Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Korea #10: K-pop, Psy and Korean Culture Goes Global

All you pop culture mavens out there have been wondered when is this guy going to get around to K-pop music, right?  Any young people reading this blog?  Listen up.

For people like myself, the explosion of Korea onto the world music, film and video scene has been a mystery, or rather a non-event.  I had no idea.

Psy (Park Jae-sang) is not just a Korean popular singer.  His video “Gangman Style” from 2012 has been viewed 1.7 trillion times! the most ever according to Guinness.  His videos display less talent that Michael Jackson but have the same energy, great choreography and are funnier and even sexier.  His 2013 hit, “Right Now,” is an hilarious protest against boredom in modern life.  Chaplin might be proud.

Psy is the face of “K pop” but he is hardly alone.  Rain, Super Junior (#1 in Thailand for 121 weeks), 2NE1, N(X) and a host of girl bands are big names around the world with young people, particularly in Asia.  Twenty year old Americans in my classes know lots of K-pop.  Ask a 10 year old American about it. 

Korean movies have also escaped my attention and I see a lot of movies.  But Asians know them well in addition to TV series such as “Dae Jang Gem,” about a teenage doctor practicing herbal medicine, of all things.  It's been a best seller in 65 countries and morphed into books.  A series of romantic movies such as “Winter Sonata” and “Autumn Tale” are credited with redefined for Japanese women and other Asians define romantic love--along more traditional, Confucian lines.  Korean movies do not feature or glorify violence, which goes down well in a lot of places.

The “Korean Wave” began as early as 1992 at a time when the Korean government censored content.  Forbidden from being political, movie-makers practiced creating dramas.  Some early government subsidies followed. 

A conservative, once backward country is now producing a lot of global music.  It did so first by studying and imitation U. S. music.  It did so by collaborating with non-Koreans, global co-workers.  Members of new girl bands are recruited from several nations so the Chinese will recognize one of their own, as will Americans if they know where to look for Korean-Americans.  Koreans are multi-cultural marketers.

They did so by understood Asian audiences with whom they often share a Confusian heritage.  They applied their great skill at all things digital.  They did so with attention to—and by creating—fashion trends.  The cast of Psy videos are decked out in interesting ways.  And they’ve become sexy dancers.

The Indians are also excellent, dancers and singers. Bollywood is the world’s largest movie maker.  But Koreans are looser and funnier.

Korean animation companies have produced almost all U. S. animation including, for example, every episode of The Simpsons.  Recently, the industry has begun producing its own video titles.  Korea makes a lot of video games, which attract many Korean players. 

Korea is also a leading producer of cosmetics, producing 71 percent of all cosmetics sold in Thailand. 

Music, drama, games, cosmetics, fashion, consumer products…Korea has become one of the leaders of global culture in less than two decades.  It might be fair to say they are helping to forge cultural citizens of the world which transform national boundaries.  It’s a tiny sample but I’d be surprised if the Chinese and Koreans in my classes don’t see themselves as sharing a similar culture and cheering for one another.  When asked what they want to be when they grow up, a large majority of young Koreans say they want to be in the entertainment and culture industry.

So how do I suddenly know all of this, you may ask? 

Jeong Duk Yi is my professor for Korean culture.  For two and a half weeks he has been soberly telling us everything anyone of us ever needs to know about Korean shamans, village gods and every religion in Korea plus a very large helping of history.  So I walk into class today and Psy is breaking out “Gangman Style” on the screen and our professor is hipping and hopping and putting on all the moves.  The youngsters who have been barely staying awake were completely excited.

All I have done is boil down about half of his lecture, if you can call grooving to video lecturing. 

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