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The death of K-pop

18 0 26
24.01.2021
Courtesy of Peter Kaminski
By David Tizzard

The Korean ascent to greatness has been steep and fraught with danger, yet it is all the more remarkable for having overcome such obstacles. A people once on the verge of cultural extinction at the hands of a merciless colonial force, held down by military dictators bent on order at the expense of freedom, and constantly seen as unremarkable by a largely orientalist West, have risen to the pinnacle of cultural achievements.

Korean culture has won Oscars, topped the Billboard charts, and been praised and commented on by world leaders, ambassadors, and adoring fans from Bulgaria to Bhutan. And rightly so.

An important driver of this has been K-pop. And for this piece, as before, I will be using K-pop as a term to denote idol music specifically rather than Korean popular music more broadly.

Others are of course welcome to argue over what the term "really" means. But I have observed that among many Koreans, K-pop is often used when talking about groups performing highly-stylized and choreographed music that is predominantly produced and manufactured by companies that control not only the artistic output but also the idols' lives and characters.

And none of that is throwing shade. There is also a very high level of performance and quality that is expected when calling something K-pop, and I've come to appreciate it more having taught and researched it for years.

In one sense, it seems to have entered something of a post-modern phase. It's now fully self-conscious of itself as K-pop, and its performers are self-conscious of themselves as idols and personas. Such self-awareness, bringing with it a meta-fiction, self-reflexivity, and intertextuality, seems akin to the western literary developments of the 1960s.

People may write about the authenticity of these perfectly constructed idols, their character, humility and lack of ostentation, social media interactions, and proclivity for individual artistic endeavors, but this seems to simply be a sign that the industry is perfecting techniques that encompass psychology, technology, capitalism, and art. It's immaculately constructed in that way: unrepentant and unapologetic.

Heidi Samuleson has likened it to Warhol's pop art replicas of Marilyn Monroe and the Campbell soup........

© The Korea Times


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