Author: Jess.Polak

Uni Student • Communications Major • Tech Enthusiast • Lady Geek

K-Pop 101

Even as someone who has been following the K-Pop scene for years, the industry still holds many secrets from me and even with the music itself, the language will always be a small barrier to my complete understanding. Although my sister will be the one participating in the autoethnographic study, researching deeper into the industry and the music videos has shown me that the ideals and themes are absolutely teeming with Korean culture – even more so than I initially realized.

The final product for my digital artefact will be Prezi which will include not only my sisters experience with K-Pop, but also a breakdown of what are the most important parts of the music and a small case study to give a relevant example. One question that I chose to look at was whether K=Pop is actually Korean. My initial reaction was yes, of course it is. It comes from Korea, the choreography and fashion trends that become popular because of their video clips is not something seen in American music charts, and just the sheer size of some these groups is unheard of in Western culture. But then I delved a bit deeper and found that it is definitely more Westernised than you’d initially believe.

When the latest wave of K-Pop rose in the 1990s, artists began incorporating popular styles of American music like rap and techno house while simultaneously following an American song model. There are quite a few K-Pop songs out there that are essentially covers of popular American tracks although the lyrics are changed to Korean and a memorable choreography is also included. Girls Generation have done this several times and to great success with a track called Run Devil Run which was originally sung by Kesha. Surprisingly, I actually heard Girls Generation cover of the song first since Kesha’s version did not gain much traction on Australian billboard charts and I wasn’t a big enough fan to listen to her full album. It was interesting to learn that this had initially been an American song, but in my mind, with the addition of the music video, Girls Generation definitely changed it to a K-Pop track.

Although the music is influenced to a degree by American music, the K-Pop industry itself is unique to what you would find in the USA and this can be be attributed partly due to the differences in culture. Even in Australia, we grow up with an “every man for themselves” mindset while Korea holds a more collectivist culture which can be reflected through the way the K-Pop industry operates. Being a fan, it has been clear for me from the onset of my interest that solo artists are definitely the exception rather than the rule and many of those who end up moving towards a solo career were often in groups beforehand. However, I didn’t look further into this unique characteristic and, as it turns out, there’s actually quite a few reasons why Korean music companies prefer larger groups.

Even if you haven’t experienced it first hand, many music fans would have had to deal with a cancelled concert due to an artists sickness or even injury. With the large amount of performers that these K-Pop groups have, if a misfortune befalls one of the members the rest of them are still able to continue a concert allowing for more flexibility for the label. Recently JinE, a member of group Oh My Girl! was put on hiatus because she has been suffering from anorexia nervosa and her label felt it was best for her to receive the treatment she required. However, since the life of an idol is kept busy with promotions and performances, the rest of the eight-member girl group will continue with their activities. This example raises questions about beauty standards in Korea and the pressures idols receive to maintain an ideal look, but that is a whole topic within itself.

Apart from the focus on groups, K-Pop artists tend to hold lower agency over their work. When I was approached with this idea, it made me think of record companies and how in the Australian industry, making music independently from any label is seen as a badge of honour. Then, when I thought about the K-Pop groups I followed, I realized that every single one was part of a larger entertainment company. This means that K-Pop songs are heavily regulated and prepackaged which you can see through their pin-point choreographies and the similar fashion they wear in music videos. Although fans will have their bias (favourite member of a group), it is only through variety shows and sometimes live performances where viewers actually get a better glimpse of individual idols personalities.

It was interesting to find that even after years of following the K-Pop industry, my knowledge was still quite limited and, in some ways, I was still an outsider looking in. I was aware of the typical themes found in K-Pop such as the choreography, fashion and those memorable English phrases scattered throughout the songs – after all, this is what drew me to the genre in the first place. However, there will always be things I don’t understand simply because of cultural and language barriers; some of the translations may not be exact in English and there are some cultural references that I would never have heard of before. Luckily, completing this digital artefact will hopefully fill in a few holes of missing information and allow me to continue enjoying K-Pop, just on a more detailed level.

Making Sense of K-Pop

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After much debate and thought about the different Asian foods I could try for this study, I settled on going in the complete opposite direction and detailing an autoethnography of K-Pop for my digital artefact. However, since I have a decent understanding of the music genre because I’ve been listening to it regularly for the last couple of years, I am going to show my sister (who has minimal knowledge on the topic) several K-Pop music videos and analyze her experience. (more…)

Godzilla Unearthed

Taking it back to my initial reaction to Godzilla; I’ve now done the research, compared my reactions to what was actually happening in the movie and have accepted that some things will remain a mystery to me while some scenes which I took at face value have a lot more meaning than I first realized. However, I feel like this is quite common even with Hollywood films since it is impossible to keep track of every detail of the movie on first watch and even just reading over the story line on Wikipedia can help reveal some answers. I’m sure I’m not the only one who went on a crazed Google expedition to find out all I could about a mind-fuck movie I just watched (Inception, Fight Club, and Eternal Sundhine of the Spotless Mind, I’m looking at you) and find out if I was even close to understanding the plot.

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But, back to Godzilla. In true autoethnographic style, it’s now time to analyze my experience with a little bit of background research to help understand my initial reactions. One of the first things I noticed during my viewing was a map of Japan that appeared sideways compared to modern maps, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to find out exactly why this is so that will have to remain a mystery to me. It struck me that even though I viewed American and Japanese film as quite different from each other, there were a lot of tropes and themes that appeared in Godzilla which are common in Hollywood cinema as well; most noticeable was the love triangle plot line between Ogata, Serizawa, and Emiko. In America’s love triangle repertoire, there’s Sweet Home AlabamaTwilightMoulin Rouge, and Bridget Jones’s Diary just to name a few. Japan on the other hand has an almost infinite list of anime featuring love triangles; think Skip Beat!NanaHoney and Clover and School Rumble. Maybe we’re not so different after all.

Before watching Godzilla, I never knew of its intense focus on the dangers of nuclear weapons, but this metaphor made sense to me since the film was released in 1954, barely a decade after the horrible events of World War II. Even the last line of the entire film drove in a final reminder to learn from the horrors of the past when Yamane says, “but if we continue conducting nuclear tests, it’s possible that another Godzilla might appear somewhere in the world again“. Until researching the text however, I was unaware of the parallels Godzilla had to the events of the second world war. An article by Peter H. Brothers explains the extent at which the director of Godzilla, Ishiro Honda, went to re-create some of the brutal experiences from the war. As WWII was drawing to a close, Japan was forced to fight America alone as both Germany and Italy had surrendered and this can be seen through Godzilla when Japan once again must face the threat alone. Also, in the film Tokyo is reduced to a ‘sea of fire’ during the monsters rampage which can be likened to the real-life bombing of the capital on March 9, 1945, where over a million people lost their homes while 100 000 others lost their lives.

After delving deeper into the context of the film, it is clear to me that Godzilla is supposed to be a remorseful look at the past with an emphasis on the evil that should never have been used – the atomic bomb. Although I haven’t seen the US version of Godzilla, there are many articles stating the obliteration of the originals political message and this is understandable due to the tension between America and Japan; especially after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was only in 2004 when the original Godzilla  was released unedited without any American protagonists in sight. Comparing the two different versions would be an interesting study to take up especially since each country were on opposite sides of nuclear war, however, this has been enough Godzilla for one day.

An Interview With Godzilla

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Starting off the semester with a lovely portmanteau, autoethnography would allow our studious minds to describe and analyse our experiences of digital Asia while including our personal context. This methodology acknowledges that people see things differently and therefore provides an insight from an outsider looking in. With our modern day access to international media whether it’s a game show from Japan or a Bollywood film from India, autoethnography shows how our own cultural bias can change our understanding of a medium while also providing a way to increase that understanding simply through describing and analysing our experiences. Ever watched Eurovision? That is one roller-coaster ride of a cultural study.

Godzilla seems to be one of those movies which stands the test of time; maybe not on a special effects level, but definitely in pop culture. Although many people, myself included, would have to admit that they’ve never seen the film (until now anyway), most would still be able to understand the reference in an everyday context. So when I found out that we would be experiencing this classic in-class, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t intrigued. Personally, I have some experience in Japanese culture having studied the language for two semesters as well as having consumed a range of media from Japan including music, anime, and TV shows. I feel that my knowledge of Japanese culture, albeit limited, still helped with my understanding of the film. Here are some of the thoughts while watching Godzilla:

  • Why is the direction of Japan on the map sideways? Not sure whether it was on purpose to display a political message, an accident by the movie’s creators or maybe it was purposefully done just to mess with the audience.
  • I expected to see Godzilla much later in the film, I feel that Hollywood prefers to create tension by keeping the audience guessing on what/who the villain is. For example, Jaws and Cloverfield both waited until the climax of the film before revealing the enemy completely.
  • Big emphasis on the H-bomb and the devastation it caused in the past. Feel like Japan is more remorseful towards their actions in WWII while, in comparison, America tends to glorify their past. History is written by the winners I suppose.
  • Hydrogen bomb testing was a terrible idea, clearly.
  • A love triangle, never seen that before in Japanese anime or film… (she says in her head sarcastically)
  • What did she see?! Points for acting skills.
  • No one ever listens to the scientists in movies! But, in fairness, a 50m beast is destroying your country and there doesn’t seem to be a way to capture him, let alone hold him captive for a lengthy period of time. Sorry Dr. Yamane, but I have to agree with the masses on this one, kill the monster!
  • It seems that both America and Japan enjoy destroying national landmarks in their apocalypse movies; goodbye Tokyo Tower!
  • Self-sacrifice is also a popular trope it seems; I’m actually having a harder time remembering a film where there isn’t at least one person willing to die for the greater good.
  • A final political message before the credits roll.

Overall, I enjoyed the movie as a one time watch and felt it was easy enough to understand for a foreigner. Of course, the more cultural knowledge of Japan you have, the more you would get out of the film especially if you were to do an in-depth analysis on Godzilla. I’m curious to go back and research the themes of the film to find out if there were any important messages I missed.