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Plastic Face (Grimes and Brown Eyed Girls)
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Writing has its own versions of Auto-tune and plastic surgery: they're called "rewriting" and "editing" (incl. in-the-head and unconscious editing, before your own or another person's hand even starts reworking the prose).

Okay, those aren't great analogies and I'm not going to push them. Just, I have a gut-level aversion to the idea of someone undergoing plastic surgery (not counting to repair injuries and to compensate for gross disfigurement), but "gut-level aversion" is not the same thing as an idea or an argument. And, you know, we do alter ourselves in the way we face the world — words and demeanor. So why especially recoil when the altering is done by knife? Anyway, I'm not of the age or gender or profession to suffer negative consequences from refusing plastic surgery. Whereas I've read (though what I read was unsourced) that some K-pop contracts give agencies the right to force female trainees to "alter [their] look or image if necessary," presumably with a scalpel.

Here're Brown Eyed Girls, pushing back at the antis:



I'm not dead sure how to interpret this. Plastic surgery is here, it's real, we've probably done it ourselves, deal with it. There's aggression in the skit, but not necessarily a clear target, or a clear reason for the laughter. The issue causes discomfort; you milk the discomfort for comedy. This YouTube comment probably comes close:

This is just awesome and right on the spot. I can't [get] with men (society in general) who hate 'ugly' girls but criticize those who do plastic surgery or even put on make up! Not everybody naturally fits beauty standards, so fuck you.
Now to Grimes, whose "Vanessa" is the only track of hers so far where the distance in the alien freak singing has really whomped me with feeling, rather than seeming merely distant. She's an avowed fan of K-pop, and the reason I watched the "Vanessa" video in the first place was that James Brooks in Pitchfork mentioned that she cites K-pop imagery as an influence on it.



Not to overinterpret, but I can't imagine that Grimes is not uneasy with the K-pop she loves, and that lining faces into quadrants and smearing them with blood isn't a reference to plastic surgery (and to the more general practice of transforming yourself for an audience). Also, whether or not this is relevant to her feelings about K-pop, in her Spin interview she described the harsh regimen her dad subjected her to:

Very strict. I spent my teenage years running away from one house to the other house because it was so intense. Not just religious stuff. My dad was super-strict about food. I had to eat these weird protein shakes and he'd make us go on runs in the morning. I had to do ballet for a really long time. It was always working out and being serious about lots of things, really intensely. By the time I hit puberty, I kind of went insane.
She told Interview that the ballet training lasted eleven years. The parallel I'm drawing is to what K-pop trainees voluntarily subject themselves to: constant workouts, endless dancing, lessons in English and Japanese, little sleep. The thing is, there's a payoff: the performing is really good. And, unfortunate though this is, my thought watching Grimes and her friends in "Vanessa" was, "they don't dance nearly as well as the Koreans."

It'd be interesting if a North American indie performer could take off from something like the Brown Eyed Girls, do it in her own way, with her own values and critical sense, and do it as well even while doing it as something very different. I wouldn't bet on this, though. Indie culture doesn't have it in itself. And this is what it'd have to match (more Brown Eyed Girls):



h/t Mat

And I'm still waiting for someone to comment on the MV for "Abracadabra." The key to the plot is the dead dog at 3:12.

Yeah, the defense of plastic surgery isn't so much a defense of itself, but an attack on the hypocrisy of an industry that places such a high priority on the visual aesthetic, but condemns those who couldn't meet their standards "naturally."
You don't even have to hear the song to know that A Chorus Line's "Dance 10, Looks 3" plastic surgery song is still very, very relevant to Kpop. (As well as wince when you think about the idol to which it applies. I did.)

It'd be interesting if a North American indie performer could take off from something like the Brown Eyed Girls, do it in her own way, with her own values and critical sense, and do it as well even while doing it as something very different. I wouldn't bet on this, though. Indie culture doesn't have it in itself. And this is what it'd have to match (more Brown Eyed Girls):

Has a Korean indie performer done it? (Then again, the Korean indie scene also seems to be the place to avoid being like the idol scene.) I feel like a Chinese indie performer might have, I don't know what their indie scene is like but they might have some hip-hop-based artists doing the Usher dance-artist thing. Japan has a indie idol scene that is just as rife with production company backing, it doesn't count.

Keep in mind, though, that Abracadabra is a Hitchhiker collab with Scandinavians, too. (The director of the MV was probably a veteran as well, which most indie performers wouldn't have access to even if they had the money for all of the sets and outfits and such) And while BEG have a stronger level of creative control than other Kpop groups, it's still very much hand-in-hand with their company, probably for the better as the machine with its collaborative experience can tweak and optimize their ideals to express them with maximum impact. Even a writer needs a good editor, so "own values and critical sense" alone would have a really hard time not being sabotaged by miconceptions the self has about the audience. I can only see this happening from the likes of Beyonce and Ciara, and I don't know what Destiny's Child or Ciara's pre-major debut work was like.
Abracadabra itself was also a drastic shift towards the trend for BEG, with the emphasis on the visual and the dancing and the hooks, all of which are things I don't think indie culture aims for.

MV was directed by Hwang Su-a, who's attended NYU and says she's a big Scorsese fan. I bring that up because in his early days Scorsese was working on a relative shoestring — I think Mean Streets came in at under half a million. I mention Mean Streets because to my mind it's about as close as anyone has ever come to making an actual punk movie, it feeling to me a lot like the Stooges' Raw Power which had come out the same year. Thoughtful, headstrong, destructive, self-destructive, audacious, drenched in fear. (Mean Streets (1973) isn't about something called "punk rock," of course; and the music that saturates the soundtrack is mostly old girl group and r&b from the '50s and early '60s, with maybe a Derek And The Dominoes song here and a Stones song there: though the Stones song is actually amazingly crucial; you see a cavorting Johnny Boy enter the bar, his first real scene in the movie after the intro, and the shot suddenly moves to a hazy slow motion while the beginning chords to "Jumping Jack Flash" unfold. You get it subliminally: he is Jumping Flash, he was born in a crossfire hurricane, he howled at his ma in the drivin' rain.)

Anyway, my guess is that actually you can make a viable-looking video on a pittance these days; the technology is actually there and accessible. (But I don't know this; I should ask Dave.) So give Hwang Su-a a good script and idea and she probably could make an effective vid on a pittance.

Googling for what else Hwang Su-a has directed. Probably 우리 집에 왜 왔니, a movie from 2009, assuming this is the same Hwang Su-a. She definitely did Infinite's "Before The Dawn" and IU's "Good Day."

The reason I mention punk rock is that it is one of the progenitors of indie, even if indie has wandered off to a comfortable embrace of lowered expectations.

Edited at 2012-12-21 04:21 pm (UTC)

It's easier to name Loen or Nega MV's she hasn't directed. Every major one for Loen and every one for BEG and their solo projects since Abracadabra, anyway.

Here's Kim Eana prank calling BEG:



At 5.35 Ga-In talks about why she's more than a lyricist. I've mentioned this before but without any real proof when we've touched on the creative brains behind BEG like arbitrarygrey above. Ga-In repeats in another interview I read today after googling that Eana is 'more of a boss than our boss'. I feel her and Hwang, with composer Lee Min-soo and Loen's Cho Youngcheol form the central committee on the artistic direction of their artists and have a lot of freedom to do so. They seem to be of one mind. Earlier in that clip Eana talks about going with Hwang to a hotel to throw ideas aruond.

Here's producer Cho and Kim Eana after casting a vote this week.

title or description

After the result was out mr Cho wrote on twitter "I don't know if we should wallow in frustration, console eachother or blame ourselves. This night I don't know anything".

I spent half an hour on Google this morning looking to see if Hwang Su-a directed Infinite's "Be Mine," but I found no director's credit. (Infinite work for Woollim Entertainment.) Woollim is one of the nineteen labels distributed by LOEN.

Is the election result considered a disaster? My heart sank, but I really don't know anything about it. Over the last few days, Park has seemed to be going around saying conciliatory things.

What do you think of Hwang Su-a overall? I love "Abracadabra." Did she do "Sixth Sense," which I thought was a mess? Did she do Ga-In's "Irreversible," which is a masterpiece?

Did she direct "The Grasshopper Song"?

"Sixth Sense" - yes
"Irreversible" - yes
"The Grasshopper Song" - yes

Some googling leads me to believe she's directed most Infinite videos - I didn't know that.

To make things less confusing Loen's artist management or whatever you want to call the thing that hosts artists and releases music is now 'Loen Tree'.

Is there a good source in English for finding out who directed what? I'd still like to know if she did "Be Mine," with its interpolations from Gun Crazy. (Brief story at innolife.co.kr seems to be saying it is, if it's the "Be Mine" video the story refers to.)

I'm amazed at the ability of YouTube commenters to collectively decipher the plots of deliberately cryptic K-pop videos. The commenters almost always succeed. This for "Before The Dawn" seems right:

The story line is that they're stuck in this place and have to get out "before the dawn".
The shadow guy is their obstacle and they defeat him by pushing him into the light
BUT they realise that only one of them can escape so they fight and woohyun wins but he can't bring himself to abandon L so he drags him along but it's already dawn and they realise they're stuck there forever
Looks like she used a motif (broad, grassy space enclosed by prison walls) that also made its way into "Sixth Sense." Her mise-en-scène seems to have Hamlet on the mind (HAMLET: Denmark's a prison. ROSENCRANTZ: Then is the world one. HAMLET: A goodly one; in which there are many confines, wards and dungeons, Denmark being one o' the worst.)

(But YouTube commenters don't come up with much interesting for "Be Mine": "The girl is suffering pain conflicted by her boyfriend/lover, and the bullets and everything symbolize the pain she experiences." The noir still seems unrelated to the song to me.)

She directed 'Be Mine' - it's pointed out (in Korean) in the description of this youtube upload: http://youtu.be/ESpZx1XhBPk

I usually just google her name plus the name of the song/video in Korean if I can't find the info in the usual places. Unfortunately her profile at Hancinema doesn't list any MVs.

I'd actually (not knowing Korean) pored over that description looking for 황수아 and not finding it, when now I see it's right there at the start of line five.

The election is about as bad as wanting a lot of change and getting more of the same gets. Although she's a bit of a blank page, maybe she won't be bad, I don't know - nothing's given me confidence that her contribution to maybe the most important cause for Korean society and economy - more equality in the work sphere (-> welfare options, more women in senior positions, higher birth rates, etc) will go beyond simply being a woman who's the boss. But that may do some good. We'll see how the government positions are filled up.



Edited at 2012-12-21 10:31 pm (UTC)

By the way, your mention of Scandinavians is pertinent because when you asked, "Has a Korean indie performer done it?," my first thought was, "I wouldn't know, but maybe a Swedepop performer has done it," thinking of Robyn. Not that she's a take-off on K-pop. What she is, is someone in Swedepop who veered to indie dance while still retaining her pop chops and still working with major producers. I think of her and the Teddybears as making up a sort of left wing of dance pop.

Back when I made music, it'd probably have been classified as "art-damaged postpunk" or some such, with the categories "alternative" and "indie" on the way in as umbrella terms for the cultural space my music was stuck in. And my first splash as a critic was sort of as the indie boy who hates indie. At this point I barely listen to what's called indie, and my ideas on it are based more on hatred and prejudice than on knowledge. What my prejudices say is that indie mistakes mediocrity for integrity, incompetence for innovation, and restraint and distance for some kind of critique. And the little indie I'm hearing isn't half as interesting as the alternative-indie-fanzine circuit I was throwing darts at back in the mid '80s when I wrote my first "Why Music Sucks" essay. But I can imagine a young person with talent whose alienation brings her to indie but whose sense of life brings her to K-pop and thinks, "K-pop's got something for me, the throb of language and the beat of life," K-pop being a zillion times closer to rock 'n' roll than indie is. And the idea wouldn't be to make stuff that's Indie with K-pop touches or K-pop in Indie form, but just to make whatever music you can, pulling beats and ideas from wherever. I can think of someone pulling beats and struts from K-pop but with the punk belief that you don't have to wait to create — so maybe she's not going to be a dance master or totally practiced but she'll go for audacity rather than mediocrity, maybe create an art form out of it.

E.via might fit here, though she's Korean not North American and she's still something of an enigma to me. Maybe "E.via as I invent her in my mind rather than as what she actually is" would be a better way of putting this.

Edited at 2012-12-21 04:49 pm (UTC)

As well as wince when you think about the idol to which it applies. I did.

For me, of course, no one comes to mind, I'm that out of it. (BoA and Min are the ones I immediately think of as top dancers, but I assume you don't mean them. And I'd never count Madonna as a Dance 10.)

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