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It’s time to take Kpop seriously. Every pop culture form reaches a point where the product attains sufficient depth and complexity to merit serious critical attention, as opposed to sociological analysis or entertainment business history chronicling. For western pop, that moment came in 1967, with the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. For Kpop, that time is now. This is Kpop’s Sgt. Pepper moment.

To understand this moment, we need first to consider Kpop’s genesis and growth. Kpop has its origins in the processes that have transformed South Korea in the past two decades. Without the liberalization of Korean society at the end of the 20th century, Kpop would never have come into being. The military government that fell in 1987 had repressed rock and folk musicians as part of a larger policy of maintaining socially conservative norms. As the government democratized, so the media became open to a wider range of voices and styles. As part of this opening, the 11th April, 1992 saw one of the talent shows that were and still are a mainstay of television in Korea broadcast an act that broke with the hitherto dominant ballads and nightclub standards; Seo Taiji and the Boys drew on New Jack Swing and hip-hop in their performance of “Nan Arayo”. Kpop was born that evening. The show’s judges gave “Nan Arayo” the lowest score of the show, older viewers were bemused, but an enraptured younger audience, thrilled by both the new sound and the accompanying dance moves, rushed out the following day to buy “Nan Arayo” and kept it at the top of the charts for four months. More… “Kpop”

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What is a super-fan? I think immediately of the Beatles. There’s that scene in A Hard Day’s Night in which adoring fans chase the band. The guys are smiling — John and Paul and George and Ringo — but there is a note of hysteria. Madness has been unleashed, some special category of desire that has made physical contact with a Beatle more important than anything else in the universe.

 

I remember watching old footage of young girls screaming their brains out and then collapsing in a heap as The Beatles performed. I asked my parents what was wrong. It scared me. It seemed that something terrible was happening. These people were having an experience that was too much for them. They were willing to do anything, in my eyes: throw themselves from cliffs, rend flesh, erase their… More…