- K-pop Live: Fans, Idols, and Multimedia Performance by Suk-Young Kim
While research on the cultural phenomenon of K-pop (“Korean popular music”) exploded in the past decade through the efforts of cultural anthropologists, ethnomusicologists, and media scholars, K-pop Live: Fans, Idols, and Multimedia Performances situates K-pop within performance studies through a timely reconsideration of liveness in the age of global media. Unfettering K-pop from its default definition as a music genre attributed to South Korea, in her introduction Kim playfully reimagines “K” into a cornucopia of attributes: “Kaleidoscopic (multimedial),” “Keyboard/Keypad (digital),” “Kleenex (highly disposable),” “Ketchup (premade and formulaic),” and “Korporate (highly commercial)” pop. Such prismatic aspects of K-pop, she argues, demonstrate the cultural phenomenon to be much more than music alone, but a synesthetic “total performance” of haptic illusions and affective encounters: for the stars, K-pop consists of a lifetime of training to cultivate the looks, moves, and mannerisms that makes the idol; for the fans, it is a way of life, replete with affective labor, financial investment, and time commitment. Delineating K-pop as an ecosystem in the age of digital media, Kim states: “K-pop is an animal that thrives on excess” (6).
In five chapters, often with black-and-white photographs taken by Kim herself, K-pop Live journeys to several spatiotemporal sites of K-pop liveness; namely, the TV show, the music video, the hologram musical, the live concert, and finally, the KCON—a multiday international convention of “all things hallyu (Korean Wave)” (180). At each locale, Kim reconsiders liveness and its derivative semantics as “live,” “alive,” “life,” and so on. Looking at the intricate ways in which “live” and “technologically mediatized” co-constitute the K-pop ecosystem, Kim explores how the “ideological, technological, and affective workings” of liveness in K-pop can “make, fake, and break sociality and community” (205). Situating liveness at the heart of K-pop performance, Kim brings back the familiar “live versus mediatized” discussion within performance studies, including Peggy Phelan’s purist ontology of live performance; Philip Auslander’s provocation to see liveness as historical and contingent; and Shannon Jackson and Marianne Weems’s claim that the history of technological mediation has always been embedded in the history of theatre. Revisiting this conversation by construing liveness as an inherently medium-specific notion, Kim establishes “K-pop liveness” as a new performance paradigm necessary to interpret this inherently multimedial phenomenon born from an interdependence, rather than polar opposition, of the live and the mediatized.
K-pop Live begins by reconstruing the television as a medium akin to live theatre, arguing that television performances of K-pop have continually reinvented cadences of liveness through its evolution. Analyzing the different intermedial strategies with which television embraces various social media to maintain its relevance, Kim expands liveness from the ontological presence (“real-time”) or authenticity (“improvised”) into a spatiotemporal hyperpresence that materializes through the community of global fandom. Next, she parses out the intricate relationship between liveness and mediatization by analyzing the music video, K-pop’s central medium. Noting how TaeTiSeo’s “Twinkle” and G-Dragon’s “Who You?” mobilize the notion of authenticity by respectively invoking the music hall revues of the Ziegfeld Follies and Urban Dream Capsule’s performance art, Kim notes how liveness becomes reimagined as interactive-ness with the virtual audience. Kim then explores the K-pop hologram musical, a show made up entirely of holograms of real-life K-pop stars and designed as a “digital performance” for “live audiences”; a mutual profit-driven collaboration of K-pop agencies and the South Korean government [End Page 178] under the initiative to foster a symbiosis of technology and the arts. Pointing to a conspicuous lack of attendance, however, while noting the rather unconvincing technology itself she describes as “hollow-looking,” Kim turns to perhaps the most critical element of K-pop liveness: a communally shared phenomenological experience.
The final chapter, “Live K-pop Concerts and Their Digital Doubles,” is perhaps the heart of...