- K-pop Live: Fans, Idols, and Multimedia Performance by Suk-Young Kim
One of the defining features of K-pop Live is that nuanced personal stories centrally occupy its themes and narratives. This blending of biographical accounts and analysis of K-pop is perhaps not surprising given that music often is the inspirational foundation behind emotional and intellectual growth for almost every human being walking on Earth. Kim writes, for instance, fondly about her “dream of going to a live recording of a TV music chart show as a teenager” (p. 65). She makes this statement in order to make prescient her present dilemma because she, now three decades later, juggling life both as a mother of two small children and a busy academic, finds the prospect of attending “live” Korean television music programs “dreadful.” Of course, her central ethnographic issue here is that the contemporary show performances of K-pop music programs such as MBC’s Music Core cannot really even be “called live at all” (p. 69) since most performers lip-sync.
This attention being paid on “lip-sync” is necessary because Kim’s book makes a great leap forward in Korean popular cultural studies by circling around an insightful conceptual theme (liveness) in order to explore the meaning of K-pop in an era of non-live, mediatized performances. Does K-pop deliver, for some reason, better or different set of “live” aesthetics and genealogies for their fans than other genre of music? Is this why K-pop has grabbed the headlines of many bubblegum pop websites frequented by the “current TGIF (Twitter, Google, iPhone, Facebook) generation”? Kim may not have answers to these questions, but by considering them, she charts the development of K-pop within its parameter of not only its national history, but also its transnational theoretical trajectory that becomes significant for scholars engaged in issues of global media and culture today. [End Page 152]
By defining live through its several oppositional terms such as “digital,” “mediatized,” or “recorded,” Kim affectively draws her readers to her main thesis that realigns the relationship between K-pop and its simulation of liveness. Her narrative strategy is innovative; the main attraction of “K-pop stars,” she argues, can be seen through K-pop’s live concerts for “[o]ne can lip-sync to music, but one cannot ‘body-sync’ dance.” (p. 15). Kim’s goal is audacious as she not only attempts to associate K-pop with liveness in the pop world dominated by lip-syncing, but also questions the general meaning of live performances in the era of digital technology, eSports, and YouTube. K-pop, because it is perhaps the first genuine pop music movement incubated in the medium of YouTube, provides an intriguing empirical case study that enables one to further complicate the meaning of “live” in an age where holograms (Kim devotes an entire chapter to discuss the phenomenon of digital simulation), remakes, and parodies often become even more significant than the originals themselves.
Kim’s compelling analysis of K-pop, which also includes in-depth analysis of putatively live music video performances by members of Girls Generation and G-Dragon, further advance the understanding of Korean popular culture and, in so doing, explore into the modern day relationship between idol stars and fans. BTS’ relationship with its fan club, ARMY (Adorable Representative MC for Youth), for instance, has redefined the ways in which stars have communicated with their fans, which makes Kim’s argument that K-pop stars become “fans of their fans” (p. 17). Her illustration of K-pop as an exemplary case of an erosion of traditional one-sided relationship between stars and their fans is compelling.
However, such strengths and innovations cannot mask the inherent problems one faces when theorizing or historicizing K-pop. First, engaging such “hot” contemporary cultural phenomenon ushered by volatile taste of teenaged fans is that the landscapes of pop stars continuously evolve. K-pop stars and...