Thursday, April 2, 2009

More North Korea

Not much to say, other than I guess we'll find out soon whether Kim Jong-il's been bluffing with all his swagger recently, or if things are worse than I originally thought.

USA and South Korea present united front on rocket launch

It is really unfortunate that the pizzeria's not living up to expectations. And that I can't stop being snarky about a serious international issue. There are reasons I didn't become a journalist.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Sorry sorry sorry sorry...

Super Junior is BACK.

Not content with 5-6 members in a boy band, a few years back the Korean entertainment company SM entertainment created Super Junior. Super Junior has 13 members - one for every flavor, I guess. They have handsome guys, boyishly cute guys, girlishly cute guys, singers, dancers, a chubby guy, a Chinese guy. It's really not a bad idea - there's bound to be someone in the group who floats your boat. And once you've committed yourself to actually learning who all the members are, it seems like you've invested too much to move on to another pop idol. Super Junior's songs were never very interesting to me, until their latest release, "Sorry Sorry." I CANNOT get it out of my head. I've tried, and now I've just decided to embrace it. Anyway, here it is: Listen to it, love it, boggle at how they fit all 13 members in the video.

Super Junior "Sorry Sorry" MV with English subtitles

Monday, March 16, 2009

Well, at least Kim Jong-il likes good food

Kim Jong-il isn't exactly a great guy. But he likes Italian food, so we know he isn't completely soulless.

If you don't want to go read the article linked to above, basically, North Korea's Great Leader is opening up the nation's first Italian restaurant. I'm sure your average North Korean would prefer if he focused on getting enough rice to all the commoners first, but hey - when you're craving pizza there's not much you can do. Even though I went grocery shopping just the day before, last night I decided that I really just wanted a good slice of New York-style pizza instead.

As someone who's part Italian and cooks and eats that kind of food fairly frequently, I can't fault him for wanting to open an Italian restaurant (wanting is one thing, actually doing it is another). And maybe, just maybe, the endorphins released by consuming a quality marinara sauce will put Kim Jong-il in a good mood and perhaps make him less inclined to be so antagonistic towards...well, almost every other nation on Earth, but particularly South Korea and the U.S. Although frankly, if the food there resembles your standard pizzeria in the South, I doubt it will help very much.

EDIT: Maybe it's working already?

Monday, March 9, 2009

O M Gee

In case you're wondering, yes, I am still following K-pop. Perhaps not as actively as I was a year ago, but by and large I'm aware of what's been going on. So this next song is one that's been out since January, and I've resisted posting about because it drives me crazy. It's this uber-cheerful "Look at me! Love me! I'm so cuuuuuute!" kind of song with a melody that just won't get out of your head. Like, it enters your brain through some secret passageway the first time you listen to it, locks itself into a dusty room in there that you had forgotten about, and then starts pounding at the walls and howling until you're humming it to yourself while washing the dishes, exercising, trying to LISTEN TO OTHER MUSIC FOR THE LOVE OF GOD. Yeah. It's that kind of song.

But it's huge in Korea right now, so I figured it was time to post about it (that, and so others might share in my misery). Last year K-pop group Jewelry placed number 1 with their single "One More Time" for seven weeks in a row on a music entertainment program. Well, recently, this song broke records and placed first eight weeks in a row. So without further ado:

Girls Generation (SoNyeoShiDae) "Gee" Music Video

The group, Girls' Generation, is a nine-member girl group similar to the Wondergirls, except with slightly different concepts. The Wondergirls seem to have a lot of gimmicks in their styling, while Girls' Generation's concept is explicitly CUTE. They're cute girls, they make cute faces, sing cute songs, and have cute dance moves. Last year they weren't quite as popular as the Wondergirls, but maybe that will change with "Gee."

In case you're curious about other music from Girls Generation, here's the video for their first single, also titled "Girls Generation," which for some reason I liked a lot more than "Gee." It's enjoyable in all the same ways, and I guess I just find it less maddening.

Girls Generation "Girls Generation" Music Video

Saturday, February 7, 2009

They're Coming...

Remember the Wonder Girls? The girls who sang the K-poppiest of all recent K-pop songs, Tell Me, So Hot, and Nobody? Well, their record label apparently has plans to cross over to the American market.

Here's their (English!) interview with Worlds on Fire at the Grammy-nominated Artist Exhibition:

They're actually pretty cute here, and clearly excited to be giving an interview in the States. It's hard to say how good their English is, since they don't stray far from the standard "nice to meet you" and "my name is," although lead singer Ye-eun does call the art show "intriguing" - somebody studied her vocabulary flashcards before showing up today!

Also, they don't introduce themselves with their real names. Of the first three girls to introduce themselves, Sun is actually Sun-ye, Yeni is actually Ye-eun, and Mimi is actually Sun-mi. Not terribly difficult for English speakers, and I hope they'll not underestimate the intelligence of their audience. We'll see whether or not they start promoting songs over here or whether they'll be successful if they do try. Personally, I don't think their retro-cute look would take them anywhere beyond a one-hit wonder in the States. But I was forced to listen to their songs non-stop for months at a time last year. What think other, unbiased Americans?

Friday, January 30, 2009


For the 500th time in the past 5 years, North Korea is going back on agreements with South Korea. South Korea wants North Korea to finally cut its nuclear program; North Korea says the South is being hostile.

I generally have two minds about North Korea and nuclear weapons: first, that Kim Jong-il knows as long as his country has an operating nuclear program, other countries will be willing to negotiate and give aid on the condition that North Korea will finally stop the program. Which, of course, they will NOT do - instead, they'll get their aid, tear up the agreement and then 6 months later go back to the table and make another deal they don't intend to honor (lather, rinse, and repeat).

My other thought is that the guy really just is insane. To reductionistic? Probably. But even if you made an argument for strong rationality, you simply couldn't make any argument for empathy.

This is all of course just my opinions. I study educational psychology these days, not political science or sociopaths. One common theory, it seems, is that Kim Jong-il is trying to get the attention of one President Obama (and, again, up the DPRK's bargaining power). Should be interesting to see how this administration deals with North Korea, and whether it makes a difference. I don't think the last administration did a poor job with North Korea, either - at this point I just wonder what tact anybody could take that would actually produce favorable long-term results. Again, this is a question I am in no way knowledgeable enough to answer.

Monday, January 5, 2009

SoKo and Passion in Politics

Oooh, South Korean opposition-party politicians are PISSED...

It's still a wonder to me that President Lee Myung-bak got elected in the first place, given how sharply his approval ratings plummeted as soon as he took office. The initial negative response was due to his decision to sign a trade deal with the United States, allowing the U.S. to export beef products from older cows to South Korea. The public became terrified of a Mad Cow Disease epidemic, staged mass protests all over the country (including one in my small town, right outside of my taekwondo studio just as I was coming out of practice...had anyone asked, I planned to say I was Canadian).

Looks like we're still seeing the fall-out from LMB's massively unpopular decisions, as opposition-party members are doing everything in their power - even taking physical action - to prevent other trade-agreement bills (among other issues) from going through.

I have my own opinions, positive and negative, about both sides of Korea's current political brouhaha. But for now all I'll say is this: it may be shocking as an American to see such things happening in a democratic system, but it's also refreshing. Imagine if politicians in this country were as willing to put themselves on the line for an issue that's deeply important to them and the country - say, for example, the Iraq war or gay marriage bans?

Sunday, December 14, 2008


I don't quite understand it. I love the snow. I love the holiday time right around mid-December, when city streets have lights in its trees that reflect off of last night's snow. I LOVE that. Very little makes me happier.

Nonetheless, right now I find myself missing last year's foggy December in Neungju more than I find myself enjoying the rather picturesque downtown Ann Arbor streets.

Or maybe I just miss the kids who made the foggy rural mountainscapes all worth it.

You tell me.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Dance crazes, one more time

How could I forget?

If we're discussing recent viral K-pop sensations, the only song that can really compete the Wondergirls' "Tell Me" is Jewelry's "One More Time." Wondergirls' youth and cuteness is put up against Jewelry's experience and sexiness. "One More Time" came out early in 2008, and the group placed number 1 for 7 weeks in a row on a popular music performance/rankings show. That's almost two straight months of dominating the Korean music charts and, more to the point, the internet downloads. Recently the group won a year-end award for 'Best Digital Single', which basically translates to 'Most Ridiculously Popular Song to Download, Performance to View on Repeat, and Dance to Imitate.'

The dance in question is the "E.T. dance," and if you watch the video, you'll understand why.

One More Time music video (with English subs, no less)

(I got pretty good at a tamer version of this dance, as well as the "Tell Me" dance. Both are remarkably useful phrases in an English classroom, and if doing a quick ET dance along with it is what it takes to wake the kids up at 8:30 AM, then so be it.)

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Dance craze!!!

I don't know if this has been standard in K-pop for a while now, but one phenomenon of the past year or so has been dance crazes. They happen when a K-pop star comes out with a hot song, a hotter music video, and a super-hot yet simple accompanying dance. And then it spreads like wildfire across the internet, and before you know it, grandmothers are busting out the moves at Chuseok.

The Wondergirls are responsible for the first dance craze I noticed. While their talent is, in my opinion, questionable, their popularity is huge, due to addictive songs like their breakthrough single, "Tell Me."

Tell Me performance:

"Tell Me" was released last year and quickly became a sensation. And I mean a SENSATION (think Britney's "One More Time" times about 50). Kids performed the song ad nauseum at school festivals and everybody knew the basic dance steps, including yours truly. There are only so many times you can watch the same performance with with your host siblings before you start being able to imitate it.

And the people who produce the Wondergirls clearly know what they're doing, because they followed up "Tell Me" with this year's "So Hot" and the even more dance craze-able "Nobody."

Nobody performance:

"Tell Me" remains not only the Wondergirls' biggest hit, but also definitely the biggest dance sensation I've ever seen, and the Wondergirls are definitely the supreme purveyors of sugary, addictive K-pop. Nevertheless, I'll mention a couple other recent popular dance moves.

Not to lose to some fresh-faced teenagers, everybody's favorite boy band Dong Bang Shin Ki stumbled upon such a craze with their Korean comeback single "Spell (MIROTIC)." The addictive part of the choreography is brief and comes about 3/4 of the way through the song, during the rap solo. They recently were featured on a Fuse.TV music/travel program, where the move was ingeniously dubbed "Da Sexy Chin."

Mirotic performance:

Lest you think such crazes are limited to dance pop, Korean music legend Seo Taiji recently released a song called "Human Dream." It's a great song about robots wanting to become human (as far as I can tell, anyway). It's by far my favorite dance craze so far, because 1.) I love the song, 2.) Seo Taiji generally seems like the kind of person I'd love to have a beer with, and 3.) The dancing robots in pink spandex are pure happiness.

Human Dream performance, complete with pink spandex robots and an energetic audience:

Don't you just want to start flapping your hands along too? Or, if that's not your flavor, striking a sexy pose partly inspired by Rodin's "The Thinker"? Or perhaps go pseudo-retro so you can charmingly clap your hands and point forward?

No? Might just be me then.