MTV IGGY | K-POP UNCOVERED
By Edward Chun
(NEW YORK CITY USA) : Korean-American writer Edward Chun spent several years in South Korea as a music director for Korean television. With his exclusive special report for MTV Iggy, he takes us behind the scenes of the Korean music industry… and answers a few deeply personal questions of his own.
INTRO : What Is K-Pop?
For years, Korea seemed destined to be that small country stuck between China and Japan. It was the “shrimp among whales,” to paraphrase a popular Korean saying. At least that’s the way I saw it, growing up in Chicago as a Korean-American in the 1980s. There were plenty of mainstream Chinese and Japanese restaurants – even fancy, expensive ones – in the neighborhood. But Korean ones? For those, you had to leave downtown and go to Koreatown.
How about Korean movies? Forget watching those. Korean movies and television shows, which looked like they had been illegally copied onto VHS tape by Korean video rental houses, were so low quality that their entire budgets probably wouldn’t have covered the wardrobe cost of a second-rate American movie star.
The worst, however, was the music. With instruments that sounded like something off my cheap, Casio synthesizer, warbling, fuzzy vocals, and beats that sounded suspiciously like polka, Korean pop music was so embarrassing that when a non-Asian friend caught me listening to a song, he not only ridiculed me, I joined in.
But then, something happened: the internet. Bernie Cho, the founder of K-pop creative agency DFSB Kollective, told me of the incredible changes in music quality he saw in the mid-to-late 90s when he worked for music entertainment channels such as MTV Korea and the South Korean music network MNET:
“An interesting side effect of Korea's internet boom was the impact it had on raising the bar for K-Pop. With instant access to international music trends, Korean netizens became more aware of the nuances between inspiration, imitation, and innovation. If a hit K-Pop song smelled like a ripoff, fans slammed the artists hard and fast online -- website bulletin boards and chat rooms would light up with heated debates. Although artists may not be taken to court for plagiarism, fans would take them to the court of public opinion, becoming virtual judge and juries. Although verdicts varied, the message was loud and clear -- imitation was no longer a form of flattery but a surefire way to flatline a career. As a result, K-Pop singers, songwriters, and producers had no choice but to step up their game and deliver more distinctive, more dynamic music.”
Just a few decades later K-pop has not only taken Asia by storm, it has ridden the so-called “Korean wave” all the way to the edge of the United States: the Wonder Girls’ demonstrated enough mainstream potential to warrant an opening spot on the Jonas Brothers’ tour.
For any pop culture geeks who came late to the show: you may be asking yourself a simple question -- just what is K-pop? The answer is both simple…and complicated.
The simple answer is that K-pop is popular Korean music. The more complicated answer, however, is actually a deeper question: just what is popular in Korea?
Featured Commentator : DFSB Kollective (Bernie Cho)
Featured Artists : Epik High, Drunken Tiger, Yoonmirae