Bringing K-pop to the World: Interview with Eat Your Kimchi
With three YouTube channels and nearly 130 million views combined it would be hard to come across a K-pop fan that had not heard of Eat Your Kimchi. Starting out in 2008, Simon and Martina (along with their adorable furry family Spudgy and Dr. Meemersworth have become so popular that they have their own fan base the ‘Nasties’. Less of a fan base and more of an extended family, the couple have become international stars and icons to thousands with their awkward humour and cheerful personas, drawing in K-pop fans from all walks of life. We were fortunate enough to have an interview with them to find out what they really think of the Korean music system, how they deal with criticism and what they think makes them so appealing to both Korean and international fans alike.
What do you think of the way the music system in Korea works?
Oh Jeez. This is a loooong answer, and very multi-faceted. The one aspect that we’ve been thinking about lately, though, is about how hard it is to make money as a musician in Korea. There are online services here where you pay something around 10 bucks a month or so, and you get to legally download a bunch of songs with it, wayyyy more songs than 10 bucks at the iTunes store would get you. Problem is how much of that goes to the artists? I doubt very much at all. And then I’m walking around Seoul and I don’t really see any CD shops, and the ones that were here are shutting down.
Compare that to Japan, where people actually buy physical CDs, where some record labels adopt a strict non-digital policy and it starts to make more sense why some K-pop bands are spending more time in Japan than in Korea. People will buy their music in Japan, but not in Korea. Or am I wrong? I’m not sure. We’re not insiders in the industry, but we’ve been putting things together from the different people we’ve been speaking with that are in the know.
You recently made the decision to not always follow the K-pop charts your fans vote on when deciding which video to discuss for K-pop Music Monday. Where did that change come from?
We started our whole blog and K-pop Music Monday for fun, and we both agreed that if it stopped being enjoyable we wouldn’t do it anymore. Well, that was starting to happen with Music Monday last year. There were a bunch of songs that we reviewed that we really didn’t want to review, a bunch of videos we were dying to talk about but didn’t get the chance to talk about. We were missing out on golden opportunities to make some really fun and enjoyable videos, and instead we were forcing ourselves to talk about some videos that just really bored us.
We started the K-pop charts because we wanted to have more input from our viewers, since K-pop fans outside of Korea and inside Korea have very different opinions of what they like (for example, U-KISS is much more popular outside of Korea) but the decision to ALWAYS pick the first place winner became a problem for us.
But since we still wanted input from our viewers we decided that we’d pick the first place winner as much as possible BUT if there was a video within the top three that we really really passionately wanted to review, we’d do that instead.
Since becoming YouTube and web famous do you find yourself being recognized in Korea more often, not just by international fans but also by the Korean public?
Yes, we’re recognized in Korea more often now. We normally get a few people recognizing us per day. On the weekends and at night-time we sometimes get people lining up to talk to us and take pictures which feels weird because we don’t consider ourselves famous, but it’s always great to talk to like-minded people and hear their story about why they’re in Korea and how they’re enjoying it. It’s mostly foreigners who recognize us, but a lot of Korean people have been stopping us as well. It gives us a chance to chat briefly in Korean and brush up on our awkward Korean language skills. Haha!
Recently you’ve been interview more and more K-pop artists. Do you think you play an important role in promoting K-pop internationally?
That’s difficult for us to say. That’s not a thought that crosses through our minds. We don’t want to inflate our egos or think of anything like that. We’re just thinking of ourselves as having fun. We do acknowledge that both fans and now companies are interested in using us as a marketing platform, so they might see us as playing an important role, but we still see ourselves just as dorks having fun. What we can say for sure is that if it wasn’t for our amazing supportive Nasties helping us to get the EYK Nasty studio, it would have been impossible to have these interviews.
You’ve had the chance to interview a lot of artists but who has given you the most interesting interview so far?
MFBTY, easily. We had loads of fun interviewing uBEAT, since we were laughing most of the time, but talking with MFBTY gave us a lot of insights from people who are both in the industry and outside of the industry at the same time. They aren’t a fresh rookie band; they’ve been in the game a while and they know what they’re talking about. They hung out and chatted with us for a long time. It was hard to make that interview as short as it was because they talked about a lot of awesome stuff!
When it comes to your weekly indie playlist do you feel you are helping get previously unknown groups names out to an international audience?
Now that we can say yes, for sure. For instance, we know that Yukari, whose music we love, was contacted to open for a concert because of our review of her. The concert promoter emailed us to tell us so, and we were so happy to hear it. We also get a lot of emails and tweets from the indie artist or their label thanking us for the increase of traffic, so that makes us super-duper happy. Honestly, indie bands here in Korea do such a poor job of marketing themselves internationally. We go to a lot of local shows on the weekends – well, we go when we can and we’re not exhausted – and we speak with some of the bands afterwards and ask if they have a YouTube channel or Facebook, and they say that they have a Daum Cafe or something like that. We tell them that foreigners can’t access Korean sites. Those sites are too closed off. We tell them to go for something more international, and they always meet us with surprise, like, why would people outside of Korea be interested in us? There’s a lot more we want to do for the Indie scene here, a lot of plans we have and people we’re speaking with, and hopefully we can start doing more for them soon.
What do you think bands could be doing to promote themselves more outside of Korea?
Embrace the internet outside of Korea. Set up a freaking YouTube channel! Put your music on iTunes. Be active in promoting yourself on Facebook and Twitter. Sure, that’s not the recipe for worldwide international acclaim, but it’s an essential first step. It’s not an option to avoid. Also, they tend to promote their shows just a week before it happens making it really hard for people to find or go to a show unless they are already steeped in the indie scene. Keeping an updated Facebook/Twitter/Google+ page will help spread the word!
Eat Your Kimchi has adapted itself outside of the Korean market to other East Asian countries, what do you think makes you so appealing?
When Korea talks about itself internationally, it does so in a very… traditional way. “Come to Korea and climb a mountain! Wear a hanbok and eat bibimbap! It’s the traditional food of Korea. Did you know Dokdo is Korean, and that Korea has four distinct seasons?” The way Korea is shared is so… not cool, you know? I think what we’re doing is showing Korea in a different and natural light. Here we are: two people doing the not traditional, not touristy things. We’re hanging out in Hongdae, eating street food, talking to K-pop idols, walking our dog that’s half blue. It’s not really the traditional image, you know? And it’s not that we’re cool: we’re just different from what’s typically out there. We have a more sincere, not-marketing heavy approach.
Also, most Korean stuff is done by Korean companies, with Korean actors speaking to Korean people in Korean. It’s not really inviting to outsiders, I don’t think. And it’s not necessarily that we’re doing something fantastic: it’s just that there’s such a paucity of different voices here that we’re just lucky to be in an underrepresented market.
As with most blogs and vlogs on Korea (made by non-Koreans) you receive some hate from people stating that you have no ‘right’ to discuss a country that is not your own. Do you find it difficult to deal with such criticism?
Haters do affect us, yes, but those specific ones with the “you’re not Korean so shut up” don’t affect us whatsoever. Racist and xenophobic patriots are very easily dismissed. We’re visible minorities – so to speak – here in Korea, and as minorities we will experience Korean very differently than how Korean people experience their country, but just because we’re not born and raised in Korea and have Korean DNA within us, does that mean we don’t have the right to comment on our experiences? That’s ridiculous.
You’ve recently increased your team after opening your own studio, what made you decide after years of working from home to take the next step and obtain a studio?
We found that Eatyourkimchi was completely taking over our lives. We worked all day and all night long, rolled out of bed and onto the computer, filmed, edited, uploaded, went to bed during the early morning, barely slept, and repeated. We had equipment everywhere. We’d have to step around lights and cameras. We had an entire room dedicated to props and costumes. We were really getting overwhelmed, so we had to decide if we enjoyed what we were doing or not. We talked about it a lot and both agreed that we loved making videos together but we knew we had to expand out of our apartment and take a pay cut to set up a business, create a work environment, and hire staff to help us out.
Were you shocked by how quickly you were able to raise the funds for a studio and that your fans responded in such a heartfelt way?
Shocked as all hell. We reached $40k in 7 hours. We put up the fundraiser, went to sleep, woke up, and saw that we reached the goal. We sobbed like sissy gortdamned babies. Our family called us and we all cried. Spudgy cried. So often it feels like it’s just us posting silly videos on our end, and talking with people from time to time online, but to see so many people invest in us, to suggest that what we’re doing is valuable to them, was something we never expected. We still don’t think that what we do is valuable, so to see that people think otherwise is incredibly moving. And we still want people to remind themselves that if it wasn’t for their support, these Kpop interviews would never have been possible! They essentially crowd sourced the creation of English interviews, in which they get to ask questions to Kpop stars! Amazing, right?
Your life in Korea seems to be going well right now and you get asked this a lot but with all the positive changes to your life there how long do you see yourselves staying in Korea?
That’s a tough question. We’ve been here for almost 5 years. We thought we’d be here for only one year. We thought we’d go to Japan and do stuff there, and then go to France and do stuff there. But we’re here now, and we’ve got a studio, and we’ve invested so much into all of this that we can’t imagine leaving it all behind, you know? We’d definitely like to set up another office in Japan, though, and find a way to travel back and forth between both countries sharing our experiences with you all, but the logistics of that are fuzzy for us at the moment. We know we’d need to expand first with more staff, though. So, umm, the short, unconvoluted answer to the question is: I’m not sure! All I know is that I can’t see us ever leaving Korea for ever ever. It’ll be part of us forever.
A massive thanks to both Simon and Martina for taking time out of their busy schedules to answer some questions for us (especially during the time they were arranging their trip to Singapore). To keep up to date with the latest EYK information and Nasty news follow them on: