Tuesday, April 20, 2010

More K-Pop Musings

Channeling the Beatles... I like :)

I tried. I tried really, REALLY hard. But no luck. It's happened.

I have been outed as a k-pop fan in public.

It's TOTALLY not my fault though! I was tempted! My South Korean friends, along with my Japanese friend and her African-American boyfriend, were talking about it at a party this weekend. Despite my immediate urge to jump over and discuss the merits and demerits of Rain's new single and video (great song, hot bod, but unnecessary body rolling), I stayed on my side of the room, acting like I wasn't listening in on their conversation. I didn't even flinch when they started playing "I Don't Care" by 2NE1 (okay, maybe I discreetly did the finger waving dance when no-one was watching). But then they mentioned Taeyang, and I couldn't not talk about Taeyang! I LOVE TAEYANG!!! I was over there in a flash, trying and failing to replicate the dance from "Wedding Dress". Sigh. So much for self-control.

It was great though - we had so much fun doing dances from popular songs and reeling over Hyunah's age-INappropriate hip-thrusting. However, my one Korean American friend was not a fan of k-pop at all, and was really surprised that I liked it. She asked me, "So why do you like k-pop?" And I faltered. I panicked in my mind - "I need to come up with a rational, well-thought out reason for why I like this."* But I couldn't. I came out with, "Well, it's because I think it's genuine..." And she counters, "What?! It's like the most manufactured musical genre there is..." "That's not what I meant... umm... I don't really know how to explain it, I guess..." She concedes that it is catchy, then moves the conversation in another direction by asking me what I thought of Rain. We moved on, but the question stayed in my mind. So why do I like k-pop?

I blame my Jesuit education (and the Yale academic atmosphere) for my tendency to mull over things and try to figure out why and how things happen. I had already figured out "how" I had come to love k-pop (thanks, Eccentric! ^^) but I hadn't yet clarified "why". And I have to admit, I was curious about the answer too. I'm Nigerian, not Korean. Most of the music in my music library is hip-hop and R&B, mixed in with African music. I scoff at most American pop music, and read hipster music blogs like the Fader so that I can say that I know where to find "good" music. None of these things indicate that I would like k-pop.

However, there are some things that do. For instance, I like the Beatles. So does my dad. My dad, whenever he talks about the Beatles, always talks about how their songs are just simple melodies with simple, sweet lyrics to sing along to (in contrast to the crazy music kids listen to nowadays - he doesn't say this out loud but I know that's what he thinks). This, in my opinion, is the essence of popular music regardless of national origin.** And despite my desires to be a high ranking music critic who turns her nose up at commercially produced radio fodder, I can't help but like k-pop because it's so damn catchy.

Secondly, despite k-pop being extremely mass-produced, I find that most songs are carefully crafted and put together creatively. That is, they're not just fun and easy to sing along to, they're also quality tracks. I don't get the vibe I get from The-Song-Which-Shall-Not-Be-Named***, which is "I put in as little effort as possible to make a song that sells millions. Eat that, mofos." I get this vibe from a lot of American pop music (and rap music, actually). It's not really about crafting a memorable song or a good album anymore. Instead, all they do is make that song interesting enough to get a ton of less discerning music consumers to buy it and put it in the iTunes Top 10. Then, the formerly unknown artist is immediately shot to stardom, everyone will buy their album which only has that ONE good track among 10 mediocre ones, and the big shots smile and rub their fat bellies. Or everyone just buys that single off iTunes, and the artists makes the rest of their money at concerts opening for other, more innovative artists. I find k-pop to be a refreshing change from this model, which I can only describe as "gimmicky". Yes, in the end the execs rub their fat bellies, but at least I don't feel like I'm being duped. Like, "haha, this song sucks but you'll still buy it". I think that k-pop is "good" pop, i.e. it's different and interesting and well put together. A lot of the time, I feel like the songwriters could have done more, but stopped at good enough (e.g. with 2PM's latest mini-album - every song follows the formula of "Heartbeat" but none of them are as intense or memorable) but I always appreciate the effort. And there are those k-pop songs that stop me in my tracks and I go, "wow, that was awesome". The one that comes to mind is SHINee's Jojo - it's a heartfelt song, well put together and completely non-formulaic. Love it.

Another example of where I see the creativity of k-pop songwriters and producers: I just discovered that two songs I really like use almost exactly the same instruments and have nearly the same bpm. But, I get completely different vibes from the two: In Go by F.Cuz, the guys sing about ending it with the girl who broke their hearts, and Gil Hak-Mi's Moving On is about... well, moving on... okay, maybe they aren't so different... but they sound really different, and I feel like Go has more of a frustrated, urgent, "you need to get out of my life" vibe, compared to the more laidback "nothing do me, time to party" attitude in "Moving On." The fact that two songwriters/producers can use the same instruments and beat and still come out with two very different songs astounds me. I really consider producers to be artists too, especially now when electronic music has become really popular, and producers have much more of an influence on the music they create.

So when I said k-pop was genuine, I really meant that someone was actually trying to make a good track - to create something new and different, and not just to sell CDs. I think of k-pop music the same way I think about British pop music - yes it's mass-produced, but I never feel like they're skimping on quality because of it. I haven't been following for a while, but hey, once Will Young puts out a new CD I'll be all over it. And, I still bump my Spice Girls and Sugababes with no shame. So next time I get asked why I like k-pop, I'll simply say, "It's good music. Mass produced, but good."

I feel that my tendency towards cultural products that do not come from the US also factors into my like for Korean over American pop music. Yes you can say that contemporary international pop music is just mimicking Western pop music, but you cannot say that the non-Western producers of this music do not exert any influence on the music or give it a non-Western feel. K-pop (and k-drama, which I'm just getting into) have a distinct emotional vibe that I just do not get from US music. I like music that tugs at the heartstrings, transports me to other places, and to create in my body a need to move. And my favorite songs, including k-pop songs, do that for me, while a lot of other music doesn't. And that's just it.

Okay done. Back to reading about Chinese food...

*This is a fear instilled in me by going to Yale. Everyone knows that you can't be caught looking dumb in front of your peers when asked a question - you need to prove that you're smart, you belong here and you can talk academically and casually about any topic that interests you. ... Or maybe that's just me and my insecurities. Hmm.

**I do acknowledge that there are huge international followings of of electronic and dance musics that do not fit this categorization, where the focus is on beats and rhythms rather than lyrics and melodies. However, I feel like "pop" music and "dance" music have evolved seperately so that they aren't even listened to in similar spheres, or competing with one another. I am focusing on "pop" music here, i.e. music that dominates radio and television, that almost everyone listens to without thinking about it, and that is allegedly produced for solely commercial purposes (though I contest that notion for reasons I will explain in another post).

*** WHY did they choose "He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named" as the name for Voldermort? God knows You-Know-Who is much shorter and to the point. smh

Friday, April 16, 2010

Make My Heart

Toni Braxton. There's a name you haven't heard in a while. I remember jamming to "He Wasn't Man Enough For Me" in 7th grade, and rooting for her superhero character in the music video (despite being scandalized by her using her assets to distract her enemies). She's come out with a new video, and I have to admit, the first thing I thought was "Aren't you a bit too old to be doing this sort of thing?" But then I said, "You know what? Nobody said you HAD to act your age." And only Toni can look this good doing it - she's ROCKING that fade, and looks altogether amazing. I hope I still look this good when I'm thirty, talk less of her forty-two years. Damn. I also love the track - It's exactly the upbeat jam I've been craving these days. That party too - I really need to move to a more happening city.

Eccentric has given me the Happy 101 Award, and I'm supposed to write about 10 things that make me happy. However, I'm dealing with a lot of stuff lately, so happy is hard to come by. But I promise I'll do it eventually! Just need the sun to break through the clouds...

Anyway, lemme know what you think of the video!

EDIT: OMG I can't believe I completely forgot to mention the awesome dancers in this video! Look out for FannyPak at around 0:44 (LA dance crew featured on America's Best Dance Crew), B-Girl Shorty from the Beat Freakz (also ABDC alums - she's the b-girl with red hair) and a host of other people - WHO ARE THOSE GIRLS AT 0:57??? SO FIERCE

EDIT2: Okay, so I just watched a live version of this - what do you guys think of her use of gay men in her video and performances? Is it cool, or does it make you a little uncomfortable? Discuss ^^