Welcome to the first Kpopalypse interview!
In this post I’m going to be interviewing Jacques Peterson, the owner/writer of pop website Arcadey and writer for pop-culture website Popdust. Jacques’ own website used to be called The Prophet Blog and he’s been writing about K-pop as well as pop from other countries for a long time, much to the pleasure/displeasure of many. Love him or hate him, if you’ve followed western K-pop blogging over the last few years you’ve probably seen some of his posts and have an opinion about them. He attracted my attention when the T-ara scandal broke in 2012, where his lucid writing style and refusal to blindly follow the trendy popular opinion of the time shone out to me like a jewel-encrusted beacon in a lake of shit. In this interview we cover off his views on a wide range of k-pop and blogging-related topics. Enjoy!
Hi. How are you? Answer in as much or as little detail as applicable.
I’m good, thanks. Am about to start writing a post about Boys Republic, but got distracted by some ridiculously suggestive photo on the band’s Facebook page. Now I finally know how straight fanboys feel when watching Girl’s Day perform.
Please show the photo, and describe the specific qualities of it that you find distracting.
I can’t now. I’m too ashamed. I thought that it was the fucking oppa of the group who’s only a year younger than me, then I did a Google Image search and found out it was actually the barely legal maknae. I feel like Tony Ahn if he’d hooked up with Hyeri a month after her 18th birthday.
You’ve always been very “out”, in fact you’re probably about as “out” as it’s possible for a gay k-pop blogger to be, because not only are you open about your sexuality, you’re open about your real name. I imagine you get even more hate than I do! What’s the most ridiculous hate mail you’ve ever received?
Gee, it’s hard to even remember because I’ve been blogging for years, and before I even crossed over into the K-pop field I had a really popular urban-pop blog. I’ve definitely had a lot of crazy shit said to me over the years, primarily from fans of urban artists. A lot of Rihanna and Beyonce stans call me faggot and tell me to go die of AIDS and whatnot. Lots of anal sex barbs, too. And a couple of years ago my house burned down and I lost everything, and Rihanna stans told me that it was payback for telling my readers to boycott Rihanna after she reunited with Chris Brown for that “Birthday Cake” remix. They all flocked to my Twitter sharing the photos of my fire and laughing and everything! I think they told me to die in the fire, too. None of that stuff has ever actually hurt my feelings in the slightest though. I just chalk it down to crazy hoodrattery. I’d only be hurt if somebody said something that was true about me personally, which is hard to do if you only know the online persona and not the real person.
When did you start blogging, and what drew you towards it initially? Do the same things still motivate you now, or has that changed?
I moved out of home pretty early, when I was 16, and was supporting myself with crappy call centre and admin jobs for years. Eventually I got sick of it and went to TAFE to study Music Industry Business, just for a break from full time work and to pursue something I was actually interested in for a while. As I went through my studies I realized how hard it was going to be to get any kind of job in the music industry, so I started a music blog just so I’d have a music-related hobby on my resume. It kind of just took off unexpectedly and started getting really popular, but I could never really stick to one thing because my taste in music is too broad and I couldn’t box myself in with just one genre, like urban or pop music. Plus I’m kind of shy and not particularly ambitious, so I never bothered trying to take things to the next level like other people in my position would have. By the end of last year I absolutely hated doing it, and it was becoming too difficult to balance it with my main job as a writer for Popdust, so I shut it down and took a break. Now I’m updating it again and enjoying it so much more. I just put on the K-pop and J-pop stuff that I like, which is so much more fun than having to give people my shady opinions on boring trash like Katy Perry and Beyonce. Since I technically stopped actively doing the blog, I now feel like I can update it in my own sweet time rather than feeling like I HAVE to do it like I did before. It’s no longer a chore.
Do you still get contact from Katy Perry and Beyonce fans from the earlier days upset that you’ve switched over to the “dark side” of Asian pop?
I did right up until I officially closed the blog. Now that I’m back part-time doing virtually all Asian content I don’t, but occasionally I’ll see some old faces pop up in the comments of my very few non-Asian posts. I’m glad they’re gone now and that I’m only writing for like-minded people. I’ve never cared about hits or traffic, I just want to enjoy what I do and be around other people that feel the same as I do. Dragging the likes of Katy and Beyonce was definitely fun at times, but I feel so much better now that I don’t have to pay attention to a single thing they do any longer. Like that new Beyonce album everybody is raving about, I haven’t even heard it properly. They play some of it in the cafe I get my lunch from though, and it sounds like trash. I did try to listen to the Katy album, but I just couldn’t get through it.
What appeals to you specifically about K-pop? What does K-pop have that you don’t perceive in someone like Katy Perry, Beyonce or other artists of their ilk? Alternately, what do you perceive in Katy or Beyonce that K-pop hasn’t got and that perhaps shouldn’t be there?
Well, for one, I love the transparency. Pop is such a phony manufactured industry, and I love how open K-pop is about that. They don’t try to sell themselves as “real” artists, which I find so refreshing. I love that a K-pop star will come out and basically admit that their agency chose their songs and concept and put the whole thing together. At the end of the day a pop star is a product and their job is to entertain us. For the most part, they are not what I would consider “artists.”
I also respect how hard K-pop stars work, both during training and then post-debut with promotions and whatnot. They devote absolutely everything to being idols in the same way that an athlete or ballerina would in their respective careers.
Then there’s the whole choreography aspect. My favourite pop stars have always been the ones that dance and really perform, like Janet Jackson, Prince, Paula Abdul, Justin Timberlake, and pre-meltdown Britney Spears. K-pop really embodies that aspect of the entertainment industry well.
K-pop is also so conceptual and visual. It’s more than just a song. I absolutely love the drastic image changes and the fact that you get a fully-realized concept, from the music to the choreography to the style and everything. It’s so tight and concise, and because you know they’re just playing dress ups, it doesn’t feel as phony as some American pop star passing off their latest messy image change as some deep personal reflection of their life.
With this said, I still think the West trumps Korea for indie and alternative music any day of the week. No competition. But as far as the commercial, top ten of the Billboard charts thing goes, K-pop wins hands down.
Tell me about some groups that you like and why. Also, some that you don’t like, and why not.
This is difficult because I love so many groups! But my main bias is Brown Eyed Girls. I love their creativity, talent, originality – everything! I seriously rate them one of the greatest girl groups of all time, alongside the likes of The Supremes and TLC. Outside of BEG, it’s T-ara and Girls’ Generation. Somebody once told me that T-ara is simultaneously the best girl group and the worst girl group all at once, which is so true. They can deliver the best K-pop concepts and songs around, yet they can also be the sloppiest group around with their cheap Japanese singles and lethargic mimed stages, but somehow they make it all work, the good and the bad. They’re either legitimately or ironically amazing, but either way, they’re amazing.
While I love T-ara because of their many imperfections, I love Girls’ Generation for the opposite reason. They’re so perfect it’s almost unbelievable. They really embody the glossy, fantasy aspect of pop music better than anyone else.
As for the boys, my absolute favourite is TVXQ. I first started properly getting into K-pop in 2010, but 2011 was when I really became a dedicated K-popper. TVXQ were promoting “Keep Your Head Down” at the time, and I just remember being completely blown away by their live performances and charisma. It’s the same aura and power as some of pop’s biggest stars, like Michael Jackson and Madonna. Separately, Yunho and Max have areas in which they’re lacking, but together they’re the best pop act on the planet today. I truly believe that they’re the closest thing we have to Michael Jackson right now in terms of being entertainers.
I notice you sneakily evaded the “don’t like” part of the question, tsk tsk!
Look at this picture:
Mysterious concept, or hiding plastic surgery scars?
Sorry, I missed that bit! Let me add my answer. (Btw, hope CL didn’t do surgery coz I love her and she vowed she never would many times).
Honestly, there aren’t really any K-pop artists I dislike. There’s a bunch of generic boy bands out there that release awful electro-pop songs that all sound the same, but they’re all so anonymous that it’s difficult to dislike any of them. I’m anti-EXO, but it’s more of a tongue-in-cheek hating rather than legitimate. I mean, I love most of their music outside of the overrated “Growl,” I just don’t like the group’s structure and find them to be unoriginal and boring, despite the good tunes. And people think I hate 2NE1, but I actually don’t. I mostly trash 2NE1 as a joke because their fanbase is so awful. The way 2NE1′s marketed as being more authentic than their contemporaries is what makes me dislike them, because it reminds me of the phony American music industry. Their fans act similar to Beyonce stans, too, so I don’t like that. But I actually love a tonne of 2NE1 songs, and CL is one of my main K-pop biases. But Dara and Bom are absolutely useless, and 2NE1 has the most unimaginative uninteresting concepts. But I still don’t hate the group, mostly due to my CL stanning and the fact that 2NE1 actually has some really great music. Primarily their early stuff, but they can still deliver a good tune here and there, like “Missing You.”
What do you think is the cause of Blackjacks being so bad? And are they “bad meaning bad” or “bad meaning good”?
Haha! Bad meaning bad. They’re just stupid kids, which I totally get because everyone is a stupid kid at some point. They think 2NE1 are real artists who broke out of the manufactured K-pop industry and make really left-field music solely for artistic value and nothing else. It’s hilarious, but I get it. I felt the same about many pop artists when I was 14, like Christina Aguilera with her Stripped album. Although, in my defence, at least Christina could SING and co-wrote her songs. I don’t know what 2NE1 does… CL and Minzy are the only talented ones and they can’t even perform to their full potential because Bom and Dara hold them back.
I actually like Bom. There’s something sexy about an animated Realdoll that can clean herself up afterward as long as you throw her a towel Seungri-style, there’s something to be said for that level of technology. Do you think plastic surgery is good, bad or indifferent? Also do you feel differently if it’s idols getting it as opposed to the general populace?
I can see that appeal, actually. I’d like to see her in a bikini with her big fake titties.
As for plastic surgery, rather than chastise those who get it, it’s better to try and work on creating a society in which people don’t feel the pressure to have to get it in the first place. Overall I think it’s better that people don’t do it, but I get a kick out of Korea’s Gangnam unnies. I love people like Qri and Sunhwa who are just so beyond sucked and tucked that it’s hilarious.
Hey wait a second… you care about half of 2NE1 not being talented, yet you’re a T-ara fan? Surely T-ara are the ultimate “talent doesn’t matter a goddamn if you’ve got the songs” proof group?
Yes, but people don’t promote T-ara like they’re the most talented artists under the sun. 2NE1′s talent is highly exaggerated by their fans and their agency, which is my main problem with them. People think they’re one of the top in terms of talent, if not THE top, but they’re actually one of the worst.
Speaking of T-ara, your writing first attracted my attention when you and Asian Junkie were two of the only high-profile bloggers not joining in the lame T-ara witch-hunt of late 2012. It was nice to read some writing about it that wasn’t just going uncritically along with the netizen tide of cyberbullying stupidity. There were so few of us with a working brain cell at that time that people started to think you and I were the same person. Let’s clear this up right now – are we the same person?
Haha! I think with that whole situation I just couldn’t believe what was happening. Not because I’m a T-ara fan, but that things could change so drastically for someone literally overnight, based on so little. T-ara were well on their way to replacing 2NE1 as the second biggest girl group in K-pop, and within an instant they became the most hated K-pop act on the planet. It was the first time I’d witnessed anything like that since the whole “Korea is gay” Jay Park scandal happened before I got into K-pop, so I was just really stunned. And to see that journalists in the media were reporting anonymous fan accounts on forums and doctored photos as facts was insane. The Australian media is really lowbrow, right wing, and outrageously biased, so it’s not like I haven’t seen similar stuff to this before, but never on this level. It really made me view the entire K-pop fandom in a different light.
And it isn’t just T-ara, either. Never have I seen a scandal as ridiculous as Hyosung’s. She misused a word in a sentence and suddenly she’s a right-wing-puppy-raping-North-Korea-supporting Ilbe bug? I’ve never seen anything like it and even today the very thought shocks me. If the entire world was like this I’d actually kill myself, no joke.
The T-ara scandal couldn’t have happened without the Internet and SNS. Do you think that the modern Internet age and subsequent ease of information/opinion sharing actually leads people to an overall decrease in understanding?
You worded that nicely, but what you really meant was “Are people getting fucking dumber?” and the answer is yes. But people have always been stupid. It was sad to see that nobody really bothered to question the T-ara ‘evidence’. They just believed it straight away, which is crazy in itself because 90% of it was so absurd. Like, a photo of Hwayoung with a slightly crooked umbrella suddenly becomes “BORAM DESTROYED HWAYOUNG’S UMBRELLA!” It was all just so stupid. Even thinking about it makes me feel like an idiot.
The most connected societies also seem to be the most hive-minded. Other than taking away people’s toys, do you see a solution?
OMG BREAKING KPOP CONTROVERSY ARCADEY SUPPORTS MASS MURDER OF ENTIRE INTERNET USERS LOLZ!!!1!1
I think we should get Crayon Pop to sort them out. What do you think?
Crayon Pop need not bother themselves with idiotic netizens. Their concept is to spread joy and happiness, which these netizens don’t deserve. Plus, Crayon Pop’s concept is too subversive and punk rock for those simpletons anyway.
Do you find interest in punk generally speaking, either musically or as an ideological concept?
Ideologically yes, but musically not so much. Which is funny because I love so many kinds of music, but punk has never done it for me unless it’s more like post-punk mish-mash genre stuff like Siouxsie and the Banshees, or big crossover stuff like The Ramones. But the real deal headbanger stuff doesn’t do it for me. Nor does Aussie punk, which I despise.
I’m writing a blog about Crayon Pop being a punk group. It’ll probably get published before this interview does, but I’m interested in what you think the influence of Crayon Pop might be. Do you think their street performances and unique presentation have influenced the likes of Pungdeng-E and TREN-D? Do you see any effects, positive or negative, from Crayon Pop influence in K-pop overall?
YES at you doing a Crayon Pop as punk article. They are the definition of punk, but you should be prepared for 95% of K-pop fans to think you’re just being a delusional idiot. “That’s not punk! This is fucking stupid!” they’ll all scream, despite the fact that none of them will actually know what punk music is, both as music and as an ideology! 4% will be Crayon Pop fans agreeing with you just because they stan Crayon Pop, and then you’ll be left with the 1% that actually get your point and agree.
As for Crayon Pop influencing those flops you mentioned, they definitely did, but that happens any time someone gets popular. If you hit daebak everyone will copy you to get successful. I just hope that more people will continue to ‘get’ Crayon Pop, and their core fanbase of people like us who are in on the joke and understand the movement continues to grow. Crayon Pop is like the Abba-meets-Sex-Pistols of our generation!
Love the article, and from now on I’m officially going to start referring to them as Crayon Punk!
Is there any other K-pop blogging that you enjoy… or don’t enjoy? Also any specific examples of individual posts that changed how you feel about K-pop blogging or influenced you in any way?
You mean blogging outside of K-pop, or just other kinds of K-pop blogging? I like what I do now, which is a nice mixture of legitimate K-pop music viewing, hyperbolic stanning, and sardonic commentary. My K-pop commentary is definitely more on the positive side than others, but that’s because I like to celebrate K-pop and have fun with it. It’s such a niche thing that I don’t really understand the point of going out of your way to follow it if all you’re going to do is be negative and trash everything. That’s what my non-K-pop pop music content turned into on Arcadey because I had to give my opinion on stuff like Katy Perry or Britney Spears or whoever because people requested it, but there wasn’t really much good to say from my point, so a lot of stuff became negative.
The post that changed the way I feel about K-pop blogging was my “I Got a Boy” review. The overwhelmingly negative response that song received instantly really showed me how ignorant a lot of K-pop fans are when it comes to music, and the hate I received for daring to praise it was just mind boggling to me. I’m not someone that only listens to pop music that’s on the radio, and I’m not someone who only listens to K-pop. I listen to all kinds of music, and as sarcastic and hyperbolic as my writing often is, there’s still a respect for the music there underneath it all and I can still serve up a serious review whenever I want to. I think I was the only one of all the K-pop bloggers that stood up for “I Got a Boy.” Of course the song grew on everyone eventually, as I knew it would (and told everyone it would), but at first I was the only one defending it. I told the netizens the song wasn’t for your average K-pop fan that doesn’t listen to anything outside of your YG productions and formulaic hook songs. It was to buy Girls’ Generation some more cred with legitimate music fans and critics. I told everyone the kind of left-field artists “I Got a Boy” was drawing from, and that it was going to end up getting a great reception from the Western music media, which it did. But I just got so much hate for that song, even though I was 100% right about everything at the end of the day, which I knew I would be. The whole experience really drove home for me that the majority of K-pop listeners are nothing like me, and are primarily just teenage simpletons with limited musical knowledge who are drawn in by the more generic aspects of the genre and the celebrity culture of K-pop, rather than the actual music or art of it.
I thought it made sense from a marketing perspective for SNSD to experiment even though I wasn’t personally keen on the result.
Yeah, but there’s a difference between simply not liking the song and just being plain ignorant and not understanding it. The majority of haters had no idea what the musical influences behind “I Got a Boy” were, and criticised it for being “schizophrenic” when that was the entire point of the song. They thought that the producer had made it that way by accident or something without realising. And they couldn’t accept that there’s a large portion of people who enjoy music that breaks the formula. Many people just wanted “I Got a Boy” to follow standard radio-friendly pop formulas. Then when Girls’ Generation did that recently with “Mr.Mr,” they criticise it for being too “generic.”
SNSD have been dominating the girl group market for a while now. Do you think it’s possible for a female group in K-pop to have Madonna/Cher levels of pop-culture lastability?
That’s difficult to say. The West is ageist enough, but in Korea it’s even worse, and K-pop as a genre is still so young. Yes, it’s been around for decades, but it really morphed into something different with the debut of stars like TVXQ, BigBang, and Wonder Girls, and the birth of YouTube. There’s still so much to go, and it’s too early to call if we’re going to have people with a Madonna type relevance in Korea. Maybe Uhm Jung Hwa, but she hasn’t been active in years. She gave up on being a pop star at 40.
As for SNSD, I don’t think they’ll reach that level. After seeing the “Mr.Mr.” comeback stages, in which SNSD lacked confidence and appeared to be ill-prepared as if they hadn’t rehearsed nearly enough, I’m thinking that SM Entertainment is having some issues transitioning them into a fiercer, more mature act – and they’re still so young. It’s easy to look at them now and feel like SNSD domination will never end, but who knows where they’ll be in 10 years? I think they need to be training harder so they’re still improving in the way that TVXQ is, rather than stagnating (despite their great music, which I think has remained consistently fantastic since they debuted).
What do you think is musically influencing K-pop right now, and where do you see the influence heading in the future?
K-pop is a melting pot of American pop, Europop, and J-pop, so it can go anywhere. I just think that K-pop will continue making songs that can be enjoyed by hallyu fans across the world since K-pop is such a global genre, rather than pandering to Koreans all the time. Whether that means that K-pop will get more generic or more creative remains to be seen, because it could go either way.
Can you list your K-pop biases? No interview would be complete without this. Inquiring minds wish to know.
Male: 1. Yunho 2. Bang Yongguk 3. Jonghyun
Female: 1. Narsha 2. Hyosung 3. IU 4. Eunjung/Soyeon 5. Goo Hara 6. CL
I have to stop there because I have so many female biases it will never end.
More female than male biases? I’m surprised. What’s the reason for it?
I just like girl groups more because the music and concepts are more creative, hence me having more female biases.
Most boy bands just rely on fangirl support so their music is more generic and formulaic on average, and conceptually there isn’t a whole lot they do. The girl groups are far more interesting overall.
Last question: How would you like your blogging legacy to be remembered?
Legacy is far too grand of a word! I’m not a journalist and I fell into this whole thing by mistake. I’m not trying to get attention or be popular. At the end of the day I’m just making myself happy, and if anybody else happens to enjoy it then that’s great.
Hopefully you’ve all enjoyed the first Kpopalypse interview! I’d like to do some more of these, but finding interesting folks who are actually willing to conduct an interview with me might be a challenge.
Any interview suggestions and offers, please comment below or use my Twitter! Thanks for reading!