Welcome to another Roundtable!

The beginning of this week marked a successful end to the London 2012 Olympics! While the Games had its fair share of ups and downs (especially for South Korea — which, during the course of the Olympics and afterwards, somehow managed to once again escalate tensions with Japan over Dokdo Island territory).

With the 2018 Pyongchang Winter Olympics looming on the near-but-far horizon, it can be expected that Korea has already begun to plan about the logistics of how they are going to host the games. This, of course, includes the opening and closing ceremony. Generally countries will choose this world stage to exhibit the aspects of their country and culture they are most proud of presenting to the world. While Beijing aimed to awe and impress with its rich history of art and tradition (as well as eerily coordinated manpower), London was a stark contrast in that it fostered a concert/party-like atmosphere with various modern pop culture icons — especially in relation to music — thrown into the mix.

The question that we posed for our panel of writers this week was: What kind of face do you think that South Korea will present towards the world in 2018? Will K-pop have a place in the ceremonies? Do you think it even be relevant at that point?

Gaya: I don’t know whether or not K-pop in its current form will be relevant in 2018, but I can safely predict that it will be relevant two years from now, in 2014. That’s when the next scheduled Winter Olympic Games will take place in Sochi, Russia.

The closing ceremony of any big games features a short presentation by the nation which will be holding the next edition of the games, before the official handover take place, and when Russia passes the Olympic flag on to South Korea, I am certain that K-pop will figure into the equation somehow. I don’t know if any of the groups that are big right now and have been together for four or more years will still be around in 2014, but we might see the younger groups step up to the plate: I could see Infinite and 2NE1 as candidates, for instance. Like a lot of other European countries, Russia has its own cache of K-pop fans, so featuring K-pop kind of makes sense, as it is likely to be one of the things with which Russians associate South Korea.

Considering that these types of presentations only last an average of 10 minutes, it is imperative that the country next in line to host advertises their country and creates awareness among the audience as quickly as possible, and utilising Hallyu would be just one way to do that. Russia’s performance at the Vancouver Winter Olympics Closing Ceremony featured many of the things people generally associate with the country, like classical music, ballet, opera and ice-skating. When Melbourne held its closing ceremony for the 2006 Commonwealth Games, 2010 hosts Delhi put on a 10-minute Bollywood Extravaganza that gave many members of the Indian diaspora a bad case of second-hand embarrassment. But it did get the job of getting the Indian name out there done, and luckily, Hindustan more than made up for it with beautiful opening and closing ceremonies, so I guess, in the long run, anything embarrassing that may happen at Pyeongchang’s presentation ceremony in 2014 will most likely be overcome by fantastic ceremonies at the games themselves.

Nicholas: Rather than play up pop culture, what South Korea should focus on would be the things that are likely to stay with them for years, like how they single-handedly went from developing nation to industrial powerhouse building good value items, and now creators and innovators (Samsung and Hyundai being pretty good examples). Or play up the historical aspects of Korea, given that it is something that cannot be taken away from them, and is just as compelling to the locals (and probably foreigners), if one could judge from the saeguks on Korean TV.

However, care must be taken to differentiate themselves from Beijing 2008, given that it could have been as much cultural playing up as possible during the Olympics.

Whatever it is, I would be extremely apprehensive about K-pop being overplayed during Pyeongchang 2018. While K-pop has certainly drawn some (very useful) soft-culture power to Korea, as evidenced by support for all things Korea among some of my friends, there are just as many who are very cool about K-pop, and support Korean for entirely different reasons (the quality goods reason outlined above).

Also the only reason London 2012 could get away with that many pop culture references was due to the fact that Britain had THAT much popular music to call on, such that there was something for everybody, from the parents to the hipster sister. And even then, there were some acts which left most watching wondering who they were.

If that were the case, imagine what bringing in K-pop to the opening ceremonies would be like. For one, there’s the prospect of explaining how said pop act was relevant to the “World Stage” to the parents…

Maria: With this discussion taking place even here, I feel like I’m the only person in this world who doesn’t care that much for the Olympics. However, I acknowledge the impact hosting this type of event has over the elected country and South Korea has many goodies to display. I can’t help though but having all these petty and selfish thoughts about the ceremony: the only thing I root for is watching K-pop artists in my living room with my family. I want a mind-numbing theme song. I cross my fingers for the Big 3 to collaborate and release tons of sub-units (please, God, some co-ed ones). I want a big, big stage and a badass choreography that doesn’t waste even one inch of it. I picture hanboks integrated into their performances and pyrotechnics and waterfalls and…back to Earth.

I do wonder how much South Korea will play the music card and if it does, are they really willing to promote their indie artists (to be read as anything else than K-pop)? What you said, Nicholas, about the limited public K-pop caters to, implies also the question of K-pop’s evolution in the next years and last but not least, the language barrier. Practically, any inherent problem K-pop has when exposed to a wider public.

Paloma: I’m partially with Nicholas in that K-pop may be a little too recent and his future projection unknown as to give it the important role of representing Korea in an international event of this importance, but I don’t agree with the pop culture as a whole. Yes, the UK has a long tradition of pop music, but they have proven it can work as an international representative. So has Japan with their manga and anime culture for years now. Besides, the pop culture raise in Korea is not solely based in K-pop; Korean films have made it into international festivals, and Korean dramas and even trot music have their place in the international community.

But Korea has the problem that they don’t really have any elements the international public associates with them, so why not mixing it all and, as Maria said, create a huge sageuk fusion with the hottest K-pop stars? Just as long as they don’t turn it into a 3 hour long Music Bank, I think it could work.

Ambika: I agree with Gaya that K-pop probably should be used in 2014 to get people’s attention. At the least, K-pop can be entertaining for ten minutes and will maybe even get more people interested in it. But in 2018, the prominence of K-pop in the ceremony depends on how popular it is at that point. It’s difficult to say since that’s six years from now. It also depends on if South Korea wants to use K-pop for its image on a stage that quite a bit of the world will be watching. While that’s great exposure for the K-pop industry and while it’s something I’d like to see for my own enjoyment, I’m not sure if that’s the direction Korea wants to go, especially since they have so much more to offer than what K-pop presents.

Instead, perhaps the way to go is to incorporate Korean dramas into the ceremony. From personal experience, I find that a lot more people watch Korean dramas in comparison to those that follow K-pop. Maybe drama OSTs could be acted out in succession or a popular one could be the theme throughout. For those that recognize it, it would be familiar. For those that don’t, it could be a story to follow. If not the pop culture route, then I’d see Korea going that traditional music or maybe trot route. Both can be stimulating despite a language barrier if the proper type of music or beats are chosen to appeal to a diverse audience. Though I do agree with Nicholas that playing the traditional music or cultural card might cause comparisons to China’s ceremony in 2008.

Nicholas: Interesting how from all your comments, there is far more to Korean culture than just the popular music. However, my ideal for Korea would just be for them to showcase their hard power (the technological exports and workforce) and maybe throw in a fun twist to it, sort of like how London 2012 narrated the modern history of Britain. And then maybe some soft culture showcasing, if cause the Olympics is always just a way of selling the fun side of the host country.

Gaya: I discovered today that the Seoul Summer Olympics opening ceremony started off not in the stadium, but on the Han River itself– that’s a really innovative way to start an opening ceremony if there ever was one, and it may have set my expectations for the the 2018 opening ceremony quite high. The technological advances achieved since 1988 also mean that much, much more is possible for South Korea to showcase itself. I am pretty certain that South Korea will go down the path of displaying its history, though the smaller arenas in which Winter Olympics ceremonies take place as well as the nature of the venue itself would influence both the content and the manner in which this history is portrayed. A greater focus on the snowy and more mountainous regions is probable. But in any case, I can see all kinds of technological tools being utilised, and I am really looking forward to seeing that.

Amy: As much as the thought of SNSD possibly revisiting Gee on the world stage mortifies me, the truth is that Korea probably has to showcase K-pop hardcore for the next Olympics. Their current economy is dependent on the high tech industry, tourism, and K-pop. And a lot of the large wave of tourism that Korea gets nowadays is Hallyu-influenced — dramas and music — so K-pop makes up a huge part of South Korea’s soft power right now.

On top of that, the ceremonies are nothing if not visual and there is nothing in Korea’s landscape right now that is more visually-reliant than K-pop. I’m a little afraid to think about how the Opening Ceremony might be the longest K-pop concert in the history of K-pop concerts, but one thing I am looking forward to is the showcase of Korea’s classical arts, and I think Korea will do a great job with that.

Gaya: Actually, Amy, I think that London’s Closing Ceremony is going to give South Korea ideas, and it is very possible that the Pyeongchang Games may end with a K-pop concert. But I am of the opinion that the Opening Ceremony will have hardly any K-pop. The only way it could be there is if a K-pop artist breaks into the global market and is relevant enough in 2018 to be featured. If not that, there could be an amalgamation of idol group vocals gathered together to belt out an official song of some kind specially written and composed for the Games, which I think has a very high chance of occuring.

Johnelle: I agree with everyone else that South Korea must play to their strengths while still being relatable to the outside world. They should showcase their past, because it reflects who they are as a people and where they came from so I definitely think they should include traditional music and dancing — which, as we saw in Beijing, can be awesome. But of course they need to be sure that they don’t look like they’re copying Beijing. What is tricky to predict is: Where South Korea will be in 2018? Will K-dramas and K-pop have sizzled out by then? Will Hallyu have turned to a ripple instead of a wave? With the growing consciousness of South Korea in the global entertainment world, I don’t think so. The face of K-pop and even maybe the sound might change, but I believe it will still have a presence. That being said, for Korea to show their current self in 2018, I believe there will be a K-pop presence during the ceremonies. There is no way to try and guess who that might be because 6 years is a long time and most of the hottest male groups right now could at the time be serving in the military or coming back from their service–will they still be relevant? As for the girl groups in K-pop, it wouldn’t be crazy to say that most of them might be broken up by then, and maybe even married with children.

Maybe an opening K-drama style a la all the time traveling dramas that are popular right now? A young Korean athlete struggling to find that ‘fighting’ spirit gets transported back in time to some significant happening in the past, which will of course include lots of pretty dresses and traditional dancing. From there, he learns from a master the spirit of the games: what it means to be a champion at which time he returns to the present, but he didn’t really want to return because he fell in love with a pretty female athlete who was a rebel in her time. But when he comes back, it’s Olympics time and he now has the will to win and then meets his love reincarnated that he never met before because she was going to school and training in the US and she ‘remembers’ him they fall in love all over again, and then boom: K-pop concert and fireworks while they kiss. End scene. Yeah, I watch too many K-dramas.

Anyhow, any country will be struggling to match up to what Beijing was able to produce. The best that South Korea can do is play to their strengths — culture, technology and yes, K-pop — or even just some kind of current Korean music, as K-indie and k-hip hop are also seeing surges in popularity. The important thing is to be true to who they are as a people. From there, they should be able to orchestrate an impressive show that is undeniably South Korean.

Fannie: I think that Korea should showcase a little bit of everything. They should definitely throw in the historic aspects — I think that traditional Korean dance, drumming, music, and fashion are visually stimulating on their own — as well as more modern aspects. Perhaps they could format it somewhat like what Beijing did: have the opening ceremony be more focused on their tradition and the past, and have the closing ceremony more focused on the present and the future.

Musically, I don’t think that K-pop acts are going to overwhelm the stage, although I am curious which acts will be selected to perform six years from now (most of the current popular idol groups haven’t even been together for that long). And you can bet that a lot of the current guy idol groups will have members missing by then, due to mandatory enlistment in the army. Yes, there will be idol groups performing and they will more than likely make up at least half of the musical roster, but Korea actually has a richer musical landscape than that.

And I’m not just talking in terms of genre, but also in terms of age. If anyone has gone to a Korean Music medley concert (the kind whose target audience is the Korean community overseas, and which have plenty of ajummas in attendance alongside the hormonal teenage girls) they’ll probably recall that even in those concerts there are plenty of performers both young AND old. It’s only because as international fans we don’t get as much translated news about the elder sunbaenims of our beloved idols that they appear to be invisible, but they’re not. As for guesses at who might be selected to perform? I’d place my bet that Psy, Insooni, Kim Tae-woo, SNSD, Wonder Girls, and 2NE1 will be included in the roster.

(Images via Associated Press, MBC, Top Star News)