Saturday, January 26, 2013

Femininity and K-Pop

I have followed K-pop (as an academic subject) with greater and lesser vigor over the past few years and several times I've even written academic papers on the subject and presented them at conferences. The world of K-pop is fascinating in a bizarre train wreck sort of way, and sometimes the music is good. This year I'm on the job market and I want to show my multiple spheres of teachable knowledge to the maximum extent possible, so I applied to present on K-Pop at the IASPM (International Association for the Study of Popular Music) conference in Austin, Texas. I left preparing the abstract until the last minute, and somehow was not able to prepare one that folded in my previous knowledge or research in any but the most incidental and general way. I was accepted based on my abstract for a paper titled "The Construction of the Feminine in Korean Popular Music: A Performance Analysis of "I AM: SMTown Live" and Multi-Artist Musical Variety Shows."

Whoa. Wait a second. I'm not someone who works on gender. Ever. Never have.

So, here's my first paragraph (at the moment it looks this way, anyway):

According to Philip Auslander, "the field of cultural studies generally emphasizes the reception of popular music much more than the performance behavior of musicians" (2004: 3). Auslander identifies reception of performance and performance of performers as two objects of study. I suggest that research can also focus on the presentation or framing of the performance. In this paper I will primarily consider the framing of performers of Korean popular music as presented by live music shows Music Core and Inkigayo and the performance documentary I AM SMTOWN: Live at Madison Square Garden. Consequently my attention will focus on choices made by the television stations and their emcees, stage and video production crews that produce the two music shows and by the decisions made by the director, film and editing crews who created the documentary for SM Entertainment. 

I will proceed to discuss how femininity is constructed not through talking about clothing, song choices, and dance choreography (all decided by the management company and production teams in greater or lesser consult with the artists before we ever see the performance), but through observing how the performances of the women on these shows is framed differently than performances of men are framed (fortunately for my analysis either women perform or men perform, there are almost no groups in Korea that mix men and women together). I might be onto something, I might not. I have viewed two entire episodes of Music Core and Inkigayo, and I am proceeding through the 4 DVD set of the I AM SMTOWN DVD. 

I would love to have your help. Point out something. Challenge. Share your thoughts or observations. Anything you say might help me think through these issues, please do not hesitate to comment.

Here are some clips that could help you help me:

Here is Boyfriend on Inkigayo (top), and on Music Core (below). I see a large difference in how the production companies and video crew for these two TV stations chose to shoot the performances. If you see a difference between the Inkigayo and Music Core framing of the same song by the same group on consecutive nights, please let me know what you see that's different. I don't want to tell you what I see as it may bias you. 

Here's a comparison with a female group, Girls' Generation. Again, I've put Inkigayo first and Music Core second. 

Please note that I am not claiming that either of these songs is really great. I'm just comparing the two "biggest name" performances on back to back nights but shot by two different production companies. Also because both songs are "dance" and performed by fairly large groups of artists with a more "mature" image (they aren't rookies, they aren't 15 years old), the comparison is more legitimate than if I asked you to compare singing a ballad in comparison with a large group dancing...

If you just want to comment based on the above, that's great, but I am also analyzing these performances below~~

I don't normally listen to K-pop outside the "dance" genre, but watching these shows I discovered the beautiful voice of Juniel who is also (surprise!) able to play an instrument. Inkigayo on top, Music Core below:

Men also get to do ballads. However I only have one male-sung ballad that is on both of these shows (Jan. 13th and Jan. 12th), and it's a duo. I still think you can compare with Juniel, however. 

Hello Venus is definitely not likely to get onto my frequent play list (esp. not this song), but here you go Inkigayo first:

Following cute girl group with cute boy group-- A-Prince with "Hello" 

Here's a duo that really should have gotten a better name: Ego Bomb. Really? Ego Bomb? Inkigayo first, Music Core second (just trying to be consistent here).
And the somewhat comparable Glam (except I'm sorry, I think their voices are atrocious). 

Comments? Please. Please. Please.Thank you^^

p.s. if you think these videos are pretty crappy quality (it's true, they are), then watch the entire show on Hulu (if you're in the US only, I think Hulu doesn't work outside the US). 

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