Some of us are using this unprecedented time to work on projects that have gotten away from us. My latest project, KPOPCULTURE, a never ending quest to create a history of K-pop, is one such project!
From KPOPIANA to the Kpop Collaboration Project, I have been working on projects that seek to document and describe K-pop’s development, structure and how we think about it. Such research is the essence of a mission impossible research project, one that relies on ever-shifting sources on K-pop on the Internet and constant development of the music in general. But most importantly, it’s a challenge doing this work for 10 years, especially in the early years when K-pop was not even recognized as a legitimate object of study. But research is not dependent on what’s popular and trendy; it’s driven by curiosity.
Working with undergraduate students, my colleague Kaetrena Davis Kendrick and I trained students (and pretty anyone else, really) back in 2011 to use digital tools to find and evaluate key information about K-pop and its culture using our KPK: KPopKollective site housed on good old WordPress. Our Kpop Essentials defined common terms used by K-pop fans, while Solo Artists and Groups provided basic information (like explanation of fandom names!), discographies and videographies. We moved this project over to KPOPIANA, and used its more robust tools to document more extensive information.
At the core of such projects has always been curation and documentation. As my historian friends will tell you, it’s not just about information; it’s about crafting a narrative based on observing patterns, influence and relationships. This means not only going through a lot information, but putting that information in a form that explains and seeks to answer not just what but also why.
Which brings me back to KPOPCULTURE, my most adventurous project to date to capture a comprehensive history of K-pop. Housed in Omeka, a web-based content management system, KPOPCULTURE allows me to document and explain K-pop’s music, choreography, creative personnel and media. The project balances providing information to the public with more in-depth context-building to understand K-pop artists, the industry and the media.
For example, Omeka allows me to create items with more discrete information, like capsule profiles on artists like TVXQ, a group that recently had been deemed under-appreciated and little-known by current K-pop fans. Basics Items includes information about the K-pop artist as well as a selection of music videos that covers the breadth of a career. Omeka also allows me to use Items in Music Exhibits, such as SHINee: Like a Fire, a music exhibit that chronicles the group’s music through a curated playlist, music reviews and fan playlists. I have also created Special Exhibits, such as a retrospective of concepts used by Girls’ Generation (SNSD) in the exhibit, Girls’ Generation: Flower Power.
The quest continues! Let’s hope I can get more Items and Exhibits done.
Many professors bemoan the failure to do the assigned reading on the part of their students. But is that a reason to shy away from giving students challenging texts?
After regaling readers with the common experience of encountering students in the classroom who have not done the reading, Theresa MacPhail offers a solution in a recent piece for The Chronicle of Higher Education. She suggests assigning less reading: “Long story short: Don’t assign too much reading–and don’t assume you know how much reading is too much for your students.” Why? Because students are pressed for time and, “read only if they have time and if the readings are relatively easy to digest.” Moreover, she suggests that professors avoid long texts: “It may be the biggest reason students are no longer reading the things we assign. They have complained over and over again that a lot of assigned texts are just too boring or too long or–the deadliest of combinations–both at once.”
In her own classroom, MacPhail incorporates other kinds of material, including documentaries and podcasts. She only has students read a few scholarly texts during the course. The result: “My student are getting the information–but in formats with which they are most comfortable. Instead of reading more, they are doing more research and writing.”
There are two things that struck me. One is the idea that learning should be easy and comfortable. Whereas learning shouldn’t be torture, it also shouldn’t be without discomfort. I’m a proponent of meeting students where they are. At the same time, the goal is also to move the student forward, even if it’s just a little bit, and that often means taking the student out of a comfort zone to a new place that is unfamiliar and sometimes scary. But that’s ok! The unfamiliar then becomes familiar; then we move on to more unfamiliar things. What we should be doing is making students comfortable with being uncomfortable, with ambiguity, with not knowing and confident enough to charge ahead and grapple with difficult texts or challenging readings.
The other idea that struck me was placing reading in opposition to research and writing. As a person who designs and implements research programs for undergraduates and trains them to work on my own research, I know the value of reading for research. I know some academics who look down on basic bibliographic research, but that research is the foundation for any subsequent research. An inability to read well at this stage does not bode well later down the road. I have seen students who have never been asked to grapple with a “difficult’ text that challenged them. As a result, they lack the confidence and ability to do so. If a student never has to grapple with a dense text, then a student will never learn how to grapple with a dense text. But it’s about more than grappling with jargon or a boring text. It’s about developing critical reading skills that they can use anywhere.
Rather than denigrating difficult texts, perhaps what we should teach students is how to read smarter, which would really make the best use of their time and engage them with the material. Miriam E. Sweeney offers some great insights in her post, “How to Read for Grad School.” Instead of a cursory review of the material, these suggestions offer a reading strategy to ensure the reader understands the material at a sufficient depth to be able to engage its ideas. There are probably others who have written similarly.
In the 1970s, I remember seeing public service advertisements for the Reading is Fundamental program, which was designed to increase literacy rates. Reading is still fundamental. The way to address student reading is not to encourage students to avoid difficult reading, but to teach them how to engage it.
The K-pop fandom landscape has changed in the past few years. Data suggests that the general K-pop “idol” fandom is more divided than it was less than 10 years ago and challenges some widely held notions about the preferences of global K-pop fans. Read more at KPK: Kpop Kollective…..
OMO!: Korean and Chinese Drama and Commentary is my newest digital humanities project, which curates information on dramas and the global response to them in the form of reviews. It represents not only resource creation but also an examination of how global audiences make meaning of this transnational popular culture.
The project also includes the work of undergraduate researchers, providing the valuable experience of working on a research project. The first exhibit, City Hunter (2011), includes an analysis of the promotional poster as well as an overview as well as short-form and longer reviews compiled by De’siree Fairley, undergraduate research assistant. Users can view complete reviews in Evernote. As the project includes more dramas, we hope that we can determine a pattern in the consumption of dramas by global audiences.
Can’t decide which K-pop group or artist is your favorite? You are not alone! Global fans of K-pop tend to support several groups and artists at the same time, while their Korean counterparts tend to support only one group or artist. But why? And which groups tend to be in a global fan’s multi-fandom? This study seeks to answer these questions in survey that uses open-ended and multiple-choice questions. Take the survey and tell your friends!
One of the things that happens when conducting qualitative surveys is that they can raise more questions than they answer. This is what happened with the preliminary data from Last Fans Standing: Longtime and Adult Fans of Korean Popular Music (K-pop). Response rates were unusually low, which was unusual given the rising number of fans who have been fans for more than five years. I speculated that respondents may think that only adult fans who had also been fans for five years or more could take the survey. So, I revised the survey to focus solely on veteran fans of K-pop, individuals who had been fans for five years or more. The revised survey can be found here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/vetfans !
We Are One! EXO::EXO-L is the first fandom profile for my iFans project. Like the profiles to follow, it provides information on K-pop groups and their fandoms, including curated cover songs, cover dances and fan projects by fans. Click here to check it out!
When I go to conferences, I often end up answering questions from members of the audience after the presentation. Or, I’ll have random conversation with students from other institutions about my work. I’m happy to give others the benefit of my 18+ experience in academia as an active researcher of cultural studies. But why wait for a conference? If you are an undergraduate or graduate student, ask me your questions here, and I’ll tell you what I know! I won’t post your name, but if I can answer your question, I’ll post the question and answer. You can ask me about my work (see the site!), the research process and the college experience!
Whether it’s excited yelling by fans or crying by K-pop artists, emotions run deep in K-pop. While some focus on obsessive emotional attachments and behaviors by fans, research shows that fans themselves describe a range of emotional responses to K-pop. 100 responses by 18- to 30-year-olds show that fans find K-pop to be a source of happiness, hope and motivation. These responses are part of a five-year study on international fans of K-pop housed at KPK: Kpop Kollective.
Some writers tend to characterize fan activities and emotional expressions in negative terms. Patricia of Seoulbeats describes emotional expressions of appreciation for K-pop as bordering on obsessive: “I think there’s something to be said about my stance on the emotional toll that idol fandom takes on its devotees. That’s why I become so alarmed when I see these SHINee fans writing these intense emotional outpourings about how SHINee has changed their lives, or how much SHINee means to them. It breaks my heart to hear fans say that they turn to K-pop as a distraction for real life because their friends and family can’t offer them the same comfort that K-pop idols do.”
Adeline Chia writes that such emotions translate into obsessive behaviors: “Then there is K-pop’s effects on listeners. It turns functional people into crazed addicts, acting in robotic idolatry. . . . K-pop is also unique in inspiring extreme behaviour from fans and generating psychosis. Cyber-bullying and online smear campaigns are common practices by anti-fans who target a certain entertainer they hate. Sometimes, anti-fans turn into stalkers or criminals.”
To view entire “Can’t Stop Loving You” infographic, click here.
However, fans talk about the emotional appeal of K-pop in more positive terms. Some talk about overall emotions that go beyond the lyrics. One notes, “Kpop has the power to touch people even for those like me who don’t understand the lyrics. I think [it] is the r[h]ythm, the emotion in the voices, the dances. Kpop is like a best friend, it is here for you whenever you are happy or sad. Powerful stuff.” Another said: “The music is more touching and you can feel the emotions of the singers when they sing regardless of what genre.” Others link emotions to performances: “They sing and perform with passion and emotions, so even if you can’t really understand the lyrics you will get to know what it’s about by just listening. Kpop is not just another type of music it’s much more, that I can’t describe it with words” (Anderson).
These responses echo what scholars have discovered about emotional responses to music that transcend cultural differences. In a study with Western listeners listening to Hindustani ragas, Laura-Lee Balkwill and William Forde Thompson find that it is possible for music to travel cross-culturally: “According to our model, this indicates that the psychophysical cues for joy, sadness, and anger were salient enough to enable listeners to overcome their unfamiliarity with culture-specific cues and to make an accurate assessment of the intended emotion. . . . That naive listeners demonstrated such a high level of agreement with expert listeners, who were deeply familiar with the culture-specific cues embedded in the music samples, is remarkable” (58). In other words, listeners from other cultures can identify emotionally with music of a different culture, and this may shed light on why global fans identify with K-pop emotionally.
This emotional response runs the gamut. Many respondents describe how they find K-pop to be fun and happy. One notes, “Cause the music is always so free and fun to dance to. It simply makes me happy.” Another adds, “The songs are really refreshing, and listening to it puts me in a happy mood because of their lyrics and beats.” Other respondents link the happiness they feel from K-pop to their lives in general: “It always puts me in a good mood and makes me feel energized. Kpop sometimes can make you feel like your part of something bigger. It’s hard to explain but the feeling it gives you is great” (Anderson).
Others related K-pop to more somber emotions. One respondent says, “Because it’s very different and the music touches something in me, I mean this is not superficial, there are feelings in every song, this could be happiness or some sad feelings.” Another notes, “When I listen to sad songs I find that it have feelings in it and it will touched me too.” One says, “There’s an upbeat to the music that sometimes make you want to dance other times depending on where you heard it from makes you sad” (Anderson).
Some fans talk about how K-pop helps them through hard times. One respondent notes, “It was introduced to me at a hard time in my life and it has been the only music I listened to help me get through it.” Another says, “Kpop appeared in my life all of a sudden. I was really depressed back then and it helped me get out of my miserable state, pulled me out of the worst” (Anderson). Music can have the therapeutic effect these respondents describe. Annemiek Vink explains therapy methods, such as Guided Imagery in Music, which is “based on the assumption that the most appropriate music can be selected for healing purposes.” She further finds that the choice of music impacts the therapeutic results of GIM: “In all aspects, carefully selected music based on the person’s preference and personal background was far more effective than standard relaxation music” (153, 154).
This range of fairly positive emotions challenges negative characterizations of their emotional expression. These responses come from adults rather than young teenagers, so it is less convincing to describe them as obsessive along the lines of Chia. She refers to incidents involving K-pop celebrities, but respondents speak about their emotions mostly in relation to the music. When they do comment on the artists, it is often in terms of the positive relationship they have with fans. One notes, “The singers are so dedicated to their music and their fans. They put their real emotion into every word” (Anderson).
This emotional connection that some K-pop fans feel also translates into a discourse of protection, the desire to protect their group or artist from mischaracterizations. The Triple S Pledge encourages fans of SS501 “To support and shield them through hard times…To ignore rumors.” The same sentiments can be seen in the “Prom15e to Bel13ve and 10ve” philosophy held by some fans of Super Junior, which acknowledges every member regardless of current status or sub-group membership.
These findings suggest that emotion plays a role in the attitudes and opinions of adult global K-pop fans, often in a positive way.