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A Deep Dive into K-pop – Matt Lakeman

Submission statement: Eternally interesting blogger Matt Lakeman goes on a (very) deep dive into K-pop. He covers the history of Korean pop music, obsessive fans, gruelling popstar cram schools and the corporate machine behind it all.

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I haven't really been much of a Mottizen since you guys were taken over by witches and other various crazies (no offense) but I founded and have been pushing this sorta korean content westwards for the better part of a decade.

This was a complete waste of an article. If you are cosplaying as an investigative journalist please try to interview people actually familiar with the topic.

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Reading this post makes me more inclined believe this part of the article:

And yet, with those caveats in mind, it’s still my judgement that K-pop fandom is more intense and has more unhealthy elements. I don’t have any hard data to back this up, but that’s my judgement after having read through dozens of forum pages, Reddit threads, Quora answers, and articles on fan adoration of idols.

This post is below the standards for posting here. You can't just say this guy got it all wrong. Whom should we read? What did Lakeman get wrong?

Perhaps not the most insightful comment, but I was always like "Why did the name 'K-Pop' stick when 'Seoul Music' is right there?"

Super funny written, just confusing spoken. (Unless you're not the one being confusing or confused; then I could definitely imagine this getting padded into a "Who's on first"-quality bit)

Having finally finished the article, I really liked it. I'm somewhat of an outsider to K-pop in its entirety, though I am familiar with the reputation that K-pop fans, at least the ones in the English-speaking world, have for being insanely-obsessed and toxic.

Speaking of which, I'm surprised Lakeman didn't go much deeper into the English-language/Western fandom side of things, as my impression is that such fans tend to play the "woke purity spiral" on 1.5x speed: they subscribe to the Tumblr/Twitter-Progressive memeplex, and not only will they absolutely dog offenders against the memeplex (including the circular firing squad), they seem to be equally vicious against rival fancoms. Ironically, they're way more progressive than the actual cultural mileu that birthed K-pop.

I think you are just describing very online teenage girls. Keep in mind some of the most-viewed discussions on kpop on the internet are actually more like places like 4chan and /r/kpopfap once you see the numbers.

I know many of the media owners of this kpop push, and they are not woke at all. They're 100% pragmatic American Psycho types or at least like to think of themselves as such.

Left unexplored is the question why? Why do they do it? Why do parents send their kids to idol auditions and camps? Why do producers do all this complicated logistical managerial work for slim profit margins with high risk? Why do so many young Koreans sell their body and soul to this machine?

Everyone involved knows the game. They know it's so insanely cutthroat that you'll never get rich out of it. So the motivator must be something other than money.

I suggest you put yourself in the shoes of a lower-class or middle-class member of the Korean precariat who leads a usual crummy existence as a parent. Not even trying to send your child to an idol audition is, I suppose, similar to not even sending him/her to cram school i.e. not even bothering to give him/her that very marginal shot of enrolling to one of the top national universities. It means that you’ve already internalized that your child will inevitably grow up to be another lousily paid miserable wagecuck in the hellworld of late-stage capitalism, just another nameless prole. You’ve already accepted this reality, even though your child is not even an adolescent. And if you happen to have two children, you and everybody around you already knows that you won’t be able to afford all the cram school curses, summer camps, private tutors etc. for both of them, which means you’ve condemned one or maybe two more children in the country to the prole life.

This is not a decision that is easy to live with.

This strikes me as unnecessarily pessimistic, though I myself do not live in Korea and have only passed through there and therefore I cannot with complete confidence say that you are far from the mark. I do, however, live in Japan, which has--to some degree--similar cultural mores.

In Japan (and be warned: Incoming personal viewpoint not based on hard data and dancing perilously close to the most shameful generalizations of nihonjinron), as perhaps everywhere, it takes all types. You do have what used to be called kyoiku mama who were obsessive about education for their children and putting them through the grinder of cram schools to get into "top schools" (scare quotes because such schools are only "top" due to their bafflingly rigorous entrance examinations--once students are enrolled, the so-called 人生の夏休み or "summer vacation of life" begins, when the pressures and strictures surrounding high school and prepping for the Big Exam are behind them, and they are essentially guaranteed to both graduate and receive a job of similar clout as their school, regardless of academic performance.)

But not all mothers are kyoiku mama and not all students are obsessive about the status of their universities. The ruling class and future bureaucrats all have a school they typically attend (a public university, in particular Tokyo University), but your average joe (or joanne) who wants to work at a car dealership or electronics store needn't worry about shooting for that goal. From not quite birth, but probably from at least high school onward, the trajectory is set--and it's not all the doom and gloom of what you are characterizing as a "miserable wagecuck." Nor is "the prole life" seen as such a horrible fate.

I do not suggest here that everyone is happy--no more than they are perhaps in Hungary, or Australia, or the United States. But I would suggest that to the degree people outside Japan wring their hands or shake their heads about karoshi (death from overwork) or the punishing workweek of the salaryman, they probably make the mistake of imposing their own cultural norms and expectations on a context where they probably should not.

To get back to Korea, I imagine, as in Japan (and more and more in the US), fame is the magic fairy dust that creates an aura of wonder around even the most humble and banal personality. To be famous is to be notable (regardless of why), and in a society that to some degree perhaps values conformity (as in Japan and Korea) ironically this is an acceptable way to be a nail that sticks up. Thus: A certain percentage of families will shepherd their children toward this (for that vicarious fame-by-proxy) and a certain number of teens with any sort of performing talent will naturally be drawn to this particular candle flame simply because of the promise of glamour.

In other words, the pull needn't be a draw away from the workaday of the office society (which not everyone is a part of anyway) or some horrible anonymity in a suburb (in fact this is to some degree a goal to shoot for--a similarity to everyone else, a "joining society" [shakai sanka is the term in Japan]). The draw is that youthful aspiration, Fame, I'm gonna live foreevah, I'm gonna learn how to fly, etc. Not everyone has it; but a lot do.

Finally, the cutthroat aspect: Everything seems cutthroat. In Japan even getting a driver's license is an unimaginable hassle of paying thousands of dollars to go to driving school then take a test where the most infinitesimal missteps will cost you enough points that you fail--and are not told why. The typical Japanese professor at my university will administer an exam, mark it, release the scores, but not tell students which questions they missed. This is for you to go sort out in fear and trembling. Being on a cheerleading squad is cutthroat. Being in any sort of anything is cutthroat. It makes sense then that being in an idol group (which will have a cultural capital regardless of the fame of the group) is also going to be cutthroat. And all the other contestants are also vying not just against you but with you, you're all in the same boat, etc. etc. This imbues a great sense of group and belonging, to, at least Japanese, and I imagine to Koreans as well. I noted that in that blogpost many, if not all, of the informants of the author were not themselves Asian. They happened to "make it" in the groups for whatever reason, but the cultural expectations and norms of the process were not part of their own emotional disposition, for lack of a better term, and in the end they balked at experiences that someone more imbued in the culture would not.

The typical Japanese professor at my university will administer an exam, mark it, release the scores, but not tell students which questions they missed.

For perspective, though, at least some top British universities do this as well.

Things being cutthroat in domains other than signalling knowledge of trends and class belonging presumably feels unusually unusual from a US perspective.

I'll not dispute this detailed writeup, I'll just add that yes, what I wrote is pessimistic in the sense that, based on what I've read and seen, the current reality for the middle-class and lower-class in developed economies is that it's increasingly difficult to avoid sliding down to the ranks of the precariat, and also to leave it. Basically one needs to master marketable and specialized skills in order to reliably secure a middle-class lifestyle.

Why do people gamble?

Between the whole post and the SSC Redditpost about the Korean education system, I can't help but suspect the real reason is "the philosophical foundations of Korean culture allow Moloch to flourish."

I skimmed thru since I was already familiar with some aspects of kpop like songwriting being outsourced. I wasn't impressed with the writing. Screenshots of "[insert nationality] men," in english, on google images, to prove a point is pretty weaksauce. I would be too embarrassed to include it in an essay.

Casual glances at East Asian media, celebrities, and anime shows a prominence of men in their late teens and early 20s who would be considered soft or effeminate compared to Western, testosterone-soaked beefcakes like Ryan Gosling or Channing Tatum.

Not only is Ryan Gosling a poor example, he's close to the kpop body type, but buff Hollywood males are a modern trend fueled by steroids, not testosterone. Not having the self awareness to look at actors from 1-2 generations ago is egregious.

The result is cold and hollow. There’s none of the raw sexuality you get from Beyoncé or Britney Spears’s dancing. There most certainly isn’t any of the personalized sexuality you get from Lana del Rey describing the taste of her vagina or Nicki Minaj rapping about rim jobs. Instead K-pop has women creepily chosen for their looks in their mid-teenage years

This reads like woke satire.

The K-pop invasion of the west was suspiciously closely preceded by the height of popularity of the competitive SC2 scene, which was of course extremely heavily Korean, with the most prestigious tournaments being Korean productions in Korea often with a heavy K-pop presence (most prominently a song that goes "GG GG baby baby baby").

I think this is underexplored.


It's true. This is how I got into K-pop. You know, besides destroying the west and all that it was mainly SC2.

Jjijji = boobs in Korean. Jiji = dirty.

I'm not seeing how this actually threads together, though, unless you include League of Legends.

The K-pop invasion of the west

What invasion?

I've yet to see a single trace of K-pop outside niche nerd circles.

K-pop is apparently popular enough that K-pop groups like BTS were doing ads and promo deals with McDonalds that made it onto primetime TV.

Well the video he links is from a production company with 70 million Youtube subscribers and has 1.5 B views after 5 years. DNA by BTS:

I don't understand it at all, the lyrics aren't even English and it's not exactly something you can hum. I don't understand why expensively generated music videos are good, why do flashes of colour and camera angles improve it? They're not exactly telling a story where the lyrics fit with the video (for example:, why do BTS's visuals fit its song?

Yet it's clearly more popular than my preferred music, which has a grand total of 746 views after 7 years:

Someone must be watching this stuff, presumably teenage girls.

Its mentioned in one of the sources for the article that the fans will play the youtube videos on repeat for days on end to drive up the view counts.

it's not exactly something you can hum

What are you talking about? I took a look at the video and it seems easy to hum? Or do you mean it's difficult to sing along because you don't understand the language?

The tune is pretty complex to my mind.

Take a look at this guy playing it on piano, it's not the simplest thing in the world:

I suppose I'm trying to justify why I don't think it's a good song, which is ultimately futile since these things are subjective.

I don't know what to tell you, the chord progression is very simple and easy to hum along to.

To be clear I don't like the song either, It feels like the lower grade kind of soulless shit they play in malls to make you shop faster, I just thought the claim that it's hard to hum along to bizarre.

The issue with the song is that it's soulless and boring, not that it's hard to hum.

I watched the official music video and the piano video just 5 minutes ago and I couldn’t hum it if you put a gun to my head. It is not very melodic. It instantly slips away, like a memetic anti pattern.

Or to phrase RandomRangers bafflement differently: I often have ear worms from music genres I don’t care about. But I don’t think I ever had K-Pop stuck in my head (except Gangnam Style, which sounds different).

in 2018, a K-pop group (that I had also never heard of before) sold 2.5 million tickets to a 7-city US/Canada tour.

For comparison:

One of my all time favourite writeups and one of the most blackpilling things I have ever read. K-Pop is, and could only have been, the product of a country with 0.78 birthrate. Its worldwide popularity is illuminating as to the sort of future the developed world might inherit.

K-Pop is, and could only have been, the product of a country with 0.78 birthrate.

Really, how? What is your point? I don't mind reading the "This is all explained by birthrate/IQ/dialectical materialism/energy ROI/etc" takes, but for god's sake flesh them out a bit.

SK has utterly awful gender relations, with pro/anti-women groups demonstrating against each other in streets in the same way that many western interest groups do. In part this is due to the presence of the draft, which kneecaps young men at the very start of their careers and thus allows young women to eat their piece of their economic pie. SK an already very cuthroat society, and so this has generated a very strong resentment and a counteracting backlash.

If you hate men in reality, but are wired to want them thanks to one of many of God's boundless gifts upon you, surgically enhanced korean boys seem very appealing.

So if men find surgically enhanced korean girls appealing, what does it say about them?

Would you say the female gaze and the objectification of men is responsible for men's oppression and various social ills?

In a society that isn't demographically imploding, young people either have children, or are in committed relationships which will produce children in the near future, so they don't have time and energy to invest into braindead stuff like K-Pop fandom.

I don’t think we need to solve the mystery of why people would produce and listen to particularly popular pop music featuring skilled good-looking young people.

That aside, if anything, the causal relationship goes the other way. The koreans are so committed to achieving the ‘best education’ and the the catchiest tune, that they don’t have the time and energy left for any more children.

They actually use their conformist, delayed gratification, high effort system to achieve physical and dancing perfection, test-taking skills, and Starcraft excellence, but they theoretically could do the same for fighting a war, making great art or going to mars. I think it’s a little more complicated than “they don’t have children and therefore do stupid shit.”

Indeed it's more complicated. Generally I think that demographic collapse is a vicious circle i.e. when children are generally scarce, it erodes one's inclination to have children.

if this deleted Twitter thread is any indication, the depressed birthrate might actually have a solution thanks to K-Pop's overseas fandom, ironically enough.

Unfortunately, the men of Seoul do not understand that they are being objectified at such an extreme level by these sex-obsessed western women who are consumed with the k-pop phenomenon

Someone should tell these guys how oppressed they are

Somehow I don't think we're sending our best.

There's a saying in Asia for guys who go there to get laid, lah, or loser at home.

These women who are obsessed with Korean teens are I imagine women who won't be missed much back home.

The Korean men are presumably satisfied.

One of my all time favourite writeups and one of the most blackpilling things I have ever read.

K-pop origin as result of succesful government project, as example of cultural engineering that actually worked as intended, as proof that central planner can build out of nothing not only roads, railroads, power plants and steel mills but also popular culture that is actually attractive to people worldwide, is something even more disturbing, either extremely blackpilling or extremely whitepilling.

Thoroughly recommend Matt. He used to post on the old site too. His New Epidemic, Enron, Opium War, and Aztec posts are some of my favorites.

where he was known as /u/Dormin111 .

This is probably my favourite article by Matt but it's tough to pick. He really has a knack for taking vast and often obscure topics and making them interesting and approachable.

He also has some great history articles (Napoleon, the Aztecs), travel notes from a surprisingly large range of countries (Nigeria, Ukraine, Panama, Saudi Arabia) and personal challenges like going vegan for 30 days or sitting in darkness for 24 hours. I'd thoroughly recommend giving his blog a look.

This guy is great. I was just reading his very long "Notes on Nigeria" published yesterday