Tuesday, October 30, 2012

KOREAN MUSIC: miss A's Fei and Jia, Weak Links or Underappreciated?

The miss A is so far my most favorite from JYP because they have the offbeat style that sets them apart from other JYP artists. And most of all, all miss A members are quite evenly talented singers and dancers. Though, I like this group basically because of Fei and Jia who I think are the most talented in the pack. Thus, you'll probably know by now how sad I feel that they are the most underrated miss A's, sometimes considered the weak links on the group at least in Korea.

My heart especially goes out to Fei for some reasons. Firstly, even though she is the lead vocalist of the group, people think Min (who is also the lead vocalist) sings best of all other members. But I think Fei has really attractive voice when she sings. Secondly, even though she is a great dancer with a solid background in dance, people think Jia is the best dancer in the pack. Of course, I admit Jia is a darn good dancer but people, Fei is just as good! And lastly, of course I agree everyone has different taste in beauty but I think she's the most beautiful and gorgeous miss A who is always overshadowed by Suzy. (Maybe it's just me but whenever I see Fei and Jia, they respectively reminds me of Kim Ahjoong and Gong Li.)

Fei & Jia (of the miss A)

Now, let's first watch the music video (dance version) of their 2010 hit "Breathe." (Click to watch its official music video.) This video invites you to witness the delicately subtle details of Fei's and Jia's dance moves that make them stand out.

So, I wonder why Fei and Jia couldn't attract as many as fans I thought they would in Korea. Probably because the language barrier has kept them from being featured on TV talk shows or entertainment shows? Whatever the reason is, I hope JYP will get to promote other members as much as Suzy, just like SM has supported each and every member of SNSD to shine. Otherwise, the rest of the pack will probably become wasted talents in the long run 'cause I think they are already slipping into Suzy and the Girls.

BTW, their newly released album "Independent Women Part III" and its title track Namja eopsi jal sara (which translates to "I Don't Need a Man" or literally "I Can Live without a Man") is the best I've heard from them in a long time since their 2010 hits "Bad Girl, Good Girl" and "Breathe" and I really love this subtle Chinese flavor added to the song.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

KOREAN MUSIC: Lee Hi (Lee Hayi) Updates (9)

Lee Hi's Debut Single "" Unveiled

SBS's "K-pop Star" Season 1 runner-up Lee Hi just released her debut single "" today (Oct. 29 (KST), Oct. 28 (US Time)). The song was created by Choice37 and Lydia Paek, YG's in-house producers, and its lyrics were written by the rapper Masta Wu.  Choice37 also participated in writing Big Bang's "Bad Boy" and G-Dragon's "One of a Kind" and Lydia Paek (of Quest Crew) is a writer of 2NE1's "I Love You" and Park Bom's "Don't Cry."

YG Entertainment, her label/agency, promised that she had completely transformed her music as well as her look, beyond anyone's expectations, and her fans had been eagerly awaiting the release of her song/music video, the genre of which is known to be retro-soul.  And voilà!  Here's the music video of her debut single. (Please scroll down to see its English lyrics.)

In an interview he had with Star News yesterday (Oct. 28), YG (Yang Hyunseok) said he had become fascinated with Hi's twisted charm while producing her debut single. "As she's had no dance training ever, her dance moves in her music video will give fresh charm (to all her metamorphoses)," said he. The twist he sees in her is that her voice is really mature for her age (16 (Western age), 17 (Korean age)) yet her cute appearance exactly shows her age. He said, "When she danced to 2NE1's "I Am the Best" on her first "K-pop Star" stage, we the judges all laughed 'cause she was really cute. I saw there was more to her than just her cuteness. Something that is beguiling, as epitomized in her debut single."

Actually, I still remember how YG reacted to Hi's dance: "You danced like you got two left feet but I really like you - your confident look and sassy gestures. You must have been really nervous (but it didn't show)." Let us now watch her first "K-pop Star" stage, which brings a smile to my lips every time I watch it.

Lee Hi sings Jazmine Sullivan's "Bust Your Window" @ 0:44
and dances to 2NE1's :I Am the Best" @ 2:25.
(Aired on 12/11/11)

So how much do you think she's changed?  Do you agree with the direction she's heading in?


Hey, c’mon now!
I said, 1, 2, 3!

Stop kidding yourself by thinking I'm still yours.
I'm not the girl I used to be.
A flower has bloomed at the sound of morning dawning
but why can't you snap out of it?

(Refrain) ## I’m sick and tired of your hypocrisy.
Sloppy liar, ooh! Will you get lost already?
I think I’m going, going crazy, ooh!
I think I’m going, going crazy, ooh!

Don't look so miserable!
Please disappear, far away from me.
No, no, Nananananana!
Don't cry; it's pathetic.
Please forget everything forever
(=Please kiss everything goodbye),  no, no.

Don't worry about me and mind your own business.
I don't need your pity, uh!

I said, 1 and 2 and 3, 4 , ooh!
Time will fix everything.
1 and 2 and 3,  4, ooh!
Game over, game over, ooh!
Game over! ## 

 A girl like me is almost impossible to find.
I'm sometimes sexy and sometimes innocent
and it makes men surrender so childishly.


I'm so hurt.
You seem to have forgotten me already.
Hey baby, please leave me.

I said, 1 and 2 and 3, 4 , ooh!
Time will fix everything.
1 and 2 and 3,  4, ooh!
Game over, game over, ooh!
Game over!

1 and 2 and 3, 4!
1 and 2 and 3, 4!
1 and 2 and 3, 4!
Game over, game over, game over!


Music by Choice 37 & Lydia Paek
Lyrics by Masta Wu
Translation by ONSEMIRO

UPDATE 1: Summary of Two YG Interviews

YG said in today's interview that in her debut single and music video, Hi showed her fans everything she has in her at this point. He didn't even try to sugar coat or hide her weaknesses - she's a clumsy dancer. He didn't even think about making her have dance training. For Lee Hi is a soulful singer and clumsy dancer at the same time and they wanted her fans to take her the way she is.  He said he was proud of her 'cause her song is doing great when she is not a typical K-pop idol star. He said today's K-pop industry is pretty much all about dance music or ballad and the fans are thirsty for a different type of music/singers with new content. He said he really appreciates just how much K-pop fans acknowledge their effort.  (Sources: Star News & Dispatch)

UPDATE 2: Summary of Korean Blogger's Post  

YG & Lee Hi, Match Made in Heaven

Here's my summary of this blog post: The blogger first compared Hi's song and Jimin's and Ayeon's ballad song. He said Jimin and Ayeon made the best possible choice when they chose to sign with JYP 'cause it is the mecca ballad label/agency in S Korea. Comparing the fans' response to each singer's debut song, as of now, Hi's debut can safely deemed most successful of three. Of course, it was Hi's strengths and charms that made it happen. But here, we have to appreciate YG's role and effort 'cause it seems they have prepared everything for her (debut). From her collaboration with Epik High to their marketing efforts to provoke curiosity. But most of all, they had her debut single custom-made to maximize her soulful voice and her vocal ability and style. Especially the part in the middle of the song where she sings with no accompaniment is absolutely something to remember. I think this part is irresistibly captivating.

In short, I think Hi and YG are a match made in Heaven and her voice that's different from Park Bom's will be a great addition to YG's 'cause they have one more singer to feature on the albums of other YG artists.

UPDATE 3: Two Behind-the-Scenes videos Released

Making of the "1,2,3,4" Music Video (English Subtitles)

Album Cover Shoot

UPDATE 4: YG Interviews with OSEN about Hi's stage debut (11/3/2012)

YG said in his interview with OSEN that he had cancelled his planned trip to Los Angeles to help Hi prepare for her stage debut on SBS's Ingigayo, scheduled to air on November 4. He was originally planning to meet Psy he hasn't seen for a while and also watch Big Bang's concert. He revealed he has an exceptional attachment to Hi as if she were his daughter. He said, "Had I gotten married a little earlier, I might have had a daughter her age." "As I said at the K-pop Star finale that she was the number one in my heart, I have strong convictions about her talent," added he.

UPDATE 5: Lee Hi SBS Ingigayo Debut Stage (11/4/2012)

Hi is really a cute, adorable, confident, and great singer! 

UPDATE 6: Lee Hi Wins Mnet's Countdown Award (11/8/2012)

UPDATE 7: JYP & YG on Hi, Jimin, and Ayeon (11/9/2012) (News Link)

JYP said, "When I watched Lee Hi's (music video and stage), I thought YG could call himself tiptop. He produced her song by extracting her essence that is uniquely Hi. Strangely, I adore Hi, Jimin, and Ayeon all, even without thinking about the agencies/labels they signed to. They are all lovely and I'm unconditionally rooting for them."

YG said, "The fans may consider them rivals. But as I once said to Ayeon that I wanted to join her fan club, I still like her. And also, I still remember how Jimin affected the public. I hope you don't consider them competition. Honestly, we couldn't even start competing 'cause JYP had stayed in the Middle East for two months. We consider one another family and just like JYP gave his song to SE7EN, I can always ask for his help."

Saturday, October 27, 2012

ZILLY TALKZ: Cloud Atlas Starring Bae Doona Opened Nationwide in the US

Last night (10/26/2012), the Wachowskis and Tykwer's epic adventure film "Cloud Atlas" starring South Korea's Bae Doona opened nationwide in the US. I've read quite mixed reviews about the movie like CNN's Cloud Atlas' is all over the map by Tom Charity but it's yours to decide. And if Buddhism or Buddhist philosophy (such as the "bondage of life, death, and rebirth") is not too foreign to you, I don't think it'll be too hard for you to follow/understand this seemingly too complicated, "too ambitious" movie.

Yet, the movie left something to be desired: It's too bad that the production designer, the art director, and the costume designer of the movie didn't do their homework. Future Korea is more like Japan most of the time and China at times.

In the movie, South Korean actress Bae Doona plays Sonmi-451 and two other roles. In an interview I read some time ago, she said she had learned to speak British English for the role and it obviously shows in every interview she's had. I think her British accent is so adorable.

Bae Doona interviewed at the premiere of the film "Cloud Atlas"
at Grauman's Chinese Theatre on Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012, in Los Angeles

Unfortunately, however, as Bae's English is quite limited, I feel really sorry that she couldn't express her thoughts as eloquently as she does in Korean. So I chose to translate two of her interviews into English. First, let us watch her reveal how she was cast to play Sonmi-451, Tilda Ewing, and a Mexican woman in the movie on TvN's talk show "Taxi" aired on May 10, 2012.

And the following is Bae's interview with All TV Canada at the premiere of the movie during the Toronto International Film Festival (September 9, 2012).

Related Post:
Bae Doona Stars in "Cloud Atlas"

Friday, October 26, 2012

KOREAN MOVIES: Once Upon a Time in South Korea... National Security 1985 and 26 Years

South Korea’s presidential elections occur quinquennially (the count beginning with the year 1988) and this year, on December 19, the 18th president of the nation will be elected. It will be the 6th “direct” presidential election in Korean history in which the candidate receiving the highest number of votes will be elected president. As the presidential election draws near, in the midst of a presidential campaign that's intensifying, there are two controversial movies waiting to be released in the late November, less than a month before Election Day.  Coincidentally, both movies are based on the historical events that happened during the era of totalitarian military dictatorship. And ironically enough, the daughter of a former South Korean dictator Park Chunghee is now aiming to become the country's first female president.  She was the de facto first lady of South Korea for about 5 years (August 1974~October 1979) from the time her mother was assassinated until her father was assassinated. In short, maybe it’s like the daughter of Benito Mussolini or Muammar Gaddafi running for president?

Namyoungdong 1985 (National Security 1985)

The movie “Namyoungdong 1985” (aka National Security 1985) is set in the cruel totalitarian military regime of the dictator Chun Doohwan and is based on a true story about the late Kim Geuntae (February 1947~ December 2011) being tortured by South Korea's National Security for 22 consecutive days in September of 1985. About 90 percent of the movie is known to depict graphic scenes of torture administered by Lee Geunan, one of the most evil torture technicians in Korean history. Lee later said torture is a kind of art.

The late Kim Geuntae (1947~2011)

Kim Geuntae was South Korea's democracy activist turned politician. While being an Economics major at Seoul National University in the 60’s, he became interested in and involved with civil rights issues and democratic activism against Park Chung-hee’s atrocious totalitarian military regime. He had been repeatedly arrested and tortured, and had served in prison until 1992.  His exposure to such traumatic experiences since the 60's resulted in developing Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and Parkinson's disease, which got worse over time. In 2010, he couldn't even walk his daughter down the aisle at her wedding and in November 2011, he succumbed to brain blood thrombus and passed away on 30 December 2011 at age 64.  Democracy blossomed in South Korea thanks to his blood, sweat and tears and his untimely death was a great loss to its democracy. (Click to learn more about Kim Geuntae.) 

The lady in white who cries @0:09 is Kim Geuntae's widow, In Jaekeun 
who received the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award with him in 1987.

FYI, South Korea's National Security was known more as Angibu (안기부, an acronym of Gukga Anjeon Gihoek Buseo (국가안전기획부())) or Namyoungdong (남영동) as it was located in Namyoungdong (currently, Galwoldong), Yongsan-gu, Seoul.  Together with Jungjeong (an acronym of Jung-ang Jeongbobu (중앙정보부, “Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA)”)), commonly known as Namsan (남산) as it was located in the Namsan Mountain, Namyoungdong was a place of dread as the torture agents there were infamous for their use of a wide variety of hideous torture methods and devices against civilians.  Accordingly, just hearing those two names, Namsan and Namyoungdong, people automatically became fear/horror-stricken.

The movie was premiered at the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) on October 6, 2012 and the director of BIFF said, “The movie is about how torture destroys human spirit as well as body” and director Jung Jiyoung added, "And about how it destroys both the tortured and the torturers." Jung also suggested the daughter of Park Chung-hee watch it after all the hoopla and all the controversy she got herself into by making comments supportive of her father's 1961 coup d'état and the People's Revolutionary Party Incident (1964~1975) in which eight innocent people were falsely accused and wrongfully executed, just 18 hours after they were sentenced to death. And as expected, her response was silence.

The movie “Namyoungdong 1985” is scheduled to be released on November 22, 2012.

26 Years

Our next movie "26 Years" is based on Kangfull's 2006 comics by the same title which is also based on the historical event that happened in 1980, that is, the Gwangju Democratization Movement (aka, Gwangju Massacre) against Chun Doohwan who was ruling South Korea as an unelected military strongman starting December 12, 1979, about 2 months after the death of Park Chung-hee. The estimated number of total civilian casualties ranges from 4,369 to 5,189.  More accurately speaking though, the genre of this movie is faction, a portmanteau of "fact" and "fiction" in which five individuals cooperate with one another in order to execute Chun (the man) 26 years after they had lost their loved ones in the event. (Note that Kangfull published this comic series on line in 2006.) 

Cuts from Kangfull's 2006 comic series "26 Years"

Making of this movie had come up against a great many unforeseen yet predictable difficulties as investors were spooked and pulled their funding from the movie presumably as a result of external coercion. It was originally set to star Kim Ahjoong (now replaced by Han Hyejin), Ryoo Seungbeom (now replaced by Jin Goo), Han Sangjin (now replaced by Bae Subin), Jin Goo (now replaced by Im Seulong), and Byeon Heebong for the man (now replaced by Jang Gwang) in 2008; it was titled 29 Years as it was expected to be released in 2009, 29 years after the event.

Cheong-eoram, the production of the movie decided to try crowd funding (named Jejak Dure Project) in March, 2012, nearly 4 years after the original production fell apart, and eventually started filming the movie on July 19, 2012, with a new director and new actors/actresses except Jin Goo who had waited all the while and ended up playing the leading role – he was originally a supporting actor in the movie. 

In an interview with Hangyeore News, Han Hyejin said, “I took the role of Shim Mijin right away ‘cause I am an actor and I really wanted to participate in this movie.  So I was/am bewildered by people who worried/worry about me. I think there's nothing to worry about ‘cause it’s really what happened in the past.” She said she had watched the documentary films and pictures related to the 1980 event to be enlightened before filming and became sure that the movie would be one of the most rewarding experiences in her career.

The role Han played in the movie is a shooting athlete-turned-sniper. Unlike other collaborators who want an apology from “the man,” she thinks he deserves nothing but execution. “I want people to wake up at the sound of Shim Mijin’s gun, just like I did. For there are so many people that are ignorant of the Gwangju Democratization Movement, just like I was. I hope the victims and their families know that they are not history, lost and forgotten. I hope they know that we know. And I hope this movie can help them heal their wounded hearts,” said Han.  When asked what she thought of “the man,” she answered, “Well…, don’t you think he’s pathetic and pitiful? The most pathetic and pitiful thing is people not aware of or not admitting their serious wrongdoings.”

Thursday, October 25, 2012

KOREA FACTS: Dokdo Day, Oppan Dokdo Style!

Today (October 25) is Dokdo Day in South Korea, a day commemorating the Korean Empire's legislation enacted on October 25, 1900 to claim Dokdo as Korean territory. FYI, Dokdo refers to a group of small islets located in the East Sea of Korea. To celebrate the day, South Korea's Dokdo Coast Guard made a parody  video of Psy's "Gangnam Style." So, if you're interested in watching South Korea's handsome coast guards who can dance, then click on the following "Dokdo Style" video. Ehhhhhhhhh, sexy coast guards! Op Op Op Op!

Related Posts: 
L'Express Dokdo Article by Pascal Dayez-Burgeon 
Jean-Pierre Lehmann's Financial Times Article "Japan’s Not Ready To Be a Reliable Ally"
KBS's "Overnight Trips" Goes to the Dokdo Islets of Korea               
Korean Independence Day (aka, Korean Liberation Day)

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

KOREAN MUSIC: Lee Hi (Lee Hayi) Updates (8)

Super big balloons tied to the roof of the YG building
in celebration of Hi's debut single ""

Lee Hi's debut single is scheduled to be released on October 29.  Since her debut single is titled "1,2,3,4," YG Entertainment (YGE) will release "four" pictures of her - one a day - starting today (Oct. 25, Thursday in Korean Standard Time). And just a couple hours ago, they kicked off countdown to her big day by releasing her first picture. Don't you think she looks like Tasha (aka, Yoon Mirae or T) in this picture?

Lee Hi: Picture 1 (10/25/2012 (KST))

YGE always leaves their big name artists alone when it comes to producing music, but as Hi is still a rookie and they have exceptional expectations for her, she has received one-on-one supervision from YG (Yang Hyunseok). And her music video cost 2.5 times more than other YGE singers' videos. It was directed by Han Samin who also has worked with Big Bang ("Blue" & "Monster") and 2NE1 ("Lonely"). (LINK)

BTW, as it seems YGE decided to spell her name Hi, I will use it too from now on even though I think it looks a little awkward.

Update: October 26 (KST)

YGE just released Hi's second picture to tease her fans. Basically, I'm the kind of person who couldn't care less if someone has plastic surgery or not but frankly, I love it more when people act and look natural. So, I'm glad that Hi didn't do anything to her face.

Lee Hi: Picture 2 (10/26/2012 (KST))

Update: October 27 (KST)

In her third picture, Hi is a catgirl.  Meow~~!!!!  YG said in an interview with Star News (10/26/2012), "I have a hunch Hi's solo debut single '1, 2, 3, 4' will be daebak, i.e., a huge success." He teased her fans, revealing that she has completely transformed her music as well as her look, beyond anyone's expectations.

Lee Hi: Picture 3 (10/27/2012 (KST))

Update: October 28 (KST)

Hi's fourth picture was just revealed and the last to be unveiled is her song. Can't wait until tomorrow!

Lee Hi: Picture 4 (10/28/2012 (KST))

Saturday, October 20, 2012

KOREAN POLITICS: Elisabeth Rehn Interviews North Korea's Almost Heir Apparent Kim Hansol

Elisabeth Rehn, a former UN Under-Secretary-General, former member of Parliament of the Finnish People's Party, and the first female Minister of Defense in Finland, interviewed Kim Hansol (or Kim Han Sol), the grandson of the late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il (or Kim Jong Il). His father, Kim Jongnam (or Kim Jong Nam), is the first son of Kim Jong-il, and his mother Song Hye-rim was Kim Jong-il's first mistress before he got officially married to Kim Youngsook.

Kim Jongnam used to be known as the heir apparent to his father Kim Jong-il and the next leader of North Korea but was sent into exile when his younger half-brother Kim Jong-un became the heir apparent in September 2010. Kim Jong-un's mother was the second mistress of Kim Jong-il and the de facto First Lady of North Korea until her death. Kim Jongnam's whereabouts has been unknown since January 2012, right after Kim Jong-un became the nation's supreme leader when their father died on December 17, 2011.  Some think he's in hiding while others think he may have been assassinated.

In this interview, Kim Hansol said he had never met his grandfather Kim Jong-il and hoped to go back to North Korea and work for world peace someday. He currently goes to the United World College in Mostar, Bosnia and Hertzegovina. While watching his interview, I couldn't help but wonder in my own mind what if his father Kim Jongnam had remained the heir apparent to assume office in 2011. And also I wondered what had brought this young man in front of camera, i.e., to the world.  So... what's your thoughts?

The actual interview starts at about 1:40.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

KOREAN MUSIC: Q & A on PSY and K-pop

PSY Stickers are available on Google playstore
from Oct. 17, and APP store will be updated later on.
LINE APP: Android  & iTunes

Yesterday, Kitty Zheng, a student at Syracuse University, left me a message consisting of questions about Psy and K-pop. Even though I don't think I'm the best person to answer such questions, I think it's still worth sharing my two cents with my blog readers. And as always, your insight and wisdom are always welcome.  So here they are:

-How would you define K-pop and what are some of the characteristics? What are its selling points to overseas/American audience?

If K-pop is all about the Korean idol boy bands or girl groups, it means deliberately manufactured music/artists as ABC recently reported: Nightline from ABC News : K-Pop Boot Camp:

And the characteristics of K-pop mainly are beautiful faces (both boys and girls), synchronized dancing, and sweet (sometimes corny) lyrics.  Obviously, Psy doesn't fit into that category as he was never trained in any management agencies like SM, YG, or JYP.  As you may already know, there's much more than one kind of music, widely known as K-pop, in the Korean music industry/history.  And I think it’s a good thing Psy became famous worldwide because now the world knows K-pop is not all about those idol groups.

PSY shares his thoughts on his music, himself, and K-pop @2:08
in his interview with Sky News Australia.

And as I think Psy’s current global fame is accidental, I think it’s too early to talk about the selling points of Korean music to overseas/American audience; we’ll have to wait and see what happens when Psy’s second song is released in the US.

About Korean idol music (=K-pop in a narrow sense), if we agree to accept the premise that the United States is not the center of universe, then we can say the people on the other side of the American continent are buying it because of all those characteristics I stated above.  But I think it might lose its magic unless its stars move out of their comfort zone.  And talking about the US market, I think it will take a long long time, if it will ever happens, before the Korean idol boy bands or girl groups can eventually grow on the conservative American audiences, considering how badly this American boy band Heart2Heart, who benchmarked K-pop idol stars, was received last year: Heart2Heart. (Did they ever make a debut?)

However, I still believe his success was boosted by the existing popularity of K-pop idol stars. He’s currently affiliated with the YG Entertainment (YGE) that boasts a huge fan base in Asia and Europe.  (He signed to YGE in late 2010.)  The loyal fans who religiously listen to the songs and watch the music videos produced by YGE must have been the initial spreaders of Psy’s viral video, I guess.

-Why "Gangnam Style?" There are obviously many other popular Korean pop songs, but why this one enjoys such celebration? What's so special about it and how is it different from other K-pop music?

-Why now? Korean pop music has been popular overseas for a while, but none of the others have made it so popular as Gangnam style now. What has changed than before that contributed to the sudden popularity of this song?

Korean fans now jokingly say, “Psy's newly acclaimed global fame is ‘forcibly’ given to him.”  Unlike some other k-pop idol stars that have been knocking on the US market, he’s risen global stardom without any promotion. I think the global popularity of GS can translate to "Try first to make it big in your neighborhoods, then the rest MAY follow in this socially networked world."

Psy’s music, unlike other K-pop music (in a narrow sense), is a weird combination of cheesy yet classy (as he put it when describing “the mindset” of his song, “Dress Classy, Dance Cheesy”), strange yet familiar, peculiar yet universal, comic yet serious…..  But more than anything else, it’s the rhythm and the hooks which are really fun, catchy, and thus addictive. The rhythm is simple and the lyrics are easy (even in Korean), so the song became thoroughly entrenched in people’s minds.  Besides, when you read the comments on Psy’s youtube video, you’ll find so many people first thought he said “Open condom store,” instead of “Oppan Gangnam style,” which I think first attracted people's interest on the song.  Plus, look at all those parody videos.  People relate to the song making their own videos promoting their communities as in “Oregon Duck Style” or “Navy Style” to name a few.

And also his fun and refreshing horse riding dance: Unlike other idol groups’ synchronized dancing, his dance is so easy to imitate or learn; and to top it off, people don’t need to worry about looking silly when they do this dance. Most of us usually want to dance at a party or club without looking stupid but looking silly and having a good laugh are the whole point of this horse riding dance. 

-Why does it relate to the Korean Wave? Is it a good representation of the Korean Wave, or does the song have elements that go against the broader trend of K-pop music?

As I mentioned above, the song has elements that go against K-pop music (in a narrow sense) and I think it can nicely serve as the cornerstone of the next stage of K-pop.

-Why Psy? What makes him popular and so well-received by American audience? Do you think there is any "Asian masculinity" issue involved in his popularity?

I don’t think we need to worry about Asian masculinity here.  Just like his music and dance, Psy’s a weird combination of opposites: He may look and talk funny, but he’s a serious person and musician; and he may dance cheesy and funny, but he’s really a brainy and wealthy man.  And contrary to the stereotypical characters of Asian people being humble, reserved, and quiet, he’s humorous, funny, and confident (and even bold) even when speaking in English, which he used only for 4 years when studying in Boston.  He’s got this confidence unique to wealthy kids and in his case, his chubby, not classically or plastically handsome appearance, is his strength. 

-Any problems or potential challenges within this phenomenon?

Most people outside (and even inside) Korea still seem to take it just as another funny music video, and I notice that Psy also said numerous times that he just wrote this song to have fun.  I think he might not want to hit a sour note in this worldwide wild party.  This, however, might stereotype him as just a fun, comedic singer. But I don’t really worry because I know, as a long time fan of his, he will accept that come what may as he said, “Even if I end up one-hit wonder, I’ll enjoy today for today.” 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

KOREAN MUSIC: PSY's Gangnam Style and SISTAR's Alone ROCKified on NAGASU, I Am a Singer

Last Sunday, the viewers of MBC's NAGASU (I'm a Singer) had G~R~E~A~T fun witnessing the showdown between Guckkasten (2001~present) and the rock legend Sinawe (1986~present). What a coincidence that both chose to sing the hottest Korean dance songs, released this year. Both bands trumpeted each other's victory, half-joking, half-seriously, and it was really fun to watch them growling at each other. Like, when the show’s host compared Gucckasten to a tiger, Sinawe's Shin Daecheol compared his band to bonghwang (Asian phoenix). The show was like an unexpected feast for my rock mania ears and eyes and made me want to write about Sinawe anytime soon.

I'm not going to tell you who the winner is; you determine whose performance is better. Let's first watch Sinawe's heavy metal rendition of PSY's worldwide ultra mega hit "Gangnam Style": they thrilled  audiences with the instrumental mastery, especially of Shin Daecheol, one of the most dexterous, distinctive, and artistic guitarists, I think, in the world (and also a son of the Korean guitar legend Shin Joonghyun or Shin Junghyeon); and then, Gucckasten's psychedelic rockification of SISTAR's sultry dance song "Alone". BTW, I think Gucckasten is doing the job YG did for the show in the past season - the Energizer.  (Note that the following videos have English subtitles.)

Sinawe: "Gangnam Style"
on NAGASU (10/7/2012)

Guckkasten: "Alone"
on NAGASU (10/7/2012)

And the show also offered the bonus of brilliant performances by Han Young-ae and Cho Janghyuk.

Oh, Cho Janghyuk: who can ever resist his nostalgic, raspy yet sexy voice? He became quite famous for the songs featured on the soundtrack of MBC's 1997 smash hit drama "Star in My Heart," and ever since, he's been featured on some hit dramas and released six solo albums. He had gone on long hiatus until he appeared on NAGASU (9/2/2012) to compete in the special event to invite a new singer. There, he sang Cho Yongpil's "Dream" so superbly that his voice attracted even my mom (in Korea), who was busy doing household chores with TV on.  She later told me on the phone that she was really surprised and disappointed when the result came out: He was not chosen to be on the show.

And you know what: my mom was not alone. At the ardent request of the viewers, he was invited to join the show and voilà here he is! He covered Lee Seungcheol's "Shout," which I think was a little tense compared to his previous rendition of Cho Yongpil's "Dream." (Too bad I can't find the video clip anywhere.) Maybe he was a little too nervous but still, I really loved his understated performance. I hope he shows off his underappreciated talent to its full potential throughout the competition and eventually soars to stardom.

Cho Janghyuk: "Shout"
on NAGASU (10/7/2012)

And last but not least, here's Han Young-ae. Before her performance, Han showed her gratitude for Na Eol (aka Naul) who gave her a permission to cover his song. In fact, Na Eol just released the album featuring the song on September 20, just a week before her NAGASU performance. She said her version would be a little faster than its original version; and as usual, audiences were bewitched by her Janis Joplin-like voice that pierces our heart and soul.

Han Young-ae: "Memory of the Wind"
on NAGASU (10/7/2012)

Original Version: Na Eol (aka Naul), "Memory of the Wind"
(Release date: 9/20/2012)

Related posts:
Deulgukhwa (Wild Chrysanthemum) Covered on NAGASU, "I Am a Singer"
Byeon Jinseob Sings "Rain and You" on NAGASU, "I Am a Singer"
MBC’s “I AM a Singer” Season 2 (10)
MBC’s “I AM a Singer” Season 2 (9)
MBC’s “I AM a Singer” Season 2 (8)
MBC’s “I AM a Singer” Season 2 (7)

Sunday, October 7, 2012

KOREAN MUSIC: Lee Hayi Updates (7)

(UPDATE) Today (10/9/2012), Epik High's new digital single Chupda (춥다, "Cold") was released. (Music: Choi Pilkang & Tablo/Lyrics: Tablo & Mithra Jin/Arrangement: Choi Pilkang)  I really like Hayi's falsetto voice featured on the song; her voice and she just absolutely perfect this song. And here's the song with English subtitles:

ENGLISH LYRICS: Epik High "Cold" (It's Cold)

Though spring comes
and makes the flowers bloom,
then summer comes
and makes the memories melt down,
four seasons are never meant to fit me
'cause I’m a cold guy.
I'm harsh like the piercing cold of winter,
like the chilling winds as you well know.
A cold heart is all I have;
my heart is like the winter sea.
When you come near me on a boat, you'll know
I’m not an island but an iceberg.
I've lost focus; my eyes are frosted.
Haunted by my cold memories,
I gave out a silent scream (with no uvula).
I was an icy road, nothing left behind but painful scars.
My heart's collapsed like an avalanche.
Dark was the night again when I pulled myself together.
Even when you rise like the sun,
the snow-covered mountain won't melt.

It’s cold in here
even when I hide my hands in my pockets.
It’s too cold
even when I blow breath onto my (frozen) hands.
My heart is  so frozen
that it keeps making my lips chapped.
I’m the only one that’s cold
even when my body is wrapped in a blanket.
It’s too cold
even when I'm in someone else’s arms.
'Cause my heart has a hole that can't be filled,
the wind keeps escaping through it.

Spring comes excitedly,
but I stand on the verge of fall.
The memories on pause at winter:
I’ve locked up my warmness
in the chapped skin of my dry heart.
The reminiscences trapped in the frozen river:
They don’t let go of my hands.
Since I knew the chills of separation,
blooming spring has never come again.
Cherry blossoms seem to me like snowflakes.
It’s cold in here.
Beams of sunlight hit me like blizzards.
I’m the only one that’s cold.
Everything I touch gets frozen.
(So) I’m afraid that I might hold your hand.
I fear of making your heart ache and chill
when you come close to me.

It’s cold in here
even when I hide my hands in my pockets.
It’s too cold
even when I blow breath onto my (frozen) hands.
My heart is  so frozen
that it keeps making my lips chapped.
I’m the only one that’s cold
even when my body is wrapped in a blanket.
It’s too cold
even when I'm in someone else’s arms.
'Cause my heart has a hole that can't be filled,
the wind keeps escaping through it.

I’m cold as ice. I’m cold as ice.
I’m cold as ice. So cold.

Though spring comes
and makes the flowers bloom,
then summer comes
and makes the memories melt down,
In here, it’s…

It’s cold in here. It’s too cold.
My heart is  so frozen
that it keeps making my lips chapped.
I’m the only one that’s cold.
It’s too cold.
'Cause my heart has a hole that can't be filled,
the wind keeps escaping through it.
Music: Choi Pilkang & Tablo
Lyrics: Tablo & Mithra Jin
Translation: ONSEMIRO


Today (10/7/2012), YGE revealed Epik High's new digital single cover (Chupda (춥다, "Cold")) featuring Lee Hayi. She is also featured on the song.  Hayi's sitting among the guys as if she were the Snow Queen and looks really mature for her age.

Friday, October 5, 2012

KOREAN MUSIC: The Birth of PSY's Horse Riding Dance

On "MBC Special," PSY's choreographer Lee Juseon explains the birth of the famous horse riding dance in "Gangnam Style" and gives a brief tutorial on how to do the dance. It's truly amazing how beautiful and sexy PSY's hilariously funny, comic dance moves were originally meant to be. Not that I don't like PSY's dance any more but Lee's is simply breathtaking. (Air Date: on 9/21/2012)

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

KOREAN MUSIC: PSY's Free Public Concert Tomorrow

PSY's offering a free public concert in Seoul Plaza tomorrow (10/04/2012). It will also be broadcast live on his Youtube channel, official psy, from 10 pm (KST) -  9 am (EST), 8 am (CST), 7 am (MST), and 6 am (PST). The show is titled "Let's Go All The Way."

And read my lips: DON'T MISS THE SHOW.

(EPILOGUE: Some people who attended PSY's concert at Seoul Plaza said the acoustics were just horrible but the crowd was at fever pitch while having a great time singing and dancing along.)

(EPILOGUE 2: SBS aired the concert today to broadcast it with high-quality acoustics. Enjoy the show.)

PSY sings "Gangnam Style" together with the crowd.
Approx. 80,000 people do "ddechang" (떼창, "group singing")

Monday, October 1, 2012

KOREAN RECIPES: Pine Needle-Scented Rice Cakes (Songpyeon)

Songpyeon (송편

Koreans use new crop rice to make Songpyeon for a Korean Thanksgiving Day (Hangawi or Chuseok) feast. But Korean-Americans couldn't afford a luxury such as that.  This year, I was too busy to drive to the Korean grocery store, located too far away from home (approx. 40-minute drive away), to purchase frozen rice flour. Besides, my family members (but me) are not big fans of stuffed rice cakes so we chose to celebrate Korean Thanksgiving Day without Songpyeon. Today, I’m going to translate my friend Kye Kim’s recipe with her permission.


Ingredients:     2 cups frozen rice flour + ¼ tsp salt
                        1 TBSP honey
                        4 TBSP boiling hot water
4 TBSP toasted sesame seeds + 2 tsp honey + ⅛ tsp salt
4 cups pine needles

Sift the thawed rice flour through the strainer, add in salt and honey and mix thoroughly with hands.

Add in boiling hot water and hand-knead the rice dough.
Filling: Slightly grind toasted sesame seeds. Add in salt and honey.
Divide the dough into 20 balls and cover with wet cheesecloth and set aside.

Take a rice ball from under the clot. Press your thumb in the center of the ball to make a hole and fill with sesame seed filling.  Seal it while expelling the air and make it into a rugby ball shape. Shape the ball into a crescent, pressing the dough lightly.

Make a bed of pine needles in a boiling steamer, place the raw rice cakes on top, and steam for 30 minutes. Prepare cold water in a large bowl and add in a drop or two of sesame oil.  Get steamed songpyeons together with the pine needle bed out onto the plate and briefly dip each rice cake in the cold water. Let them cool off on the plate.


Ingredients:     2 cups frozen rice flour + ½ tsp green tea powder
                        1 TBSP honey
                        4 TBSP boiling hot water
10 chestnuts (small) + 2 tsp sugar + salt to taste
2 Korean dates, pitted and sliced (optional)
1 TBSP sesame seed oil + 1 TBSP water

Sift together the thawed rice flour and green tea powder through the strainer, add in salt and honey and mix thoroughly with hands. Add boiling hot water and hand-knead the rice dough.

Filling: Divide each chestnut into four. Add in salt and honey and mix.

Divide the dough into 20 balls and cover with wet cheesecloth and set aside.

Take a rice ball from under the clot. Press your thumb in the center of the ball to make a hole and fill with sesame seed filling.  Seal it while expelling the air and make it into a rugby ball shape. Shape the ball into a crescent, pressing the dough lightly.

Make a bed of pine needles in a boiling steamer, place the raw rice cakes on top, and steam for 30 minutes. Prepare cold water in a large bowl and add in a drop or two of sesame oil. Get steamed songpyeons together with the pine needle bed out onto the plate and briefly dip each rice cake in the cold water. Let them cool off on the plate.

Kye's Hangawi Table: (clockwise from top left) Songpyeon, Shrimp Fish Vegetable Pancakes,
Taro Soup, Mung Bean Pancakes, Raw Songpyeon, Braised Short Ribs, Taro Soup,

Rice Cakes with Vegetables and Beef, and Platter of Nine Delicacies (Gujeolpan)

Related Post:
Three Korean/Asian Cookbooks by Kye Kim 

KOREAN CULTURE: Korean Thanksgiving Day (2)

Hangawi Food & Other Traditions (한가위 음식과  전통들)

너른 들판 오곡백과 거둬 들여서
Neoreun deulpan ogokbaekgwa geodwo deuryeoseo
We harvest five grains and a hundred fruits,
(=We harvest many types of grains and fruits)
햅쌀 찧어 솔잎 깔고 송편 만들어
Haepssal jji-eo sollip ggalgo songpyeon mandeureo
Pound new crop rice into flour,
make stuffed rice cakes, steam them on the pine needles
조상님께  먼저 감사드려요.
Josangnimgge maen meonjeo gamsadeuryeoyo.
And give thanks to our ancestors the first thing.

멥쌀가루 곱게 쳐서 익반죽하여
Mepssalgaru gopge chyeoseo Ikbanjukhayeo
Let’s sift rice flour finely, knead it with hot water
달빛아래 모여 앉아 송편을 빚자.
Dalbidarae moyeo anja songpyeoneul bitja.
And make stuffed rice cakes gathered together under the moonlight.
엄마 하나 하나별님도 하나.
Eomma hana, na hana, byeolnimdo hana.
Mommy makes one, I make one, and the star makes one.

-Excerpt from Ddeokjanchi (떡잔치, “Rice Cake Feast”),
a children's book written by Kang Inhee (1995)
Translated by ONSEMIRO

Illustrations from Ddeokjanchi (떡잔치, “Rice Cake Feast”),
a children's book written by Kang Inhee (1995)

On Korean Thanksgiving Eve, me and my brother and sister used to sit around the dinner table, though not under the moonlight as you just read above, to make Songpyeon (송편). (The word song (()) means “pine tree” and pyeon () derives from byeong ((), "rice cake") hence it literally translates to “Pine Tree Rice Cakes.”) Why the name Songpyeon? For the Korean pine tree rice cakes are half-moon shaped, stuffed with sugared sesame seeds, salted & steamed beans, or chestnut filling, and steamed over a layer of “pine needles” to add flavor and fragrance to them. Do you remember this famous quote from the movie "Forrest Gump"?: "Mama always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get." The same is true for songpyeons ‘cause you can hardly know what you're gonna get, either. Interestingly enough, songpyeons stuffed with sugared sesame seeds were my least favorite when I was little but those are my most favorite now.

By the way, my grandma and mom always told us when making songpyeons, “If you make pretty songpyeons, you will have pretty daughters when you marry.”  So we tried our best to make them in pretty shapes and I think mine came out looking lovely. Now, you may be wondering if I have pretty daughters, right? Well, I don’t. I have only one son; but my brother in Korea has very pretty daughters. 

A plateful of colorful Songpyeon
(from Seoul City official website)

As Ddeokguk (떡국, “rice cake soup”) is one of the signature Korean New Year’s Day (Seollal) dishes, Songpyeon stands for Korean Thanksgiving Day (Hangawi/Chuseok). In fact, most of the traditional Korean holidays have signature rice dishes mainly because rice (especially white rice) used to be hard to get in Korea, long, long time ago.  Commoners rarely had a chance to have even a single bowl of rice.  It was only for the royals and nobles.  Instead of rice, they had millet, buckwheat, corn, potatoes, or sweet potatoes in their bowls as staple foods.  Rice cakes were simply too fancy and luxurious for them to even dream of - most rice cakes are sweet, beautiful, magnificent, and served as desserts - as cakes, pastries, and tarts are served in Western countries - even though some are salted and served as a meal.  And to those ancient Koreans (and even to my parents’ generation or other war generations), rice cakes meant festivities and holidays.

The ancient Korean people of all ages, of all classes, and both sexes got up early on Thanksgiving Day Morning and got all dressed up in new clothes, hanbok, with new shoes and new accessories, which are called Hangawibim (한가위빔) or Chuseokbim (추석빔).  (Click and go to number 6 for more details about Hanbok.) And they (and most of the modern Korean people) gave(still give) thanks to their deceased ancestor(s) the first thing on Thanksgiving Day Morning by offering them Jesasang (제사상), a table spread with food and drink made with freshly harvested grains and fruits including songpyeons (made with new crop rice).  (Click and go to number 5 for more details about Jesa (memorial services for the deceased ancestor(s)) and Jesasang.)  After the service, they went(go) to their ancestors’ graves to mow/trim the grass and tidy up the site, which is called Beolcho (벌초(伐草)).  

Seo Inguk (singer/actor) and Jung Eunji 
(singer("A-Pink")/actress) pose together for Sports Seoul 
wearing Hangawibim/Chuseokbim (Hanbok).

People also play such folk games as Ssireum (씨름, “Korean Folk Wrestling”), Ganggangsullae (강강술래), Neolddwigi (널뛰기, “See-Saw Jumping”), Nong-ak Nori (농악놀이, “Festival of the Farmers”), and of course Gilssam Nori (길쌈놀이, “Festival of the Weavers”) on Korean Thanksgiving Day. Let's first watch Seo Inguk winning the celebrity water Ssireum contest. (Please note that the authentic way to play Ssireum is on the sand.):

And here are the basic moves/elements of Ganggangsullae and the Bibimbap commercial produced by MBC's Infinity Challenge using the Ganggangsullae moves/concepts.

And watch Neolddwigi, Nong-ak Nori, and Gilssam Nori in a row:

Related Posts:
KOREAN CULTURE: Korean Thanksgiving Day (1)
Recipe: Pine Needle-Scented Rice Cakes (Songpyeon)

My Other Posts about Korean Culture & Holidays:
Korean New Year (Seollal) : (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6)
The First Full Moon Festival (Daeboreum): (1) (2) (3) (4)