the mind reels

The Inscrutable Mr. Chu


Who is Mr. Chu? Apink may have named the lead single from their fourth mini album, Pink Blossom, after him, but the song is hardly forthcoming on details about him. There is no mention of what he looks or acts like, nothing that would distinguish him from the countless other males addressed in k-pop songs. The most notable fact about him — that he has recently shared a kiss with a girl, from whose point of view the lyrics take — is more a plot device than meaningful anecdote indicative of his character. That is a song that details the reaction to and the residual effects of a kiss as “Mr. Chu” does with lines like, “I can’t forget that soft touch/I blush” and “Thrilling feelings/Never change your mind/Love me forever,” only makes sense if there has been a kiss in the first place.

Yet for all the attention put on kissing, including in the video where it is a dominant motif, Mr. Chu never actually is shown kissing anyone. In fact, Mr. Chu is hardly seen at all. In the course of the three minute and twenty-six second video, he appears cumulatively for less than ten seconds and when he does it is only in parts, not as a whole. There is a shot of the back of his head here, another of his hands there, and a profile view as he carries a stack of presents from his locker across the tennis court, but never a full view of his face.

Add to this the fact that Mr. Chu is not really a name to be taken at face value, but an aptonym, with ‘chu’ a Korean slang word for kiss and figuring out who Mr. Chu  actually is becomes nearly impossible. He could be virtually anyone — and that is precisely the whole point. Apink has always played up the faux intimacy that exists between themselves and their fans, including in videos like “U You,” where Naeun interacts with the viewer, beckoning the viewer on the other side of the screen to follow her. The identity of Mr. Chu, or lack thereof is rooted in this same idea with his anonymity an invitation to the viewer see themselves as Mr. Chu, the object of Apink’s affection and with whom they have shared a kiss.

So, who exactly is this Mr. Chu? Trick question. There is no one right or correct answer. He is nothing more than a surrogate for the viewer thus his identity will vary, contingent on both the viewer and whether they recognize the cues and choose to identify with him. Of course, that latter part is not as difficult as it sounds. Apink recycles all of the same conventions used by other girl groups who have tackled a similar concept. In essence, “Mr. Chu” is the successor to the ‘appeal-to-anonymous-male-cum-viewer’ concepts of SNSD’s “Oh!" and KARA’s "Mister,” only this time they have given that anonymous male a name.

Posted on April 15, 20148 notes • Tagged: #kpop #apink

Artist: 大森靖子

Track Name: ミッドナイト清純異性交遊MIX【モリ!ステ#01】

This, yet another, version of Seiko Oomori’s song ミッドナイト清純異性交遊 played at the end of what seems to be the first episode of her “show” モリ!ステ (Mori! Sute). Not only it’s entertaining to listen to the different clips used to put this together, but it’s really interesting to listen how she usually plays this song with a full playback track instead of a band, as if she was trying to emulate the idols she has known to be a fan of.

She also seems to have a lot of fun playing this song, to the point of dancing next to mascot characters, drinking, and singing along with the audience.

(Bolding mine)

(Source: baccibloo, via kittysblues)

Posted on April 7, 20148 notes • Tagged: #oomori seiko #reblog #jpop

The Orange Caramel Parallax


Here is a list of some of the qualities that most good subunits should possess. First, the lineup should include group members who are underutilized, overshadowed, or both, but still also possess at least a modicum of popularity in order to draw attention and fans. Second, their concept should be different from the main group, permitting the exploration of a different sound or image while also being accessible. Third, the sub group should be successful and profitable enough in its own right that it is beneficial to the group that spawned it, but not so popular as to supersede said group. When these are all done right a subunit can be a practical means of diversifying, keeping a group relevant between promotions or helping to draw attention back to a parent group. Done wrong and the relationship can become more parasitic than symbiotic, with the unit group feeding on time and resources, sometimes to the very detriment of the group it is supposed to help.

Orange Caramel has never been what could be called the perfect subunit. Far from it, their relationship with After School is one more of rival than cohort. This struggle never takes the form of one of those infamous girl group battles as due to their very nature of their relationship can never promote simultaneously. Instead it is more of an internal struggle within their company for resources and time all of which have been parceled out in smaller and smaller increments as Pledis Entertainment has only increased its stable of idols. This usually means Orange Caramel taking what would have otherwise gone to After School.

It does not help that Orange Caramel is better received than After School by k-pop fans on the whole, whose adherence to the often maligned sexy concept means most comeback are met with varied reactions. Indeed, while After School’s pole-dancing concept for their 2013 comeback with “First Love” was met with a mix of hand wringing and praise, response to Orange Caramel’s — dubbed Orange Slaymel —latest comeback with “Catallena” has been overwhelmingly positive. They even earned points for opting for a concept more quirky and cute rather than sexy, despite the latter concept being precluded from Orange Caramel’s “candy culture” aesthetic.

At least After School will always have Japan, where in the figurative battle between themselves and their subunit, they still reign supreme. Orange Caramel’s sales numbers which peaked around 13,000 units, with their first Japanese album not even cracking 10,000, pale in comparison to that of After School. Although they may be a long way off from their high of 43,000 units sold for their debut Japanese single, “Bang,” they can usually be counted on to sell around 17,000 units for each single. True, these numbers may not measure up to those of k-pop heavyweights like KARA and Shoujo Jidai in Japan, but given the decline of k-pop in Japan, that After School is posting consistent sales means they are doing something right.

If After School’s success — or at least their consistent sales — is attributed to their doing something right, logically it follows then that Orange Caramel’s failure in Japan is the result of doing something wrong. After all, Orange Caramel seemed like a group destined to do well in Japan, since j-pop has been pegged as the proverbial source of almost everything from their concept to their sound. With their latest comeback they have even earned the honor of being compared to j-pop’s reigning kawaii queen, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. Yet Orange Caramel has never even come close to rivaling Kyary Pamyu Pamyu in terms of sales or chart numbers in Japan. So, what happened?

To put it pithily: Orange Caramel is not Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. As a k-pop idol group they were more acutely affected by the death of hallyu in Japan than a j-pop singer would be. Their debut in Japan was poorly executed, gutting their brand of endearing weirdness that made them popular in Korea and replacing it with a hodgepodge of various trends in j-pop. Instead of the zany or comical concepts of their Korean releases, it was covers of songs from the golden age of idols, a bastardized version of a Kyary Pamyu Pamyu inspired aesthetic, and some Japanese remakes of their Korean releases for good measure.

Had Orange Caramel debuted at a different time, like when k-pop was still in its heyday in Japan, a badly executed debut may not have doomed their career in Japan or at the very least, they might have still done moderately better. Then again it is also possible that even under the best circumstances they would have never caught on in Japan. The very image that contributed to their popularity in Korea m ay have also doomed them precisely because it is nothing like the images that made k-pop so appealing to k-pop in the first place. This will all though forever remain mostly as hypotheticals, of course. The reality is that their activities in Japan failed to live up to expectations, and at least for now Avex’s attention has shifted back to After School.

At least Orange Caramel will always have Korea.

Posted on March 26, 20148 notes • Tagged: #after school #orange caramel #kpop

“As more and more idols were produced in the 1980s, often irrespective of ideologies of authenticity or talent, they became part of a “fiction game”. That is to say that idols began to play with the boundary between fiction and reality, drawing attention to themselves as “idols” and performing “idol-ness.” For example, Koizumi Koyoko released a single titled “Nantettatte Aidoru” (Idol All the Way) in 1985. Some idols engaged in a form of self-parody, drawing attention to their own produced artificiality. Take, for example, Moritaka Chisato, most famous for the 1989 song, “17-sai” (17 Years Old). This was a remake of the hit song that launched the career of Minami Saori, one of the foundational idol figures of the 1970s. Even as Moritaka rose to the pinnacle of idol industry (Minami reborn, or rather recycled), she released an album titled, Hijitsuryoku-ha Sengen (Non Ability Proclamation) (1989) wherein she literally states that she has no ability, never did, and does not want or need it.”

—Patrick W. Galbraith, “Idols: The Image of Desire in Japanese Consumer Capitalism,” Idols and Celebrity in Japanese Media Culture, Edited by Patrick W. Galbraith and Jason G. Karlin

Posted on March 12, 20149 notes • Tagged: #quote #idols #jpop



For the best viewing experience the music video for SNSD’s latest single, “Mr.Mr.,” should be watched in GIFs. After all, that particular medium that fixes many of the most commonly cited problems with the video, like the frantic pacing of the video since GIFs exist mostly in two to ten second increments. When all of these GIF’d scenes play on over and over and over again, it is easy catch the interesting scenes or important details. And those jarring, acidic colors and grainy textures also come off as less grating and actually sort of pretty when viewed in a 400 x 300 pixel rectangle instead of full screen. GIFs can even rescue the dance sequences, or lack thereof, as it seems a little more substantial when viewed collectively in GIF sets, instead of spliced between close-up shots.

None of this is by design of course. Although SNSD may be a bona fide dyed-in-the-wool Internet phenomenon whose video for “Mr.Mr.” sailed past the one million view mark mere hours after its release, this is all only part of their mythology. Any impact it has on the aesthetic-side of things is evident mostly in what they do to court their global fanbase. Making a video that looks good mostly in GIFs, a format familiar only to certain Internet niches would not fit their usual style, but a comeback with a mini album and music video that does not require a pre-requisite knowledge and appeals to a more broad and diverse audience? That was deliberate as that has been SNSD’s approach in nearly all of their releases ever since their global pivot circa 2011.

As the latest installment in their discography, their latest comeback with “Mr.Mr.” is as good as any of their past releases over the last several years for illustrating their approach of broader appeal. With a single that is more mainstream friendly than their previous, “I Got a Boy,” the mini album, Mr.Mr., is a typical SNSD release tweaked enough that it sounds fresher, but is still in comfortable territory for SNSD. If you liked their past releases, you will most likely enjoy Mr.Mr. too.

The video follows the model set by the mini where it is more or less the SNSD fans know and love, only with some alterations. The usual dancing in a box has been swapped for a more storyline driven video — that takes place in rooms — that can be mined for symbolism, but still retains the hallmarks of an SNSD concept. There is still the usual glitz and glam including a bedazzled heart à la Damien Hirst’s For the Love of God, bright colors in excess, and gratuitous shots of the members that do not necessarily fit the storyline ‘but wow-they-just look-so-good!’

While for other groups would be read as ‘blandness’ or ‘more of the same old’ is in regards to SNSD read as a laudable consistency’ and a ‘solid’ release. What is important here is not so much the qualifier as the subtext, both of which hint at the malaise that has dogged most of SNSD’s releases ever since their shift to the global when they started making music for Everybody. The latter point sounds like a laudable goal, one that would be cited in an article citing the power of the Internet and k-pop’s global spread, but it is more of an impossibility. Everybody is not a quantifiable and thus knowable group making any attempt to try and tailor or target to such a group futile yet this has not stopped SNSD from trying which is the crux of the problem. The specter of Everybody is stifling. It allows SNSD to only alter their image or sound so much, its presence only becoming known when they begin to run the risk of doing something that Somebody may like, but not Everybody. And so they withdraw. Better to just stick to what they know, even if it means every comeback feels a little more sterile, merely good, but not often great.

Posted on March 6, 20149 notes • Tagged: #snsd #kpop