Music

Alternative Ulaanbaatar

As suggested by Ellis et al (2011) this blog post is written to analyse my personal experience to understand Mongolian hip hop. I have had my initial experience of listening and watching a couple of music videos on Youtube, but has this really given me a full understanding? No. Not at all.

To really understand in an ethnographic sense the cultural significance hip hop has in Mongolia I really have to do some research into certain parts of the practice. In this blog post I will be exploring hip hop as a cultural practice, the significance of music culture in Mongolia, traditional throat singing and where that fits in and how this all ties into the cultural act of hip hop in Mongolia. By the end of this hopefully I will have more of an understanding and reflect on the possible transformative epiphanies I hope to have with this experience. Everyone else is having them, I want in on that!

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What is Hip Hop?

So to begin this exploration into Mongolian hiphop one must know what the hip hop ideology is in itself and how the Mongolian society embraced it for themselves.  Hip hop has been a cultural phenomenon in countries around the world specifically in African American culture. The roots of hip hop have been in African oral traditions, passed down through slavery and then through a way of social commentary (Blanchard, 1999). The appeal that hip hop had on a society that had been in the grips of a soviet backed government called the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP) was massive.
The MPRP had attempted to isolate Mongolia from the outside reaches of the west but alas, the curiosity of youth will prevail. Illegally circulated music and items piqued the youth of Mongolia’s interest and as MPRP realised, they did not have the power to stop it all together. They invested in their own brand of popular music and created bands to create their nationalistic music (Marsh, 2010). This only lasted as long as it took for technological and communications to evolve and for popular culture from the ‘West’ to seep in through media as well as influences from a struggling economic and political climate to create a window of opportunity for the young Mongolian population to move on.  Mongolian artists turned hip hop into way of exploring and announcing their societal and cultural problems and issues (Marsh, 2010). This is the essence of hip hop and Mongolian hp hop is no different, it just has a different sound and face. 

Music in Mongolia and Traditional Throat Singing

The Mongolians have been known as “a people of music and poetry.” Their singing, sonorous, bold, passionate and unconstrained, is the true reflection of the temperament of the Mongolian people. (China.org.cn, n.d.)

Mongolia has a rich and deep musical history. When one thinks of Mongolia one might think of the image of a nomad perched on the top of a mountain that is sprinkled with snow, surrounded by… goats? Singing but not in the way you and I might sing. A throaty, raw and echoing call. It’s not the first thing that may come to your mind when you think of modern Mongolian music but there are those who are blending this ancient act into the new music culture.


In my ethnographic research the first and foremost group that stood out to me was Fish Symboled Stamp. They are a Mongolian hip hop group that incorporate their traditional throat singing or “Koomei” into their songs (Campbell and Singh, 2017). The undulations of the Koomei mixed with the 4/4 time stamp of heavy hip hop makes for a seriously confronting sound. But instead of just listening to their sound I know I needed to go deeper into what a Mongolian hip hop group write about, why and how it is received in Mongolia.

Mongolian hip hop artists are writing in this modern age about the cultural themes and  values that they are observing through their lives where they live. Hip hop for young Mongolian’s is a creative way to express ‘one’s self, angst and perception of life, which requires no ghetto-like background or experience” (Wallace, 2015). Here is where it gets a bit hard due to the language barrier, of how to find out what artists are writing about. As explored in Marsh’s article there have been groups that rap about women, alcohol and money and even “imitating” African American rappers, but this has not been welcomed by some in the hip hop community (Marsh, 2010). But most that have been translated by Marsh have been regarding the social and economic issues that relate to their communities and society. In history, Mongolian music is made up of songs about stories, epic tales, love and nature. Songs particularly pertaining to horses, historical events and legends (Hays, 2016). In an interview with the artists Bataar and Odsaikhan in Fish Symboled Stamp, they reveal that their lyrics are dominated by their culture including Mongolian history and legacies (Campbell and Singh, 2017).

My Epiphanies Regarding Mongolian Hip Hop 

I’ve realised throughout this research whilst listening to the music I’m engaging with, that it’s more than what’s on the surface. To understand why this music style is so popular, it’s more than just the type of music. It is the content, the lyrics, the meaning, the cultural significance of using the throat singing and the context of the artists in Mongolia. I’ve realised that I am so constricted by my own language barrier that exploring into a different culture and therefore language has barred myself from fully enjoying and ‘getting’ the music. I feel like to appreciate the music, you really need to realise and understand that there is a cultural significance to the words and feelings.

But again, I realise through this research and this language setback, is that I’m so white and ‘western’. I take for granted that the music that I surround myself around usually is english based. I get the lyrics, I can sing along without getting the words wrong, I get the language and 9 times out of 10 I get the meanings.

 

References

Blanchard, B. (1999). THE SOCIAL SIGNIFICANCE OF RAP & HIP-HOP CULTURE. [online] Web.stanford.edu. Available at: https://web.stanford.edu/class/e297c/poverty_prejudice/mediarace/socialsignificance.htm

Campbell, J. and Singh, K. (2017). Mongolian melody: Hip-hop duo splices traditional singing and urban beats. [online] U.S. Available at: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mongolia-music/mongolian-melody-hip-hop-duo-splices-traditional-singing-and-urban-beats-idUSKBN1AE011

China.org.cn. (n.d.). Ethnic Groups – china.org.cn. [online] Available at: http://www.china.org.cn/e-groups/shaoshu/shao-2-mongolian.htm

Hays, J. (2016). TRADITIONAL MONGOLIAN MUSIC | Facts and Details. [online] Factsanddetails.com. Available at: http://factsanddetails.com/china/cat5/sub88/entry-4593.html

Marsh, P. (2010). Our generation is opening its eyes: hip-hop and youth identity in contemporary Mongolia. Central Asian Survey, 29(3), pp.345-358.

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Analysing Kawaii Metal

Introduction

In this post I will use the autoethnographic methodology to analyse my experience of Kawaii Metal, as related in the week 5 podcast ‘Discovering Kawaii Metal’.

The main methodology used will be personal narrative, which will be accompanied with further research on the topic of Kawaii Metal. Using this research, I will critically analyse my experience, in terms of my own personal context, and how the experience changed myself, or led me to any epiphanies.

Definition of Kawaii Metal

One definition of kawaii metal (cute metal), is a genre which blends elements of heavy metal and J-Pop. This is done by combining the music of heavy metal, such as heavy electric guitar, and a powerful drum beat with J-Pop melodies, and a Japanese idol aesthetic.

A Japanese idol usually refers to the young stars of J-Pop, that are marketed specifically for their cuteness, good public image, and role model ability.

Nothing that relates to grungy, drinking and smoking, tattoos and violence that is often associated with metal, heavy metal, or death metal music, either in Asia or elsewhere.

The ‘cuteness’ of the main singers often lead their lyrics to be less hostile or depressing as those of other heavy metal genres.

Background Research of Kawaii Metal

Babymetal are credited with the invention of the kawaii metal genre. This is something that I was entirely unaware of until this research. Perhaps if I had known that my first engagement with kawaii metal was with the inventors of it, it would have shaped my perception of the experience differently.

Their first album was only released in Feburary 2014, so this is a genre that is still barely getting started, one that only began in my last year of high school even.

But since then the genre has grown to include bands such as Aldious, BiS, Deadlift Lolita, Doll$Boxx and Ladybaby.

Which is especially interesting as I did not listen to any of these artists’ songs. The YouTube mix that I chose was clearly off a bit, but going off what I do know about the genre, I will continue with the belief that what I did listen to was ‘kawaii metal’, especially Band-Maid.

My Cultural Background

My cultural background is about as Australia as you can get. My family goes back 4 or 5 generations of Australians before I can trace back to being most likely, England and other European countries.

I have been overseas only once, and it was only 2 months ago, and I only went to European countries. So I have never been to Asia, or specifically Japan, although I do wish to go.

Before this experience I had only listened to Babymetal’s Karate on Triple J a handful of times. I have never heard any other J-Pop or other Japanese music, although I am familiar with K-Pop.

My taste in music focuses on alternative rock, with a specific focus on 90s- mid 2000s rock, mainly Australian, American, and British.

This means I went into this experience with almost no understanding of the genre, or knowledge of what I would be hearing.

Obviously a lot of people are also unfamiliar with the genre.

Analysis

It is clear from the podcast that I was not expecting the diversity of the genre of kawaii metal. With such limited experience with it, I was expecting a recreation of the one song I had heard of the genre.

This was obviously a failed assumption.

I was also not prepared, and thus confused, for how much a few of the songs sounded like the early 2000s rock that I enjoy listening to so much already.

This connection to my own personal past and understanding was quite shocking, and has definitely led to my new perception of the genre.

Upon reflection, as I had narrowed down the scope of music possible I was not expecting to enjoy the music that much. I am now aware of how edgy, rocky, punky, and gothy the genre can be, all the while still firmly being kawaii metal.

But since it brought up so many connections to my own favourite genres, my initial assumption was proven wrong, and as you can hear throughout the podcast, I quite thoroughly enjoy listening to the music presented to me.

Epiphanies

The only real epiphany I can attest to in this experience, was an epiphany of my own limited assumptions. I discovered the diversity of kawaii metal, and more importantly, I discovered that it was something that I liked listening to, despite not understanding the words or context.

Thus I am set further to investigate this genre, and discover exactly what it means, and what it can offer.

Conclusion

Overall I would consider my experience a success. The only thing I would change would be researching specific kawaii metal bands first, then listening to their songs, rather than the YouTube mix. Also I hope to find further secondary research on the genre, but as it is so new, I am not particularly hopeful.

 

Evaluating my experience: Asian Hip-hop/Rap music

In my auto-ethnographic exploration of the diverse and intriguing Asian hip-hop/rap culture in the blog post; Everything Asia #1: Asian Rap Music I attempted to outline my personal bias, i.e. the lens I was consuming this media from. The ultimate goal was to understand and familiarise myself with this non-dominant media artefact.

“The radical, performance (auto)ethnographer functions as a cultural critic…His [her]…[autoethnography]  becomes diagnosis, not just of him [her] self, but of a phase of history.”(Spender, 1984, p. ix) [Accessed here]

I believe my original blog post achieved my goal through Spender’s process of diagnoses of a phase of history; in this case being the emergence of this [sub]genre of Asian musical culture into the wider consciousness.

However in understanding the need for generalisability and integrity of my writing, in this post I will evaluate the following important aspects of creating an Asian autoethnography;

  • Identifying and addressing the existence of orientalism
  • Dissecting and explaining any East/West comparisons
  • Reiterating any personal bias against or presumptions towards Asian culture

Ellis et. al (2011) place emphasis the eternal struggle of auto ethnography to appear ‘scientific whilst still being artful’. In other words; the author loses interest for the pursuit of the truth or presents an entertaining narrative with little factual basis.

I attempted to walk this line in my blog post by explaining my context in the beginning to set the tone for any possible imbalance in favour of subjective narrative. This combined with my initial skepticism formed a clearer framework to consume my writing and opinions.

As for East vs West, this is absolutely the most difficult part of this topic as the roots of Hip-Hop/Rap are embedded deeply in African-American culture since its conception in the 1980’s. An industry still heavily dominated by this demographic to examine rap as a cultural output is to examine ‘black’ culture. I made efforts to sidestep this tempting comparison by discussing the influence of U.S. imperialism and the effect it has had on all cultures particularly Asian, and not pitching modern U.S. rappers vs Asian rappers. Instead of imposing my perspective of the artists included, I simply embedded curated links for the audience to decide and explore. I did however, slip up and compared the flow of Rich Chigga’s “Glow like dat” to Cleveland rapper; Kid Cudi, an epiphany which I would welcome genuine disagreement on. Instead of allowing the East vs West comparisons to alienate listeners, I took the angle which asserts that many Asian rappers will struggle to break western markets into dominant media channels unless they alter their sound towards the current norm.

So what about orientalism?

Edward Said  understood the concept of orientalism to be that ‘Middle Eastern and Asian cultures are undeveloped and static societies compared to the west. Implicit in this fabrication, writes Said, is the idea that Western society is developed, rational, flexible, and superior.’

Thus, to have the slightest sense of orientalism in one’s writing, involves the comparison of the east to a culturally-imperialist west. Although there is passing comment made in the initial blog it is hard to see even a faint sense of cultural inferiority/superiority.

I am glad I chose to research and represent this topic in my blog as I have now been listening to more and more of this music and am beginning to realise just how easily this cultural output transcends language barriers, i am hooked on the artistic fusion of many of the artists introduced to me by the 88rising record label.

**All references are in the form of hyperlinks**

 

The Rough Guide To ‘The Rough Guide To Indian Classical Music’

It all started at work on Friday night. The floor was dead, which fortunately gave me the freedom to escape the customer service desk and find the time and opportunity to quiz and discuss with my manager, N, on what or whom he would consider being seminal classical Indian pieces and performers and where I could find hear them. N was very enthusiastic about my endeavour to explore the sonic history of India and mentioned a few pieces and wrote a list of performers he considered important on a piece of scrap cardboard, which I would later lose in a brain explosion; however he made it clear that it would be difficult to find examples of these pieces and artists as they were more than likely never recorded to tape let alone converted digitally, explaining that he enjoys his subscription to the World Music Network as they aggregate a variety of Indian music, but he was unsure if I would be able to find classical Indian music through the service.

It was 10:30 pm on Friday night when I sat down to explore and hopefully begin my adventure into classical Indian music, open to the fact that I may not find exactly what I was hoping to experience but would find a piece of Indian music I’d never imagined existing. I began by Googling the World Music Network, and explored their website, finding their Rough Guides to world music. I found it interesting that there were separate classifications of Indian and Bollywood music. Finding guides to Psychedelic India and Psychedelic Bollywood peaked my curiosity, however, I managed to hunt down a title called The Rough Guide To Indian Classical MusicBeing a student I tossed up the idea of signing up for the paid subscription service or purchasing the album outright, eventually deciding to do neither of those two things and attempt to find the album on Spotify. Thankfully for my back pocket, the collection of songs was there.

Before I listened to the album, I took my time taking in the cover art. Depicting an elder Indian man wearing a red religious head scarf, playing what I assume is a flute in a what looks like a temple. The guide features nine songs, lasting a duration of 74 minutes; but includes a bonus ‘disk’ six track album by Debashish Bhattacharya which if included as part of the collection doubles the duration of the album. The last decision I had to make, given it was now 11 pm was whether I could listen to the full album or simply the guide then and there, weighing up the pros and cons I decided that I should listen to just the guide as the team who designed the sequence of the guide and the inclusion of the bonus ‘disk’ intended for them to be separate entities before streaming services entered the mainstream and altered the way people experience recorded music.

The guide opens with Annapoorne an instrumental track which I found sounded familiar yet jarring like folk music exploring crazy temporal elements and utilising violin, hand drums, bells and what I think is those drums that have a beater on a string attached which make noise when shaken. Track two represented the most familiar musician on the compilation, Ravi Shankar, performing Devgiri Bilawal Dhun, a track I’m confident I have unconsciously encountered in Hollywood film soundtracks, I definitely appreciated this track a lot more than the first, while it is another instrumental track it features use of hand drums and sitar. The track sounds like acoustic psychedelia composed using an unorthodox scale much higher than what I am normally comfortable with but ultimately it is a very enjoyable listen. The next cab off the rank was a live performance of the El Taal by Allah Rakha & Zakir Hussain. This is the first Indian classical piece I have consumed which features a vocal of sorts, while it is difficult to describe the vocal seems to be used as more as a rhythmic element rather than a melody or narrative driver; however, I could be misinterpreting this as I am not familiar with Hindi or the genre of Indian classical. The melody seems to be created through a flute or a stringed instrument I am unfamiliar with, the melody is looped throughout the track while the rhythms created using drums and the human voice intertwine, and drive the track toward a crescendo to finish. El Taal is an interesting track which leaves me looking forward to researching instrumentation and Sadhathava Pada is the fourth track on the guide, and is the first track to recongnisably incorporate human voice as more than just a rhythmic element and allow it to act as a narrative device and lead the melody played on violin. Ahir Bhairav represents the biggest surprise as what I consider to be traditional instrumentation is intertwined with piano passages I did not expect to hear in this sonic adventure. Thumri Bhairavin and Dhun Punjabi Ang are similar in nature to track two, heavily centred upon sitar use but sound more soulful than psychedelic. The closing track to the guide, Raga Chhaya Nat, is the longest song on the album, it features an English narration as well as all other instrumental elements and rhythmic devices heard throughout the guide. It is an incredibly nice way to summarise my first experience of Indian classical music.

 

I’ve thouroughly enjoyed ‘The Rough Guide to Indian Classical Music, and will definitely seek out more and dive deeper into the genre. I am in love with the psychedelic elements present in what I have heard so far. I would like to further understand the difference between Indian and Bollywood music. I look forward to finding out more about the instrumentation and speaking to N about my experience and begging him to give me another list I should check out.

 

 

 

Discovering Kawaii Metal

This is my podcast narrative of my first real discovery of kawaii metal (cute metal music).

Note: The reason that I pause the video and then talk is because the program wouldn’t turn down the music when I spoke.

Also the video version was removed due to copyright.

Funny Anecodote: After an hour of rerecording this due to the dodgy program, I got in my car only to hear BabyMetal’s Karate on Triple J, after months of not hearing it play, seems that the gods of Kawaii metal enjoyed my experience too.

I also noticed, after hearing this song in my car, that I had forgotten that it also has a badass female vocalist, and fairly punk clothing, yet another expectation that I had gotten wrong.

Autoethnography and Underground Music

Autoethnography is a type of research and writing unlike any other. Combining the process of ethnography; the study of culture, and autobiography; the product of personal experience. It is the study of one’s own experience with a culture outside of their own. It is a fairly new research process, first becoming popular in the 1970s, which expanded upon anthropological studies of the past which were conducted in a far less personal, experiential, or reflexive manner. Autoethnography is seen as an ethical form of research as it focuses on ones’ own experience with a culture rather than making anonymous observations which may breach privacy, disrespect customs and simply be untrue.

As autoethnography is the combination of autobiography and ethnography it adopts elements of both practices in its methodology. In commencing an autoethnography one must ensure that they communicate with the community or culture they are studying, this is a matter of ethnically giving those who do not wish to participate a chance to voice their concerns and opt out if need be. As per traditional ethnography upon communicating intentions, the researcher must then interact with the culture, making note of observations and interviewing persons within the culture, becoming participant observers. In conducting an autoethnography one must also practice reflexive behaviour which is the practice of questioning their personal the biases and cultural framework that shape their observations. The aspect of autobiographical aspect of autoethnography refers to the epiphanies as to how one understands a culture; its social conventions, practices, values, and beliefs.

The Asian media I am interested in participating and observing is its underground rock, at this point in time, I am unsure of what region or country I am wanting to pinpoint in my practice as a researcher. My interest in the Asian underground music community has been spurred from this Vice documentary which focuses on a group of Indonesian street punks upon their release from a moral rehabilitation centre. As I want to limit my bias I will aim to avoid Indonesian underground music in my study as I would like to go into this study with as little preconceived ideas that may skew my observation, analysis, and insights as possible.

References

Wall, S. (2008). Easier Said than Done: Writing an Autoethnography. International Journal Of Qualitative Methods7(1), 38-53. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/160940690800700103

Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., and Bochner, A.P. (2011) ‘Autoethnography: An Overview‘, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 12:1. http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1589/3095

 

 

Bebop Box

In first approaching this autoethnographic task, the four of us had grouped together in order to determine what would be our field site. Travelling to Asia, was out of the question, and we had all experienced Asian food to a similar extent as well. What we did however determine was that we had all held differing experiences in regards to Japanese anime, ranging from the extensive, to almost nothing at all. Although this determined our media format, the plethora of anime in existence made the selection of a single series extremely difficult. However, the one that continuously entered the conversation was Cowboy Bebop.

As influenced by Ellis’ definition of autoethnography as “an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyse personal experience in order to understand cultural experience” (Ellis et al, 2011), we decided to present our project in a gogglebox-esque format, combing clips of the show and our recorded reactions. This provided real time responses to each of the four viewers as they happened, allowing direct comparison of responses and both a visual and verbal account of individual epiphanies.

The selection of Cowboy Bebop was quite interesting in itself as we had never seen the series screened in Australia. The show is not available on Netflix, and due to its creation in the late 1990s, no advertisements are currently being used. Access then became somewhat of an issue, resulting in us borrowing a physical DVD set of the series. However, the quality of the DVD itself became very questionable after cutting on halfway through the first session. A quick search on YouTube provided us with the first three episodes in full, with English dubs and high definition. This forced us to question how these episodes were getting past the stringent copyright laws on YouTube, questioning whether the age of the series was a factor, or did the series just slip through the cracks. YouTube’s community guidelines rules specifically state that you cannot “use content in your videos that someone else owns the copyright to, such as music tracks, snippets of copyrighted programs, or videos made by other users, without necessary authorizations” (YouTube, 2016). Each of these three episodes was taken from a different channel, each demonstrating blatant copy write infringement. YouTube even flagged our video when attempting to upload! Further research into Anime message boards and forums provided no conclusive answer the problem, with some users stating that their posting of videos were taken down almost immediately, while others list channels hosting over 500 clips of Anime, to which they don’t own the rights.

The word-of-mouth recommendations of Cowboy Bebop by numerous individuals (both our age and older) and thus, representative of its cult following. Furthermore, research into this cult found over 46,000 subscribers to the Cowboy Bebop sub-reddit, a rating of 9/10 on IMBD, and two differing ratings on Rotten Tomatoes for the movie, 64% critics from critics and 90% from the audience. It was this cult following that led us to the conclusion that the series must be quite long such as other cult anime series like One Piece. However, we soon determined that this was wrong with the series holding only one season, and one movie. This furthermore made us question, why Cowboy Bebop had such a popular following in both Western Countries and Japan.

A particular element of the episodes that puzzled us was the music soundtrack that accompanied fight scenes as well as the theme song that played at the introduction of each episode.  Jazz has its origins in New Orleans, so it was surprising to see it use in a Japanese film.  Despite this, the music in Cowboy Bebop was composed by Yoko Kanno with The Seatbelts, a blues and jazz band.  These composers wrote the iconic Cowboy Bebop opening song titled Tank which has been embedded below if you wish to listen to it.

Interesting, the Cowboy Bebop sub -reddit has many positive comments about the inclusion of original music, supporting the ideal that the original sound track in the series is a key factor for its popularity.  Maybe the utilisation of jazz music was a way to attract audiences from more Westernised backgrounds.

Importantly, director of Cowboy Bebop, Shinichiro Watanabe was so impressed with Kanno’s score that he was inspired to go back and re-write scenes.  Each scene essentially had its own unique score and song.

Charlotte found the use of the jazz music quite odd, as having grown up playing Jazz music herself, her interpretation of where jazz music fits in in terms of interpretation, art and self expression was not in line with the use of jazz in Cowboy Bebop.  However all four of us noted that the theme music was similar to what we had heard in more Westernised films such as Mission Impossible and James Bond which also have orchestral music in some of there scenes.

All in all, the experience of anime was different for all four of us.  Perhaps this was due to the contextual knowledge we already had about elements of the series, including how much anime we had previously consumed.  Because of this, not all of us enjoyed the episodes as much as we thought, because we had pre-conceived ideas as to what it was about.  Cowboys fighting people.  I guess we were all wrong!

References:

Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., and Bochner, A.P. (2011) ‘Autoethnography: An Overview’, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 12:1

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.

Baby who?

For my individual autoethnographic research project, the focus of my investigation will be on the adorable Japanese metal band, Babymetal. The genre of music is a cross between Japanese Pop (J-Pop) and metal, and the effeminate voices of the three girls which make up Babymetal bring a refreshing change to the rock/metal genre.
I was first introduced to the band around six months ago. I love music and have been a fan of alternate styles of music for as long as I can remember, (however I must admit heavy metal has never been a preference of mine). One day as I was listening to Triple J on my apprehensive drive to work, I came across a song that I was unfamiliar with, a song that was both funky, yet heavy to a certain degree. I found myself really enjoying it even though metal is not my thing at all, and it was extremely evident that the music wasn’t stereotypical metal, more a combination of a few different genres.

I was so focused on the instrumentals of this track that, admittedly, it took me around two minutes to realise that the song I was listening to wasn’t actually in English, and that’s what intrigued me the most. Triple J considers itself a radio station for ‘alternate’ music, but in reality the music played is very westernised and it’s rare to hear a song in a different language or from a different cultural background. When the song finished the presenter announced that the artist was a Japanese metal band named Babymetal and that this ‘new’ group was taking the world by storm. I legitimately could not think of another Japanese artist that I know of or have heard on the radio, so I was quick to look up a bit about the band and what they were about. It was from this day, when I heard a Japanese metal band amongst the acoustic sounds of Chet Faker and the electronic vibes of Tame Impala, that I discovered a new found liking towards metal, and a new found respect for Triple J for exposing this diverse sound to Australian audiences.

DIGC330 is allowing me to revisit my affinity towards this band, and learn more about the style of music and culture in both an analytical and emotional way. Through autoethnographic practices such as ‘discerning patterns of cultural experience evidenced by field notes and/or artifacts, and then describing these patterns using facets of storytelling’ (Ellis, 2011) , I will obtain a deeper understanding of the band and their global reception, and aim to answer the question- what is Baybymetal?
I’ve only had a few brief encounters with Babymetal since I was first introduced to the band and I still know very little of their origin and style, so I am eager to begin my autoethnographic research. As if have not yet conducted research into the history of the band and their relevance in Japan (and the rest of the world) I decided to watch a couple of video clips produced by the band and note my observations prior to my research:

Video 1: KARATE- BABYMETAL | 20,522,673 views

• The song that I heard and seemingly the only song that gets played on Australian radio
• Eerie costumes- gothic skull like, yet feminine in the sense that they’re white and glowing
• Use of karate movements and poses as form of dance
• Powerful/thrilling graphics – gothic
• Costuming a significant part of the video – represents different sides to the narrative
• Although the music is ‘hardcore’, their voices remain feminine
• Catchy chorus
• Genre is metal but not as hardcore as traditional metal
• Even though they’re dressed in scary/gothic clothing and accompanied by loud drumbs and electric guitar, I can’t help but think how cute they are
• Use of Japanese tradition – catching fly with hand
• Style of music reminds me of Amity Affliction – heavy but still mainstream
• Refreshing to hear a female voice in this genre
• Don’t usually like this genre but actually really enjoy this song

Video 2: BABYMETAL – ギミチョコ!!- Gimme chocolate!! (OFFICIAL) 59,191,425 views


• Haven’t heard this song before but chose to watch this one because it had the most views
• Costumes significant- gothic yet feminine
• Drums heavy and loud
• Live performance video
• Dancing is succinct and a huge part of the performance
• Cute playful dancing
• Pitch remains high
• Don’t understand the lyrics but appear playful and ironic- “gimme chocolate” innocent and childlike juxtaposed to the heavy music and gothic costumes
• Red and black tutu with leather jacket- irony
• Clearly don’t take themselves too seriously- often seen giggling throughout the performance
• Some sing about loss and heart break, these girls sing about chocolate
• Remain to have cheeky smiles on their face
• VERY big crowd watching

Once I utilise sites such as Reddit and YouTube as field sites for my autoethnographic research, along with other means of research online, my next blog will revisit my initial observations and decipher what was significant to me and why. The use of epiphanies through my research will build the basis of my digital artifact and contribute to my understanding of the significance of Babymetal.

Making Sense of K-Pop

the-best-k-pop-groups-u4

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…)