Lupin (루팡) by KARA (카라): Lyrics, Translation, and Explanation


Well, this is embarrassing.

Now as you’re probably aware, I simply love this song, and must have listened to it well over a hundred times. And the music video is amazing too.

But now that I’ve actually studied the lyrics? Hell, but for the word “2010” at the beginning, I actually had no idea that so much of the song was in English.

On the positive side though, that’s given me a renewed appreciation for the difficulties many Koreans have in realizing that a (frustrated) foreigner is actually speaking Korean to them, albeit in a strange accent. And I don’t mind how nonsensical all the English in the song is either, as that’s quite normal for K-pop.

But unfortunately the Korean too seems literally thrown together in many places, which made it difficult for even my Korean wife to understand. And as you’ll soon see, the small amount of it below belies how much time and effort went into translating it.

And knowing all that about the song now? To be frank, it’s made it lose just a bit of its magic for me.

Lest the same happen to you, read on at your peril!

The first part obviously doesn’t need an explanation, although I’d be interested in learning what “la couture” means exactly:

Sing it with me now

2010, We bringing new love to the floor

Rocking what’s real la couture

We opening new doors new show new world new control

Can you keep up oh!

Hallo! Hallo! Hallo! Hallo! Hallo!

Hallo! Hallo! Hallo! Hallo! Hallo!

Hallo! Hallo! Hallo! Hallo! Hallo! Catch!

Hallo! Hallo! Catch! Catch! Hallo! Hallo!


겁먹지마 니 심장소리가 들켜 (쉿!)

뒤에 서서 침착하게 지켜봐봐

탐난다고 서두르단 결국 Game set

유연하게 행동해봐 As usual it’s mine

Hide your fear, your heartbeat will be detected (shh!)

Stand behind [me], calmly try to keep watch

Even if it is desirable, if you hurry in the end Game set

Try to be flexible As usual it’s mine


Most of that was pretty basic, provided you know that adding “보다” to the end of a verb, and conjugated in banmal (반말; informal speech) as “봐”, simply means try to do the verb. At the end of line 2, it’s added to “지켜보다” (to keep watch), hence the “지켜봐봐”.

But I don’t understand line 3 at all: “탐난다” means “be desirable” (not “burn” as given everywhere else: that’s “타다”), which is simple enough, but then it’s given as indirect speech, as indicated by the “~ㄴ다고” ending. But who said what is desirable? And what’s the connection to “서두르다” (hurry) after that for that matter, and while we’re at it what’s the “ㄴ” doing at the end of that too?

To make sense of it then, I suggested to my wife that possibly something like “탐나더라도” was intended, the “더라더” being a grammar pattern meaning “no matter how much, even though, I don’t care if”, and so on, and she concurred.

Finally, line 4 is literally “flexibly act/behave-try-to”.


Next, there’s the main chorus. As you can see though, there’s just one Korean line in it, and its simply “Go/climb high, try to grab/take all the world”:

(Eo eo eo) It’s  mine

(Eo eo eo) This is mine

(Eo eo eo) This is mine

(Eo eo eo)

높이 올라 가 (Ye Ye Ye) 세상을 다 가져봐 (Ye Ye Ye)

Never back it up Back it it up (it it up)

Never turn it up Turn it it up (it it up)


Hallo! Hallo! Hallo! Hallo! Hallo! Catch!

Hallo! Hallo! Catch! Catch! Hallo! Hallo!

한눈팔면 기회조차 뺏겨버려 (쉿!)

누구보다 한발 먼저 다가가 봐

남들처럼 티내다간 결국 Game set

유연하게 행동해봐 As usual it’s mine

If you so much as glance away, you’ll throw away your chance (shh!)

You should take the first step and try to approach

If you have the air of everyone else in the end Game set

Try to be flexible As usual it’s mine


In Line 1 (of the Korean), “한눈” is literally “one eye”, and “팔다” sell, but hopefully it’s not too much of a jump to see that “selling one eye” means “look (or glance) away”, especially as the listener was already told to keep watch in the last verse.

Then, next to “기회” (chance, opportunity) there is the grammar pattern “조차”, which basically means “even, to boot, in addition”, as in “목이 아파서 밥은커녕 물한 잔조차 마실 수 없다” for example, or “My throat is so sore that I can’t even drink a glass of water, let alone eat rice”.

But with the next, “뱃기다” (be dispossessed of) plus the grammar pattern “버리다” added to it, which adds a sense of completely ruining or throwing away something, then in English the “even” seemed a bit awkward. So I came up with “If you so much as glance away, you’ll throw away your chance” instead.

Then line 2 is literally “who than- one step – first – approach try to”, so I think “You should take the first step and try to approach” gets the gist of that. And the “who” (or rather “they”) referred to is the “남들” in line 3, which I originally thought was an abbreviation for men (“남자” plus the plural marker “들”),  but it turns out to mean “other people” instead. But note though, that that’s not in the sense that the male is used the default for both genders like in Spanish(?), as they’re different words: the “남” in “남들” has no hanja (Chinese character) root, whereas that for “남자” does, and indeed you’ll often see it – 男 – on doors to toilets and men’s changing rooms and so on (and while we’re on the topic, here’s the one for women {여} too: 女).

Finally, in line 3 “티내다” wasn’t in my electronic dictionary, but “티” can mean “an air”, and pulling a thick print dictionary from my bookcase with more examples  of that usage confirmed it.


Next, the chorus is repeated, then you have:

이제 차근차근 걸어나가봐

세상 하나하나 전부 가득 담아봐

특별하길 원하니 네 것이길 바라니

시작해 Uh! Yeah, yeah!!

Now try to step out slowly and carefully

Try to fill in each and every part of the whole world

Do you want to be special? Do you hope it will be yours?

Start Uh! Yeah, yeah!!


First up, in line 1, “차근차근” can mean “scrupulously”, “methodically”, “systematically”, and so on, but the final, more literal meaning of “step by step” seems most appropriate here. But then “Step out step by step” sounds awkward in English though, so I changed it to “slowly and carefully” instead. That does seem to contradict the carpe diem spirit of the song a little unfortunately, but I think that’s the fault of the original Korean!

Then you have “걸어나가다”, which was annoying for me as a beginner (Yet another word for “walk”?? And Koreans complain about learning English!), but is quite easy to understand really. You see, “걷다”, which is irregular and so conjugates as “걸어~”, is your basic “walk”.  But then you can have things like “가다” and “오다” added to them, giving “걸어오다” and “걸어가다”, and which simply mean “walk” plus “come” and “go” respectively, or “walk towards [the speaker]” and “walk away from [the speaker]” in English. And with “걸어나가다” in the song, “나가다” simply means “go/step out”, giving “walk out”. Granted, it can also mean “walk towards, approach” according to the dictionary, (and don’t forget that “다가가다” from the last verse means “approach” too!), but “walk out” seems much more appropriate given the context of the previous verses.

Line 2 was very annoying though. Literally, it is “world – one by one – all parts/whole – full – fill/put in try to”, which can probably be translated many different ways (but not one by one as in separate worlds though), and “Try to fill in each and every part of the whole world” was the best I could do.

But that was a doddle compared to line 3. First up, “특별하다” means “to be special”, but then adding “기” at the end changes it to a noun, and then the “ㄹ” makes it the object. So, “specialness”, with the “원하다” being “want” plus the “니” at the end being an informal question form, and usually implying that the speaker places themself slightly higher than the listener – usually determined by age, as explained by Seamus Walsh in his comments to a translation of another song (a belated thanks for those by the way!). Which gives “Do you want specialness”, or “Do you want to be special?”.

Then you have “것이길 바라니”. “바라다” means “desire”, “hope for”, and “look forward to” (you’ll often see the formal form “바랍니다” at the end of signs on the subway and so on), and it includes the “니” form at the end as just explained. But “것이길”? I guess it’s “것” (thing) plus “이다” (to be) plus “기” to make it a noun, then “ㄹ” to make all that an object. So literally “your thing – the act of beingness – hope for”!

And that’s it, but for the 2nd half of the chorus again:

높이 올라 가 (Ye Ye Ye) 세상을 다 가져 봐 (Uh yeah)

Never back it up Back it it up (it it up)

Never turn it up Turn it it up (uh yeah, yeah!!)

As a reward for slogging your way through all that, let me present you with the DJ Amaya vs Groovebot Hard Club Edit, which reminds me a lot  of what I used to dance to in clubs 10-15 years ago (wistful sigh):

Originally, this particular KARA fan didn’t like it much. But it rapidly grew on her, and you can see how she felt when it finally finished:

Next week: I Don’t Care by 2NE1.

Reading the Lolita Effect in South Korea, Part 1: The role of K-pop and the Korean media in sexual socialization and the formation of body image

A simply surreal video making the rounds at the moment. As explained by Lisa at Sociological Images, it:

…beautifully illustrates the socialization of children into particular kinds of worship. With hand motions, body movements, and facial expressions, this child is doing a wonderful job learning the culturally-specific rules guiding the performance of devotion.

Which led to a great deal of discussion at that site. But I’ll confine myself here to echoing Jason’s comment that it simply reminds him of his son picking up his own behaviors such as sweeping, and that the young girl:

…certainly isn’t worshiping here, but is just mimicking her parents and the other people around her. I can guarantee she has no concept of a deity.

But what has all that got to do with K-pop, let alone Meenakshi Durham’s The Lolita Effect? Well, because after reading all that, it was very interesting comparing my daughters’ own reactions to KARA’s Lupin just half an hour later. First, those of four and a half year-old Alice:

Then with her two and a half year-old sister Elizabeth:

Granted, perhaps you had to be there…and in which case I probably would have removed my dirty laundry from the floor first (sorry). But I didn’t notice it myself, because at the time I was simply transfixed.

You see, along with dozens of other K-pop music videos, Alice and Elizabeth must have watched and “danced” to Lupin at least 20 times before that night. But that was the first time that Alice at least seemed to demonstrate that she not only remembered it, but actually knew it very well, and was performing repetitive actions that were recognizably part of the same dance…which she’d demand to do seven more times before going to bed.

Unfortunately for my paternal pride though, in hindsight she was neither simply copying the music video nor giving her own original interpretation of it: as confirmed by her teacher later, she’s preparing for a Christmas performance at her kindergarten soon, and—yes—she’ll be dancing to Lupin.

So what’s the big deal? After all, while I’m still translating the lyrics myself (or at least I was until my “study” got invaded), they seem harmless enough:

But what if the kindergarten teachers had chosen Mister instead?

Or something by the Wondergirls perhaps? Two weeks from now, might I have looked on in abject horror as my 4 year-old kept thrusting her bottom out at me while singing I’m So Hot?

(See here for the video; the owner has disabled embedding)

No, because first, no matter how much WonderBaby’s appearances on national television could be construed as widespread public acceptance of that sort of thing, my wife confirms that many other Korean parents would also have complained well before then.

But second, and most importantly, actually Alice has already been thrusting her bottom out at me like the Wondergirls, for about three months now.

Seriously: several times a day, she’d suddenly run up to me giggling when I was at my desk, quickly thrust her bottom out at me a few times, then she’d run away in hysterics. Fortunately, she seems to have largely grown out of it now, but not through any discouragement on my part, which just seemed to make doing it all the more amusing for her.

Why did she start in the first place? I’ve no idea, as although she could have seen that dance move virtually anywhere, she wouldn’t have had any idea what it represented, or what adults would think of it. Perhaps one of her teachers overreacted to her or one of her classmates doing it or something, after which it became fun.

But whatever the reason, does that mean that it’s hypocritical to have any misgivings about Wonderbaby then?

Hell no. But to counter the argument that it’s just clean harmless fun, let’s be very specific about what the problems with her dancing to So Hot on national television are exactly. I can identify two main ones.

First, there’s the fact that Wonderbaby quite literally invites the viewer to view her as a sexual person. Of course, she probably has virtually no idea of the meanings of what she’s singing, let alone the consequences. In which case, one might already reasonably ask what she’s doing there in the first place, and in cases like this it is usually this naive, unknowing projection of sexuality that adults tend to be most concerned with. As explained by Durham in The Lolita Effect:

…the signals that girls send out about their sexuality, often naively, in response to the prevailing media and marketing trends, [are] signals that adults fear will attract harmful sexual attention. As the columnist Rosa Brooks lamented in the Los Angeles Times, “old fashioned American capitalism…is busy serving our children up to pedophiles on a corporate platter”….

….These charges open up quite a can of worms. Can marketers in fact “serve” children up to pedophiles? Is there any real danger in young girls wearing low-cut, skimpy, or “trashy” clothes, or is this just a harmless fashion trend designed to raise parental hackles, like so many others in the past? Could it even be seen as a feminist moves towards embracing a femininity or “girliness” scorned by previous generations and linking it to power rather than passivity? (p. 69)

I’ll return to the last point later. But before I do, from the outset I want to put paid to the notion that even children that young are completely neuter and/or are unaffected by sex in the media:

For children to take an interest in sex is not out-of-the-ordinary or scandalous. Even toddlers “play doctor” to explore each others’ bodies and mimic intercourse, though scholars are still debating what constitutes “normal” sexual behavior in young children. Sex is a part of life, so it is bound to surface in different ways at different developmental stages; it is not cause for alarm unless there is harm or abuse involved. Of course, sexuality needs to be dealt with in ways that are appropriate for the age and maturity of the child, the cultural and social context, and above all, the ethical implications of the situation, but sex per se cannot reasonably be viewed as harmful to minors. (p. 68)

And in particular:

The conventional wisdom is that interest in sex escalates as children approach adolescence; this is a biological viewpoint that connects the hormonal shifts and physical maturation of puberty with an increased interest in sex. But now sexuality marks preadolescence and childhood, too, and for many adults, this is justifiable cause for alarm. In today’s world, children as young as eight report worrying about being popular with the opposite sex; first graders describe being sexually-harassed by classmates; and by middle school, kids are steeped in sexual jargon, images, and exploration. Sex educator Deborah Roffman argues that little girls start wanting to look good for others at age four….(p. 65)

Very few—if any—cultures have found ways of adequately and appropriately dealing with the inconvenient fact of child sexuality (let alone the media) but surely Wonderbaby’s example doesn’t help. Nor do the music videos discussed below with slightly older girls either, but which I only realized thanks to Barry Raymond, a friend of mine that used to live in Korea (and now with 3 daughters himself):

No, that’s not them: rather, it’s a screenshot from the music video for Bang! (뱅!) by After School (애프터스쿨), which I translated back in June. One of my favorite Korean songs, I was originally a little miffed when Barry criticized it because the inclusion of the young girls, to which I replied on Facebook:

I’m usually quite wary of that too Barry, especially in Korea, where people are generally very reluctant to admit that things like that can be problematic. But in this particular case I think their presence is fine personally, because they’re gone within the first 20 seconds or so, and don’t perform any dance moves that can be considered remotely sexual. So they’re clearly supposed to be decorations at the beginning, considered quite separate to the grown-up (sexual) women of the group.

His response:

The lyrics and dancing that make up the song and video are all about sex. To place a child at the beginning of that exploits them in a sexual way. How would you feel about a child appearing at the beginning of Bad Romance or some other Lady Gaga song. It’s a girl group exploiting itself on the basis of sexuality, at least in this song. That is their choice, don’t force it upon the clearly underaged girls that appear in the video or try to make it appealing to an underage audience.


Hmmm, you may well have a point there, which I admit I wouldn’t have considered if you hadn’t brought up imagining the same in Bad Romance; I wonder if that shows just how used to that sort of thing I am here?

(15 year-old f(x) band member Sulli in Oh! Boy Magazine; source)

And finally, albeit admittedly after my asking if I could post it here at some point(!):

According to Wikipedia… See More’s typology of child pornography, the type described as posing involves (allow me to paraphrase) ‘deliberately posed pictures (video) of children fully clothed, partially clothed etc. where the context and/or organization suggests sexual interest’.

The”Bang” video places two clothed girls wearing the exact same attire as the older models at the beginning of the video. The girls dance alongside the older models where the older models are dancing in a sexually provocative manner (the younger girls are not in my opinion dancing in a sexually provocative manner). It should also be noted that while the girls wear the same outfits as the older models the fitting of their outfits is not alarmingly provocative although the same outfit on the older models is certainly sexually provocative. So we have a situation where several sexually provocative models are juxtaposed with what appears to be virtually identical under-aged girls. This to me would constitute a context of sexual interest where the line between the older models and the younger models is intentionally blurred.

Further to this context would be the lyrics….and the title of the song, “After School” along with the school oriented marching parade uniforms. To me this video is unambiguous contextualized sexual exploitation of children.

Is judging the Korean media and Korean music videos with an assessment system developed by the Paedophile Unit of the London Metropolitan Police merely imposing a Western value system on Korea? You decide, although I’d wager that in fact the Korean police have a very similar system.

Either way, not much later one of After School’s subgroups – Orange Caramel –  did the same again with their music video for A~ing (아잉):

For the sake of providing sufficient warning of the slightly NSFW image coming up in a moment, let me take the opportunity here to point out that it’s not so much the lyrics and dance moves that are the issue this time (see here for a video with them), but more having a child in a music video “sugar-coated with sexual undertones,” with an “obviously pedobaittastic tone,” and with “kinky cosplay lolita outfits”, all as noted by Johnelle at SeoulBeats. And so much so, that this next screenshot…

…instantly reminded of this next image, which I’ve had on my hard drive for years, from God knows where. Not looking very closely at the small print before then, I’d always assumed that it was the cover of an erotic fiction book, but it actually turns out to be a poster for a pornographic cartoon:

(Source: unknown)

Continuing with A~ing though, just in case you think Johnelle and I are exaggerating:

And in particular, these costumes, which—correct me if I’m wrong—seem to serve no other purpose than to have one’s breasts spill out of them:

All good wholesome stuff. So, like Johnelle notes, what’s with having a little girl dressed up in the same kind of vinyl red riding hood get-up as the women at the end?

So, does all the above mean I’m advocating that girls should never be allowed to appear in sexually-themed music videos (and so on) then? Yes, I guess so.

But how to set a minimum age for that? After all, the upshot of everything I’ve written so far that any age limit would be somewhat arbitrary and artificial.

If I did have to to set an age though (and it would be very unrealistic not to have one), then I’d say that the age of consent would be the most logical choice. Unfortunately however, in Korea that happens to be as low as 13 (see here and here), even though the age at which one can view and perform in sexually-related material and/or have reliable access to contraception is 18.

Yeah, I don’t see the reason for the huge discrepancy in age limits either…which is not quite the same as arguing that any of them should be 13.

But that’s a subject for another post. In the meantime, one argument against any age limit on appearances is that the average age at which girls begin to menstruate has been dropping steadily since 1850, so much so that – in developed countries at least – they now enter puberty between the ages of 8 and 13. It would be a pity to deny girls the right to express their ensuing sexuality in popular culture, especially with female sexuality in general being repressed and/or literally viewed as evil for so much of human history.

(16 year-old Bae Su-ji of Miss A; source)

Yet the notion that the feminist sexual empowerment of girls and women is what primarily motivated the appearances of Wonderbaby, the girls in the After School videos, the tight pants of 15 year-old Sulli, and 16 year old Bae Su-ji’s pose above is simply absurd, and indeed there is solid evidence that most young female entertainers are in fact pressured to wear their supposedly empowering skimpy clothing (and dance provocatively) rather than doing so out of choice. But although such arguments have still been made in Korea nevertheless, the overwhelming public attitude is to stick one’s head in the sand and deny the existence of teenage sexuality at all (let alone child sexuality), as this Korean commentator complains himself.

And in a sense, this is the official Korean government position too, if the article “Swept up by Girl Groups” by Jeong Deok-hyun is anything to go by. You can find it on pages 44-48 of the March 2010 edition of Korea Magazine, the official magazine of the Korean Culture and Information Service (downloadable here), and about this specific part on page 48…

“The shadow of recession and nostalgia:  Some are so surprised by the elder generations’ enthusiasm for girl groups that they cannot help but mention the Lolita complex. Nevertheless, that would be an example of an exaggerated principle that remains from the past authoritarian era. In the course of shifting from a masculine-dominated era to one of feminine equality, the imposing frames of age and gender are being slowly torn down. The time has come in pop culture where a man in his 40s can cheer for teenage girl groups without being looked at suspiciously.”

…my friend Dr. Stephen Epstein, Director of the Asian Studies Institute at Victoria University wrote to me:

The logic here is almost comical: the empowerment present is not that it brings young women to a heightened sense of their own possibilities in the world (which is mentioned nowhere in the piece), but rather that pop culture commodification of sexuality has reached the point that middle-aged men now have the privilege of ogling teenage girls in bands without fear of embarrassment. Now that’s what I call empowerment….


But again—and this bears repeating—its not girls’ sexuality itself that is the problem. Rather it is that:

…the expression of girls’ sexuality seems to be possible only within an extremely restrictive framework. Girls’ sexuality, it seems, has to comply with the markers of sexuality that we recognize, and it cannot be manifested, recognized, or mobilized in other, potentially more empowering and supportive, ways.

This is a form of mythmaking. When a concept as complicated, multilayered, and diverse as sex is reduced to expression through a single channel – the one involving lacy lingerie, skintight clothing, and the rest of what Ariel Levy calls “the caricature of female hotness” – it has to be seen as construction or a fabrication, in which the complexities of the subject are flattened into a single, authoritative dimension, and in which all other possibilities are erased.

So it is important to think about the ways in which girls are being coached to aspire to “hotness” by popular culture, and how the commercialized definitions of “hot” offer beguiling but problematic representations of sex that limit its vast and vital potential. (pp. 70-71, emphasis in original).

And that is the second major problem with WonderBaby’s appearance: how it already sets her on that path, and/or provides an example for others to follow. And while that is by no means a problem confined to Korea – Durham’s book alone is testament to that – it is taken to extremes here. As like I explain in Part 1, it is near impossible for a young aspiring female singer or actress to advance her career without doing “sexy dances” on numerous talk shows and entertainment programs:

And yet strangely, when 30-somethings (and above) do the same it is usually only as part of a big joke, as if they were suddenly neuter. Moreover, whenever a girl group’s music video features sexy dancing and lyrics that aren’t exclusively designed for a male gaze, then they have a very good chance of being banned from television, as anyone with even just a passing familiarity with K-pop can attest to.

But on a final note, one frequent complaint I have about most articles and blog posts on this subject is that they rarely explain why this is the case, nor why younger and younger women and girls are becoming more involved over time. And indeed, for all its popularity, even Durham isn’t as clear about this as I would like either, and I had to read her book several times to figure out what she actually means by “The Lolita Effect” exactly.

In short, it is the natural consequence of various industries’ (fashion, cosmetics, cosmetic surgery, diet-related, food, and so on) need to build, expand, and maintain markets for their products, which obviously they would do best by – with their symbiotic relationship with the media through advertising – creating the impression that one’s appearance and/or ability to perform for the male gaze is the most important criteria that one should be judged on. And the younger that girls learn that lesson and consume their products, the better.

Simplistic? You bet, and I’d be the last person to deny the role of a whole host of other factors, including – for one – the fact that basic biology makes women’s physical attractiveness a much more important factor in choosing a mate for men than vice-versa.

But do consider that: there is not a single country that did not also experience “housewifization” as a consequence of development; that in economic terms at least Korea is now officially the most consumerist country in the world, and much more so than the US (no, really); that comsumerism was explicitly conflated with national-security and anti-communism by the Park Chung-hee (박정희) regime of 1961-1979 (and very much still is); and finally that Korean women played a crucial role in that last, as that last link makes clear.

Given all that, then is anyone surprised that Korean women the thinnest in the developed world, yet actually consider themselves the fattest, and act and spend accordingly?

Correlation not always implying causation be dammed. And if nothing else, I hope I have at least persuaded you of that link with this long post!


The “Reading the Lolita Effect in South Korea” series:

Music Monday: On Black music, KARA, & Why K-pop bands are so large…

Three things of interest I came across all in the space of this morning…

First up, a recent edition of the BBC4 podcast Thinking Allowed, which – paraphrasing slightly – discusses the contention of cultural critic Paul Gilroy that:

From Curtis Mayfield to 50 Cent, from Nina Simone to JayZ, black music has declined in its quality and lost its moral stance. Outlined in his essay “Troubadours, Warriors, and Diplomats” in his book Darker Than Blue: On the Moral Economies of Black Atlantic Culture (2010) , he joins host Laurie Taylor and music journalist Caspar Melville to discuss the counter-cultural stance that black popular music once had, and explore whether it really has been destroyed.

On the surface only tangentially-related to Korea, in that modern K-pop has strong hip-hop roots (in contrast to J-pop, which are more in rock), this 28 minute, very accessible synopsis it is still surely required listening for all those interested in music and cultural studies. And indeed, the second half of the discussion in which they talk more about the impact of technological developments on music, and especially the reality that precious few young people are prepared to pay for it anymore, is perhaps more pertinent to the Korean music industry than most.

Next, an Icelandic reader passed on a link (thanks!) to the journal article “Crazy About You: Reflections on the Meanings of Contemporary Teen Pop Music” in the Electronic Journal of Sociology (2002), by Phillip Vannini and Scott M. Myers, in which the highlighted part below immediately leaped out at me. With apologies for the long quote for the sake of context (actually, only 2/3rds of the paragraph!):

…Centralized corporate production insures continued consumption through pervasive distribution, vast output volume, and structured product obsolescence (Gitlin, 1981) while strategies of careful manufacturing of the image and sound of pop icons ascertain that audiences are treated as ‘targets’ and ‘market-segments’. Take for example the case of Britney Spears. Her image and sound had been first controlled by Disney as a pre-teen Britney worked as a host of the Mickey Mouse Club. Subsequently her schoolgirl image was spiced up to appeal to the 12-16 age group and her videos were made to occupy a steady spot in the rotation of Zoog ABC and the Disney Network. Now, with her continued biological growth her image has been recreated as sensual and provocative and formatted to meet the demands of MTV. As this takes place new ‘Britney’s’ mushroom on the market to appeal to different targets: Jessica Simpson to Christian teenagers, Mandy Moore to preteens, Jennifer Lopez to Latinas and older fans. Producers’ control extends from songwriting to image-packaging and personality development (Frith, 1978). Any boy-band act is put together to appeal to various personalities and life outlooks of fans as each band includes a member portrayed as cute and sweet, one funny, one good-looking and mysterious, one creative and goofy, one talented and motivated, one dark and tough, and such. Bands are created with the consumers’ demand in mind4, for example LFO target through MTV an older adolescent urban audience with their hip-hopish sound and sexual innuendos, while S Club 7 and Aaron Carter target preteens through Fox Family and ABC Family. This is an example of the diversification of products that allow producers the broadest appeal possible and the highest profit margin.

In passing, footnote 4 from that is also interesting:

4. The structure of consumer demand is an important concept to keep in mind. As Frith (1978) suggested producers’ ability to shape needs is limited. Why or when a style becomes popular or unpopular remains a conundrum for the music industry. It is much easier for any producer to stay with one genre or act after it has become popular and produce endless imitations than experiment with new formats or shape consumer demand. Record industries still find very few acts highly profitable, while the majority of albums produced and distributed hardly bring any profit at all (Burnett, 1996).

But the highlighted part caught my eye because of what I’d read in the post Thoughts on K-Pop Vol. 1: So Addictive at the blog Multi, which is definitely required reading for those interested in Korean music specifically:

Another important thing to note is that the Korean music industry is populated mainly by groups of at least five members. With a main audience of between 10 and 19, this is a brilliant idea because all the kids will have at least one person they like in every band, are enthralled by their personalities as seen on numerous TV shows, and will not hesitate to buy their albums and merchandise. This works for other industries as well, as phone, food and clothing companies almost solely hire celebrities to star in their commercials. They also record songs and shoot music videos (and short films) for these products and then endorse them on their numerous TV appearances. Basically, the celebrities become the only people you see on screen and in print. They become ridiculously popular really quickly, and then are sent around Asia to maximize their worth because all the other countries have succumbed to the “hallyu wave”.

Naively, I hadn’t been aware that the same logic also existed outside of East Asia. But having said that, it is still much more marked in K-pop. For not only it is exaggerated by the overwhelmingly celebrity-focused nature of advertising here, but that in turn is further exaggerated by the need to sell singers rather than their music per se,  for reasons mentioned earlier. And there’s less space for independent artists that don’t subscribe to that logic to emerge too.

Finally, all the photos of KARA (카라) in this post are from their performance at (unfortunately spelt) Wonkwang University (원광대학교)* last month, in which it started to rain halfway through their song but – seemingly without so much as batting an eye – they kept performing nonetheless (see video below).  Found via Omona They Didn’t!, admittedly I probably wouldn’t have given the photos a second glance if they had been of a boy-band instead, but once I had then I really responded to them, well-aware of how refreshing and especially liberating it can feel to continue exercising – or indeed, dancing – in a downpour.

More to the point though, not only are the photos themselves stunning, which this blog theme doesn’t really do justice to (click on the images themselves for more detail, or see Diabolique here and here for more), but in particular KARA happened to be performing Lupin (루팡), in which as Multi – who else? – puts it:

…From what I gleaned from Youtube translations of the songs, they sing about being confident (in love?) and not being afraid…as opposed to simply trying to get a guy’s attention in “Mister” (미스터); check here and here for respective lyrics, and it shows in their performances. They shine in “Lupin”, but bore with “Mister”. It might just be that “Lupin” is fresher, and they’re bored of performing Mister (side effect of weekly live performances, a.k.a overkill, of songs in k-pop) but I doubt it’s just that…

She tends to prefer performances to the music itself, and presumably to the music videos too, but for what it’s worth here they are to compare:

And finally a fan cam of the performance, although unfortunately it’s of very poor quality. The rain starts falling about at about 1:20:


p.s. I’d been under the impression for many years that the term “Black Music” wasn’t particularly PC, and consequently have sometimes discouraged my Korean students from using it, but the Thinking Allowed podcast made me realize I may have been mistaken. Was I, or is there perhaps a difference between American and British English?

* (Say “Won-Kwang”, not “Wonk Wang”!)