one of South Korea’s most beloved boy
bands the now world-famous BTS continue on with their sensational feats that are
unprecedented for a kpop artist but if you remember before the BTS love
yourself era there was the era of Kangnam style by psy who also gained a
global recognition for his unique style of music now there’s one person who has
kept close tabs on these two mega hit kpop stars and their journey through the
u.s. music industry since very early stages that is none other than kpop
columnist at billboard jeff benjamin who joins us in the editing studio today to
give us his insights on the present and the future of kpop welcome to the
program oh thank you for the nice introduction and thank you for having me
so mr. benjamin you are just as famous as any other k-pop star I’m a big fan I
mean anyone who’s slightly interested in k-pop wouldn’t know who you are
but for our viewers who may not be so familiar with who you are could you
first introduce yourself and tell us a bit more about what you do yeah of
course um no thank you for saying that was very kind but yes I’m a journalist
based in New York writing about all kinds of music but kpop has definitely
become a specialty and definitely a passion of mine I’ve been writing about
it since around 2011 2012 and in 2013 I became billboards k-pop columnist when
we launched the k-pop column along with different other genres for columns and
since then just really tried to be you know the go-to guy for a kpop writing
I’ve talked about it I’ve written about it on places like New York Times Rolling
Stone across the board and and also been so lucky to be able to talk about it on
places like CNN Good Morning America and Beyond and trying to nowadays more so
expand kind of where this world can go for the longest time it kind of was you
know only getting small chances to be able to write about it whether that was
on Billboard or whether if it was the occasional article for other places but
the world is just taking so much more interest in kpop these days so I’m
trying to expand also what I can do I recently joined a variety show that
films here in Korea but I fill my sections in New York it’s called week
kpop on KBS world which just like Arirang definitely has an international
audience and yeah hopefully you guys will have good news soon about other
projects I’m working on just again trying to expand this world
of kpop and kind of how we understand it today now many of us South Koreans here
including myself are amazed to witness kpop grow and reach beyond Asia and tap
into the American as well as the European continent where we could say is
home of pop songs Kate home of the genre pop genre now how would you assess the
current global position of kpop where does kpop stand now in the world yeah I
mean I think pop music these days in general is just so much more open-minded
and so much more accepting these days I think we saw particularly in 2017 with
the rise of Latin and reggaeton song with songs like this besito once again
kind of bringing Latin music to the mainstream these days you know the world
stage is just open to pop music I think if it sounds good if you have a medium
and a video and something that is very entertaining to people it’s going to
catch on or it’s gonna find an audience one way or another whether or not kpop
becomes this this full-fledged mainstream force I do think that it’s
shown that it is part of the pop conversation that there’s a growing
strong really passionate community there for it and that’s gonna be part of the
pop scene for for a long time whether or not it you know it might a band flow in
terms of its popularity but kpop is here people are talking about it and you know
it’s just slowly but surely just ways of breaking in so that it doesn’t seem like
it’s sort of an outlier or something atypical to the pop scene but rather
just another part of it now I hear that you yourself are quite an ardent fan of
kpop what would you say what what is it about kpop that mesmerized
so many across the globe what are some distinct features of kpop that appeal to
fans across the globe yeah I think you know me personally I think I’m just a
huge fan of music and so many different kinds of music and when I first heard
true kpop music I was blown away because what’s really good is that you know at
its core this type of music includes all different styles I remember the first
song I heard it included all these different elements it started as a
ballad and then grew to a dance song there was rapping there was singing
there was auto-tune there were soft moments loud moments and all these
different things kind of combined and packed into a really nice pop package
and I think that’s really appealing to a lot of people too is that people these
days they love so many different kinds of things you don’t need to just be a
rock fan or or a hip-hop fan you can be a fan of so many different things and
something like kpop really shows all the different things that are available to
you and it can be packaged as one and I think also these days in particular
everything is so digital everything is so we live in such an a TD generation
that there’s so many things vying for our attention kpop is really good about
making a moment k-pop artists they release the song the music video the
album all at once they only tease it for about two or three weeks or so it’s
something that happens really fast and it’s really much definitely of this
generation to just put content out there and before the years over have another
album out or a third album out it definitely keeps people excited going
when it’s really tough to get people to pay attention to music these days they
kpop does a really good job at making sure everything’s in line to keep your
attention for a little bit for that moment and just keep you hooked just for
that for that cycle for sure now the power of music was stronger than many of
us here had thought now obviously the value of kpop is now spreading beyond
music for instance people are now it’s spreading to culture people are learning
Korean the language Korean love in Korean TV drama series they’re
making visits to South Korea to see to learn more about the Korean culture what
would you say about the the the another or other values of kpop that is now
reaching beyond music yeah 100% I think that’s definitely what we’re seeing you
know definitely with the rise of music I think when people become so attached to
these k-pop artists and they want to know more about their world and luckily
kpop is so good about showing that world you know whether it is including
different styles you know dance or different styles of Korean culture in
the music videos just showing their personal lives and the food that they’re
eating you know every artist kind of creates its own kind of mini cultural
universe in their in their own way you know we could take for example RM the
leader of BTS he he’s really great about he loves art and he loves museums and he
visits I noticed he visits a lot of Korean museums and shares them on social
media and that’s such a great you know way of
just you know it’s not like he’s doing it on purpose or he’s thinking about you
know the larger impact this is just something that he likes and he likes to
show and but think about how many people how many fans of RM are now gonna go
visit those museums or see that artwork by Korean artists or visit a Korean
Museum simply because he just posted on social media there’s a lot of different
ways I think that this impact can be seen when you become a fan and you
become such a passionate fan of kpop which is something that this scene
really breathes and this really kind of grows in a natural organic way and just
by having the artists have their different interests in their own ways it
definitely can kind of grow and and create a larger sort of form of soft
power in that way for sure now kpop however is often criticized for
being too standardized an idol centered and that they’re planned out and
represented by just a handful of the well-known entertainment corporations
your thoughts on that yeah I mean I think you know it’s definitely a
legitimate critique I think when we talk about you know these sort of it’s
it’s really something that I’ve personally been trying to kind of get
over that hump when talking about it in international media is that lots of
times many outlets want to play to this dark side of kpop that it’s you know
industrialize that it’s you know factory made whatever but I think you know truly
the artists that I do think are crossing over and being able to make an impact in
a larger way are the ones that kind of you know defy those standards a bit more
someone like BTS they really did talk about you know their feelings open up
become kind of an idol in that way just talking about things that I had never
really seen from other idol groups at the time about you know mental anxieties
politics things that they were going through as young people those things
were really quite unique and I think created a much more international
fanbase from the get-go and had a lot more people paying attention to them and
and following them not just for their performances or for their music but for
the fact that they were thinking and speaking a bit differently and I think
that’s gonna be the key to kind of shaking those those stereotypes those
those labels is just allowing those artists to you know maybe be a little
less formal you know relax a tiny bit and just kind of show that human side of
it get rid of this sort of tag that they need to be idols be so ideal but rather
just show who they are as humans and an artist I think that’s gonna be so so key
in terms of kind of stripping away that because I don’t think at its core being
an idol is is a negative thing at all but I think I do think that all the
connotation with it does tend to be a something that tends to bring down the
conversation ultimately I must point out BTS has delivered a speech at the UN and
that was very inspiration truly just put aside all the profits
they generated they put aside their popularity they the speech was very
inspirational it was it was someone talking from the heart right sure he was
talking about who where he was from who he what his full name you know the world
knows him as RM but he talked his full name Kim Nam
that was it was really moving and amazing in that way for sure now social
media a big part of kpop the popularity of kpop will can be attributed to the
social media came up stars have fully utilized social media a social medium to
represent themselves and and and those postings expanded at a viral speed
globally now what would you say is the next social trend and what kind of
measures are needed for kpop to adapt to the fast changing social trend yeah I
mean I think I think now we finally seen it it’s finally happen I think for a
while and kind of the conversations I’ve had in the industry it kind of that kpop
was a little scared of social media at first at least when it came to things
like Twitter or Instagram where you know the artist was having kind of full
control of being what they’re able to say and what they’re saying but I think
you know the more of that the better I think
you know just showing you know if you’re having a rough day showing more of what
you’re going through you know connecting with fans in a more personal way I think
whether that’s a plot whether it’s on a platform a big platform like Twitter or
Instagram or a rising platform like Tik Tok I think tick-tock is gonna be really
really important especially as artists you know cuz it’s such a music centric
platform and I think Tik Tok is gonna be really great at kind of creating those
sort of viral moments I think many artists can find little viral moments
and be able to kind of spread in that way but I think it comes down it comes
down to to the heart the human the hardest you know whether you have
something entertaining or whether you have something heartfelt you know if
there’s something that people are connecting to that’s sort of the most
important thing I think ultimately is just making sure that it doesn’t feel so
sanitized so formal like like as if a press release was written for your
Twitter posts you know no one likes reading that no one wants to feel like a
company wrote something that is supposed to come from the artists eye I think as
that continues growing and the power of social media continues to grow and you
know those things are gonna be the things that that really matter beyond
you know having a pristine countour having you know the best
selfies or whatever might be okay one last question before you go what can we
expect from your future columns what do you plan to focus on yeah I think you
know these days you know I feel so lucky that people are watching my columns so
I’m really thankful but you know I think especially these days and it’s something
that I wanted to stick to when we started the column in 2013 you know
really just giving this scene the the in-depth you know look and sort of the
deeper dives that it deserves you know not just here’s a music video watch it
this is who this artists is but rather you know this is what stands out this is
what caught my eye this is what’s important about it this is something
different to think about but also talking about you know the social issues
and things like that you know I gay I wrote a column that I’m really proud of
about why it’s time for us to cut a bit of slack when it comes to idols wait you
know there’s been a lot of talk about eating disorders and and sort of the
mental anxieties that come with that and something like that it got a really good
response and I was really happy too to see that but also sort of being a
resource for these artists to be able to tell their deeper stories I’m really
proud of some stories and some artists different artists that have opened up to
me recently about their struggles their mental anxieties whether it was Park Bom
talking about her a DD or Minzy from 21 formally of 21 who talked about feeling
depressed and suicidal these are not common topics really still anywhere in
the world but the conversation is growing in America and and I hope I can
be a resource for them in that way and just kind of be a trusted comforting
voice and and show that you know I’m not here to sensationalize any crazy you
know Hunger Games kpop you know narrative but rather show them as the
people they are so I really hope I get those opportunities moving forward all
right mr. Benjamin thank you so much for your perspectives tonight thank you
thank you

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4 thoughts on “[NEWS IN-DEPTH] Analysis on present and future of K-pop with Jeff Benjamin”

  1. I still remember what he said about BTS…. :/

    "[Rap Monster] looked ridiculous [in the DNA music video]. He looked like he was 14. That hair is horrible. And then he did the weird movement where he was like 'duuuuuuhhhh' for like, two seconds, and then like, wiggled his fingers."

    "I don't love songs that start with Jimin's voice. I'm sorry, it's like [imitates voice]. And they started like, at least like three tracks with his voice and I'm like 'enough'. I think it's the falsetto that kills me, it's like a breezy falsetto."

    "I actually can't stand V's voice. I don't like his voice."

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