No ‘Gangnam Style’ on This Dance Floor
At the I Love Dance dance studio, in midtown Manhattan, students pop their hips and body roll to tracks from Korean pop superstars such as f(x) and Super Junior – names that inspire rapt fan devotion inside Korea but that barely resonate in America.
More than 90 percent of the students at I Love Dance are non-Korean, but they have been devotees of Korean pop — commonly known as K-pop — long before PSY horse-danced into international stardom and a billion YouTube hits with his “Gangnam-Style” video.
For years, K-pop fans have congregated on social media platforms to upload and view cover videos of fans like themselves dancing their favorite K-pop dances.
“Gangnam Style” is not among them. “A lot of K-pop fans are really sick of it,” said Michelle Nawrocki, 20, a student at Queens College and a weekly regular at the studio.
K-pop, an East-meets-West hybrid of danceable beats, saccharine melodies and earnest rap, has dominated the Asian entertainment market since the mid-1990s. But Hallyu — which translates as Korean Wave and refers to the rising cultural prominence and popularity of South Korean entertainment — as barely lapped at American shores. Last summer, however, it swept the airwaves and dance floors via an unlikely ambassador: PSY, the funny-man of K-pop whose satire of the Korean high-life, “Gangnam-style,” is actually unlike most Korean music videos. To longtime K-pop fans, PSY is a minor star in a constellation of megawatt Korean singers, who are known as “idols.” Forget PSY’s ubiquitous rodeo move; true K-pop choreography is what you see with leggy girl group Girls’ Generation or the abs-baring boy group SHINee.
Korean entertainment companies, seeking to capitalize on PSY’s success, are increasingly looking for opportunities to launch their groups in the mainstream American market. Korean groups Big Bang and 2NE1 made their American debuts last year. And next year, Interscope Records — the label of Lady Gaga and rappers 50 Cent and Eminem — will release nine-member girl group Girls’ Generation’s first English-language album.
But repackaging K-pop for the American mainstream could alienate the style’s current international fans, said Crystal Anderson, the manager of Kpop Kollective, an academic research group that studies the internationalization of Korean pop culture. An English-language album “will actually turn some fans off,” she said, noting that it “will change K-pop in ways they don’t like.”
It also risks rupturing the insularity of international K-pop fandom, added Anderson, because part of what makes K-pop appealing to non-Koreans is the idea of participating in a tight-knit subculture.
“We have our own world that not everyone else knows about,” said Nawrocki. “I don’t necessarily want it to become mainstream.”
The term “K-pop dance” refers to a dance routine that is released along with a particular K-pop song. Fans around the world learn the dance by splicing dance scenes from the song’s music video with footage of the performers dancing live. They then turn to YouTube to post videos of themselves performing the dance and to view other fans’ cover clips.
Eighteen-year-old twins Nicholas and Colin Li, who live in Vancouver, call themselves the “K-pop dancing twins.” They have been making cover videos of K-pop dances since May 2010, when friends introduced them to Korean music videos.
Their own first video covered a Wonder Girls dance – female groups’ dances are easier to learn, the Li brothers say. Encouraged by positive feedback, the twins, both freshman at Langara College, began cultivating an online following, uploading new K-pop covers almost every week.
More than 100 cover videos later, the brothers have accumulated more than 30,000 YouTube followers and about 6 million total video views. They now perform their covers live at K-pop dance contests, to the shrill screams of their fans.
The boys say that they most try to emulate Jay Park, an American-born Korean pop star known as “the Fresh Prince of Seoul,” and the K-pop boy group Infinite. “They’re edgy,” said Nicholas Li. In one cover video of an angst-ridden Exo song, the brothers, hoods pulled up, stare somberly at the camera as they mouth lyrics that sound like a Korean-language Gregorian chant.
K-pop choreography differs little from that of American hip-hop, and in fact many of the choreographers behind K-pop music videos are LA-based Americans. What distinguishes K-pop dances from their American counterparts are what ‘I Love Dance’ student William Lou, 22, called “impossible to duplicate looks”: trim male idols swathed in vast amounts of colored leather or female stars in tiny shorts and sky-high heels.
“If there was no music video for K-pop, it would be exactly the same as American pop,” said Luo, who does not make his own cover videos but follows several YouTube cover channels, including the Li twins channel. “Their appeal is visual.”
For the most part, the world of YouTube cover videos are a place of camaraderie, a digital space where K-pop fans bond over a foreign import that is often little known or appreciated in their American hometowns.
Nawrocki said few of her friends at Queens College share her interest in K-pop, but she has developed online friendships with other fans around the world because of her YouTube channel, where she uploads cover videos of herself dancing in her Queens bedroom. She has 5,000 subscribers. “It makes me feel like I’m part of something,” said Nawrocki. “We’re all very supportive of each other.”
Email: email@example.comFebruary 18, 2013