After watching SNSD’s appearance on Letterman and The Morning Show, I felt the stirrings of internal angst. I had delayed watching this clip for as long as possible, but being a self confessed masochist, curiosity eventually got the better of me.
Following the video, a very small part of me felt glad that Kpop was getting so much global exposure. A slightly bigger part felt angry that it was SNSD and not DBSK who had made history (oh why, oh why did they have to break up?!). The biggest part of me, however, felt EMBARRASSMENT. Yes, that’s right, embarrassment. And the reason for this is a cultural one, not a bitchy one.
With the Hallyu Wave having spread to China, Japan and most of South East Asia, it seems that the next logical place to take this phenomena is to the United States. American culture is however, different to Asian culture; with Kpop being an even more distinctive sub-culture. One would therefore have to question whether the American public would share our love of fanchants, “shipping” same gender couples, and pop groups big enough to form a cult.
Kpop attempts to provide the audience with a ‘sensory overload‘. The aim is to capture the them through synchronised dances, repetitive choruses, outlandish clothes and charismatic gazes. In fact, the majority of MVs distract from the song itself by shifting the focus of it’s audience to the storyline, or in the case of SNSD, to the members’ faces.
Western Music however, is actually about…well…music. Music is seen as a form of artistic expression and an outlet for individuality. Instead of emphasis being placed on mainstream and Billboard Top 40 Musicians, people also tend to have their own followings. Music comes in varied forms (i.e. more than just Pop), and the life cycle of a band can range from ‘one hit wonder‘ to a successful 10 year career. Americans also a more retrospective attitude to music, where older bands aren’t seen as obsolete and ‘new‘ doesn’t always mean ‘better‘.
Somehow I can’t see these lyrics being taken seriously:
“GIRLS GENERATION MAKE YOU FEEL THE HEAT… WE BRING THE BOYS OUT”
– The Boys, SNSD
“I’m… So… Fast.” – Mr Taxi, SNSD
“Because I naughty naughty” – Mr Simple, Super Junior
“I really wanna touch myself…” – Purple Line, DBSK
“MY NAME IS DONGHAE!!!! I’M INTERNATIONAL BABY! I’M SO COOL, I’M SO COOL” – Oppa Oppa, Super Junior
One would therefore have to question the viability of Kpop expansion into America and other Western countries. Although the argument may be made that Kpop fandoms have spread all around the world, I’m going to hypothesise that if we were to look at demographics, the majority of fans would be Asians living in a Western country.
My embarrassment therefore stems from the awkwardness of seeing something trying to fit itself in an environment where it obviously does not yet belong. Now I’m not a hater, but consider this, if a K-pop group were to represent us as Asians, who would you pick? (excluding SNSD because they’ve already proved how un-awkward they can be…)
Let’s take a look at the two finalists:
If SNSD had a difficulty fitting on the stage with 9 members, I can’t even being to imagine the logistical problems Super Junior would encounter. They’ll probably have to build a new stage just for Shindong. In fact, how would they even introduce themselves? ‘Hi my name is Siwon, I’m responsible for the group’s visuals and sexy charisma‘? Or, ‘Hi my name is Leeteuk, I’m backup vocalist number 4‘?
Why do I get the sneaking suspicion that Siwon may have learnt his English from Morning Glory notebooks?
Super Junior is also kind of like Tinkerbell. They need fan-chants to live. I’m sure we all remember the awkward performance where the audience didn’t chant. If not, the link will be provided below.
Now I love Big Bang. They are my #1 Kpop group and I have nothing for them but love and respect and drool. But the one thing I can’t seem to love is their English. It seems that outside of Asia, all of their charisma just fizzles and dies and becomes… I hate to say it: ‘try-hardiness‘.
Big Bang’s acceptance speech at the MTV awards is pretty much evidence of this. The speech in summary: “YO YO YOOOO SANK U SANK U SHO SHO MUCH” WOOT WOOT. [korean. korean. more korean] SANK U!! I honestly had to unplug my earphones before my heart palpitations turned into a full blown heart attack.
Maybe I’m just a disloyal Kpop fan or maybe I’m just cynical but at the end of the day, maybe I’m right. Can you honestly tell me that listening to your favourite idol speaking English is ‘cute‘ as opposed to ‘cringe worthy‘? If so, kudos to you. Give yourself a pat on the back and pretend that it’s your bias patting you. You’re a much better fan than me any day: Hwaiting?
Nic (with the help of a friend – T)
List of songs and videos mentioned:
SNSD Letterman: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H4lwzdnMNxQ
SNSD “The Boys”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6pA_Tou-DPI
SNSD “Mr. Taxi”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SVg6BpGlMwQ
Super Junior “Mr Simple”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6TwzSGYycM
Super Junior Silent performance: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=scRPmamUR64
Donghae & Euynhuk “Oppa Oppa”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ltTwN-EL85k
DBSK “Purple Line”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_1OIO3cYpzo