Chris Randle

Chris Randle is the culture editor at the Toronto Standard and a freelance writer who has contributed to The Globe and Mail, the National Post, The Comics Journal, Social Text, Popdust and the Awl. He blogs at Backtotheworld.net, tweets as @randlechris and compulsively screencaps at beautravail.tumblr.com.



"Driving Freely Through the World: Cosmopolitanism in K-pop"

Last summer, after being mobbed by Parisian superfans, a member of the K-pop group SNSD marveled: “People with hair of all different colors were singing along to Korean lyrics.” Yet their international fame was almost predictable; with its genre-dissolving sound, swagged-out “idols” and hooks catchy enough to induce Lovecraftian madness, South Korean pop has attracted foreign producers like Teddy Riley and Diplo while swarming East Asia’s charts. Cosmopolitan as it is, however, this music comes from a specific place: Seoul. The country’s capital was almost obliterated in the Korean War, making modernity inescapable there.

Drawing on writers from heterodox economist Ha-Joon Chang to cross-cultural theorist Kwame Appiah, and focusing on girl groups like SNSD, 2NE1 and T-ara, this paper explores the intersections between globalist K-pop and the megalopolis exporting it, particularly those that meet at Gender Blvd. I examine how South Korea’s opaque labels have adapted the Detroit model (Fordist/Gordyist), compare Western-influenced representations of the archetypal club to Seoul’s actually existing nightlife, and consider the implications of its fraught geopolitical position. The polycultural nature of K-pop owes much to Seoul’s own liminality, but liberation is not the only thing that ambiguity makes possible. A thrilling musical entrepôt can also be an occupied garrison.

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Friday, March 23

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