Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Road Trip #1

I've been on a road trip. I decided (this might not be entirely logical) that driving to the Annual Association for Asian Studies (AAS) Conference made sense. Yes, this year AAS was on the West Coast, but in San Diego. San Diego is very far away from Lopez Island (located on the Canada-U.S. border). I left Lopez on the 11th, proceeding directly to Portland with a stop to take a bike ride in Woodland, Washington. Just by chance this bike ride took me to a gorgeous grist mill-- the oldest still operating grist mill in the Western U.S.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Equal Opportunity Sexual Objectification in K-Pop

After all my fevered research and writing, as you know, I presented my paper on K-Pop last weekend in Austin. I actually feel pretty good about it, and I'm further editing to share with a couple friends and then submit it for publication. Since I talked about it so much on here, I thought you'd like to see at least how the introduction looks today... 


Since the late 1990s Korean popular music has achieved an audience beyond Korea, becoming a leading part of the growing phenomenon of inter-Asian popular music (Shin 2009: 472). Musically indebted to hip-hop and Western pop, Korean popular music is generally performed by groups of a single gender. Although scholars have discussed the global rise in "girl power" in the field of popular music using examples such as Madonna, the Spice Girls, and Faye Wong (Fung and Curtin 2002, Dibben 1999, Lloyd 1994, McClary 2002), there are few that can argue for "girl power" in Korean popular music (hereafter K-Pop). One reason is that K-Pop is almost entirely a manufactured commodity; the stars, called "idols," are scouted, trained, and assigned to a group with a specific image under the tutelage of K-Pop's major entertainment companies, such as SM Entertainment, YG Entertainment, JYP Entertainment, Cube Entertainment, and Starship Entertainment. At the helm of each company CEOs oversee the production of K-Pop idols in a way strikingly similar to preparing other commodities for the market.[1]
            In K-pop with few exceptions the songs, choreography and costumes of the performers are chosen by the management agency. The agencies control their lives, including housing them in dormitories, choosing their diet, and doling out cell phone privileges as a reward for hard work. Analyzing the lyrics, choreography, and costume choices of the artists reveals less about the performers and more about the agencies, their understanding of the market, and the particular persona that they have assigned to the members of each group. However, a comprehensive performance analysis of popular music,[2] including a specific focus on presentation and framing of gendered lyrics, choreography, and costumes in live performance provides a new window on the construction of femininity through K-Pop. 
            For my research I chose to analyze live music performances on the TV shows Music Core (MBC) and Inkigayo (SBS). Consequently my attention focuses on choices made by the television stations and their emcees, stage and video production crews. In this paper I begin by sketching the connections drawn between music and morality, and discuss the Republic of Korea's cultural laws and statutes that relate to popular culture. Finally, through an analysis of specific live performance videos I analyze how the music shows treat gendered behavior to construct Korean femininity.

[1] The fans of K-Pop also have affective power both vis a vis the artists and their management companies (c.f. Gitzen 2013) although the degree of fan influence is difficult to quantify.
[2] Such a performance analysis is needed—scholars such as Philip Auslander have remarked on the emphasis on the "reception of popular music much more than the performance behavior of musicians" (2004: 3).

p.s. the title of the post is part of the title of the article. Pretty cool, huh? Anyone would stop to check out an article on Equal Opportunity Sexual Objectification!

Cycling on Lopez

I made a video with my tiny little hand-held point and shoot camera about riding your bike on Lopez. It's targeted at people who might be considering a tourist bicycle jaunt to Lopez-- and it's a bit shaky, but well, it shows the southend in February on a beautiful sunny day, so if you want to see where I live it's a pretty good video!

Monday, March 4, 2013

IASPM 2013 (International Association for the Study of Popular Music)

On the weekend I went to the IASPM Conference in Austin, Texas. This is my second time to attend IASPM, and like at IASPM in San Diego (2009), I presented on K-Pop.

Honestly I had a great experience in Austin, but the conference was a little bit of a let-down. People were nice, but many of the papers felt quite trivial. I wanted to shake a couple of the presenters and say "is this the best use of your big brain?" The best example was another panelist from my panel. She presented on how Hugh Hefner curated rock and jazz in Playboy and on his TV show Playboy After Dark (in the 60s and early  70s). If the presenter had made an argument that showed how Hef had actually changed the course of the music business, or contributed to the popularization of something, I might have felt like her paper had more relevance, but in fact she described how Hef missed the boat. He tried to prove that he was part of the counter-culture but not a hippie and he tried to promote the Jazz he loved, but ultimately he was unsuccessful at doing more than marketing Vanilla smut. (*If you don't understand the usage of Vanilla, you need to read Savage Love). So a very smart person spent a lot of time to research something that is really just a historical footnote or piece of trivia.There is no reason why studies of popular music cannot be a way to approach topics of real importance.

The best paper I saw was about Asian Americans negotiating transnational identities in the digital age. I also saw a fascinating paper that addressed the use of the Beatles to promote "serious" music. Of course I immediately thought of Sukmyeong Gayageum Ensemble.
Just to be clear, I am NOT a fan of this group or what they're doing. I think it's a gimmick. If you want people to like Korean instruments, or traditional music, playing Beatles is NOT the way to do it. Or maybe it is. If you disagree, let me know in your comments.

I had several good conversations and met some people I hope to stay in touch with, and I managed to make one connection that I am really excited about-- I actually met someone else who works on ICH (intangible cultural heritage) and has even lived in Korea. I was the only Koreanist at the conference, although there was an entire panel on Asian-America, none of the presenters were looking at Korean-Americans. Overall, however, I may need to skip IASPM in the future, because if I am going to go to a performance conference at least at the Society for Ethnomusicology conference there are a lot of people who are talking about substantial topics through performance. Or maybe I just picked the wrong papers to attend.

And yes, my presentation went well.

I enjoyed Austin and I was very happy to get to stay with my friends April Rose and her husband Reed, and see my Lopez friend Sheri. Taking a run in 80+ degree heat was so marvelous!!!

Funky clouds on the drive from the airport to April Rose's house:

Spring time, yay!!!

Is that a sticker-tagger?

Book Review of Wind Bands and Cultural Identity in Japanese Schools

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I had written a book review. It has now been published online on the website of Ethnomusicology Review alongside a review of the same book by Dr. Richard Colwell. After you've read both of our reviews I'm sure you will be able to make an informed buying decision.

I just returned from Austin, where I presented my paper on Korean popular music at the International Association for the Study of Popular Music Conference 2013. Overall I had a very positive experience in Austin and will share more from the paper with you as I revise it for publication.