Kpopalypse is back with another Kpopalypse interview!
This is in fact the most “Kpopalypse” Kpopalypse interview ever, as this time Kpopalypse is the one being interviewed! Read on to find out more!
The other day I noticed the following message float onto my Facebook “message requests”.
Hello, I’m wondering if you’d be interested in doing an interview with me during the next week. I’m a UniSA journalism student doing a story on the rise in popularity of Kpop in Australia and I would love to ask you a few questions about your thoughts as a voice of the local Kpop community. The story is for an assignment and is unlikely to be published, but I would be happy to send you a copy once it is completed. If you are busy or not comfortable with a face-to-face interview, perhaps I could email or facebook private message you some questions at a time you would be comfortable with? If you are not interested in doing an interview with me I understand, but would really appreciate it if you could tell me so as soon as possible. Thank you so much for your time and have a great day.
Note to caonimas – my Facebook is a really, really bad way to get in touch with me about anything other than radio show requests, apart from the show page I barely use it at all and I’m terrible at checking any sort of private message. You’re much better off using my Twitter or my email (see the “about” page) if you want to get in touch about interview or business type stuff. So as a result, the Facebook message had been sitting there for a few days before I got to it. I wasn’t sure if she still gave a fuck by this point but I replied and as it happens the interviewer (who chose to remain anonymous for this post) was still quite keen so I thought I’d help her out with her assignment because Kpopalypse is all about helping out a caonima in need. I felt that the interview questions and answers might also entertain my own readers, so the following is the results of her interview with me for your reading pleasure, which covered a set group of questions about Kpopalypse’s place in the k-pop community and how Kpopalypse and k-pop specifically relates to Australia.
How long have you been a part of the Kpop community?
I don’t really consider myself part of the “kpop community” and in fact I’m not even sure what a “kpop community” entails. Kpop isn’t the only form of music that I listen to (I’d go insane, maybe kill myself and/or others) and I don’t consider myself to be part of any scene in that regard. My idea of a meaningful “kpop community” in any real sense is that it would involve people actually performing in k-pop and since they’re all in Korea I don’t think the concept of a “kpop community” is very meaningful. No offence to the people who are fans in Australia but I don’t think a bunch of fans is really quite the same thing, adding the C-word is to me artificially elevating the status of a fan into something it really isn’t. However if this question is really just a fancier-worded version of “when did you get into k-pop” then the answer is that I was first made aware of it in 2000 when studying Ethnomusicology at university, but I didn’t start actually listening until 2011. The 2000’s bands were absolutely horrid and didn’t make me want to listen. The first band I heard was H.O.T – they suck, flat out! Terrible music! In 2011 I found out about SNSD, T-ara, 2NE1… that was much more interesting.
So you consider yourself more of a chameleon than a Kpop fan?
I dunno, I don’t see a need to stick a label onto it. I think it’s fine for people to like whatever music that they do. Kpop is really just western pop anyway, musically speaking. It’s just made with a little more determination which means that the results are sometimes superior. As far as music taste goes I like all sorts of things and always have.
How would you describe your role in the community?
I guess if we’re to define k-pop fans where I live as a “community” for argument’s sake or whatever, I guess I’m probably more visible in my own town as a DJ than as a blogger. I read somewhere once that estimated listenership of Three D Radio at any given moment is about 9000 people, and that figure would vary depending on timeslot, i.e “drive time ” shows would have more listeners, late at night would have less. My show is pretty close to peak periods for listening so I’d have a lot of people checking it out, and maybe some of them would like it but a lot also wouldn’t. My show is probably the only pop program of any kind on Three D Radio unless you count retro stuff like Carmen’s Doo Wop Corner (which is great). However I’ve probably got a bigger profile globally as a blogger where I think most people read the blog and aren’t aware of or don’t really care about the radio show because if they want k-pop they can just look up YouTube or whatever. I’ve also done a little kpop club DJing here but there’s not really a market for it and I hate club DJing anyway. I’d rather be in a soundproof booth playing this stuff than at a venue.
Is it nice knowing that your blogging is so popular internationally, or would you prefer a wider reach locally?
I’d rather have the international reach, because local fame would be irritating. I’d absolutely hate to be like one of the “celebrity DJs” you see with their ugly faces on billboards etc, such bland archetypical personalities, commercial radio is an ideological disaster, a road straight to nowhere. Also the blog doesn’t have the same restrictions that the radio does. I can delve into some pretty deep and/or explicit and/or strange territory on the blogs that simply just wouldn’t work on air, the blog is definitely more creatively satisfying. I think it’s valuable to push certain boundaries in front of k-pop fans and I can’t really do that with a live show that has to conform to regulatory requirements regarding content etc.
I see what you mean, yeah.
Also kpop is such a visual medium. The visuals are at least as important as the music. So being able to present visual content is crucial.
Have you noticed a rise in popularity in Australia?
Obviously everyone noticed PSY when “Gangnam Style” blew up, but PSY really did k-pop in general no favours, there’s a vast difference between what he does and k-pop in the strict sense that most k-pop fans are interested in. There’s been a gradual rise in interest, anyone I talk to who is in high school knows about it because even if they don’t listen to it, their friends do. Above that age group and things get a lot sketchier though. Which makes sense after all pop appeals to young people, or at least is marketed that way. I consider k-pop to be at now where computer gaming was in the 1980s – if you were in high school you definitely knew about it. If you were older than that you were probably considered a bit of a freak if you knew about it. However those high school kids from the 1980s grew up, and now you’ve got ads for the new Doom/Battlefield/Call Of Duty games on the back of public transport, the 12-year old me would be blown away by this! Kpop may never get to that level though and for the simple reason that most people want to hear songs in their own language that they can sing along to ALL the words of. Which is a curiously English-speaking-country obsession by the way, people in non-English-speaking countries don’t give a shit that all the pop music is in English even if they don’t understand a word!
So it’s a bit like any pop trend that focuses in on the younger generation and older fans are the outliers?
Well I know I’m definitely an outlier! That’s fine though, I’ve always been different so that’s a comfortable position for me to be in!
As long as you’re enjoying yourself it doesn’t matter your interests, right?
Sure. I’ve always felt myself to be on the outside of any peer group which has the benefit that I’ve always been completely immune to peer pressure. If people spend their lives looking over their shoulder and worrying about what others think and following the wishes of everyone expect themselves when it comes to how to run their life, if they end up with a shitty life because of that then they totally deserve it.
How has Australia’s response to Kpop changed? Can you think of any reasons for that?
I’m kind of divorced from “Australia’s response” because I don’t watch TV. The last time I said to myself “right I’m going to sit down and watch some TV channels” would have been in 2002 sometime. So I have no idea what the wacky biased Murdoch press in this country is pushing as “Australia’s response to k-pop” or whatever. I only know how individuals respond who I make aware of it.
So how do those individuals respond?
It depends what you show them! My girlfriend fucking hates it, which I think is hilarious and a great hook for blogging material. Guys my age will respond to stuff like AOA and Stellar for obvious reasons that they like the girls but they’ll often stay for the music. K-pop is quite clever in that the girl groups are musically marketed to male music taste, and likewise the boy groups are marketed to female music taste more often than not – not talking about the image here or even the voices, but more things like grabbing bits from genres that have been shown in the past to have more currency with either men or women in other markets. Females tend to respond well to the male images just like the guys do to the females, k-pop is an anomaly in global music where the male performers are actually objectified more than the female performers. However there’s also people who listen to the radio show and a radio show has no visuals so at least theoretically the images shouldn’t make that much difference yet people still tune in so I think the image grabs people but the music keeps them there. Girl groups tend to be more successful overall with my listenership because men usually won’t want to listen to a boy group and will exhibit a fair amount of opinion straight off the bat without even hearing a note (“manufactured” “that’s gay” “like One Direction” etc) whereas women will sometimes give a girl group more of a chance.
What would you say about the long-term survivability of Kpop in Australia?
Notwithstanding a nuclear accident I don’t think k-pop is going anywhere. I think it’s culturally entrenched globally at this point, however I also don’t see it becoming more than a cult phenomenon in western countries in the near future. With higher Asian populations and the exsting core audience growing older that might change – but it also might not. After all people who listen to western pop at 13 might discover something else by the time they’re 25. Australia is no different to any other non-Korean country in this regard.
Do you think that because Australia has a much larger Asian population than say America that might affect how the popularity of Kpop will survive here?
Yes, I think k-pop is more culturally relevant to Australia than America (even though k-pop borrows so much of American culture) simply because of physical proximity of Australia to the Asian subcontinent and the large amount of Asian population in major cities here.
Trends like Jpop jumped and then plateaued, is Kpop going to be the same?
J-pop is a very different ball game because Japan’s industry structure is actually designed through various means to STOP j-pop from spreading globally, whereas with k-pop they deliberately throw everything out there like a calling card. Japan will always have outliers in slightly less-pop markets (Babymetal, Guitar Wolf, etc) but their approach is totally different. Also in my opinion their music quality – at least in the pure pop realm – is far, far worse. J-pop is riding off the back of anime and manga fans if anything.
I agree, actually.
A “jpopalypse” radio show wouldn’t even be possible simply because of the painfulness of acquiring the content, for example.
Yeah, I’ve heard licensing for Jpop is a massive headache. What did you like about Kpop when you started listening to it? Has that changed?
One quality that attracts me to any form of music is, for want of a better way of putting it, “extremity”. If I listen to metal I want it to be as heavy and crazy as possible. If I listen to rap then I want it to be rude and crude and also with hard beats, no soft wimpy R&B concessions or boring politically correct lyrics. On the other hand the k-pop stuff that I like is really, really poppy, it shares that same thing in common. Something like SNSD’s “Gee” is dialling the aegyo right up to eleven, really pushing it in your face both visually with the silly expressions but also musically with this incredibly busy, bubbly sounding backing track that isn’t like anything in western pop, j-pop or in fact anywhere else. A track I really like that is quite recent is Berry Good’s “Angel” which is laying on layers of hyper-melancholy melody, Lovelyz’ “Ah-Choo” is similar, T-ara’s “Roly Poly” is actually more 70s disco then 70s disco actually was, etc. K-pop at its best really goes to extremes when following a certain creative/musical vision, and it’s because the industry is so harshly competitive that you get these occasional extreme results. Of course, 9 times out of 10 they fuck it up and the end result sucks, there’s far more bad songs in k-pop than good songs – but when they get it right, the end result is more interesting, or even more noteworthy even if it fails. I’d still rather listen to something like CL’s “The Baddest Female“, as bad a song as it is, than Drake or Macklemore or something, which is just blandness.
Do you think Australia would benefit from more involvement in the Kpop industry?
Apart from booking live acts to tour here, Australia should stay right the fuck away from the k-pop industry! People don’t understand that k-pop is basically organised crime with a beat. Western music is like this too to a great extent but in Korea the music and the underworld elements are far more closely entwined.
You believe that there is a lot of organised crime involved in Kpop, then? It’s not just exaggerated for drama?
Many major k-pop labels are in the pockets of criminal elements and have very close ties. Criminal gangs in Korea make a lot of money through prostitution which is something like 4% of South Korea’s GDP. There are places you can go in Seoul where you can hire k-pop girls for “private” activities. Guys aren’t exempt and lesser-known acts and trainees are used for hen’s nights and a lot more. Then there’s the drugs, and don’t tell me that hundreds of active boy and girl groups are working on 4 hours sleep every single night for years with no holidays or breaks without any drug-taking going on whatsoever. The scandals that have leaked so far about prostitution and drugs are only just scratching the surface.
The prostitution is definitely pretty obvious.
And that’s the “legit” agencies! Then there are all the agencies that actually have no intention of debuting their performers and are just there to milk trainee money from them and/or recruit hookers.
Yeah, I have heard of those. It’s definitely a risky business to get involved in.
Anyone thinking of going to Korea and having a k-pop career, honestly my advice is “don’t”. It’s a really bad idea. If you’re not actually from that country you’re very poorly positioned to have any impact.
What does the amount of groups visiting Australia mean to you?
Not much because they never send any groups that I like. The last one I went to was 4Minute and that was a fairly average experience by live performance standards, not in terms of the performers themselves but more things like set length, song choice, event planning etc. I’m hesitant to see more k-pop groups, maybe if T-ara comes I would go for that.
I understand, there’s really no point if you don’t like the bands coming.
I was mildly curious to see BigBang when they came but I didn’t want to see maybe the three or four good songs of theirs that I like surrounded by all their yolo yolo swag swag kind of stuff.
We had the same thoughts there, then.
The problem with a lot of k-pop groups is that because they use different writers all the time, there’s rarely any consistency to their catalogue. So no matter who comes you’re going to get a massively mixed bag of songs. It’s not like going to see Slayer or something where you absolutely know what kind of thing you’re getting and you know that it’ll be musically consistent. A group can release something brilliant one week and a terrible song the next. They’re not overly viable as touring entities, except maybe in a big festival where they all have short sets playing their best stuff, and we all know how disastrous the last attempt at that in Australia went.
That’s true, it’s only the fans who really go for the tours, huh?
To say “I’m a fan of group X” in k-pop you need to kind of blind yourself willingly to their shittier material, of which there is a lot, even with the groups with the best hit/miss ratios. That’s why I’ve never really been able to put my hand on my heart and say that I’m a fan of any particular group. There are certain groups that I think have better hit/miss ratios than others, and there are also certain groups that I would support on a semi-ideological basis, but “I’m a [insert fandom name here]” – nope.
Why do you think so many groups are coming to Australia lately?
Money, plus the logistics of coming to Australia are definitely easier than America (see – Oh My Girl’s visa issues) with less red tape. I think the higher Asian population here also works in Australia’s favour, there’s probably more fans per capita even though there’s less people overall.
What kind of effect has the popularity of Kpop had on your radio show and blog?
I don’t know if the popularity of k-pop has made any difference to my radio show, if anything the fact that k-pop isn’t that popular is what makes my radio show viable. If k-pop suddenly became massive and the charts here were filled with SHINee and Beast I’d actually stop doing my show simply because there would be no reason for it to exist – commercial radio could cover the same territory. Although my show is a pop show it’s not the same pop that people hear generally speaking around the place, it’s still different in an important way. The blog has gradually picked up steam to the point where it’s actually far more popular than the show, but I don’t think that’s got a lot to do with k-pop’s global popularity in general but more to do with my writing about specific things that touch a nerve with certain people. A lot of my traffic is just people image-searching k-pop girls, but also things like my article on how “MR Removed” videos are worthless and prove nothing, or the differences between western pop and k-pop (i.e none) get traffic quite often. I don’t specifically write to generate that traffic but I just write about things that I feel should be written about by someone, or that I think should be tackled differently to what I see on the incredibly awful and trashy “kpop news” and “netizen” style sites which generally just encourage and revel in stupidity.
So Kpop is definitely more of a niche market and for you that’s quite important?
Well my radio station exists as an “alternative” so I’d say it’s more important to the radio station than to me personally. I don’t really care if k-pop becomes mainstream or not, I’ll still listen to it as long as occasionally songs come out that I like to listen to. I’ll still write about it too as long as writing about it continues to interest me, and there’s so much hardcore stupidity out there with k-pop fans that really I have endless writing material. But it’s important from the point of view of running a radio show on a station billing itself as “different” that I’m doing something which isn’t just what you can get on commercial radio.
If k-pop was on the charts here every week I’d probably stop the radio show but I’d carry on with the blog, in fact the blog would actually become even more important, because more people into k-pop means more people exposed to the kind of awful media dipshittery that my writing is specifically there to counter.
Is there anything further you want to say on the topic?
I was talking to a reasonably well-known musician a while back, who shall remain nameless to protect the guilty. We were talking about the Internet and its effect on music and his opinion was that the advent of the Internet was an absolutely negative thing for music. He wasn’t talking about things like piracy, but about the ability of people to behave in groupthink kind of ways, about things like how we actually have people who will kill their own children by denying them vaccines and medical care because of what they saw on a Facebook post, or who think that Chemtrails are real, or who doubt really obvious science that has never really been in serious dispute. As Seoul is more technologically advanced than anywhere else in the world at the moment, we’re seeing the effects of an interconnected society ahead of time, it’s like looking into the future. You can see the groupthink in effect much stronger as people twist and turn to look over each other’s shoulders – “what do [x] think?” “if I say the truth will I be hated?” etc. K-pop is a big part of that as it brings a lot of those elements to the foreground with a hyper-real presentation that deliberately plays on people’s ability to construct their own reality. The radio show is just a radio show, it’s just songs, whereas the blog gets both a lot of love and a lot of hate because I’m willing to go in a different direction and show the “real” reality. Once you strip away all the artifice what’s left is the songs, so in this way, the blog and the radio show are symbiotic. Peace and love, kids.