7th Inter-Asia Popular Music Studies Conference3-6 December – Online

Dear Participants

Hope this message finds you well

On behalf of Sunway University and the 7th IAPMS Local Arrangements Committee (LAC) we would like to express our concern as the coronavirus continues to control all matters of our lives.

Given that Malaysia is now experiencing a third wave, the 7th IAPMS conference will take place 3-6 December 2020 and will be fully online. All presentations will be delivered through asynchronous broadcasting of pre-recorded presentations followed by a live Q &A session. The conference will be done using Zoom meetings and will allow participants to ask questions during the live Q & A session.

In order to participate in the conference please register and make the payment online using the following link:


The fees are:

Students – RM100 (roughly 25USD)

Regular – RM200 (roughly 50USD)

(Please make sure to select the right event.)

All registered participants will receive a complimentary copy of the 7th IAPMS proceedings in either hard copy or e-book format. 

After we receive the payments, the Local Arrangements Committee will send the programme together with the Zoom links to all registered participants by November 15.  

Best regards and stay safe 

7th IAPMS Local Arrangements Committee


Inter-Asia Popular Music Studies 



CfP extended: IASPm 2021


The Local Organizing Committee is pleased to invite you to the 21st Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music to be held in Daegu, South Korea, for 5 days from July 6 to 10, 2021. Here are some latest updates on the conference.

1) Thanks to popular demands, we decided to extend deadline for abstract submission for one month until 31 August 2020. The submission can be made through the IASPM 2021 website (http://iaspm2021.org/index.php?gt=abs/abs01)

* Abstract Submission: until August 31, 2020 (Korea time GMT+8)

2) The IASPM 2021 registration fee has been set. We will deliver you with the registration guide when the payment system is completed.

3) We are delighted to introduce you Keynote Speakers for IASPM 2021:

– Britta Sweers (Director of the Center for Global Studies at the University of Bern, Switzerland)

– Shuhei Hosokawa (Professor Emeritus at the International Research Center for Japanese Studies)

– Chan E. Park (Professor, Ohio State University, United States)

– Jung-Sun Lee (Singer-songwriter, Guitarist, and former professor of Seoul Arts University, Korea)

4) IASPM 2021will proceed as announced in spite of the uncertainty caused by COVID-19

Despite the on-going worldwide crisis of COVID-19, the local organizing committee is working hard to make IASPM 2021 in Daegu happen. Depending on the situation in 2021, the conference could take the form of real, virtual, or hybrid. We are preparing for every possible scenario to ensure IASPM 2021 to be a successful conference. IASPM 2021 will be greatly benefitted from host city Daegu’s world-class capacity for COVID-19 control. In close cooperation with Daegu Metropolitan City, we will make sure a safe and sound conference experience for all participants. Thank you!

For further details, please visit IASPM 2021 website at http://iaspm2021.org/index.php.
Best,IASPM 2021 Local Organising Committee

[CfP] XXI Biennial IASPM Conference in Daegu, South Korea

“Climates of Popular Music”, 21st Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music
Call for Presentations
The most pressing issue for humanity in the 21st century is global climate, and thus IASPM’s 21st Conference turns its attention towards this subject. Whereas our 20th anniversary conference considered where we have been, we now ask where we are now, what we are doing as a species, and what impact it has on our communities and our world. On a planet increasingly interconnected by a dizzying array of media channels, such a discussion has to be broadly framed. Our planet’s climate is impacted by numerous forms of human activity, including those that are individual, personal, local, communal, institutional, commercial, corporate, cultural, political, and international. This conference invites presentations that ask how popular music relates to our climate, where climate relates to any part of the totality of surrounding conditions and circumstances affecting growth or development. By “climate,” we intend to include a range of definitions, including ecological climate, political climates, socio-political climates, and contextual and individuated climates. We ask presenters to consider the impacts of activities related to popular music and its cultures on variously defined climates, and the impacts of changing or changed climates on different popular music and its contexts.
To address these issues, as well as any other questions and topics related to the past, present and future climates of popular music, the International Association for the Study of Popular Music invites proposals for the twenty-first IASPM biennial conference, to be held at Kyungpook National University in Daegu, South Korea, July 6-10, 2021. The general theme of conference is divided into five interrelated streams:
A) Environment
Popular music has long been associated with green agendas, ecological concerns, and environmental activism, and this stream takes a more literal interpretation of the conference title than others. It also implies a link to ecological approaches that explore affordances as well as impacts, including insights from fields such as eco-musicology and ethnomusicology.
B) Milieu
Political climates no doubt seem to be more complex than those of the past to each generation. They have a direct influence on the stability and sustainability of our cultures, and this relationship is often reflected in our popular music. Political storms, quakes and disasters flow from isolationism into global cooperation, between east and west and from south to north. This stream will address local, national, and international politics, as well as individuated socio-politics, as reflected through issues such as identity, gender, class, sexuality, and belief, and seen and heard through popular music.
C) Ambiance
When describing climates, we may use terms such as ambiance, atmosphere, mood, or tone, to conceptualize the often unconscious perceptions of space and place. Studies of space and place have emerged as a key interdisciplinary subject across numerous fields and have crossed into popular music studies through studies of geographies, locality, scenes and subcultures. This stream invites explorations of receptions and perceptions, of audiences and ethnographies, of set and settings of popular music.
D) World
Climate, however defined, is intimately associated with questions that require a global approach. Although ‘world music’ has slowly made peace with ethnomusicology and although both have made inroads into popular music studies, they have not yet reached a truly global understanding of popular music. Areas such as South East Asia, where this conference is to be hosted, are having an increasing impact upon popular music, yet they are significantly under-represented. This stream encourages contributions which widen and deepen our global/local understanding of popular music and its cultures, whether through a detailed study of a specific subculture or scene, or by exploring changes in global popular music climates.
E) Mediums
The modes and channels of mediation of music have evolved at a rapid rate over the last 120 years, moving through cycles of oral, written, recorded, digital, and virtual transmission, into a multi-valent universe where revivals of folk singing and vinyl clubs mix with digital music and streaming. This stream focuses on how mediums impact on popular music, and on the role of technology.
Academic Committee
Geoff Stahl (co-chair), Andrea Dankić (co-chair). Pil Ho Kim (co-chair)
Local Organizing Committee
Keewoong Lee (chair), Aekyung Park, Eunice Sung, Taeyoon Kim, Hyun Kyong Chang, Eujeong Zhang, Hyunjoon Shin, Hyunseok Kwon, Gyu Tag Lee, Hawsook Song, Wonseok Lee, Pil Ho Kim, Jun-Hue Lee, Jung-Yup Lee, Jungwon Kim, Yu Jung Lee, Youngdae Kim
* Individual roles not yet assigned
There will be four options: panels (of 3 or 4 presenters), individual papers, film/video presentations, or poster sessions.
Proposals for organized panels are encouraged (two-hour long sessions with four papers, or three papers and a discussant). Each session should leave at least 30 minutes for discussion or for comments by a discussant immediately following the presentations. The panel organizer should submit the panel abstract and all individual abstracts (200 words each) in one document, with a full list of participant names and email addresses. Where an independently submitted abstract appears to fit a panel, the Academic Committee may suggest the addition of a panelist.
We invite abstracts of no longer than 200 words, including five keywords for programming purposes and an optional list of references (max 10). Individual paper presentations are 20 minutes long to be followed by 10 minutes of discussion.
Film/video session
Recently completed films introduced by their author and discussed by conference participants may be proposed. Submit a 200-word abstract including titles, subjects, and formats, and indicate the duration of the proposed films/videos and introduction/discussion.
Poster session
A space for Poster Exhibition will be provided. A 200-word abstract by the poster’s author, including five keywords for programming purposes, must be submitted.
Please submit your abstract no later than 31 July 2020, as both doc. & pdf. format attachment through the IASPM 2021 official website. You can easily find detailed guidelines and templates at the online submission page.
  • * Each participant must be a member of any branch of IASPM: www.iaspm.net/how-to-join.
  • * Each participant may present only one paper at the Conference, but may also preside over a panel or serve as a discussant.
  • * Abstracts will be accepted in English, IASPM’s official language.
  • * Letters of acceptance will be sent by 30 September 2020.
If you have any question, feel free to contact IASPM 2021 Secretariat (iaspm2021@gmail.com)
Covid 19 Information
We are aware of the global pandemic’s impact across the world and take issues of safety seriously. We hope that by the time of the conference, various COVID19-related restrictions will have eased more or less completely. We are monitoring the situation closely and will advise members accordingly.
Virtual Presentations
We are aware of the environmental impact of global travel, especially in light of the subject of the conference. We hope that moving some of the conference online will be one way of addressing this ecological issue. Circumstances surrounding the current pandemic have also made virtual research sharing more necessary. We are preparing so that at least some portions of the conference can take place online and interested parties may be able to attend the conference virtually. More information will be published when it is available.
The conference organizers look forward to receiving your submissions!
With kindest regards,
IASPM Executive Committee:
  • Rupert Till, Chair
  • Beatriz Goubert, Secretary
  • Bernhard Steinbrecher, Membership Secretary
  • Simone Krueger Bridge, Treasurer
  • Kimi Kärki, Webmaster
  • Keewoong Lee, Conference Chair
  • Catherine Strong, Member-at-large
  • Andrea Dankić, Member-at-large

Made in Taiwan: Studies in Popular Music, 1st Edition

Made in Taiwan: Studies in Popular Music, is officially published by Routledge early this year. It is edited by me, Tung-hung, and Miaoju. Please recommend your institution/library to purchase a copy.


We hope the book will contribute to further dialogues. 
Also, last week, Taiwan Insight published six short articles about the book. Three of the articles by the contributors of the book, and the other, by other academic or industry insiders/observers. Maybe this will pique your curiosity. Please follow the links.

(1) https://taiwaninsight.org/2020/02/06/taiwanese-popular-music-as-world-history/ 

(2) https://taiwaninsight.org/2020/02/07/unpacking-indie-music-as-cool-ambassadors-reflections-on-taiwans-cultural-export-policies-2010-present/

(3) https://taiwaninsight.org/2020/02/10/the-academic-rappers-of-the-taiwanese-hip-hop-scene/

(4) https://taiwaninsight.org/2020/02/11/breakthrough-the-thinking-of-indigenous-music-as-a-style-of-music/

(5) https://taiwaninsight.org/2020/02/12/city-pop-in-taiwan-old-mainstreams-becoming-new-indies/

(6) https://taiwaninsight.org/2020/02/13/jay-chous-china-wind-pop-made-in-taiwan-and-its-transnational-audiences/


Eva Tsai

CfP: Cultural Typhoon 2020

Cultural Typhoon 2020: Call for Papers

A Port of ‘Cranes’ in the 21st Century: Mobilities, Exchanges and Histories

Cultural Typhoon 2020 (CT2020) will be held in Nagasaki on June 27 – 28, 2020. It offers a great opportunity to discuss mobilities and exchanges of people, information, and knowledge in the age of globalization.

The Port of Nagasaki has been historically called “Crane Port” because the shape of the port looks like a crane with spread wings.

Nagasaki, with its Crane Port, has historically been a point of transit, hosting departures and arrivals between Japan and East Asia, including Mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, the Korean Peninsula; Southeast Asia; and Europe, particularly Portugal and The Netherlands.

Nagasaki’s various foods, lifestyles, festivals, architecture, and urban landscape evidence cultural exchange through this transit of people, goods, and ideas. While no cranes can be found living in Nagasaki, it is indeed a “city of cranes”—that is, a city of mobility, which is aptly embodied in the migratory bird—where people, goods, culture, and knowledge move across national borders.

To think about the history of Nagasaki is also to (re)consider the history of mobilities of human beings and our transnational cultural exchange, and narratives of industrialization and modernization. Cultural exchange with China and Korea over the centuries; the propagation and suppression of the Christian faith; the import of modern Western scientific knowledge as well as philosophy and literature; the development of modern shipbuilding as part of military and naval modernization; the coal mining industrys industrialization and the ferrying of resources;, the immigration and, at times, exploitation of workers at sites close to the Nagasaki Port like Gunkanjima; and the devastation brought by war in the form of the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki at the end of the WWII—such phenomena have left a unique impression on the culture of Nagasaki.

CT2020 is will be held at University of Nagasaki’s Siebold Campus. The name of the campus comes from the German physician and botanist who founded a private school, Narutaki Juku, where he taught Western science, medicine in particular, during the Edo Period (1603 – 1868).

The Association for Cultural Typhoon (ACT, Japan) is calling for proposals for panels and individual papers for the 2020 annual conference to be held at Siebold Campus, University of Nagasaki, Nagasaki, from June 27–28, 2020.

The deadline for application: 31st December, 2019, Japan time 23:00.

See the details here: http://cultural-typhoon.com/act/en/2019/11/call-for-paper-cultural-typhoon-2020/

The 7th Inter-Asia Popular Music Studies (IAPMS) Conference Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia 23-25 July, 2020

*** Dec 15, 2019: The deadline for the submission is extended to Jan 15, 2020. 

The 7th Inter-Asia Popular Music Studies (IAPMS) Conference Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

23-25 July, 2020

Organised by Inter-Asia Popular Music Studies Group (IAPMS Group)

Hosted by

Sunway University, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Abstract Submissions Deadline

15 December 2019

Theme: Asia’s Sonic (under)Currents and Currencies

The recent international popularity of Korean pop groups BTS and Blackpink placed Asia from passive recipients to active participants of otherwise US and UK dominated global pop music. However, the extent in which they represent and personify the rich undercurrent of popular music circulation in Asia remains debatable in Asia’s culturally diverse landscapes. While the digital platform and social media as well as travel have intensified the flows of popular music participation, it is probably premature to idealistically suggest the levelling of more enduring historical and cultural boundaries and borders. The post•global or post•digital condition needs discussion.

In this respect, the theme of this conference, “Sonic (under)Currents and Currencies” seeks to explore the responses of popular music as local, trans•local national and transnational formations and traditions to the disruptions and changes in the region’s changing techno•cultural landscape. Within such disruptions, the conference also explores the relevance and currencies of both assumptions and practices of popular music in the region. Examples range from genres and categories, cultural industries, politics and government, fandom and activism to name a few.

Since its first conference in 2008, the IAPMS has encouraged a diversity of scholarship at all levels about popular music studies in the context of Asia. The conference welcomes presentations from the academic community as well as practitioners, activists and policymakers. As the 7th conference will be held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the organising committee hopes to see greater representation of topics and presenters from ASEAN countries.

Tentative Schedule

22nd July 2020 – Arrival to Kuala Lumpur 23rd July 2020  – Registration, opening, conference begins

24th July 2020  – Conference sessions, concert 25th July 2020  – Conference sessions, closing ceremony

26th July 2020  – Excursion

Local arrangements information will be provided in early 2020 and sent to all participants via email.

Please submit an abstract (200-300 words) and short bio (max. 100 words) by 15th December 2019 to iapmsconference@gmail.com . For panels, please submit a general panel description of 200-300 words, along with three or four abstracts (200-300 words each) and biographies (max. 100 words each). Please use the form (download).

Notice of acceptance will be given by 1 February 2020

Registration Fee

Students:         RM100

Non Students:  RM200


English, Bahasa Melayu

English is the official language of this symposium, however, presenters may choose to deliver their papers in Bahasa Melayu with English language Powerpoint presentation. However, all abstracts are to be submitted in English for review and selection purposes.


-­­  All presentations will be published in the IAPMS conference proceedings sponsored by Sunway University.

With the acceptance of your proposal by the Program Committee and the presentation of your paper at the conference, it is understood that your paper (in a revised and prepared version by you the author) will be included in the Proceedings of the Symposium published by Sunway University Press.

Program Committee

Chair            Kai Khiun Liew (Nanyang Technological University, Singapore)

Members      Miaoju Jian (National Chung Cheng University, Taiwan)

                     Vicky Ho (The Open University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong)

                     Qian Zhang (Communication University of China, China)

                     Atchareeya Saisin (Chiang Mai University, Thailand)

                     Jungwon Kim (Yonsei University, Korea)

                     Fushiki Kaori (Taisho University, Japan)

                     Kyohei Miyairi (Independent Scholar, Japan)

                     Mayco Santaella (Sunway University, Malaysia)

                     Isabella Pek (SEAMEX Institute)

Local Arrangements Committee

Chair             Mayco Santaella (Sunway University, Malaysia)

Members       Azmyl Yusof (Sunway University, Malaysia)

                      Adil Johan (National University of Malaysia)

                      Christine Yong (Sunway University, Malaysia)

                      Rachel Ong (Sunway University, Malaysia)

                      Frank Ong (Sunway University, Malaysia)

                      Isabella Pek (SEAMEX Institute)


Hyunjoon Shin (Sungkonghoe University, Korea)

Jungyup Lee (University of Massachusetts, Amherst, US/Korea)

Remembering Popular Music’s Past: Memory-Heritage-History

‘Remembering Popular Music’s Past’ capitalises on the growing interest, globally, in the preservation of popular music’s material past and on scholarly explorations of the ways in which popular music, as heritage, is produced, legitimised and conferred cultural and historical significance. The chapters in this collection consider the spaces, practices and representations that constitute popular music heritage in order to elucidate how popular music’s past is lived in the present. Thus the focus is on the transformation of popular music into heritage, and the role of history and memory in this transformation. The collection is particularly interested in the ways in which popular music’s past becomes enacted in the present.

The chapters discuss a diverse array of topics but are unified by inquiry into the construction, curation, display, negotiation and perception of popular music’s past. The collection presents a critical perspective on academics’ involvement in ‘historian’s’ work of ‘reconstruction’ of the past through archival and analytical research. The cultural studies framework adopted in the collection encompasses unique approaches to popular music historiography, sociology, film analysis, and archival and museal work. Broadly ‘Remembering Popular Music’s Past’ deals with issues of precarity in popular music heritage, history and memory. The collection is a timely addition to a subfield of popular music studies and critical heritage studies that has grown exponentially in the past ten years.

Table of Contents

1. The Precarity of Memory, Heritage and History in Remembering Popular Music’s Past, Lauren Istvandity and Zelmarie Cantillon; MEMORY;
2. Consuming Popular Music Heritage, Paul Long;
3. ‘Back in the Day’: Experiencing and Retelling the Past as a Claim to Belong in the Current Northern Soul Scene, Sarah Raine;
4. Resilience and Change: Popular Folk Songs in a Cultural Landscape, Ashton Sinamai and John Schofield;
5. Remembering the Independent Record Shop: The Ordinary Affects of Leedin Records, Adele Pavlidis;
6. ‘Mean Streets’ as Heritage Object: Music, Nostalgia and the Museumification of Martin Scorsese, Amanda Howell; HERITAGE;
7. Mark II: Re-working the Heritage B(r)and, Shane Homan;
8. The Continually Precarious State of the Musical Object, Charles Fairchild;
9. Showing Off: Taking Popular Music Research into the Museum, Peter Doyle;
10. Preserving Icelandic Popular Music Heritage: Issues of Collection, Access and Representation, Zelmarie Cantillon, Bob Buttigieg and Sarah Baker;
11. Questioning the Future of Popular Music Heritage in the Age of Platform Capitalism, Raphaël Nowak; HISTORY;
12. Jim Jarmusch’s ‘Mystery Train’ (1989): Representing the Memphis Music Legacy on Film, Adriano Tedde and David Baker;
13. Phenomenology of the Surf Ballroom’s Winter Dance Party: Affect and Community at a Popular Music Heritage Tourism Event, Sheryl Davis, Sherry Davis and Zelmarie Cantillon;
14. Disappearing History: Two Case Studies on the Precarity of Music Writing, Ian Rogers;
15. Great Albums, Greedy Collectors and Gritty Sounds? A View from ‘Snobbish Connoisseurs’ on the Canonization and Archivalism of Korean Pop-Rock, Hyunjoon Shin and Keewoong Lee;
16. Towards a Feminist History of Popular Music: Re-examining Writing on Musicians and Domestic Violence in the Wake of #metoo, Catherine Strong;

[Call for Papers] International postgraduate workshop on creative labour in East Asia and Beyond: work, subjectivity and alternatives in the global creative economies

Call for Papers
International postgraduate workshop on creative labour in East Asia and Beyond: work, subjectivity and alternatives in the global creative economies

Dates: 16 – 18 May 2019
Place: Beijing Normal University, Beijing, China

Jeroen de Kloet (University of Amsterdam)
Anthony Fung (Beijing Normal University)
Yiu Fai Chow (Hong Kong Baptist University)
Jian Lin (University of Amsterdam)

We invite abstract submissions from post-graduate and Ph.D researchers to a workshop on creative labour in East Asia.

Generally all human labour is potentially embodied with creativity (McGuigan 2010: 324). In the past two decades, however, the circulation of capital has delimited creativity as a definitive feature that distinguishes certain occupations in the so-called creative industries. Policy makers around the globe, following the 1990’s British government, embrace the ‘creative industries’ discourse and trumpet creative work for its bohemian spirit, autonomy and playfulness. Nevertheless, critiques have noted that the real situation of creative work is not as autonomous, self-expressive and fulfilling as imagined by creative-industry policies. Creative workers have become a creative precariat, suffering under precarious working conditions and surrounded by problems such as short-term contracts, unequal earnings and a lack of unions (Curtin and Sanson, 2016; Hesmondhalgh and Baker, 2011). Discourses surrounding creativity function as elements connected by the ‘creativity dispositif’, to implement job creation while also to discipline youthful population – to be creative (McRobbie 2016; Reckwitz 2017).

Most of these claims are elaborated from the perspective of western, ‘neoliberal’ creative industries. The critical language used often directs all discussion of ‘inequality’, ‘precarity’ and ‘self-exploitation’ of creative labour towards a critique of ‘neoliberalism’, thus running the risk of overlooking different socio-political contexts. The global hierarchy of creative industries and the national political atmosphere often affect the condition of creative labour and make the discourse of creativity function in different ways (Fung, 2016; Lin 2019). For example, in the case of China, culture and creativity are not only touted for ‘restructuring economy’, but also designated as instrument for wielding ‘soft power’ and maintaining social stability (Keane 2010).
·      How does the creativity dispositif function differently across different geo-political contexts, such as in East Asia?
·      Instead of grouping all the creative labourers as ‘precariat’, how do creative practitioners from different social, political contexts experience precarity differently?
·      How do these distinctive social contexts also result in different modes of governance and subjectification?
·      Where and how can we look for ‘alternatives’ – when we take the issue of contextuality into account, how can we conceive ‘good cultural work’ and to make creative labour ‘good work’ (Hesmondhalgh and Baker, 2011)?

To bring the global perspective to the study of creative production and creative labour, this workshop invites scholars from both global and regional (East Asian) contexts to engage with the above questions on the labour issues in contemporary cultural production, and to reflect upon the possibilities for good work and alternative creative economies brought by the interaction between the global capitalism and the local geopolitical economy.

Abstracts (max. 300 words) and short biographical notes (max. 100 words) need to be submitted to j.lin2@uva.nl by 7 February 2019. Accepted participants will be notified by 1 March 2019. Workshop participation is free of charge and we will cover the flight and accommodation expenses for selected speakers.

A selection of workshop papers will be published as special issue in a peer-reviewed journal.

The workshop is part of the ChinaCreative project (http://chinacreative.humanities.uva.nl) that is funded by a consolidator grant from the European Research Council. It is co-organized by the University of Amsterdam, Beijing Normal University and Hong Kong Baptist University.

[Review] K-Pop: Popular Music, Cultural Amnesia, and Economic Innovation in South Korea (by John Lie) and Globalization and Popular Music in South Korea: Sounding Out K-Pop (by Michael Fuhr) by Keewoong Lee


The Journal of Contemporary Korean Studies (JCKS) – VOL.3-1,2



K-Pop: The Soundtrack of Korea’s Globalization

K-Pop: Popular Music, Cultural Amnesia, and Economic Innovation in South Korea, by John Lie. Oakland: University of California Press, 2015. 241 pp.


Globalization and Popular Music in South Korea: Sounding Out K-Pop, by Michael Fuhr, New York and London: Routledge, 2016. 256 pp.

LEE Keewoong[1]

The Rise of International K-Pop Scholarship

In July 2012, I was in Taipei attending the biennial Inter-Asia Popular Music Studies Conference (IAPMS). The weather was scorching hot but the fever inside the auditorium felt even hotter. The heat I am speaking about emanated from the enthusiastic participants from all over Asia who were buzzing with new-found joy about K-Pop. The official theme of the event was, “Ways of Listening: How Do We Listen to Pop Music in/from Asia, and How Can We Talk about It?” Though the conference intended to cover the music of Asia in general, the star of the show was, without a doubt, K-Pop. Thirteen of the sixty-four papers presented at the conference were devoted to K-Pop or its related topics, and there were a number of other papers which covered non-K-Pop Korean popular music such as rock and trot. It was a dramatic change from the previous conference, held two years before, where the sum total of papers on the Korean Wave, not specifically K-Pop, was three. Personally, I remember the 2012 IAPMS Conference as the moment when international K-Pop scholarship exploded.

K-Pop is now a staple in the international conference circuit, particularly in the disciplines of Popular Music Studies and Korean Studies. In fact, we may even go so far as to claim K-Pop scholarship as a crowded field, inundated as it is with literature covering the many dimensions of the topic. Specifically, there have been studies on gender (Jung 2011; Maliangkay and Song 2015), race (Jung 2013) national identity (Jung 2015; Khoo 2015), language (Lee 2004; Jin and Ryoo 2014), the music industry (Epstein 2015; Kang 2015; Kim 2015), media (Oh and Park 2012; Ono and Kwon 2013), and fan culture (Siriyuvasak and Shin 2007; Khiun 2013; Sung 2013; Choi and Maliangkay 2015), to list but a few in English. Increasingly diverse topics are being covered and debated. This makes K-Pop a tricky subject as it is becoming increasingly difficult to say something that has not already been said. This is the first hurdle any new K-Pop literature needs to clear. Despite the great interest in the topic, it is still true that international K-Pop scholarship remains in its infancy, as the dearth in English-language book-length expositions on the topic testifies. Until very recently, K-Pop: Roots and Blossoming of Korean Popular Music (2012) by Kim Chang-nam was the only authoritative and systematic account of K-Pop apart from popular guidebooks (e.g. Russell 2014) and edited volumes (e.g. Choi and Maliangkay 2015).

In this circumstance, John Lie’s K-Pop: Popular Music, Cultural Amnesia, and Economic Innovation in South Korea (shortened to K-Pop in this article) and Michael Fuhr’s Globalization and Popular Music in South Korea: Sounding Out K-Pop (shortened to Sounding Out), the two books reviewed here, are welcome additions to the hitherto scant K-Pop bibliography. Both Lie and Fuhr are of Korean descent. The former is a Korean-American scholar of sociology who grew up in Korea, Japan, and Hawaii, whereas the latter is a German ethnomusicologist with a Korean mother and was brought up in Germany. The authors’ dual identities render them ideally positioned to play the role of cultural translators, as they are acquainted with the cultures concerned. To an extent, that is indeed the role they perform with their books–transferring what is considered an aspect of Korean culture to a target audience of Anglophone, presumably non-Korean, academics and intellectuals. Both authors appear competent in the job. They are at once knowledgeable of Korean history and culture, and have a sense of the demands of their target audiences. While Korean authors sometimes find it difficult to engage foreign readers since they tend to be too fixated on local interests and agenda, Lie’s and Fuhr’s keen understanding of their readership is certainly beneficial for initiating a new dialogue on the subject.

However, the work of cultural translation is far from straightforward. In the cases of K-Pop and Sounding Out, there are two concerns. First, both authors expose themselves as non-experts on Korean popular music. Popular music is very difficult to study for newcomers because of its ephemerality. It is music of here and now always subject to oblivion. This means the field of popular music is rife with misinformation, wrong memories, and ungrounded rumors. Furthermore, popular music feeds on myths. The past is constantly reconstructed and re-remembered. Without a certain amount of expertise, it is very difficult to distinguish reliable sources from those that are not. In this respect, it is not surprising to find so many errors in their accounts of Korean popular music, particularly in the historical details. Second, the in-between position of our two authors does not mean neutrality. They have their own issues to tackle and agenda to pursue with regard to their identities. To an extent, these issues and agenda dictate the contents of the books. For example, Fuhr’s discussion on mixed ethnicity in Korean pop music (Fuhr 2016, 199-202) is off-topic since this has not been an issue thus far in what is normally called K-Pop. Fuhr’s discussion is more an outcome of the author’s desire to talk about it than it is relevant to the theme.

As two books handling the same subject matter, K-Pop and Sounding Out cannot be more different. K-Pop is a highly opinionated and at times insightful essay-style offering centered in theoretical speculation. It locates K-Pop in Korea explaining it in terms of the country’s history and internal dynamics, and focuses on K-pop as a cultural text, painstakingly debating its artistic merits and values. In contrast, Sounding Out is more a textbook account of K-Pop, an empirical analysis rooted in extensive and rigorous fieldwork as it is based on the author’s doctoral thesis. It conceptualizes K-Pop as a flowing cultural form, an outcome of transnational mobility and cooperation, and attempts to draw a larger picture of K-Pop as a global cultural phenomenon by analyzing the multiple layers of its construction. In these respects, these two books can be seen as complementary to each other, shedding light on different aspects of the phenomenon. With some reservations, which I will go into in the remaining parts of this review, both books can serve as good starting points for in-depth understanding of K-Pop. In fact, there are few alternatives at the moment for the English readership. In the following sections, I will discuss each book’s handling of K-Pop in more detail.

Subverting the Aesthetic Hierarchy

Frankly, the first impression of Lie’s K-Pop is not very positive. Despite its title, first of all, there is only one chapter that discusses K-Pop, and the length of the chapter is sixty-six pages, just one-fourth of the entire volume. Long preceding chapters on the history of Korean popular music and Korea makes it feel as though two-thirds of the book is introduction. Furthermore, as I mentioned earlier, these chapters are replete with errors. I gave up counting inaccurate facts and misjudgments after just first twenty pages. Lie claims, for example, after the marijuana scandal in 1975, that “until the mid-1980s, rock music was silenced in the South Korean soundscape” (Lie 2015, 46). He obviously ignored Sanullim’s sensational debut in 1977, Saranggwa Pyeonghwa’s the next year, and the explosion of campus group sounds from 1977 to 1980. Contrary to his claim, the late 1970s was a heyday for rock music in Korea. Lie’s error-strewn lecture on the history of Korean popular music goes on and produces some unintentionally hilarious examples: “Kim Hyŏn-sik distinguished himself with songs of his own composition” (Lie 2015, 52); “Shinchon Blues were a minjung kayo outfit” (Lie 2015, 53); “repression of rock music made young people listen to rock music on short-wave radio” (Lie 2015, 54); “For an ear attuned to the post-Sŏ (Seo Taiji) period, Yi Sŏn-hŭi or Yi Mun-se might as well have been trot singers” (Lie 2015, 59). He also speaks of Hyeuni as Hye and as a trot singer (Lie 2015, 50), when Hye is not her surname and she is not a trot singer.

Lie is said to have grown up in Japan and it shows as he relies heavily on Japanese sources for this book. Perhaps he might feel more comfortable with the Japanese language than Korean. In my view, however, it was a fatal mistake since most of his erroneous claims came from Japanese sources. Furthermore, I find his use of Japanese nomenclature for Korean persons and song titles deeply disturbing. He refers to Cho Yong-pil’s hit song, “Dol-awayo Pusanhang-e” (Come back to Pusan Harbor) as “Fuzanko e Kaere,” its Japanese title (Lie 2015, 43); idol group Dong Bang Shin Gi as Toho Shinki (Lie 2015, 105); and composer and saxophonist Gil Ok Yun by his autonym Ch’oe Chi-jŏng (which he spells incorrectly, Ch’oe Chi-Sŏng is correct) and by his Japanese name Yoshiya Jun (Lie 2015, 44). In the last case, it is his stage name—Gil Ok Yun—by which he is known in Korea, but Lie does not mention that a single time. Although I understand and am willing to ignore faults and errors in historical details, mistakes of this kind are difficult to turn a blind eye to. These are not just oversights but a matter of scholarly integrity. Unless this book was written for Japanese readers, which it does not appear to be, the author should have done a basic check. It is incredible that Lie thought it was fine to address Korean people by their Japanese names, particularly when those names are not used outside Japan. Even if the book contained great ideas and insights, grave negligence like this tarnishes its reputation and leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of readers.

Thankfully, the chapter on K-Pop shows a significantly lower error rate. This time, however, the chapter is marred by poor organization. The chapter titled “Seoul Calling” is divided into seven sections. The length of each section is uneven and some longer sections are crammed with too many topics. In the section called “Internal and external transformation” (Lie 2015, 130-136), for example, the author charts changes in Korean culture during the last thirty years to explain the global rise of K-Pop. He touches on everything from the noraebang or karaoke craze, Confucian ideology, competitive and meritocratic schooling, and plastic surgery to copyright protection, the spread of Western musical conventions, globalization and consumerism, and the Korean Wave–all in six pages! Inevitably, the account is superficial and unfocused, revealing that the author does not have much to say about K-Pop in detail. There is also a vague thematic relationship between sections in that they do not seem coherently linked but arbitrarily placed. It is difficult to understand why some sections are there, such as one on Japan and J-Pop (Lie 2015, 136-140). Even though I tried, I still do not know the function of this section with regard to the thesis of the book. It only serves to distract the reader’s attention.

With my complaints out of the way, which I realize are many, I will now concentrate on assessing the book’s accounts and key arguments. It is instructive to start with recapitulating Lie’s encounter with K-Pop, which he notes at the beginning of the book. What we see here is a typical reaction from a Western-educated culture-rich Korean male intellectual towards what is supposedly populist, lowest-common-denominator music. Initially, he was not interested in K-Pop, and failed to find its artistic merit. Lie’s world turned upside down when K-Pop became a global sensation not just in Asia but also in Western Europe, North America, and Japan. The implication of cultural discrimination aside, Lie appears genuinely unsettled by the fanatical reactions from people in “advanced” countries towards the music he once despised. This book is a sustained effort for him to come to terms with this unsettling experience and the cultural shifts K-Pop instigated around the world.

Lie handles the issue by mobilizing various theoretical resources and reassessing K-Pop, and mainstream popular music in general, as legitimate music. It seems that one of the main purposes of the book is to persuade readers as well as himself that it is okay to like K-Pop. This topic is intensively discussed in the final two sections, namely “The aesthetics, branding, and character of K-Pop” (Lie 2015, 140-155) and “The legibility and legitimacy of popular music” (Lie 2015, 148-155). These two sections count as unqualified high points of the book and the two redeeming features of an otherwise very problematic work. As Lie saved the best for the last, I would like to outline the author’s thought process and how he eventually reaches his conclusion.

The main argument of K-Pop is summed up in its subtitle Popular Music, Cultural Amnesia, and Economic Innovation in South Korea. Lie sees K-Pop as an outcome of the combination of cultural amnesia and economic innovation. Cultural amnesia denotes two-fold severance from tradition: one is from the traditional musical form of Kugak, and the other from the dominant culture of Confucianism. Throughout the book, Lie repeatedly emphasizes that K-Pop has nothing to do with Korea’s cultural tradition. Presumably it is his reaction to the influential essentialist discourses of the Korean Wave that relates the global success of Korean popular culture to the supposed superiority of the country’s national culture (e.g. Im 2013; Yun 2014; see Cho 2005 for a critical assessment). Against this, Lie argues that it is ruthless Westernization or Americanization rather than Korea’s cultural tradition that was the key to the worldwide triumph of K-Pop. Lie’s praise of Seo Taiji–“Seo Taiji wa Aideul invented K-Pop” (Lie 2015, 99)–is in the same logical vein. In his view, Seo’s greatness lies in his being able to narrow the gap between Korean and American popular music culture (Lie 2015, 58). He contends that K-Pop is post-Seo Taiji Korean dance pop that is contemporary to American or global pop music, and that it is thanks to the breakthrough achievement of Seo that K-Pop has been possible. While this contention is entirely agreeable, questions still remain. If K-Pop is Americanized contemporary pop music, does that mean it is indistinguishable from the latter? Does K-Pop have distinctiveness? If so, in what ways?

Lie answers these questions by referring to the second factor, economic innovation. Economic innovation here signifies the entrepreneurial spirit of the entertainment industry whose invention of K-Pop was conditioned by dire financial crises and driven by the “export imperative” of the Korean economy (Lie 2015, 109). Thanks to the sudden collapse of the record industry, and the disastrous Asian Financial Crisis in the late 1990s, the Korean music industry was forced to embark on a series of innovations. Among them, the most successful and enduring was the invention of the K-Pop formula. Lie enumerates a number of elements that he characterizes as distinctive features of K-Pop: first, the group structure that is flexible, efficient, and has reach; second: the performer self who is polite and professional; and third, almost complete eschewal of the independent musician-artist. The last one is closely related to other peculiarities such as the embrace of the studio system to develop talent, and an extreme division of labor in the creation of songs and videos (Lie 2015, 123-124). Lie considers these traits as purely commercial characteristics of K-Pop. From his point of view, K-Pop is an archetypal commercial enterprise completely devoid of artistic concerns such as authenticity, originality, and autonomy. In this respect, Lie sarcastically poses, “The ‘K’ in K-Pop has more to do with Das Kapital than with Korean culture or tradition” (Lie 2015, 130).

On paper, this kind of inauthentic, calculated, and formulaic music cannot be good. This is the kind of music that should be loathed and ridiculed forever. In reality, however, worldwide K-Pop fans are not dopes or dupes manipulated by evil “captains of consciousness” (Ewen 1976), but people who genuinely love K-Pop music and acts, and actively engage in various fan activities purely for pleasure. How is that possible? How can so many people the world over wholeheartedly embrace what is essentially cynical commercial products? This is the challenge Lie takes up. Here, he adopts an anti-Adornian position (see Adorno 1941) and takes the trouble to question the dominant aesthetic dogmas of romanticism. He claims, “if we can liberate our senses from romantic ideology […], then it may become possible for us to appreciate K-Pop’s interesting and innovative features” (Lie 2015, 145). After criticizing romantic ideals of creative genius, originality and authenticity, Lie goes on to reevaluate what have been deemed negative aspects of K-Pop such as the “hook” and “formula,” and underrated elements such as lyrics, song craft, choreography, and music videos (Lie 2015, 146-148). Lie sees artistic achievements and innovation in all of these areas. In the end, Lie argues that popular music is different from classical music. The former is about everyday beauty, not sublimity (Lie 2015, 147). Being conventional, repetitive, and formulaic is not vice but virtue as popular music should be legible and comprehensible (Lie 2015, 155). It is undeniable that popular music provides joy, pleasure, and even a moral compass to millions of people every day (Lie 2015, 154), and there is nothing inauthentic about the tears and laughter it brings to the listener. Like popular music in general, Lie argues, K-Pop marks the beautiful in ordinary life: a promise of happiness, the anticipation of bliss (Lie 2015, 155). 

Reassembling K-Pop

Michael Fuhr’s Sounding Out is K-Pop scholarship tour de force. It is often the case that a doctoral thesis is a scholar’s most ambitious work. Fuhr’s book certainly fits this statement. Here, he attempts to disassemble and reassemble the whole phenomenon of K-Pop. Virtually all the elements are taken apart and thoroughly analyzed, and then put back together again to produce a comprehensive picture. This research strategy is reflected in the organization of chapters. Seven chapters are grouped into two parts corresponding to the processes of disassembling and reassembling, respectively. In his analysis, he draws on his specialties in anthropology and ethnomusicology producing an exemplary interdisciplinary study. The main purpose of the book is to demonstrate the complex and dynamic relationship between the concepts of global imaginary and national identity in the transnational cultural flow of K-Pop. The author explains this with the concepts of three asymmetries–temporal asymmetry, spatial asymmetry, and asymmetries of mobility–which I will go into later.

Unlike K-Pop, the first impression of Sounding Out is positive. It looks well organized and substantial, and has a much wider scope. Whereas Lie’s sights are fixed in Korea, Fuhr takes into account the more complex dynamics of K-Pop such as the global flow of the talent, songs and technologies of its own creation. By doing this, the scale of the research extends to the global. He approaches K-Pop as an arena, cultural traffic and networks. It operates well beyond the boundaries of Korea. This conceptualization of K-Pop allows Fuhr to go further than Lie’s take on it as Westernized or Americanized Korean pop or a tamed/commercialized version of American pop. Fuhr refuses to take this stance and tries to make sense of it as a source and result of an ongoing process of cultural globalization. For him, K-Pop is “a thoroughly hybridized product, a unique coalescence of music, visuals, lyrics, dance, and fashion, a postmodern product of pastiche and parody, a carnivalesque celebration of difference, a shiny world of escapism, and a highly participatory cultural practice enacted through digital media” (Fuhr 2016, 10). It means K-Pop is not just cultural text but a whole universe of production and consumption. Adopting this view, Fuhr is able to specify the innovative aspects of K-Pop better than Lie does. Another virtue of this book is its extensive analysis of fieldwork data. It provides readers with the joy of new discoveries and interesting facts. Although it lacks the impact of Lie’s last two sections, Fuhr’s is a very solid and informative work on K-Pop.

Part I of the book is made up of two chapters: one on the history of K-Pop and the other on its production. Chapter 2 traces the history of Korean popular music from 1885 to the present. This is the weakest chapter of the whole volume. Although considerably less serious than Lie’s, it is another error-strewn discussion all the same. It is regrettable to find claims like “hip-hop and R&B act 015B,” (Fuhr 2016, 83)–015B was a pop/rock outfit–and “[g]roups such as the Add4, the Key Boys, the K’okkiri Brothers, and He6 initiated the new sound era” (Fuhr 2016, 46)–He6 were latecomers debuted in the 1970s Mercifully, Fuhr made a wise decision in keeping the chapter short, thus minimizing the damage. The next chapter, “Producing the global imaginary: a K-Pop tropology,” is the longest and most ambitious. Here, Fuhr engages in full-blown analyses of various aspects of K-Pop production: terminology, artist names, lyrics, fansubbing, the industry, idol nurturing and training, musical text and convention, group dance, and music video. You would be hard-pressed to find a more systematic and comprehensive analysis of K-Pop.

The results are impressive. Here, I can only list a few highlights from Fuhr’s observations. Near the beginning of the book he discusses the mixing of English codes in lyrics, claiming the practice as not a shallow attempt to copy American pop, but rather as a way to provide both a lingua franca for international fans and a sense of modernity to the young Korean audience (Fuhr 2016, 64-66). Fuhr also dissects K-Pop artists’ common use of enigmatic initials, acronyms, and numbers, rather than their real names (unlike their American counterparts), asserting it as fulfilling the double function of ensuring accessibility for non-Korean audiences and conveying the image of globality to Korean audiences (Fuhr 2016, 62). Fuhr’s next topic is the performance-centered aspects of K-Pop songwriting, i.e. the way the songwriting itself is rhythm and dance-based and takes into account dance choreography from the beginning (Fuhr 2016, 82). He then delves into song hooks, which he claims are strategically composed over a maximum duration of thirty to forty seconds in order to fit the length of ringtones and ringback tones. And unlike Western mainstream pop songs, Fuhr says, K-Pop songs often have fragmentary structures and moods, and show unexpected changes, e.g. Nu ABO by f(x). (Fuhr 2016, 92). He also touches on the signature moves in K-Pop choreography and the ways they elicit active participation from the audience through their kinesthetic qualities (Fuhr 2016, 112). His discussion of K-Pop music videos as heterotopic sites—in the way each opens up a new space or a non-place removed of locality—and his assertion of K-Pop music videos as visual representations of the globalization strategy pursued by Korean entertainment companies (Fuhr 2016, 118), are compelling.

Though his findings are generally informative, there are a few questionable claims in the chapter too. First of all, Fuhr’s “flexible” categorization of K-Pop is confusing. When analyzing K-Pop’s rap flow, he takes LeeSsang as an example (Fuhr 2016, 99-102). It is dubious whether LeeSsang could be classified as a K-Pop band. In later chapters, he presents YB (Fuhr 2016, 174-179) and Skull (Fuhr 2016, 179-183) as other examples of K-Pop’s entering the American market. At this point, you start wondering whether Fuhr’s K-Pop is synonymous with Korean pop. Next, Fuhr engages in a lengthy discussion on the “ppong” factor (Fuhr 2016, 102-108), which he considers a unique characteristic of Korean popular music. In fact, he argues that the ppong factor makes the K-Pop sound uniquely Korean. Perhaps it must have been an exciting discovery for him during his research. However, he appears to oversell it. Ppong is deemed a necessary evil. Music businesspeople are in favor of it because they believe using it is commercially beneficial. Musicians hate it because it represents quintessential uncoolness. To put it simply, ppong is good for making money, but bad for style. Some K-Pop songs might contain ppong elements here and there, whether intentionally or not, but it is far from being embraced or deployed as a marker of “Koreanness.”

While Part I focuses on microscopic analyses of K-Pop’s elements such as text, performance, and management, Part II presents macro-level analyses of K-Pop’s dynamics. In particular, Fuhr’s concern is asymmetries in the global flow of K-Pop, which he breaks down into the three categories of temporal asymmetries, spatial asymmetries, and asymmetries of mobility. The first is temporal asymmetries. Here, the author touches on the question of temporality, coevality, and cultural lag. Drawing on Iwabuchi (2008), Fuhr discusses different temporalities in the consumption of cultural artifacts. For example, while Taiwanese reception of Japanese TV dramas rested on a sense of coevality, Japanese consumption of imported Asian TV dramas was based on its denial (Fuhr 2016, 151). In the same way, Japanese audiences received Korean TV dramas with nostalgia as if they were transferred from the past. With the advent of K-Pop, however, the temporal gap between the two countries vanished and a sense of coevality replaced the nostalgia. This time, however, Fuhr observes that Koreans show a denial of coevality against less well-off Asian countries. The Asia Song Festival is symbolic of this attitude, which places Korea at center stage and musical acts from other Asian countries as foils. He warns that this could create “bumps and blocks” (like the backlashes against the Korean Wave in Japan, China, and Taiwan) that impede cultural flow and exchange.

The next chapter is on spatial asymmetries. Here, Fuhr tries to show that the transnational flow of K-Pop is “a complex, multi-layered and at times contradictory phenomenon entangled in multiple strategies, contingencies, and attempts to reference and construct places through musical and visual imaginaries” (Fuhr 2016, 162). For doing this, he analyses the different strategies four artists–BoA, Wonder Girls, YB, and Skull–adopted in entering the American music market. Despite different strategies, a sense of spatial asymmetry was crucial in shaping their respective approaches to the market and produced transformations in their sounds and appearances. BoA conformed to the stereotypical image of the American female pop star; Wonder Girls employed mild ppong melodies to distinguish themselves; YB used kugak to highlight “Koreanness”; and Skull completely erased his Koreanness and presented himself as a reggae artist. Whatever the method, the sense of spatial asymmetry was forceful in Korean artists’ attempts to make inroads into the American market, Fuhr says, expressed in the belief that Korean pop music will never make it in its original form in the United States. Unfortunately, the book was written just before Psy’s 2012 global smash, “Gangnam Style,” which was never intended for release in the American market. Psy’s success all but brought to an end all those elaborate strategies and costly operations by proving those are not necessary in the age of YouTube and Facebook. It also exposed that spatial asymmetry was a form of ungrounded fear of pop music’s biggest stage rather than a material reality. In this respect, it was interesting to see the way K-Pop’s attempts to “conquer” the U.S. market dramatically subsided after “Gangnam Style.”

Finally, asymmetries of mobility indicate the flow of talent. K-Pop is a paradoxical construct. The “K” in K-Pop signifies Korea but the scale of its operation is global. While “deterritorialization is central to the K-Pop phenomenon” (Fuhr 2016, 18), Korea’s status as K-Pop’s symbolic and material home is indisputable. To put simply, K-Pop is simultaneously flowing and fixed, which produces contradictory sentiments, namely global aspiration and nationalist/patriotic fervor. This is an inflammable contradiction that can develop into full-blown conflict at any time. Although K-Pop has kept an apolitical image, it could always potentially become intensely political due to this contradiction. In this chapter, Fuhr charts the conflicts and negotiations in K-Pop as global mobility. K-Pop recruits talents from all over the world, but the recruited must come to Korea and transform him/herself into a Korean entertainer. The process inevitably involves cultural clashes. In this book, Fuhr examines a few cases including those of Park Jaebeom and Yoo Seung-jun who caused controversies by contradicting the nationalist sentiments of Korean people. Fuhr argues that K-Pop’s contradictory demand produces a contradictory subject out of an immigrant body, the subject who embodies cosmopolitanism and self-censorship all at once. Fuhr’s contention here is difficult to disagree with. However, I would like to point out his narrow sight with regard to the issue of nationalism. Korea is not the only country where K-Pop is embroiled in nationalist controversies. From the abuse of Girls’ Generation’s images in a Japanese far-right cartoon to the latest case of Tzuyu’s forced apology for waving the Taiwanese flag, K-Pop has been a minefield of nationalist dispute for quite some time. As K-Pop’s reach broadens, it is put under increasing pressure to toe the line not only to avoid offending the Korean people but also the nationalist sentiments of global people who follow K-Pop.

A Perfect Textbook?

In July 2012, I taught a popular music class at a summer school for a group of overseas students. It was the time when K-Pop’s popularity was at an all-time high and had culminated in the explosive success of “Gangnam Style.” Although the course title was “Understanding Korean Society through Popular Music,” it was apparent that the majority of the class was only interested in learning about K-Pop. The problem was that it was very difficult to prepare for the course since academic literature on K-Pop was extremely limited. I used to consider myself lucky when I came across anything K-Pop-related that I could use in class. Thankfully, things have much improved on this front. It is not difficult to find at least a handful of journal articles on virtually every topic. However, a decent textbook is still a necessity. Between the two books reviewed here, Sounding Out fits the bill nicely. Yes, it is undeniably flawed: it not only makes some factual errors, but also misses out on quite a few topics such as media, fan culture, gender and so on. However, its advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. On the other hand, K-Pop is too awkward to be considered a textbook, but, thanks to its powerful arguments in the last chapter, it could make a decent auxiliary text as long as the first chapter is skipped.

It is an exciting time for students of K-Pop. Starting with K-Pop and Sounding Out, long awaited books on the topic are finally being released, and others will soon follow. Just when K-Pop scholarship gathers momentum, however, K-Pop is becoming an unpredictable entity. On the one hand, it is showing signs of decline no longer producing such heavyweights as Girls’ Generation, KARA, Big Bang, and 2NE1. On the other hand, however, its popularity is belatedly rising in the Anglo-Amerian world having been refigured as the latest hipster music. This unexpected turn of events makes K-Pop even more interesting. Hopefully, it fuels further enquiries and debates.


Adorno, Theordor. 1941. “On popular music.” Studies in Philosophy and Social Sciences 9: 17-48.

Cho, Hae-joang. 2005. “Reading the ‘Korean Wave as a sign of global shift.” Korea Journal Winter: 147-182.

Choi, Jungbong, and Roald Maliangkay. 2015. “Introduction: why fandom matters to the international rise of K-pop.” In K-pop: The International Rise of the Korean Music Industry, edited by J. Choi and R. Maliangkay, 1-18. New York and London: Routledge.

Choi, Jungbong, and Roald Maliangkay eds. 2015. K-pop: The International Rise of the Korean Music Industry. New York and London: Routledge.

Epstein, Stephen. 2015. “Into the New World: Girls’ Generation from the local to the global.” In K-pop: The International Rise of the Korean Music Industry, edited by J. Choi and R. Maliangkay, 35-50. New York and London: Routledge.

Epstein, Stephen, and James Turnbull. 2014. “Girls’ Generation? Gender, (dis) empowerment, and K-pop.” In The Korean Popular Culture Reader, edited by Kyung Hyun Kim and Youngmin Choe, 314-336. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Ewen, Stuart. 1976. Captains of Consciousness: Advertising and the Social Roots of the Consumer Culture. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Im, Jae-hae [임재해]. 2013. “Current Phenomena of Smartphone and Pop-Culture and the Recognition of Meme” [스마트폰과 대중문화 현상의 문화유전자 인식]. Journal of Namdo Folk Culture [남도문화연구] 27: 213-256.

Iwabuchi, Koichi. 2008. “Dialogue with the Korean Wave: Japan and Its Postcolonial Discontents.” In Media Consumption and Everyday Life in Asia, edited by Y. Kim, 127-144. New York and London: Routledge.

Jin, Dal Yong, and Ryoo Woongjae. 2014. “Critical Interpretation of Hybrid K-Pop: The Global-Local Paradigm of English Mixing in Lyrics.” Popular Music and Society 37 (2): 113-131.

Jung, Eun-Young. 2013. “K-pop female idols in the West: racial imaginations and erotic fantasies.” In The Korean Wave: Korean Media Go Global, edited by Youna Kim, 106-119. New York and London: Routledge.

———. 2015. “Hallyu and the K-pop boom in Japan: patterns of consumption and reactionary responses.” In K-pop: The International Rise of the Korean Music Industry, edited by J. Choi and R. Maliangkay, 116-132. New York and London: Routledge.

Jung, Sun. 2011. Korean Maculinities and Transcultural Consumption: Yonsama, Rain, Old Boy, K-Pop Idols. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.

Kang, Inkyu. 2015. “The political economy of idols: South Korea’s neoliberal restructuring and its impact on the entertainment labor force.” In K-pop: The International Rise of the Korean Music Industry, edited by J. Choi and R. Maliangkay, 51-65. New York and London: Routledge.

Khiun, Liew Kai. 2013. “K-pop dance trackers and cover dancers: global cosmopolitanization and local spatialization.” In The Korean Wave: Korean Media Go Global, edited by Youna Kim, 165-181. New York and London: Routledge.

Khoo, Gaik Cheng. 2015. “’We keep it local’ – Malaysianising ‘Gangnam Style’: a question of place and identity.” In K-pop: The International Rise of the Korean Music Industry, edited by J. Choi and R. Maliangkay, 146-163. New York and London: Routledge.

Kim, Ju Oak. 2015. “Despite not being Johnny’s: the cultural impact of TVXQ in the Japanese music industry.” In K-pop: The International Rise of the Korean Music Industry, edited by J. Choi and R. Maliangkay, 88-80. New York and London: Routledge.

Lee, Jamie Shinhee. 2004. “Linguistic hybridization in K-pop: discourse of self-assertion and resistance.” World Englishes 23 (3): 429-450.

Maliangkay, Roald, and Geng Song. 2015. “A sound wave of effeminacy: K-pop and the male beauty ideal in China.” In K-pop: The International Rise of the Korean Music Industry, edited by J. Choi and R. Maliangkay, 164-177. New York and London: Routledge.

Oh, Ingyu, and Gil-sung Park. 2012. “From B2C to B2B: selling Korean pop music in the age of New Social Media.” Korea Observer 43 (3): 365-397.

Ono, Kent A., and Jungmin Kwon. 2013. “Re-worlding culture? YouTube as a K-pop interlocutor.” In The Korean Wave: Korean Media Go Global, edited by Youna Kim, 199-214. New York and London: Routledge.

Russell, Mark James. 2014. K-Pop Now! The Korean Music Revolution. Vermont: Tuttle Publishing.

Siriyuvasak, Ubonrat, and Shin Hyunjoon. 2007. “Asianizing K-pop: production, consumption and identification patterns among Thai youth.” Inter-Asia Cultural Studies 8 (1): 109-136.

Sung, Sang-yeon. 2013. “K-pop reception and participatory fan culture in Austria.” Cross-Currents 9: 90-104. Accessed July 31, 2016. https://cross-currents.berkeley.edu/sites/default/files/e-journal/articles/sung.pdf

Yun, Young-in [윤영인]. 2013. K-pop DNA and History. Seoul: Bookshelf [북셸프].

[1] Lee Keewoong is a research professor at the Institute for East Asian Studies at Sungkonghoe University. He holds a PhD in sociology from the London School of Economics. His research interests include the cultural industry, popular music, and urban change. His latest publication is “Gentrification effects: The flow of cultural refugees and place making in the vicinities of Hongdae” (City Studies, 2015).


[Review] Made in Korea: Studies in Popular Music (Hyunjoon Shin and Seung-Ah Lee eds) by Keith Howard

Hyunjoon Shin and Seung-Ah Lee (eds): Made in Korea: Studies in Popular Music. (Routledge Global Popular Music Series.) xiii, 247 pp. New York: Routledge, 2017. ISBN 978 1 138 79303 3.

Keith Howard (a1) 

Published online: 23 February 2018

This volume brings together eighteen Korean and Korean-heritage authors to cover the major bases of South Korean popular music, dividing their contributions into four broad sections: “Histories”, “Genres”, “Artists”, and “Issues”. A “Coda” basically profiles an additional issue, while an afterword transcribes an interview with the rock and metal artist Shin Hae-chul. “Histories” contains chapters by Shin, Keewoong Lee, Jung-yup Lee and Sun Jung, and, rather than offer a chronological timeline, looks at music on stage, in recordings and broadcasts on the media, and pop’s global marketing. We read how recordings in Korea almost always had less importance than live or broadcast performances, how musicians “uniquely” honed their skills working for American military shows (why “uniquely”, given the entertainment needs of American forces posted elsewhere during the Cold War?), and how the notion of “spreadable media” (taken from Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford and Joshua Green, Spreadable Media (New York: New York University Press, 2013)) has in recent years challenged notions of copyright. The last is given as a reason why Korean fans created myriad parodies of Psy’s Gangnam Style; surely, though, Gangnam Style was sufficiently hated by Korean pop aficionados that its parodies were created by just about anybody other than fans.

“Genres” curiously occupies a politics-free zone as its four authors attempt to tie specific music styles to times, places, and people. Yu-jeong Chang’s consideration of the early popular genres of trot and ballad ignores too much previous scholarship on both genres and on Japanese equivalents, and has inaccurate moments, but Pil Ho Kim and Aekyung Park in contrast provide excellent discussions of rock and modern Dylanesque folksong. Jaeyoung Yang’s account of soul, funk, rap and hip hop is particularly informative and readable, although he admits that his title, “Korean Black Music”, “is contradictory as it implies a socio-geographic and racial incongruity” (p. 95). Yang reveals his personal tastes openly: mainstream hip-hop, he tells us, relies on “sweet melodies over rapping”, while massive idol groups such as Big Bang and 2NE1 lack “rhythmic diversity and beat variations” (pp. 102, 104).

“Artists” starts with a useful consideration of the colonial-era jazz musician and composer Kim Hae-song by Junhee Lee, although eyebrows will be raised by the claim that Kim “was Elvis Presley, John Lennon, and Jimi Hendrix, all compressed and accumulated into one” (p. 108). It closes with Eun-Young Jung’s account of Seo Taiji lifted, though no credit is given in Made in Korea, from my edited volume, Korean Pop Music: Riding the Wave (Folkestone: Global Oriental, 2006). In between comes an analysis of rock by Dohee Kwon that finds Korean identity in pentatonicism (based on an outdated Korean musicological theory of mode), and Okon Hwang’s splendid discussion of the multi-talented Kim Min-ki and his legendary status as a dissident songwriter. Within “Issues”, Haekyung Um offers a finely detailed account of vocal style, Hyunseok Kwon explores how Korean traditional music (kugak) relates to popular music, and Soojin Kim gives an over-simplified account of pertinent legislation during the rules of successive South Korean presidents. Dong-Yeun Lee’s “Who’s afraid of Korean idols” is likely to be the most cited chapter: his somewhat rhetorical discussion is excellent, detailing how 50,000 aspiring idols are tested each year but only 10 or so will end up debuting after four or five years of strenuous training. Oppressive management masks “emotional” labour that from a Marxist perspective results in privation for idols as workers. Finally, as the “Coda”, Sunhee Koo and Sang-Yeon Loise Sung explore the circulation and reception of Korean pop beyond Korea, but the coverage is severely limited because they focus on their personal Japanese, Chinese, Taiwanese and Austrian expertise.

Some editing is poor (particularly in the first section), and a few errors have made it into print. For instance, a German trader is said to have demonstrated a gramophone in Korea “in 1866” (p. 24), when Edison didn’t invent the phonograph until 1877 (the gramophone followed later). How can the claim that Korean TV broadcasting “started prematurely in 1961” be justified (p. 38)? For “Drunk Tiger” read “Drunken Tiger” (p. 104). The group Sarang kwa P’yŏnghwa did not, as claimed, only “prolong their career into the 1980s” (p. 99), since they disbanded in 2000. The volume sadly excludes any coverage of North Korean music, on the disingenuous grounds that “conditions for studying it are not mature”, with too few researchers existing in North Korea and insufficient data available outside the country (p. xi). Hundreds of albums featuring the groups Pochonbo and Wangjaesan as well as the “Songs of Korea” series are available, along with many clips on YouTube, providing plenty to study; indeed, I profiled North Korean pop in my edited volume (2006: 154–67). However, the editors of Made in Korea elect to critique my volume rather than engage with it, claiming that it and its constituent scholars make it “difficult to know the views of the scholars based in Korea” (p. xii). This is then used to justify only including authors who are Korean. However, my volume includes six Korean authors (three of whom reappear here, one reproducing the same contribution) as well as several foreign academics working at Korean universities. If the claim to provide a local take on Korean pop is to be taken seriously, then how is it that 12 of the 18 authors either work in, or completed their doctorates, in Europe and America? And, why do so many authors reference standard Euro-American popular music scholarship – Nicola Dibben, Charles Fairchild, Simon Frith, Bruno Latour, Keith Negus, Roy Shuker, John Storey, Tim Wall and Peter Webb all make an appearance before page 30?

Rather disconcertingly, recent years have seen two groups of Korean gatekeepers emerge for Korean pop, one led by Shin, and the other, the World Association for Hallyu Studies, led by Oh Ingyu and (until 2017) Park Gil-Sung. Shin points out that Oh and Park would not agree with his perspectives (p. 8), but otherwise ignores them and their group. Again, it is disappointing to read Shin’s comment that his participation in the 2005 conference of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM) in Rome “marks the emergence of Korean scholarship on Korean popular music on a global scale” (p. 8), since this denigrates the contributions of so many. It also ignores the fact that my volume resulted from a series of conference papers and panels begun a number of years earlier at conferences of the Association for Korean Studies in Europe, the British Association for Korean Studies and the Society for Ethnomusicology, and for the International Institute for Asian Studies. Any attempt to police or sideline the efforts and scholarship of those with non-Korean ethnicity needs to be resisted, particularly in books like this designed for a non-Korean readership. We deserve better from Routledge, and the Made in Korea editors.