Want a comprehensive introduction to K-Pop girl groups? Well my website is for you!
For my main digital artifact, I have been investigating Korean girl groups. So far, I have reacted to three videos and also provided a bit of extra background information. In my second blog post, I realized the extent of my my prior knowledge and bias, and how they had effected my reactions to the K-pop. In order to gain another perspective, I had my dad watch and react to the same videos as I had in my post.
I thought my dad would be an interesting person to choose because we come from the exact same cultural background except he knows basically nothing about girl groups. As a bit of a disclaimer, my dad knows I like Fifth Harmony and therefor thinks that they are always the correct answer. Although it may seem like it, I promise I’m not threatening him to talk about Fifth Harmony. So with out further ado here is my dad reacting to Korean girl groups:
Only after filming and editing this video did I realize that it may not actually count as autoethnography. Ellis et al (2010) say “When writing an autobiography, an author retroactively and selectively writes about past experiences.”. The ‘auto’ in autoethnography does of course refer to the self, but Ellis et al (2010) also say “In writing, the author also may interview others…to help with recall”. I would still consider this autoethnography, as I filmed it and am now using it in relation to my own experience. It allows me to generate epiphanies about my opinions and thoughts when compared to those of others.
Overall, my dad and I had pretty much exact opposite experiences with Korean girl groups. I enjoyed the bright colours and the franticness of the videos whereas my dad did not. The last video was my least favourite of the three, whereas my dad thought the videos got continually better. What I think the main take away is though, is that my dad didn’t want to watch any more videos after three, whereas I wanted to keep watching as many as I could.
I think this all comes back to me having a lot of knowledge and experience with girl groups. I know the formula, the tropes, I can see past a lot because I know what I’m looking for. Despite these videos being Korean, they were all very similar to what I was already used to. My dad could probably count on one hand the number of girl group music videos he’s seen (plus three more now), this is probably why he prefers the more simple videos with less going on. I also think it’s interesting that my dad was a lot more likely to comment on cultural differences within the videos than I was.
Overall, this made for an interesting comparison.
Recently I experienced K-pop girls groups for the first time (as detailed in my previous blog post), and it’s only now that I realize how weirdly bias I was in my approach.
In a class called ‘Digital Asia’, the main point of my foray into Korean pop was meant to be to expose myself to Asian culture in order to investigate my cultural assumptions and biases, and yet throughout my entire post I barely make note of the ‘Asianness’ of the experience (whatever that would mean).
I chose to look into Korean girl groups in particular because I am already a big fan of girl groups. I thought this would be an advantage because i would already have some prior knowledge, but i’m beginning to think this is working as more of a disadvantage. By trying to keep an open mind about cultural differences, I instead ignored the ingrained culture of the experience all together. In the back of my mind, I was comparing every video I saw to those I had already seen, even though that was the opposite of what I was trying to do.
Autoethnography isn’t about ignoring your biases, it’s about acknowledging them and the way the affect your research. I thought I understood this, but I’m know realizing that my biases run deeper than I thought, and instead of ignoring them I should be embracing them. This is great in theory but now brings me into another difficult situation; how can I embrace my biases without falling into the trap of reducing my research to east vs west? This isn’t really a question I know how to answer yet, but hopefully the more I delve into my research the more I start to see culture as a spectrum rather than a binary.
Speaking of research let’s get into some actual information because so far this has felt like a very long introduction. One of the points I did make in my last post was that it seems that there is a lot of money behind several of these groups. Two of the groups I watched, Girl’s Generation and Red Velvet, are both signed to S.M. Entertainment.
S.M. Entertainment certainly does have a lot of money. Wikipedia says that last year (2016) they made US$313 million in revenue and a net profit of US$21 million. This makes sense as they are arguably the largest music label in all of Asia. I did worry me slightly that this large profit may not be reflected in the pockets of the artists, but in 2012 S.M. Entertainment gave shares 47 of their signed artists, including Girl’s Generation who each received 680 shares. This sounds like it would earn them a massive profit as the company has continued to nearly double its income every year since, but unfortunately this hasn’t been reflected in their share price which has instead dropped significantly over the past 5 years (small disclaimer I know nothing about the stock market).
Over the years, S.M Entertainment has actually had numerous disputes with acts signed to them usually over unfair pay, being overworked, and the length of their contract, which for some was a shocking 13 years.
Now I know what you’re thinking, how can I be overworked and exploited in order to attract millions of fans? Well you’re in luck because auditions to be a be apart of S.M Entertainment are held almost constantly. If you are a Singer, Dancer, Model, Actor/Actress or Composer/Lyricist you could be the next big thing in Asia and around the world, with auditions held all around the world. In fact, almost all of the members of Girl’s generation and Red Velvet joined their respective groups after auditioning (with a few being scouted) and being accepted into the S.M. Entertainment training system.
Although this may seem a strange system, it’s actually how most girl groups anywhere in the world are formed. Fifth Harmony and Little Mix all auditioned for and were put together on their countries X Factor, the recently broken up Neon Jungle were all scouted in person or online, even the Spice Girls all auditioned for their part in the group. Unfortunately, bad contracts and poor treatment also aren’t uncommon for girls groups across the world. Audio was recently leaked of Lauren Jauregui of Fifth Harmony complaining that the group was being treated like “literal slaves”. I’m not making this point to show that this is acceptable but rather to highlight that girl groups around the world aren’t really that different. I’ve heard people make comments about the way k-pop girls groups are inauthentic and overworked but the same arguments can be made against almost any girl group.
And on that note this post comes to an end. Did I manage to avoid east vs west comparison? Not really, but I think I did it in such a way that looked at the music industry as a whole instead of just comparing the two.
This project has really changed direction in the last couple of weeks but I’m happy where it’s going. I feel like I’m looking deeper and I’m really getting a better understanding of something I thought I didn’t know a lot about.
I’ve been on Tumblr for about six and half years now, and in that time, I’ve seen many of the blogs I follow go through many transitions. Changes in fandom, hobbies, or even sometimes location, all affect what people post. However, no change is as immediately apparent as when someone discovers Korean girl groups. Overnight, entire blogs change. Icons, URLs, content, even the blog’s layout, is completely different to reflect their new-found love of K-pop. If I’m honest this is probably the reason I had never even googled any Korean girl groups before today, I was slightly scared that I would become one of these people; that I would seemingly forget all other interests, and my life would be consumed.
Now I know this all sounds a bit over dramatic but this is genuinely what it seems like from my perspective. However, today this will all change, as it is finally time for me to take that leap into the world of Korean girl groups.
In order to even find a starting point, I looked on one these blogs I mentioned earlier…and was immediately overwhelmed. Just looking at tags I couldn’t tell what words were people’s names, or names of groups, or maybe even just unrelated words. Eventually though I did find three groups to look into: Mamamoo, Girl’s Generation, and Red Velvet. Of the three, Girl’s generation was the only group I had previously heard of, and even then, all I knew was that they had a lot of members.
In order to find videos to watch I went to find the different group’s YouTube channels. Mamamoo have their own YouTube channel, but Girl’s Generation and Red Velvet’s music videos are posted to their music labels channel, S.M. Entertainment (a music label to which both are signed).
The first video I watched was Girl’s Generation’s most viewed music video ‘I Got A Boy’. The video has nearly 200 million views and was released four years ago.
I just want to start by saying this video is a lot. There is a lot of girls, and a lot of locations, and different clothing changes. They’re also mostly singing in Korean which I don’t understand but they do occasionally sing some lines in English. The actual style of music seemed to constantly change and transition throughout. It pretty much feels like several songs smashed into one but in the best way possible. This is only the first video I’ve watched, and I think I loved it. I forgot to mention before but I’m a pretty big fan of girl groups already, and Girl’s Generation – just going off this one video – to me seems to be almost perfect. The level of production, the dance routines, the outfits, the signing (the harmonies!). In every aspect, the girls were individual but also cohesive as a unit. The video felt flirty but not overly sexually. I honestly would love to watch this a million more times, but I have other videos to watch.
The next video I watched was Red Velvet’s ‘Dumb Dumb’ music video. This video was released a year ago and has over 80 million views.
I really liked this one as well. I can already feel myself falling into a hole of Korean girl groups. This video felt a lot more stylised that the last, it was more focused on a certain aesthetic. Once again, I couldn’t understand most of what they were actually singing, but the song reminded me a lot of Ariana Grande. This group only had five girls, compared to nine in the last video, which made it a lot easier to focus on the girls as individuals, which was also help by the fact there was roughly half the amount of costume changes. Overall, although this didn’t impress my quite as much as the Girl’s Generation video, I was still really impressed. Just the sheer production value in these videos is incredible; it clear there is a lot of money behind these groups.
The third video I watched is Mamamoo’s music video for ‘Decalcomanie’. This video was released nine months ago, and has nearly 4 million views (which is much much less than the last two).
I don’t want to be too harsh, but this video felt almost boring compared to the last two. It could have almost been a live performance, as there was only one costume/location change, and the video seemed to focus mainly dancing. This video felt to have a lot lower budget than the last two, and overall was just less flashy. Don’t get me wrong, if a girl group I liked came out with a video like this I would still be happy with it, it just feels like a slight let down compared to how much I liked the first two.
Overall, I really enjoyed this delve into Korean girl groups. Mostly I’ve just been blow away by the high production value. I can really see how people become all consumed by the groups, seemingly overnight. As to whether my own Tumblr will be receiving a sudden transformation, at this point I’d say no, but I feel like I’ve only just scratched the surface. Watching these videos made me want to watch more, but it also made me wanted to know more about this industry; how much money is in it, who are the girls in these groups, and what are the companies and structure like behind the scenes? These are all question I’m actually kind of excited to look into.
Autoethnography is one of my favourite kinds of words. It’s a portmanteau. Think Brangelina or sexting. A portmanteau is a new word made by combining two existing words. In the case of autoethnography, it’s made up of the words autobiography and ethnography, and in order to understand what these two words mean together, we must first understand them separately.
Autobiography usually involves the author’s reflection on personal past experiences. It is written retroactively and selectively (Ellis, Adams & Bochner 2010). Autobiographies are usually written in a narrative style, and attempt to convey ‘lessons’ the authors has learnt through past experiences. Autobiographies are extremely subjective. They are less about telling exactly what happened, and more about expressing how experiences made the author feel.
Ethnography on the other hand, is the study of “a culture’s relational practices, common values and beliefs, and shared experiences” (Ellis, Adams & Bochner 2010). Instead of telling one person’s story, ethnography attempts to provide information about a group or culture. Ethnographic research is usually carried out through participant observation (Ellis, Adams & Bochner 2010), where the researcher places themself within a culture in order to get a first hand experience.
Autoethnography combines both autobiography and ethnography in order to become something even more than both. Autoethnography recognises “the impossibility of and lack of desire for master, universal narratives” (Ellis, Adams & Bochner 2010) and instead embraces an author’s personal biases. Autoethnography combines the professionalism and analysis of ethnography, and the narrative and personal reflection of autobiography to create “meaningful, accessible, and evocative research grounded in personal experience”.
My first memory of noticing this style of research – although I didn’t know what it was at the time – was Melissa Anelli’s novel ‘Harry, A History’ (2008). ‘Harry, A History’ is about the fan culture surrounding the “Harry Potter’ franchise. The book details a cultural event spanning many years, as well as describing Anelli personal experiences and feelings. I think I was around 13 when I first read this book, but I’ll never forget the section detailing the 9/11 terrorist attack. Although it had nothing to do with the Harry Potter phenomena, it was an important event shaping America and particularly Anelli’s own experiences around that time. The book combined personal anecdotes and feelings, as well as a thorough examination of a culture. It was informative and well research, but also entertaining and compelling. It was a good book, because although I may not remember every fact, I remember the story, and how it made me feel.
Good autoethnography combines research with stories, to create something larger than it’s parts. It informs but also entertains, and most importantly, it is honest in its intentions.
While I’d consider my media interests diverse, I must acknowledge they are almost entirely western. I don’t shy away from subtitles, but they’re usually attached to some arty french film or a late night scandi crime drama on SBS. It’s not that I’m completely uninterested in Asian media, it’s mostly that I just don’t know where to start. My previous experience of any Asian media is the anime K-On! (2009), which I’ve watched an embarrassing amount of times, and I only found it because it came on the ABC when nothing else was on television. Even with this as my experience, It’s almost impossible to have completely no knowledge of Godzilla (1954). In fact, one of my favourite films, Pacific Rim (2013), is heavily based on Godzilla.