Saturday, May 27, 2017

Once Again: K-pop is Not a Genre

TK is happy to report that nearly all of the people who engage K-pop seriously--such as writers and journalists about the topic--generally agreed with my post that argued K-pop is not a genre. (There was one exception, whose objections I will address below.) But there were a number of silly responses about this point, so here is another try.

A different way to framed this debate is: is the term "k-pop" a descriptor or a term of art? In my view, "k-pop" is a descriptor, while a number of people insist "k-pop" is a term of art that denotes a concept. And they are wrong.

A descriptor accepts the plain meaning of the word. For example, unless there is additional context (more on this later,) the words "a brown dog" are a descriptor, indicating a canine that is brown in color. If a person told you (again, without additional context) that "I just saw a brown dog," something along the lines of the following images should pop up in your mind:

On the other hand, if this kind of image pops in your head...

... then, there is something wrong with you, because this is an image of a white cat. No matter how you wish it to be, "brown" does not mean "white," and "dog" does not mean "cat."

This is not a trivial point. In the previous post, I wrote: "In our current, "post-truth" world, it is more important than ever to insist that words must mean what they say." I did not write those words as a gag; it is my sincerely, fervently held belief that words must mean what they say, because the easiest way to lie is to pretend words mean something other than what they say. This kind of lie corrupts our thought process and pushes us into taking actions that we otherwise would not take. This is the central insight of George Orwell's famous essay, Politics and the English Language:
"In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness."
This insight was what drove Orwell's dystopian classic 1984, set in a world in which war is peace, freedom is slavery, and two plus two is five. A world not unlike our current world, in which the head of the state of the United States of America would blatantly lies about what is plainly untrue--such as the crowd size for his inauguration--and his followers buy into this bullshit rather than believing their own eyes.

So. The word "K-pop" must mean what it says. "K" obviously stands for "Korea," and "pop" obviously stands for "pop music." This meaning must hold, unless... "k-pop" is a term of art, rather than a descriptor. And my point is: "K-pop" cannot be anything other than "popular music of Korea," because it is not a term of art.

(More after the jump.)

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How do we know the term "K-pop" is not a term of art? Because a term of art has boundaries. Each term of art--if it truly is a term of art--denotes a specific concept. When people use a term of art, they are drawing mental boundaries, such that if a thing falls within the boundary, the term of art describes that thing. And if a thing falls outside of the boundary, the term of art cannot describe that thing.

People usually draw these boundaries in some combination of the following three ways:  (1) identifying the key characteristics of the concept; (2) identifying archetypical examples of the things that fall into the concept, and; (3) identifying archetypical examples of things that seem close enough to the concept, but fall outside of it. In fact, this is how we mentally categorize anything. A "brown dog" is not a "white cat" because "brown" is not "white," nor "dog" a "cat."

The boundary, of course, is not a hard-and-fast thing, as it only exists in people's mind. The edges of a concept always bleed into another concept that is similar, but different in a meaningful way. But it is a mistake to say the boundary does not exist. If there is no boundary, the term of art cannot point to anything. 

Here's an example. In a case called White City Shopping Center v. PR Restaurant, a Massachusetts court had to decide an unusual question: what is a "sandwich"? The operator of Panera Bread restaurants had an agreement with a shopping center that the shopping center would not host another store that sold sandwiches. When the shopping center began negotiating a lease for Qdoba, a Mexican restaurant, Panera restaurants sued the shopping center under the theory that burritos, tacos and quesadillas can be considered a sandwich.

So: are burritos, tacos, or quesadillas sandwich? The court decided no, but this question riveted America's top legal minds. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and Judge Richard Posner, two of the greatest titans of law in the United States, bitterly fought over this topic. Obviously not, Scalia said--because the dictionary says a "sandwich" is “two thin pieces of bread, usually buttered, with a thin layer (as of meat, cheese, or savory mixture) spread between them.” Posner retorted: "“A sandwich does not have to have two slices of bread; it can have more than two (a club sandwich) and it can have just one (an open-faced sandwich). The slices of bread do not have to be thin, and the layer between them does not have to be thin either. The slices do not have to be slices of bread: a hamburger is regarded as a sandwich, and also a hot dog—and some people regard tacos and burritos as sandwiches, and a quesadilla is even more sandwich-like."

Regardless of the severe disagreement between two of the greatest legal minds, however, there is no question that there exists such a concept as "a sandwich." Yes, it may be difficult to draw the precise line between "sandwich" and "not sandwich." Even very smart people can disagree as to where the line falls exactly. But fuzziness of the line does not mean there is no such thing as a sandwich, or it is impossible to determine whether something is a sandwich. 

It may be unclear whether a hot dog or a quesadilla counts as a "sandwich." (In my view, they both are sandwiches.) But people can still employ the three strategies of boundary-drawing to determine what a sandwich is. Key characteristics of a concept called "sandwich" involve layered foodstuff, with the outer layer typically being made up of some type of carbohydrates, designed to be lifted off the plate and eaten with bare hands. An archetypical example of a sandwich is two slices of Wonder Bread, with peanut butter spread between the two; no one disputes that this is a sandwich. 

To determine whether a certain food item (for example, a quesadilla,) should be considered a "sandwich," we think about what characteristics the food item shares with something like a peanut butter sandwich, whose "sandwich-ness" is undisputed. Although the precise line may be difficult to draw, we all know that there must be a line somewhere, because there are certain things in the world that we will never call a "sandwich" even if those things might come fairly close. There must be a line, because we know it is possible to cross the line. For example, no one claims that lasagna is a sandwich, although it is also layered foodstuff--presumably because it is not intended to be eaten with bare hands. 

This is how we approach any concept. Coming back to "K-pop":  I will acknowledge that "K-pop" is a genre or a style--a defined concept--if anyone can show me: (1) the key characteristics that run across most pieces of music that people call "K-pop"; (2) archetypical examples of "K-pop"; (3) archetypical examples of Korean popular music that is not considered "K-pop."

You cannot do that. So the natural conclusion: K-pop is not a genre, and the term "K-pop" must be understood to mean the combined meaning of the constituent words.

Compare this to, say, "Britpop." Britpop is a favorite counterpoint to my argument, probably because it is another portmanteau that combines "pop" with a name of a country. "If 'K-pop' must mean 'all kinds of popular music of Korea,' must 'Britpop' mean 'all kinds of popular music of Britain'?"--so argue the people who never thought very deeply about how concepts work.

Apply the three strategies of identifying a concept to Britpop. (1) Are there key characteristics that run across the music that people call "Britpop"? Yes--the music comes from United Kingdom, mostly in the 1990s, in the genre of alternative rock with an emphasis on British cultural themes. (2) What are the archetypical examples of "Britpop"? Music by Blur, Suede and Oasis. (3) What are archetypical examples of British music that is not considered "Britpop"? Music by Spice Girls, even though Spice Girls was also a British band of the 1990s. Using these three strategies, one can roughly identify what "Britpop" is, decide what British popular music falls and what doesn't fall under the label of "Britpop," and the trace the history and development of the genre.

Can you do the same with "K-pop"? No. Because what are the key characteristics that run across the music that people call "K-pop"? If you answer "highly processed music performed by beautiful people who were groomed by management agencies," you cannot explain why Gangnam Style is considered K-pop, nor can you explain why Seo Taiji and Boys is considered the fountainhead of K-pop, nor can you explain why Kim Wan-seon is never included in the canon of K-pop history. (I explained this in more detail in the previous post, so I won't dig deeper here.) "Britpop" is a term of art with boundaries drawn more narrowly than the meaning of its constituent words; "K-pop" is not. One could try to argue that the term "K-pop" has conceptual boundaries, but the boundaries fall apart at the slightest examination.

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Nearly every serious observers of Korean popular music that read my previous article generally agreed with my argument, with one exception--Jon Dunbar, who raised a solid objection: many Korean bands do not consider themselves to be "K-pop" band, because they are not part of the idol group ecosystem. Jambinai, for example, is a fusion band that plays rock music on Korean traditional instruments. Lee Il-woo of Jambinai has said in an interview: "We are not hallyu. The Korean government supports K-pop or Korean dramas and these are hallyu. The government is investing a lot of money into it so many people overseas will know hallyu. But we have to promote us by ourselves with our money or less money from the government." 

I think Jon makes an important point regarding the indispensable role of the Korean government in the international promotion of a certain type of Korean pop music--the type I call "idol pop." But when it comes to the definition of the term "K-pop," he is wrong. 

Jon's error comes from the fact that he is based in Korea and is enmeshed with Korea's underground rock scene. Korean musicians in that scene say they are not "K-pop," because they are responding to their perception of how international fans use the term "K-pop." This is evident from Jambinai's interview also: "European or overseas listeners think Jambinai is just Jambinai, not the K-band Jambinai or K-whatever. They think K-pop and hallyu is "Gangnam Style" and idol music. But that's not us."

This, in fact, is a familiar phenomenon. First, non-Koreans outside of Korea are exposed to a tiny sliver of Korean culture, and call that tiny piece "Korean." Then, some Koreans within Korea, including misguided bureaucrats who want to promote Korean culture, see the usage of term "Korean" by those non-Koreans and produce awful "Korean" stuff. Then, to distance themselves from those awful products that are misleadingly labeled "Korean," other Koreans in Korea begin walking away from the word "Korean" altogether. This is exactly what happened to the godawful attempts to promote "Korean" food under the Lee Myung-bak administration. This is also what George Orwell warned: pollution of a word by distorting its meaning to serve a political end.

The disconnect that leads to Jon's error is the one between Koreans' perception of how non-Koreans use the term "K-pop", and the actual usage of the term "K-pop" by non-Koreans. Yes, non-Koreans have used the term "K-pop" to denote mostly idol pop, because idol pop has been the only type of Korean popular music to which they have been exposed. But when one observes the actual usage of the term "K-pop" by non-Koreans, it is abundantly clear that the term is not the same thing as "idol pop." When the international fans encountered Korean popular music that was clearly not idol pop--such as Gangnam Style--there was no effort to enforce the conceptual boundaries of "K-pop" to exclude Korean popular music that was not idol pop. When the international fans recount the history of "K-pop," there is no effort to trace the development of idol pop as a distinct strand of style that exists within the broader universe of Korean popular music. (The Wikipedia page for "K-pop," for example, traces the history of K-pop all the way up to the introduction of Western music in Korea in the late 19th century. Can you imagine how ridiculous you'd sound if you talked about the history of Britpop by starting from the broadside ballads?)

But Korean musicians in Korea couldn't care less about close examination of the term "K-pop." They are artists, not critics; it is not their job to carefully consider how international fans use the term "K-pop." The non-idol pop musicians in Korea rarely interact with international fans at any rate. On the other hand, production companies for idol pop happily peddle the word "K-pop," because to them "K-pop" means nothing more than "Korean popular music that sells internationally," which usually is idol pop music. So in Korea, a functional definition of the word "K-pop" emerged to mean "idol pop"--and Korea is the only place in the world in which the conceptual boundaries of this term is actually enforced in some meaningful way. Meanwhile, the people who actually use the term "K-pop" on a day-to-day basis--i.e. international fans--never actually set up any kind of conceptual boundaries.

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Admittedly, "K-pop" is a marker with low information value. It's like saying "French wine"--a term, to me, means nearly nothing, because I see the word "French" and only understand it to mean "of France." Because that's what the word "French" means. The word "French" in "French wine" tells me nothing about the wine's quality, flavor or characteristic. It doesn't even tell me if the wine is red or white. 

I do know of people who use the term "French wine" to refer to "high quality wine"; such people, I found, have never thought very deeply about wines, nor have they experienced enough French wine to realize that shitty French wine is as shitty as wine from any other country. I found that the same is true with those who insist "K-pop" must mean "idol pop." Generally, though with certain exceptions as discussed above, I found those people have never thought very deeply about Korean popular music, nor have they carefully explored the boundaries of what "K-pop" means in their minds. 

And that's fine! I fully understand music is no more than a hobby for most people. I am not here to pass judgment on the numerous people couldn't care less about genre or style of the music to which they listen. Please, do go listen to whatever you like, and be happy.

My point is only this: we all could stand to be a little sharper, a little more rigorous about the way we use terms and concepts, because meaning of words matters. Whenever we can, we must insist that words must mean what they say. That is the most fundamental way to keep one's mind clear in this cynical, post-truth world.

Having said that, here are some more Korean popular music that I like--because good music needs to be shared widely.

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  1. Well now I want a sandwich. But seriously, very interesting and well argued. I hope you make it to the Supreme Court someday. To bad Scalia won't be there to spar with!

  2. How about cultural appropriation? Looking at the meaning of the constituent words and a few cases of things leftists have objected to as examples can fairly lead one to conclude that "Culture is cultural appropriation." Clearly the use of noodles in cooking by non-Chinese can't be condemned on any rational grounds, but until I read your post on the issue which defines the concept alongside the perfect graphic example, I had not been able to see it as a concept that could be in any way useful. So should those who agree that cultural appropriation is a good thing to stop doing, and to call out when we see it be using a less misleading label, like maybe "cultural mis-appropriation"?

    I know it's not the most burning issue in the world, but interesting to me because it's a thing I would tend to dismiss, and did until I read your post, so just now, I look for a representative example of the kind of things that have been condemned under the label, and I find this story, of a speaker being told he doesn't have the right to tell a tragic story because of what color he is, and I am reminded of why I once believed the concept to have no rational use.

  3. All right, I get where TK is coming from, so here are some further observations:

    1) If and only if by "K-pop" we are exclusively meaning "Popular music of Korea", it is definitely not a genre.
    A) This is obvious--as soon as you say a word means as expansive a term as "popular music", it simply cannot be a genre as there are few delineations that mark it as a genre.
    B) A concurrent definition and one that music scholars use, is that "K-pop" means "Korean pop music", rather than "popular music". This is a genre insofar as "pop music" is a genre with established characteristics that pass the above described sandwich test (a genre that even has multiple subgenres). It's a broad genre with loose boundaries like "rock", but definitely a musical genre, unless one is also disinclined to count both "pop" and "rock" as genres (which is definitely arguable), in which case I will concede that one legitimately believes that "K-pop" meaning "Korean pop" is not a genre.

    2) "Korean popular music" is not what most international fans of what they call "K-pop" mean when they say the word as they will likely provide a number of delineations, so arguing that line of reasoning doesn't work. The heart of the argument here is whether the way internationals using the word "K-pop" even have any kind of consistent definition of the word at all and *if* that definition actually describes a musical genre.
    A) Before we investigate, a little clarity: We often ascribe artists to be X genre, but we must note that we mean that they make music in that genre, not that they are the genre. Genre describes a set of boundaries on music, not musicians and one musician can make music can make music of multiple genres. Therefore an artist like Epik High can make make music that is pop-rock ("Don't Hate Me"), but can also make music that is hip-hop ("Born Hater"), and could consequently be considered both a pop group (because they do write and perform a good amount of pop music) as well as a hip-hop group.
    B) If international fans are rejecting any particular kind of Korean music as being "K-pop", then it is clear that there are some delineations being made as to what constitutes "K-pop" in their minds, so let's ask what they might be rejecting:

    Continued in followup post--

    1. I) Despite the fact that we consider PSY a hip-hop artist, the vast majority of the songs that he makes that are popular these are also pop songs (hybridized with both electronic dance and hip-hop), holding true to most of the definitions of pop, so including him does not discount pop music. Similarly, BTS' music would fall under pop as much as they fall under hip-hop, so they are as much pop musicians as they are hip hop. But the music of straight hip hop artists like Swings or Dok2 would likely not be considered "K-pop" by this particular audience (and fans of Korean hip hop are very sure to explain this to you on the internet if you dare make such a claim). Similarly, CN Blue's music is pop rock and therefore eligible for classification as "pop". However, I'm pretty sure that "K-pop" fans wouldn't consider pure punk and hardcore like that of Lee Yong-won or the metal of Vassline as "K-pop". So, as such, it is possible that the exclusions are more towards music that is clearly not pop--therefore it is possible that "K-pop" does actually mean "Korean pop".
      II) TK does make a good argument that "K-pop" fans point at the birth of "K-pop" as Seo Taiji and fail to include older examples of pop music in the lineage, but I think that's much more of a problem of ignorance than intentional exclusion. I imagine if you pointed out Kim Wan-seon or Kim Choo-ja and their music to "K-pop" fans they might be more than willing to expand their definition of "K-pop" and its history to include their music. I'm much less certain that they would expand as such to include Deulgukhwa or Han Dae-soo. As such, there is again a strong argument for international fans meaning "Korean pop", not "Korean popular music".
      III) So now we must look for better counterexamples, are there any inclusions of pure non-pop genre artists into the roster of what international fans call "K-pop"? Are there any pure pop artists that they would exclude? Discounting ignorance, a strong counter-example would properly disable the argument that "K-pop" means "Korean pop", but as it is, the music produced by all artists that I can think of as being considered "K-pop" definitely falls under the rubric of "pop" (very generally--per Wikipedia: "short to medium-length songs written in a basic format [often the verse-chorus structure], as well as the common use of repeated choruses, melodic tunes, and hooks").

      3) If one cannot argue that they mean "Korean pop" by virtue of counter-example, then I simply cannot see any other consistent definition of what they could mean, rendering "K-pop" as meaning "Korean popular music that we like outside of Korea" or "hallyu" as TK quotes Lee Ilwoo above, and as such, definitely not a genre as T.K. suggests.

  4. K-pop is about numbers. Chart-topping groups and songs equate to 'pop' in the USA, and the same happens here in Korea. But you can't choose obscure references to Korean music diversity to assume K-pop's diversity. I'd argue that the top 100 most popular songs should be used to define K-pop. Lots of ballads, lots of idols. After all, pop isn't really a set genre, it's just the most popular stuff. Sure, I wish popular American music wasn't just Ariana Grande and Ed Sheeran, but it is, isn't it? We can't classify all good wine as "French wine", just like we can't classify all good Korean music as K-pop. I love Korean hip-hop and alt, but it just doesn't seem to be 'K-pop' here.

  5. Hi TK,
    As you know, I’m an admirer of your blog, so please don’t regard what follows as against you or your work generally. I do, though, have to take issue with your arguments on K-pop and not let them go unchallenged, given your influential status as an interpreter of Korea for the world at large.

    You’ve adopted a strong position in polemical terms about the need to understand K-pop as meaning all popular music from Korea and not being a genre or style. But as somebody who engages K-pop (and Korean popular music) seriously, with academic publications and a couple of documentaries on the topic, I have to dissent: in the current popular negotiation of the term, there is no question that K-pop has come to represent a clear subset, and not the entirety, of Korean popular music.

    I’ll try to keep this as concise as possible, so let me restrict this to key points. We agree that the boundaries of K-pop are fuzzy, aren’t used with rigour, and cannot be rigidly defined, but it does not follow that they can be extended anywhere near as widely as you suggest. Where to place generic boundaries surfaces as a problem in the discussion of virtually every category, from sandwiches, as you discuss, to, say, punk rock.
    To use your sandwich analogy, I think you are wrong when you say “Although the precise line may be difficult to draw, we all know that there must be a line somewhere, because there are certain things in the world that we will never call a "sandwich" even if those things might come fairly close. There must be a line, because we know it is possible to cross the line.” I disagree. Only rarely is there a clear line; instead one confronts a continuum around a grey area, for which there is a process of negotiation and inevitable dispute. The key in determining a genre is how people negotiate that large grey area in common discourse.

    You go on to posit a strawman in envisioning a definition of K-pop when you write: “… what are the key characteristics that run across the music that people call "K-pop"? If you answer "highly processed music performed by beautiful people who were groomed by management agencies," you cannot explain why Gangnam Style is considered K-pop, nor can you explain why Seo Taiji and Boys is considered the fountainhead of K-pop, nor can you explain why Kim Wan-seon is never included in the canon of K-pop history.” 

    The definition you give is certainly not mine, though, and likely not to be the definition of a lot of people, even if it is a better definition of idol pop. Here is scholar Michael Fuhr from his recent Routledge book Globalization and Popular Music in South Korea: Sounding Out K-pop where he takes a more holistic view of how to understand what K-pop represents and why it draws attention: “K-pop is a thoroughly hybridized product, a unique coalescence of music, visuals, lyrics, dance and fashion, a postmodern product of pastiche and parody, a carnivalesque celebration of difference, a shiny world of escapism, and a highly participatory cultural practice enacted through digital media.”

    What you can extract from this description is that a central, defining feature of K-pop is that it goes beyond the merely sonic and is a generic mode that incorporates other qualities, often visual. Fuhr’s definition, to my mind, thus lets you include PSY, exclude Kim Wan-sun, and put Seo Taiji at the beginning of a long line of K-pop with his globalized, hip-hop inflected and highly visual brand of blending music with youth culture—but in both of the latter two cases, we start to push the margins into that grey area and people can argue on where they shade in and out of the prehistory of K-pop; some of the issue is temporal. Fuhr also, btw, easily allows you to include more recent artists like IU and BST and FT Island, whom you cite early on, without having to say that K-pop = all popular music from Korea. (see pt. 2)

  6. If I can persuade you to think through and accept Fuhr’s take that underlines his book for (1)—:, I think we can go somewhere with your statement here “I will acknowledge that "K-pop" is a genre or a style--a defined concept--if anyone can show me: (1) the key characteristics that run across most pieces of music that people call "K-pop"; (2) archetypical examples of "K-pop"; (3) archetypical examples of Korean popular music that is not considered "K-pop." For (2), how about if we then take SNSD’s “Gee”, Hyuna’s “Bubble Pop” and Bib Bang’s “Fantastic Baby” and then for (3), we can put in the music of, e.g., Jambinai, RUX and 3rd Line Butterfly. I recognize that this is where contestation/negotiation/dispute comes into play, but we are very far from being able to assert that K-pop = Korean popular music. Maybe I can nudge you more toward accepting that K-pop is a style or genre.

    By the way, you also go astray and run into the danger of circular reasoning by citing the “K-pop Night Out” for evidence, as that event has been a problematic venture in being KOCCA-sponsored and a top-down initiative designed for national branding. The whole idea is to help stamp that good old special K on to Korean music as a branding tool and it overreaches. A lot of bands have been willing to play on that bill because of the very significant exposure it has brought them, but I think it is safe to say that a lot of them would prefer not to be lumped in with K-pop.

    People who know more about the back story than I do can fill in the details about the discussions between the SXSW organizers and KOCCA but again: really bad example to draw upon. In fact, if you’re going to cite the Wikipedia page on K-pop to back up some of your points (and I think you’re extrapolating and reading in some statements that aren’t there about the meaning of K-pop, simply because the article gives a wider history of Korean popular music to set context), you might also want to note this Wikipedia page on K-Pop Night Out that gives counter-evidence:

    My work on the punk and underground scenes strongly suggests that for a lot of those involved, their own key criteria for what drives their music is opposition to the mainstream (juryu) even when they have been happy to declare an allegiance to Korea. That’s why terms like hanguk hip-hap (see the work of Kelly Song on this topic) were deliberately chosen *not* to engage with the way that K is tossed around as a state-sponsored marketing tool. It’s also why we wound up with ironic terms like joseon peongkeu. You’re also wrong when you state “Words like "K-rock" or "K-rap" do not exist.” In fact, we do have the term K-indie, which is used from time to time, but does not meet with favour from a lot of committed indie musicians, precisely for the reasons I suggest. For more on these issues, I direct you to my article “Us and Them: Korean Indie Rock in a K-pop World:

    Perhaps one even easier way out here, as a few people have already suggested, if you don’t like Fuhr’s more abstract definition is to say that K-pop = all pop music from Korea, but is not = all popular music from Korea. There is extensive literature, filled of course with similar debates, on distinguishing pop music and popular music. I’m not going to rehearse them and I’ve already gone longer than I intended, so will cut this now.

    Cheers, Stephen

  7. As an active musician in Korea who is definitely not in a K-Pop group, I see two major problems with the foundation of this whole argument. First, taking such a literal definition-based take on artistic expression is a problem. Stephen hit on a lot of specifics, but my main argument is simpler. "Pop Music" hasn't simply meant "popular music" in decades. Calling something pop music, has implications. Slayer has sold millions of records and sold out stadiums. Anybody who would call them pop music has no place talking about music. Ask people on the street what pop music is, and you'll get things like Michael Jackson, George Michael, Madonna, Britney Spears, N'Sync, etc. While there is room for variation, overall, it has an implied meaning beyond, "top of the charts."

    Second, your basic premise that Koreans are misinterpreting how foreign fans use the term is absurd. If the "K" stands for "Korean," why is what foreigners think the term means more important? I guess the Chinese character tattoo the college frat guy got really does mean "Strength."

  8. While I get the danger of political abuse of word abstraction, on the other hand I believe people are ultimately efficient, and if a word adjusts in meaning over the years there is usually a viable reason for it.

    Back in the 90s I recall the rise of the term K-Pop referring to stuff from H.O.T. to Drunken Tiger was K-Pop because it was "popular music from Korea that was popular enough to make it America". We would take anything we could get. As the years rolled on, K-Pop that made it here would still sound like 90's music but with a sprinkle of Modern musicality, and also in Korean.

    And that persisted today, where plenty of Korean popular music still sounds like 90s Pop music mixed with other Modern elements and also is Korean. So for simplicity, the same "Pop" is used to describe something more descriptive in American Pop and Britpop and JPop and whatever, we call this "K-Pop". It just happens to be the same term used 20 years ago.

    What enabled this? The growth of the "K-Pop" industry. With more options, more styles, the Internet to share, music from Korea can now be categorized further. I'd argue that the evolution of "K-Pop" from meaning popular music from Korea to Korean Pop music speaks to how far the industry has succeeded, and should be welcomed, such that we don't have to lump Tiger JK into the same category as Red Velvet for the desparation of selling internationally. They can be sold on their own merits.

    So even if "K-Pop" isn't a genre, I argue: let it become one. Let there be distinction, to celebrate the success of Korean music of all genres internationally. The catchy, simplistic, catchy music with pretty boys/girls and music based on 90s Pop can be called "K-Pop", and other music from Korea that happens to be popular but doesn't fall into this can be called [TBD] or [TBD], etc.

    Besides: counter-culture is an important dichotomy to have in the music industry. If you want to maximize profit, you can't just have Pop. You need another option to pickup the rest of the demographics that specifically avoid Pop, and listen to another popular music under a different label to feel good about themselves. Korean music has made it.

  9. Also, while the brown dog white cat metaphor is adorable, a more appropriate one would have been: instead of showing a picture of a white cat, show a brown African Wild Dog. So yes, it's a "brown dog", but it's not even part of the Canis genus. At some point all these animals were called "dog" because, hell, they all look like dogs. But as we saw more and more we could appreciate the difference between a dog and wolf, and coyote, and jackal, and African Wild Dog. So the descriptor "dog" became more specific, and let the other things that were different have different terms, and this is fine.

  10. While I acknowledge your stance on the K-pop/genre argument, I do see some flaws in your logic. By strict definition, K-pop is not exactly a genre. However, from a linguistic approach your definition of what a word means is not entirely correct.

    Moreover, idol-pop is the most popular music produced in South Korea today. By heuristics, K-pop is viewed by many international listeners as idol pop. It has such a distinct style that many people regard it as its own genre of music.

    Thanks for the post! I'm glad to see that we have similar taste in music.

  11. This approach, identifying K-pop by describing its quiddity, is wrong-headed from the start.

    Let's borrow for a second from deconstructionist language theory and acknowledge that meanings are negotiated and in flux: sure "brown" doesn't mean "white." OK. But "Brown" doesn't even mean "brown" to someone with a different frame of reference.

    Thus: insisting that "brown" "means" nothing but YOUR concept of "brown" does nothing to facilitate communication. Doing so only confuses and frustrates (and draws clicks and views, right?).

    Language gestures and negotiates. There is no one-to-one correspondence between words and what is signified. Thinking so is idealistic and naive.

    A different approach altogether is needed. It's more productive to focus on utility and richness.

  12. We got it, but now please let's get into this top 6, we have waited long enough :-)
    I hope you won't write another post on what "K-pop" means. The majority is with you.

  13. I can't listen to the Brown Eyed Girls now without thinking about this :-)

  14. Good post. Can you tackle this issue next? Apparently 'nureongi' means edible Korean dog and not yellow dog on wikipedia.

  15. I don't have anything to say about what constitutes K-pop, but the law is often confusing, controversial, or ridiculous precisely because it attempts, as it must, to impose a precise definition on terms of ordinary language.

    Wittgenstein covered this long ago. Science and law use concepts we can call logical because they are clearly defined, and any given object unambiguously either falls into a given category or it does not. The concepts of language, on the other hand, are what he dubbed 'family resemblance categories' for which membership can be unclear: a given object may be a typical, untypical, or ambiguous member of the 'family' depending on how many family features it possesses.

    This is what makes a question such as whether K-pop constitutes a genre or not difficult to answer definitively, giving, as I think The Korean is trying to do, a rigid answer. From an outsider's perspective, it all looks and sounds pretty similar! But I'll admit there are plenty of songs that don't fit the mould. Perhaps The Korean's point is that it's a broad category covering all the pop music coming out of Korea in all its hitherto unsuspected diversity of styles?

  16. Stop quoting me to defend your bullshit, or I will definitely haunt your ass. K-pop is idol pop, and it sucks.

    --your pal, George--

  17. فى شركة العربى نقدم خدمة شركة تنظيف بحائل ان النظافه هى من اكثر واهم الامور التى قد تعفى الانسان من الامراض الكثيره لذلك شركة العربى تسعى دائما ان تقدم جميع اعمال التنظيف الى عملائها الذين يثقون بها
    شركة تنظيف بحائل
    كما تقدم افضل الطرق الحديثه وتوفر لهم الراحه التامه وعدم المشقه فان شركتنا تسعد ان تقدم لحضراتكم افضل انواع النظافه العامه
    شركة تنظيف فلل بحائل
    وتحب ان تقدمها على اعلى مستوى من المستويات وفى نفس الوقت ان شركتنا لا تقبل المنافسه فى الاسعار حيث ان شركة العربى تعمل فى جميع اعمال النظافه فى حائل بارخص الاسعار وتقدم افضل العروض دائما لعملائها الكرام
    شركة تنظيف مجالس بحائل
    من أهم أسباب سعادة الانسان وبالأخص عندما يتعلق الأمر بكيف يبدو منزلك, فإن تطلعاتك وأحلامك تصبح كبيرة، فمنزلك هو انعكاس لك، ولهذا السبب أنت بحاجة إلى
    شركة تنظيف منازل بحائل
    شركة تنظيف رخيصة ومجربة وثبتت انها الافضل بين الشركات فنحن نقدم افضل خدمات التنظيف فى شركة العربى حيث نضمن لك عملية التنظيف بدون اى اخطاء لاننا نسعى دائما لنكون افضل
    شركة تنظيف كنب بحائل
    وهدفنا هو الوصول الى القمه وكل ذلك عن طريق ارضاء عملائنا وتحسين ثقتهم بنا والقيام بعملنا على احسن وجه ولدينا فروع اخرى فى مدينة جازان مثل
    شركة تنظيف بجازان
    فنحن نقدم لكم شركة العربى من الشركات المميزه والرائده فى جازان وهى تقدم تنظيف البيوت على احسن وجه كما تقدم تنظيف فلل وتنظيف شقق وتنظيف مجالس وتنظيف واجهات وتنظيف مسابح وتنظيف خزانات
    شركة تنظيف منازل بجازان
    وتقوم شركتنا بالاعتماد على احدث الالات وعلى افضل انواع المنظفات العالميه التى تعمل على ازالة البقع كما تعمل على ازالة الاوساخ بسرعه كبيره وتقوم بخدمات اخرى كثيره
    شركة تنظيف مجالس بجازان
    وكل ذلك نقوم به من خلال شركتنا شركة العربى بافضل الاسعار وارخصها التى تتناسب مع جميع الطبقات من العملاء والموظفين وغيرهم من الذين يقيمون فى جازان
    شركة تنظيف كنب بجازان


  18. تعد شركتنا افضل شركة صيانة مكيفات بمدينة جدة حيث توفر لكم الشركة خدمات ممتازة وراقية
    شركة صيانة مكيفات بجدة
    بالاضافة الي قيام الشركة بعمليات التنظيف علي اكمل وجه ونقدم لكم خدمة تنظيف المكيفات بشكل راقي جدا
    شركة تنظيف مكيفات بجدة
    ونحن كاسم كبير نقوم بخدمات كشف التسربات بمكة ونقوم بالعمل بافضل الاجهزة ونمتلك افضل الفنيين المتخصصين
    شركة كشف تسربات بمكة
    كما يتوافر في الشركة خدمات العزل بكل انواعها واحجامها وتعد ايوان افضل شركة عوازل بجدة لما توفره لعملائها من خدمات علي مستوي عالي وراقي جدا
    شركة عوازل بجدة

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