Boy, Was My Face Red

What are my feelings toward HyunA, and what are the possible reasons for my reactions? (Sheridan)

I have been aware of the popular Korean solo performer HyunA for a number of years now. HyunA (yes, it’s stylized that way) has a reputation and image in Kpop circles tied up in being sexy, raunchy, playful and fun (Willis 2014). But despite her notoriety I have never really gotten into HyunA, simply because I have never found her particular blend of hip-hop/pop particularly catchy or fun to listen to. A lot of the appeal to me seemed to be in the in the sexualized performances rather than strong vocals or interesting tunes. Not wishing to pass judgement, it’s just not what I look for in either music broadly or Kpop specifically. However last week when I live tweeted along with the #SBSPopAsia hashtag I was exposed to the new HyunA song/music video “Red” and I actually really like it. So this week I thought I’d direct the autoethnographic method towards HyunA’s new song.

What were my reactions and feelings in response to HyunA’s “Red”, and how did they change? (Sheridan)

My initial reactions were a mix of pleasant surprise at how good the song sounded compared to previous HyunA hits and a sort of tired bewilderment at the provocative nature of the video clip itself, which felt excessive even for HyunA. It wasn’t as though I found this hyper-sexualized imagery particularly offensive, more just hyperactive. It was an onslaught of monkey butts, twerking, underpants, glitter and riding giant bananas. At the end I couldn’t help but feel like it was riding the coat-tails of music/dance trends popular in the U.S.A. lately, such as the aforementioned twerking. There’s even a reference to Miley’s infamous Wrecking Ball film clip. As a fan of Korean pop I felt a little apprehensive to see it apparently recycling the American trends and memes of 2013. It made me realize that I partly enjoy Kpop as escapism from the American pop culture I find myself constantly exposed to, which I will admit is selfish of me as a cultural outsider. That’s not to say I think Kpop should remain pure and untouched by American influences, but rather that I have a bias that tends to favour Kpop when it feels less co-opted by American culture. After some repeat watching I shifted my perspective and started to see these references as cheeky nods to American pop culture rather than hapless imitations of it. Pictured below are some comments from the YouTube video that show experiences similar to my own.

HyunA reactions

What did I learn from this? (Sheridan)

As is always the case with Korean pop music, the meaning of the lyrics is completely lost on me due to language barriers. Whilst trying to bridge this gap I discovered that some of the lyrics were appropriated from a Korean nursery rhyme. The nursery rhyme goes “monkey butts are red, red is apple, apple is delicious, delicious is banana, banana is long.” Whereas the lyrics in Red go “monkey butts are red, red is HyunA, HyunA is…”, which to Korean audiences is supposed to evoke the provocative idea that HyunA is delicious (SBS PopAsia HQ 2014). It also explains the seemingly (to me) random imagery of bananas, monkeys, and HyunA stabbing the apple with her high heel that appear in the video.


 

References

SBS PopAsia HQ, ‘My Korean Husband’s Nichola explains the meaning behind Hyuna’s song “Red”‘, SBS PopAsia  http://www.sbs.com.au/popasia/blog/2014/07/30/my-korean-husband-nichola-explains-meaning-behind-hyuna-song-red

Sheridan, R (n.d.), ‘Autoethnography: Researcher as Participant’, An Introduction to Autoethnography, viewed 31 August 2014 http://ricksheridan.netmar.com/auto/

Willis, H 2014, ‘K-Pop Double-Take: Why 4Minute Rapper HyunA’s Solo Track ‘Red’ Should Be A Hit Single In The U.S. [VIDEO]’, kpopstars, 4 September, viewed 6 September 2014 http://www.kpopstarz.com/articles/105703/20140904/hyuna-red-4minute.htm

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5 comments

  1. This is a really great example of autoethnography and I really enjoyed reading your post! Your reflection on your use of KPop and Asian culture as a sort of refuge from the crudeness and unashamed sexual nature of American culture is an aspect of your experience that resonates strongly with my own experience. Another aspect of KPop that I have noticed feels like escapism from the sometimes monotonous Australian, American and British music scenes is the amount of thoughtful, supercharged creativity inherent in the production of KPop music videos, such as the quirkiness and cultural references present in Red Velvet’s ‘Happiness’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JFgv8bKfxEs) and artistic, post-modern style of Orange Caramel’s ‘My Copycat’ (https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=orange+caramel+my+copycat). I also love this obvious cultural appropriation in the Taemin ‘Danger’ video; Taemin is completely and utterly the new Michael Jackson in my opinion (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UF8m2JIDjKU). It would be really interesting to look at how KPop appropriates, repurposes and reimagines culture and art, and examine how your personal response to a new (to you) KPop video is shaped by the cultural context that you have grown into (Australian multiculturalism, integration of American culture since the beginning of the 1900s and the television/pop art era etc).

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    1. Thanks for the feedback! You’ve given me a lot to think about. I’ve been loving Red Velvet lately as well, I particularly like the influences from more rhythmic, beat-oriented musical cultures. It’s all the vibrant colours and excitement of Kpop coupled with catchy tropical island rhythms

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  2. Though Gemma’s already said it, that was a great discussion. For this week, I looked at J-Pop and I can see some comparisons with your discussion and perhaps some explanation as to the western references. I read an article by a Japanese professor who, though obvious in retrospect helped me in realising J-Pop as a reaction that reflects an anxiety of western dilution of cultural content in Japan. As has been noted this idea is perpetuated in Japan’s distaste in accommodating an international market. Is it in drawing comparisons that this example of K-Pop “recycling” of western content is given some validity? Korea clearly has a great interest in the promotion of their culture, so is this simply an attempt to continue the conversation? It might be just me but I also noted some elements of Gangnam Style in the video as well, which might serve as a further promotion technique. These conclusions are pretty thin but I thought it might be an interesting point for reflection.

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  3. I think the language barrier and presumption about what we expect from Korean pop music have a huge impact on how people outside Korea (especially Australian and perhaps other Western countries) receive and respond to K-Pop. I agree with you and think the comments that people made about this video imitating aspects of American music videos is a massive oversimplification of a global cultural phenomenon that is in no way new or unique to music industries. Think of how fashion designers t borrow elements or motifs from other cultures, rework them, and make something completely new or different. For example, the use of tribal prints in an Italian designers line of dresses might echo a traditional African dress. I think that HyunA’s video culturally appropriates motifs from American music videos in a way that appeals to both Korean and Western audiences.

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