Wednesday, February 8, 2012

BREAKING NEWS: Black Woman Featured Prominently in K-Pop Video

Thank you, Jay Park. The dancer, named Mauika Cole(?) has a nice 20-second feature in his new video, "Know Your Name" (starting at about 2:07):

Not a fan of the song or the video (cameraperson taking liberties with the tilt and zoom here) but finally! some inclusiveness in k-pop that includes black people as more than a 5 seconds or less cameo.

Curious to see how SK reacts to this. There was all sorts of fan hate when JYJ went on their first world tour and Yoochun was getting down with their dancer Telisha Shaw, and also when she and Junsu appeared to be close:

I don't think it'll be that big of a deal in this case though. While she's the only woman in this video, she's a dance partner, not a love interest, and the video of the acoustic version of "Know Your Name" shows that the sweet, demure girl is still the favored leading lady in k-pop.

Still - yay for brown women!

School's crazy at the mo, so I think this'll be the extent of my blogging for this week. If you're interested in reading more on race and k-pop here, check out these posts:

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Video: Jin Akanishi, "Sun Burns Down"

Adding to the ever-growing list of Asian musicians trying to make it big in the US is Japanese heartthrob/sex-symbol Jin Akanishi. I'm not as into J-pop as I'm into k-pop, so I don't know much about him except he used to be in a boy band and my j-dorama watching friends think he's the hottest guy in the world. I didn't even know he was trying to break into the US market until I saw him featured on the A-tunes blog. His first single, Test Drive ft. Jason DeRulo, was terrible, so I didn't have much hope for him, but this song is definitely better. I think because the last song was named "Test Drive", I can forgive him. "Sun Burns Down" is not the most innovative track, but it's catchy, dancey and everything that's hot in the US Top 40 right now. I dig it.

He's working with The Stereotypes, who were a major part of the creative team working on Far East Movement's breakout album, Free Wired. You could call it a safe choice or a smart one - by establishing himself  using their signature sound, he's placing himself into a category - I'll call it "party Asians" - that the American mainstream has gotten used to. Far East Movement have essentially paved the way for him, so maybe he'll have less of an uphill climb to his desired place in the music scene. I like that he's taking it slow and not simply throwing himself out there and hoping for the best, a la SNSD's random TV appearances last week. (I haven't seen them, and I probably won't ever see them, simply because I don't think they'll show me anything I haven't seen before). He has a full album in the works which should come out in March, as well as a national tour, and I expect he'll release at least another single before that. I hope his album is good - from all I've heard along the lines of Asian pop in America, I think this is the best crossover track, and Jin is currently the most promising artist to make the break through to the American mainstream.

Fans have noticed that Jin has been covering his face up a lot in his videos. I can't help but speculate as to why that is, and I think stereotypes about the attractiveness of Asian men have a lot to do with it. I mean, he's good-looking, for sure, but in that bishounen/kkotminam way that's become ridiculously popular in Asia, but not so much Stateside. (Anyone curious as to why can read my post about attractiveness and race from a while back where I put in my two cents). Many a handsome Asian man has failed to capture the hearts of the American public with their looks (example: Daniel Henney). By covering himself up, he gives himself an aura of mystery (playing on ninja imagery?), and also shifts the focus away from his looks and onto his music. That's probably a good thing in the long run, but it's also an example of how much Asian artists have to shift their personas in order to fit into the American mainstream. I mean, the dude can sing, but let's not get it twisted - he's popular because he's hot. I think it's sad that artists have to lose a lot of their uniqueness just so that they can break into the top 40, and I'm beginning to wonder if it's even worth it.

Everyone seems excited about Asian pop in America, but I'm much more pessimistic. From what I'm reading in the blogs, it all just seems like one big fad, the same way indie music was about 5 years ago. All of a sudden the mainstream media discovered that people were making music that didn't sound like everything on the iTunes Top 40 and decided that that was the new cool. They lauded all these bands like MGMT as the next big thing, and yet nobody cares about them anymore. If you ask me, it's because they're not that great - saw them live and it was pretty awful). Now k-pop is the new media darling, and yet the songs they pick as representative of the genre are for the most part the least musically appealing songs that k-pop has to offer. If they were really interested in new, innovative music, you'd think they'd try harder and actually give credit to people making good music. I'm pretty sure that by the time I graduate law school, America will be on to the next fad. Pop music by nature is temporal anyway - it's not like it's music we'll be listening to years in the future. Or at least, we won't be listening to it because it's good music. And because nobody's making music for years to come, it's bound to fizzle out eventually. K-pop artists can ride this wave while it's still high, but they should be prepared for when the tide pulls them back to sea.

What do you guys think? Is Jin Akanishi the best contender for Asian breakout star? Or are Korea's girl groups (2NE1, SNSD, Wonder Girls) going to be the ones to do it? Sound off in the comments!

For more on Jin Akanishi and his US promotions, check out his Youtube page.