Like K-drama, K-pop is a blend not just of Western and traditional but of new and old. The music features lush soundscapes made with the latest synths and urban beats. The hooks are often sung in English, and sometimes suggest a dance move: steering in “Mr. Taxi”; butt-shaking in “Bubble Pop.” The videos feature extravagant sets and big production numbers reminiscent of early Madonna videos, while the music sometimes sounds like New Jack Swing—the late-eighties dance music created by the American producer and songwriter Teddy Riley and popularized by Michael and Janet Jackson, Boyz II Men, and Bobby Brown, among others. The girls’ sexy but demure style recalls groups of the early sixties—the Shirelles, the Crystals, and the Ronettes. Neither the boys’ nor the girls’ lyrics or videos generally refer to sex, drinking, or clubbing—the great themes of Western hit-makers. Indeed, the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, a state agency, endeavors to keep minors from hearing or seeing K-pop songs and videos that make reference to clubbing. I was in Seoul last spring when Lady Gaga performed at the Olympic Stadium, and kids under the age of eighteen were barred from the show. (Some artists push the envelope. For example, the K-pop idol Rain’s song “Rainism” detailed the activities of his “magic stick”; the song was later revised. Many artists censor themselves, in order to reach the broadest possible audience.)
“He’s moved beyond iconic to totemic.”
In Seoul, you can feel K-pop all around you. There is the constant presence of the idols on billboards and in display ads. Life-size cutouts of idols greet you at the entrances of the big department stores. On the streets and in the subways you see echoes of the idols’ faces. (On one occasion, in a hotel lobby, I strode up to what I thought was a cutout of a K-pop idol, only to find that it was a real woman, who frowned and moved away.) In Gangnam, the ritzy shopping district on the south side of the Han River, the architecture is as showy as the idols themselves.
Three music agencies dominate the K-pop industry. S.M. Entertainment is the largest, followed by J.Y.P. Entertainment and Y.G. Entertainment. (The initials stand for the names of the agencies’ founders, all of whom are former musicians or dancers: Lee Soo-man, Park Jin-young, and Yang “Goon” Hyun-suk, respectively.) The agencies act as manager, agent, and promoter, controlling every aspect of an idol’s career: record sales, concerts, publishing, endorsements, and TV appearances. S.M. and J.Y.P. are in Gangnam, and there are always groups of young girls, many of them Japanese, in the streets outside, hoping for a glimpse of an idol or two (even though the idols generally move anonymously through the city, in minivans with tinted windows). Both sets of offices are surprisingly shabby inside, with cramped studios and worn-looking décor. Y.G., across the river, has much more lavish facilities, including around a dozen state-of-the-art recording studios and a staff of sixteen in-house producers, among them Teddy Park, who wrote “Fantastic Baby,” for bigbang, and most of the music for 2NE1, Y.G.’s two most popular groups.
At J.Y.P., I briefly met Park Jin-young, a tall, athletic forty-year-old who was educated in the U.S. He was in the agency’s training facility. Dressed in workout clothes, he was in the middle of a session with some of the trainees, and he couldn’t stop to talk; he disappeared into a dance studio, outside of which there was a pile of kids’ shoes. However, I was able to chat with the five Wonder Girls, the agency’s most successful girl group. In their video “Nobody,” they wear shimmering dresses and bouffant hairdos—Korea’s answer to the Supremes. Out of costume and without makeup, they were almost unrecognizable. They sat at a conference table, with Sohee, who looked very tired, in the middle. We talked a lot about jet lag. Sunye, sitting on Sohee’s left, looked at the clock on the wall, which read 5 p.m. “This time of day is the worst!” she declared.
(To be continued...)
译者：Daisyyu 原作者：John Seabrook
像韩剧一样，韩国流行音乐不仅混合了西方和传统而且也混合了新旧的东西。音乐以最新的合成器和城市节拍制作出来的丰富的音响范围为特色。吸引人的地方通常用英语唱，有时暗示着一个舞蹈动作：《Mr. Taxi》里是引导，《Bubble Pop》里是甩屁股。视频以夸张的设置为特色，大量的产品数字让人想起早期麦当娜的视频，但是有时音乐听起来像新杰克摇摆舞曲——八十年代的舞蹈音乐，由美国的制作人和词曲作家泰迪·瑞利创造，由迈克尔和珍妮·杰克逊、男人·男孩乐队和鲍比布朗等其他人流行起来。女孩们性感但是端庄的风格让人回想起60年代早期的团体——雪瑞尔合唱团、水晶合唱团和罗奈特乐队。男孩或女孩们的歌词或视频都不指向性、饮酒和俱乐部——西方热门歌曲制作的主要主题。实际上，国家机关性别平等和家庭部门尽力不让未成年人听到或者看到提到俱乐部的韩国流行歌曲和视频。去年春天，Lady Gaga在奥林匹克体育场表演的时候我在首尔，18岁以下的孩子是不准去看表演的。（一些艺术家推进了这层包裹。例如，韩国流行音乐偶像Rain的歌曲《唯雨独尊》具体描述了他的“魔棒”（“magic stick“）的活动内容，这首歌后来被修改过了。很多艺术家审查他们自己，为了尽可能达到最广泛的可能受众。）
三个音乐公司主导了韩国流行音乐产业。SM娱乐公司最大，接下来是JYP娱乐公司和YG娱乐公司。（英文缩写代表着公司创作人的名字，三个都是从前的音乐家或者舞蹈家：分别为李秀满、朴振英和杨贤石。）这些机构担任着管理人员、代理商和发起人的角色，控制着一个偶像事业的每一个方面：唱片销售、演唱会、出版、代言和电视播出。SM和JYP在江南区，那儿有成群的年轻女孩，她们很多是日本人，在外面的街道上，希望能瞄到一两个偶像（尽管偶像们一般不具名地在城市穿梭，坐在带带色窗户的厢式旅行车里面。）办公室里面的设置出人意料的破旧，狭窄的工作室和外部磨损的装饰品。穿过这条河是YG，他们有更多豪华的设施，包括一些达到最高水准的录音工作室和一群公司内部的制作人，其中有Teddy Park，他为BIGBANG写了《Fantastic Baby》，大多数是为2NE1写歌，BIGBANG和2NE1是YG最受欢迎的两个组合。