Keep on keepin’ on

These past few days have been pretty emotionally exhausting for various reasons, and recent events have made me consider giving up K-pop blogging for good. The response from this post was, obviously, far more explosive than I could have ever imagined, and while I welcome the criticisms towards my opinion or even my writing style, I don’t think that anything I could have done is deserving of the amount of sheer vitriol and baseless personal hatred that’s been hurled at me as a result.

The comments posted directly on the article are pretty brutal already, but if you guys could see the number of private messages I’ve received via email and Formspring that  not only attack my character as a human being, but contain numerous threats and personal attacks, you’d probably be able to understand why it’s so difficult for me to “screw the haters” and just move on. I’ve had someone tell me that I ought to commit suicide and that I don’t deserve to live. Others have taken shots at my family, particularly my parents. This whole ordeal has taken a great, great psychological and emotional toll on me, and while I’m not saying that I, as a writer and a blogger, am completely blameless and am not deserving of criticism, I don’t think that anything I could have written is deserving of someone to tell me to kill myself. One would think it easy to just shake it off and say “it’s only the internet,” but I’ve discovered that regardless of their method of transmission, these messages cut deep, letting the darkest parts of you seep out and consume you.

I’m thankful to the Seoulbeats team for being so supportive during this time, giving me the space to get away from the cacophony surrounding the post and just breathe. I think we, as Seoulbeats writers, take on a very dangerous role because the topics we cover are sensitive and there’s so much room to screw up (badly), and the consequences are dire — dire in the fact that the internet is a really horrible place where normal people turn into monsters and the comment fields of posts soon turn into angry mobs calling for the blood of a person they’ve never met…over something as inconsequential as a K-pop article.

I was planning on doing a whole spiel on the inherent paradox in K-pop blogging and the difficulties with writing for an audience that doesn’t really care what you have to say but is still more than willing to hurt and disrespect you. But the situation itself has been filled with way too much poison as is, and I don’t need to add to it any further. Nevertheless, I’m still going to keep writing because it’s what I love and I still have a lot more to say, even if no one will listen anymore. But I will do so with a sense of great caution from now on — because I don’t want to make the same mistakes again, yes, but also because I can’t risk getting hurt anymore.

And with that…public service announcement, 끝! Let’s get back to business — and that’s “Business” with a capital B…as in “B1A4.” :)

B1A4: “This Time is Over + Baby, I’m Sorry” (Music Bank, March 16th)

First of all, I thought Chance was going to be producing this mini-album, but I don’t see (or hear!) him anywhere in this. Of course, I can’t help but be a little disappointed. But hey — the song’s not bad, so there’s no real room for complainin’.

I like B1A4 a lot, but I think that there’s always going to be something about this group that makes my heart sink a little. These guys are awesome performers in every technical aspect (save for the fact that none of them can dance, but at this point, who really cares), but they’re just so stereotypically “K-poppy” that it’s difficult for their abilities to really shine.

There are some Korean artists and idol groups with names that stick (e.g. DBSK, SNSD, Big Bang, SHINee, Wonder Girls) — groups that have usually done a significant amount of product endorsements, overseas activities, or other things that have helped broaden their reputation. These groups are groups that we know are here to stay; groups that will have some sort of legacy. But then there are groups that seem to be stuck forever under the K-pop banner (e.g. Secret, Dalmatian, Sistar, Dal Shabet, Boyfriend). These groups tend to pop up out of nowhere under unknown companies and put out music that fit under the stereotypical K-pop “genre.” These are the groups that might be bad or might be great, but don’t really seem to hold much promise for a decade-long career or significant international recognition.

It’s as if there’s now a separation between 가요 (which is what most K-pop and other popular Korean music used to be known as) and this new “K팝” genre that is uniquely its own. Maybe a rookie group crosses the threshold between K-팝 and 가요 after a certain amount of years, but then how does one explain groups like 2PM, miss A and Beast, who have been around for a while and have the chops to compete with the 가요 folks but still seem firmly planted in the K팝 camp? Or how about EXO, which hasn’t even debuted yet but is practically guaranteed to have a long-term career in the 가요 camp simply because it’s an SM group?

Obviously, differentiating between the two divisions doesn’t require a set formula as much as it requires a sense of general intuition, and my intuition is telling me that B1A4 is going to be stuck in the K팝 camp for good. Everything about B1A4 is so produced, so K-poppified, so fantastic, so elastic. Their music is good, and their aesthetic is good, but there’s nothing special about it that sets them any higher than their peers. But with performing chops as good as theirs, one can’t help but wish more for them.

But, of course, we’re in that sad, sad predicament where the group is the sole breadwinner of a virtually unknown record company and hasn’t received much attention apart from the members of their fisticuff-prone fanclub. I personally like these guys a lot, but I have a hard time taking them seriously outside of weekly music shows and the occasional variety appearance. But I don’t see them going anywhere higher than that.

The group themselves have said that their biggest goal this promotional cycle was to win as many music show awards as possible, which sucks considering that they’re promoting at the same time as Big Bang and SHINee, which basically kills any chance they might have had at winning an award. But what I think is even more tragic is the fact that B1A4 has made music show awards the pinnacle of their promotional goals. It seems to me that most artists in the K팝 camp don’t have much exposure beyond their weekly appearances at MuBank or Inkigayo, and so the realm of their existences is thus restricted to a music show stage. In that sense, winning a weekly music show award practically becomes the highlight of a K팝 star’s career. But artists in the 가요 camp pick up these awards and use them for paperweights — or maybe they’re not that brusque with their glass MuBank trophies, but you know what I mean — cry over the first award of the season, and then throw the rest up on the shelf as they come while you perform in five countries a week or something to that effect.

I wish that WM Entertainment would let B1A4 assert themselves as capable of reaching past the K팝 realm, because they’re certainly capable of doing so. Yeah, they can’t dance, but they can sing — so why not give them something a little more vocally challenging? I think it’s great that Jinyoung and Baro composed “Baby, I’m Sorry,” but the song sounds so similar to everything else that B1A4 has released, and it’s a little hard to be impressed. B1A4 needs to take itself more seriously — not because they’re not working hard enough or anything, but because they ought to think of themselves as a group that’s capable of achieving more than a music show award. Shoot for the moon and land among the stars, or something like that.

On a related note, CNU needs more love. This kid is good enough to serve as the vocal anchor of the whole group and he only gets to pop out two or three times for the whole song. Injustice.


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  • lae

    Wow…this automatic witch hunt mentality (and inevitable, when DBSK/JYJ
    is concerned…) is extremely disturbing and seems to be exacerbated by
    the nature of the Kpop fandom, where fans inevitably are made more
    vicious by the emotional dimension to their fangirling and, well, the
    internet. Most of your points were valid, honestly. I’m sorry you had to put up with all of this (personal attacks
    wtf :/), but I hope you stay strong and keep writing because I find and
    appreciate that you try very hard to remain neutral and rational about
    controversial issues.

    I hope you don’t interpret this as an attack, but I do think the wording
    of some points in your article created
    certain misunderstandings and offended people, despite your good
    intentions. I suppose the biggest one was the implication that some fans
    are exhibiting sasaeng behaviour. The sasaeng behaviour everyone is
    reading about (defecating on their idols’ dorms, breaking in, touching
    their private parts) are behaviours that are seriously psychologically
    disturbed. I think everyone’s
    getting so upset because, to them, ‘sasaeng’ remains the pinnacle of
    disturbing and abnormal behaviour, and using the term to describe what is still widely seen as ‘normal’ fan behaviour (ie. following idols around after concerts) was probably what alienated a lot of readers. Personally, I think it really IS a slippery slope…the only difference being sasaengs might hire taxis to follow their idols and ‘regular’ fans may give up? IDEK.

    It’s definitely not wrong, however, to emphasise the atrocity that was
    Jaejoong (and Yoochun’s) unnecessarily aggressive behaviour and I think
    the fact so many fans are jumping to EXCUSE their action (and/or
    explaining it away) is more worrying than anything :/

    Both parties were BOTH victims and aggressors, in different ways.
    They’re not mutually exclusive and I hope that will be the basis of
    future articles exploring this issue. My personal opinion about the
    incident is here
    ( and I would appreciate if you could read it, but I totally understand if you want to get away from this for awhile.

    And wow, sorry for writing you a novel. I evidently have many feels. Take care~ :<

    • Thanks for the reply and the kind words. I read your post and I actually loved everything you wrote, tbh :) Quite frankly, I’m a little disappointed at myself for not clearly explaining how I connected sasaeng fan behavior to so-called “normal” fan behavior, and I understand perfectly why that become such a touchy subject. I’ve been out of my ‘fangirl’ phase for a while now, and in that time of “sobriety,” I’ve realized that there’s something about K-pop fan behavior that just seems kind of off…not because the behavior itself is abnormal, but because no one really seems to regard it as abnormal. Like, waiting at the airport, camping outside hotels, sending expensive fangifts, writing you/[insert idol here] fanfiction….in regular society, that stuff doesn’t seem very normal, but within fandom, that’s all cool. And maybe that’s just what fandom is: “abnormal” behavior that becomes justified when you’re doing it for someone that you really, really like. And I could be okay with that.

      But the reason why I brought up that point in the first place is because I talked to a bunch of people and did a bunch of research via the Korean and Chinese side of things, and found that for the most part, sasaeng fans don’t just pop out of nowhere. They aren’t all people who were mentally unstable and decided to pick up idol-stalking as a hobby. For the most part, these were normal fans who started out waiting at the airport, waiting outside hotels, reading fanfiction…and then decided that they wanted more. And because sasaeng fan communities are so tightly knit and keep tabs on each other constantly (to see who they need to beat out in order to get closer to the idol, haha), that behavior builds on itself and it gets progressively worse. And this is really alarming for me, because it’s not as if these sasaeng fans just decide to go crazy one day and defecate on idols’ porches for no reason. It starts rather innocuously and builds to something uncontrollable, oftentimes without the fan even noticing. That’s why I pushed that point so much, but to be honest I shouldn’t have expected everyone to click with it because it was basically telling the readers themselves that their fandom — something they probably love and take pleasure in — is inherently wrong and could lead them to do the same things as the people they hate. There’s probably some truth in that (akin to how one shows graphic pictures of blackened lungs to smokers), but I definitely should have been a lot more tactful.

      Anyway, thanks for your thoughts and for continuing to read. It means a lot :)

      • lae

        Oh definitely. The whole fan culture in Asian entertainment is so very different from the West (Beatlemania comes to mind, and perhaps the Bieber fandom…they’re the closest examples I can think of) and I think it was a valid point to bring up in your article, the way celebrities are viewed in entirely different lights in the two cultures. Definitely, I think K-Pop fandom is such an easy thing to get ‘sucked into’…everyone needs a reality check every once in awhile, including myself, sad to say. I think it’s mainly because the K-Pop fandom is based on this emotional connection between idols and fans. Fans are encouraged not to view idols as producers of items that they, as consumers, choose to buy, but almost like a family member, a brother/sister, a friend…someone they HAVE to support, no matter what, and someone who NEEDS their help. And so it’s easy for fans to feel like it’s their obligation and duty not only to buy the products of their idols but take care of them – sending them food, presents, following them to airports/hotels to ‘cheer them on’ – and I can see how this may potentially lead to extreme behaviour because we become so emotionally invested. Like I said, I personally find it a slippery slope and the fact that so many fans are exhibiting horrible behaviour to anyone they deem to be ‘attacking’ their oppas is worrying ):

        And yes, I understand what you were trying to point out. It’s indeed true that sasaeng fans don’t just appear. It’s a valid point I think some of the fans sending you furious personal attacks need to take into consideration. Everyone just needs to take a DEEP BREATH, step back and look very deeply at their own behaviour and have an objective grasp on their own reactions/feelings towards their idols, and their idols’ actions. 

        (lmao I wasn’t intending for my reply-to-your-reply to be this long, sorry!)