And if you need more ‘SNSD on Letterman’ commentary…

I direct you to Mike’s post at Scribblings of the Metropolitician.

Here’s what I’ll say about K-pop. As with most pop music, I hate it—a lot of it is manufactured bubble-gum crap. On the plus side, though, unlike with American pop music, I’ve never dispaired for the future of civilization after listening to a K-pop song. In that regard, I wish it luck in the States, “codes” or no “codes.”

I’m going to listen to some Kim Kwang-seok now…

  • shiweibo

    All pop is generic and derivative, that’s why it’s called popular music…it was good for what it was, though nothing particularly memorable.

  • Antti

    I’m going to listen to some Kim Kwang-seok now…

    Here’s Kim Kwang-seok singing Nokdukkot (lyrics Kim Chi-ha, music Cho Nyeom) in a 노래를 찾는 사람들 concert early in his career. A classic performance.
    And here’s Jang Sa-ik singing Gwicheon (Return to Heaven) in the funeral of Kim Keun-tae.
    What is SNSD?

  • gbevers

    Music has changed a lot in Korea since I first arrived there in 1977. Then, 헤은이 seemed to be the big pop star, and “당신만을 사랑해” was her big hit. It was played all the time on 쇼쇼쇼, which was the TV variety show to watch back then. “감수광” was also one of her big hits. I also used to hear “한강교” all the time. I did not like “한강교” back then, but now it seems to take me back in time to a Korea that no longer exists.

    이은하 was also popular with her hit song “밤차” When Koreans would ask me to sing, that was the song I would try to sing. I liked that song for some reason, maybe because I loved riding Korean trains back then.

    Koreans have learned to sing and dance a hell of a lot better than they did in the late 70s, but when it comes to Korean music, I still prefer the old songs.

  • gbevers

    Correction: It should be “제3 한강교.”

  • cm

    Looking back, from 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, 2000’s, 2010’s, every decade has seen Korean pop music changing – and I mean changing a lot. The 90’s saw the biggest shift towards an American influence (particularly the African American influence) when a young teen boy heart throb rapper/pop/dancer named Hyun Jin Yong made his debut with a rap song on national TV (Roh Taewoo and Kim Young Sam eras, with heavy censorship in place). The next followed were the Seo Tae Ji and the kids who changed Korea’s music forever. When a 15 year old Korean girl died in a mob rush to see the “New Kids in Town” boy band from America, Kim Young Sam blamed the creeping western culture corrupting the youth. He put more censorship on.
    Even the leader of Singapore, Lee Kwan Yew raised his eyebrow, quipped Korea is making a mistake.

    Also do you remember the Pipi Band – a punk band who spit on camera during the SBS music concert in 1996? They were banned from appearing on TV.

    The flower boy look started appearing around 1996 with the debut of H.O.T.
    That feminine long hair with bangs look, took off. Who can forget no talent girl groups like FINKL or SES. I mean really, people say SNSD has not talent, you want to talk about no talent? FINKL and SES, and others took the cake. Even former member Song Yuri, last year, recalled, how many times she wanted to quit the band because of the nasty remarks about their bad talent. But they were very popular not just in Korea, but also in Taiwan. Beginning of Hallyu (god I hate that word).

    I think KPOP began another transformation around 2007 which we still see to this day. This time all these entertainment companies don’t even bother, they just buy American songs and give them to their manufactured groups to perform. Now people say they can’t sing or dance. Are you kidding me? They can definitely sing – they were trained for years and years to sing. The result of that commitment shows because I really think their vocal abilities are much better than the American singers who may not have had the same robotic training. And they can dance, and dance like any hip hop b boy. It’s just that it’s this. They all sound alike… probably because they were mass manufactured by same trainers… and they can’t write their own songs and they can’t perform any instruments (well most of them anyway). In that sense, the criticisms they get are well earned. But on the other hand, they worked their butt off for many years, so they do deserve some credit. Do I consider them “artists”? No. But I would consider them as entertainers. They were taught to entertain and be pleasing to the eye. Nothing more, nothing less.

  • fffaaa

    Do you know how daft you sound when you say you hate manufactured pop? What music isn’t manufactured? Does it spring from the holy grail, by the grace of God? All music is manufactured, and in the same way – artists get ideas, write them down, record them. Many of the writers working with k-pop artists are artists themselves, some underground musicians, some senior singer songwriters. A lot of k-pop artists, unlike the reputation, write music themselves as well, play instruments, participate in the whole process (including production). Not that that means anything. A good song is a good song is a good song – only wankers care about ‘authenticity’.

  • Koreansentry

    Many Koreans don’t even know this group was existed foreigners knows more about K-pop and Korean musics than me.

  • Robert Koehler

    “Daft.” I need to use that word more. It just sounds nice, in that charming Old World sort of way. “Daft.”

    Koreansentry, you’re joking, right?

  • slim

    A good song is a good song is a good song – only wankers care about ‘authenticity’.

    I would say only wankers fail to grasp the importance of authenticity, but where are the good songs in this genre?

    For me, this is a fun Korea-watching moment, good material for soft power studies, a decent visual experience, but an utterly crappy musical experience.

  • keith


    Good music is composed and performed, it is an art. Good music is not ‘manufactured. Even calling Kpoop ‘music’ is a stretch, it’s a bit like calling McDonald’s good food!

  • John from Daejeon

    For most youngsters, “daft” has a modern, “punk” vibe to it.

  • numberoneoppa

    ^lol, John.

    Also, I have to echo what Robert said. Koreansentry, you’re joking, right?

    In any case, the comments here are really interesting. I will go out on a limb and say I’ve probably got more kpop albums sitting on my shelf than most of you, and I’ll also be the first to admit most of them suck. Going back to the 90s, it really is amazing to see the changes that have taken place in the Korean pop culture world. Reading about music from earlier than that is just so fascinating, too!

    I think the Koreans are indeed taking too much influence from over seas. It’s funny when listening to hip hop artists like MC Sniper do gangster rap when they just don’t have any credibility or even ideas to go with what they’re talking about. Hell, Koreans don’t even have guns… Korean gangster rap is a paradox. Leave it to the thugs in America’s inner cities. All music like that will do is encourage people on the peninsula to act stupidly.

  • numberoneoppa

    Might I add that I think the dancing part of the Girls’ Generation act might be commonplace in Korea, but that’s only because Koreans are apparently too naive to realize that it’s downright classless. Now they just look like a bunch of whores to what is likely the majority of Letterman viewers.

    …or maybe that’s the intended image? Somehow I doubt it. Seriously, these entertainment companies need to hire a guy who is… well… socially adept and aware. Oh, and they need to hire a guy to correct the horrendously bad engrish in their lyrics.

  • guitard

    …and they need to hire a guy to correct the horrendously bad engrish in their lyrics.

    I thought I read the song they sang on Letterman was written by an American songwriter.

  • slim

    Gotta love this comment over at the metro’s thread:
    (An attempt at a K-Pop song)

    Oh I love you so much
    Amoled! Amoled!
    Oh but you don’t look at me
    SHa Sha Sha Sha Shanghai Love
    Oppa Oppa Oppa Oppa Oppa
    Gee Gee Gee Gee Gee Gee
    Oh I’m so hurt
    BBiriBBom BBariBBom
    I’m going crazy~
    Hot summer, Hot Hot Summer
    Oh this is my music for you
    Shit Shit Shit Shit Shitty Shitty Shit Shit

    I can imagine a ballsy Korean filmmaker goring a sacred cow by doing a This Is Spinal Tap take on K-pop.

  • thekorean

    Many Koreans don’t even know this group was existed foreigners knows more about K-pop and Korean musics than me.

    Just fucking shut up, will you?

  • αβγδε

    Mike Hurt, still one of the poorest critics of Korean culture and poseur extraordinaire since 1991. Not to mention a pain to read.

  • αβγδε

    There are more than a few Kpop groups that can sing and belt out some heavy tunes even while performing on stage and dancing to a complex routine. Brown Eyed Girls come to mind. To say there’s no variety here, as Hurt does, is ignorant. But we all know about Hurt. He doesn’t care to be knowledgable about the things he writes about, so much as he cares about putting out the popular, the easy, points. I don’t care for glib criticism, and a lot of Hurt’s puffy writing just seems to be catering to that.

    Anyway, when we think about something being “good” or “great” we think about functions. If left to judge SNSD as vocalists, noone would be able to call them great or even good. Not to say there aren’t a few members in SNSD who can’t sing very well. For my tastes, their voices are generic. There’s no special quality to them. But, truth is, that doesn’t matter, it’s off the point, as if the function of these girls in these groups aren’t merely to sing. As much or more so, they exist to represent something larger, they’re dancers, they’re performers, they are idols in a girl group, and have functions that go beyond singing or composing music.

    SNSD sing well enough. They don’t suck. They’re no Adele, however. But they’re among the best dancers in the world, and backed by the best choreographers in the world. As a group, they’re fashionable, they’re all skinny and attractive and personable, and they all ‘bring it’ and carry themselves quite well on the stage; SM Entertainment makes sure to that and makes sure they represent the latest fashion trends. Their wardrobe for Letterman were awesome, in my opinion. (I think a Kpop group, BTW, needs to be current in order for them to be appealing to an American audience. They can’t be, like the Wondergirls, a gimmicky retro outfit that nobody would care to aspire to on any personal level.) As for the music — it’s pop music. I like it. It’s not important if little Sunny in the group put together those tracks and phat beatz or if it was the army of producers at SM.

    – One thing is definitely correct about “The Boys”. Lyrically, the song sucks ass. I don’t even like the way it sounds from a purely phonetic standpoint. It’s just not very catchy.

    SNSD would suck if they were shy and couldn’t syncronize a dance choreography on stage if their lives depended on it. They would suck if their vocals weren’t meeting the minimum needed for a vocal chord to carry a tone or a tune. They would suck if they dressed like they were trying to be Britney Spears of Russia, circa 1999, or something, and if their videos looked like it. They would suck if none of them were personable. They would suck if their choreographers were styleless and out of touch. There are many considerations here, and, indeed, there are quite a few Kpop groups who embody such failings. But then again these groups don’t gain popularity even within South Korea.

    Kpop (overall) does not suck. I’m smart enough to recognize that, and I even enjoy the music and the videos. Here’s a song that happens to come to mind, that I like: Infinite’s Be Mine. I love the 80s pop sound and backing tracks. The video is well made, the choreography spot on. It ain’t Stravinsky. Woolim Entertertainment aren’t trying to win Nobel prizes with their musical excursions. But it’s polished and damn entertaining.

  • jkitchstk

    Hurt speaks in tongues, then after umpteen people comment he says “Here is my basic point.” And then continues on mentioning many more, duh!
    Truly, I wanna like the guy, but Michael Hurt is the judge of nothing. I wouldn’t take his photo class, that’s for sure. What if he didn’t like one of my pictures, what would he do, delete it without hesitation? Some liberal he is, hah, yeah right. What a joke!

  • cm

    What’s the point of complaining incessantly about somebody in a blog that he doesn’t own? Why not go over there let him know your disgust?

    Good lord.

    ““The Boys”. Lyrically, the song sucks ass. ”

    What’s it about anyway? I’d like to know, seriously. I don’t understand.
    The person that I really think sings the absolute worst lyrics is none other then, Taylor Swift. Every one of her songs are about some girl and boy growing up and going off to adulthood. or something like that. And no, I don’t listen to her, it’s just my daughter liked her. She also used her songs for her guitar songs.

  • αβγδε

    The song is about how they bring the boys out. Not a bad theme — in other words, catchy enough, for a superficial, in-your-face pop/party/rnb song. But my complaint is that the verses for the English version have no flow and poetry in them, that is, if we were looking for that sort of thing and cared that our dance party songs have literary merit.

    I like Taylor Swift’s much better. Her songs have narrative in them, and they are poetic — even if they’re all about the same thing and banal for singer-songwriter music. Taylor Swift is a good singer, songwriter, musician, producer, and she makes a good idol too. It’s no wonder she is among the highest grossing singers in our time, making millions every year.

  • cm

    Taylor Swift is an idol? I thought she was about 30 years old! I learn something everyday. And what is it mean “bring the boys out”? Bring the boys out to where?

  • αβγδε

    Taylor Swift is 22 years old (which I found out through wiki just now). Sure, she kind of looks older and wears a lot of makeup. The mean age of the girls in SNSD is 22. LOL.

    Swift made 45 million dollars in 2011. That’s a lot of money for a pretty face and voice, basic guitar strumming skills, a few metaphors in lyrics. But definitely earned.

    And I’mma let you finish, but, cm, you’re funny. Bring the boys out meaning.. out to the Korean Church pews, of course.

  • jk6411

    “Bring the boys out” to root for SNSD, of course!
    “Bring the boys out” to buy their albums.
    etc, etc.

    But then, the English and Korean versions would have completely different meanings.
    Korean version: “Boys, come out and achieve your dreams.”
    English version: “SNSD is great. Come out and buy SNSD’s albums.”

  • slim

    Based on the Letterman appearance, I think SNSD “Bring the Middle-aged Men Out”.

  • bumfromkorea


    The same place where Kelis’ milkshake brings them out to, I’m guessing.

  • gbnhj

    To me, the problem with the lyrics to ‘The Boys’ lies in the inconsistency of its message. Yes, it’s hard to believe, I know, but pop songs can and do carry a message, however banal one might believe that message to be. BEP’s ‘I Gotta Feeling’, for example, affirms’s belief that ‘tonight’s gonna be a good, good, night’. Truly, this is not a weighty message, but it is clear, and consistent.

    But how about the English version of ‘The Boys’? With most of the lyrics, the message is clear: These are sexy, self-confident women, and they attract men. That’s it; that’s the message. But that message gets muddled with the lines ‘Calling Emergency, I’m watching the phone ring, I’m feeling this in my heart’. Now, the singers are weak, self-doubting, and sentimental. Yet this is not some emotional epiphany, for in the next stanza they’re back at it, assuring us they can’t be beat. Pop music lyrics aren’t usually much of a thing, but they should be clear on message, and it’s this inconsistency that makes ‘The Boys’ lyrically weak.

  • jk6411


    Ironically, this song’s lyrics weren’t written by a Korean.
    Perhaps SM Entertainment was a bit too trusting of the American songwriter(s) and neglected to have the lyrics proofread?

  • Robert Koehler

    If anybody has an issue with Mike, his blog would be the place to make it. His comment section is always open.

  • numberoneoppa

    @26: The yard? Will they charge?

    @14: I was referring to the songs not completely in English, the ones destined for home soil.

  • feld_dog

    I want to see a Weird Al Yankovic version: “We Bring the Goys Out.”
    It would be a follow-up to “Pretty Fly for a Rabbi.”

  • nayaCasey

    numberoneoppa #12, Biology=destiny? I hear that point about it somehow being strange for Koreans to sing gangsta rap.

    There’s an old saying that ‘An idea is not responsible for who believes in it.’ I would say with music, You should never be surprised who embraces it. I’ve met a number of whites and Asians who are more into rap than I am–I’m talking about the listeners, not the paid performers. And that’s fine. Just because you were born to a particular tribe or country doesn’t mean you can’t embrace things outside of it.

    I suppose there was a day that Koreans would scoff at Westerners coming to the country, learning Korean, embracing Korean traditions, going native in other ways. But an idea, culture, music, lifestyle are not responsible for the people who embrace them.

    And what kind of credibility does a singer need to sing? Divorced singers and wife-beaters sing love songs, non-violent actors shoot up people on the movie set, white people have written about the “black experience,” etc. Trespassers?

    It’s funny when listening to hip hop artists like MC Sniper do gangster rap when they just don’t have any credibility or even ideas to go with what they’re talking about. Hell, Koreans don’t even have guns… Korean gangster rap is a paradox.

  • numberoneoppa

    32, nayaCasey:

    I agree with you that ideas can and should be embraced by anybody, but the whole idea behind gangsta rap is “street cred” and being “hard”.

    Acting is different. Acting is just that, pretending. I suppose maybe they are just entertaining, but it doesn’t seem it.

    I’m just trying to say it’s really awkward having people make music regarding a world they don’t have any exposure to, in a serious way.

    Oh, and who’s to say wife-beaters can’t love?

  • numberoneoppa

    PS: There’s a Wondergirls MOVIE on cable TV tonight at 8EST (on Teenick). I don’t get that channel. In fact, I don’t have a TV, so I suppose I might download it later today.

  • 깊은 구멍 속에

    SNSD sucked. This kid is sick:

  • gbnhj

    Jk6411, I don’t think the nationality of the songwriter much matters. Here, it’s just a case of good versus not-so-good, and anyone’s capable of that.

  • nayaCasey

    numberoneoppa #33, you are more Catholic than the pope when it comes to rap and street cred. That’s an old fashioned idea about rappers needing street cred. I think Eminem was the first rapper to give the finger to that idea. Other rappers who have come along recently also have not made up stories to suggest they have street cred.

    I may lack credibility, my public rapping is still only a video about economics, so I’ll just point out that I’m not the only one making the point.

  • numberoneoppa

    @35: Holy fuck.

  • nambangui horangi


    I’ll leave the SNSD question open, but re Park Ji-min, it’s not my sort of music, but I have to say my jaw dropped the first time I saw that clip. She’s truly astonishing. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a younger teen carry off a song with such aplomb, and the English sounds native, no less (btw, does anybody know if she ever lived outside of Korea? Haven’t found an answer in my admittedly brief searches).

  • slim

    Park Ji-min was one of the vids cm posted yesterday. Promising for sure, but will Korea’s version of the Star Maker Machinery Behind the Popular Songs sand off her soulful edge and blandify her, or saddle her with sacharine song material?

  • αβγδε

    @33, There are no gangpehs in Korea?

    I don’t know about MC Sniper and have not heard him except for his contribution in a Cherry Filter song, which makes me inclined to think he’s a good rapper. But surely batting and knifing someone to death is more gangsta than shooting someone. (Or getting batted or knived at any point in one’s life…)

    A good point about modern music and the pop industry is that of ownership and acting: How well do the performers/idols own the music/style/genre/dance/melody/attitude they perform on stage or in the videos? Many of the Kpop stars “own” their music quite well, and that’s why a lot of people like them, even if ultimately these idols don’t write the music or create the songs or design their wardrobes. It’s about ownership and that’s about acting.

    Ever hear the Kpop trio Clover? A lot of their music has Hispanic/West Coast gangsta influences, but does that matter? Absolutely not. They play what parts they play pretty well:

    La Vida Loca is a good song, BTW!

  • αβγδε

    A Kpop song with nice, “consistent,” lyrics:

    Kara – Step

    That’s as bubblegum poppy as an MV can get. But the song is about overcoming sadness and cheering up.

    I enjoy the song, the meaning of the lyrics, the dance, and the video! And it’s Kara! Each of the girls contributes presence to the video and surely they too own their performances. Ultimatley that’s why their videos tend have tens of millions of views and hundreds of song and dance covers from fans all over the world.

  • cm

    #32 – “I suppose there was a day that Koreans would scoff at Westerners coming to the country, learning Korean, embracing Korean traditions, going native in other ways.”

    I wonder why so few Asian Americans make it in the music industry in North America? Above quote is the answer. It still needs getting used to see Asian faces rapping away, or Asians in sexy tights singing English lyrics. It’s like an Asian with cowboy attires going “Howdy Partner!” – something that doesn’t fit, even ludicrous and funny. The only stereotype that fits the Asian profile is SNSD in Hanfu singing ancient Chinese melodies. But instead, we have this group of blonde hair Asians dressed as white people… I mean how ridiculous and funny is that to look at?

    Let’s really be honest. No, I don’t think it’s the quality of music at all. You can have the greatest Asian talent up on the state on TV – the perception has always been the same no matter. The quality of music? I simply don’t think that’s the crux of why so many people have a hard time accepting Asians in the music industry. Kim Kwang Seok? He’s one of the greatest Korean vocalist/lyricist. But dare to put him up there on American TV – it will probably be the same reaction of a train wreck that you get for SNSD – no difference.

  • John from Daejeon

    #35, she is very talented, but here is an even better rendition by a girl whose first language is not English and who is even younger.

  • slim

    @43. There’s more happening than meets the eye. Entertainment is not seen as a sensible or respectable profession for early generations of immigrants from Asia to pursue.

    I see quite a few Asian-American faces on stage in the DC/MD/VA area, national tourist artists from singer-songwriters like David Choi, Suzy Suh, Vienna Teng, Carol Bui and Priscilla Ahn to more adventurous acts like Thao Nguyen & the Get Down Stay Down (Thao & Mirah) and Exit Clov, or first-tier jammers like Big Head Todd or Michael Kang of the String Cheese Incident. Plenty of DJs, too. Early classical musical training translating into major chops when they grow up, in many cases. Suzy Suh was a childhood singing contest winner in LA.

    The band that played Letterman on Feb 1, performing useful bubblegum detox of that hallowed stage, has a Steve Chen as its lead guitarist. Papa Grows Funk from New Orleans is lead by a virtuoso guitar player from Japan. I follow traditional blues music by hitting summer festivals and pretty much always see Japanese sidemen and harmonica players backing older black stars.

    Granted, these players, with the exception of the Japanese blues guys, are US-born and raised, and play various American forms of rock.

    The girl and boy bands that make up the front edge of the Korean Wave are too derivative to have any lasting impact on the US scene and will fade away. Maybe some will make decent money on the tween circuit, if the Wonder Girls pave that path.

    I would think Korean musicians, actual artists, could fuse styles and create decent rock and pop market niches for themselves the way Icelandic and Swedish artists have. Keep the high production values (or maybe dial them down a touch), but lose the dancing and plastic surgery, play instruments, and, above all, have some soul. Send us some of the plain, fat, ugly, queer, bald, tattooed, bearded, alcoholic type of people with transcendent musical talent who make real art in most places around the world.

  • Sonagi

    lose the dancing and plastic surgery

    And weaves. Have SNSD members been wearing them for awhile or did they buy them on the advice of a promoter to raise their visual appeal among teen pop music fans?

  • thekorean

    The band that played Letterman on Feb 1, performing useful bubblegum detox of that hallowed stage, has a Steve Chen as its lead guitarist.

    Just because ABTE is mentioned: my wife and Anna Bulbrook were roommates in college.

  • slim

    What does your musician wife think of the invasion of the Nubile Nymphet Nonet from the motherland?

  • thekorean

    She generally does not care about pop music, and cares even less about Korean pop music. She, however, is a huge fan of Cho Su-Mi.

  • slim

    Understandable stance for a classical musician.

    I remember an interview with Ry Cooder about his 1993 record with Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, a mohan veena player and 5th generation classical musician from India, where Cooder said: “He thinks I’m some guy who plays jingles.”

  • αβγδε

    singer-songwriters like David Choi, Suzy Suh

    I like them, too. There’s always room for singer-songwriters. If SNSD and the commercialized music of SM and JYP and YG are the glitzy night clubs, Choi and Suh are like the cafes where people read from tiny books about personal matters of the heart.

    Then there’s kyopos like Aziatix who write and produce their own pop/RnB music: Go (Acoustic Ver.)

    Aziatix don’t dance but they sing damn well, and they, like the other two types, represent a legitimate form of entertainment. The (trick) question is: which form of entertainment takes the most talent to produce?

    And another song by Aziatix: Slippin’ Away

  • gbevers
  • silver surfer

    Why is it that the average Korean sings way better than the average foreigner, but we still haven’t seen a real, raw talent come out of Korea onto the international stage? Oh well, law of averages says one of these days it will happen.

  • silver surfer

    Then again, you could ask the same of most countries in the world, so perhaps law of averages says it won’t happen…

  • nayaCasey

    We were talking in this thread about Korean musicians who sing gangsta rap. I see nothing wrong with it, you never know which music form will inspire someone.

    Here’s a Swiss woman who has gotten into samulnori.

    “When I first heard samulnori, it just hit me. I immediately knew I wanted to learn it.”
    –Hendrikje Lange