Wednesday, February 29, 2012

One last thought on blackface... for now

[Update: article on by Tiger JK - a member of Drunken Tiger - is REALLY worth reading]

After a long twitter discussion with someone who failed to see the problem with the blackface stuff, other than that it was tasteless and unfunny... two more thoughts.

1. YES. Fighting racist, insulting or degrading depictions of other cultures in Korean media is a worthwhile battle to fight, for this reason:

The things that are acceptable to show on TV are the things my kid grows up watching. The things that are put on TV, and the public discussions around what's OK, and why this was and that other thing wasn't OK to put on TV when kids can see it: these things set the norms for all media consumers in that society, for what's OK to talk about, to laugh at, and what we should be offended at. Those conversations about TV shows become conversations about what Uncle Vernon, or Uncle Chul-soo is OK to joke about and talk about around the dinner table as well, and helps kids decide Uncle Vernon is either a guy with strong opinions, or just a racist ass: media reflects, at the same time as it dictates, what the norms and taboos are for a society.

And after all content and jokes that degrade a particular group, or treat a group as inferior, are either removed from TV, or framed within public discussions about how it's not OK to degrade that group... after the media has moved beyond denigrating that group, and the dinner-table conversation reflects those norms, there's finally a chance kids in that media's society can grow up with a mindframe that is 100% non-discriminatory towards that group.

And that's the goal.

My twitter pal asked me, "Shouldn't you be fighting real battles about workplace discrimination, banking and working rights, to root out racism?" And I say the battle for a non-racist media and the battle for non-discriminatory treatment are one and the same. Because if a person has been raised in a media that respects all people groups (not ignores the fact there are people-groups, but acknowledges and respects the differences), you say "Well shouldn't a brown dude be able to get an iPhone in Korea?" and he'll go "Well, duh!" rather than throwing up a wall of cultural exceptionalist/ethnic stereotype defenses.

2. It's a fair point that not every nation's media is the same. Given the robust free speech in Denmark, and the robust public discussions about what's OK and not OK, I understand why people didn't think it was right to have a Fatwa declared against the muhammad cartoonist - because in that country, free speech is pretty well protected, and everybody gets their turn to be mocked, but everybody gets a platform to shout "I don't like what you said about me!"

The state of free speech in Korea isn't quite that strong: it's in the middle of the pack, press-freedom-wise, and every time Lee "Thin-Skin" Myungbak arrests or persecutes another blogger, podcaster or critic, I wonder how long it will be until Korea's media is truly free. And those who want  freedom to partake in "irresponsible reckless name-calling" are just as much in the wrong as those who would arrest them.

As for which media should be allowed to make which jokes, and when, I think a good rule of thumb is to put the shoe on the other foot. How would Koreans feel if East-Asians in the USA were still being portrayed like this:

Instead of like this:

Yeah that's what I thought.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Blackface In Korea? AGAIN? Bubble Sisters were NINE YEARS AGO!

[UPDATE] MBC has apologized and said "It will not happen again" -- we'll see.

Hat tip to Eat Your Kimchi.
More at Kushibo, and The Unlikely Expat, and Expat Hell

If the video's blocked on copyright grounds (they're shitheads, but they like to guard their stuff, those MBC folks), contact me and I'll see to it you get a copy of the video from the uploader.

OK, Korean media people. Here's the thing.

You, collectively, get to plead ignorance ONCE. Once altogether. Not once every three years: there's no reboot button. There are areas where you are supposed to have learned the lesson, and then not do it anymore.

And after that first "oh, we didn't realize," the free pass has expired. Forever. That Get-out-of-jail-free card is one-use only.

In fact, if you look at the makeup - all the way down to the white space around the lips -- it looks like the people who did this blackface DID know enough about blackface to make sure the Korean singers' makeup was identifiable as classic blackface.

To compare: (source)

 Note the Koreans in versions of Hanbok: Korea's traditional clothing.
 Notice also the TV Station logo on the top right.

 The Koreans lined up in the background, being entertained by the minstrel show.
 The caption at the bottom: one of the blackface painted actors shouts "I love you Korea!"
They're supposed to be dressed as a cartoon character.

That cartoon is extremely racist itself. You can read about it here.

And you don't get to say "Oh. That was another TV station/studio/music company that did blackface last time: they should have learned their lesson, but we can hardly be blamed..." Because you have people in your company who have been in the industry, who have been paying attention to the industry, since the last time some asshat did this. (in January)

So pull your head out of your asses Korean domestic media companies. Because your stuff gets put on Youtube, gets watched by all the expats living in Korea. Pull your heads out of your asses because a month after Girls' Generation got on Letterman, and (as is hoped) a whole bunch of new people started to pay attention to The Korean Wave, and began to be interested in Korea... here's what they see:

And that's embarrassing. Embarrassing for Korea, because some people? All they know about Korea is Girls Generation on Letterman, Hyuna's Bubble-Pop video, and now these screenshots.

Embarrassing for all the people trying to promote Korea overseas, to change and improve the image of the country.

Not all Koreans are racist. That's obvious. But Korea's media makes Korea look like a racist backwater from time to time. And with images like this, Korea's media makes Korea look like a really racist backwater.

And the Koreans who aren't racist, have to kick up a storm when this shit does happen, so that it doesn't happen again, and it doesn't take letters from the NAACP or the Simon Weisenthal Center to cause a retraction or an apology.

If this video gets pulled from Youtube (and it might), contact me. I'm in touch with the uploader, who has a copy on their computer.

Oh, but tu quoque, Roboseyo: you see, Billy Crystal wore blackface at the Oscars! Yes. He did. And he got called on it, a lot, because blackface just isn't acceptable. When "chinky eyes" got drawn on a Starbucks cup in America, it caused a bloggy firestorm. Because while America clearly hasn't solved racism (that's not how these things work anyway), America DOES talk about these things, and everyone can learn where the lines are drawn, because everybody is witness, or party, to these discussions.

It was just a little over a month ago - ONLY A FREAKING MONTH since since the last blackface fuck-up on Korean Television. (SNL Korea's blackface Dreamgirls skit). That time I was talking about the ambiguities on the radio -- why should American cultural sensitivities be suddenly forced on the entire world's media, just because someone might put something on Youtube?...

But when I look at these images, and this video... such attempts to contextualize go out the window.

Look at the video above. This is not a video that would only offend Americans sensitized to blackface. Look at these pictures. Find me an African who doesn't find that offensive. (source)

How about this music video. (Bubble Sisters were 2003. We STILL haven't learned, nine fucking years later?)

How about this fried chicken commercial. (Uploaded 2009; not sure when it aired)

This no longer strikes me as an isolated incident. This strikes me as something Korean society needs to have a soul-searching discussion about.


Because if foreigners wearing hanboks is the only acceptable way to put foreigners on TV in Korea -- either in Hanboks, or with bones in their freaking noses... Korea really, SERIOUSLY needs to talk about portraying non-Koreans in the media, in a way that treats them as humans, as adults, as thinking, feeling beings, and not just as embodiments of stereotypes,  (source)

as a validating foreign gaze,

or as pretty faces saying Korean men are handsome, Kimchi is delicious, and everything Korea is a wonderful! (Misuda accomplished more than that... but it did put otherness on display...and nobody's explained to me why the opinions of pretty, foreign women (put your emphasis on whichever of those words you choose) are more valuable than the opinions of non-pretty, or non-foreign, or non-women. I wrote about that here.

... if those are the only images foreigners get in domestic Korean media, we'll have another generation growing up who are unable to think of Korea's relationship with the world in any frame other than "us and them" and that's not a healthy attitude for a country that wants to be a global player.

The cultural argument needs consideration: last time around, I argued it's ethnocentric to say the whole world must ascribe to our values of what's offensive... but it's also ethnocentric, and just fucking disrespectful, to say "because we're a different culture, we're allowed to mock your racial/ethnic/gender identity group as much as we like. You just don't understand us." (And it's dishonest to continue hiding behind "We don't know any better" (you get to play that card once) or "You weren't the audience" (that's not how things work in the hyper-connected information age. Everybody sees everything all the time). Does Korea really want to be considered an elite/advanced nation? Then set that "Korea's still a developing country" excuse to rest and start taking ownership.

So between the type of tunnel vision that says "Everything that offends me must disappear from everywhere" and the type of tunnel vision that says "Because we don't share every aspect of your cultural history, we're allowed to brazenly continue practices that we are well aware are offensive to a lot of people" we need to find a middle ground where all involved cultures feel they're being respected. It needs to be a reciprocal conversation: not just a dictation of one media's mores to another culture, nor a flat cultural argument and a subsequent refusal to listen.

And the way to find that middle ground is to talk about it. Continually -- these kinds of discussions are never completely finished (cf: Billy Crystal), but every time we revisit the same themes, we've come a little farther, learned a little more, and are more likely to get things right. So let's talk about it. In English, and also in Korean.

Because here's what happens next: Korea's One Use Only "Get out of Jail Free" ignorance card has already been played (back in freaking 2003, when the Bubble Sisters used blackface)
Now that the free pass has already been used, every subsequent time garbage like this gets on Korean Television, or in Korean newspapers, bloggers are going to write about it. And send letters to groups like the Simon Weisenthal Center and the NAACP about it, and contact the journalists we know, and share it on facebook and twitter. And cause as much embarrassment as possible for korea, until the TV producers who say "Yeah, sure, paint her face black. It'll be funny." Stop saying that. Until the KTO has a sit-down with the chairperson of MBC and says "Stop undoing our Korea promotion work with your racist brain-sharts." Until SM Entertainment and JYP lay a little smackdown on local Korean media for making their Hallyu venture harder to achieve because instead of "K-pop? Weren't they on letterman" the initial respons becomes "Korea? Isn't that the country that still makes blackface jokes?"

And while we're here, let's not forget: there's already an anti-Hallyu backlash in Japan, and other places. As Block B discovered, it doesn't take much to get an entire nation up in arms at a percieved slight (cf: Jay Leno's dog eating joke and here), and you never know when this or that story unexpectedly goes viral. If MBC decides to mock the Thai, or Filipinos, or Vietnamese, next time their variety shows can't think of a joke, if the next target are some dirty Chinese instead of some blackface pickaninnies, that rumbling anti-Hallyu backlash could crystallize into something too big, and too angry, for an apology video to smooth over.

Korea wanted a place on the world stage. Well, now that you're here, this is what happens. Everybody watches everything, and dirty laundry gets hung out for the world to see. There are no more secret shames, so let's hope Korean TV programmers, music video producers, and the like, start treating non-Korean cultures with a little more respect and responsibility.

We haven't forgotten about you, T-ara. Don't worry.

More links:
Hitler and Anti-Semitic stuff:
Bar named Gestapo
Hitler bars.
Let's not forget the kinds of apologies Koreans have been known to demand in the face of insults to their heritage.
The Nazi Coreana ads: using Nazi symbols and Hitler references to sell cosmetics.
Explaining why Koreans suffered more than the Jews. Because it's a contest, and the people who suffered the most win.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Are Koreans Afraid of Foreigners? Videoclip plus Facepalm

CJ Entertainment put this video out, to show how scared Koreans are of foreigners.

The only problem is, I don't think it shows Koreans are scared of foreigners.

I'm not surprised at all, given the fact so many Koreans' main experience with English is connected with Very Important Tests, or Evaluations That Could Bugger Your Upward Mobility Forever (even if you never need English in your work), that many are nervous about speaking English. If you could measure English Speaking Anxiety, I don't doubt Koreans would be near the top of the international rankings. But I'd say this video proves Koreans are afraid of speaking English, not of foreigners. Most Koreans I've met are pretty curious about foreigners, if they're brave enough to start talking.

I took issue with EBS's racism video earlier, basically for editing video to tell the narrative they wanted it to (that time, that Koreans like whitey more than South Asians)... and it's interesting to contrast these two videos, to demonstrate that yeah, the white guy also has trouble finding useful help, and some people walk by the white guy, too.

Another angle: if a Korean were walking around on the streets of Toronto or Baltimore, they'd probably have just as much trouble finding help, or being passed by. Because they're not speaking the language of the land. Not even trying.

As a traveller like this guy is dressed up to be, and especially as someone living here, not knowing the basics of the local language kind of inexcusable. It's not THAT hard to learn a couple of phrases, to learn to count, to learn left, right, straight, and "over there," and it'll help you find what you're looking for, and get along with the natives. If you can't be arsed to learn that, while staying here longer than a month, you should only travel to countries that speak your language, or stay well on the beaten track for tourists, where odds are higher you'll eventually bump into someone who can speak with you.

While we're in Korea, and while it's sweet that CJ cares so much about how anglo tourists fare in Korea (did they make similar videos for tourists speaking Vietnamese, Cantonese, Thai, Mandarin, Mongolian and Tagalog?), let's remember that Koreans in Korea are under no obligation to learn the languages of the people who visit Korea, and if they do learn, and if they speak it with you, they've doing you a favor, to which you are not entitled. Let's be clear about that.

And this doesn't prove Koreans are afraid of foreigners. That is all.

Sigh. Do I HAVE to write about Jenny Hyun?

So Jenny Hyun is a person I never heard of before, and she wrote some racist things.
Write-up. Write-up.

I usually don't write about Korean-American or Asian-American things.

Because I'm not Korean, I'm not American, and I'm certainly not Korean-American. Where those discussions intersect with questions of Korean identity and Korea expat identity, it interests me, and I link "I Am Koream" on my sidebar because it's related often enough...

but since everyone's writing about Jenny Hyun's racist tweets, I guess I will, too:

Is Jenny Hyun a typical Korean-American? No.
Is she a typical Korea-Korean? No.
Has she lived in Korea? Not that I've gathered so far.
Do her tweets say anything about Korea? No.
Do her tweets show us anything about how Korea Koreans feel about black people? No.
Do her tweets show us anything about how Korean Americans feel about black people? No.
Is there any reason I should care about her racist dumb comments more any other set of racist dumb comments? No. And hers even less than the other trolls racists and dumbasses, who are more likely to have been in control of themselves when they write their drivel.
Is this going to kill the Korean wave in America? No.
Should Girls' Generation or Chocolat continue to employ her? No.
Should Ms. Hyun have a twitter account if she knows this is one of the ways her mental condition manifests? No.
Last I heard, the situation is being explained as a possible schizophrenic episode... and should I get my knickers in a knickerbocker over words that are nothing more than the manifestation of an unwell mind? No.

Does she deserve to get off the hook if she really is sick? Not off the hook... but she clearly needs help here, either for dealing with racist attitudes, or for dealing with her condition. And she should have a few people around her who are filtering stuff like this.

If the schizophrenic thing is a line her agent or handlers are peddling to get her off the hook? That's just as bad as the stuff she tweeted (and her unapologetic response to the backlash), because schizophrenics and others who struggle with mental illness do NOT deserve to have their condition filed with "I was drunk" and "He's lived a hard life" as excuses for bad behavior that deserve to be met with jaded "oh yeah?" responses. Poisoning the compassion the unwell deserve is the most deplorable thing I can think of.

The final takeaway... probably the only real takeaway here:
The response to racism (Mayweather's comment) is not more racism.
The response to Hyun's racism, is not more racism, either (NB: people using this to say all Koreans or all Korean-Americans are racist, because of their tangential association with Ms. Hyun.)

OK I'm done.

Also... Jeremy Lin... Taiwanese-American. Intersects with the themes of this blog even less... though I like a good sports Cinderella story as much as the next guy, and it's really easy to root for him.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

SBS K-Pop Star

After the success of "Superstar K" and then "I am a Singer" other reality/audition shows have been catching on like a virus on Korean television.

My wife has been a big fan of K-pop Star, where heads or representatives of some of the major Kpop companies themselves are the panel of judges, watching talented young people compete. Some of the competitors have been pretty darn good, so I'd like to write a post talking about it.


Nevermind then.

Building a Great Album: Side 2

I'm calling it side 2 even though you don't have to flip over a CD or tracklist... yet somehow a lot of albums are still structured to have similar highs and lows to what you'd get on a tape or vinyl record. Because it works: it's a way to sustain listeners through an hour of music from a single artist. I'm sure their are other ways to structure it (for example, making an entire side of a record a single song)

I'll Believe in Anything - Wolf Parade. Saw this song performed live. Wow.

By the way, while I'm on the topic... is a great site to visit if you like an artist, and want to find more like them.

4. Somewhere in the second half, there needs to be one (or more) song that is absolutely awesome, to hold together the second half. If the album is front-loaded, I'll lose interest. Arcade Fire's albums suffer from this: too many of their second halves (side twos) are a little undifferentiated, and the resulting effect is an impression that their albums are all about ten to fifteen minutes too long. The side two anchor can bring something a little different than the opening trio, it's a good place for a piece that sprawls (on the first half, it's better to keep things tight) ... but it has to kick ASS in its way.

Some great standout second-half anchors - you'll notice that a number of these are the emotional climax of the entire album, and others are the emotional counterpoint that contrasts the tone of the first three tracks:
Ball and Biscuit (White Stripes: Elephant)

What is the Light and Waitin' For A Superman (Flaming Lips: The Soft Bulletin)
When Doves Cry (Prince: Purple Rain) (click the link fast. Prince has a record of removing his songs from Youtube)
Runaway (Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy)
Hallelujah and Lover, You Should Have Come Over (Jeff Buckley: Grace)
I'll Believe in Anything (Wolf Parade: Apologies to the Queen Mary: best track on the whole album)
So Come Back, I'm Waiting (Okkervil River: Black Sheep Boy)
2 Eyes 2 C: (Suckers: Wild Smile)
Maps: (Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Fever to Tell)
Ziggy Stardust (David Bowie: Ziggy Stardust)
Lonely Lonely and When I Was a Young Girl: (Feist: Let it Die)
Tracks thirteenfourteen, fifteen: (Modest Mouse: This is a Long Drive for Someone With Nothing to Think About - only a stunning climax would have been able to balance an album with so many massive dynamic swings, but these three do it.)
Share (Cymbals Eat Guitars: Why Are There Mountains-the two songs I mentioned in this post are the only two really good songs on the album, in my opinion, but their placement shows me the band knows something about shaping an album. I'll give their next one a try.)

Scythian Empire (Andrew Bird: Armchair Apocrypha)
Broken Drum (Beck: Guero)
If You See Her, Say Hello and Shelter From the Storm [not on Youtube] (Bob Dylan: Blood on the Tracks)

5. A satisfying closing. This is one of the reasons I really hate rereleases, bonus tracks, and special editions that add tracks (especially alternative versions of songs we've already heard) to the end of the original album: because the final word of an album shouldn't be messed with. And if a track wasn't good enough to be part of the original album statement, it doesn't deserve a place on a disc with the original album.

Many bands put their most sprawling track last (Desolation Row, A Day in the Life), some sail off into the stratosphere (Purple Rain - Prince: Purple Rain; All Is Full Of Love - Bjork: Homogenic; Dragon's Lair: Sunset Rubdown - Dragonslayer; My Body is a Cage - Arcade Fire: Neon Bible), or at least somewhere (The Happy Birthday Song - Andrew Bird: Andrew Bird & The Mysterious Production Of Eggs) and others end with a gentle sigh that almost deflates (I Saw a Light - Bat For Lashes: Fur and Gold, Mothers of the Disappeared - U2: The Joshua Tree), and others are a little bow to tie off the emotional dramatics that came just before (After Hours - Velvet Underground: Self-Titled; Her Majesty - Beatles: Abbey Road; Space Travel is Boring - Modest Mouse: This is a Long Drive...) but when it finishes, you know it's finished, and the journey is complete.

Radiohead are the best at putting a final song in that drifts off and leaves the listener exactly where they want them. While the rest of their albums are so good it's not always easy to say they're the best tracks on the albums (though some are contenders) but they're all gorgeous songs, and perfect closers. Wolf At The Door and Four Minute Warning (Hail to the Thief and In Rainbows, part II) are favorites.  Tom Waits ties off his albums (which fly in every direction) with his final songs, which is very important to restore unity after switching across genres, themes and emotional tones as much as he does - "That Feel" from Bone Machine, "Anywhere I Lay My Head" from Rain Dogs, and "Come On Up To The House" from Mule Variations are three finishes that complete the arc of their albums, and "Fawn" is a perfect, sad little bowtie.

Other great closing tracks:
Bird Gehrl (Antony and the Johnsons: I am a Bird Now); Pitter Patter goes my Heart (Broken Social Scene: You Forgot it in People) Filmore Jive (Pavement: Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain)

Bird Gehrl

On the flipside, NEVER EVER put your worst song last, because that's the closing impression I'll have of your album. From Here We Go To Sublime, by The Field, has a closing track I find really languid and dull compared to the excellent rest of the album, and particularly compared to the superlative track "Silent," which is the chillest bliss-out I've ever heard. It uses a different sound vocabulary than the rest of the album, and is considerably slower, so that the album ends in an anticlimax... and not in a good way (as in Bird Gehrl, above, or "One road To Freedom" a nice bring-down at the end of Ben Harper's "Fight For Your Mind," after the stormy "God Fearing Man"

Following the template
Antony and the Johnsons - I Am A Bird Now
White Stripes - especially Elephant
U2 - The Joshua Tree
Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy... though the closing track isn't as great as some of the others.
Rain Dogs - Tom Waits (one of the greatest songwriting albums in my collection)
Songs by Leonard Cohen (his gorgeous debut album)
Bjork - Homogenic
Built To Spill - Perfect from Now On (second half high points; Time Trap, You Were Right)
and it doesn't have to be classic, indie, or obscure, either:
Barenaked Ladies - Stunt

Filmore Jive - Pavement (a band whose sound checks none of the boxes that usually make me like a band... but which I keep coming back to again and again, because their songs are just ... great.)

The other way to make an album is to make one that's strong from top to bottom -- no tracks particularly stand way out... but there also isn't a weak one in there, either. This is hard to do, because if the songs are too similar, it's boring, but they have to stay within the vibe. These consistent kinds of albums are the best for listening while you're working or driving, and they're really satisfying.
Avett Brothers: I and Love and You
Most Wilco albums, other than Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
Most albums by "The National" -- which is why they grow on you so much. High Violet is an especially good example of this, because they even manage to have some standout songs... without having standout songs.
Animal Collective: Merriweather Post Pavillion
Bob Dylan: Blood on the Tracks
Bon Iver: Self titled
David Byrne: Grown Backwards

Back to the first post.  Back to part 2.  My posts about Bliss-outs.  About K-pop. About REAL Korean Music.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Building a Great Album: Side 1

Soundtrack: Black Dog, Led Zeppelin, for your listening pleasure.

Though albums are sold as CDs or digital tracklists these days, rather than tapes or records with two sides, there are certain features of the first half of an album's playing time, and certain features of the second half, that have held true even after we stopped having to flip over our tapes and records. This post is about what works on side one of an album.

I'll try to put links up at least one of the times I mention an album or band... but google works, folks, and unless I add a qualifier, I'd say that all the songs (and albums on which they are found, obviously, given the topic) are keepers, and worth a try. Unless you really disagree with my taste in music... which is OK, too.

1. As per Nick Hornby's Mixtape Rules from High Fidelity, the first track SHOULD be a great one... but it should also be a statement of purpose about what the album will be about (this has been true since Sergeant Pepper, the first modern album), and the second song should bring things up even higher, if possible-or go somehow further in the direction the album's going. No band has ever (or at least... SHOULD ever) put their most depressing song first. Or the one offbeat song that doesn't match the rest of the album's tone. The Joshua Tree put Bullet The Blue Sky fourth (a good place for a change of pace song), not first. White Stripes' Elephant also changes pace for tracks 4 and 5. Couldn't exactly gone any higher.

Led Zeppelin (Black Dog, Whole Lotta Love, Immigrant Song) and U2 (Where the Streets Have No Name, Beautiful Day) are two bands that are very good at picking a great opener. Like or dislike the entire album, with "And the Hazy Sea," Cymbals eat Guitars tells you exactly what you're getting. On an awesomer scale, "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" at the beginning of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" lets you know you're in for something really, really hot.

Other albums with really great first songs, or songs that set the tone really well: Funeral, by Arcade Fire (The Suburbs is probably a better album overall, but The Arcade Fire might never top that first song off their debut full-length). Purple Rain, by Prince (Let's Go Crazy), "Fever to Tell" and "It's Blitz" by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Weezer's "My Name is Jonas," is an amazing opening volley. "Until the Morning Comes" by Tindersticks. Yeah Yeah Yeah Song, by The Flaming Lips (At War With the Mystics is not their best, but probably their most fun album.)

Until the Morning Comes (Tindersticks)

2. The first three tracks should set out most of the album's sonic parameters, and if you only have four or five great songs for your album, it's not a bad idea to cash in two, or even three of them, in the first triple. If the goal of your album is to rock out, the advice given in High Fidelity (I think in the book: can't find it in the movie clips) stands: start strong, but make the second song even better, to serve notice that things are going to rock out, not peter out.

Greatest opening trios in my collection:
White Stripes: Elephant (Seven Nation Army, Black Math, which somehow, almost unbelievably, kicks it up another notch from the stunning opener, and then There's no Home For You Here, which nearly made me drive off the road the first time I listened to it in a car.)
Jeff Buckley: Grace (Mojo Pin, Grace, Last Goodbye)
U2: The Joshua Tree (Where the Streets Have no Name, I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For, With or Without You: Incredible!)

Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Zero. Shiny!

Other stellar opening trios: David Bowie: Ziggy Stardust (track 4's not bad, either), The Flaming Lips are very good at opening songs and trios that set out the tone for the album...and also kick ass, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs albums "Fever to Tell" and "It's Blitz" also do this really well, but the masters might be The White Stripes: all of their studio albums do this in spades, bringing the thunder while setting the soundscape.

Interestingly, the Beatles - album as genre pioneers - usually don't follow to the "first three tracks" rule

3. If there isn't a tone-shift track somewhere in the first five tracks (think "Bullet The Blue Sky" on Joshua Tree, or "Exit Music For a Film" on OK Computer, or "The Beautiful Ones" on Purple Rain), I stop expecting one, and start listening for if the album is consistent all the way through (Blood on the Tracks) instead. Changes of tone aren't needed, but it's a different type of album where the songs all combine into a very unified listening experience, instead of standing out a little, one from the other.

Back to part one.  On to part three.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Building a Great Album: On The Album as a Journey

From time to time I stop prattling on about Korea, and prattle on about music or film. If you prefer my Korea prattle, hang in there. I'll get back to it soon enough.

I love music. I don't have training in music, so it's not about the chords... it's about the place the music takes me. And if a four chord song can do it, that's fine. And if you need a masters' in music theory to explain it... that's fine, too. I'm like people who drive a car, but can't explain how the engine works: I don't quite understand how, but if it gets me where I want to go, we're good. And even if engineers tell me it's built very cleverly, if it doesn't get me there in a way I like, somebody else might, I don't really care what the engine specs are.

So you're welcome to disagree with me about which music I love, but I was just listening to OK Computer, and listened to "Exit Music For a Film" followed by "Let Down" followed by "Karma Police" -- which, despite having made so many great songs, might be the best three-song run Radiohead's ever strung together on an album. Might.

Exit Music (For a Film)

I almost always listen to albums. Maybe I'm a relic because of it. I don't grumble that digital music sounds different from vinyl, I don't have a hi-fi and a set of $800 headphones, but I believe that an artist who knows what they're doing puts enough care into the songs they write, and the order they appear in, and how they fit with each other, that it's worth listening to the album, to get what the artist was going for. Skipping to your three favorite tracks instead of listening to the album in the track order it was made, if the artist knows what they're doing, is the difference between going on a road trip with someone, and looking at the five best pictures they took on their way.

And these days, when the internet, and Youtube, have diminished the returns on making a full album, rather than condensing it into an EP, or releasing it as two EPs (each with their own hype buildup and lead singles), so much that an artist has no reason to make a full-length album... unless they have something to say that can't be broken into an EP. This is all the more reason to continue to listen to albums, to see if artists are worth their salt, before looking up the best songs on Youtube.

Let Down

Sgt. Pepper probably marked the beginning of the album as an artistic expression of its own, rather than just a collection of artistic expressions. The less nuanced approach was to put the most radio-friendly songs either at the beginning of side one, or the beginning of side two, or somewhere on the first side, as far as I can tell from checking the track lists of my pre-1967 albums. (this continued after Sgt. Pepper as well). Some bands still just put their most likely hits first, and pad out the rest. This is less forgivable than ever before, now that iTunes has rendered album filler obsolete, and extra annoying.

But there are still bands out there that can put together a hell of a good album, and this series, like my old bliss-out posts, is a little celebration of albums, particularly the ones that are well-built... and perhaps it's an elegy for them too, now that the album as artform is becoming less and less relevant in the face of music videos and EPs that can boast a higher hit-song to track-listing ratio (available for 99 cents on iTunes!)

Karma Police

There are a few keys to a well-constructed album, in my book. Not every well-made album has all these features, in the same way that not every relationship-driven drama involves a misunderstanding or deception in the second act... but enough do, that I'm not going to say this is why these albums work, but it's clear that this does work. I'm giving examples here from some albums I really like. Some of them are classics and all-time greats; others are middling albums where the only thing going for them might be that they were built the way they are... in fact, some of these albums are basically the equivalent of a mediocre painting with very good composition... which just makes the composition stand out more admirably.

Go to part 2 of the series.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Korean Blog List is Dead. Long Live All The Korea Blogs

After leaving Korea, it's no surprise the guy who ran the Korea Blog List is no longer interested in maintaining it.

It's no surprise, either, because the list has gotten so long and unwieldy, and the choice is either to let it balloon with defunct blogs, or spend ever-increasing time curating something that's no longer an legitimate part of his life.

Now, Blogger Noe has kindly saved all the links originally listed on the Korean Blog List (here) and has updates (here). (The "Foreigners living in Korea" list is here)

Korean News Feeds, which used to clearly be the best spot, also now carries a lot of links to defunct blogs, and has simply started including so many, that I'm no longer sure that they've chosen only the best ones -- its once awesome status as a great curator of blogs has been diluted by volume.

Alphabetical lists (as at Noe's blog) and time lists (in order of when their names were added to the list, which Korean Blog List used to do) are both also subject to the problem of defunct blogs (a constant problem) getting equal space with the active ones.

So I've built a very simple blogspot page, named: All The Korea Blogs, which uses the same "Most recent update goes first" system as the links on the sidebar of my blog -- which I really like, because you can tell which blogs are more active by moving to the top of the list, or spotting which ones linger up there.

If you want to account for quality, look at the sidebar on Roboseyo, where I've put my favorites, instead of "All The..." which looks to be more completist... or check the sidebars of your other favorite blogs.

So add "All The Korea Blogs" to your links, and if you have a blog, ask me to add it.

And everybody: don't forget to check the links on the side of your blog from time to time, to see if they're still updating.

Links: Old Korean Music, Tact, and More

Here are some of the links I discussed on my radio show, "Blog Buzz" on Thursday mornings at 8:35am:

1. James Turnbull at The Grand Narrative, is talking about all the body-part-lines used to sell things in Korea, and how S-line is now being used not just to sell health products, but non-human things like phones.

Do you know what your X-line, M-line, D-line, V-line (or second V-line) are?

2. After covering Girls' Generation's Letterman appearance last week, this week it was nice to assure readers/listeners that Kpop was not the only kind of Korean music getting blog coverage: The Atlantic and Wall Street Journal recently wrote about K-pop, but The Economist has a piece about a true Korean virtuoso (how's that, Mike Hurt?), writing about Korean guitar legend Shin Joong-hyun. Even better, the piece included a video clip of Shin playing "미인," his most famous song, from a 2006 concert, and even in 2006, well past his youth, the man absolutely rocks the hell out of the song.

The video's a bit out of sync, so scroll down, and just listen instead of letting it annoy you as you watch.

Along with that, Yujin Is Huge wrote a post titled "K-pop before it was K-pop" with some songs his dad used to play him from his record collection, and I'm happy to tell you about a newer blog I've come across (I think via Popular Gusts)

G'old Korea Vinyl is taking out of print Korean music from the 70s and 80s and putting it in Mp3 or Youtube video form so that the world outside of those few amazing vinyl classic Korean music bars, can still enjoy the old sounds that formed the foundation on which the K-pop altar (alter?) was built. I've added them to my sidebar and I love how every new post has something to listen to. Their latest is another Shin Joong hyun post, just by coincidence.

3. Ms. Lee To Be has a fantastic post that demonstrates why knowing the culture, and working within what you know of Korean culture, dramatically increases your chance of getting what you want, instead of just having a frustrating confrontations.

Mr. and Ms. Lee's baby dragon is in the hospital, and a hospital with an absolutely draconian policy for baby contact: you're allowed to look at your baby for 30 minutes a day. And that's it. No cuddling, no touching, until you check out.

When informed that modern medical pediatric science is generally concluding that skin contact, and touch, in really important for babies, and really good for their health, the doctor they spoke to threw up a storm wall that amounted to "nuh-uh, it isn't!"... as could be expected, given Korea's culture of saving face, and the fact they'd just told a doctor that her methodology was out to lunch.

But rather than trying to get through that wall by butting their heads harder, Mr. and Ms. Lee circumvented all that pain and uselessness by providing a side door that let the Doctor feel smart, and let them cuddle their baby, by appealing to the doctor's expertise and asking if someone at the hospital could help "teach" them about proper bottle feeding and nursing, during their baby visiting period.

Just like that, they went from butting heads, to getting a chance to cuddle their baby during visiting time, with a lot less conflict and frustration, than if they'd just tried again, louder, with their original tactic.

An impressive negotiation of "face" and hierarchy, and extremely well played, says I, and a lesson for us all, to try being a little more strategic instead of obnoxious, loud, or accusing, when trying to get what we want and need.

So remember, folks: if you're tempted to write a ten page letter to your boss about how wrong they are about everything... don't, unless your bags are already packed, and you already have your ticket home. And even then, don't, because you're going to make your school's work situation 40% harder for the next foreign worker they hire, who'll come into a situation where everyone they need to work with has a sour taste in their mouth about foreign workers. Even if you're really sure you're right about everything you say.

Go read Ms. Lee To Be's account.

4. American in North Korea has a great series of photos from their tour of the captured US Ship Pueblo.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Five Better Places to Visit than the Wonder Girls Suggest

Update: I have been one-upped by Adeel, who has FOURTEEN places worth visiting in Seoul.

So..., the official government website, has been telling us about the Wonder Girls' efforts to promote Korean culture, and it's been one head scratcher after another.

Zenkimchi will tell you about with their efforts to promote Korean foods -- a list of one "yeah, alright" and four "you chose THAT as a signature Korean food?"
(the five Korean foods I'd promote: 1. Korean pears 2. Korean barbeque 3. dalk galbi 4. jjim dalk 5. makgeolli, dongdongju, and muju - the rice alcohols)

Now, they've recommended five places in Korea to visit. But the five places they suggested people visit are just... so... ON the beaten track, and so dreadfully predictable. Plus one clearly sponsored by Samsung. Which is representative of Korean culture, I suppose, seeing as the Samsung lobby's about two years from suggesting we change the name of the country to "Samsung Presents: The Republic of Korea (South)" So... if it's your first week in Korea, yeah. Go visit these five places. Woo hoo..
(source: google image search for 'unenthusiastic')

The suggestions: and maybe as penance for recommending apples last time, each location is paired with a food. And the food suggestions are much better than last time around.

  • North Seoul Tower. (everybody already goes there) and stir fried chicken (now we're talking)
  • Gyeongbokgung Palace in the fall (8 out of 10 Koreans will suggest this as the place you should visit, if you ask them for sightseeing recommendations. The other 2 are split between Seoul Tower and Insadong), and kalguksu (knife cut noodles, which vary from stunning to awful, depending on the place. Roboseyo recommends: Gwangjang Market, at Jongno 5-ga station, for a good one)
  • A spa (as with kalguksu, which one determines the experience... but yeah. The jimjilbang experience in Korea rocks), and gopchang gui, or grilled risk materials.
  • Sinsa-dong and Garosu-gil (basically, the Gyeongbokgung [obvious but dull first choice] of trendy Seoul) samgyetang, or chicken soup. And...
  • Samsung d'light Bold (WTF?) and ddeokbokki dalkburky tteokbooky darkbirdy topoki topokki... decent choice.
I don't have time to get into it too much, but other than the blatant Samsung thumping by a GOVERNMENT AGENCY, we have one good choice (spa) two dull old choices (Seoul Tower and Gyeongbok Palace) one dull new choice (Garosu - which would have been Samchungdong three years ago, and will be Buam dong two years from now).

So if it's your first month in Korea, go to those places. If you've been here more than a month, then even if you don't recognize those place names (it was all a blur to me for my first three months) trust me.. one of your new Korean friends has taken you there.

And here are my five places for you to go instead, and I'll follow the same rules: One touristy, one old, one relaxing, one trendy, and one sold to the highest bidder:

1. Touristy: The Andong Mask Dance festival, in particular, the fireworks show, which are like nothing you've seen in your life. Or the Bamboo Forest in Damyang, which has also been the filming location for lots of movies and dramas.

2. Old: Gilsang Temple, a twenty minute walk from Hansung University Station, also looks nice in the fall. It's smaller and much less crowded than Gyeongbok Palace, which will give you sore feet and crowd-stress. (map)

3. Relaxing: If the weather's bad, the Wonder Girls' suggestion of a jimjilbang is good. I recommend HanBang Land. If the weather's nice, go for either Hongje Stream - Hongje Station, head north - which leads all the way to World Cup Stadium Park, and is less built up and crowded than Cheonggyecheon, and goes through older neighborhoods, or Seongbukcheon (Seongbuk Stream) which also goes through older neighborhoods, is nicely done up as a park space, and is also less crowded than the Cheonggyecheon -- though it meets up with the Cheonggyecheon east of Dongdaemun, near the Sinseol-dong second-hand market, which is also a cool area to wander around. Get your hands on a bicycle to enjoy either of these places to the max.

4. Stylish/trendy: I've never been a fan of garosu gil. A friend keeps bringing me to places there that have very pretty design, but VERY underwhelming food. Ever since Samchungdong got TOO trendy, and became too expensive for the shops that made it cool to stay open there (and then started to suck when Kraze Burker and Dunkin Donuts moved in), many of the vanished eateries have relocated to Hyoja-dong, the area in and around Tongin Market. It's filling up with nifty bakeries and cafes and some of the best hand-drip coffee to be found. Go out Gyeongbokgung station exit 2 or 3, and get lost in the side streets.

5. Corporate Sell-out: this recommendation space is open to the highest bidder. Make me an offer in the comments and I'll plug your company's products, space, or whatever. Until then, as a place-holder, I'll recommend these two spots: Jongno 3-5-ga: Jongmyo Park - the park in front of Jongmyo Shrine (once it's finished redeveloping) is the best people-watching location in Seoul. It's where all the old folks go, drink soju, play baduk, sing karaoke, and do whatever they damn well please, and some of them wear shiny jackets. From there, it's a short walk to Jongno 5-ga, and Kwangjang Market, a covered market with a food area that has some of the best versions of the foods Korea's older generation loves (bindaeddeok, kalguksu, sundae, juk) to be found anywhere.  Or if you don't like the old stuff, Star City shopping center, near Konguk University Station (line 2 and 7), which is the nicest-looking of the new mega-shopping-centers Seoul has been building all over the city.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

SuperBowl: I'm Glad the USA doesn't Love Soccer

So the Superbowl happened yesterday, with all the fanfare, hype, and overpriced advertising space. And Madonna something something and OMIGOSH A MIDDLE FINGER and something something of ALL TIME EVER! SERIOUSLY! Thirty seconds after the game has ended is perspective enough to make all-time statements, don't you know. And I'm glad. Glad it's over... but glad mostly that the good old USA gives such a great deal of damn about The Superbowl, and thereby leaves the FIFA World Cup for the rest of the world to enjoy. And I hope it stays that way! To all my American readers, real or imagined: enjoy your American football. And back up off REAL football (what you call Soccer). Please leave it to the rest of the world, and if you ever feel like taking up pro soccer as a new sports thing, kindly re-watch Michael Jackson's 1993 Superbowl halftime show, and forget whatever you were just thinking.

American Football is a pretty good game, all-told. It's an interesting exercise in cooperation of different role-players, a fantastic combination of power, brute strength, and finesse, and only hockey, and perhaps rugby, excels it in its ability to combine a sustained exhibition of human athletic potential with the real danger of deadly violence. Its regimented player roles and its tradition of marching band music echoes American military culture, its glamor positions (quarterback, running back) allow for fantasies of glory and spectacle, while its hierarchical nature reminds America's underclass that somebody's gotta block for the quarterback, and somebody's gotta polish fingernails for minimum wage in order for America's billionaires to become as rich as they have. It's the quintessential American sport.

But here's what Football isn't: egalitarian. And I'm not just talking about the way the Quarterbacks and Running Backs get all the glory, I'm talking about the way you NEED to be middle-class or better to become good at it. You know why? 

'cause somebody's gotta pay for all those pads, before you even get started. And replace them every time you grow.
The only worse sport is ice hockey, where you need to buy all those pads, PLUS skates, PLUS rent ice time at a rink somewhere (unless you live in Minnesota or Saskatchewan, and lakes still actually freeze over where you are).

You can play flag football, two hand touch, or street hockey, yes, but if you want to go anywhere at all in an organized way, somebody's going to have to bite down and swallow that equipment outlay. Because of this American Football will always shut out people below a certain income threshold. Because of this (and climate), Ice Hockey also will never be popular outside of wealthy, northern hemisphere countries.

USA even already has a more egalitarian major sport: basketball, which only requires a ball, and maybe a hoop (which is pretty cheap, and can be found in every playground) and the NBA is the most Youtube-friendly, starry-eyed-dreams-of-big-paychecks sport in the USA, perhaps the world...
Youtube Friendly.

So stay away from soccer, would you, America?

American Kids: dream of this:

not this.

The rest of the world deserves soccer to be theirs. Deserves to have the USA and its hyper-saturated sports media stay out of it. To enjoy it without you. To shake their heads when you talk about "real football" as if the oval ball version is it. To nod patiently when you talk about how you're trying to "get" soccer.

Why does the world deserve soccer to be theirs, to enjoy it without inviting the USA to the party? 

The first reason: The brilliance of soccer/REAL football [soccer from now on; we Canadians call it that, too], and the reason it will always be the world's most popular sport: all you need to play soccer is four objects to be your goalposts, and one thing that's generally round, and small and light enough to move it around with your feet. And that's it. A ball of duct tape or tied together rags will do if you can't afford a FIFA regulation football. And with those things, the poorest kid in the slum of the poorest country can dream of being a world football star. Because ANYBODY can get started in soccer with a minimal outlay, countries that are nowhere near the OECD and the "first world" can be legitimate threats to do some damage in international soccer competitions in a way that they NEVER will in American football or hockey. In turn, these poor kids who made good set their home countries aflame with passion for the sport, and their team, and inspire more kids to bat around a ball in a nearby playground. 
Why horn in on that, you big rich meanies?

The second reason: I just don't think a country that has passionate followings for every college sport, NFL, NBA, MLB, Nascar, and NHL, deserves to take a run at soccer as well. Every few years, the sports websites write a few "Here comes soccer" articles, and US Women's soccer is a serious contender in every international tournament, but if the US wins the FIFA World Cup, with so much else on the sports calendar, the reaction of many Americans' will be "Sweet! Is Nascar on?" If South Korea won the FIFA world cup, you'd hear about it from anyone who witnessed it, for twenty, maybe forty years after. Ask a Brit the last year that England won the World Cup of Soccer. Most of them will know. Ask any over 45 what they think about the England/Argentina game in '86, and learn some new curse words. Ask a Korean where they were for the Korea-Italy game in 2002. Ask people from France where they were in 1998, or a Dutchman old enough to remember the 70s what it's like to have lost the final three times now.

Sorry to remind you of this, my English readers.

Because yeah, there are countries where other sports mean more to the people than soccer means to them -- India and Pakistan have cricket, New Zealand and Australia, and probably South Africa, have  rugby (I haven't asked any Indians, Pakistani, Kiwis, Aussies or South Africans, but it seems that way from here - please correct me if I'm wrong, and there's another sport you care about more - or if soccer's it there, too), Japan and Cuba and a bunch of other Central American countries probably care more about baseball, sure... but if you look at the number of soccer-mad nations, I think it's fair to say that in the aggregate, soccer means more, to more nations, than any other sport in the world.

And that's why I'm glad it's not also the top sport in the USA.

We've seen that if you throw enough money into sports programs, it's possible to become dominant: 

If we compare China's medal totals in the olympics: once China decided to go for a little national prestige by investing in its Olympic team, it went from "Did not participate" to first overall in the 2008 summer games. 
Meanwhile, once the Russian government had other things to care about than engaging in pissing contests with the USA, they went from first overall in Lillehammer (last time in a long string of first or second overall finishes, summer AND winter games) to 11th in Vancouver.

If USA became soccer mad, and invested as much in promoting and developing soccer talent as it does in developing talent in other areas, between its huge population base (talent pool) and the amount it invests in sports, the USA would get itself somewhere in the top ten, maybe top five, year after year.

But I'm glad it doesn't. I'm glad top US athletes try to become wide receivers, quarterbacks, running backs, shooting guards and power forwards, and to a lesser degree, pitchers outfielders and shortstops, rather than having all America's world-class athletes wreaking havoc in the world's midfields, backfields and goal lines. 

What would it take for Soccer to take over the North American sports horizon? 

Well, this is why I think we can rest safe: for the USA sports media to be electrified by soccer, they'd have to see the world's best players, playing awesome games, live on prime-time US TV, but thanks to the mostly European time zones of games involving the world's most competitive teams, and most thrilling players, that's just not going to happen for now. As it is, US soccer fans have to stay up late, or wake up early, or miss work, to catch the world's best soccer: these are things a dedicated fan happily does, but a marginal fan won't. This means there's a pretty low chance that world-class soccer will start catching channel-flippers at times when they're ready and primed to have a cool sports experience. This is why soccer is popular in North America right up to the college level, and then drops off, as North American soccer stars funnel towards the north american sports that have more lucrative professional leagues... or get recruited overseas, where they have a harder time inspiring other kids from their hometown to get into soccer: momentum fails to build.

source - this is what happens to North American soccer stars:

If the world's best soccer players started coming to the USA, and playing for US teams, it might catch on: superstar power works in the North American sports market. Look how Wayne Gretzky's move to LA changed things for the popularity of the NHL in the '90s. But right now, the calibre of the US teams, and the kind of economics they deal with, make signing a Messi or Ronaldo, in his prime, to a US Soccer club, an fiscal impossibility. It didn't work with Pele in the 70s, a washed-up David Beckham hasn't, and won't, do it, and if a player like Messi DID take a huge paycheck to sign with a US team, he'd be excoriated even more than Alex Rodruigez was when he took the money and signed for the non-contending Texas Rangers.

Secondly: too many 0-0 or 1-1 draws. The two most popular sports in the USA right now are sports where scores like 21-32, or 93-101 are considered completely normal games. Even the NHL has changed its rules to try and increase scoring, and give fans an outcome for every game, and more 4-3 games instead of 2-1 games, even if it's a shootout win or loss. The rest of the world would cry foul to the high heavens if FIFA suggested changing soccer's rules in order to win over American philistines who don't see the beauty in a 0-0 draw, who don't appreciate a 1-0 win with no shots on goal allowed as a thrilling and utter rout.

Thirdly: the flopping. And honestly, this is why soccer will probably never beat ice hockey on my list of "Sports I enjoy watching."

 Look at NFL football and NHL Hockey. North American sports fans, for the most part, respect players who take a solid hip check and keep moving, who shake off a tackle, who play hurt, and who don't pull dramatic waterworks in order to try and get a referee's whistle.

As long as the above funny commercial hits anywhere close to the mark, I'd say the brutal, glorious chaos of rugby has a better chance of becoming a major US sport than soccer. (And for that matter... if there were a battle royale between ten players of each team sport, I'd put my money on Team Rugby to come out on top, after a challenge from a group of hockey players who looked great at first, but got winded after they realized there were no line changes.)

However... the television broadcast rights for World Cup finals keeps spiraling, as the potential audiences reach heady highs -- the next World Cup Finals might reach 40 billion viewers or more (that's by some people watching more than one game), and advertising revenues for the FIFA world cup will likely surpass the ten billion dollars mark in the not-too-far-future. With all that money on the table, and many of the world's richest advertisers and the world's most lucrative sports market still being American based, my guard remains up, despite all the reasons I've listed not to worry... and it always will.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Girls Generation on Letterman (소녀시대 on 레터맨)

Must read post by The Metropolitician, who isn't sold on Kpop making it in America.
Rebecca at A Blog Abroad points out that while people are talking about Asia-Asian acts making it in America, we're still waiting for Asian-American artists to get the recognition they deserve.
also at

A few notes:
1. Letterman seems blown away at the end. And yeah, they did a pretty great performance.
2. They really downplayed the Aegyo (but you have to: that just won't work in America)
3. I agree with the people who say this ISN'T Girls' Generation's best song.
4. The way the English lyrics to the song fit with the music, it's pretty clear the song was written in Korean.
5. They KILLED on the dancing parts. For comparison, here's the Korean version of the video.

 I still think Gee was SNSD's greatest song, their best video, and probably the encapsulation of... not just everything Girls Generation is, and the best they can be, but everything the current K-pop model brings to the table, and everything that makes boy band/girl band Kpop. If an human from 8000 years in the future asked me to explain Kpop in one video, Gee would be it.

 Like it or hate it, this IS Kpop:


 Put your own reactions to the Letterman performance in the comments.

While I'm impressed that they scored a Letterman gig, and they did a pretty good job, I'm still sticking with my old view that, given what it takes to make it in the US market, 2NE1 and IU are the two groups that have the best shot at making it in the USA... but for more reading, here's my piece on why NO Korean group can conquer america anymore.

And some other Korean music that I think deserves a look.