The Guardian writes about K-pop yet again, readers are not impressed
Since the end of last year, the online version of UK broadsheet newspaper, The Guardian, has been showing an interest in South Korean pop music. Initially focussing on K-pop’s growing influence in Japan, The Guardian has been producing regular articles on their website about Korea’s pop music scene (increasing after the popularity of Gangnam Style) and the genre now even has it’s own page in the music section of the website.
Although there are a couple of really interesting opinion pieces about the popularity of Gangnam Style and whether it is driven by the fact it confirms certain negative stereotypes surrounding Asian men, most of the pieces are fairly straightforward round-ups and reviews of what’s hot and what’s not in the world of K-pop and whether it will ever see mainstream success in the UK and US. And it seems Guardian readers have had enough.
In the latest piece posted on the site After Psy’s Gangnam Style, here come Korea pop princesses Girls’ Generation, Justin McCurry, The Guardian’s Tokyo respondent, who is responsible for many of these K-pop articles, discusses Korea’s biggest girl group Girls’ Generation’s planned English-language album release for 2013. The article presents a pretty much accurate summary of the band’s career and successes to date. Well, aside from a few small errors, only two members of the band were raised in the US and I would argue that the band’s Letterman appearance at the beginning of the year was far from ‘comfortable’ although not as uncomfortable as their spot on Live! With Regis and Kelly. It then follows on to discuss the possibility of their success in western markets in the future, giving an overall positive impression of the band’s future in the West. But the commenters were having none of it. The Guardian is traditionally known as a fairly intellectual paper with a mainly well educated readership but through their extensive use of social media they have been trying to reach and engage a younger audience. Perhaps their coverage of K-pop is part of this strategy but, if it is, it doesn’t seem to be working. Let’s have a look at some of the most popular comments:
Most of the complaints stem from the fact that K-pop is ‘manufactured nonsense’ (to quote one of the top rated comments), that ‘Asian artists [are] mimicking what Western artists have already done’ with the inclusion of many words like ‘vacuous’, ‘shallow’, ‘plastic’ and ‘cliched’. Then add in a sprinkling of comments which could generously be described as expressing the commenter’s admiration of the girls’ appearances.
Some of these comments are difficult to argue with, K-pop IS highly manufactured and most of the musical styles favoured by K-pop artists were pioneered in the US and Europe. This does not mean K-pop has nothing to offer but what it may mean is that K-pop has nothing to offer many readers of The Guardian, most of whom also are offered nothing by One Direction, Justin Bieber, Rihanna or any of most K-pop artists’ other Western counterparts.
After the success of Gangnam Style, many of the UK’s most prestigious news outlets are asking whether this signals the beginning of mainstream success in the West but most of them are asking this of an audience that, frankly, doesn’t care.
Many of the comments I read were quite patronising and gave off a strong impression of cultural imperialism, that K-pop is a poor-Asian-man’s interpretation of something the West does better. Whether there is truth in these aspersions is somewhat besides the point. Regardless of whether K-pop bands are talented or not, hard-working or not, involved in the creation of their songs or not, the fact is there is a large section of the population that will never be interested in K-pop, due to the fact that it has a manufactured image. And that is fine! Everyone doesn’t like everything. A much more interesting issue is whether K-pop going mainstream will create and reinforce many negative stereotypes about Korea and the Far East or whether it will, in fact, provide a more positive and rounded set of representations of Asian people to a western audience. Only time will tell.
But in the meantime, if The Guardian’s readers are so against K-pop then perhaps the paper should stop writing about it so much and focus their efforts on something which will be of more interest to their audience. Korea offers a much wider range of topics to do with culture, entertainment and social issues than just it’s pop music. I’m sure at least some of those readers would appreciate learning more about these.
And in response to the writer’s confidence that Girls’ Generation will do well in the English speaking market due to having fluent speakers in their midst, I would argue that two members that can speak English equals seven members who cannot, which hardly helps to challenge the stereotype of the silent, passive Asian woman. But that’s the subject for a whole other article…
(To the commenter who thinks that Korea has nothing to offer the world in terms of music, I kindly point you in the direction of the alternative music section of this website.)
Let us know what you think about the article and it’s responses in the comments.