Do you accept that, at its core, kpop is as vapid as American pop?The short answer is:
Of course it is. It's just more interesting to me because a. it's in Korean b. it's quite strange sometimes, in an unintentionally (I think) beautiful way and c. (I think) the guys are hotter.
Now for the long answer:
(Wait -- it gets more complicated).
This is something Mike and I used to go round and round about, back when we lived on the same planet and could have actual conversations. Not 'round and round' as in arguing with each other (although I think we both sort of took slightly different stances, ultimately), but 'round and round' as in arguing with ourselves with each other. Which is actually something I think we did (/do) a lot.
The thing is, I tend to come at this with the dual-perspective I've always had re: my writing, because that's basically what's almost always been most important to me. There are two big prongs to what I most like to get down and dirty with: one is journalism/just telling shit as it is, as I see it, and the other is poetry. Pretty fucking different.
I didn't grow up in a house where intellectualism was particularly part of the soup du jour. I see nothing wrong with that. I don't really like intellectualism. Or part of me doesn't want to. Or. Something. I came up in a working class household with a working class entire extended family, and that's that. I see nothing wrong with it. I have no shame about it. I've had my struggles with it in the past, but I'm no longer a fucking teenager. And I have no real desire to leave it behind. The working your ass off, scraping what you can together, total agony of making rent/having enough to eat/not having your lights cut off... no. Don't want any part of that. Happy as a fucking clam to leave that in the dust. But the basics of the culture -- a hard day's work, giving all that you have to a job because that job is what puts food on your table, and feeling honestly tired when your head hits the pillow -- that stuff, I love. Always have done, always will do. I could never be one of those writers who faffs about philosophizing and restructuring my latest work all day long. I need a 'day job'. I need a real job. I need to feel busy and productive in other ways. Just look at how fucking bonkers I go during winter and summer vacation -- I hate it.
Now. Wait. What were we talking about? Oh yeah. Pop culture. Journalism vs. poetry.
I love poetry. I could literally ramble on for fucking ages about everything about it that I love. But I won't, because that shit is boring. To most people.
Ah. 'Most people'. That's what I'm getting at, there.
Even though I love poetry, I have no illusions about how many other people don't. Poetry, in a sense, is a lot of times just a bunch of preaching to the converted. Which is why, although I love it and value it highly, I get the fact that in a lot of ways it is functionally useless.
Journalism, however, is not. Journalism reaches the masses. Journalism changes things.
Pop culture changes things.
And that is where I'll argue in favor of pop culture. That is where I'll get my dander up when someone starts mouthing off too hard about how pop this or that is "vapid". Is that an accurate description much of the time? Yeah. But we move forward with our pop culture -- not with our tiny independent artists crouched in dusty basement apartments. That stuff, we look back on later and say, yeah that was great. But it was Elvis's swivelling hips that pushed us into the sexual revolution. It was the Beatles' thinly masked drug references that pushed us into deeper explorations of our spirituality, outside of churches. You can make yourself acknowledge these things now, because it's pop culture from the past -- you can see now what it has changed. But you can't do that with our pop culture today, because you can't see yet where it could be pushing us forward -- and you won't for another 20, 30, 50 years.
I guess that's what excites me about K pop in a lot of ways. Sometimes I find this culture so goddman repressed, I just don't know what to do. I've made the joke more than once that it's like living in "The Jetsons" of the 50s. And then I think to myself, what this country needs is a good, long one-night-stand with some drugs, sex and rock 'n roll.
It wasn't the Beats in the late 40s who changed America, although they've changed a lot of lives since then, as their legacy lives on in print. And it won't be the independent musician in a Hongdae club that will change Korea -- it will be G Dragon, with his barely visible tattoos, humping some gyopo background dancer on stage. Or Rain, singing about his 'spinning magic stick'. It will be The Brown Eyed Girls, sitting legs splayed cradling a cane between them like an ajeosshi on the subway, tying a man to the bed and blowing him up, having their stockings ripped in passion (not as the anonymous music video girl, but as the main event), cupping each other's breasts and leaning over at the end and almost, just almost....
Right or wrong, that's just the way it is.
Beyond all of this, on a personal level....
I enjoy what I enjoy. If it's crap, that's fine. If it's studio-produced computery nonsense, that's fine. If it's a poorly written big screen comedy, that's fine. I'm too damn old to go around denying my basic instincts and intellectualizing the hell out of what little I get a kick out of these days. I don't give a flying fuck what anyone thinks about the fact that I actually enjoy some K pop. What am I going to do about it -- lie? Why? Who am I trying to impress?
Well, all of you of course, Dear Readers. Love.