Guide for the Perplexed: Kpop, or how I learned to Stop Worrying about the Lyrics and Love Korean Pop

We write a lot about hallyu (exported Korean pop culture) on this blog, and K-pop has really started to hit the mainstream U.S. press this year, including a write-up in Pitchfork and two of Spin Magazine’s best of 2011 albums were by Korean artists (2ne1 & Girls Generation — despite the fact that the Girls Generation album was at the time a Japanese import only album!) — and an article in Harvard Business Review. And there were even showcase shows by some of the major Kpop labels in New York earlier this year — and 2ne1 won MTV Iggy’s “Best New Band in the World”.

So why listen to Kpop? If you remember a time where large groups with talent existed (the present lack in the U.S. decried in both The Atlantic and The Root), waiting for anticipation for both singles and entire albums, and exciting live performances, then Kpop is worthy of you giving it a shot.

The way the Korean pop industry works is very different than the U.S., with everything blatantly manufactured. Potential artists become trainees to usually one of the four major labels at a young age, and hopefully, after many years of training, are then selected to become members of a group. Often, groups have leaders (the go-between the management company and the group), those that are primarily singers, primarily dancers, and at least one rapper. The rate of new music for these artists is frequently at Rihanna-like rates, with at least a new single coming out every year.

With the release of every new marketing push, there is usually a new “concept” for the group and live performances on television shows — similar to American Bandstand, Soul Train, Top of the Pops, and MTV shows of yore. Unlike U.S. pop artists who are increasingly phoning in live performances,  K pop artists do it live — frequently changing up the arrangement, dance routine, and costumes. With. Every. Performance. As highly manufactured as all the music is, the performers are true professionals.

One advantage for newbies that Kpop has is that in the dizzying array all of the singles, double singles, EPs (they still exist in Korea), regular length albums, and then the reissues (oh, the reissues — usually albums that are reissued with one or two new songs and new inserts), is that frequently albums and videos name check themselves — 1st Album or 2nd Reissue — and include the name of the artist and song in English.

Before we get to the individual artists, the most comprehensive source of frequently posted well-written (in English) writing on Kpop with a critical eye is Seoulbeats — which rather than surface writing delves into thoughtful essays — and doesn’t shy away from mentions of racism and homophobia in Kpop. Other recommended sources are KoreAm magazine’s blog (for Kpop from a Korean-American perspective) and AllKpop (breathless updates with the feel of old school Metal Edge or Tiger Beat).

Below are some suggested Kpop artists to try out — ranging from underground hiphop to girl groups with attitude to aegyo (cuteness). For our earlier post on Korean female rappers, go here.

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Oh you didn’t know? The Learned Fangirl is on Facebook!

Big News! The Learned Fangirl is now on Facebook!

“Why should I care?” you’re probably thinking. “I get spammed enough on Facebook by my elderly relatives.”

Fair enough, but hear us out. If you like the TLF blog, then you’ll want to check out the TLF page for posts that we’re too lazy to flesh out  shorter, time sensitive posts and maybe, just maybe, some multimedia stuff like video  if we’re not too lazy to do that.

Anyway, “join the conversation” as the social media folks love to say and like the TLF Facebook page today!

3 Reasons to Skip SXSW Interactive This Year

For the past few years, The Learned Fangirl has enthusiastically covered the sessions and keynotes of South by Southwest Interactive. There was a point when SXSW was the most wonderful time of the year for startups, bloggers, VC’s, coders, and social media douchebags. 5 days of networking in a glorious haze of free beer and tacos.

But this year, TLF reluctantly plans to sit this one out,which saddens us because we have a lot of great friends presenting this year! The reason? It’s not worth the money.

Though the price of a badge has nearly tripled in the past three years, at $950, SXSWi is still a deal compared to similar tech/innovation conferences like Techcrunch Disrupt or TED. Even so, the tech conference marketplace has become a crowded, fragmented one – SXSWi is no longer the must-attend event that it used to be, and that money may go further at other, more specialized events.

Here are the three reasons TLF is skipping SXSW and why we think you may be better off spending your (or your employer’s, lucky you!) money on a conference that you’ll get a lot more out of.

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The Short Second Life of Post Secret; or How Griefers, Sexters, and Haters Ruined an App in Only Four Months

Today, the Post Secret app officially died. How things spiraled down so quickly is a highly cautionary tale for anyone who fully trusts anonymity — and expects it not to become a tragedy of the commons. As Frank Warren, the founder of Post Secret, states on the website, this was a difficult decision made, but one made necessary due to problems with some of the anonymous secret postings:

Like the PostSecret Blog, the App was designed so each secret was absolutely anonymous. Unfortunately, that absolute anonymity made it very challenging to permanently remove determined users with malicious intent.

99% of the secrets created were in the spirit of PostSecret. Unfortunately, the scale of secrets was so large that even 1% of bad content was overwhelming for our dedicated team of volunteer moderators who worked 24 hours a day 7 days a week removing content that was not just pornographic but also gruesome and at times threatening.

For many users of this app, this is a great loss — not just of a fun way to pass the time, but also the app served as a supportive community for those who were suffering through great loss and difficult times (such as having children with cancer, multiple miscarriages, soldiers with PTSD). And now that community is erased through the removal of the iPhone/iDevice app. Forever. (At least not in a recoverable way).

As cNet reports, users are saddened by the loss of community through the end of the PostSecret app:

“I will always wonder about the beautiful woman fighting cancer that always had the kindest words to say in response to people’s secrets. I will wonder about beard guy and assume he’s still brightening people’s days…Thank you for the opportunity to take a look into the world Frank, and help me realize that I am blessed and privileged in a world where many people are not. It gave me a new sense of compassion for others.”

The app was released in September to much fanfare — including a glowing article in Wired. And according to ReadWriteWeb, the app “taught beautiful lessons about privacy on the web” (and is where you should go to read about what the user experience was like, if you haven’t used the app.) The app rocketed to the top of the App Store, becoming the #1 downloaded app within 24 hours.

And the PostSecret app was a highly entertaining app, easy to use, with secrets ranging from the tragic, to the hilarious, to the simply banal. My own user experience likely followed those of other early adopters — only positives, then surprise by the negatives, then annoyance with those who were wrecking the app for others, to now, acceptance of the shutdown. And the negatives started slow — with anonymous pleas for sexting, complete with Anthony Weiners, moving on to a flood of these posts — and also occasional direct personal attacks. And then things got much worse around Christmas, with the amount of what I would describe as legally obscene pictures posted — no message — so the entire point was to disturb the viewer.

Of course, some of the secrets posted were racist, sexist, or demeaning to others in some ways. But as long as those were “secrets”, they were still within the spirit of PostSecret. But the direction that many of the postings that shut down the app showed the worst side of people generally and specifically on the internet.

The Post Secret app was launched after years of the PostSecret brand as a website, books, and speaking tours. It failed not because people did not want it to succeed — but because a tiny percentage were interested in their own needs, upsetting others, or something else negative towards communities, everyone lost.

I doubt that future app developers will be so amenable to anonymous user experiences as PostSecret was, and the next time you wonder why we can’t have nice things (read: more privacy) remember the griefers, sexters, and haters that ruined the PostSecret app for all.

TLF’s Favorite Internet Memes of 2011

Most pop-culture blogs are posting their top album of movie lists at this time of year, but TLF is sticking to what we know best: The Internet. After all, it was a pretty lackluster year for music, but for internet memes? Stellar. From rainbow-pooping cats to Republican presidential candidates holding gigantic pizzas to teenage songstresses of questionable talent, there was something for everyone.

Rebecca Black’s Friday

Yes, the song is awful.  Production wise, lyrically – on any level, it’s hard to defend “Friday” as a song of any redeeming quality.  But it’s oddly hypnotic (I know all the words, and I don’t even know why!) and its brain-numbing simplicity makes it an easy – and hilarious – meme target. Not all the parodies worked but a few, like comedian Matt Mullholland’s emo cover version, were well done and inspired. I still find myself saying “we so excited” at random intervals. Usually on Friday. – KDC

Pepper Spray Cop

One of the most memorable and disturbing images of the Occupy movement – Lt John Pike casually pepper spraying UC-Davis protestors directly in the face – has become one of the year’s more darkly hilarious internet memes. The Pepper Spray Cop  has been photoshopped spraying everyone from Mr. Rogers to Sleeping Beauty to the Declaration of Independence on  I admit, that I get a little humorless when it comes to activist movements (I went to UW-Madison, yo) and people’s responses and part of me wonders if the explosion of Occupy-inspired memes are too glib, that some jokester’s seem to take the civil liberties far too lightly if they can poke fun at this.  The Pepper Spray Cop Tumblr, however seems to toe the line comfortably between absurdity and cultural commentary.  At least enough so that I am not discomforted by it. – KDC

Nyan Cat

Who could imagine that an animated gif of a Pop Tart shaped cat with a rainbow coming out of his butt combined with an irritating Japanese pop song would me the most epic internet meme of the year, but here we are. Like Rebecca Black’s Friday, the song’s viral annoyingness is a part of its appeal, but for me, the musical inventiveness of many of the meme parodies. Two of my favorites, like the orchestrated version and the dubstep remix (posted above)and several versions of the meme inject Nyan Cat with some cultural pride with Nyan Cats from Mexico, Sweden, China, and other countries. Nyan Cat is what I love most about internet memes: random, nonsensical but oddly unifying and beloved across internet subcultures- KDC

Hey Girl, Ryan Gosling

The Hey Girl, Ryan Gosling meme, where a picture of Ryan Gosling (preferably shirtless, preferably looking directly at the camera) with a ridiculous come-on line, is my favorite meme of the year, from its slow burn start in 2009. I warmed to this meme slowly, but the ridiculous themes (Hanukkah, Feminist, Public History, Silicon Valley, Librarian, Biostats — it’s like he’s a Barbie!) plus the cheeseball photos, slowly wore me down, unlike any of the appalling lines.

One of the frequent questions asked is “Why Ryan Gosling?” And my response is — who else would be more appropriate for a third-wave feminist reinterpretation of the oppositional gaze? Or crassly, why the !@#$ not?

Additionally, this meme is an unfortunately rare well-recognized form of reinterpretation specifically not only directed towards a female audience, but also female created. One of the interesting things about this meme is that some dudes seem strangely threatened by it, though the only thing menacing about Hey Girl, Ryan Gosling is that he always has both the best abs … and the best lines! -RL

Herman Cain and the Invisible Orange That Is Instead a Pizza

What end of the year list would be complete without a meme that lives up to the short half-life of most memes? For our entry this year, we give you: a Pokémon quoting Presidential candidate who … hmm, how to summarize Herman Cain? I know how! With a badly photoshopped picture of him holding a pizza! A meme that even a five year old can understand, despite its short shelf-life, this meme is now over, but the memories of its LOLs will warm our hearts, if not our pizzas, for months to come.


Peace, LOLs, and lots more memes in 2012!

Why Online TV Couldn’t Save ABC Soaps

RIP One Life To Live. It’s official: the 11th hour online deal that would have saved beloved soaps One Life To Live and All My Children from the cancellation has fallen through.

ABC  announced earlier  this year that AMC and OLTL would be replaced by daytime lifestyle shows, “The Chew” and “The Revolution”. (I’ve seen The Chew  and it’s pretty grating, imagine “The View” with C -level Food Network hosts).

Expectedly, the fan outcry was swift and passionate after the announcement, but a ray of light emerged when indie production company Prospect Park acquired the rights to both shows, with plans to reincarnate the soaps as web-based series. Unfortunately hefty production costs and union squabbles derailed the plans, so in January, One Life to Live fans will say the same goodbyes that All My Children fans did in September. (Hopefully with a much more satisfying ending than AMC)

Admittedly, I haven’t followed daytime soaps in several years, but  I grew up watching the ABC soaps at my grandmother’s knee, and I was a One Life To Live CRAZY FAN when I was in high school  so I followed the Prospect Park story with interest. I was skeptical about the Prospect Park deal, mostly because it was hard for me to imagine how Prospect Park could successfully recreate a genre as expansive as soaps for an online audience. With decades of history, huge casts and 45 minutes of story, Prospect Park would have  had to make drastic changes to the format to bring the shows online. Clearly the shows would have been shorter, the casts smaller and the sets/costumes less lavish.  I figured that veteran stars would likely not make the cut in favor of less expensive younger talent. Would the soaps even look like the ones fans followed and loved for years?

I still think online TV is the future of entertainment; I think the resurrection of Arrested Development on Netflix will mean good things for producers with great pilot ideas that are too” niche” or “risky” for traditional TV and even cable, but daytime soaps as a genre may not be able to find new life here. It’s not that hardcore soap fans wouldn’t have followed the shows to the web; I have no doubt they would have. If anything, the shows would have been able to take advantage of Facebook and Twitter’s 30+ and female skewing demographics to keep fans engaged.

But the rich history and intertwining relationships of soaps, the slow burn of daily storytelling that makes soaps what they are, I’m not sure if Prospect Park would have been able to pull it off, and if they did, I’m not sure how long. I think they would have been a shadow of what soap fans have been enjoying for decades, and not financially sustainable. Still, it’s sad to see all of those years of storytelling history fade away. Much like comics, soap opera lore was something passed down through generations and to know that there will be a point where the names “Pine Valley” and Llanview” will have no pop culture resonance is a pity.

Unexpected Allies: Decibel Magazine’s Feminist Take on the DC Reboot

In the December 2011 issue of Decibel magazine (“America’s only extreme music magazine”), I read the interesting, but expected Dave-Mustaine-this-time-he-is-totes-over-his-feuds-he-means-it-even-if-he-is-called-SuperDave-and-Junior-isn’t-called-Junior story; lots of short articles with bands filled with fourth-degree clones of Zakk Wylde; and the usual review of extreme albums that I won’t be listening to.

But unexpectedly, especially for a magazine dedicated to metal and other extreme music, there is an actual for-real feminist take on the DC reboot that says that treating women as soulless objects is not entertainment. For an audience that reads a magazine featuring bands with album covers that will give children nightmares.

Unfortunately not online, Joe Gross’ one-page column dissects the reason why the reboot doesn’t make economic sense, by turning away girls and women (and men and boys) that aren’t interested in a “cruel, violent vibe and crueler sexual politics”, asking the question “Who the fuck is this crap for?”

He says that between the reboot “and a noticeable decline in women creators at DC, it would be tough for the company to have constructed a bigger “Fuck you, we don’t want your money” to potential female readers”. And that is a potentially huge loss for an industry that could use new readers — or at least not lose older newly disgusted fans. Perhaps it is just those that I know, but a large percentage of the comics fans I know *are* people of difference (such as women/girls, people of color, gay/queer, some other other, or a combination) — not the stereotype of Comic Book Guy.

One of the benefits of having this article written for this particular audience is demonstrated by the pull-quote on the page:

I’ve seen hardcore, [gnzo p!@#] that treated women with more dignity that DC is treating those two gals [, Catwoman and Starfire]

THAT knowledge is not likely to be found by writers from traditional feminist sources, even third-wave ones.

Gross also references “the terrific essay” by Laura Hudson on Comics Alliance, The Big Sexy Problem with Superheroines and Their “Liberated Sexuality”.

Thank you, Decibel. And to Shortpacked (who created the economics of comics comic above). And to all of the disappointed seven-year old American comics fans, may I suggest mahou shoujo (and manhwa)? It isn’t without issues, but that’s where I’m sending the comics-loving kids in my life.