Thursday, 19 August 2010

Introduction to K-Pop

Fashion Souvenir Key-ring, Nagoya, Japan

Wonder Girls, K-Pop Album

A new edition to my collection of Fashion Souvenirs: a key-ring from Nagoya, courtesy of my sister who lives in Japan, and who was recently back home on a visit. The little paper bag it came in, too, was rather intriguing, being perfectly ‘’key-ring sized’’. The bag also features the same fish motif that appears on the back of the key-ring itself, so being both co-ordinated and stylish, something the Japanese appear to know quite a bit about! One of the other elements of my interests in both fashion tourism and also the Fashion City, is the influence and inclusion of localised cultural elements, from design, food, architecture, customs and music. My sister also brought along her latest CD purchase by a group called the Wonder Girls, from South Korea, an interesting exemplar of K-Pop, the Korean version of J-Pop (Japan) or Canto-Pop (Hong Kong). I have listened to some J-Pop before, mixing Japanese with English lyrics, usually on a relationship theme (falling in love/breaking up etc.), sung over a hyper-speedy pop/electronic rhythm. I’ve not much experience of K-Pop as such, although the syrupy-style love songs are perhaps similar, and according to my sister K-Pop is actually a more sophisticated, and indeed trendy, offering. Listening to the Wonder Girls certainly proved a good introduction to the world of K-Pop, and certainly in terms of musicology seemed a little more solidly put together than some J-Pop tunes I have heard (perhaps this is also a case of learning the best of the elements of J-Pop, and selling back a more glamorous, larger-than-life version, as with Ralph Lauren’s take on English aristocratic living in the creation of his Polo brand).

Living in such a globalised world where it seems everyone is wearing identikit outfits gleaned from H&M, Zara, Mango, Top Shop, Abercrombie & Fitch or Urban Outfitters, it is intriguing to note how localised notions of style continue to permeate and influence cultural customs in specific locales. This appears to be especially true in the form of local ‘’slang’’, TV shows, magazines, pop music, and the dress and lifestyles of B-list celebrities. Often these exemplars of a specific style genre are too ‘’localised’’ to actually transcend their home market to be promoted and taken up overseas, yet sometimes, particularly in terms of music and TV shows, formats and styles have to be ‘’exported’’ to attain success, before they gain full recognition ‘’back home’’. Alexa Chung had to move to the USA before being taken up as ‘’style icon’’ to rival Sienna Miller by the British fashion media, for example, while musicians like the Scissor Sisters appeared ‘’too eccentric’’ in New York, yet their idiosyncratic style slotted perfectly into London’s Shoreditch-Hoxton scene, with barely anyone realising they were not actually European to begin with. (As an aside, in London it’s quite difficult to ‘’stand out’’, since there’s almost no exotic get-up that no-one has not seen before. The locals here are actually quite blasé, and any really outré outfit is just taken as part of the rich-mix of cultures that London contains). Western fashion brands operating in Asia often seem to forget that ‘’European-ness’’ or ‘’American-ness’’ is only of limited appeal, to a certain extent, as local trends and influences on style are often much more important, and indeed relevant, on a day-to-day basis. For instance, the Japanese notion of ‘’kawaii’’ or ‘’cuteness’’, and which continues to be an important indicator of style there, is actually quite alien to European tastes. Although many European men are very happy to wear toddler-like baggy jeans and slogan T-shirts well into their late 30s or 40s, European women generally favour a slightly smarter, more grown-up take on such casual style, teaming their jeans (usually more ‘’fitted’’) with an array of different tops, and boots or ballet flats, rather than trainers. In my own continuing research I aim to explore these nuances further. For anyone keen for an entry into the world of K-Pop, the website of the Wonder Girls, including their latest video, is perhaps as fine an introduction as any.


Wonder Girls:

Wonder Girls at New York Fashion Week, February 2010

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