FANTASTIC BABY: K-Pop Music Videos & Discussion Panel (w/ Transcription)

REDEFINE magazine and Holocene host FANTASTIC BABY: The Opulent Kingdom of Contemporary K-Pop, a K-Pop music videos gallery and discussion panel on the following topics:
– Repeated motifs and common techniques in filming contemporary K-pop videos: a technical analysis
– The rise of colossally sized K-pop idol groups with 10+ members
– Eroding social conservatism and subverting gender norms in Korean culture through pop music and imagery.

Transcription of Fantastic Baby Discussion Panel (Cont’d): Audience Q&A

Are there musicals?

Allen Huang: Yeah, there are musicals. They love “Legally Blonde”. They really do. They really love “Legally Blonde”. It’s almost a rite-of-passage for the girls who are coming up in girl groups. If you’re getting really popular, it’s time for you to go be Elle in “Legally Blonde” and try it out. If you’re good, then you can go and try it out. If you’re bad, then you can go get fired. Whatever. They have other musicals. A lot of them are based on the ones that are popular.

Reese Umbaugh: They’ve done “Rent” a lot.

Allen Huang: They’ve done “Rent”. Have they done “Wicked”? I think they might’ve. They do their musical theatre. The musical theatre doesn’t get much airtime on TV or anything.


What about musical film?

Allen Huang: Oh, musical film?

Ingmar Carlson: Like “Sound of Music”.

Allen Huang: I’m trying to think of some musical films.

Ingmar Carlson: I do know that they exist.

Allen Huang: I’ve seen a lot of romantic comedies.

Gina Altamura: It definitely feels too like there’s a crossover of K-Drama stars that are also pop stars, so there’ll be a lot of interludes where they’re breaking into song in the context of a show.

Allen Huang: There are a lot of K-Drama musicals.

Reese Umbaugh: Isn’t there like a Korean “Glee” or something?

Allen Huang: Yes, “Dream High” is a wildly successful television show. A lot of K-Pop stars play on that show, and they all play people in the school, and they’re in music class, and they all make groups. And there’s one called “What’s Up”, and that’s also about musicals, and that’s great, too. I mean, dramas are equal, if not more popular than films, in Korea. K-Drama musicals, definitely, yes. Go check them out; they’re on Hulu.


I actually read your article for Willamette Week, and I saw that you chose your top five artists to watch. You put IU there. There’s been kind of an awful recent thing; do you think she’s going to swing back this year?

Allen Huang: For me, she was one of the big names when early 2012 came along, and “Good Day” was kind of blaring almost every time anybody was mentioning something good about K-Pop. And then she had, basically, and extended hiatus. And I’m not sure if the EunHyuk controversy was before or during the hiatus. Was that the cause of the hiatus or during it? Anyway, she’s been on InkiGayo, so she’s on TV every week. I watch InkiGayo every week on TV.

Reese Umbaugh: That’s a music show.

Allen Huang: That’s their top of the pops.

Jordan Becke: That short video of G-Dragon, here he’s in the 5-paneled LCD screen? That was on InkiGayo. That was a live performance, and is an example of the kind of show they have weekly.

Allen Huang: So, it’s not like she’s in a cave somewhere, but she hasn’t put out new music in a few months. Like I said in the article, GaIn’s “Bloom” was written by IU’s normal songwriters, and that song kind of blew up like crazy, so I’m excited to see her come back, and what she will do with those songwriters. She was called “The Nation’s Little Sister” until they found a burnt bathrobe or something. That was such a weird cause for concern they had.

Reese Umbaugh: Well, she accidentally tweeted a picture of her in bed with a guy, and then took it off immediately, and everybody revolted against her. It’s actually really interesting, because the guy she was with is in Super Junior. Nobody cared that he was there. Everybody just thought that she had done something crazy, so she had to not release any new music or promote or anything, and I think that that really sucks.

Vivian Hua: This is only tangentially related, but there was some K-Pop star that basically got booted out of Korea. It was a dude in a boy band that was really successful because he had grown up in Seattle or something —

Allen Huang: Jay Park [of 2PM].

Vivian Hua: Oh, it was Jay Park. Well, he basically grew up in Seattle, and had written some sort of MySpace post about how he hated South Korea —

Reese Umbaugh: He wrote, “Korea is gay.”

Vivian Hua: — because he didn’t understand the culture and because he couldn’t really speak the language and all that, and like, he was successful, got big, and then people found out about that, and kind of booted him out, but I guess he’s big again, so cool.

Allen Huang: Jay Park is funny because he can be as awful and foreign as he wants now, and still be super successful. He’s basically allowed to do whatever he wants; it’s great.

Ingmar Carlson: I think that scandal basically had a lot to do with creating his “bad boy” image in the first place. Luckily for him, people came to embrace him again.

Allen Huang: It freed him from that constraint.

Ingmar Carlson: Yeah. You can’t get badder than that, really.

Allen Huang: And now he just does music videos in Seattle with his buddies, and his friends are producing his music. Then he flies over [to Korea] and does promotion. It’s great. Best of both worlds.


I have a question over here. You mentioned that the large groups are supposed to be catering to different tastes. So, why aren’t there more mixed gender K-Pop groups? That would seem like the jam, right? Just these really sexy girls up there dancing. Why not have one that everyone [can be into]?

Reese Umbaugh: It’s actually really interesting, because one of the videos that I selected that had the girls and the boys — that just totally tanked so hard, that they ended up splitting them up into two groups, and they had a boy group and a girl group. I don’t know why that’s been so challenging. I think part of it is that the record companies over there know that it is a little bit risky, and I don’t know that anybody is really willing to take that financial risk to kind of create that if it’s just going to fall flat on its face for whatever reason.

Ingmar Carlson: I mean, you’ve already created the standard of the boy groups and the girl groups. But yeah, it’s definitely a good question, because if there is a pro to having large groups to cover as many differences in taste as possible, or to appeal to as many tastes a possible, then why wouldn’t a co-ed group work? I don’t know; I’m going to hazard a guess. I think it’s not any different from why… in the ’90s, in the west, we had our huge boy group, girl group thing, with the Spice Girls and Backstreet and N’Sync and all that. And it was the same: why weren’t there too many co-ed groups pitched at us? I think it’s something to do with teenage psychology. I’m thinking of my 12-to-14-year-old self right now, being into the Spice Girls. If there were other guys in the group, I think that would really kind of ruin it for me. I would be like, “Omg, what are you doing here? You’re in the way of my perception and my perfect image of these perfect, flawless girls… who I will never meet.” But you’re just sort of in the way; you’re just kind of popping in, and maybe it’s a distraction. There’s a conflict there. I think that the pop industry knows that, especially for the younger audience, just girls, and just boys.

Reese Umbaugh: Also, the number one no-no for K-Pop stars is that you can’t have sex with people, and I feel like even having a mixed group would just open up so many doors for scandals.

Allen Huang: The one thing that’s the same amongst all K-Pop groups is that they all live with each other. All the groups live in a dorm. Not that the groups all live with each other, but each of the groups live with each other, in a separate dorm. And — if you just put boys and girls in a dorm together, in their late teens, early 20s, and you have controversies like the IU, EunHyuk thing for just laying in bed together, your group is basically going to get run off the internet in two weeks flat. It’s just not going to happen as far as what they consider controversy and what teens do when they’re in co-ed situations.

Ingmar Carlson: That just the thing. What’s considered controversial with pop stars over there is quite a bit different. But a lot of the things we’re talking about… if it happened here with American pop stars, it might cause a scandal if there’s some cheating going on, or somebody involved is married, sure. But just tweeting an image of two stars in bed, most people [here] are like, “Oh my god, yeah.” Stoked, as opposed to up-in-arms about it.

Allen Huang: The weird thing is that it’s almost getting a little more liberal as far as allowing K-Pop stars to date. More relationships are coming out and being sort of, “Yay, it’s awesome that you’re in a group.” But I think for a rookie group, definitely, no one should… it’s basically frowned upon to date or at least be in a relationship for a while, even though they’re always asking them on variety shows, “Who do you like? Who do you like? When are you going to get married? Who’s your ideal type?” It’s kind of a weird, damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t kind of thing. I’m just thinking of the thing where [Hyeri] from Girls’ Day is now dating Tony from H.O.T., who is like twenty years her senior, and it’s just like, “Yay!” but IU and EunHyuk, booooooo.

Vivian Hua: I think K-Pop fans have something to do with that, too, where if they know someone is dating a person, it’s like they get all crazy. They’re pretty crazy, K-Pop fans.

Allen Huang: I think they’re getting less crazy — that’s the thing. It’s a more selective crazy, and I haven’t figured out the pattern to what’s good and what’s bad yet.


Do any of these people’s personas kind of go past their music? You’re talking about the women who are representing the strong women image in their music videos; do they then go out in public dressed? And then very specifically make statements about how there should be strong women?

Allen Huang: Oh, definitely. I mean, pop music is all about brand, right? And brand is a lifestyle; it’s not just a thing you put on for a five-minute video. As far as we know, they take it to its fullest extent, because we aren’t given any window into their life otherwise. I think as you grow older, as Lee HyoRi, I was saying, is getting more independent and writing her own music — and she really has nothing to lose for adopting a more progressive stance, because she’s done her time. She’s basically K-Pop royalty, and she can do whatever she wants.

Ingmar Carlson: You have to understand what it would mean to go out in public. The extent to which they go out in public is… you’re going out in front of the camera, the red carpet, sure; you’re portraying that stuff. But most K-Pop stars in Seoul — not going out in public very much. Just going around, going to restaurants, not a lot of that. A lot of riding around in black cars with super tinted windows and being shuffled in and out of the next building they have to be in for whatever reason. They’re not walking around a lot, so pretty much any public appearance, if it isn’t shrouded, is going to be very much for the press. Gotta put on a show.


I guess that’s my question: are there people who go on more famous for their personalities? Because we have a lot of stars here in the U.S. where they’re not putting out music ever; they’re just famous because they’re famous.

Allen Huang: Oh, definitely. I think you have to look as far back as that first wave of “Hallyu” — with… Fin’KL and BoA. BoA is also right now kind of K-Pop royalty; she can kinda do whatever she wants. She basically hosts their version of “American Idol”, and every time puts single out, it’s a big deal. And her personality now reflects her time in the industry, just kind of being a solo female artist. She’s not really outspoken about say, social issues, but she’s just really about the art of performance, dancing, and singing, and being really good at that. I’d say Lee HyoRi has more of a feminist slant to her now, just because she came from a group and went independent and is stronger because of that. As far as what this current generation of kids are doing? It’s hard to say, because they’re still kind of in the height of their success and band phase, so they haven’t really had the chance to branch off on their own. I mean, they’ll be on reality TV shows, and you’ll watch them, and you’ll find parts of their personalities you’ll really like about them. But they’re still part of a greater whole, and they’re still perceived as part of that greater whole.

Ingmar Carlson: To some extent, they do have their own assigned personalities anyway, like what role they’re supposed to play as part of the cohesive group. As Reese was talking about a bit, each member is sort of his or her own character, in a way. And that’s not necessarily indicative of that person’s actual personality — as in what’s this guy or gal actually like — but they do have that role to play on camera, on record, and so forth.

Reese Umbaugh: I kind of feel like it’s too early to tell, also. Some of the veterans, as Allen mentioned, like BoA, are still really young. I think she’s only twenty-six or something?

Vivian Hua: Yeah, she’s twenty-six. She was sixteen when she started…

Ingmar Carlson: That’s nuts.

Reese Umbaugh: Yeah, I don’t know who’s gonna rise above just yet.

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Written by
Vee Hua 華婷婷

Vee Hua 華婷婷 (they/them) is a writer, filmmaker, and organizer with semi-nomadic tendencies. Much of their work unifies their metaphysical interests with their belief that art can positively transform the self and society. They are the Editor-in-Chief of REDEFINE, Interim Managing Editor of South Seattle Emerald, and Co-Chair of the Seattle Arts Commission. They also previously served as the Executive Director of the interdisciplinary community hub, Northwest Film Forum, where they played a key role in making the space more welcoming and accessible for diverse audiences.

Vee has two narrative short films. Searching Skies (2017) touches on Syrian refugee resettlement in the United States; with it, they helped co-organize The Seventh Art Stand, a national film and civil rights discussion series against Islamophobia. Reckless Spirits (2022) is a metaphysical, multi-lingual POC buddy comedy for a bleak new era, in anticipation of a feature-length project.

Vee is passionate about cultural space, the environment, and finding ways to covertly and overtly disrupt oppressive structures. They also regularly share observational human stories through their storytelling newsletter, RAMBLIN’ WITH VEE!, and are pursuing a Master’s in Tribal Resource and Environmental Stewardship under the Native American Studies Department at the University of Minnesota.

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Written by Vee Hua 華婷婷
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