« The Devil is in the Details | Main | Over-Generalizing »

December 04, 2020


The BTS flower boys even got their military service requirement deferred.

My year in Korea didn't have me think that it was a 51st state, but it did have me marvel at all the ways US culture had insinuated itself into the fabric of life.
it's basically 190 proof US

Korea may be further along than most. But one thing I've noticed traveling (not an enormous amount, but a bit) around the world is how much US culture crops up pretty much anywhere you go. Maybe only 150 proof, but still.

Even in places where you'd expect things to be very different . . . and they are. Riyadh doesn't feel like the US. But it's no problem to find a Burger King, With WiFi that works on the veranda even when it, like everything else, closes for Prayer Time. (And the religious police come around to make sure that all Saudis have dutifully gone to pray.) And the sauce is just like in the US, too. Call it 90 proof -- still miles above near beer.

And, of course, the music is frequently the same as well. Even if the lyrics are massively subversive to local sensibilities. Fortunate, perhaps, that the local culture warriors done know English, and so don't realize the messages going out.

wj, that's a good point. I may be marvelling at something that is happening all of over the world.

Charles, there is a much longer post about k-pop post that I will threaten you with, with discussion about the relationship between k-pop stans and BLM and other liberal left causes, but every time I think I have a handle on it, another link dissuades me. But a few factoids that still astonish me.

The 'BTS flower boys' (which seems to throw some shade on them?) according to Wikipedia, they are, for 2019:
purportedly worth more than $4.65 billion to South Korea's economy each year, or 0.3 percent of the country's GDP. They attract one in every 13 foreign tourists that visited South Korea and were cited as one of the key acts in boosting global music sales to $19 billion in 2018.

I was in Seoul when they were finishing their 2019 tour with 3 sold out concerts at Seoul Olympic stadium and I kid you not, the town was _full_ of foreigners.

Amazing stuff.

Though, after a bit of thought, I may be conceding too much to wj. The old line about black music is that it's always white folks who come in and make money with it. Here, we see Asian folks coming in and making money. Of course, with cars and and consumer electronics, the Japanese came in, but making entertainment that sells is a whole nother thing.

I've read a surprising number of BTS album reviews and musical auto-ethnographies featuring K-pop and BTS from students from a vast array of ethnic and national backgrounds. I would not be at all surprised to find that some of my ex-students were part of the Tik Tok cadre giving Trump such misery.

Liberal japonicus,

Your point about the loss of international respect that the US has suffered is quite correct. Helsingin Sanomat is the largest newspaper in Finland, and politically in the center. Here are a couple of the headlines of editorials and op-eds:
* The worthless play performed after the US presidential election is a reminder of the dangers caused by abolishing truth
* Trump administration can still have a couple of people executed but thereafter, capital punishment shall suffer death
* Trump's lies are not only acting up, but there lies a method to them
* US politics are rolling in a strange circuit
* USA is a difficult partner, regardless of who is the master of the White House
* Let us preserve responsibility and trust (a piece on domestic policy, using USA as a cautionary tale)
* Is Trump preparing for war or for peace?
* The winner of the Asian and Pacific countries' trade agreement - the loser: USA
* Trump's cynical gaming is challenging the rule of law
* On Thanksgiving, the Americans are celebrating a narrow rescue from destruction
* United States will be looking primarily to her own edification also in the future, and there is no return to past.
* Does democracy have enough adherents?

These are not headlines of a pro-Russian propaganda outlet, but from a newspaper that has traditionally been the greatest Finnish supporter of good relations with the US.

Is Trump preparing for war or for peace?

Well since he, personally, wouldn't be at risk of seeing battle, the only reason he would care one wzy or the other is how it would reflect on him. (Now that it would no longer impact his reelection chances. Though at the the the article appeared, that was probably still the only consideration.)

Though, after a bit of thought, I may be conceding too much to wj.

While I think we see some of the same phenomena** around the world, I was conceding to you that Korea is an extreme case.

** Referred to as "cultural colonialism" by those frustrated at their young people embracing all those foreign practices. Not unlike our own nativists -- except the MAGA boys don't have the handy colonialism hot button to try to use.

The 'BTS flower boys' ... are, for 2019: purportedly worth more than $4.65 billion to South Korea's economy each year, or 0.3 percent of the country's GDP.

I believe there were several years in the 1970s when ABBA was in a similar position in Sweden as a fraction of the total economy. Rivaling Volvo in export earnings, and exceeding IKEA.

"From South Korean wave to Southern wind

Sunny Yoon, a media professor at Seoul’s Hanyang University, emphasises that North Korean audiences aren’t ignorant and passive consumers of foreign cultural products. But as North Koreans who watch South Korean media are, according to Professor Yoon, “in desperate situations (extreme poverty and no freedom)… it is natural for them to desire a new way of life by watching foreign media”.

Hallyu has been called a ‘cultural weapon’ in North Korea, where it is referred to as nampung (‘Southern wind’). Given the secrecy in the Hermit Kingdom, what is known about South Korean culture in the North comes mainly from people who have fled North Korea. One is GeumHyok Kim, who as a member of the elite class had certain privileges that allowed him to access foreign culture. At his college, where he was studying for an English degree, his professors would show Hollywood films in their classes: big-budget fare like Top Gun and Armageddon."


Black-market access like Kim’s has been key to the penetration of South Korean and Western media in North Korea. The catastrophic North Korean famine in the mid-1990s, when Kim was a child, reduced citizens’ trust and reliance on the government. Desperate people turned to smuggling for the food they needed, and sophisticated international networks increasingly brought in items that North Koreans could sell to make a living. This includes USB drives containing South Korean films or TV dramas, whose sale can bring in over a month’s worth of food.
BTS and EXO: The soft power roots of K-pop: The wave of South Korean pop culture around the world hasn’t happened by accident – it was a deliberate government plan, writes Christine Ro. And it has even reached North Korea.

"I believe there were several years in the 1970s when ABBA was in a similar position in Sweden as a fraction of the total economy. Rivaling Volvo in export earnings, and exceeding IKEA."

Well, sure.
ABBA is a lot easier to assemble, after all.

Just put the B's together, and you're done.

The excerpt gives the impression that SK started out trying to use this against the North, but the article points out that it was primarily an economic initiative which influenced the North only because it was successful on the world stage.

Most universities have a department for the cultivation of these kinds of talents which usually combines dance and music, which were the result of Ed ministry initiatives and targets financing, which also includes similar investments in digital media, games etc.

"Although this was the public face of Hallyu, the actual origins go back further in time. Five main factors contributed tremendously to the evolution of the Korean wave:

• Lifting the ban on foreign travel for local Koreans: ...
• Restructuring of Korean chaebols: ...
• Banning the censorship laws: ...
• Increased emphasis on branding by leading Korean companies: ...
• Increased focus on infrastructure: ...

Five important factors have been crucial for maintaining the popularity of Hallyu and further boosting its potential to expand into other markets:

• Growing popularity of Korean brands: ...
• Increased R&D in design, production and overall quality: ...
• Effective management of all touch points: ...
• Continuous support from the Korean government: ...
• Lesser animosity towards Korea in the Southeast Asian region: ...

Some of the spillover effects of Hallyu on tourism in Korea include:

• Rise of the Korean superstars: ...
• Increased interest in Korean tourism: ...
• Improved Korean country image: ...

Some of the major challenges for the Korean Wave are discussed below:

• Sustaining innovation in the cultural products: ...
• Avoiding over-exposure of Korean stars: ...
• Sustained investment from the Korean government: ..."

Korean Wave (Hallyu) – The Rise of Korea’s Cultural Economy & Pop Culture

Perhaps not entirely right to assess the US influence on Korean culture purely through the works of BTS, though.
This article suggests that they’re simply doing US pop better than the US.

... Leaving such conversations behind in favor of more down-to-earth stuff, here in Korea this week Melon (Korea's version of Spotify) released its most streamed and played top 100 songs of the last 10 years. This shows what Koreans of all ages have been listening to as they go about their normal lives.

Busker Busker's "Cherry Blossom Ending" was the most played song, followed by IU's "Through the Night" and Park Hyo Shin's "Wildflower." The solo artist IU had three songs in the top 10; BTS's "Spring Day" was the group's only track in the top 10. However, putting fandoms aside, if you also consider that Ailee's "I Will Go to You Like the First Snow" was number six and Naul's "Memory of the Wind" was number 10, you might notice something.

Korean people seem to like songs about the seasons, about nature. The songs are often soft: ballads and easy-listening numbers that reflect a sentiment of calm or tranquility in the incredibly competitive and fast-paced Korean society; a reminder of what life was, or at least could be, like. Korean music for Korean people.

BTS seems to have transcended that and simply become "pop" in the broader global sense. What the implications of that are, I am not sure. And perhaps it is neither for me to say nor really think about too much...

Neat point, Nigel. At what point does it stop being influenced and turn to them doing things better. Calling Toyota and Sony...

I think there’s a large element of ‘doing things better’. Clearly the US has an outsize influence (which dates back to the 19th C, not just the Korean war, but S Korea seems to operate a kind of cultural syncretism, picking up and incorporating all sorts of bits of other cultures.
What other non English language culture currently has as wide an appeal as this ?

Snarki: Just put the B's together, and you're done.

Definitely a point.

Just put the B's together, and you're done.

And, just like with your IKEA wardrobe, AABB....

I vaguely remember the Kim Sisters. I'm sure I must have seen them perform a number of times.

"Korean pop music bands like BTS and BLACKPINK have lit up US music charts and taken on the American teen scene by storm. But 60 years before this “K-pop invasion,” the Kim Sisters, a Korean girl group, landed on US shores and rocketed to stardom — singing American hits before they even learned English.

Now little known outside of Korea, it was sisters Sue (Sook-ja) and Ai-ja, along with their cousin Mia (Min-ja), who introduced American audiences to Korean popular entertainment at the height of the teenage craze for both rock n’ roll groups and soulful girl groups."
60 years before BTS, the Kim Sisters were America's original K-pop stars: If you want to sing along to today's top hits, you might be belting out Korean lyrics.

"When Sue Kim arrived in the U.S. after leaving her home in Korea, decimated by war, she found herself performing at the storied Thunderbird and Stardust hotels in Las Vegas. It was 1959, and despite singing songs like Tony Bennett’s “I Left My Heart In San Francisco” to large crowds, Kim didn't know much English. She was a Korean performer recruited to sing American songs as part of the Kim Sisters band, and most of her English vocabulary had been learned from the TV western Gunsmoke."
For the Original K-Pop Stars, Survival Depended on Making it in America: The Kim Sisters’ success in Las Vegas allowed their family in war-torn Korea to eat.

Didn't know about the Kim sisters, but the articles represent an interesting bit of cultural ethnocentrism, in that it implies that BTS, in order to 'make it' had to be famous in the States. Counterfactuals are always tough, but if BTS had just been ignored in the US, but picked up the way it has in other places, they would still be a powerhouse. From my reading of them, they weren't anxiously waiting for invites from the Tonite show or to do carpool karaoke with James Corden, they were sought after. To my mind, that's a big difference.

That's a fair point, lj.
The Chinese and Japanese markets were probably more significant for Korean cultural products than western ones until pretty recently, I think ?
And BTS are a global phenomenon.

One other thing I overlooked;
The solo artist IU had three songs in the top 10...
She is also a formidably talented actress (if you haven't seen it, the drama series "My Mister" is available on Netflix; it also stars Parasite's Lee Sun-Kyun.

This is not about Korean culture, but since I don't think we have a live OT at the moment, this is a gift for the artist formerly known as Count-me-in.

THAT was great to wake up to, GftNC.

Nearly the entire essay might have been lifted from conversations between my music buddy and me in his studio between infinite takes (he's superlative musically; I hang on for dear life ..... we met playing baseball 20-odd years ago, someone said "Beatles" and off we went) but someone finally wrote it all down, and eloquently.

I could go on, but won't.

I hope you are doing well.

Thank you.

It might be time to schedule an eye exam.

Because, when I see the title of this post, I keep thinking it says

"They will keep pants, but which pants?"

Which is at least *amusing*, perhaps only to me. Could be a post about Zoom etiquette.

Snarki, it would be a great lead-in for a segue to something about how confusable domain (website) names can be used for scams. Especially now that we're using symbols from other scripts than English. Just think what you can do with the "dotless I" used in Turkish (ı). Use that after an R (rı) in the middle of a word, and anyone's charıces of noticing that it's not a N (n) are slight.

(I've been working on the Internationalization of Domain Names effort for 5 years now. Obviously it intrudes on my consciousness everywhere.)

THAT was great to wake up to, GftNC.


Thank you, GFTNC.

I’ll have to finish that McCartney essay tomorrow so the missus doesn’t get sore at me.

THAT was great to wake up to, GftNC.

Third or fourthed.

Thank you. Glad I came by for that. And I was the only one of my friends that liked Wings.

This sent me on a mental journey:

“I can hear a whole song in one chord. In fact, I think you can hear a whole song in one note, if you listen hard enough,” he said.

Speaking of bass players, I was saddened this morning to learn that Sean Malone of Cynic has passed away. That's two of the three core members of Cynic in 2020, with drummer Sean Reinert passing away in January.

Playthrough of "Veil of Maya"

Malone was one of those monster talents who plays progressive technical death metal on a fretless 5 string. He also played Chapman Stick for his other project, Gordian Knot.

(In)Famous Korean film director Kim Ki-Duk has died of Covid-19 yesterday.

I believe 'Empty Houses' was the first film of his that I saw. I was quite impressed by that.

The comments to this entry are closed.