To the uninitiated ear and eyes, K-pop songs all sound the same, and K-pop groups all look the same
By Yasminka Lee in Bangkok
Everyone’s into Korean pop, except me it seems.
Last month, I got a crash course on K-pop at a Korean Wave concert with practically almost all the big names accounted for: CNBlue, Girls’ Generation, Wonder Girls, FT Island, 2PM, 2AM, Beast, Miss A, Son Dambi, After School, SG Wannabe, Brown Eyed Girls, Secret, Sistar, 4Minute, MBLAQ, Norazo and TVXQ (Yunho and Changmin).
Of course, to a non-K-pop fan like me, these names didn’t mean anything but to the teenagers who flocked to the Rajamangla stadium in Bangkok, they were everything. Many of them even paid 6,000 baht (US$198) just to see their favourite stars up close. And only for an average of three numbers each group.
The seated and standing zones that were closest to the stage were filled with teens waving either light sticks or pictures of their pop idols. I tried to identify them but failed miserably, and the only time I empathised was when they started the show with an introduction of the dramas that Korean TV network MBC—one of the sponsors—has produced.
All right, I may not be hopeless when it comes to Korean pop culture after all. I know some of the drama stars, but the thing is, none of them were there that night except for that dude who played a support role in the recent modern royal love story drama My Princess. And even then, I don’t know his name and wasn’t sure if he was from 2AM or 2PM (a check showed he’s from B2ST).
And that’s one beef I have with all these K-pop groups. What exactly is the difference between 2AM and 2PM, aside from 12 hours in between them? And why make spelling their names that complicated when you can just say BEAST (for B2ST) and TO ANYONE (for 2NE1). Don’t even get me started on why TVXQ is sometimes known as DBSK, not that it matters when the group has already disbanded and all that’s left in the original group are Yunho and Changmin (so perhaps they can consider a name change too?).
The show started with B2ST and I would have been proud to tell my immediate teenage neighbours—who at that time were screaming their heads off—I know one of them because he appeared in this drama, if only they didn’t look all the same to my untrained eyes. I was trying to spot the guy all through the group’s three numbers but it was an epic fail.
Thank goodness there was a short video introduction before each segment, perhaps for non-fans like me though it wasn’t really necessary since I must have been the only clueless soul in the gigantic stadium that night. But even with the introduction, I still had to tap my pink sisters, I mean, the teens seated next to me in their pink dresses with the Lady Gaga-inspired headbands, to ask who was performing onstage.
“SISTAAH!” one screamed at my ear. “WHO? TIARA?” I thought I was smart to remember a Korean group named “Tiara” (of course it’s Kara, the only no-show in the line-up that night).
She shook her head and wrote on my iPad, as if not trusting I would be able to spell the name correctly. She was right, I would have spelled it “Sister”.
I found out they were fans of Girls’ Generation so they wore pink. Earlier, I was puzzled how come SNSD was not among the names being mentioned onstage that night and I was to learn later that Girls’ Generation also goes by SNSD. Sigh, I never thought K-pop was this complicated.
Meantime, the teens standing behind me were all screaming and waving their light sticks in the air as another group came onstage: MBLAQ. It stands for Music Boys Live in Absolute Quality (OK, I don’t know which is more funny, this or Japanese pop’s SMAP, which stands for Sports Music Assemble People, but that’s for another column).
The fans sang along to the English words in the chorus, shouting “Oh yeah!!!” and “Come back!!!” while I was thinking, oh no, please don’t.
When CNBlue came onstage, I paid more attention because many of my friends are fans of this group. And I discovered to my pleasant surprise—and relief—that this was not going to be another song-and-dance number straight from the factory. CNBlue is actually a band and they brought the audience up on their feet with their rousing numbers I wouldn’t have minded if they performed till the end.
But of course they didn’t and I watched with increasingly glazed eyes as another generic girl group with the unimaginative name of Secret came onstage. By the time 2AM and 2PM performed, I was seriously lost. Thanks to Nichkhun though, not exactly totally lost. At least I could differentiate which was 2AM and 2PM.
I was getting bored I started asking the people around me if they understood what they were singing. They shook their heads but still sang anyway. At least they were having fun while all I could think of was to run as a plethora of pop stars came onstage one after another, as if on a factory assembly line.
The music started to sound monotonous to my K-pop uninitiated ear and a migraine was coming. Not only that, an eye strain too, trying to spot the difference between all these groups.
I had hopes that things would improve at the show’s second half when After School came out performing with drums. But as soon as they ditched the drums, I could no longer tell the difference among them. Girls’ Generation, Wonder Girls, Brown Eyed Girls—they’re all like Barbie dolls in a generic mold. I couldn’t even wait for “old school” K-pop—TVXQ—and made a beeline for the factory’s showroom exit.
(First published in AsiaNews magazine on April 8, 2011. Copyright: Asia News Network)