of Korean men in advertisements in a separate post soon, but that is certainly not “reminiscent” of the above. And while Korean advertisements do depict men in that light more than Western ones do, the difference is not huge, and indeed there is more and more of a backlash against it. Similarly, like I will mention there, while the fact that women are depicted more childishly in Korean advertisements than Western ones does demonstrate that such behavior is more acceptable in Korean society…that still doesn’t mean it’s okay. As I have more than amply demonstrated in this blog, Korea is one of the most sexist countries in the world, and if I’m merely being Eurocentric for believing that grown women being presented as children in the Korean media may have something to do it, and in using Western Caucasian male Erving Goffman’s framework for finding empirical evidence of that, then so be it.

  7. Have you seen the cover of Beast’s new album? The jawlines of the all-male group all sport that v-line, created probably through photo editing and possibly plastic surgery. You’ve noted in previous posts research showing that men with more feminine faces are preferred as long-term mates and men with more masculine faces as short-term mates. However, the sharply angled v-line jaws that look bad enough on Korean women look absolutely ridiculous on men. Whoever created that album cover apparently thought otherwise. Are narrow, pointy jaws now catching on among Korean men? Yuck! Park Chung-hee and the industrialists of 60s would roll over in their graves.

    • I said that about faces?^^ Yes, it does sound familiar, although I can’t remember when and where sorry!

      I have to confess that I know nothing about Beast (비스트), but have heard a lot about them recently, and so your comment finally persuaded me to check the out the Wikipedia page on them at least. I think I’ve found the album cover you mean too, and (in addition to what you mention) my first thought was that it made them all look much younger than their 18-20 years, especially the 3 on the right.

      LOL to the reference to Park Chung-hee, and soooo true!

  8. A potentially interesting sociological factoid about 2NE1 is that three of the members have lived abroad. Sandara Park grew up in the Philippines, CL has lived in France, Japan and the United States and Park Bom studied music in the US (source). Do you know enough about 2NE1 to say whether this has any impact on how they behave?

    • Thanks: I knew about Sandara Park, but not CL and Park Bom. But sorry, that’s about all I knew about 2NE1 until this song came along. Perhaps other readers can help? (hint hint)

      • Thanks anyway. By the way, I recently came across “Techno-trot” star Epaksa, who “doesn’t mind choosing a 150+BPM setting on his drum machine and letting it run for ten or twenty thousand beats”. Watch his Japanese coachroach spray commercial, in which he repeatedly thrusts his pelvis while singing (I assume) about the joy of spraying cockroaches, and which is absolutely everything you could want from a bizarre Japanese commercial.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s