Because I only want what is right for my friends, I’m always doing my best to welcome them into the K-pop-sphere, even if they are kicking and screaming at the same time. So it’s pretty rare for one of them to respond to a K-pop related comment with anything more than “shut up about your bloody Asian music”; however today was an exception.
So today, when I casually asked if maybe they would be so kind as to let me play some K-pop, I was surprised when someone piped up “no thanks, I don’t like Nicki Minaj”. Eh? Have I missed something? “Yeah” another joined in “didn’t you see the Topman article?” After we established they didn’t mean TOP, as in the smokin’ hot rapper/my future husband way, I wondered what would Topman have to say about K-pop? Topman is a sub-brand of the clothing line Topshop, which is the go to place in Britain for occasionally affordable, faux-vintage, worn-by-everyone-but-actually-made-for-rail-thin-art-students clothing. I have mixed feelings about Topshop; on one hand it straddles the worlds of high-street prices and elite fashion well, yet it spelt Shakespeare wrong on one of its T-shirts. You might remember that the late Daul Kim modelled for the brand.
But back to my story. After watching me tear my hair out in confusion proved boring, my friends kindly explained that the online Topman magazine had written an article on K-pop, focussing on YG artists 2NE1 and Big Bang. Excited at this sudden unexpected publicity I rushed to the nearest computer and found the article. But as I read it, I realised it was not what I had hoped for.
For a start, some of the facts are just plain wrong. Big Bang has released many English songs, and not two weeks ago some of their artists released a song with an English singer. But goodness knows I’ve made some factual mistakes in my articles and people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, so I won’t press that point. I’m a little uncomfortable with the “porcelain dolls” reference because it could be interpreted as a dig at the plastic surgery complex in K-pop, not something that will help in an industry where “realist” artists are gaining popularity. Also a little ironic considering the company in question –YG – has a strict no-surgery rule.
There is truth in the article; I have noticed an increase in the flashiness of MVs, no doubt following the American hip-hop trend. And there are similarities between the chart-toppers such as Nicki Minaj and Justin Timberlake (not least Rainbow Pixie’s yellow/pink hair and the “Troublemaker ”
MV). “auto-tuned within an inch of its life” makes me sad, because only recently have I begun to appreciate how emotive some ballad tracks can be, and tarring all idols with the Auto-tune brush isn’t very fair. But there is an awful lot of it, even if it is being used for obvious effect as YG are so wont to do.
The writer reckons Big Bang will be the breakthrough band a fair assumption. She notes that so far however, it’s the girls that have really been leading the Hallyu Wave with Girls Generation, the Wonder Girls and the upcoming collaboration between Will.I.Am and 2NE1. But girls groups have really taken off again in the West in the way boybands such as One Direction, JLS and The Wanted have (no, the X-Factor winners Little Mix do not and will not count as a girl group).
And the overall opinion of K-pop is a positive one. Glasby asks “can it evolve to become a truly worldwide movement without being re-engineered for those wehgukin [foreigners] too bland and narrow-minded to appreciate K-pop in all its quirky brilliance.” It’s a question I’ve been agonising over myself a couple of times, it’s not that Kpop lacks flair or energy or distinction, it’s whether the West (and specifically the UK with its love for boys-next-door) want that energy and distinction and flair.
The article finishes with a list of key songs. There is real emphasis on G-Dragon, with his solos and GD&TOP’s tracks all on there as well as Big Bang. In fairness if we, as a nation, warm to Big Bang it will be GD and the Ziggy Stardust tortured genius vibe we’ll like the most, and if I’m honest the drug-taking will probably help. I can’t speak for the US. I didn’t realise “Café” was such an important song for K-pop, or SHINee’s “Y.O.U” or Beast’s “Say No.” I’d say “Bad Boy,” “Ring Ding Dong” and “Shock” are better choices. I was also surprised that the article talked very little about fashion, considering the nature of the magazine. Still, I’m not sure it would have been entirely complimentary –if you have seen Topman clothes in comparison to Big Bang or MBLAQ’s gear you would understand — so it’s probably a mercy.
Having read and considered the article I asked the aforementioned friends if their attitudes towards K-pop had changed due to the article. It seems it’s going to take more than one written piece, they need the music. Big Bang’s world tour will hopefully be the catalyst needed. Still, Topman isn’t a bad start at all (K-pop was also mentioned in the atrocious tween magazine Bliss, which will do its part to ruin K-pop’s image for anyone over the age of about 13 more’s the pity). Did anyone else read the article, and if so, what are your opinions?