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:

 Guardian K-pop 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.

The world’s biggest boyband, sorry Super Junior!

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.

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  • Geraldine Anderson

    There’s no such thing as music that hasn’t been manufactured (
    nowadays), but to be honest I reckon there will be a barrier for a long
    time to come for those non-westerners who make poor copies of “our”
    music and who are completely manufactured; because quite clearly the
    music in the UK is completely original and we have never allowed such
    music to become popular, it is completely unheard of! For a country that
    is supposed to be quite open minded and international, who’d have
    thought that there would be an issue with foreign language songs and
    culture introducing themselves into “our” market? I guess it must be
    partly to do with the fact that East Asia has tended to keep itself to
    itself for the past hundreds of years or so, and we’ve had such a great
    time colonising people and forcing our language and culture on them
    we’ve seemed to miss the fact that we didn’t consume the entire world
    and that the world still remains full of language and culture. What I
    think is upsetting is the fact that they must release an album in
    English that they must conform to our language and be accepted by our
    society in order to succeed; to disguise their korean ethnicity with
    white masks while also heavily emphasising their manufacturedness. What a
    shame, I imagine they will fel incredibly intimidated out of their
    comfort zone and not survive in an English language dominated industry,
    and fly back to korea reporting their “success” but preference to remain
    asia bound ;]

    The peopl commenting on that paper they know
    squat about the music industry of Korea yes it is fulll of money
    grabbing manufactured companies that exploit the dreams and talent of
    pre-adolescent children, but there is also just as many talented and
    wonderful musicians in the UK hello have they heard of Sungha Jung!! The
    same goes for Japan incredibly individual and creative styles going on
    there ^ ^ Not to mention the beauty and elegance of traditional music
    and instruments such as the koto or gayageum. To make such
    bold statements about korea having nothing to offer to the music world
    is truely a shame. But that bloody racist, nothing to offer to the
    “world” yet it’s big in asia so basically the “world” doesnt include
    asia eejit, bet he didnt even realise what he’s implying! Oh yes and not
    to mention Korea is where some of the world’s best dancers and yes that
    is the WORLD AND ASIA wow!!

    Any way it is a real shame that a country oozing with talent must bear an image that is acceptable to, well, the rest of the world that isn’t asia in order to succeed commercially and that their original image must be altered ( and I don’t mean with plastic surgery oh haha the industry is a metaphor for it’s international expansion!) in order to blend in with the likes of the overly manufactured Rihana or Lady Gaga eeeh. I don’t think they will acheive success in the wider world, at least SNSD they are just not built ( oh here we go again with that plastic surgery i do make myself laugh im just anticipating the denial!) to survive in a western, english environment. I think in mainland europe the likes f france and germany spain they will accept them more because you see they’re more open minded about foreign language and cultures (well ok I take that back about France haha when you learn about that Republic you just can’t make a statement like that oh dear…) cause they’re not english speakers but have our english language forced on them tooooo, so SNSD could work in Europe but not so well in the UK. To be honest I have an opinion about this but at the end of the day as long as I’m happpy with my superly manufactured music that’s not from this world besides it’ll just start those nasty fans ooh vote for SNSD get them big and let them win mamas!! oh no i liked them before they were big here lah blah blah you dissed me for liking them now im going to diss you for dissing me and not like them anymore!! Go back into your holes and stop spamming facebook and twitter and making anti groups about the ones you “loved” i don’t know if theyre worse than the saesang, could it be a new breed of saesang is on the horizon after the introduction of their precious music to their own culture they turn madly against them??? what will happen!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Geraldine Anderson

    I made an article reply <3

  • Geraldine Anderson

    and may I point out, before the ELFs get you, you spelt super junior wrong haha yeah I saw one direction posters in japan whoop go UK mainstream manufactured stuff!!!!

  • Theorist

    Pretty sad that there some good kpop artists who are not idols.