It was the year 2010 when an unsuspecting petite girl who, might I add, was studying for her 11th std finals, stumbled upon a music video that stupefied her. Frustrated with studying 24×7, not to mention the subject of her studies was at the time the much abhorred subject of Physics, which had been taught to her and her class by a Teacher who could not, for the life of him, frame a proper sentence in English – a language she understood better than Tamil and her own ‘mother tongue’ but I digress – she sat on the sofa and sifted through the channels, searching for her favourite, Animax.
Who knew a channel as harmless as Animax would lead her into a world of chaos and intrigue by airing a music video of Super Junior’s Bonamana. Blown away by the beauty of the boys singing with glaringly obvious auto-tuned voices, and dancing with the ease of professionals, the unsuspecting girl googled them on her computer, which led her to the music video on YouTube, which, in turn, led her to her first K-Pop love, SHINee. The chaos and storm of emotions that ensued in the days and years succeeding that would be ingrained in her mind to this day.
That girl was me.
Discovering mainstream Korean Pop music, or as everyone knows it, K-pop, has made me more conscious of my surroundings, of Asian Society including my own. I have never told this to anyone, but I’ve been brought up in, what people would call it, a Western household. Yes, you read that right. Western. It is so because as long as I’ve remembered, I have been more exposed to Western culture than my own Indian heritage. The acceptance of the LGBT community, female empowerment, atheistic outlook, broken homes, aversion to cliques and bullying of any kind, etc came naturally to me, almost as if I had been born with this outlook. And I’m thankful for it – to my elder sister who is the reason why I had been exposed to such elements. I always thought that people all over the world except those of my country had the same outlook as me. I was wrong.
K-Pop exposed me to Korean music and Korean culture. It seems that I’ve been following Korean music, music that has nothing to do with mainstream K-pop, more than K-pop itself. The exposure to Korean culture has made me loathe and love the country. But isn’t it the case with everyone? Every country has a flaw, some one too many, and it is our job to make it a better place.
I think my acceptance of K-pop was easier for me due to my love for Japanese culture and anime/manga. Ever since discovering the earworm that is K-pop, I have been learning more and more about Korea from different sites and people, such as, Allkpop, YouTube, etc; more particularly, The Grand Narrative, SeoulBeats and Eat Your Kimchi.
There is a lot I like about Korea. But a Yin always has its Yang and thus, there are a lot I hate about it too. But I would still love to one day visit the country along with Japan and USA.
In the beginning, when I thought of Korea, I thought of K-pop, which in turn led me to think, and I quote from The Hindu, a country where “the girls are pretty, and the boys are prettier.” However, now when I think of Korea, I think of clean streets, polite citizens, hospitality, euphonious language, interesting habits, xenophobia, homophobia and obsession with beauty. Also the fact that it has one of the highest suicide rates in the world which saddens me, really. Yes, homophobia and xenophobia exist in every country – even my own – but not to the extent present in South Korea. Forget that it exists in every country. Displaying such behavior is wrong.
Hong Seok-cheon [more on him, later]
What is the first thought that comes to your mind? Gay. No, not that he is a Korean actor, but that he is a gay Korean who was harassed in every which way by his own fans.
The rapper who allegedly forged his documents of educational qualifications; the fire he was shoved into by a family member, anti-fans, and fans. A true genius who has written beautiful songs that has placed him 2nd on my “Favourite Rappers” list, right after Eminem. Calling him an idol would be a gross insult. He was and still is a rapper with a purpose who hasn’t let strangers and back-stabbing friends destroy him completely.
I am a person who lets other people’s problems affect my emotion, or so what my sisters have told me. It is true though because I cannot tell you how much I cried myself to sleep after reading the complete story of both celebrities. My inability to help them in any way horrified me, though the thought was completely illogical for what could I, an 18-year-old Indian could have possibly done? YG wouldn’t have let me into their building any way and I don’t know jack about Hong.
I have read many articles on Korean culture, from the perspective of foreigners living there and I am horrified by the kids’ obsession with beauty. What disgusts me is that it is because of the educated parents that kids have grown to think this way. And it reminds me of the colourism prevailing in India. How can one find a person unattractive just because they are dark?! I have read articles on Korean televisions’ incessant airing of skin-lightening and other beauty products, of billboards and posters of beauty products put up everywhere possible. There are surgeries that I have never heard of – Double eyelid, jaw reconstruction, getting ‘stretched’, etc. What is so great about having double eye-lids? What is funny is that most of us international fans never noticed the idols’ eye-lids until we came across gossips about so-and-so having double eye-lid surgery. It shows just how insecure people are about their looks. I can never understand why one can’t appreciate natural beauty. Beauty isn’t only on the outside; it’s on the inside too. I do not look like a model. I’m short, plain and dark complexioned, but I’m proud with the way I look. Moreover, yes, it is common sense that obesity is NOT a good thing. However, that does not give one the right to be hostile to an obese person. A friend of mine has been living in Korea for a music camp or something of the sort. Luckily, she has made a lot of friends of the right kind who do not care that she is over-weight. But she has received looks of disgust from passers-by and even a taxi driver! Living in Korea has even made a few of my friends conscious about their figure, which is not fine when you starve yourself to attain the perfect figure. It isn’t even about taking care of your body. A boyfriend who forces you to starve yourself does not love you. You are who you are and the people who don’t care about you for you do not matter. They will never matter.
Even I, a person who lives all the way in India, have noticed the colourism that is present in Korea. The K-Pop music videos that have foreigners in it have only those who are as white as a marble. Even Hello Baby that had boasted about featuring “bi-racial” kids in their MBLAQ season had only ‘white’ kids in it. Not even a single African American was present in AshGray’s and CNBlue’s music videos. Speaking of AshGray, don’t even get me started on the sexual objectification of women, especially MINORS, in K-Pop and every other field. This post could go on and on about such issues, however it will not.
What also bother me are the lies that the Korean Media spreads about ‘lustful foreigners who prey on Korean women and are the reason for the increased crime rates’. The media also tend to exaggerate on the fame of K-Pop, especially after Gangnam Style, which is ironic because this is exactly what Gangnam Style makes a mockery of. K-Pop is NOT famous. Most of the international fans are Asians themselves. I’m not trying to insult K-pop, I only hate the superiority complex that tends to takeover K-pop fans. What is disgusting is when K-Pop fans defend their beloved idols for their wrong-doings – that ‘it’s not their fault’ and that ‘they’re only human’. Well, I’m only human and I have sense enough to not drink and drive, or make fool out of myself on national TV. There is a fine line between admiring someone and blindly obsessing over them. It’s scary that many K-Pop fans think of their idols as, well, theirs. Also, I don’t like the fact that everyone just have to keep their eyes on celebrities and judge them; their logic of ‘S-line’, ‘V-line’, ‘X-line’, ‘begal girl’ or whatever it’s called, all that, it’s just laughable and ludicrous. Jyotiba Phule and many other freedom fighters of India believed that education is the one thing that would eradicate the evils of society. So why is it that these well to-do and educated families are so…..messed up? Could it be the pressure that is weighed upon them? Are they themselves their own undoing?
K-Pop seems to have been the main subject of this essay so far, which is not wrong because K-Pop is a reflection of the mindset of the people. You can learn a lot from an idol’s words and actions, a music video, a variety show and articles written by individuals living there.
What distinguishes South Korea from other countries is what makes South Korea – its people and its culture, everything in it. There is a lot about South Korea that I like. The movies – I cannot explain just how much I have enjoyed watching Korean movies. Not the clichéd ones, but the ones that are out-of-the-box, creative, satirical, about everything that is wrong with the world – It’s just brilliant. Which is precisely why Bollywood has tried to rip-off many of them and that Hollywood have made quite a few remakes of them. The culture in Korea is most interesting as well, which intrigues me to no end, a result from watching EYK’s videos. I can also relate to its culture because it shares similarities with Indian as well as Japanese culture.
Korean food is mouth-watering and I’ve always dreamt of tasting it. Alas, there are no Korean restaurants within the vicinity nor can I afford to go to Korea. EYK’s FAPFAP videos have always made my stomach grumble.
Korea is a very….clean country. This is more than I can say about India. Though India is the most diverse country with awesome food and traditions, it still lacks in the hygiene department. I would love to visit Korea just to walk on its streets and breathe the fresh air. The country is more organized too which is a major plus-point in my book. Plus, have you seen their airport?
Korean fashion is beautiful. I love the traditional Hanbok as much as I love the Kimono. I would LOVE to try it on. Apart from traditional clothes, the fashion sense of Koreans is very colourful. They wear a lot of colourful clothes that look beautiful and which I cannot find in the stores in India. The small trinkets and useful things that have been featured on EYK’s WTF videos are amazing, things that I had never knew existed. I would love to shop there!
One major reason why my dream is to visit South Korea is to meet idols, watch them perform, check out areas where indie bands perform. I want to meet Tablo and tell him that I will always be his fan, that there are others like me who have got his back; that he is one of the most inspiring people I have come across. I would love to attend Nell’s concert and may be even meet them to let them know that I love their music and that even though I do not know Korean, their music still speaks to me in more ways words ever could. Music has always and will always be my life so Korean music has been my focus when it comes to Korea. As a result I have fallen in love with traditional Korean music, and would love to learn more about it. It’s saddening that something so mainstream has gained more popularity than something this beautiful. There is more I would like to write, but sadly, every beginning must have an end.
Korea can correct its problems. Every country can correct its problems, and I think the Korean Government (which I hope isn’t like ours) should not only focus on overseas fame and tourism, but also focus on improving their own country, that is, the mind-set of its people. If South Korea wants to be known for the beauty of its people, culture and places, then I think they should not only focus on external beauty, but also on internal.