Tuesday, August 13, 2019

"Winter Bear" by Kim Taehyung: A Moon Bear in hibernation.

I awaken I think. Marshlights

reappear, geese

come trailing again up the flyway.

--Taken from The Bear by Galway Kinnell.

Moon Bears no longer roam free in South Korea, although their range once spanned far and wide across the entire Asian continent. But there are Moon Bears. They live in cages, waiting to be killed for their bile ducts or, worse, live in cages while the bile is drained from their living bodies. I recommend caution in looking up photos, although I do recommend looking up photos because Moon Bears are quite lovely to look at, their rich brown coloring broken only by a v-shaped crescent moon of white on their chests.

Moon Bears hibernate in the winter. Like other bears their heart rate and breathing slow and they enter a state of prolonged slumber. A winter bear is a bear in a state of suspended animation, dreaming away long cold months while he waits for spring.

I’ve seen a number of interpretations of Kim Taehyung aka V aka Vante’s new song “Winter Bear” and the accompanying video floating around and I’m going to tell you right now that I don’t know what this song means to Kim Taehyung nor do I feel it is my place to make any assumptions about his relationships or his inner mental state. What I can talk about instead is art and the meaning to be pulled from this beautiful song.

The video opens with a shot of birds flying freely in the open sky. A classic image of freedom. But then we hear the click of a shutter and the camera pulls back. And as we cut to Taehyung sitting in the backseat of a car, taking photos through the window, we understand that we weren’t flying free among the birds in the sky but merely viewing them through the lens of camera, trapped helplessly in a car, behind glass. Taehyung puts the camera down and, without a word, the car begins to drive forward. Taehyung doesn’t make eye contact with the camera but continues to watch the world pass by outside as the strum of a guitar gently eases us into the song.

“Winter Bear” is a gentle waltz anchored by a simple acoustic guitar riff and Taehyung’s warm, warm vocals. It’s right in the wheelhouse of one of my favorite genres of music, something I like to call the Children of Nick Drake. Wistful, beautiful, maudlin songs rooted in the sounds of British folk music. Listen to something like The Cello Song for a taste of the great Nick Drake.

Taehyung begins “Winter Bear” in his rumbly, breathy chest voice. The lyrics (in English) play over shots of American and European landscapes shot from behind car windows (echoing Jungkook’s G.C.F. in USA) and of Taehyung behind his camera.

“She looks like a blue parrot

Would you come fly to me

I want some good day good day good day

Good day good day”

The lyrics bring up the image of the bird flying free echoing the opening shots of the song and the feeling it evokes--the feeling of those endless landscapes passing by as we helplessly watch--is of a yearning for freedom.

”Looks like a winter bear

You sleep so happily

I wish you a good night good night good night

Good night good night”

The next verse continues the same way but instead of calling after a bird flying, the singer speaks of a bear settling in for a winter hibernation. Has he become the parrot, speaking to the bear?

Imagine your face say hello to me

Then all the bad days are nothing to me

With you

Winter bear

Sleep like a winter bear

Sleep like a winter bear

For the next section of the lyrics, Taehyung jumps to his falsetto voice, double tracked, giving a sense of building anticipation, making your stomach drop and skin prickle… the images no longer show scenery passing by but Taehyung existing alone in a foreign cityscape. At one point we see him hold up a photo of his beloved dog Yeontan on his phone. “Imagine your face say hello to me.”

Is he singing to the Winter Bear, resting in gentle slumber, or is he the Winter Bear, biding his time until he can be reunited with his loved ones? Or both? Are we hibernating? Waiting for something to wake us up?

With the last sung lines--“Sleep like a Winter Bear”--come the drums. Breaking the soft flow with a determined forward movement. Now it’s night and Taehyung is no longer behind glass, behind his camera. He walks forward down an empty street.

We see a point of view shot of his feet. Left, right, forward into the night.

His back is to us but he turns to glance behind, perhaps to see if we’re still following.

And as his last breathy vocals fade away, we’re dropped into a black and white fantasy world. No longer in foreign cities full of faceless people, Taehyung wanders black and white fields. He bends down to greet a small dog, his only interaction with another living thing in this entire short film.

Black and white geese move backwards, pulled back to earth even as they try to fly away.

Black and white Taehyung moves backwards.

Black and white people on the street pass by backwards.

Black and white Taehyung holds up a bird feather in the black and white sunlight and smiles.

We go back to the empty night street and Taehyung’s feet are moving backwards. He is walking away from us, away from the camera as an electric guitar riff plays.

A “Strawberry Fields Forever” sounding mellatron patch fades in as Taehyung turns his back to us for the final time and walks off alone.

“Winter Bear” feels heartbreakingly lonely. The images of the birds unable to fly away as haunting as they are beautiful. Knowing much of this footage had to have been filmed on tour while Taehyung was surrounded by people and unable to really wander too freely adds an extra layer of wistfulness…

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

On translation and Namjoon's Weverse letter 2019.08.07

Today Namjoon posted a somewhat lengthy letter to Weverse in Korean. Because Big Hit does not provide official translations for anything other than official merchandise, it was left to the fan translation accounts to post the contents for non-Korean speaking fans. In a quick twitter search I found at least 10 English translations along with Spanish, Polish, and a few other European languages. Some of these translations only had 20 likes, one already had over 50,000 as I type this.

As I’ve written before, translation between any two languages is tricky. It’s hard to capture tone, to translate idiom and word play. Putting Korean into English has two added difficulties--the use of assumed (unspoken/unwritten) subjects--and conveying the levels of politeness in Korean speech that just do not exist in English. (And, as an aside, manifest in odd ways when BTS themselves speak in foreign language. Such as Namjoon’s penchant for calling older men or people in higher social positions than him “sir” in English where Americans except just default to the first name except in like extreme circumstances, like meeting the President.)

Because Namjoon’s recent letter on Weverse touches on some difficult topics, I think it’s worth comparing and contrasting a few of the translations--as well as putting my beginner Korean to use--just to demonstrate how wildly these fan translations can vary and to emphasize (hopefully) that you should always look at more than one fan translation if you want to use the text to make any kind of serious point.

Here are a few:

@btsfancafes, currently sitting at almost 60,000 likes and 23,000 RTs.

@JK_Glitters, currently sitting at about 10,000 likes and 4,500 RTs.

@hopekidoki, currently at about 4,000 likes and 2000 RTs.

@btstranslations, currently sitting at about 1,500 likes and 600 RTs.

@bitelune, currently sitting at about 130 likes and 75 RTs.

I’m going to focus on just a snippet to demonstrate how different these can be:

@btsfancafes

But anyway, I’m going to live with it. Even if I don’t know who, and whatever I do, I still sit at the desk in the studio and see other artists in my eyes and have them in my mind. If it’s too difficult, I run like a racehourse on a treadmill. Then it seems as if I could open up my narrow mind more. What else should we offer this time?

@jk_glitters

However, I am still living, dealing with it somewhat. It is fine even if the content in my book is all just that. Someone might deny it or not know it at all. In any way, I am sitting at the desk at my working studio, capturing many other artists in my eyes and my heart (learning and observing) when things get too hard, I run on the running machine like a racing horse. It seems to open up my narrow mind wider. What are we going to put out this time?

@bitelune

But anyway, I live by enduring and making ends meet. Even if some people say that’s not it and if people don’t know. Whatever the cause (T/N translator phrased words), I sit on (or beside) the table in the studio, close my eyes, and try to embrace other artists in my heart. If (I’m) too exhuasted, I run like a racehorse on top of a running machine. Then (I) think that my narrow heart (mind) will open a bit more. What will I put out this time.

And then my translation of a translation working from two Japanese translations I found (@suzumomoand @tokki_9700):

However, at any rate, in this way, I’m just about managing. It’s fine if this is all that’s written in my book. Even if somebody thinks I’m wrong or doesn’t get it. Somehow I find myself in my studio, sitting at my desk, and with heart and mind I’ll lose myself in other artists*. When things get too hard, I’ll run like a racehorse on my treadmill. When I do that it feels like I’m able to clear my mind**. I wonder what is going to come out next.***

*the word used here is for a serious artist, not just musicians but even authors or painters etc.

**the turn of phrase here was literally of a narrow heart being opened. This is a common idiom and I hear it all the time in song lyrics. The meaning as I’ve always taken from it is something like “opening your mind” but in this case it felt more like Namjoon was talking about clearing the detritus from a busy mind.

***the subject is unspoken but I feel that he’s talking about himself rather than the group here.

There's a big difference between what I saw in both Japanese translations--literally along the lines of "I'm barely managing to continue living in this way" and "I'm just going to live with it." There's a big difference between "opening my narrow mind" (implying in English something like taking in new ideas you were reluctant to before) and clearing a busy mind and focusing. It's all about interpretation. And, look, I don’t want to drag any fan translators. It’s not easy work, especially with the pressure to be fast but I think as fans we have the responsibility to really take a look at what it is we’re reading and how accurate it may or may not be. Again, I’m not saying this to pick at @btscafes but that account was the only one to put Namjoon’s sentence about the Disney movie in the past tense. “I watched” vs. every other translations’ variation on “I should watch”... it’s an honest mistake but when you’re the account with 60,000 likes that is a mistake that many, many people are going to see and not realize that Namjoon didn’t actually watch a Disney film but merely mentioned the possibility as something that would clear the somewhat gloomy fog from his brain. And while whether or not Namjoon popped in the DVD of Snow White isn’t all that important in the grand scheme of things, it just shows that it is very easy for misinformation or a particular interpretation of a phrase or idiom to get spread this way.

My Korean is not yet good enough (yet!!!) to join the dozens of people posting translations but I’m happy to tackle another paragraph or two if you’d like the Japanese to English version. Japanese is far, far closer in grammar and vocabulary to Korean than English is and the translations tend to be far, far closer to the original in meaning.

Anyways, I hope Namjoon is feeling lighter with this off of his chest. He seems like the type of person who not only gets lost in his own head but who also feels insecure in the success that he’s had. The way he speaks sometimes it’s almost like everything is going to ripped out from under their feet tomorrow and he’ll be back in his parents’ house shitposting on rap boards under a ridiculous pseudonym. Well, I believe in you Namjoon. I know you’re not perfect and neither are any of us. You’re doing the best you can in extremely tough circumstances and the fact that you’re still here and still standing tall in front of us is testament enough to your spirit. Fighting!!

G.C.F. in USA: Jungkook goes to America and What He Sees There

Released just about a year ago on July 16, 2018, Jungkook’s “GCF in USA” was compiled from footage shot during the whirlwind of promotions and recordings that was BTS’s trip to Los Angeles and Las Vegas, May 14-22, 2018, for the Billboard Music Awards. Like all of Jungkook’s GCF films, it’s beautifully shot and edited but unlike his more aesthetic focused films (GCF in Saipan’s study in horizons or the 3J@2018 MMA Practice’s study of body movement) “GCF in USA” tells a story.

Start with the title. This isn’t “GCF at BBMAs” or “GCF in Los Angeles”, this is “GCF in USA” and it’s that “USA” that hints at what is to come. This film illustrates Jungkook’s experience of being in USA, of what “USA” means to him. And as the title flashes over a shot of a washed out Los Angeles strip mall, a Burger King flanked by a handful of palm trees, taken from behind the tinted window of a van traveling--one can only assume--from the airport directly to the set of the James Corden Show, we begin to understand what “USA” really is.

It’s this.

USA is watching strip malls pass by outside the tinted window of his van.

USA is being on set for a Dispatch photo shoot.

USA is Namjoon looking tired.

USA is goofing around with Jimin and Taehyung backstage at an American television show.

USA is Yoongi’s pained expression.

USA is Hoseok pulling two bottles of champagne from a hotel mini-fridge.

The film is set to the song When We Were Young by the Lost Kings (also managed by the same guy who manages the Chainsmokers which is maybe how JK found the song) and as the title implies it’s a song about looking back towards a more innocent youth. The line “Can we go back when we were young and didn't care if we messed up?” repeats over and over throughout the song. We can’t know if Jungkook, who is not fluent in English, chose the song for it’s bittersweet lyrics or simply for the yearning tone of the female singer’s voice and the way the music pushes and pulls but never goes anywhere. Either way the effect is the same. “GCF in USA” feels… sad. The subject has become trapped in that soupy EDM beat and never hits a build-up. Can never escape.

“GCF in USA” is a needed companion to the “official” behind-the-scenes, the 35 minute long [EPISODE] BTS (방탄소년단) @ Billboard Music Awards 2018 where we see the group penned in by shrieking fans at the airport, penned in by staff and handlers backstage at various events, penned in by hotel walls and cameras, gawked at by celebrities and civilians alike. Namjoon unable to keep his worries and insecurities from spilling out. Yoongi with a smile that never reaches his eyes.

And flickering through the background is Jungkook with his camera looking for beauty where he can find it.

Jungkook’s visual sense is something I’ve really come to love and appreciate about him. He notices and highlights things that we may not otherwise see. Like really see. One of the things we glimpse throughout “GCF in USA” is the sky. Or, rather, not the “sky” but of what somebody sees if he’s looking up. Up to where there are no cameras and handlers and fans gawking at you. Jungkook shows us wires framed against a blue, blue sky. He shows us a sliver of moon at night. But these snatches of freedom come between wan faces and blank interiors.

And Jungkook’s editing choices are also really something special. The more you watch “GCF in USA”, the more you appreciate the way Jungkook lines up things like Namjoon adjusting his legs so that it syncs with a beat of the song. The way Jungkook highlights the passage of time jump cutting between a plate of raw and cooked meat. The way he slips in a small clip of what hints at an actual celebration not for the cameras before showing the V-Live “celebration”.

Namjoon's long, long legs.

Raw meat in the seconds before it will be cooked and consumed.

Hoseok in the outfit from when they met Zedd the day before the BBMAs hinting that that was the day they actually had their party

Jungkook is often painted by English-language fandom as a baby and his films used as fodder for shipping wars between Taekookers and Jikookers. Jungkook is not skilled at off-the-cuff speaking and you can see in his interviews that unlike some of the other members, he doesn’t really express himself well through words. But that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t observe and feel and think. Jungkook’s GCF series communicates more than any interview with Jungkook ever could because he doesn’t have to turn his thoughts into words. He puts them through in his editing choices. We’re seeing what he wants to show us. All you have to do is open your heart.

Jimin always trying to make people happy.

Yoongi's professionalism in the face of extreme emotional distress.

Seokjin caught in an unguarded moment of exhaustion.

The way his landscapes contains no other people. No fans. No general public. Nobody. Trapped behind metaphorical glass.

“Can we go back when we were young and didn't care if we messed up?”

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Filmi Girl's Idol Cast Episode 17

For this episode I'm joined on the Idolcast by another long time Arashi fan turned BTS fan! We talk about all sorts of stuff including what Johnny's does RIGHT and what worries us K-pop idol groups in general and BTS in particular.

Regarding the Johnny's dormitory, you will still find that the older Johnny's idols like Tokio's Joshima who joined in the 1980s do still mention it from time to time but it is long gone. And for the best.

The songs played are:

1. "Atlantis Princess" by BOA

2. "情非得已" ("Cant Help Falling In Love With You") by Harlem Yu

3. Clip from episode 14 of Mago Mago Arashi

4. "恋に落ちたボディガード" (Bodyguard in Love) by A.B.C-Z (I believe this is the performance I linked where my friend said, "Oh... I didn't realize they were so K-poppy.")

5. "Love Rainbow" by Arashi (A song that neither my guest or I liked on the first or second or 20th listen but it grows on you. And here's a taste of Matsujun's cheezy conducting choreo.)

6. "Fire" by BTS

7. "Otsukare" by SOPE

8. "WISH" by Arashi (5x10 special live version performed by Matsumoto Jun)

9. "No Air" by The Boyz (One of the young groups I've got my eye on. These kids are SUPER talented and have great songs.)

10. "Call out" by ASTRO (One of the best live concert songs! ASTRO have mentioned being inspired by Arashi numerous times and their live concerts show that it's not just words. I highly recommend checking out their new DVD.)

11. "REVENGER" performed by Yara Tomoyuki live on Shounen Club July 2010. He had just come from performing in Takizawa Kabuki and was going straight into starring in PLAYZONE.

12. "Honesty" by SHINee (Fancam of a live performance)

13. "So What" by BTS (Fancam from the Love Yourself tour)

14. "曇りのち、快晴" by Ohno Satoshi (Released as a double A-side with "Believe"; it was the theme song to the drama Ohno starred in called うたのおにいさん that is excellent if you can find it.)

15. "Love Rainbow" by Arashi (AGAIN because you know. Repetition.)

And some bonus fun!

Here's Astro doing Arashi's "Hatenai Sora":

Friday, July 19, 2019

Some word vomit on the Atlantic article by the woman who has been a fan for FOUR MONTHS and yet writes from a place of authority somehow.

Yesterday two very different English-language articles about BTS came across my twitter timeline. The first, from Atlantic Magazine was yet another in the seemingly unending series of first person fan memoir pieces titled “I wasn’t a fan of BTS. And Then I was.” The second, from DJ Booth, was an in-depth look at RM’s lyrics and artistry from a hip-hop perspective.

The second article is the one I wish we saw more of. The author, one Elliot Sang, looks at RM’s lyrics and artistry from a serious perspective. Aside from a few very minor points where it’s clear the author is not familiar with the K-Pop scene or Asian music history in general (in what universe was Big Bang ever known for their “crisp choreography”?????), overall the article is a breath of fresh air in what is swiftly becoming a BTS-clickbait-industrial complex.

The Atlantic article on the other hand. Where to even begin…

Maybe here: BTS fan narratives are not newsworthy and reveal nothing about BTS.

I’ve written about this in other posts but English-language media has almost completely warped the traditional fan-idol dynamics so that ARMY is in the spotlight; ARMY is what’s talked about.

Just from the last month, BTS’s mainstream news coverage in the US includes ARMY translators in the New York Times (with no mention of the fact that they are doing unpaid labor for a billion dollar company hmm...); Sasaeng Fans in Newsweek; ARMY backlash to an Australian news show in USA Today; and BTS’s lyrics being a love letter ARMY in Seventeen magazine... you see where I’m going with this.

Most English-language news coverage of BTS is not about BTS themselves.

So, fine, ARMY is the story. There is plenty to be written about ARMY. I’d love a journalist to interview some of the OG i-ARMY who whipped the fanbase for votes to get that first Billboard Award to understand their thought processes or for a journalist to seriously dig into the mindless mob mentality that characterizes ARMY twitter these days as fans race from imagined outrage to blowing up nobody songwriters who say one good word about the members or for a journalist to take a good, long look into what it says about i-ARMY that they are so invested in making sure that BTS’s views on “social justice” issues align perfectly with their own.

But none of that will happen. Why? Because--like the author of the Atlantic piece--the media exists in this weird bubble where the only things possible to know about BTS are what is already “known” about BTS. And, to be frank, that is not much if your time as a fan began… when was that exactly, Atlantic author?

I was already yawning when I sat down to watch Saturday Night Live one evening this past April.

BTS were on SNL on April 13, 2019. This piece was posted on July 18, 2019. So… just about 4 months ago. 4 MONTHS AGO.

Because the group’s lyrics are mostly in Korean, I picked up some Hangul and can now sing along, albeit imperfectly, to much of their discography.

*cough*

Not to cast doubt on this woman’s language skills but as a native English-speaker with no background in Asian languages you cannot learn shit about an Asian language in 4 months. Right here, with this sentence I call bullshit on this entire piece. Unless she was in some sort of intensive 8-12 hour a day Korean program for every day of those four months, what can she have possibly “learned”.

“Some Hangul”? What does that mean? She can sing phonetically to 뱁새? While that shows a bit more dedication than those who never bother to learn the lyrics it’s ultimately still a very shallow engagement with the Korean language, with the lyrics, and with the group itself. As one of my very dear twitter friends said recently, the more you learn the more you understand that there is so much more to learn. “Some Hangul”???

I’ve learned, though, that being a fan of BTS means becoming intimately familiar with the many prejudices and hierarchies of taste that casually belittle the thing you love—and then deciding that none of it has any real power over you.

This is really the point of the piece and it’s one that many young women need to hear. I do appreciate that message. It’s one I had to come to by myself many, many years ago. The white, male academy that dictates the prejudices and hierarchies of taste basically owns the entire critical machine. To like anything that goes against it--without caring--is like breaking out of a glass box you didn’t realize you’d been trapped in.

HOWEVER, that message in and of itself is no excuse for giving a four-month old ARMY a platform to write from a place of authority on BTS when she has engaged so shallowly with the group that she regurgitates this finely honed press release as captial “T” truth:

BTS were by no means destined for such heights, having debuted in 2013 with a tiny company in an industry ruled by three giant record labels. Since at least 2017, critics have been trying to formulate a unified theory to explain BTS’s success in the mainstream U.S. music scene in particular, eclipsing other K-pop crossovers. Writers invariably point to the group’s early adoption and savvy use of social media to connect with fans, who have in turn helped BTS smash record after record. Critics also mention BTS’s socially conscious lyrics, their openness about taboos such as mental health, their empathy for the struggles of younger generations, and their emphatic message of self-love.

Let’s go point by point:

BTS were by no means destined for such heights, having debuted in 2013 with a tiny company in an industry ruled by three giant record labels.

It is true that nobody could have predicted this level of global recognition but that “tiny company” was actually an off-shoot of one of the Big Three talent agencies (not record labels) and the founder had plenty of insider industry connections. Big Hit was far from being a Dickensian orphan rags to riches story and something closer to one of those Regency romance novels where a countess’s country cousin, comparatively poor but still “class”, ends up marrying a wealthy landed gentleman. Big Hit is not now and has never been “independent” in the way we think of it here aka non-corporate.

Since at least 2017, critics have been trying to formulate a unified theory to explain BTS’s success in the mainstream U.S. music scene in particular, eclipsing other K-pop crossovers. Writers invariably point to the group’s early adoption and savvy use of social media to connect with fans, who have in turn helped BTS smash record after record.

Lol. Okay. “Critics”. Those guys were just dismissed as elitist hacks. Sure. THEY suddenly know what they’re talking about. (Massive eye roll here).

First of all, MANY other K-Pop groups use social media to connect with fans. Instagram, Twitter, V-Live, Fancafe… SHINee’s Key goes on Instagram live all the damn time to chat with fans.

AND Big Bang fans were the first to organize globally via social media to whip votes to get their boys invited to the European MTV Music Awards in 2011 where they won Best Worldwide Act thanks to those votes. The key this writer is missing--maybe because she was spending 8-12 hours a day studying Korean for the last four months--is ENGLISH. BTS (well, RM) used to engage with their international fans in English. He speaks good colloquial English and is a fan of American/foreign art. He is accessible and understandable to English-only fans in a way that other K-Pop idols just aren’t. You need to speak Korean to use Fancafe or interact on V-Live. That barrier to accessibility was substantially lowered with BTS.

Critics also mention BTS’s socially conscious lyrics, their openness about taboos such as mental health, their empathy for the struggles of younger generations, and their emphatic message of self-love.

Again “critics”? What do those critics know?

MANY other groups speak to these issues in some way or another. Idols write personal lyrics for songs. Idols have opinions about politics. SHINee’s Jonghyun certainly did. But the issues that we care about in the West are not always what is important in Korea. Add to that the missing piece here which is that Export K-Pop is explicitly a soft power tool of the government, a group in the spotlight does not have the freedom to speak out without the implicit and very threat of punishment. Of secrets being revealed if you don’t play ball. Do you think the members of YG Entertainment are the only celebrities in all of Korean music to use marijuana and employ call girls? Strange how none of the men implicated in Jang Ja-yeon’s suicide ten years ago were ever publically named and shamed and punished...

AND considering the engagement with the lyrics is so shallow for most international fans that “some hangul” is apparently enough how much can this really be a factor in their popularity except that international fans like the narrative of liking a socially conscious group because it means they can throw it in the face of those “critics” they claim not to care about.

The author goes on to talk about racism against BTS, which is certainly present in the United States. However, absent from the discussion is the racism thrown around by ARMY who crow their superiority over those fans of “plastic” K-pop idols like EXO. Or the ARMY who like to shit all over “Kpoppies” for liking inferior music that doesn’t talk about mental health or whatever. As if the message of “Mic Drop” (Check out my bag full of trophies) is in some way objectively “better” than the message of EXO’s “Ko Ko Bop” (Let’s get it on.) Really? REALLY?

At the end of the day, fan narratives like this only serve to reinforce the very thing that this author claims to be speaking out against. BTS is not a guilty pleasure but a pleasure. Yes, I agree. But then why do you need to justify that by trotting out the same old narrative that well, yes, BTS is a boy band but they are from an independent group and they write their own songs about mental health when even the thinnest scratch of the surface will reveal it to be as artificial as Jimin’s pink hair?

There is nothing wrong with liking pretty singing and dancing boys. NOTHING AT ALL. The danger comes when this outsized narrative is pushed on them. When the only outcome is that they can never live up to it that, they will be revealed as hypocrites in the end.

Why is i-ARMY’s need to have BTS be worthy of them somehow never openly and honestly discussed and criticized?

Why do I feel like almost all English-language coverage is writing about a mirage? That the group they write about is one I do not recognize?

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Filmi Girl's Idol Cast Episode 16

I'm back with the lovely Lola in an encore performance speaking ourselves about the recent shenanigans in BTS-world! ENJOY!

The songs played are:

1. "Dream Girl" by SHINee

2. "When I B on tha Mic" by Rakim (taken from Suga's Spotify playlist)

3. EXO interview with Ellie Lee

4. "Crown" by TXT

5. Key playing with his dogs on Instagram live

6. "That's Ok" by D.O.

7. BTS Talks to Scott Evans

8. "Get Me Away From Here I'm Dying" by Belle & Sebastian

9. "Golden Hour" by Kacey Musgraves

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Who Cancels the Cancelers... A few thoughts on BTS WOKE KINGS

Yesterday, Big Hit Entertainment dropped the trailer for the new BTS concert film, Bring the Soul. Towards the end of the trailer we hear a woman, presumably a fan, state in English that: “Listening to their music helped me move on and realize that I deserved better.”

Followed by RM in English in an ending ment say, “I didn’t know anything about love myself but you guys (the fans) taught me how to love myself.”

The message we, the international fans, are supposed to hear could not be clearer: BTS IS ABOUT SELF-CARE.

And then yesterday evening Spotify dropped new playlists of recommended songs from all the BTS members. When I woke up this morning, my twitter timeline was full of people picking apart the meaning of each one and--inevitably--how woke or unwoke each choice was.

Suga: Picking songs from Lil Nas X, who has the correct identify politics? Woke King.

J-Hope: Picking songs from XXXtentacion, considered problematic? Unwoke. Cancel and drag.

What did the big Alex Jung February 2018 Billboard article--probably the most substantial interview with them in English--focus on? You got it: How woke are they? With the interviewer trying to nail them on gay marriage and politics.

Given a chance to ask anything of the creative men in BTS, rather than ask about their actual WORK--i.e. what’s your working process, tell me about the production of this song, what input do you have into the visuals, what would your ideal project be, what do you find beautiful in art and music--Alex quizzes RM on a tweet from 2013:

I later bring up a tweet that RM wrote in March 2013, saying that when he understood what the lyrics to Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ gay-marriage anthem, “Same Love,” were about, he liked the song twice as much. BTS fans naturally took this to mean that BTS openly supported gay rights -- a rarity in K-pop. Today, he’s slightly circumspect on the topic: “It’s hard to find the right words. To reverse the words: Saying ‘same love’ is saying ‘love is the same.’ I just really liked that song. That’s about all I have to say.” Suga, though, is clear on where he stands: “There’s nothing wrong. Everyone is equal.”

Min Yoongi, Woke King!

Is he though?

Maybe.

Or does he simply have a sharp mind and know exactly what international fans are looking for and is fine being the one to give it to them?

Just look at his playlist:

“When I B on Tha Mic” by Rakim, classic G-Funk.

“Big Poppa” and “Juicy” by Biggie, classic East Coast rap.

American, old enough to be controversy free, and songs Yoongi probably actually likes.

But Jonas Brothers and 5 Seconds of Summer? Ex-1Ders, Yoongi sees you.

Lil Nas X? Here’s one for the Wokerati.

My dear friend Jung Hoseok, while a brilliant performer and rapper, does not have Yoongi’s entertainment world savvy and is constantly recommending western songs he actually likes instead of songs that signal something, whether it’s problematic soundcloud rapper Lil Pump’s “Gucci Gang”:

Or in his spotify list, XXXTENTACION.

Either he doesn’t know XXXTENTACTION has been canceled in America or he doesn’t care and that’s a problem when ALL of the marketing, the interview questions, the messaging for international fans revolves around the virtue signaling message of “Love Yourself” and “Speak Yourself.” They give us just enough hints that, yes, BTS, definitely agrees with all of your wokest beliefs about everything they just can’t say it because… I don’t know. But they agree with YOU about what YOU think.

But it’s just an image. A mirage. A cynical marketing ploy that Big Hit stumbled ass first into. The key to all that big slice of the Western market.

The truth is that BTS are seven Korean men coming from a very conservative culture who exist in a celebrity bubble where things like drunken parties with young women coerced into participating in things they may not actually want to do and group chats where men have a ㅋㅋ about their exploits with those same young women are not just common but endemic. Look at the male celebrities who are known to have a lot of platonic female friends and you’ll see a strong overlap with male celebrities rumored to be homosexual. If your oppa is heterosexual, there is a 99% chance he has behaved inappropriately with a woman by woke liberal western standards. There is a reason Korean feminists have been in the streets demanding actual change and believe me, the change they are fighting for has zero to do with gender neutral pronouns in otome games (a recent woke i-army demand) and everything to do with the dignity of women to exist as human beings.

One of the conversations I’ve been trying to have over and over and over again in international BTS fandom boils down to this:

If the value you place on BTS and in being a BTS fan lies in how morally virtuous you think they are, you are inevitably going to be disappointed.

Whether it’s RM not actually reading the book the album is based on or J-Hope digging XXXTENTCION’s music and collabing with Supreme Boi, BTS are not your 100% genuine authentic intellectual love yourself woke kings who write all their own music for you, armys around the world. AND THAT’S OKAY!

As Show Business Genius Min Yoongi put it, they are International Pop K Sensation Sunshine Rainbow Traditional Transfer USB Hub Shrimp BTS.

Take the woke messaging for what it is--an attempt to pander to i-army fans--and let it go.

Idol groups are here to entertain and put some color and beauty into our otherwise mundane lives. Enjoy the gorgeous photoshoots, the bickering over food in Run BTS, the pretty music… Use BTS as a way to open your eyes and ears to things you didn’t know, to live vicariously in a fantasy bubble where you’re part of the big found family, as a way to take a cheap mental vacation to someplace nice on your 15 minute break at work. Hell, enjoy the messages of Love, Love, Love for the schmaltzy nonsense that they are. I certainly do.

But the flip side of that is if you really want to be a fan of male artists from places like Korea where male superiority and certain conservative norms are baked into the culture, you are going to have to accept that a certain amount of sexist baggage will hang over your favorite actor or musician. You can deal with it by educating yourself on the feminist struggles going on in those countries and learn more about what women living there actually think about things or you can close your eyes and pretend that some offhanded comments and casual virtue signaling in western concerts mean that, no, my favorite agrees 100% with me. But if you pick the latter be prepared to sell off your entire collection of memorabilia in an angry rage when it inevitably comes out that your oppa also partied with coerced young women or hit on some starlets too aggressively or if your oppa is somebody you’ve convinced yourself is gay but refuses to out himself publicly and possibly even marries a woman.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Assorted thoughts on who owns a song

One of the very first things you learn if and when you start reading musician biographies and memoirs is that the music business is a business first and music second… maybe third after being a tool for unfuckable men to pressure women into sex.

Here are some things you may not know:

* In the United States, the actual musicians and singers who perform on a recording get paid a fraction of the royalties that the credited songwriters receive (if they even get that) because the copyright laws regarding songs were written back in the time when sheet music was the main medium for popular music. SHEET MUSIC. Show of hands how many of you have even seen sheet music, let alone for a song on the charts right now.

* Songwriting in the United States for the mainstream chart has essentially been reduced to sort of the aural equivalent of machine-generated architecture designed buildings to spec with zero consideration for the humans who have to exist in those spaces. You can read all about it in John Seabrook’s The Song Machine and it is horrifying. The rise of streaming platforms like Spotify have only exacerbated these trends. Read about it in any of Liz Pelly’s excellent articles on the subject and also learn about how Spotify is quantifying and monetizing your emotions. Good stuff.

* There is no more local radio in the United States. Thanks to the deregulation in the 1990s under the Clinton administration that allowed for a single company to essentially buy up every single radio station and set up sweetheart deals with concert promoters and ticket sellers. Playlists are centralized across the entire country; there are no more local music markets. You are either playing in a garage or you’re part of the Hive Mind operating out of New York/LA/Nashville.

* Record companies are pieces of shit. They have been pieces of shit since they were taking a giant cut of the Beatles royalties in the 1960s and eventually sold off their catalog to the highest bidder in the 1980s. And record companies continue to be pieces of shit as they sold off Taylor Swift’s back catalog to somebody that wasn’t her without offering her a chance to buy it first.

* As the late great Frank Zappa so eloquently put it in this interview, maybe we were all better off in the days of the old cigar chomping executives who didn’t care what the product was as long as it sold than we are now with the micro-targeting, micro-managing executives and songs where the list of songwriters stretches longer than a receipt at CVS.

After all there is no way in hell that an artist like Frank Zappa could have had a career let alone a successful one as a working musician and composer writing stuff like this that’s not suited for spotify algorithms or palatable to the gatekeepers at I Heart Radio Central Planning that set the agenda nationwide.

The amount of money it takes to bring a FULL BAND on the road like that. And these are no hack musicians but THE RUTH UNDERWOOD on mallets. You cannot fund this on spotify streams.

Or if that’s not your thing, imagine a young high school drop out like Seo Taiji getting his song about how formal education is bullshit not past the government censors, no, past the unofficial censors. The ones who would have prevented the song from even being written because the company would have already bought a song and had it worked over by 30 different songwriters and it would say nothing that the men in charge didn’t approve of.

Here’s a group you may know called Bangtan Sonyeondan aka BTS covering that song:

This post is already kind of a mess but I came in with two ideas I really wanted to put across.

1. The music business is rigged against musicians and music. (Covered above.)

2. Who deserves the credit for a song? (Covered below.)

The last day or so has seen one Ms. Melanie Fontana having a full on wine mom meltdown on social media because some ARMY took issue with the fact that she appeared to be claiming credit for BTS’s recent hit song “Boy With Luv” and took offense because… well, whatever part she had in the song, it was not her production alone.

This “appeared to be” was helped along by articles such as this one in which she flat out states that she wrote the song:

"They know exactly what they want so as a songwriter that's a godsend," Fontana said. "So I just basically take their idea and put my poetry to their idea and that's how it worked.”

But remember what I said way above about copyright being weighted in favor of songwriters because of sheet music? Did you purchase the sheet music of “Boy With Luv” and then play it on an instrument of your choice in your home?

No?

Well, duh, obviously not.

What you purchased or streamed would have been a recording and recorded performances from musicians and vocalists.

Okay, so did you purchase or stream “Boy With Luv” because this is a flat marketplace of ideas and you objectively judged it to have some value that was worth paying for based purely on either a) the actual song itself--you might have been checking out that quality sheet music section at your local music store--or b) THE SPECIFIC PERFORMERS ON THE RECORDING.

If you’re reading my blog, I’m going to guess b).

What is that connection to an artist worth, monetarily? What portion of the royalties is fair to give to the performers who give a song life and meaning? What portion of the credit for a song is fair to give to the performers?

These are the things that make up the complete package of “Boy With Luv” as an idol song:

1. The underlying beat/music.

2. The lyrics and raps.

3. The melody.

4. The vocal and rap performances.

5. The instrumental performances/background vocals.

6. The choreography.

7. The performance of the choreography.

8. The styling and image concept for the music video and live performances.

9. The music video.

10. The numerous, numerous promotional appearances performing the song.

11. The fan chants that intertwine with live performance of the song.

12. The performers themselves and their personas.

Tell me. What percentage of this did Ms. Fontana participate in? Was she sweating her body weight and busting her ass in a rehearsal room? Did she learn Korean so that she could write Yoongi’s rap? She did she perfectly mimic Jimin’s vocal tone so that she could sing all his parts? Did she diet to fit into her costume that she would wear through two week slog through every single music show in Seoul and then through a grinding American and European tour?

No? She didn’t?

Well, then tell me, who deserves the credit for this song?

I’ve certainly written about this before but authenticity as sold to you by the music industry is a joke. Like poking a pus filled blister, jiggle any contemporary pop album and contained within is the buildup of dead white blood cells: Your Max Martins, your Jack Antonoffs, your Shellbacks, your Ed Sheerans, your Dr. Lukes, and so on…

And here’s the kicker.

Does Ms. Fontana have a point that women deserve more credit for their behind-the-scenes work in the industry? Absolutely. I quit the music business because of the rampant misogyny. I have first hand experience of how awful it can be to work with these men. And if she’d kept strictly to this argument I might even have been sympathetic to her complaints.

But do women deserve more credit in the American industry at the expense of a Korean idol group?

Well, now. That’s a different question.

Jack Atonoff mansplaining his way across the entire entertainment press about how great he is for putting his words in women’s mouths or Ms. Fontana claiming she doesn’t see color so, no, actually we’re the racists for pointing out that she’s white and should maybe stay in her lane when it comes to the subject of racism… ah, you’ve got to love woke American show business.

Somehow I don’t think either of these fools would be trumpeting how they did everything on a song if the performer had been a white man. Funny how that works.

Do you see Jacknife Lee popping up everywhere to claim credit for songs from everybody from U2 to One Direction? No? Weird.

Look, no music industry is perfect but I’d think long and hard about siding with a clout-grabbing songwriter for hire or, worse, a music company, over the artists pouring their blood, sweat, and tears into a product.

I don’t doubt that Ms. Fontana has struggled but she was not the one on stage singing and dancing her heart out. It’s like the judge said to Lou Pearlman when he was fighting *NSYNC in court. The obsese, middle-aged Pearlman had set up the contracts so that he was not only the owner of everything but he was also the de facto sixth member of the group. The judge looked him dead in the eye and said, I know who NSYNC is, Mr. Pearlman. They’re the young men on the poster hanging in my daughter’s room.

She ruled in favor of the group.

 
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