Wednesday, August 26, 2009

An Excuse to Post Abracadabra, by Brown Eyed Girls, or...

Music videos of Korean girl-groups involving more than seven females trying to be sexy... just don't do it anymore. Especially when the choreography amounts to, "I'm hung over and lazy, so let's be overtly sexual enough to get the video banned, and get publicity that way, rather than going to the effort of making an actually good video." AND they borrow a few English phrases and mangle them to sound cooler. If we were playing crappy Korean music video bingo, they'd have checked half the boxes already.

Anyway, here's Abracadabra by Brown Eyed Girls. There IS a reason I'm posting it.

I'm posting it because THIS is awesome: a few Korean BOY-Band members made a spoof of this video, set in a Jimjilbang, on the "I'm so dirty, I need to take a shower" theme. And it's actually funny. Funnier if you read the lyrics, and funnier still if you've gritted your teeth through the original video, to see what they're referencing.

ht popseoul

(ps: if you DO want to play "Korean music video bingo", here's what to put in the boxes: I'm trying to get one that'll fit for a dance OR a ballad video)
  • voicebox/vocoder
  • a sexy dance-move that isn't even TRYING to be a dance move anymore
  • a room surrounded by huge TV/projector screens
  • a clear attempt to get the video banned by the censors, for more publicity
  • a band with more than six members
  • an actual or implied lesbian/gay kiss
  • a male acting like a female
  • a male dressing/looking like a female
  • gangsters beating somebody up
  • a wheelchair
  • echoing tires screeching
  • upskirt shot
  • a break in the song to act out a scene
  • somebody bringing flowers to a hospital room
  • close-up of cleavage (female) whether she earns it or not
  • close-up of ass (male or female) whether s/he earns it or not
  • close-up of abs (male or female) whether s/he earns it or not
  • shouting in a police station, or with police nearby
  • shouting with echoes while being physically restrained in slow motion
  • a line of melody, rhythm, or vocal mix that eerily resembles something from Western pop
  • a girl playing coy with a boy despite wearing a skirt that only comes down to her uterus
  • a girl with hair dyed blond, orange, or pink
  • an ambulance
  • actual black people
  • a korean acting like a black person (bonus point if it's with facepaint)
  • band members groping eachother
  • one of the BFF dies
  • taillights disappearing in the distance
  • walking alone at night
  • shouting at the sky in the rain
  • sharing an umbrella
  • sad face with police/ambulance lights shining on it (rain optional)
  • putting flowers on a grave
  • smashing a cellphone
  • bird flying in slow motion
  • mangled English in the chorus
  • a girl rapping in a low voice
  • a girl rapping in a shrill voice
  • dance moves popular in the '90s
  • ebonics
Added from/inspired by comments:
  • slumber-party scenarios - teddy bears, pyjamas, pillow fights
  • simulated selca (self-camera) where people make cute faces at the camera as if it were a cellphone camera
  • asian poses (minimum ten to check this box: shouldn't be hard to clear)
  • people wearing headbands that look like cute animal ears, or comically large minnie-mouse hair bows
  • a girl who can't back it up, backing it up. (hint: it's not in the elbows or the forearms)
  • words at the bottom of the screen, or coming out of someone's mouth with a speech bubble
  • dressed like jailbait (high school uniform/baby clothes) making overt sexual gestures (oh wait, that's like a free square)

To be fair:
Ha Ha Song, by Jaurim, a Korean song I DO like.


holterbarbour said...

You HAVE to include 'tween slumber-party scenarios as well: girls gathered together in sleepwear or tank-tops and shorts, pillow fights, stuffed animals, candy, huddling around a telephone calling a boy, or uncontrollable giggling.

Roboseyo said...

ooh. you're right.

Brian said...

You've eluded to it, though you left out one of the staples of Korean music videos: a main character has to be hit by a car.

Or has to suffer from tuberculosis.

Or it's filmed at Paju's English Village.

For those looking for
something more challenging, keep your eyes open for the videos that are set in Japan. Mark your cards if you find a Korean woman walking through Japan with a goofy hat, or a Korean woman taking pictures of train tracks.

MikeInSeoul said...

Bonus points if words from the mangled English chorus appear on the screen - either printed on the screen or in the scene somewhere.

Gomushin Girl said...

While I *do* agree that the parody is pretty hilarious, I think you've picked the wrong target for your girl band ire. You got the number of members wrong (four, sweetie, just four!) and if you listen, allt their English is actually grammatically correct . . .and more importantly, I have to agree with James at GN that this video represents a pretty interesting and important change in representations of Korean women in Korean videos. It's not checking off any of your boxes. I'm not saying you have to like the song (although I have come to kind of like it), but it's so much less annoying than ANYTHING WG or GG have put out . . . count your blessings man, and save your scorn for those who truly deserve it.

Roboseyo said...

First of all, GG: Kara and Banana Girl deserve your ire a lot more than SNSD or WG do. Secondly, I'll scorn whomever I like... and saying Brown Eyed Girls is less annoying than "Gee" is like saying, "That's the gentlest mugging/hospitalization I've ever experienced!"

but if you give me some ja-urim or kim gwang-seok I'll leave you alone.

Gomushin Girl said...

What I'm saying is that they didn't really do ANY of the things in the video that you complain about in your post (besides being controversial . . . didn't realize that was such a problem for you) so picking on them when there are lots of groups out there who are actually committing the offenses you complain about seems a little ridonkulous.

Charles Montgomery said...

GG's point is good..

If you're down on BEG (and I have no TV, so I've no opinion) you shouldn't be all Chosun Ilbo about facts..


Roboseyo said...

1. The only reason they were the focus of my disdain for K-pop girl bands in general is because THEIR video got spoofed, or else it wouldn't have appeared on Roboseyo at all. If Wondergirls, SNSD, KARA or Banana Girl were spoofed in a hilarious video, I would've had THEIR videos up, and been even meaner.

2. yes, the choreography DID suck. the "come hither" hips-forward sway was sexy, sure, in the way a train-crash is subtle, but the dance choreography was not sophisticated at all (pointing at the camera and swirling your fingers is NOT dancing, as come-hither hot as it looks; nor is posing while the camera ogles you), the songwriting was standard, the hooks were just as catchy/annoying as the other bands. no, the English wasn't as bad as other videos, but it checks plenty of crappy k-pop video boxes, all the way down to the tacked on near-lesbian kiss at the end for extra controversy.

however i'll gladly retract my "more than seven" - the filming of the video and the varying numbers of dancers in each shot left me totally unsure how many backup dancers were in the band, and how many backup dancers were just WITH the band.

3. that's not to say it isn't unique among crappy K-pop girl-group videos in its portrayal of a more aggressive and empowered female sexuality... and maybe female empowerment is sneaking in the side door with videos like this, in the same way I'm told the dominatrices and power-women in old Prince videos were both object AND power-broker... but given the fact this IS a k-pop girl-band, I'd say the burden of proof is on you to show that this video was intended, either by the band (did they write this song themselves, anyway, like Prince did?) or the video producer, to be a subversive affirmation of feminine sexual freedom, rather than the result of a cagey video producer/band manager whose choreographer walked out, but wanted to do something to make his video/band more memorable (read: controversial), in order to make more money.

Whether it's taken that way, and whether its role in the changing perception of female sexuality in Korean culture amounts to more than that doesn't change the cynicism with which it was (probably) made...and that kind of stuff is the domain of The Grand Narrative, which he covers better than I can; I'm just reacting to a video here, not parsing the sociological impact. Don't have the background for that. But it does check a lot of boxes: that I DO notice.

4. maybe I'm mostly just responding to the way this video, like so many other k-pop videos, just seems like a product going through the paces. I still can't think of any k-pop artists other than Lee Hyori who don't come across as if they're just going through the motions their manager told them, in a joyless, bland way. It's the bliss-out I'm looking for, I'm just tired of not being turned on by stuff that's supposed to turn me on, and not being elevated by music in a genre that's supposed to be ALL ABOUT Dancing for the pure joy of it.

Brian said...

lol @ over-analyzing K-pop.

Let Rob rail against whomever he chooses to rail against. Pegging BEG as some subversive agents of change or feminism is a big stretch. Besides, while you may argue the video is a step in a different direction, how much influence do the performers have in what they sing, dance, do, or market? How many of them are aware of the lyrics, melodies, moves, and looks they're ripping off?

I don't care very much either way, though I will say after catching a few episodes of "Countdown" on Korean MTV, it's safe to say BEG's Ga-in is extremely annoying, and "Countdown" is among the most irritating English words to listen to pronounced in Korean. Five syllables, each more brutal than the next.

Gomushin Girl said...

Again, my point is that if you're going to write a whole post about things you hate about Korean music videos, at least pick a video that demonstrates the characteristics you're complaining about, dude! Like or don't like the video, fine . . . but illustrate your point with something that . . .well, illustrates it.
I'm not defending the choreography or anything. As I said, you've got the right to hate on any video or group you like. I am going to prod you for lack of logical consistency though ^^

Anonymous said...

Interesting to see the reactions this has elicited compared to your posts on issues related to the status of English teachers in Korea. Guess this goes along with the statement of art (music) being subjective ...

I do have a couple of questions regarding your latest reply to Gomushin Girl, if you don't mind the intrusion.


When you say "It's the bliss-out I'm looking for, I'm just tired of not being turned on by stuff that's supposed to turn me on" -- are you referring to the type of music you've been posting in your bliss-out video updates? If this is the case, that might be part of the problem you're having.

Based on the examples of bliss-outs you've posted on your blog in the past I think it's unfair to compare those to what gets airplay on mainstream Korean television and radio. I remember you posted a clip from Belle & Sebastian a while back. Now, I think they're a great band, I've seen them perform live during one of their very infrequent tours to the United States, etc., etc. While they ARE a pop band, they are by means the same type of pop that gets played on Top 40 stations or MTV.

Comparing K-pop groups like BEG or Wonder Girls to Belle & Sebastian seems rather disingenuous. By the same token you can claim that White Snake, Twisted Sister, and Poison are all rock bands "just like" Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, and Paul Revere & the Raiders. While technically you'd be right, there's also a big area between the two that's quite obvious to anyone familiar with the genre. How much cross-over do THOSE artists get? And then throw in the Sex Pistols, Rob Zombie, and Murder City Devils ...

If you really want to compare K-pop to pop one would commonly find in North America (or at least, the USA) it would be much more accurate to pick stuff that's charting, shows up on the NOW compilations, or with videos on MTV. Do you experience bliss-outs from Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus, Ricky Martin, t.A.t.U., Soulja Boy, or Hilary Duff?


Your comment "I still can't think of any k-pop artists other than Lee Hyori who don't come across as if they're just going through the motions their manager told them, in a joyless, bland way", leads to the question -- how do you come across the Korean music that you hear?

I ask this because the videos you've been posting on your blog recently have been (1) 'older' singers recommended by The Korean, (2) multi-member pop groups that have been over-saturating the airwaves here, and (3) one video from Jaurim. Based on that sample size - which may not be representative of your actual K-pop listening habits - it very much looks like you're passively learning about the local music industry rather than actively seeking out examples of decent material.

For contemporary stuff, do you just listen to what gets played on TV and in the street? Do you go online to hunt down new songs? Do you head down to a music store and chat with an employee about recommendations and the like? These can all make a very big impact on what you hear and what perceptions you develop about Korean (pop) music.

There are tons of blogs out there with music reviews, videos, and downloads from Korean artists - many of them pop singers - so it's possible to explore the genre from the comfort of one's own home.

Anonymous said...

Here are a few K-pop videos that you may enjoy more than 'Abracadrabra' -- or that at least provides a little contrast to the aforementioned video:

* Turtles(거북이) - Sing la la (싱랄라)


* W & Whale - R.P.G. Shine

* W & Whale - High School Sensation

* Humming Urban Stereo - Hawaiian Couple

* Epik High - Day of Peace

* Peppertones - Ready, Get Set, Go!

* Linus' blanket (HD) - 담요송

* yeongene - Labor in Vain

I first came to Korea in November 2002, and the songs that got the most airplay in stores, indoor TV screens, and television were:

* 싸이 - 챔피언 (PSY - Champion)

* YG Family - YMCA

* Lee Jung-hyun 이정현 - dara dara

You know, take out the movie scenes from the YG Family video and it doesn't look that different from a lot of hip hop videos from last year. While the video from PSY isn't anything special, I do like it for the fact that he (and at least one dancer) messes up his moves but that was included in the video -- kind of a "hey, we're not perfect, but we do have a sense of humor" moment. Lee Jung Hyun is mostly known for doing dance/techno instead of pop, but that didn't stop her from being popular. It wasn't until her fourth album that she even included a picture of what she looked like inside the CD album booklet. Here's another song of hers that got a music video:

* 이정현 - 평화 (Lee Jung Hyun - Peace)

And stepping into hip-hop territory for a brief moment (but laid-back, orchestral hip-hop), here's a song that I would be surprised to see described as "going through the motions their manager told them, in a joyless, bland way":

* Drunken Tiger - 8:45

... Hope you'll like at least one of the videos posted above!

Scott Walker said...

Now, I know this is a little late in the game, but I have to say that if you're knocking anything from K-pop, then you've taken no notice of how generally dire things are here in the States...or maybe you have, I don't know. We hit a low point with Pitbull...and his "Hotel Room" even went top 10 in the least we know he believes in 100% recycling, but it's waste packaging you're supposed to do that with, not popular music.

Are K-pop lyrics trite? Maybe so, but at least I don't realize it until I do the translations, such is the beauty of not totally understanding what they're singing. With American stuff, I realize it from the off. Then again, after a while, you start hearing everything again, so everything becomes cliché.

At least "Abracadabra" isn't "Macarena". If they'd not come up with an English version of that one...or at least had gotten a less annoying singer, that might have been all right. As it was, however...

At any rate, you have to admit that "Abracadabra" stands out...I don't see parodies of too many other songs out there, and it's something else when the signature dance is (rather poorly) done by a short-track skater on the medal podium, and even the Canadians get the joke.

BTW, I base my assessment of "Abracadabra" on the no-drama "stage" version of the video. I thought the dramatic pieces of the original video were unnecessary, and didn't fit with the song in a couple of key ways...sort of like gilding the lily with bronze...not really working.

I guess it all comes down to one question: What do you expect?

Roboseyo said...

Hi, Scott.

While I do think that bias can develop in expats living in Korea, because we only listen to our favorite/the awesomest bands from our original cultures (believe me, I've never sought out Miley Ray Cyrus, even if she IS #1 in America), while we're exposed to the most commercial of Korean pop culture -- it's an unfair comparison, like watching some episodes of "Sopranos" and then complaining that Korean network TV is junk - it'd be fairer to compare Korean network TV with MTV's Real World (season 20) and Two And A Half Men, and it'd be fairer to compare Brown Eyed Girls with Black Eyed Peas (see what I did there?) than with TV On The Radio, which I actually listen to.

That being said, I haven't mentioned western music at all in this post, so I don't feel like it needs to be brought into the discussion. I could certainly make a version of MTV Bingo including all the cliches in Western music videos as well, if I watched a lot of western music videos (and if I lived in Canada, maybe I would), but I don't, and why should I have to involve my original country (which I've been away from long enough I can't accurately comment on its pop culture anyway) whenever I discuss Korean pop culture?

Yeah, it's true that Western culture can create tripe just as awful as Korean culture, but that doesn't negate my opinion on the Brown Eyed Girls: it just means there are many many more discussions to be had on the topic.

Scott Walker said...

By the way, my four favorite bands are (in no particular order) Blur, New Order, Take That and Clon. My earliest favorite records were disco and R&B songs: "Shake Your Booty" by KC and the Sunshine Band and "Rubberband Man" by the Spinners. I was one of the few people in my high school (class of '94) that actually listened to rap and hip-hop ("Three Feet High and Rising" is absolutely peerless, even to this day). As song quality goes, would I put any of the Korean songs I've mentioned in the same league? Not hardly. Then again, I don't expect them to be. What they are is something --slightly-- different from what's out and about in North America. For me, that's enough. Even at that, however, I have standards, but they're pretty simple and subjective: do I like the songs, or not?

One more thing on "Abracadabra"...the lyrics are not going to be high poetry...nor should they be, this is at its heart a club song; it's for booty-shakin', not deep contemplation. The lyrics do have a bit of an edge, fact, compared to "Mister" (literally head-to-head as they were out at the same time) they're quite dark. It falls in line with what Bernard Sumner (I think it was, maybe it was Peter Hook) once said, that good pop music combined a bit of both brightness and darkness. Not as much light in "Abracadabra"'s in a minor key for the most part (except for the chorus) with a heavy bass line, like all good house music (for some people that's a contradiction in terms, but not me). For me, it stands up to repeated four or five times in a row. I haven't done that since Black Box and Technotronic...or "Tolawa".

Some Blur-related thoughts: It seems that Alex James, the bassist, co-composed "Run Devil Run"...unless that was a different Alex James; also, David Rowntree, the drummer, just finished second in the election to the House of Commons from the Cities of London and Westminster--he stood for election under the Labour Party, which has been a safe Conservative seat for well more than a century, i.e., he hadn't a chance.

What did that have to do with K-pop? Not a thing, except that Alex James, Blur's bassist, seems to have had a hand in creating one of Korea's recent hits. This leads me to a final thought: the division between Korean pop culture and Western is thinning. There's still a gap there, but it's narrowing. Brown Eyed Girls are picking up fans (at least of "Abracadabra") in a number of European countries, as are other K-pop groups, and these are fans outside of the Korean diaspora. At this rate, the hallyu will sweep over the whole world! (Or maybe not...say what you will about Korean pop culture, though, it is something a little bit different, when that is what a lot of people in the West sorely desire.)

Consider the horse duly flogged. He can now be reinterred.

Scott Walker said...

Back again, raising a dead horse just to flog it...

Actually, you couldn't play MTV Bingo, unless you did it with reality-show tropes, since there are hardly any videos on MTV anymore, unless you count MTV Tr3s. Even that channel is about 50% non-music content. (I'm not so sure about MuchMusic...though I think they are required to broadcast a significant minimum of music programming...kinda wish the FCC could do the same down here.)

There is a small but significant difference between Brown Eyed Girls and the other girl groups: they're from more of an "indie" background (and I use that term with significant license), since they were put together by a relatively small outfit, and not by one of the Big Three machines. Their production company doesn't appear to have the same resources at their disposal, so they had to do something a little different. I would actually describe their choreography in "Abracadabra" as somewhat understated (at least compared to American or Bollywood choreography). You might call it "simplistic" if you're of such a mind...but you might also keep in mind that (from what I can tell) they weren't really known for choreography before this video came out. They did come up with something rather unique for the next single (such as it was), "Sign", though they only performed the routine on the variety-show circuit...a routine which was co-developed by Narsha.

I'm not all that big a fan of the pop-factory paradigm prevalent (say that three times fast...) in South Korea , since it can produce some awful stuff. "Oh!" was not a winner for me...and I think that 9 members in a group is a trifle much, since it doesn't allow much room for the individuals to shine through. After School's recent expansion is a bad situation, since the producers seem to be referring to the members by numbers instead of by name (and there are only 8...that's just inconsiderate).

I think of 2AM (Jo Kwon's a card) and 2PM (Jay Park got screwed over)...I ought to put together a 14-member boy band and call it 2DM (for Too Damn Many). What is Super Junior, a boy band or a basketball team? And I thought Garibaldi was over-stocked...

Back to SNSD...I do like "Run Devil Run"...which happened to be composed by Westerners, and I found the "Dark SoShi" image a welcome contrast from the prior version. (Now, I know some people would decry the emphasis on image, as ostensibly it would be used to hide music of poor quality...but imagery has been part and parcel of popular music since its beginning; this only stands to reason as we are primarily visually sensitive, and if we don't have an image to associate with a particular performance, we'll make one up.) You might also have noticed a "dark" image with KARA's "Lupin"--an utterly nonsensical song, but what the hell, this is pop music, not "Ode on a Grecian Urn"; what's a Grecian urn?...About €6 an hour after the budget cutbacks. "Lupin" is nonsensical, but I enjoy it. I also liked "Mister", which is a pretty standard bubblegum-pop song. Whatever. I'm a sucker for pretty young women who can hit a note and shake a tail feather, so what? Once again, this ain't high art we're talkin' about. If you want to talk high art, then we can discuss the possible effects of developments in photographic technology on pre-Raphaelite paintings (pre-Raphaelite paintings can be told partly by their almost-stunning might call them oils in HD).

You're quite entitled to your opinions...different strokes for different blokes, and that.

(To be continue...)

Roboseyo said...

I get a strong "50 shades of grey" type vibe from the song and video. Not the exact contents (despite the scene with the guy fondling a whip) but the kind of gripping, irrational emotion that forms the central drama point for a certain category of woman-centered stories (the musical Chicago also comes to mind). In this song, it's a woman who's infatuated with a man in a relationship and doing weird obsessive creepy shit (voodoo dolls, tearing up pictures and keeping the pieces) and apparently resentful of the state she's in (enough to kill him just for her own peace of mind?)

I agree that the singing and music itself aren't exactly stellar, but there's something about it that just does it for me. I'm listening to it over and over again, much like I did with "A Little Piece of Heaven" by Avenged Sevenfold.