Pop Cult – March 1, 2012

Allen Huang / March 1, 2012

Weekly column featuring knee-jerk reactions (the best kind) to pop culture happenings all over the world.

U Mad? (Yeah)

Photo by Raphaël Ouellet

With each swell of a musical movement, incendiary backlash is all but inevitable. K-Pop is no different, given its rise in profile the last few years. But while there are many valid criticisms for this wave of hyper-colored dance pop, of more concern are the statements rooted in a thick mire of ignorance and, yes, racism. And this is not only coming from off-the-cuff, barely intelligible YouTube commenters but also people who are (ostensibly) paid to write about music and culture.

Most of these writers (thank God) have not been asked to directly engage with K-Pop. But due to K-Pop’s continued exposure and reference in the western music world, more and more writers get to show how much they know about the genre and the culture behind it. And, surprise! Most know very little but already have cemented opinions on why K-Pop is “disturbing” and “irritating.”

Of particular note is this review found on Collapse Board, written by one Wallace Wylie, on Grimes’ breakout album Visions. Claire Boucher’s admiration of K-Pop is no secret, and Wylie chooses to base his opinion about her album around her leanings toward K-Pop. And it all goes horribly wrong.

His intro is a long-winded profile of the “vast majority” American K-Pop fan, a piece of prejudiced, convoluted short fiction that he unfortunately believes to be true. In his mind, K-Pop’s increase in popularity is “disturbing” because the K-Pop fan he imagines is a socially dysfunctional, misogynistic, unrealistic, borderline pedophile with hygiene problems. Then, with a move coming right out of Newt Gingrich’s playbook, Wylie provides a pithy disclaimer that his analysis isn’t “scientific” (oh really) and it was never meant to be so he doesn’t really care. Thus follows the rest of his review which states that 1) Visions is mainly influenced by K-Pop and 2) since K-Pop isn’t worth commentary, Visions is similarly lacking in depth.

How does this make one iota of sense? I am truly amazed that in one single article the author fails to engage not one but two completely separate entities of music. Now, I am not here to say that Visions is the best album of 2012. Far from it. But explanation Wylie has here isn’t just full of holes and lazy, it’s built upon a marginalization of a genre that he does not have any exposure to whatsoever. So instead of doing due diligence and trying to understand what half his article is ostensibly about, he decides to just wing it and call most K-Pop listeners social pariahs.

First of all, your enjoyment (or lack thereof) of K-Pop should have nothing to do with if you like Visions or not. It’s not a K-Pop album. Period. If you don’t like it because she likes K-Pop, that’s some deep rooted prejudices that you’d have to pay me therapist money to dig down into.

Second, are you really that base to think that K-Pop is only liked in America by white people? Or are you saying that White people’s opinions on music are the only ones that matter? I can already tell you that the “vast majority” of K-Pop listeners, even American ones, are not white. That one’s really easy to figure out, buddy.

If my skin was white, would it be inherently creepy for me to like the music that I do? I am an American. I was born in America, I went to school here, I listened to Weezer, Wu-Tang, Radiohead, Nirvana and the Pixies growing up.  I loved Built To Spill and Death Cab For Cutie when I was a freshman because they were local and I could see them all the time. And now, after dealing with the authenticity dilemma that had decimated my ability to appreciate pop music, I love R&B and K-Pop. Why is it so hard to believe that this music could be good?

There are plenty of valid reasons to hate K-Pop. Some people need intelligible lyrics. Some people need real instruments. Some people strictly require that ALL SONGS PERFORMED MUST BE WRITTEN BY THE PERFORMERS. Some people are, well, kind of hypocrites. All these things I can accept. But when you marginalize a country’s musical influence by explaining it away as an extension of Asian fetishism, there’s a special place in pop culture hell waiting for you. And they’re playing Super Junior 24/7.

3 thoughts on “Pop Cult – March 1, 2012

  1. Jesus, no wonder that Collapse Board review prompted this seething response. It’s lazily written with almost no actual input about the music itself. The K-Pop comments are especially awful. And can’t music be pop-y and emotionally effective? I’m not saying “Visions” is on some extremely deep philosophical or emotional level. But the heart and poetry in Grimes’ music is certainly there. Listen harder.

  2. Any music writer who decides a type of music isn’t worth writing about is a self-loathing, hypocritical fool. I hope that writer’s ego keeps him warm at night. 

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