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


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…)

How K-Pop and J-Pop Construct Masculinities

Masculinity as it is constructed in Australia is seen as typically “hard”. An idealized Australian male is white, rugged, practical, heroic, and dependable, but also laid back (Morris; Murrie, cited in Tunstall 2014). Let me be perfectly clear about this right now, I am not even close to meeting the criteria of Australian masculinity. During my autoethnographic studies exploring YouTube, SBS PopAsia, and the internet at large I have come across videos of both Korean and Japanese male performers (singers/dancers/rappers) that not only construct masculinity in a very different way, but are also labelled as “attractive” and “sexy” by fandoms coming from a range of cultural backgrounds (see screen grabs of YouTube comments found below).

My Thoughts and Experiences on the Masculinity constructed by EXO-K (Sheridan n.d.)

EXO-K are a Korean “boy group” who serve as good examples of the complex mix of masculinities that seem to typify Korean pop music. The men in the group are portrayed as young, slightly built, clean, and conscious of their appearance in terms of their makeup, fringe-heavy haircuts, and clothes that I could only really describe as “cyberpunk-urban”. These things that I have been socially conditioned in an Australian context to view as more feminine qualities are also seen coexisting with facial expressions of male brooding as well as aggressive, “primal” characteristics such as shouting and harnessing wild natural “elements” such as fire and wind, which I think would also fit into the Australian masculinity model.

EXO Comment

Comments of the YouTube videos indicate that the band members are sexually appealing to many of the fans, with one female fan joking that a members’ voice alone is potently masculine enough to get her pregnant. There also appears to be some confusion amongst fans outside of Korea in regards to singings about their mother (“mama” meaning “mother” in a range of non-Korean languages), which can be attributed to oedipal, “mothers boy” qualities in an Australian context.EXO Comment 2EXO Mama Confusion

My Thoughts and Experiences on the Masculinity Constructed by Yohio (Sheridan n.d.)
(embedding has been disabled for this video for whatever reason, so please find it via the link above)

Image sourced from here

Image sourced from here

Visual Kei is a subset of Japanese rock where the sound is a combination of punk and heavy metal, and the artists dress in elaborate makeup and costumes, often with an androgynous appearance (Landes 2012). It is a genre of music I was not aware of when I had first seen Yohio’s video, which to a completely clueless viewer like myself was full of many surprises. Yohio looks and dresses like a feminine “Lolita” and sings in Japanese (adopting a typical, male vocal register), but is also actually Swedish. It’s interesting to see that a Swedish performer has become such a successful personality in a fandom built around a Japanese culture.

More Yohio CommentsYohio was my first big experience in reconstructing what I thought I understood about gender. I didn’t judge the performer in a negative way and I will readily admit I find him as beautiful as I found any other feminine figure. But I suppose what got my thinking about gender fluidity and the social construction of gender was the fact that Yohio chose to completely embody the feminine in appearance whilst completely adhering to a masculine style of singing. It really challenged a lot of assumptions I wasn’t even truly aware of about what masculinity and gender identity really mean, especially in relation to the binary-gender values perpetuated by the Australian “hard male” construct. Yohio’s popularity has also prompted gender-discussions to take place within various Asian pop fan communities.

Yohio Comment


Landes, D 2012, ”A guy wearing a dress is not a sexual thing’: Yohio’, The Local, 23 November, viewed 5 October 2014

Sheridan, R (n.d.), ‘Autoethnography: Researcher as Participant’, An Introduction to Autoethnography, viewed 15 September 2014

Tunstall, E D 2014, ‘Un-designing masculinities: K-pop and the new global man?’, The Conversation, 23 January, viewed 5 October 2014

참가 (participation)

Upon reflecting on what I personally experience as a fan of EYK, I could see a multilayered, physical and intangible quality to the EYK fan experience, which has grown from EYK’s focus on giving fans an unique, customised insight into South Korea which recognises that “social interaction and knowledge work effectiveness depend heavily on user engagement” (Orsatti and Riemer 2012).

Firstly, it is inherently important  to define what constitutes a ‘fan’, in order to understand how important interaction with EYK is in the context of this discussion. According to Brough & Shresthova (2012), “fans are typically understood to be individuals who engage deeply with, and often assert their identity through, popular culture content.” Thus it is important to reflect on how deeply fans are permitted to engage with the content and the hosts of the channel, physically and intangibly, and how much the content creators are facilitating the integration of their culture into the identity of fans.

Simon and Martina’s approach to YouTube has changed significantly since they started vlogging (video blogging) in 2008. To once again experience this change, I took a step back in time to their archives channel. The format and filming/commentary style was the immediate change I noticed; I felt like I was intruding on personal holiday videos, a pure auto-ethnographic approach which focused on their reactions to new cultural experiences. In comparison, their current filming style is much more professional and performative, almost educational in tone, and they place a very high importance on the opinions, interests and engagement of their fans. This is demonstrated most obviously in their TL;DR videos (Too Long; Didn’t Read, crowd-sourced questions about South Korea and comparisons with other cultures/countries are answered by Simon and Martina) and F.A.P F.A.P.s (Food Adventure Program For Awesome People, videos which help viewers understand Korean traditions and culture).

The Eat Your Kimchi Studio! Credit: @leechangsun

The Eat Your Kimchi Studio!
Credit: @leechangsun

Secondly, Simon and Martina’s establishment of a permanent physical presence in the heart of South Korea provides fans a space to amplify their fandom experience and extend their learning experience. The Eat Your Kimchi studio, where Simon, Martina, Leigh and Soo Zee film videos, edit, hang out and conduct interviews with KPop bands, is a tangible space where they can meet up with fans and where they also film one of their highly interactive video formats: LiveChats. During LiveChats the EYK crew interact with fans through Twitter and YouTube comments and open fan mail. They also do this at their recently opened cafe in Seoul, the You Are Here cafe, an additional physical space for fans to engage with EYK and become part of the content themselves!

The You Are Here cafe Credit: DailyBap

The You Are Here cafe
Credit: DailyBap


Finally, Tumblr, a slightly underrated part of their digital presence, is a great demonstration of how deeply EYK values their fans and exemplifies how much EYK has become part of fans’ social interaction, hobbies, and happiness,  e.g.



1. mightaswellbeonjupiter:

So this girl walks into the lounge while I’m listening to some music and studying when I notice she has a “Soy un Dorito” shirt on. I was so excited and then suddenly, Sherlock started playing. It was drama-like fate.

EYK: Did you become bestest best friends? I hope so!




The promised fanart for EYK! 😀





Looking at examples like these clearly demonstrates the value of participation and engagement to both fans and the object of the fandom. I hope to demonstrate this relationship on the EYK Compendium, and maybe add to or amplify the role of this relationship within the culture of Eat Your Kimchi.

장애물 (barrier)

Autoethnographers strive to use language and methods of interaction to find themselves in the crosshairs of ‘autobiographic impulse’ and the ‘ethnographic moment’ (Spry 2001), but what if there is no convergence of language and access points, such as may be the case when using social networks in other languages (Sina Weibo). I have experienced this struggle when attempting to derive further external cultural experience from the learning and curiosity which the EYK community and content has fostered within me. It became important to me to reflect on the ‘interactional textures occuring between self, other, and contexts in autoethnographic research’ (Spry 2001). Thus, I ventured out from the protective wings of the EYK community to explore the wider context of their content through consumption of pop music throughout Asia without the lens of EYK and ‘KPop Music Mondays‘ (their weekly KPop review) filtering what I see and like.

The creation of a personal narrative and the ability to recognise the occurrence of reflexive ethnography allows an autoethnographer to identify the cultural baggage which we bring to a personal experience and subsequently reflect on the reflective changes which result from our participatory cultural experiences (Ellis, Adams & Bochner 2011). In order to examine my cultural baggage in an environment where a detailed personal narrative could develop, I decided to start at home (Australia) with SBS PopAsia. SBS PopAsia is a comprehensive source of Asian pop content from many different countries (particularly South Korea), in the format of a television show screened on SBS 2 and a 24/7 live music stream.

Reflecting on my first impression of the SBS PopAsia television show screened on Sundays, I can see an unfortunate and unexpected mirroring of MTV and the Top 40 countdowns of my childhood, with the hosts standing in front of a cheesy green screen background while introducing slightly 1990s-feeling segments such as ‘what do all these videos have in common’ (this time it was ‘rain’ and ‘mobile phones’). In the first few minutes I notice a complete lack of interaction with artists and fans. Immediately I feel the deprivation of the freedom which digital platforms such as YouTube have given me when exploring new forms of entertainment, as I can’t skip any of the content that I’m not interested in. Similarly, the 24/7 digital radio stream forces the listener to experience the whole song being played, and there was no cultural context offered e.g. country of origin of the music, or information about the band. Ironically, the part of the SBS PopAsia experience which I struggled the most with ended up being related to language barriers (considering it is an Australian program); I expected the music videos to have a subtitle option, particularly in English, to explain why they are so popular amongst their regular viewers, as I have found a barrier to my enjoyment of KPop is that I don’t understand the lyricism or cultural context of the songs. However, there were no subtitles, and very little explanation of each video, so I ended up turning off the television 20 minutes before the show ended. This drove me back to digital platforms.

This time I attempted to involve myself in the weekly Korean show Music Bank. Immediately I was drawn into the show, as there were English subtitles for each KPop act’s song, and I found myself really enjoying the experience of actually seeing major KPop idols dance and sing to a passionate (and very loud) local audience. I hadn’t realised until now what a big fan of KPop I had become until I realised I was ‘fan-girling’ over Taemin and his performance of ‘Danger’. I really loved looking through the comment section and seeing others feel exactly the same; after all, ‘fandom is not just about expressing to the object of your fandom that you love it — it’s also about connecting with other fans (Miller 2014).

Upon reflection, I could see how incredibly important my research of KPop bands and idols and observation of online fan communities had been in fostering a genuine connection within this cultural context. This experience has shown me just how valuable the EYK community is to me and the breaking down of barriers to participation in the wider Korean entertainment context, and how digital platforms allow much more inclusive access to the enjoyment of new experiences, particularly in comparison with traditional media forms.

A (Digital) Paper Trophy

I was listening to Pop Culture Happy Hour, a weekly podcast commenting on everything popular culture has to offer, and it discussed the method of self analysing why you’re a fan of something and why you might be avoiding other content. I related this to my interest in Papercraft and I started listing reasons why I chose to create some models and not others. I found that most of the models I have created were of Japanese anime characters, but the revealing find was half of these designs I didn’t know what they were from; I had chosen them purely for artistic reasons. However, now that I had chosen them I was interested to know more about them, and from this process of research I revealed that my Papercraft models were a digital catalog of new interests in content I was not familiar with.

I’ve discovered through my methodology that Papercraft is a digital and physical communal practice. Papercraft models represent a physical symbol of a cultural icon you cherish, and you create the model as a paper trophy. You assemble a design of a character or symbol of the content you’re a fan of. But before the final paper trophy, Papercraft models are digital designs that connect and distribute fan culture. Most of the Papercraft models I’ve made or collected are based on anime characters from Japan. My collection builds a catalog of “digital trophies” that connect me to different Asian content forming a familiar cultural bubble. While some of the designs are unknown to me, I want to challenge my familiarity. I want to challenge my cultural “rut” and find designs of other Asian cultural elements, from India, South Korea, Thailand to China.

gdragondrummerpapertoyFrom my first search I discovered official Papercraft merchandise of Kpop band 2PM that you can buy. It comes with pre-cut designs of each of the 6 Korean band members. So if there’s official Papercraft, there has to be unofficial designs of Kpop stars. And there is; Pandabobo designs models from the KPop band ‘Big Bang‘ as they’re depicted in their music videos and live events. At first, I didn’t understand the appeal of models designed off real people and not characters, but after watching Big Bang’s music videos I found them do be very creative and an appropriate choice for Pandabobo to design from, like his “Pinochio” costume from G-Dragon’s song ‘Crayon’. The idea of creating your own papercraft designs on something you love interests me and has sparked an idea about my digital artefact project: why don’t I create Papercraft models of digital Asian content?

I’ve been collecting, downloading, printing and folding Papercraft models for years, but I’ve never analysed my interaction with the community, and asked my self: why don’t I design models? Sure, I find it a little intimidating, but designing and remixing Papercraft work is half of the process of the Papercraft community and there are programs that are engineered to help with making models. Creating a model based on a piece of digital content is a simple way to communicate and distribute culture among my peers. I could use the research DIC330 is providing and design cultural models of each of the students research sites. If that’s too hard a task, I could chose KPop videos and design models from them. I could utiilise Papercraft as a means to communicate and display an unfamiliar aspect of Asian digital content to an audience.

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.



SBS PopAsia HQ, ‘My Korean Husband’s Nichola explains the meaning behind Hyuna’s song “Red”‘, SBS PopAsia

Sheridan, R (n.d.), ‘Autoethnography: Researcher as Participant’, An Introduction to Autoethnography, viewed 31 August 2014

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

유명인사 (celebrity)

Eat Your Kimchi’s channels have collectively gained them almost 207 million views, generating advertising revenue which has became sufficient to support their transition from teachers on temporary visas, to full-time YouTubers/educators/entertainers on business visas (especially after their Indiegogo funding campaign). Since their transition, they have set up an EYK studio and have just (in the last WEEK!) opened a cafe with a fellow YouTuber (Hyunwoo from Talk To Me In Korean), both in South Korea’s capital city, Seoul.

My EYK tshirt which I bought from their online shop! Came with a hand-written note from Simon and Martina :)

My EYK tshirt which I bought from their online shop! Came with a hand-written note from Simon and Martina 🙂

Despite the fact that EYK ranks among the most popular YouTube channels in South Korea (particularly notable considering the commercial giants that dominate South Korean YouTube popularity), their ‘celebrity status’ does not denote the same ‘arm’s length’ relationship which KPop idols have with their fans. Simon and Martina let their fans into their lives, sharing personal tid-bits through Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, actively engaging in discourse with fans on Reddit, playing video games with fans on PSN, and organising fan meetups and dinners whenever they travel. Indeed, Simon and Martina still can’t believe that they have reached the level of notoriety that they have…

“We’re still totally shocked, we act like how we do in real life, so we thought people won’t be interested (in our videos).”

I can believe it though. Simon and Martina provide a valuable bridge between their mostly international (foreign) audience and the quirky, complex culture of South Korea. Their fame seems to work in both directions, despite what you may expect considering that they are an outsider’s conduit into South Korea; they get recognised on the street by both foreigners and native South Koreans. Here there is a key difference between their fame and the celebrity of KPop idols; while Simon and Martina’s fans are “cool and polite”, KPop idols “get mobbed, and hounded for photos and signatures”. They provide valuable experience in the distinction between commercial popularity and what we perceive as ‘internet popularity’:

“People don’t treat idols kindly in public. People are always awesome with us, and we’re really thankful for that.”

Rifling through the depths of Reddit I came across an entire thread seemingly dedicated to both hating on EatYourKimchi/claiming Reddit hates Simon and Martina, and directing attention to a Tumblr called Unpopular EYK Opinions. This website exists purely to criticise EYK for not speaking satisfactory Korean, and to complain about how they run their blog and channel. To me it seems petty and unnecessary, and I think it completely misunderstands the point of EYK, which to me is to express passion for the KPop genre and to help those who don’t live in South Korea understand the culture. This hate doesn’t seem to translate to Simon and Martina’s public/celebrity experience or live chats; they are always embraced with nothing but love and joy when they travel the world to meet with their ‘fans’. This recording is an auditory representation of their fame, recorded on their recent trip to Melbourne, Australia:


한류 (korean wave)

The first time I experienced the culture of Korean wave/KPop (or Hallyu as it’s known in South Korea) I was on the couch in my Australian lounge room with my Australian family watching an Australian television channel. The Truth Is…? was a short series shown on Channel Ten, focused on challenging popular misconceptions about culture, history and human experience all around the world. I was bewildered by the ‘foreignness’ of the culture I was experiencing on the screen; don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed it, but it was challenging my (stereotypical) understanding of Asia and making it (confusingly) apparent that what I understood as ‘Asian’ culture was fragmented and differed enormously based on region (South and East Asia) and more subtly between cultures (KPop and JPop).

Before watching the segment on the Korean Wave, KPop and EatYourKimchi, I had an extremely limited knowledge of Japanese game shows and anime, kawaii culture, and art, and a little about Southern Asian countries. I had certainly been exposed to the meteoric rise of Psy and his single Gangnam Style, but I don’t think I knew anything about KPop itself. I also didn’t know what ‘kimchi’ was (if you still don’t, it’s a spicy pickled cabbage/vegetable dish that is served frequently as a side dish in South Korea).


Groove Korea

This episode really opened my mind to the blooming, viral Korean Wave, a culture I want ed to know more about as soon as I finished the episode. The stars of the episode (at least in my eyes) were Simon and Martina of EatYourKimchi, described as expats living, teaching and blogging in South Korea to an international audience. They have now become very well known (and liked) to Koreans as well, even though their blog isn’t necessarily aimed at this market.

Now, reflecting on my first proper, memorable experience of South Korean culture and re-examining the media which informed me of this culture, one particular point stands out. Simon and Martina understand the Korean Wave to be a branding strategy of the Korean government to make their country as recognisable to the world ‘as Coca Cola’. This was a bit of a revelation; I had never thought of culture in this way before. This strategy is seen by the South Korean government as a way to wield ‘soft power diplomacy’, weaselling their way into the cultural consciousness of travellers around the world and infiltrating our own personal and societal conceptions of culture. This particular approach expresses the uniqueness of South Korean culture and explains why I am so fascinated by it. South Korea seduced Simon and Martina to stay much longer than they had planned, and subsequently, altered their individual cultural identities. Maybe South Korea is seducing me too.