2017 was an eventful year in K-pop, for all the right and wrong reasons. In 2017, Seoulbeats published a multitude of articles that covered a vast array of topics and themes — from music video and album reviews, to various socio-cultural pieces, and more. Our various End-of-Year Reviews (Comeback, Full and Mini Album, Drama, MV, Debut, Indie, Dance) gave us the opportunity to look back on the year in music, and now we take the chance to also look back on 2017 through the way we wrote about it.
To mark our first Seoulbeats Roundtable of the year, we ask: what were your favorite 2017 Seoulbeats articles? What is it about these articles that stood out for you?
Cy: I’ve popped in and out of Seoulbeats the past year, so I don’t know how pertinent my opinion is. But there are a couple articles that have had an impact on me.
First and foremost, Hannah‘s article about the Korean presence in breakdancing. I’m not sure how much people really know about Korea’s involvement in hip-hop, that it extends far beyond just the R&B and hip-hop that has skyrocketed to popularity in the last two or three years. We like to think of hip-hop as a young entity in the country, but it’s really been around since the late ’80s/early ’90s. That includes a very strong place in the annals of breakdancing.
I’ve been part of hip-hop culture since there was only one digit in my age, and my brother became entrenched in breakdancing when he was about 12. We’d spend every weekend combing 144p videos on DailyMotion and a still fledgling YouTube, passed-around VHS tapes, and bootleg DVDs of battles going on all around the country. An event we both revved up for was Battle of the Year, and what we noticed was the actual forerunners were either always from France or Korea. So that article just tingled my nostalgia, especially with how in-depth and accurate it was.
I was impressed with Cheryl‘s take on the prevalence of body-image issues in South Korea, looking at it from both sides, understanding that it’s very much not just a female issue (though the expectation for women and girls has always been unnaturally high), it’s everyone’s issue. I can’t add much to that conversation because Cheryl did such a wonderful job expressing both the issues and concerns of the double-standard (and almost negligence) fans set for their idols. It’s painful to see these kids do everything within their limited power to make their fans love them, and a lot of that has to do with aesthetic, unfortunately.
A few articles touch on matters I’m sick of having to deal with, quite frankly; namely, the still rampant anti-blackness in K-pop (and obviously by extension South Korea). That’s not to say I disagree with anything written, obviously. But the more I have to defend myself and other black fans from that ugliness, the more I get pissed and have just become sick of it. So I’ll go with my partner in rebel-hood Janine‘s piece about Dean and how some South Korean artists are taking a different approach to “crossing over,” so to speak, to the Western market. The reason I like it, in particular, is because there are some artists who aren’t going the traditional route, some artists who don’t have to. Artists like Dean basically make a name for themselves among producers and artists and stay true to their own path musically, and I respect the hell out of that.
Celina: Like Cy, I was also impressed by Cheryl’s article about body-shaming. I think it’s an important article showing that idols are human beings who can be sensitive to remarks about their body despite some thinking they’re perfect. Additionally, it breaks apart the stereotype that being skinny, dieting, and even exercise automatically equals being healthy. We sometimes forget our mental and emotional health needs care as well. I also liked that she encourages fans to create a positive change.
Another article on a serious topic that stood out to me is Kabejja‘s look into school violence in K-dramas and its relevance in Korean society. Especially as a fanatic of K-dramas myself, I was always horrified by the depiction of school violence in K-dramas but thought that it was exaggerated for dramatic purposes. Kabejja provides recent news articles on school bullying that were surprisingly similar to acts in K-dramas. On top of seeing this link, she also looks into possible causes for the extreme bullying like competition and dysfunctional families. It’s a serious topic that she tackled well and from all angles.
Lastly, Janine’s article in which she calls out the use of the N-word on Show Champion. I particularly like this article because I’m personally just over hearing excuses from idols or even fans that they’re just ignorant of how offensive the word is. Or that even if you do call them out, you’re worried that you’ll be told you’re being overly-sensitive. I appreciate Janine’s bravery in simply stating that it’s not OK, and that black people aren’t here to continue being the butt of any “jokes.”
Janine: Last year in K-pop felt like this rollercoaster from my childhood, it’s called the Tower of Terror. It goes up for a little bit and starts falling like a normal ride so you think you can handle it, but then you fall straight down into an open mine shaft. Reading Seoulbeats articles, unpacking the assault of news, helped me process many intense emotions so choosing favourites was painful! With a metaphorical gun to my head, my top three:
This year the overlap of politics and the entertainment industry was something we couldn’t avoid. Qian‘s piece on the MBC–KBS media strike was an important moment for understanding the mechanics of the press in South Korea. Censorship and suppression of the media isn’t an easy topic to make relatable but I through the article I was able to understand the significance of the strike and the context of the problem. Highlighting the coverage of the Sewol tragedy brought a lot of abstract concepts home relating to the angles taken to slant public opinion.
Turning the conversation back to sickening drops, I read Cy‘s review of Yunho‘s long-awaited comeback with a giant grin because her excitement was palpable. I find it so difficult to be effusive no matter how much I like an artist or song. I’m sure this is a result of my parents hoarding compliments like stock options but that’s between me and my therapist. The function of a positive review is to make you want to listen to the song. Reading it, I don’t only want to listen to “Drop”, I want to drape myself over one of the arms of Yunho’s throne in the MV. That’s hyperbole: I could never be a video vixen, my face is too sarcastic.
Then a refreshing take on an oft-broached topic, Cheryl’s piece on idol marriages spoke on fan reactions to idols’ private lives. We talk a lot about the entitlement the public feels towards idols and yet this article brought a well-rounded, nuanced perspective on an issue that’s often addressed superficially. Maybe it feels particularly relevant again with all the happy news that’s broken this month… Cheryl translated the salient points of an ongoing conversation in fandoms into an article I was excited to read and share.
Divya: The past year has had its share of controversies, which have thrown light on some of the implicit workings of fan culture and the industry as a whole. Hence, it was imperative to delve deeper into the specificities of these happenings which affect the idols we love.
Margaret‘s piece on akgae fans really put into perspective the obsessive side of fans and how, when uncontrolled, these feelings are detrimental to not only the member but also the group. A meteoric rise in fame accounts for several transgressions on the fans’ part that cross the limit of their relations with their idols. Reality shows that create idol groups are the breeding ground for ‘solo stans’ that contribute nothing to the whole group’s popularity.
In the same way, Cheryl’s take on reactions to idol marriages looks at the unhealthy possessiveness fans feel for their idols. The meaning of privacy is lost when the whole world gets to have a say in one’s marriage. Therefore it is not surprising that some idols choose to be secretive about their nuptials. Marriage is a double-edged sword for idols, and it shouldn’t have to be!
The intricacies of how K-pop works are quite unknown to the fans. Pat‘s analysis of Save My Seoul gave me goosebumps. The matter-of-fact way in which some interviewees responded to questions of prostitution and talked of its inevitability gives an insight into the causes behind the prevalence of these practices. Sexual favors in exchange for sponsorship seems to be the norm. Lack of popularity pushes idols into such precarious cycles from which they cannot escape.
Gaya: One of my favourite article from 2017 wasn’t in written form — the BuzzBeats two–parter on K-pop coverage in the Western sphere, and K-pop fans’ influence over it, was a great listen. As those who both enjoy K-pop and write about it, I appreciated hearing that dual perspective being shared by Madi and her guests, Cjontai, Lo, Cy, and Janine.
Last year saw us write about things we would have rather not happened at all. T.O.P‘s drug charges and hospitalisation was a terrible and confusing situation, and Carly was able to bring nuance and clarity to the matter. There were so many, often contradictory, reports that I appreciated the work she put into providing a clear timeline of events, as well as the empathetic tone that did not belie the necessary criticism given. With the immediacy and economy of social media, we are often at risk of not seeing the forest for the trees. Sometimes we just need space and time to come to a fuller understanding, and I am grateful that Seoulbeats provides us with a platform to do so.
On a lighter note, I want to give a shout out to all the writers who reviewed an increasing number of K-pop concerts for us. It was a lot of fun reading everyone’s experiences; a huge thank you to all the concert organisers who hosted us at their events!
Qing: I’m sure I missed a bunch of great articles because I’ve been so busy with school, and some of my picks have already been discussed. But the selection so far mostly comprises socio-cultural pieces, so I’d like to give a shout-out to some music-based reviews.
One that comes to mind is Liz‘s Indie Gem on Loki. Because of the language barrier between the Korean music scene and its international audience, we write from a necessarily distanced perspective most of the time. A lot of idols pick up English and try to interact with their international fans, especially during concerts, but because of the scale that K-pop operates on, it’s not often that singers can and do make an effort to reach out on a more personal level.
When it comes to the indie scene, there mostly just isn’t that connection between the musicians and their international audience. Liz came across a rare instance of a singer who diligently tries to overcome the language barrier. She took the initiative to reach out, and was rewarded with a better understanding of the person behind the music she was writing about. That we get to discover and share this experience makes her indie feature a true gem.
We often get double MV releases, but it’s not that common to have two releases serve an intertextual function even as they tell their own stories. Lo’s piece on Ha:tfelt‘s “I Wander” and “Read Me” intricately draws out the overarching narrative that calls for empathy despite obvious differences, paired with the impeccable musical analysis that is a signature of her reviews.
Finally, there’s Chelsea‘s incisive, clear take on BTS‘ “Spring Day.” The number of references and theories surrounding BTS releases can be overwhelming, but Chelsea cut through all of it with a careful focus on the theme of youth and the bittersweet feeling of wanting to linger on even as recognition that it’s time to move on dawns. One of the best things a review can do is to make the meaning — or at least one version of the meaning — of a release accessible for the readers, because only by beginning to understand it can any form of discussion branch out.
All in all, it’s been encouraging to see thoughtful pieces from both seasoned and new writers on the team. Here’s to another year of learning from each other!
(Images via: Big Hit Ent., KBS, Mens’ Health, Pledis Ent., SM Ent., Herald Pop, Amoeba Culture. Hyuna image via Mark. T.O.P image: credit to owner)