Those who follow Kpop already know that Korean femme group 2NE1 re-released their track “Can’t Nobody” in English.
Since their debut in 2009, their company has been grooming them for the international market, which is relatively starving for content consumption and often times ignored. It should also be noted that the original track in Korean was already half in English spattered with rapper CL’s Korean verses. To me, there really wasn’t that much of a difference between these two versions and perhaps the most striking thing about the English release is how not awkward it is in comparison with the original. Often times when one song is recorded twice in different languages, one version always sounds off. Also, it helps that the members of 2NE1 lived and were educated in the US, France and The Philippines where English is widely spoken.
What’s a little perplexing to me is when 8Asians received this email, it was titled; “2NE1 sings in English!!!” followed with another email with links to YouTube clips with subjects, “White girls love kpop” and “Black guy loves kpop.” Read why you shouldn’t be surprised about this, after the jump.
For the last ten years, I’ve known that about a third of international Jpop and Kpop fans are of non-Asian descent. As a former radio host and podcast producer of an Asian music show, POP88, this is not breaking news. One of the most memorable emails I received from a listener some seven years ago read: “I’m a 40 year old Black woman from Texas and I just LOVE your show!”
What’s also a bit confusing is how some Asians tend to avoid learning about this sub culture at the consumption level — not to become fans themselves, but to see the sociological impact it has on the community, like how non-Asians like Asian stuff with some going as far as to learn the language and move to said country. The stigma is that some view this act as fetishism or exoticfication of Asian culture, and tend to disassociate from it completely. While I do agree this happens, what do you say to the 16 year old Black girl in Florida who likes this stuff?
To call it a phenomenon would really undermine the fans and artists because it begs the question: “Why do you like it if you’re not Asian?” To me, this is the equivalent of asking, “Why are you producing hip hop music if you’re not Black?” Sounds stupid, right? It’s often difficult to articulate why someone likes one thing over another, only to determine when they do come across it, they like it.
A brief skim through fans on the POP88 Facebook page reveals that the most active contributors are not of Asian descent. I’ve been to the Korean Music Festival held annually at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles where a third of the audience is not Asian despite the concert being MC’d completely in Korean. I shared a cab with 2 white girls who flew in from Arizona from the concert to our hotel who ranted about how Jpop idols should put on a similar concert.
Popular Kpop gossip site OMONATHEYDIDNT has its 18-and-older community members from all over the world post articles and spazz over their favorite idols by throwing completely inappropriate animated gifs and clever banter to the fourth wall. In between articles of SHINee, DBSK and 2PM, you can find random articles posted about social issues and current events going on in South Korea. These are things I wouldn’t have otherwise known about, but find interesting to read because it allows its members to take a break from the ‘shallow’ world of pop culture for thoughtful conversations with each other. I would go as far to say that half its members are not of Asian descent.
IS IT THE MUSIC?
I’ll admit, it does take a certain kind of leap to be able to hit play on music from Asia. The track record hasn’t exactly been kind; ears that are tuned to Western tastes will find the flat notes and musical high ends are jarring from the smooth vocals and heavy bassline beats. The sugar and pop are enough to induce shock with concepts so cheesy and tacky, they are often much too offending to overlook (like JYP aka Mr. Plastic see-through pants).
However, the interest is clearly seen in fan podcasts, YouTube song and dance covers. There are even fans who collaborate with one another around the world to produce English song covers of their favorite Kpop song. (I’ve actually mixed one down.) One thing for sure is that the remix DJs love Kpop. I’ve been told that it’s easier due to legal issues many have had with their Jpop remixes — but most don’t bother anymore and just stick with remixing Kpop.
Good friend, DJ Amaya, the Groovebot Club remixer and producer in LA who adores 2NE1 and literally fangirls over them, creates remixes that make me want to rip my clothes off dancing. The most popular Mash-up DJ is Masa, from Brazil, who started off as a BOA fan remixing her songs and is now playing a show in Singapore while getting airtime on television in Korea. Areia, originally from Greece and currently residing in Korea, is a SON DAMBI fan, who releases some of the most amazing Kpop electronic/ trance remixes, will soon release his album Silicone Princess. Blue Satellite, the electronica/nu-jazz remixer in Illinois, doesn’t limit himself to only producing Taylor Swift and Arcade Fire remixes but also the occasional Korean and Japanese pop releases. And I can’t forget DJ G Sweet from London who has the ability to remix and mash-up Kpop hits into the dirrtiest UK club bangers. (To be fair, since I’m naming names, here is a list of Kpop and Jpop remixers of Asian descent: Freaky Remix (Korea), Rex Rowdee (US), Epitone (US), Robotaki (Canada))
Do they understand the language? Yes to barely to no. Does it matter? Clearly not.
This band of musical geeks are the ones who tend to bridge the gap to expose and sometimes improve upon Korean and Japanese pop tracks that are otherwise indigestible to the majority of Western tastes. Chances are, if they like the remix, they may seek out the original.
IS IT THE EYE CANDY?
Homoeroticism and pedo-jailbait run rampant in Asian pop culture. Between guys ripping off their shirts to expose their well chiseled physique during broadcasts and girls baring midriffs in CFM boots and hot pants, it’s easy to see the appeal. There are guys obsessing over guys and girls obsessing over girls with some crossover here and there.
The eye candy in Kpop is like no other I’ve seen anywhere. It’s more manufactured than the contents of a Red Bull and just as addictive. It’s almost as if the mixture of abs, bright coloured clothing, chest and pelvis popping are drugs. And there are some very beautiful people in Kpop. There are drop dead gorgeous looking stars who when they open their mouths to say anything, the entire effect is ruined (*cough* RAIN *cough*). It really baffles me how some people actually made it to the top with just a wink and a smile (*cough* Ashton Kutcher *cough*). The biggest kill joy is when you’re watching a music video, enjoying the song and eye candy, then learn that its members are way too young to even understand what they’re singing and how provocative their dance is. In other words, they’re not legal. (The Teddy Riley produced girl group RANIA recently debuted with their track “Dr. Feel Good” with everything mentioned above. Two of its seven members are 17. *ick*)
I told a male friend about my obsession with Kpop girl group AFTER SCHOOL and after confirming that they are all legal, he enjoys them, too, with the volume turned down. He asked my boyfriend what he thought about my being obsessed. My boyfriend’s answer was, “There is nothing wrong with watching girls dance.”
FETISH FETISH FETISH
Asian pop culture, much like science fiction, comic book and anime enthusiasts, breeds a certain kind of nerd/geek folk with a slight Peter Pan complex. This, of course, is perfectly fine so long as you’re an upstanding citizen and a contributing member of society: just like any sub culture, there are always the ones that take it to the extreme and go overboard.
Some argue that girl groups like SNSD and T-ARA are marketed for what they call the “Ahjussi” or Uncle fanbase and that for most girl groups, their target market are boys to men. The international fanbase perhaps sees this more clearly than those directly targeted in South Korea. Cute and innocent works almost too well there, but gets a mixed response from international fans peering in. On the other hand, a fierce and charismatic group like AFTER SCHOOL, clearly targeting females in their late teens to early 30s, tend to not do so well in South Korea, but is extremely well received overseas. 2NE1, while fierce and talented in their own right, benefits greatly from their association with labelmate, the insanely popular boy group, BIG BANG. They are popular in Korea and overseas.
One thing is certain: international fans tend to be overly conscious of jailbait. Whether or not they behave accordingly is a different story.
THIS IS NOT NEWS
Kpop is definitely making its way through mainstream as seen through various random posts found on Perez Hilton. While it may attract a certain kind of fetish jailbait, most fans just enjoy the music for the addictive catchy tunes. International fans, regardless of ethnicity, tend to reason why they like it so much is because US mainstream music is boring, and that a certain kind of entertainment is missing. Many agree that the music produced is far more interesting and innovative than what is currently heard in the US. Just don’t set your expectations too high and you might be surprised.