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K-pop is a form of South Korean popular music directed at a global audience that fuses Korean and foreign musical elements. While “idols” (performers who sing, dance, and engage in extra-musical activity) are the most visible, K-pop encompasses a wide variety of genres. Emerging in the wake of a major financial crisis that prompted a restructuring of the Korean economy, K-pop benefits from increased freedom in cultural expression, support by the Korean government, and a global cultural movement that reaches East Asia and beyond. The first K-pop groups appeared in the early 1990s, drawing on hip-hop and rhythm and blues popular in the United States. The use of rap and b-boying/breakdance style, along with emotional vocals of R&B, became staples for first-generation “idol” groups. Initially presenting an approachable image, they later took on more mature concepts before they disbanded in the late 1990s. Several continue to influence the K-pop music scene, even as subsequent generations of K-pop artists emerge. These idol groups have diversified their images as well as their musical styles. Several solo artists have emerged, and hip-hop groups continue to participate. All of this musical activity is governed by Korean agencies, the largest of which are responsible for the creation and management of “idols,” while others encourage indie artists and still others are led by K-pop artists themselves. In addition to the promotional strategies of agencies, media, both professional and fan-driven, play a large role in the global spread of K-pop. The fans themselves are also active participants, acting as both audience members and content producers.

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Since the start of the 21st-century, a general consensus has emerged that South Korea is a “global” phenomenon. Growing references to celebrated aspects of Korean culture and society—such as K-pop or Korean food—in literature, television, video, and film index a perceptual shift regarding South Korea. However, Korean American literature has tirelessly interrogated Korea’s place in the world, tracing and exposing often elided links and histories upon which its current prominence depends. Attending to Korean American and a growing spectrum of Asian American literary imaginations of South Korea in the 21st century illustrates the particularity of the nation’s curious global presence. Doing so also allows for an examination of the fissures between the perception and reality of global South Korea, of current assumptions about globalization, and of non-US-centric sites of affiliations notable in Asian American literature. Writers including Jimin Han, Patricia Park, Krys Lee, Jane Jeong Trenka, Maurene Goo, and May Lee-Yang exhibit divergent patterns and approaches and together highlight multiple facets of the structural entanglements that comprise global South Korea. These include changing patterns and motives for migration to and from Korea; redefining “Koreanness”; the complexities of “globalization,” and the oft-celebrated Korean Wave, or hallyu.