Last Week I went to the "Grand K-Pop Festival", a free music festival geared towards foreigners sponsored by the South Korean government (haha, the U.S. government would never sponsor such an event). Out of all the featured singers, the only act I was familiar with was Girl's Generation (Gee).
The concert was underwhelming. In a crowd of mainly Japanese and Chinese fangirls of all ages yelling, cheering, and swooning, I felt uninspired. Yes, there were many special effects and people, but there was such a sharp contrast between the mechanized, packaged K-pop stars versus the kind of music I listen to (e.g. Florence + the Machine, Portugal, the Man, MØ). I feel conflicted. Part of me wants the full, immersive experience of Korean culture, which means exposing myself to K-pop and Korean dramas. I can even understand some of the draw of K-pop stars- the sort of "heartthrob" idol culture. Yet, on an individual basis, these aspects turn me off.
I guess it comes down to a perceived lack of authenticity.
For me, music is a way to communicate your essence, a message. I feel K-pop stars are people who could carry a tune and dance and wanted to be famous. As a result, they were molded and shaped to be groups like Girl's Generation. I felt like all the songs at the festival were similar. Not much individuality. When discussing the merits of K-pop with my friends, another Fulbrighter made a point that these kind of "idol" acts must emerge so that artists gain enough street cred to actually make the kind of music they want to, aka commercialization must happen first. I thought this was an interesting point. At the same time though, this creates a chicken vs. egg scenario. Do people demand the trends, or do the creative agencies shape the trends? In any case, I do feel that this ideal of homogeneity is pervasive within the Korean culture. I guess that is an accompanying element of an endogenous society.
It's so interesting... I had lunch with a friend a day after the music festival where we talked about the "collectivism phenomenon", where deviation from the norm is looked down upon. He had lived in the U.S. for a decade before moving back to Korea two years ago. He felt that in Korea, it's not good to stick out, which leads to a homogenization of beauty standards. I mean, there's a reason why Korea is the number one country in the number of plastic surgeries in the world, which makes me sad. I had a personal experience with this too- when I had to get ID pictures done for my Alien Registration Card at a photo studio, the photographer photoshopped me like crazy (as shown above).
In many ways, my couple of weeks here have been awesome. I feel an immediate kinship and sense of comfort when I meet other Koreans (most likely due to my Korean heritage and ability to speak the language). However, the pervasiveness of plastic surgery and K-pop are qualities I'm not the biggest fan of.