For a University assignment last year, I wrote an essay on K-pop fandoms. This obviously required research into the area, which actually has very little academic coverage. One of the few pieces I came across was about the Hallyu Wave and the effect it is beginning to have on a global scale. The essay defined the Hallyu Wave as:

“…a new hybrid culture that has captured the influences of both the West and the East.”  – (Kim and Ryoo, 2007)

I remember instantly thinking that this was a perfect way to describe the Hallyu Wave. I often find myself talking about K-pop to anyone who will listen (or has been foolish enough to ask me about it) and I usually say things like: “K-pop artists take the idea of Western music, but then give it their own Korean flavour.” This usually results in a perplexed expression until I push them to listen to a song – they then proceed to understand my meaning.

I believe that the K-pop industry’s ability to seamlessly combine the two music cultures as well as many other factors, such as their utilisation of content-sharing websites such as YouTube, has given the Hallyu Wave its immense power.

However, on South Korean shores, it seems that the marrying of the two cultures has not been as seamless and harmonious as desired. A censorship-monitoring institution known as the South Korean Ministry of Gender Equality and Family (MOGEF) has been known to ban countless K-pop songs due to their “inappropriate” content – much to many K-pop fans’ annoyance.

The first example I am going to use here is the banning of GD and TOP’s track “Don’t Go Home”. This was pounced upon by MOGEF for being “unfit for public broadcast” and proceeded to be banned by all three major South Korean broadcasting networks.
The lyrics of the song were the problem and I don’t think anyone can deny the thinly-veiled sexual-content that the song contains. Personally, I could see the point that MOGEF was making here, even despite the fact that YG Entertainment protested against it.

Looking at the lyrics from a Westerner’s perspective (and being highly GD and TOP biased) I am more inclined to see the song as cheeky and a bit mischievous. However, when considering traditional Korean culture, one can relent.

“Look baby, all I want is to greet the morning with you
A secret party for just us two before the night comes to an end
But you’re like Cinderella, you try to go home when the clock hits 12…”
– (GD&TOP – Don’t Go Home).

The next example is BEAST’s “On Rainy Days”. The song was only released as a digital single as part of their “Fiction and Fact” album, but it soared rapidly to the number one spot in South Korean music charts. The song was then slapped with a rated 19 restriction which prevented the members from performing the song live anymore. The song was banned for its references to alcohol which, according to MOGEF, encouraged indulgence in alcohol in minors.

“I should stop drinking, I think I’m drunk.” – (BEAST – On Rainy Days).

BEAST member Yoseob took to Twitter to voice his frustration regarding the matter and CUBE Entertainment proceeded to file a lawsuit in an attempt to lift the restriction, which they eventually went on to win.

There is a theory in academic field of Media Studies known broadly as the “Hypodermic Needle” model (Longhurst, 1995). This is the idea that audiences are passive and easily influenced by the media they consume. So, if you play a violent video game, you will become a violent person. This may seem ridiculous, but if you think back to when a terrible murder has been committed by a teenager, you will probably recall the media mentioning the murderer’s taste for horror films or violent video games like Grand Theft Auto. It seems that MOGEF also believes this theory to be true. They think that, because drinking is mentioned in a song – fans will go out and become alcoholics.

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This way of thinking instills no faith in the intelligence of the human race and this is why I subscribe more to Stuart Hall’s “Encoding/De-coding Theory” (Hall, 1995). Hall states that a message is encoded into all media productions, but consumers de-code the messages according to their wider social backgrounds. To put it simply, the media does influence us, but it depends on the condition of the individual consumer as to how they react to it.

There are also many other authorities in Korea that have banned or placed restrictions on K-pop songs. For instance, The Korea Broadcasting and Communications Review Committee (KCC) called for 4Minute’s HyunA to abruptly end promotions for her hit summer track “Bubble Pop” back in 2011 due to the choreography being too sexual.

It seems that modern K-pop has travelled on quite a rocky road on its own shores. The Hallyu wave has resulted in K-pop artists treading the line between traditional Eastern culture and the more Western way and this has caused no shortage of problems and obstacles in their careers.

Overall, I feel that the MAJORITY of these bans and restrictions placed on these songs are completely over the top and can see that even many young Korean consumers begin to get exasperated by the frequent overreaction by censorship authorities. I think it is often the case of these institutions being out of touch and slow to catch up with the reality of what is now acceptable in modern society.

However, this is not to say that I believe K-pop artists should adopt the more Western mantra of “sex sells” in order to fit in. I am often quite taken aback by the level of sex and violence featured in Western media and I would be heartbroken to see my favourite K-pop artists becoming this way.

It is always going to be a difficult balancing act, but I personally feel that K-pop artists have enough talent to still be successful without the shock factor brought by the use of sex and violence in their work.

It will be interesting to know what you guys think on the matter! Please give your opinions!

[Source: Allkpop, Google Images]

Bibliography:

HALL, S. 1993. “Encoding, decoding” in DURING, S (ed). The Cultural Studies Reader. London: Routledge.
(For En-coding/Decoding essay).

KIM, EM and RYOO, J. (2007) “South Korean Culture Goes Global: K-Pop and the Korean Wave” in Korean Social Science Journal. Available at: http://kossrec.org/boa/rd/imgfile/KSSJ%20Vol.34.no.1(Eun%20Mee%20Kim%26Jiwon%20Ryoo)).pdf. <last accessed 22-12-2011>

LONGHURST, B. 1995. “Effects, audiences and subcultures” in Popular Music and Society. Cambridge: Polity.
(Mentions “Hypodermic Needle” model, but I am unsure as to who first thought of it – but you can find it mentioned in most studies of audiences).

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Freya is the founder of UnitedKpop, steering the ship since 2011. She is a full time graphic designer with lots of love for her two cats. You can see Freya's portfolio at freyabigg.co.uk