How K-pop Reflects the Globalization of this Generation

By Camille Wong

Jiwon Choi,  Parallel  (photo still), 2017. HD video, 29 min 51 sec. Courtesy of the artist.

Jiwon Choi, Parallel (photo still), 2017. HD video, 29 min 51 sec. Courtesy of the artist.

In 2018, pop music surprised us by deviating drastically from the genre of pop. In part, due to Billboard’s new metric system to account for streaming plays, but also with the rise of the internet generation, we find that popular culture reflects an amalgam of different tastes and influences. Electronic dance music can be unsuspectingly paired with country, rap can express both melancholy and aggression, a K-pop group can hit the U.S. charts, and Brockhampton can be likened to One Direction. There is no universal identity to pop culture anymore.

The artists in LACE’s current exhibition, “Take My Money/Take My Body” curated by Narei Choi and Nicolas Orozco-Valdivia, critique the ever changing output machine that is popular media. Nine artists come together to share their own experience with our society’s obsession with pop culture. Upon entering the gallery, you are immediately assaulted by cardboard cutouts taking your photo, ghosts of presidents past singing on national television, and videos parodying K-pop— an unlikely medley of various media that’s analogous to this generation’s eclectic taste.

Levi Orta,  Singing Alone,  (2014). Courtesy of the artist.

Levi Orta, Singing Alone, (2014). Courtesy of the artist.

The rising visibility of Korean culture is just one example of the global reach of popular media. If we can take a museum tour of North Korean missiles through VR, then K-pop should be able to debut as #1 on the Billboard charts. In Parallel Pt.3, Jiwon Choi takes on the personas of a Korean boy band to emphasize the stereotype of K-pop bands but also to criticize the culture of masculinity and idolization surrounding celebrities. Phrases like “You can be sexy, but not sexual” and “‘idol’ogy is the new ideology” are displayed on the screen in front of clips of real K-pop music videos. A blatant message to the viewer that sexuality plays a large role in appeal while also commenting on our obsession with stardom.

This piece plays on the subculture of fandoms and the tenacious devotion of fans. It was because of K-pop group, BTS’s, large social media presence and massive internet following that they were able to covet the title as “biggest boy band in the world.” Without obsessed fans, would stars like Timothee Chamelet, Shawn Mendes, and One Direction even see the light of day? This inexplicable obsession with our idols is what creates cultish followings that have the power to break the internet when a Justin Bieber facsimile eats a burrito sideways. Our obsession is, arguably, what makes the internet go round.

In Singing Alone, Levi Orta introduces a type of celebrity that we don’t normally associate as celebrities— presidents and heads-of-state. In her video, we see clips of Bill Clinton seductively blowing the saxophone, Vladimir Putin endearingly singing at a charity event, and Barack Obama winning the nation’s heart in a jazzy Blues Brother rendition— all this is to ask how big of a role does celebrity and media coverage play in popularity? After the 2016 presidential election, the internet was flooded with the infamous Obama-Biden Bromance, appropriately dubbed “BROTUS.” Through a series of memes, it softened the landing for the conclusion of a great presidential term that could never prepare us for the next several years. While there’s no denying that a charismatic leader is an important representative for our country— after all we do want a leader who can be human— Orta’s piece reminds us that celebrity should not the only criteria for governance.

Gelare Khoshgozaran,  U.S. Customs Demands to Know,  (2016). Photo courtesy of the artist.

Gelare Khoshgozaran, U.S. Customs Demands to Know, (2016). Photo courtesy of the artist.

When it comes to popular media, the most frequented platforms for the distribution of information is our social media networks. However, we hardly ever think about the unseen regulations put in place to filter what can be accessed and published. This can vary from R-rated photos being flagged to graphic videos filmed in countries at war being removed. In U.S. Customs Demands to Know, Gelare Khoshgozaran conveys a powerful message that confronts government censorship and mediation from other corporate powers. This piece consists of real packages sent to and from the artist’s mother in Iran, searched through and inspected by U.S. Customs agents.

In less directly invasive scenarios, there’s no denying that higher powers censor our social networks and filter our media. However, how far should they be able to go for our protection? One example of this ongoing controversy is Facebook’s decision to not take an authoritative role in removing slanderous information and ads, particularly in relation to the 2016 election. The reason being that it would overstep their jurisdiction and violate the first amendment’s right to freedom of speech. Situations like this blur the lines between what’s appropriate for interference and what’s considered a violation of privacy.

The exhibition can at times feel disconnected, having trouble deciding if its tone is satirical or serious but it ultimately critiques our culture of media circulation. Information has to ability to touch all corners of the world through a simple post, Tweet, or like. This can be as harmless as a pop band gaining recognition overseas or as damaging as Russian trolls falsifying American news. An exhibition that demonstrates the globalization of our world and of the next generation, it reminds us that the internet holds a promising future if we don’t get too seduced by its siren song.

Camille Wong