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91 Days of K-Pop – The Soundtrack

Our Favorite K-Pop Band

If you’re in Korea, asking whether you love or hate K-Pop is kind of futile. It’s not like you’re going to escape it, regardless. Could you “hate” the color yellow? Oxygen? Gravity? I suppose you could, but what’s the point? These things are just immutable parts of life, and it’s best to have a healthy, positive relationship towards them.

Korean K Pop Bands

On arriving in Busan, I found it a little strange that Korean Pop has its own term. I mean, pop in Germany or Spain is just “pop”. You might talk about Swedish pop (when referencing, for example, how genius it is), but it’s not like Swede-Pop is a genre unto itself. But now that I’ve been here awhile, I can kind of understand why K-Pop deserves the distinction.

K-Pop is best understood as an industry, rather than a musical style. From a very young age, auspicious talents are brought to Seoul where they’ll dedicate their childhoods to the dream of becoming superstars with one of the Korean talent agencies — most hopefully S.M. Entertainment, which is the biggest. For the lucky few who get a spot in one of the pop groups, a life of unbelievable fame awaits. K-Pop stars don’t just rule the radio-waves here. They’re cast on TV shows, hired as models, and appear in basically every advertisement produced in Korea.

We tend to work in cafes a lot, in order to escape our tiny apartment, and a constant stream of K-Pop hits has dug its way into our brains where I fear they’ll be forever imprinted. The songs aren’t ever very good — this isn’t transcendent, boundary-pushing pop — but neither are they very terrible. The best word to describe the general K-Pop song is “fun”. Here are the songs which have provided the bouncy, danceable soundtrack to our time in Busan. These aren’t necessarily the best K-Pop songs, but they’re ours.

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*SEXY TIME* Sistar – Alone
*FUNKY TIME* Wonder Girls – Like This
*ROMANCE TIME* Busker Busker – A Cherry Blossom Ending
*BOOM-SHAKA-LAKA TIME* Bigbang – Fantastic Baby
*SULTRY TIME* JYP & Ga-In – Someone Else
*WACKY TIME* Ulala Session – Beautiful Night
You have to be patient with this one … it doesn’t really kick in until about the 2nd minute.
*GOTH-POP TIME* 4Minute – Volume Up
*MJ TIME* SHINee – Sherlock
*TIME TO SHUT UP* Girls Generation – Twinkle

My earlier claim that K-Pop songs are never entirely terrible isn’t exactly true — I had forgotten about “Twinkle”, a song which sends me into fits of rage every time I hear it. On the other hand, I really love 4Minute’s “Volume Up”, SHINee’s “Sherlock” and especially “Like This” from the Wonder Girls which makes me want to jump up out of my chair whenever it comes on. If you want to learn more about K-Pop, check out the well-informed and frighteningly dedicated blog EatYourKimchi.com, run by a Canadian couple obsessed with the scene who have been in Korea for years and are obsessed with the scene.


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July 6, 2012 at 5:36 am Comments (6)

The Dadaepo Sunset Fountain of Dreams

Home Fountain Show

I’m not sure which is more audacious — billing yourself as the “world’s best and biggest fountain”, or calling yourself the Fountain of Dreams. Big words, Dadaepo, and you’ve set the bar high. Would your musical show of color and water be the “magnificent and dynamic banquet of light” which your website promises us? We expect no less!

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Actually, the show was pretty good. I’m not saying it was life-changing or anything, or that I was whispering under my breath, “Finally I have found the fountain of my dreams“, but I was reasonably entertained. And one can’t expect much more from colorfully-lit water splashing to the beats of Andrea Bocelli.

Around the huge, circular fountain, 60-meters in diameter, all the seats were packed full. Mostly, it was families with young kids, like the group seated next to us. The mom was pestering her son to practice his English on us, which was fine with me, since he kept giving us his potato chips for another instructive exchange of “thank you”, “you’re welcome”.

Before the show began, we had a chance to check out Dadaepo Beach: a beautiful stretch of sand overlooking a peninsular park. This section of town, on the far southwest of the city limits, is a lot more popular and interesting than I had figured during the interminable train ride here, and we promised to return.

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June 14, 2012 at 9:20 am Comments (4)

Korean Dance and Drumming at the Gugak Center

More Korean Folklore

The Busan National Gugak Center opened in 2008 with the mission of bringing Korea’s culture to the masses. We went to an incredible Tuesday night performance which introduced us to some of the peninsula’s traditional music, dance and drumming.

Folklore-Busan

We weren’t sure what to expect on taking our seats in the Gugak Center’s comfortable Yegi-dang (small hall). At just ₩6000 ($5.40) apiece, the tickets were cheap and the hall was packed full with Koreans of all ages. We were the only foreign faces in the crowd of around 300, despite the fact that foreign residents get a discount. The show got underway at 7:30pm and, over the course of its 90 minutes, brought the house down.

Folklore-Korea
Act One: Percussion

As the lights came up, a group of seven drummers were seated in front of traditional percussion instruments. Five barrel drums, a gong, and two horrid things I’ll call “metal clang pots”. This act lasted at least forty minutes and I don’t really know how to describe it. Imagine the sound of 50 sugar-fueled five-year-olds equipped with metal spoons and their parents’ best pots and pans, just banging like crazy, non-stop for forty minutes. Except they’re very talented and keep an amazing rhythm. The drumming got softer and louder, building up into exhilarating crescendos or descending into asynchronous cacophony, but it never stopped.

It was awesome, but the drummers in charge of the ridiculous “metal clang pots” prevented us from truly enjoying the music. And we were way toward the back of the theater! I have no idea how the old women seated in the front rows weren’t covering their ears and screaming in pain, but they weren’t. They were clapping, squealing, dancing in their seats and generally behaving like Mötley Crüe groupies. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a bra thrown on the stage.

Pihyang
Act Two: Pihyang

Things quieted down considerably for the second act, a graceful court dance featuring a solitary performer. Dressed in a flowing red robe with overly long sleeves, the woman glided around the stage to the sounds of drums and flutes. I’m not sure whether this dance is actually called “Pi-hyang”… it’s listed in the program as 비향, but we couldn’t find any information about it online. Regardless, it was a pleasant intermission between the riotous first and third acts.

Pangut
Act Three: Pangut

Pangut is a traditional rural dance of South Korea, featuring a troupe of drummers wearing hats with long white ribbons affixed to them. As they drum and dance around the stage, they rotate their head or twist it from side to side, causing the ribbon to spiral above and behind them. The skill which needed for this, I can hardly imagine. Not just the complicated drumming, but an intricate dance and — on top of that — knowing when and how to twist your head to induce the correct ribbon swirl. Amazing.

Pangut
Act Four: Geumho Drum Dance

For the fourth act, an additional pair of dancing drummers joined the stage. These two were wearing bizarre giant feathery hats which made them look like human ice cream cones. One all in white, and the other in a mix of red and green. It was about the last thing we’d expected and, while they danced around in their poof-hats, I wasn’t sure whether to take it seriously or die laughing. And then six other featherheads joined them on stage, and I couldn’t help myself. This was hilarious.

But my mirth wasn’t out of place; this was clearly a joyful dance and, as it concluded, the troupe pranced out into the audience and encouraged us all to follow them outside. For fifteen minutes, performers and spectators danced and drummed in the Gugak’s courtyard.

Quite a night. We hadn’t been expecting to have anywhere near that much fun, and began to plan our next trip to the Gugak Center during the subway ride back home. What a great way to experience traditional Korean culture.

Busan National Gugak Center – Website (English)
Location on our Busan Map
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Gugak-Center

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May 19, 2012 at 6:54 am Comments (0)