When 2012 finished and I said that Rania’s “Style” was the song of the year, I had to deal with a lot of butthurt from k-pop fans who disagreed with my opinion. Mercifully, the whining at that time was restricted only to people that I personally knew, and those that listen to my radio show (as I also played my favourites list on-air) – my blogging wasn’t very popular at that time because I had only just started writing. Twelve months later when at the end of 2013 I said that Crayon Pop’s “1,2,3,4” was the song of the year, it was a different story; the butthurt was far more extreme as now it had also manifested online.
For those who haven’t heard this amazing song yet, here it is again:
Many people didn’t understand this selection, or thought I was stupid/on drugs, or just making it up to be cool/uncool/trendy/non-trendy/whatever, so I thought I’d explain it more deeply.
So what do I think is so great about 1,2,3,4?
* Great melodies that anybody can enjoy – CHECK
* Melodic keyboard riffs worthy of Sammy Hagar-era 80s Van Halen – CHECK
* Goofiness and FUN pushed to the forefront in a scene where so many people take everything idols sing, say and do way, way, WAY too fucking seriously – MOTHER FUCKING CHECK, YOU CUNTING BITCH CUNT FUCK WHORES
* Another great punk song from Crayon Pop, the first punk group in the ultra-commercial end of k-pop – CHE…
Okay, that last point might require a little more clarification, so here we go with:
HOW CRAYON POP IS (KIND OF) LIKE A PUNK GROUP
Music fashion comes in waves. Styles and techniques come into fashion, and then go out of fashion. Whenever music in popular culture veers heavily in one direction, you can bet it’s going to come crashing through the other way later on down the track. An example: look at all the Autotune that was all over almost every k-pop song four or five years ago… how many new k-pop releases have (obvious or “hard”) Autotune in them in 2014? A few but not many – that robot-voice sound defines the “naughties” (2000-2010), it’s simply yesterday’s sound and you won’t hear much of it over the next few years compared to previously for this reason.
When the first wave of punk music initially rose to popularity in 1976, it was a similar shift in music fashion – a reaction to 1970s progressive rock, which was getting more and more musically complicated and technical at the time. The original punk groups had simple, stripped-back songs that anybody could sing and play… because the original performers could barely sing and play the songs themselves. A bunch of people found this incredibly inspiring – 70s prog rock with all its complex twists and turns seemed impossible to even memorise let alone perform without years of practice, but here was some music anybody could do. The punk scene spread like wildfire in a few short months because people watching the initial shows thought “hey, these guys have cool songs but their playing and singing sucks fucking monkey cock all night long… if these talentless losers can do cool music, why can’t I?” – and promptly started up groups of their own.
It’s no secret that Korean pop music is succumbing to obsession about technique more and more – as competition between groups heats up, everyone is trying to outsing, outdance, and outwank everyone else. In the meantime, the songs themselves are being somewhat forgotten. Although far from Crayon Pop’s best song, it’s clear in this context why so many people latched onto BarBarBar:
Basic singing, basic dancing, it sounds FUN and anybody can do this. Look at all the people in the background dancing. Now imagine if it was Exo’s “Wolf” playing, there might be two people dancing in the background at the most because who else besides Exo themselves and the most extreme of cray-cray fans can actually dance to that fucking shit? Crayon Pop makes music that is enjoyable for everybody, not just those belonging to the snobby elite k-pop sing-and-dance “OMG they’re not doing it correctly” club. Notice how at 1:52 Choa fucks up an arm movement? Nobody gives a fuck, and nobody should. Obsessing about correct dance moves and vocal technique would only serve to alienate the audience who has come to have a good time, so think before you pick it apart, you party-pooping cunt.
DIY (do it yourself) ethos
DIY ethos is part of what defines punk. Many of the early groups couldn’t get record deals because nobody would touch them because their singing/playing was so shit, so the groups said “fuck all these people saying we can’t do this or that, nobody will ever give us a break, let’s just figure out how to do this shit ourselves” and started making their own records, booking their own shows, and touring whole countries by sleeping on people’s floors. Plenty of people didn’t want to touch Crayon Pop either, and they couldn’t get on music shows, so they performed outdoors with portable ghetto-blasters in all types of weather to find another way to bring their music to the people.
“But wait a second”, I hear you say, “it’s not really Crayon Pop themselves doing it, I mean… they’re just puppets of their label, right? This has nothing to do with punk, it’s totally manufactured popular music!”
Well, newsflash motherfuckers: so is just about every punk group that you’ve ever heard of that reached any level of fame or notoriety. Let’s look at the big three of the first wave of punk: The Sex Pistols were very much Svengali’ed by manager Malcolm McLaren (although the exact extent of which is disputed and remains controversial to this day, but given Malcolm’s track record his influence would have not been minimal). The Clash were a completely manufactured group that were put together by CBS to rival The Sex Pistols and their music and image was carefully crafted to this end. The Ramones didn’t give a shit about punk music (which hadn’t been invented yet) and really wanted to be as pop as possible, the group idolised 60’s pop Motown artists to the extent that they even hired notoriously unhinged Motown producer Phil Spector to produce an album in an attempt to secure pop stardom. The term “punk” used to refer to a homosexual, its first reference to music comes from The Ramones’ song “Judy Is A Punk” and the group only fell into the punk rock niche because they weren’t self-aware enough to realise that their leather-jacket image, wall-of-noise guitar sound and general ugliness was complete anathema to pop music fans.
And don’t even get me started on the more modern big punk groups. Things only got more corporate-friendly from here, as the music industry machine moved swiftly to sterilise punk music’s safety pins and make it just another arm of its standard operations. Those groups that look so rebellious onstage – in the record company office, they are all “yes, sir, no sir, three bags full sir”. Believe it.
Punk isn’t just a musical form, all punk music also has a central idea. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not necessarily an idea about politics or social rebellion or whatever (as punk music actually covers the entire spectrum of political thought). The central idea that permeates each and every piece of punk music worth listening to can basically be summed up like this:
In music, the idea is always king – everything else flows from it. Punk gave voice to people who had ideas, and the drive to execute them, but not necessarily the talent to execute them to the kind of technical standard that the pop music world traditionally expects. The ideology of punk told them “your lack of ability doesn’t matter – if you can convey your idea, and it’s a good idea, the end result might be a bit rough around the edges but it will still be worthwhile”. This is why often artists who sound nothing like a traditional punk group are still sometimes given the punk label anyway – it’s a way for people to say “this person isn’t technically inclined or doesn’t care for technique, but their concept is great and they’re doing things in a different way which is still cool and worth your time”.
Crayon Pop are nothing if not an ideas group. Whether it’s the members themselves with the ideas or their management doesn’t matter in the end, because the result is the same – you get to see a group do a fucking cool Bruce Lee concept in a genre where everyone else is either the cute girlfriend or the sexy girlfriend (not that there’s anything wrong with those things, but viva la difference).
And you’re going to pick on them because their songs don’t have vocal wank in them, or they might miss a note or a dance move? Fuck off. You should be grateful for Crayon Pop’s existence, because ideas is what keeps a music genre afloat, not technique, and we all know what music with no ideas sounds like.
14 thoughts on “CRAYON PUNK”
Thank you for the article; I didn’t understand that about punk music before. My question is — if you’re this great punk music fan, I’m confused as to why you like k-pop so much as a genre, when it’s so notoriously homogenized and hyper-produced. (And I know that the answer is partially that punk music is about not caring what other people think about what you like — meaning that there’s no hypocrisy in liking k-pop because you’re still doing what you want — I want the other part of the answer that deals with cultural/musical taste.) From reading your body of work, what I think I understand so far is that you like k-pop because it’s an extremely well-produced re-hash of some of the great western genres of the 70s and 80s — which is a different thing from your appreciation of punk music, because it’s conceptually flourishing. I agree with you that punk music is cool because it’s about creativity and artistry and says fuck you to overanalysis….but I also like k-pop /because/ it’s so over-produced and tight and charismatically perfect. How do you reconcile those two appreciations?
I don’t think liking those two things is contradictory. Your question to me is like asking a bisexual “how can you like men, and also like women, when they’re opposites?”. The answer is, I guess, “I just see something different that I appreciate in both”.
Yeah, I get that, but if you’re telling people not to pick on CP for not being as “tight” with their production and sound and everything — well, aren’t all the other groups that we enjoy because they’re so tight riding that ideal? How can we say “let up on bashing CP because they’re cool and punk” and also say “k-pop is great because it’s /really well done and clean/?”
I think there’s room for both. I get that it’s contradictory but then my taste has always been like that. I don’t know what else to tell you.
I do understand your taste, but what I’m trying to get at is how we can keep the spirit of punk alive if we’re also saying “Okay, but there’s tons of room for this other stuff that deliberately quashes any instance of originality.” (I’m not disagreeing with you, I just think this stuff is intellectually interesting.) It makes sense to say “Okay, fuck that MAMA dance, it’s overwrought and ridiculous” /in the context of this article/, but in the context of an article talking about the advantages of k-pop’s hyperproduction, it would be an affirmation of how impressive all of their slave-driving actually is. If we say that both are totally fine, then we’re effacing the independent virtue of the ethos of punk, no?
I don’t really care about concepts like “keeping the spirit of punk alive”. I only care about what I like. Part of what puts me off a lot of people who talk about punk is that they’re often so keen to lay down these stupid rules and say “you can like this because it’s punk but you can’t like that over there because it’s not punk enough”. To me, saying “I’ll listen to what I want to listen to” is more “punk” than saying “I can’t appreciate SNSD because their ultra-glossy image is against the unwritten punk rulebook”. At the end of the day, songs win, I’m interested in good songs only, and I don’t care whether I get those songs via a shiny corporate machine, some broke dirtbags passing me a burnt CD of their band, or anything in between. I’m not saying punk ethos is the only option, because I like some technical and carefully crafted music too, I can listen to and enjoy that as long as the songs are quality. I’m saying that punk ideas are just another good option, and just don’t write stuff off because it follows a punk ethos instead of an “artistry” kind of ethos, and there’s no need to restrict your listening. I don’t have any more invested into it than that. That’s all.
a very interesting article, I always enjoy your writing ….especially if it’s about Crayon Pop 😀
Cheers! There may be more Crayon Pop-related content at some point… although I can’t promise when, or what!
Totally agree! But their music can’t be considered too messy or imperfect aside from probably 1234. Bar Bar Bar and Bing Bing cemented them as the ABBA of our generation!
Glad you liked it, but then I knew you would!
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Yes I’m a fan of Crayon Pop also. I’ve found that you and I have several opinions and likes in common. I’m going to quote you to yourself:
“The better k-pop is recapturing what was great about western pop in the 80s, the west has forgotten how to make good pop music since. Of course there’s a lot of crap in k-pop too, but same goes for any genre.”
That is exactly what I have been telling people when they ask why I like kpop since I first discovered it. Your stand on punk is another similar opinion. It is good to know that there is actually someone out there blogging that I can relate to. Although I don’t swear quite so much. LOL!! Keep up the great work sir!!
Thanks! I’ll try to keep up the good work (and the swearing)!
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