Welcome to a new series on Kpopalypse blog – AustralianSana & Kpopalypse!
I don’t look for collaborators often, but when I do, I look for people who are opinionated, smart, witty and have an unusually high amount of talent for pissing crazy k-pop fans as well as people in general right the fuck off with very little effort. AustralianSana is a long-time follower of Kpopalypse blog and fits all of these criteria admirably, and then some. AustralianSana is an ex-YouTuber and ex k-pop blogger, and I’ve used content from her before, most of which was created under the handle InfinitelySY and some of which is discussed below.
In this series, I will have a Skype chat with AustralianSana approximately every 2-3 months, and then transcribe the conversation into a post for your entertainment and education. This first post is essentially an interview with her doing pretty much all of the talking, and will serve as an introduction to some of AustralianSana’s experiences, worldview and interests for those of you who are unfamiliar. Future posts in this series will emerge later and will follow a similar format but will be more discussion-based, with readers deciding the topics (see below) and myself and AustralianSana talking about them. For now, let’s get to know a little about AustralianSana!
Obviously you’re a k-pop fan, as am I – let’s just start with the generic questions of how you got involved in k-pop and what your involvement in k-pop actually is.
I got into it as a hobby at around 2010-11, around that time. It was just a coincidence, I was with my friend in Morning Glory and they were playing a music video on the TV and I asked “what’s this” and was told “oh this is a Korean group called Shistar”. I was like “Shit Star?”, but no, it turned out it was Sistar. I went home and looked it up on YouTube and then fell down the proverbial rabbit-hole. From there I became interested in it more as an industry rather than just surface-level idol stuff, and how it works. It was such a strange thing, because Western media doesn’t have the same kind of training systems as idols do, let alone half of the other things that are involved. From there it kind of grew into leaning about that, and then I just have this natural ability to piss people off.
[laughs] Gosh, I can’t relate to that at all!
No – it’s so unique! [laughs] It’s this weird thing that I don’t know how to put a label on exactly. It’s kind of like being too much of a fan to ever be particularly taken seriously in a professional role, but then at the same time being too logical/critical to ever really fit in with the fandoms as well. I don’t have a particular place, I’m just kind of floating I would say, at this stage.
Do you think that is a fairly wide niche, do you think it’s fairly easy for people to fall into that?
Kind of, yeah – it’s basically like you’re meant to be at the age where you grow out of it, but then you stick around because you’ve got the interest but then you’re not twelve years old anymore either. For example Asian Junkie would be another person who would fit into that, and I’ve got a friend of mine who works professionally, and we kind of became friends from that – this is how I made “connections”. I’ve had a lot of people who work in media or other aspects of the industry get in contact with me, because I say a lot of the things that they want to say, but because they are in a professional context they’re not legally able to say it, be it for breach of contract or privacy.
Do you remember what the first songs were that really got you into the k-pop rabbit hole?
The first song was Sistar’s “Shady Girl“, then I kind of really got into it with SNSD (Girls’ Generation), pretty much all of their stuff, “Into The New World“, “Gee“, “Run Devil Run“, the first physical album that I bought was SNSD’s “The Boys“. They used to have them in Chinatown, they don’t really exist anymore, but those bootleg DVDs that had a whole bunch of music videos on them…
Yes, I have a few of those!
I at the time had no idea what an official CD was or what anything looked like, so I was like “that looks cool, I’ll just get that for ten bucks” and for example I’d get an SNSD one but at the end there’d be like a couple of other music videos from other groups and I’d be like “holy shit this is a whole new group” and then I’d get that and so on.
I’d change direction – one week I was super into Super Junior and the next week I was into Beast and then I kind of got really settled in Infinite, hence [my social network handle was] “InfinitelySY” for that super-long period of time.
I did see some videos of you unboxing Infinite stuff. Would you call yourself a “fan” of Infinite?
Absolutely. Still definitely a fan of them, it’s just the shit thing is one of the members left, he was one of my favourite members of the group, and although I wish everyone the best, it just isn’t the same without my favourite member in the group, which is Hoya.
I’m definitely over the YouTubing phase, probably because of the effort that’s involved in to set up camera equipment, and I’m kind of shit at doing that anyway, and I figure I can get the same effect on Twitter for half of the effort, not even half, like so much less, so I’ve moved away from YouTube more into Twitter.
I did actually like some of your YouTube content quite a bit, I remember using your f(x) video in a few of my posts, and I liked your Tzuyu from Twice…
Ah, yes, the fake dub.
One of my friends who works in the k-pop media industry for their job, they’re still doing it and have done it for ten years or something, one of the videos that they found that was interesting was the one that I did on B.A.P and their whole issue that was going on with TS Entertainment at the time and how it’s just not as simple as either side of it was making it out to be. It was pretty much the content that I had on my blog that was also in video format.
I’ve had a lot of shit that’s gone on that I’ve talked about on Twitter but that’s also not exactly widely publicised either – I was interested in what I was doing, and then I had a really long hospital stint – not to turn this into “my tragic life story”, but I had a condition where my lungs would spontaneously collapse for no reason and it required emergency stays, it required pain-in-the-ass arranging with public hospitals to try and get surgery dates and then they got postponed, my lungs collapsed spontaneously on their own four times, and then it also required two additional surgeries, and that timespan was roughly over the course of two years, so that was a huge setback in terms of blogging or YouTubing. It wasn’t just the time in hospital, and then the time having the operation, and then the time physically required to recover, it was also as soon as I’d finished with everything regarding that, I had to go straight back to work and make up for the six weeks of pay that I had to miss out on, or all the assignments. I essentially taught myself my own subjects at university, by studying them online and then had to go in and take the tests. So everything k-pop wise, I was super-annoyed but it definitely just had to take a back seat. By the time I had gotten better it was something that I had been away from for so long, would any of the subscribers to my channel still even be there? Who knows.
You seem to still get a fair few reactions. I follow your ask.fm and Twitter, you seem to still have a bit of traffic going on, and you also have an odd amount of people who don’t like you for some reason!
Yeah, what can I say, it’s just a natural-born quality that I’ve always possessed. I’m not exactly liked by a lot of people for whatever reason, but I live with it.
I notice many of your more recent posts are BTS-related, have BTS taken over Infinite or are you more of an Infinite fan?
It’s hard to say, I’m a fan of them for very different reasons. Infinite was one that I definitely fell into by chance, and I guess BTS is obviously a chance thing as well, but… I don’t like talking about it like “fate” or anything stupidly cliched or cheesy, but things with me and BTS worked out very very well, by pure dumb luck. It’s hard to even try to describe because everything’s inter-related. Just from knowing people who know people who know people, people who have found my stuff and recommended it to other people, networking in Sydney it’s a very small place with the k-pop community etc, someone got in touch with me through mutual friends, who I met on a one-off occasion, who works in terms of linking producers to record companies. They found that I was basically a walking encyclopedia of useless knowledge, and got in touch with me a few times whenever they wanted some help or advice. One of the times they asked for advice was they were going to Korea in 2014, and they asked me “what kind of groups should I keep my eye open for” so naturally I plugged my faves and said “stan Infinite!” and I also mentioned Apink who I was and still am a fan of, and then another one, BTS who I knew about but wasn’t super into purely because of the age difference. I was born in 1992 which is the same as their oldest member who is 5 years older than the maknae (youngest), and at the time he was still in school and I still see him as a child because of that. So I was not super into the group at the time because they were teenagers, but I could definitely recognise their potential, so I told him about them: “look, there’s another group called BTS, they’re definitely worth keeping an eye open for, this is what they do, this is their sound and they’ve got a rapidly growing fanbase, particularly internationally as much as they are in Korea”, which they were. Then he noted that, and a little while later I was in Korea at the same time as him, because I had my first overseas trip, and he was going to a meeting with JYP and we met up in Starbucks before we left. I helped him find the place and I’m pretty sure we had a conversation because he was having a meeting with iBigHit Entertainment before we left at some point during his trip as well, so he asked me for more information on BTS and I gave the minimal that I knew at the time. Months later, we’re getting into 2015 nearly, he gets back in touch and says “oh by the way thanks for your help with BTS, because of the info you gave me it made it look like I knew what I was talking about when I was in the meeting” and he wound up setting up… I’m not sure if you’ve actually interviewed him or not, his name is Thanh Bui*, he’s from Australia and he was on Australian Idol at one stage, and he went on to co-write “Danger” with them.
I might know the name, I don’t know any more than that though!
It was a pretty neat thing to have happen, because as I mentioned before I have literally no actual serious qualification or involvement in any professional context, but in some second-degree party of separation kind of way I was involved in linking a producer to BTS! He gave me a bunch of shit from iBigHit and he worked with Avex as well, so as his way of saying thank you he gave me a bag of like $500 worth of albums and stuff for free, one of which was a signed CD from BTS.
What do you think it is about BTS? They’ve become very successful, and whenever I meet someone and I find out they’re a fan of k-pop and they happen to be female, which is invariably the case, and I ask them who they’re into, they always say “BTS”. When I ask them “why BTS in particular? What do you think it is about that group in particular that has gravitated you towards them?” they never really give me a satisfactory response, so I’m wondering what your response to that question is.
Definitely the minor involvement that I had with them at that point was a super-huge thing for me because that’s the closest that I’m really ever going to get to anything like that, so it’s a cool experience. The other thing was, I had some experience working with press before, I did a couple of things in Australia, super-long story as well so I won’t go into the full details, but long story short the person who was responsible for that tried to throw me under the bus for one of her mistakes, and it ruined our friendship because I thought we were friends, but I won’t go into that.
Responsible for what?
It was to do with the BigBang concert when they came here, she exposed confidential information and then accused me of not backing her up when she got exposed for it, I was like “what the fuck do you want me to do? That was your shit not mine!” She tried to blame me for it, I wasn’t having it. Anyway, through that I was able to cover their Red Bullet concert when they came here into Sydney. Someone mentioned on ask.fm “are you going to go and see BTS?” and I said “yeah if someone wants to give me free tickets because I ain’t got the money” and then I got free tickets to their show. So it’s like this is this group that’s super-huge, super-popular and stuff just keeps falling into my lap, like a singed CD, a bunch of general information turns into this connection, free concert tickets for a concert that was sold out, 2016 I went to go to MNet Countdown specifically to go and see Infinite because they were performing there, and BTS had their comeback special and I saw them live. It was like this group just kept falling into place, and so the more they kept just falling into my lap, the more I became a bit more interested.
So there were a few things. In 2014 I noticed them and how they were procuring such a massive fanbase both internationally and in Korea at the same time, because usually it’s more Korea-centric. I think that one of the biggest things is, they’re this combination of things that I’ve always had this idea of: “if a k-pop group did this, they would be huge”, and they’ve somehow managed to incorporate so many of those things at once. The obvious thing is the English speaking with Namjoon, he’s pretty much fluent, odd little things every now and then, you can tell he’s not an English speaker but he may as well be, he’s got that side of the communication down. People hate it when you point them out as a social media group, and I guess with all the shitty Billboard awards that their fandom is obsessed with, which is infuriatingly annoying…
Isn’t that just like one dude who works at Billboard?
…who I’ve roasted many a time and who now has me blocked on Twitter!
[laughs] Why did you roast him? I’m curious.
Oh Jeff Benjamin. He cannot write about another group without comparing them to BTS. Whenever he has to do something for Billboard he always has to include them. It’s like “okay, we get, it, you cover BTS, you’re responsible for BTS, you can shut the fuck up about it and you can write about Red Velvet without having to talk about BTS in the process”. But it’s because it generates the attention, it generates the ad revenue…
It generates the reaction that I’m giving him as well by pointing that out, that’s why they do it. So I’m getting sidetracked here – social media and the annoying awards that come from that. At the time that BTS were running their Twitter account in the way that they do, pretty much no-one else – and this is kind of a dumb thing to notice – but nobody else in k-pop was running their socials that way, because k-pop is such a regulated, strictly monitored industry. I remember when I was checking k-pop out in 2012 when I first got into it I thought “well there’s no-one really interacting with the fans in the ways that American celebrities like Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber, the idols of western culture are”. If you go on Ariana Grande’s Twitter account, especially back in 2011, she was regularly talking to her fans, regularly liking them, she follows them back, Justin Bieber follows like 30,000 people, there was so much interaction that I guess I was used to from being a fan of western music, so when I got into k-pop and I saw this super-scripted super-regulated way of presenting themselves I didn’t even know how to really react. BTS started running their account pre-debut, and I noticed that theirs was a lot more like the way the western celebrities were running theirs. It’s such a small characteristic, but it really did create that sense of “bonding” with their fans. There’s 16 million followers now, but I noticed back at the time that they would actually reply to their fans, which does not really happen that much in k-pop at all, it’s started to become a thing but even then it’s still strictly monitored. It’s like “oh we’ll have a reply session from 5pm to 6pm Korean Standard Time please follow this account for more details”, that kind of thing, whereas BTS’s was a lot more daily whatever-the-hell-we-like-posting.
Then there’s the cliched thing that everyone never shuts up about which is [puts on “young fangirl voice”] “they’re the only group who write meaningful lyrics!”, but they present themselves and they market themselves based on that very very well. The guy that I helped out with BTS, I’ve spoken to him about that as well. It’s ironic that the way fans will talk about them like [puts on “young fangirl voice”] “they’re not a k-pop group they’re real artists, they’re not manufactured!” when the whole reason why they were put together by Bang PD himself and his own logic behind the group, was to create – to manufacture – a group that kind of talked about social issues that people could relate to. So it was their purpose, and it was a manufactured purpose, but again they presented it and they marketed it very well. So I guess in a way that’s it’s own thing, the fact that they can market themselves very well, and I’m aware of it, but people who say that the only reason that they’re interested in it is “they’re close with their fans, they have a real connection” yada yada yada, they’ve managed to market it in a way that comes across as organic even when it’s pretty much impossible to be 100% organic, but that’s the same as any pop idol or any celebrity, period, really.
And there’s a few songs that I really like as well! [laughs]
Which songs do you like? And which ones don’t you like?
I’m not a really big fan of their last few albums, as a whole compared to what they used to put out and what I think they’re capable of making. I’m biased towards “DNA” because that was a song that I happened to actually see performed live when I went to MNet Countdown last year. Pure coincidence – I booked a trip to Korea, I was like “fuck it my life sucks, I’m going to go somewhere else for a while” and I booked an MNet tour package because I do that pretty much every time I go there for the experience, and by pure dumb luck BTS had their comeback that week and I got to see them again. This is what I mean, with BTS things just seem to naturally fall into place for me, which is nice. So I kind of like that album even though I really don’t like it as much, because I have positive memories associated with it. I’m really not into the whole EDM shit they’re doing lately, for example working with The Chainsmokers on “Best Of Me“, not a fan. Jungkook’s solo song “Euphoria“, I appreciate his lyricism and I like the concepts that he has in his mind of where he wants the song to go, but it’s more the production itself that I’m just not into, it’s just super generic like what a lot of other pop music sounds like.
The song that really made me notice them, when I was preparing for the TRB Red Bullet concert, because I was like “oh shit I’m going to cover this group as media, I might as well know more than three songs and look up their discography”, there’s a really good song called “Boys With Fun” and it’s a B-side on their “HYYH Pt.1” album, and they often perform it at concerts as well, and it’s a great hype track. Everyone talks about how great this group is, and how they have super-meaningful content and shit, but their best song is just a fuckin’ banger that has no real meaning other than “party and have a good time”. It’s a good song and all the members were actually involved in the writing process of that too, that’s the only song they have where every member is credited. Which is funny because it’s not like I knew that when I heard that song, I just really liked that song and I looked it up and saw “oh shit they were all involved in that, that’s great”. Then “Spring Day“, that was the song that they won the Daesang with last year, I really like that song, I like the melancholy vibe of it, I like the content, its meaning, the lyricism, the way that you can apply your own meaning to the song, it’s not just in a strictly literal sense. Again this is another issue that I have with Billboard, and I’m pretty sure that this is another thing I quoted Jeff Benjamin on, they wrote a review that said “it’s a song about missing someone, like missing your ex-girlfriend or your romantic partner” and I was like “no, you dumb fucks, the song is actually not particularly romantic at all and that’s actually partially why it’s been such a big hit”. It’s about a universal sense of I guess existentialism, of not just necessarily missing someone, but missing certain memories, certain times of your life, something that you can apply to potentially a romantic partner but it could be a friend, it could be a family member, it could be someone who has passed away, it was also hinted to have been about the Sewol ferry. That kind of content where you can apply your own meaning and it’s not just a strictly surface-level song, I feel like they’re good at doing that. They did that again with “Young Forever“, that’s another one that I’m very very fond of because on a lyrical level if you look at a translation it’s like “I’m worried about when I’m not famous anymore how will I feel in 10 or 20 years from now” but I guess the concept of that worrying is a universal existential dread, “what will happen when I’m 20 years older than I am now and I’m not technically young anymore” and that’s the whole concept of Young Forever, it’s that the memories that you make in that time period in your life are the most important thing. So I liked that there was certain content that I could essentially relate to, that they had their own hand in producing.
Do you think that’s the case for a lot of other people as well?
Some. There are a few fans, and popular fans, the ones with 600k followers on Twitter, who do definitely obviously like this group for the content that they provide, and then you get all these interviews where people constantly talk about the music that they make and how it saved their life and how great it is… obviously you have to have a certain level of interest in the group and the music they’re creating to be hyping it the way that they are, but at the same time they can be stupidly deluded about it. It’s not the fact that they write their songs which is great, which it is, but [to them] they have to be the only group which writes it, or the best group at doing it, or the best because they wrote it and it became popular and then they sold a million albums so therefore it’s better than your other fave who writes their own music. It is possible to talk about how you relate to their music without having to bring sales into it, it doesn’t have to be that way. For example in 2015 when I did get into “Boys With Fun” that wasn’t a super-massive song, same with “Young Forever”, that’s one which is not as well known compared to some of the other stuff they’re putting out now. I guess in some ways it can be disappointing when I see people talking about the “Love Yourself” series as if it’s so deep and so meaningful when I feel like “I don’t know, they’ve done a hell of a lot better than that”. It’s like they just slapped down “Love Yourself” and everyone is just like “Yes! I love myself! End of my self-esteem issues! Depression cured!”
[laughs] It’s all very well to love yourself, and it’s probably better than hating yourself, but it’s also good to make sure that you’re someone who is worthy of self-love. Self-esteem can be a bad thing if you’re actually a dickhead!
True! There’s an old saying that I like to think of, “confidence isn’t expecting everyone to like you, it’s being okay with yourself when everyone doesn’t”, that’s how I approach it. It’s not a matter of thinking “I’m so great, I’m better than everyone else”, it’s more like “okay, I’m not going to let everyone else define me”.
How did you feel about Nicki Minaj and BTS?
I was disappointed, not just at the fact that they collabed with her, because they’re so many people who have, it’s just so much a part of western music. If you look at the Billboard Top 10 right now there’s a shitload of people who are working with each other, Kanye West is working with the same guy Six9ine, he’s got a song out now with him as well, it’s not just the fact that they collabed with her, it’s the fact that it’s so obviously rushed, and the only reason that she would have agreed to it was so that she can use their fanbase to cover up all the backlash that she was getting for trying to being a pedophile onto her national tour, trying to bring the pedophile to the VMAs, she suddenly gets a shitload of backlash, justifiably so, and all of a sudden she’s interested in BTS and agrees to work with them out of nowhere and it’s rush-recorded… she literally said on her Twitter “I have to go and write a freestyle” and I was like “wait, how do you write a freestyle” and what do you know, two days later that song comes out and it’s pretty much what that freestyle was. If you look at the lyrics in the song it just literally does not make sense…
Well, that’s Nicki Minaj for you.
Well yeah true – not going to fight you there! The fact that they didn’t have her with a recorded part in the music video before it came out shows it was rushed, also the fact that it wasn’t included in the physical album when all the other remixes and collaborations were, again obviously rushed. And the reason that it was obviously rushed is disappointing. Right now they’re doing that whole thing in Korea where iBigHit had to reply to their Korean fans about the huge backlash that they had because the guy from Japan that they were going to work on “Bird” their new Japanese single was rumoured to be right-wing and it generated enough backlash that it got a response, so I’m annoyed in the sense that that got a backlash, but where was everyone when Nicki Minaj was using BTS to cover up for her own pedophile apologies…
I’m honestly not in the loop about that guy and what he did.
I don’t know his name but I just know vaguely from seeing it in tweets, he’s written for AKB48 before and he’s written misogynistic lyrics, one of the lyrics was “who cares about Albert Einstein, I want to be like Dianna Agron” the actress from Glee. I pointed out that there’s a difference between satire and misogyny, or between satire and whatever that is, because all the BTS fans who were trying to defend it at the time were saying stuff like “oh he’s just being satirical, he doesn’t mean it” and I’m like “well, it’s to do with who’s actually saying it”. If a millennial, case in point BTS, or myself, are writing a song about consumerism to mock capitalism, then it’s satirical because we’re the ones who are having that lived experience, whereas when a 60-year old man is writing songs for teenage girls talking about virginity and wanting to be a “pure girl” who doesn’t need intelligence, that’s not really satirical, that’s kinda creepy! That’s some of the content that he’s put out and there’s probably a bunch of shit on Twitter that I can dig around and find the lyrics for. So I totally get why there was backlash for him being involved but I was like okay where was that backlash for Supreme Boi when he referenced Iron and the Rockbottom Crew as a lyric in Hoseok’s mixtape which therefore connected Hoseok to a convicted woman abuser, where was that backlash, everyone’s mute. So it’s very selective. So that’s the long answer to that Nicki Minaj question – I’m not a fan of the selective mentality that fans will take: “oh we’re a fan of a group who is head of the UNICEF campaign to end violence but we’re going to conveniently ignore a woman who is supporting violence against children in the form of sexual abuse”. [in “fan” voice] “But… Yoongi said he wanted to collab with her one time so that makes it okay!” Logic!
Do you think it’s just because Nicki Minaj is just more well-known that people are turning a blind eye, or do you think it’s something else?
One person in my ask.fm said I was anti-black for criticising the Nicki Minaj collaboration. So I think people are projecting their own insecurities or issues onto that as well, so if anyone’s criticising it “well Nicki Minaj is the first woman they’re collaborating with and she’s black, so if you’re criticising that, you’re criticising black women”. And I’m like “no, not what I was going with at all – there’s many other black women they could make amazing music with – Kehlani or Jorja Smith for example”. The reason I think people were turning a blind eye to it is because they’re desperate to cover up anything that could be considered remotely controversial. For some reason fans seem to have this idea that everyone is just waiting for BTS to fail and that a slight gust of wind is all it takes to ruin their career. It’s a really strange delusion when you consider the problematic history of a lot of celebrities, think Justin Bieber and drug use, DUI, spitting on fans, saying the N-word etc etc and yet he’s still got millions of streams and sold out tours. People do bad things but you will never learn if you keep telling them how perfect they are and threatening anyone who tried address real problems into silence. For the most part BTS have a good head on their shoulders, they’re willing to learn and do better when they’re called out for mistakes (more than I can say for Bieber). So I think bad things (like Nicki using them to cover up her pedo apologist issue) should be openly talked about so real resolutions can be reached.
[*Worth noting I don’t know him at all and if you asked him who I was he wouldn’t know me from a bar of soap]
That’s all for this post! Future posts in the AustralianSana & Kpopalypse series will follow more of a discussion format, with readers deciding the topics! You can submit a topic request via the form below, or if no form appears, you can click on the discussion on AustralianSana’s ask.fm about Kpopalypse below to open the link to the request box as a separate webpage. Stay safe, caonimas!