Girls Generation: The Beginnings of my K-Pop Journey

Autoethnography is a process of connecting personal autobiographical experiences to social, cultural and political contexts for the purposes of storytelling and communication (Ellis & Bochner, cited in Alsop 2002). A key autoethnographic prompt put forward by Sheridan (n.d.) is to ask “how can I describe this situation so that others would fully understand what happened?” I think an important step to take in answering this question is to reflect on how I ended up becoming interested in Korean pop music specifically and how my initially shallow experiences with Kpop have developed into a slightly deeper appreciation of Kpop and Jpop, and an attempt to place these genres within broader cultural and industrial contexts. It all started in early 2012 when my younger brother showed me the film clip to “Gee” by Girls Generation.

It’s fair to say that Gee far exceeded my initial expectations and I was immediately drawn into the song with its bright colours, cheerful tone, adorable choreography, and relentlessly catchy vocal chants of “gee, gee, gee, gee, baby, baby, baby.” After a few days of repeat listens and trying to sing along with a language I completely don’t understand, I decided to explore further into the group via the related YouTube videos for the film clip, where I came across the far less bubbly, far more sexually mature R&B-styled song “Run Devil Run”.

Because I enjoyed this song as well, I decided to share the above video with my brother on Facebook. It was here that a mutual friend (and killjoy) pointed out that this was actually a song that was bought off American songwriters and that it had even been recorded as a demo by Ke$ha, in an attempt to stifle our enjoyment. I checked the facts and it appeared he was right, it was written by American’s and recorded by Ke$sha (Pini 2011). It didn’t affect my enjoyment of the song, but it did get me thinking about how much American influence exists in the Korean pop industry, and even how much of Korean pop can be thought of as inherently Korean. Up to that point I knew nothing and had assumed that because I was watching Korean women singing in Korean that this meant I was getting an entirely “in house” Korean produced song made for Korean audiences. But this assumption proved to be naïve and overly simplistic. Run Devil Run utilizes a schaffel beat that is popular in German techno and has been used by popular English electronic band Depeche Mode in songs like “Personal Jesus” (Martin 2011). Girls Generation are also highly successful in Japan, where they regularly make appearances as guests on Japanese variety shows (Martin 2011). The appeal to global audiences becomes particularly noticeable when the same song is re-recorded and repackaged in different countries using different languages, with Girls Generation songs being released in Korean, Japanese, and even English (allkpop 2011) .


References

Allkpop 2011, ‘SNSD to release repackaged Japanese edition of “The Boys”’, allkpop, 6 December, viewed 24 September 2014 http://www.allkpop.com/article/2011/12/snsd-to-release-repackaged-japanese-edition-of-the-boys

Alsop, C. K. 2002, ‘Home and Away: Self Reflexive Auto-/Ethnography’, Forum Qualitative Social Research, vol 3, no 3, http://www.utsc.utoronto.ca/~kmacd/IDSC10/Readings/Positionality/auto-eth.pdf

Martin, I 2011, ‘Every day we’re schaffeling: What Girls Generation are doing right’, The Japan Times, 30 June, viewed 24 September 2014 http://www.japantimes.co.jp/culture/2011/06/30/culture/every-day-were-schaffeling-what-girls-generation-are-doing-right/#.VCK3IBbiNpy

Pini, G 2011, ‘Girls’ Generation’s “Run Devil Run” Is Our Music Video of the Day’, Paper Mag, 11 January, viewed 24 September 2014 http://www.papermag.com/2011/01/girls_generations_run_devil_ru.php

Sheridan, R (n.d.), ‘Autoethnography: Researcher as Participant’, An Introduction to Autoethnography, viewed 15 September 2014 http://ricksheridan.netmar.com/auto/

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3 comments

  1. From what i see, many Korean idol and artist usually make a song in different language. Many would make their debut in Korea with their Korean song but when they start to become famous in Korea, they would try to be more global by debuting in other countries such as Japan. I also think that they try to make a song that sound similar to a music from other countries is because they want their song to be popular outside Korea. If they use traditional instrument, people might think of it as traditional music and not mainstream music. My first experience of Kpop is when I heard of the song ‘Nobody’ by Wonder Girls. I don’t know if this song became famous in U.S. or Australia or not but i think that it became very famous in Asia. I heard it very often at the shopping mall and through the radio. But the group that make me hooked was BIGBANG.

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  2. I would argue it is less about American influence and more about a manufactured pop experience.
    I had the same reaction when first viewing ‘Gee’. It was bright, it was happy, it was wonderful. But when you explore other videos, you can see how, for lack of a better word, ‘poppy’ it is. Like you point out, another video is more mature.
    This is no secret of course. This Seoulbeats article describes K-Pop as aimed at ‘selling the shiniest, and palatable product for the mass population’ (Link: http://seoulbeats.com/2012/05/no-individuals-allowed-originality-and-k-pop/).
    Pop music have been established in America, but K-Pop takes it to a whole new level. Its Britney Spears on steroids. I think American media has little influence on it now, rather it thrives on materialism and dollar signs.

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  3. It’s interesting how you picked up on your assumption of it being entirely “in house” and thought it was naive and simplistic. I think this example of Girls Generation using an American produced songs just goes to show how globalised and plural our world is becoming where we are actually able to take something created for one audience and adapt it to another. However as you said, often artists such as this record in different languages to release to different markets, but often I think this fails as it doesn’t really have the target market in mind.

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