My name is Ryan Catbagan, I’m a 21 year old Filipino and I’ve been living in Australia since I was 2 years old. I’ve always felt that my exposure to different cultures has in many ways been both broad and narrow. I have friends of many cultures, and eat many foods of different cultures, and I do know a lot about historical facts of these cultures. But I learnt through being in the subject BCM 320 Future Cultures that really my personal exposure to different cultures is limited to what I listed above. Through watching the original Godzilla movie, to Akira, to State of Play, I slowly became aware of how much I don’t know.
The central media form that I’ve engaged in throughout the years is music. So I feel it’d make sense to me that I immerse myself in the music of a different culture. One culture that I’ve always heard about in regards to music and how great it is, is Korea. So in this blog I will be looking into the music of Korea.
A Musical approach to Auto-ethnography
A musical approach to Auto-ethnography is about deconstructing the endless layers of musical elements in your consciousness. Your experience, the music you currently/used to listen to, your ideology and understanding of theory etc. That is the main components associated with the musical approach to Auto-ethnography. This is supported by this quote:
“Likewise, musicians move back and forth between the different layers of their musical consciousness in the interpretation and creation of musical works. In this creative process they draw on a wide range of musical experiences, memories and reference points, so that distinctions between the personal and musical become entangled.”
-Brydie-Leigh Bartleet (Making Autoethnography Sing/Making Music Personal)
This quote sums up the idea that a music approach to Auto-ethnography is about deconstructing the endless layers of musical elements in your consciousness. Your experience, the music you currently/used to listen to, your ideology and understanding of theory etc.
My exposure to different cultures is extremely limited, however my exposure to every genre of music is extremely wide. This is what makes my auto-ethnographic experience so immersing to me. Many other people who would dive into Korean Music would only be viewing these Korean songs for face value. Before even going into this I knew that the musical elements within these songs would be a large part of how I make sense of this. As it says in the article by Ellis;
“scholars began recognizing that different kinds of people possess different assumptions about the world—a multitude of ways of speaking, writing, valuing and believing—and that conventional ways of doing and thinking about research were narrow, limiting, and parochial.”
What I possess that makes how I make sense of this content unique to me is based on my musical background, and the fact I myself am of an asian background, which leads me to draw comparisons
My Experience with Music
My personal taste in music throughout the years have ranged to the extremes of different genres. I can create a Study playlist with Hardstyle EDM music to Johnny Cash to Drake to Metallica to Parkway Drive to RIhanna to Whitney Houston to The Eagles and much more. I’ve been in rock bands, metal bands, performed jazz music at school, and now I’m singing in a solo RnB/Rap project. My exposure to music of any genres is extremely wide and that’s something I take pride in.
I’ve always been open minded in how I consume music and film, and that’s what has led me to be as creative musically as I am. I am so interested to hear and compare the music of Korea with what I’m already familiar with.
Past Experience with Korean Music
Prior to diving in to Korean Music culture for this project, like a lot of people, my first exposure to Korean music was Gangnam Style by PSY in 2012.
I remember sitting in the library in school, playing video games, and my friend come up to me and saying “You need to watch this!”. It was on the day the video blew up and became no.1 trending video on YouTube. The song itself had very catchy melodies, and though was all in Korean, the chorus of “Oppa Gangnam Style” was instantly memorable. The electronic components also was very familiar and would be a typical sound on an EDM track in western music.
What instantly caught my interest however was the music video and the visuals. I’ll never forget first seeing the video and instantly laughing my head off. It was brilliant. It knew it would go viral. It was goofy to the point where it was impossible to not succeed. It really was amazing, and re-watching it now, it still holds up. And diving in to Korean Music, I do expect to see a bit of what Gangnam style brought us.
Coming into going into Korean Music, a friend of mine who is a big fan of Korean artists said, expect everything to be Over the Top.
Initially, when one says ‘Korean music’, the first word to come to mind is K-Pop. This is a culture within Korean Music which is the most popular and you would find many of the western population would actually be fans of.
In an online forum “What are the characteristics of K-pop” and one user wrote:
“Idol groups usually have these characteristics:
- Minimum of 4 members.
- There are roles: leader, vocalist, rapper, dancer, and the prettiest.
- Rapper seems mandarory. Girls’ Generation used to not have any rap, but it all changed since 2014.
- The members usually undergone some training, such as singing, dancing, and acting. Those who dance well but can’t sing will be rapper. Those who can’t dance and sing but too pretty will be an actress.
- Nowadays, cosmetic surgery is a must. Kpop companies take no risk anymore. They’d rather release a group containing 10 member with similar face than making an easy to identify group.
- Live singing used to be possible. But now it seems they prefer to present a great choreography with lipsyncing.
- Cheesy lyrics.
- Idol group usually tries very hard to get some fanatics. A lot of them force themselves to act cute or pretend to be gay towards other member because that’s what the market wants.
- The older the group gets, the sexier their concept become. A great example for this is Girl’s Day.
- The fanwars. I’m not sure if this is exclusive to kpop, but there are a lot of online fights between fandom. From what i can see, the first was between g.o.d and HOT fandoms, this time between EXO and BTS fandoms.”
In keeping this in mind I looked at a range of K-pop groups such as BTS, Exo, Big Bang, Girls’ Generation, SEVENTEEN, Blackpink (Live reaction video at the top) and Super junior just to name a few.
Every point that was listed above was relevant in almost EVERY SINGLE group I looked at. (Except maybe no.5 and no.9) It was absolutely fascinating watching all these videos and actually seeing these listed features. This made me look back at the boy bands and groups throughout the years that I’ve listened to. Backstreet Boys, Nsync, Boyz II Men and All-4-One. Though Backstreet Boys and Nsync are a different genre to Boyz II men and All-4-One, they all follow characteristics of typical bands of their genre, though more western influenced. The synchronised dancing, the fashion, the lyrics.
My exposure to those bands and groups when I was younger definitely impacted me to how I made sense of these K-Pop groups as while I was watching the videos, particularly those of BTS and Exo, I was just reminded by those bands. Even though the lyrics was in Korean, based on what I was seeing in the cheesy lovey dovey music videos, I always knew the songs were about being in love.
Music Videos and their Features
One thing Korean music videos are known for are their overproduced and very bright videos which feature a large array of colours that standout. As I watched videos of Korean bands in the genre of Pop/Hip Hop/RnB. I definitely saw this in every one. And Over The Top definitely applies here. Here are some examples:
Other characteristics I picked up on are a use of close up shots, and zoom outs as the band begin to dance in sync. The faces of each singer are usually completely over the top covered in make up (Well I assume; just watch the vids). Being a big “film guy” for years, that led me to observing these features.
Compared to Western music videos, Korean production just seems more clean in comparison and more genuine, though more over the top. In many videos I see today, there are multiple things I can pick up on such as quick cheap cuts, cheap effects, poor lighting (Not applicable to all western artists), however it seems all Korean artists have excellent production, and leads to the charm
Korean Rap/Hip Hop
One genre of music I was extremely excited to jump into was Rap/Hip Hop. I was interested to hear how the Korean language would work with the flows you would hear in modern rap. As I speak a second language (tagalog), I’ve heard how rhymes and words that go together in tagalog work in different ways when writing. I was very interested to hear how it would sound in a rap genre.
Rap music in Korea has been around since the 90’s with artists such as Seo Taiji and Boys’ who arguably paved the way in Korean Hip Hop. The genre through the years has slowly been growing and growing with more artists coming along the way including HU57LA, RYNO, JON and more.
Features of Korean Rap
Over the top Style.
As I was watching a range of Korean Rappers, the most prolific aspect was their fashion, and their aesthetics. I believe the fashion and aesthetics of these videos are internally influenced. By that I mean, they do not look at Western artists and copy their style. Watching these music videos I believe that the Korean fashion industry and cultural trends are the main influence.
The theme over the top is one that perfectly encapsulates the aesthetic of Korean rap, but most prominent in rap, and that’s part of the charm. That’s why there is an overseas following growing every year that’s bigger and bigger.
Though Western influence is highly prominent in rap styles as I always found similarities and comparisons to American rappers, Korean rappers integrated their culture into these styles such as fashion, dance moves, brands and more to make it their own.
Live Reaction Vids
The first video I checked out was called Wondaland
Here is my live reaction:
- Implements english language throughout and uses American pronunciation
- Very strong beat
- A range of different styled vocals by the different rappers which are influenced by western rappers. One specific part a homage to Eminem.
The next rap artist I looked at was Bobby:
- Massive over the top production-typical in Korean music
- Strong and memorable melodic instrumental for the hook
- Energetic performer
Rap and Language
An important aspect I observed is the relationship between language and rhyme. As I know how to speak a different language (Tagalog) I can tell you that for making words rhyme but also for the sentence to make sense, sometimes the rhyming word would have to be placed to the start of a sentence rather than the end. As I deconstructed these videos as best as I could, and with the help of my Korean mate for phrases, I found that the relationship between the language and rhyme patterns do a points limit structural patterns. This means the use of repetition of phrases and words to make the lyrics both make sense yet flow as well.
Rock and Metal music has been a love of mine since I first started listening to ACDC, up to when I discovered Metallica, and since then I’ve gotten into so many genres and sub genres of heavy music. I listened to Deathcore, Post Hardcore, Speed Metal and Thrash. I love it all. So this made me very interested to see what Korean music has to offer in the genre of metal.
So I looked into the Korean heavy metal band Crash who are described as pure adultered Thrash metal. Check out my reaction in the video below.
Important points I bring up in this video is that:
- Sound is a mix of 90’s Thrash metal and 2000’s Metalcore. Follows generic Metalcore elements with Thrash metal parts
- Comparisons can be drawn to Western bands such as Trivium,
- Trend of Screamed vocals in verse and Cleanly sung choruses
The most important point I brought up is that this band has a more “truer” metalcore sound than most Western metalcore bands as crash does not stray to mainstream elements that most Western Metalcore bands fall for.
The next Metal band I live reacted to was Diablo which is below
- Screaming style of vocalist reminiscent of Randy Blythe by Lamb of God and clean singing style sounds like Howard Jones by Killswitch Engage.
- Very generic riffs used
- The clean sung vocals weren’t overproduced; a more genuine and raw sound which bands of the 2000’s used. Nowadays in Western Metal the vocals are overproduced to the point where the bands fail to capture authenticity
After listening to these two bands as well as more I’ve come to the conclusion that the genre of Metal remains a sound that is very hard to culturally make unique. However it speaks volumes that these bands follow the sound they aim for in a very “true” and genuine sense unlike many Western metal bands who succumb to the pressures of the modern downfall of metal. Essentially what I made sense of the Korean Metal genre is that when they aim for a sound or subgenre (e.g Metalcore, Thrash Metal, Post Hardcore), the music is created in a fashion where is stays true to the elements of that sub-genre as opposed to many western metal bands who identify themselves as a certain styled band, but utilises mainstream or ‘what’s trendy’ components which stains the feel of their music.
Immersing myself into Korean music, I experienced several epiphanies that impacted how I made sense of the music. I was brought back to my high school music class all throughout as If I didn’t learn the theory, I wouldn’t have heard many things that stood out to me in the reaction videos. Watching the music videos themselves, as someone who’s been into film their whole life, I picked up apart technical elements which led me to the conclusion that their over the top style of production is what leads to the charm and style of Korean music. Such elements are the camera shots, the bright colours, the fashion and more.
I personally loved every single artists I checked out because while western influence was present, though for different genres there’s different levels of influence, they implement their own cultural influence which leads to the charm and uniqueness of these Korean artists.
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Ellis, C., Adams, T. and Bochner, A. (2018). Autoethnography: An Overview. [online] Qualitative-research.net. Available at: http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1589/3095 [Accessed 25 Oct. 2018].
Lee, M. (2018). 2015 Was Korean Rap’s Breakthrough Year. [online] Noisey. Available at: https://noisey.vice.com/en_au/article/r7pdnx/2015-the-year-korean-rap-broke [Accessed 25 Oct. 2018].
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