Discussion:
[OT] Recent deaths in South Korea
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Joe Bernstein
2019-11-26 17:00:30 UTC
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Soon after I started watching Korean dramas, I started writing about
them, and soon after that writing about their music. At first this
was just for what I considered exceptional pop songs:

(#1 <- my second drama)
(#2 <- twelfth)

but soon enough I generalised to simply very good ones, and had to
develop a system for dealing with them. Long story short, I ended
up with something called "performers' notes", which involved me in
researching biography and discography, then listening to as much of
the latter as I could find, and writing about it all, with a list of
links, none of it to be inflicted on anyone except by request. My
research standards evolved toward this over time.

Anyway. The media are currently discussing the suicides of two South
Korean girl group members in as many months. Let me explain a bit
about this. A Korean "girl group" or "boy band" (either way,
normally everyone sings and dances, and nobody plays an instrument)
is normally a product of something called the "idol" system.
"Trainees" compete for a chance to "debut", sometimes solo but
usually in groups as described, after which they're "idols". The
deceased were both idols in this sense. Conditions for trainees and
junior idols are very restrictive:

<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slave_contract>

but sometimes become less so as members more or less age out of the
system; then again, sometimes they don't:

<https://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/k-town/8474957/hyuna-edawn-of-pentagon-ousted-from-cube-entertainment>

Another thing to consider is that there isn't actually "the system".
There are individual companies. The smaller ones tend to affiliate
with, and may be eaten by, a smaller set of larger ones. The
Billboard article suggests why four members of girl group 4Minute
refused to renew their oontracts in 2016, but it's hard to imagine
"IU", who makes a lot of money for her company and has pretty much a
unique place with it, getting fired for anything short of genocide.
A member of Melody Day, a quite obscure idol group, said her company
*wanted* a "scandal" (i.e., evidence of heterosexuality) because it
would draw attention to them.

<https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=1198&v=qqqK6FJIMlw>

"IU" has *twice* *engineered* "scandals" of this kind. She's very
famous and her company is huge; she does this to steer her image, the
first being her declaration that she wouldn't be presented as an
innocent Lolita any more.

<https://channel-korea.com/scandal-between-iu-and-eunhyuk/> (2012)
<http://askakorean.blogspot.com/2015/11/iu-and-zeze.html> (2015)

Idols are the most prominent popular musicians in South Korea, but by
no means the only ones. It's difficult to be sure someone young
enough (the idol system only dates to 1995 or so) *isn't* in some
sense an idol, but I'm reasonably confident that idols produced only
a minority of the songs I've chosen. I have, however, embarrassingly
stereotypically researched a disproportionate number of girl group
members or girl groups as wholes. (YouTube suggestions on request.)

Anyway. The deceased were members of KARA and of f(x).

KARA is of some interest to fans of speculative TV because they made
not one but - uniquely among idol groups - *two* speculative cable
dramas to promote their group. Neither is available now at law-
abiding streamers, but if you wish to go beyond those, you're looking
for URAKARA and for the anthology series <Secret Love> that involved
KARA, not the major network drama with the same title that didn't.
I expect eventually to watch those dramas, and will be surprised if
there isn't, in either of them, a song that lands at least one KARA
member on my list.
However, a drama I recently watched included Goo Ha-Ra's second-
last recording, which I wasn't tempted to pick:



I also recently saw her last drama, and it has speculative (but
steretotypical) overtones; she plays (as the lead) a fantasy writer
who imbues her daily life with a fantasticated overlay, in narration
in the first and some later episodes. Mostly English subtitled
(ignore the wrong numbering of episode 2 as episode 4):

<https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLA5Cid7FYykynBUwSgZLwxDXK3LQCzokj>
episodes 1-6

episode 7

I do recommend that (hour-plus) drama as long as you aren't put off
by that premise.

I just encountered a singer from f(x) in my latest drama who would be
on my list now except that her song was a duet with someone whose
voice I dislike, so I'll be looking for her work in future - but this
was "Luna", not "Sulli", who didn't record much solo.


("Luna" is the second singer.)

"Sulli" did, however, act in speculative shows - her first acting
credit was for a one-hour show, "Goblins Are Alive", her last a
cameo in a speculative drama starring "IU", <Hotel del Luna>. I own
and will eventually watch a drama she had a part in, and may in the
meantime watch another she actually starred in.

1. ("Goblins Are Alive" used to be available, without subtitles, from
its network, but I think currently isn't)
2. <https://www.viki.com/tv/36667c-hotel-del-luna?locale=en>
3. (The one I own isn't at law-abiding streamers except without subs:
<https://programs.sbs.co.kr/drama/seodong/vods/53833>
it's a historical but probably not speculative)
4. <https://www.viki.com/tv/3475c-to-the-beautiful-you?locale=en>

So that's what I can say about the deceased, except what may now be
obvious: "Sulli" wasn't on my radar; Goo Ha-Ra was, but not central
for me. I'm so far mostly unaffected by these deaths. I should
expect John Savard, as a fan of Girls' Generation, to be similarly
uninvolved.

Except to the extent that we have to question drawing entertainment
from something, system or no, that drives its labourers to this.
I haven't noticed any of the *non*-idol musicians of interest to me
killing themselves recently.

Joe Bernstein
--
Joe Bernstein <***@gmail.com>
Quadibloc
2019-11-26 22:14:30 UTC
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I remember that one of the most popular Korean girl groups - SNSD (Sonyeo Shidae)
or Girls' Generation (as they're known in Japan) - had its lead singer fired by
the management after she *dared* to state in an interview that, at some time in
the future, she would retire from music to get married and raise a family.

John Savard
Joe Bernstein
2019-11-28 00:00:02 UTC
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Post by Quadibloc
I remember that one of the most popular Korean girl groups - SNSD
(Sonyeo Shidae) or Girls' Generation (as they're known in Japan) - had
its lead singer fired by the management after she *dared* to state in
an interview that, at some time in the future, she would retire from
music to get married and raise a family.
I wrote a long and somewhat intemperate response to this yesterday,
but now have to begin the days away from Usenet resulting from my
computer situation before I've had the chance to edit it. Sorry;
will try to post a heavily revised version Sunday or Monday.

-- JLB
Quadibloc
2019-12-01 18:57:31 UTC
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Post by Joe Bernstein
Post by Quadibloc
I remember that one of the most popular Korean girl groups - SNSD
(Sonyeo Shidae) or Girls' Generation (as they're known in Japan) - had
its lead singer fired by the management after she *dared* to state in
an interview that, at some time in the future, she would retire from
music to get married and raise a family.
I wrote a long and somewhat intemperate response to this yesterday,
but now have to begin the days away from Usenet resulting from my
computer situation before I've had the chance to edit it. Sorry;
will try to post a heavily revised version Sunday or Monday.
Do you feel that my criticism of SM Entertainment is unfair?

John Savard
Joe Bernstein
2019-12-02 05:07:12 UTC
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Post by Quadibloc
Post by Joe Bernstein
Post by Quadibloc
I remember that one of the most popular Korean girl groups - SNSD
(Sonyeo Shidae) or Girls' Generation (as they're known in Japan) - had
its lead singer fired by the management after she *dared* to state in
an interview that, at some time in the future, she would retire from
music to get married and raise a family.
I wrote a long and somewhat intemperate response to this yesterday,
but now have to begin the days away from Usenet resulting from my
computer situation before I've had the chance to edit it. Sorry;
will try to post a heavily revised version Sunday or Monday.
Do you feel that my criticism of SM Entertainment is unfair?
Heavens, no. I was actually adducing further evidence *against* SM.
Sorry; I wasn't being intemperate towards you, but towards South
Korean conservatives. [1] I don't have any problem with that, but
the post as I wrote it is too disorganised (because I was mad), and
that's what needs revising, tomorrow.

-- JLB

[1] Ooh, this gives me a chance to use a line that probably shouldn't
survive the rewrite: In South Korea today, all ways of life other
than being a straight, successful, man are stigmatised. Also, all
forms of mental illness are stigmatised. Suicide, however, is not
stigmatised. Strangely enough, this combination has consequences.
Quadibloc
2019-12-02 17:50:53 UTC
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Post by Joe Bernstein
[1] Ooh, this gives me a chance to use a line that probably shouldn't
survive the rewrite: In South Korea today, all ways of life other
than being a straight, successful, man are stigmatised. Also, all
forms of mental illness are stigmatised. Suicide, however, is not
stigmatised. Strangely enough, this combination has consequences.
Why, yes. Until the postwar era, Korea was a Third World country. So this had the consequence of saving the taxpayer money on the construction of lunatic asylums and perhaps other forms of social welfare.

Not that I approve, but I'll have to admit I put this sort of thing, however
unfortunate, in the category of what else can you expect.

On the other hand, South Korea's cult of beauty that impacts the lives of many
women - and a similar phenomenon in Japan, noted in a recent newspaper article
about Japanese women not being allowed to wear glasses at work (I'm currently
struggling with a bout of conjunctivitis, making me particularly inclined to be
sympathetic) - strikes me as excessive. I can imagine even those countries
managing to do better than that.

John Savard
Paul S Person
2019-12-03 17:29:04 UTC
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Post by Quadibloc
Post by Joe Bernstein
[1] Ooh, this gives me a chance to use a line that probably shouldn't
survive the rewrite: In South Korea today, all ways of life other
than being a straight, successful, man are stigmatised. Also, all
forms of mental illness are stigmatised. Suicide, however, is not
stigmatised. Strangely enough, this combination has consequences.
Why, yes. Until the postwar era, Korea was a Third World country. So this had the consequence of saving the taxpayer money on the construction of lunatic asylums and perhaps other forms of social welfare.
Not that I approve, but I'll have to admit I put this sort of thing, however
unfortunate, in the category of what else can you expect.
On the other hand, South Korea's cult of beauty that impacts the lives of many
women - and a similar phenomenon in Japan, noted in a recent newspaper article
about Japanese women not being allowed to wear glasses at work (I'm currently
struggling with a bout of conjunctivitis, making me particularly inclined to be
sympathetic) - strikes me as excessive. I can imagine even those countries
managing to do better than that.
Nothing like Traditonal Values to screw up a society.

What, you thought only Christians had Traditional Values?
--
"I begin to envy Petronius."
"I have envied him long since."
Quadibloc
2019-12-02 17:52:18 UTC
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Post by Joe Bernstein
Heavens, no. I was actually adducing further evidence *against* SM.
Actually, I did think that was the most likely scenario.

John Savard
Joe Bernstein
2019-12-02 23:05:35 UTC
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This is a bifurcated post. The main text discusses, sometimes
bitterly, circumstances for idols; the footnotes promote their music.
(Along with that of one or two non-idols.) I suppose it's an excuse
that the videos I suggest put faces into the discussion; and it's
only fair to those whose music I mention disliking to give you the
chance to evaluate it for yourself, but to be honest, it's mainly
that I haven't figured out for myself, yet, how to reconcile the
music with the working conditions behind it.
Post by Quadibloc
I remember that one of the most popular Korean girl groups - SNSD
(Sonyeo Shidae) or Girls' Generation (as they're known in Japan) - had
its lead singer fired by the management after she *dared* to state in
an interview that, at some time in the future, she would retire from
music to get married and raise a family.
This is, however, not quite universal. In that talk show I cited to
quote "Cha-Hee" of Melody Day [1], she also says that she'd love to
announce that she was in a relationship, with the strong implication
that she'd be free to do so. However, the five other girl group
members there all gasped in shock at the very idea. One was an SNSD
member - "Sunny", one of the Americans (Susan Lee); she was 27 at the
time. Heo Sol-Ji of EXID, one of whose songs I've highlighted [2],
was also 27; the others were 20 (as was "Cha-Hee", whose surname is
Park) and 18.

More substantially, Min Sun-Ye of the Wonder Girls was on my list for
a time for complex reasons that didn't include my actually liking her
work. [3] So I knew the outlines of her story. But it turns out she
*renewed* her contract with JYP Entertainment *after marrying*, and
remained under contract even when she left for Haiti as a missionary.
The group was on hiatus at the time. She later formally left the
group, then JYP; she's now attempting a comeback with a different
agency, to much opprobrium.

In contrast: All members of S.E.S. [4], one of the first girl groups,
have married, and at least two have borne children, but none did so
before leaving SM Entertainment, S.E.S.'s and SNSD's agency. SM
apparently has not required them to divorce and abandon their kids
for their reunion activities in recent years.

Most stories about the two recent suicides have also mentioned a
rather earlier one, and although I've resisted doing so thus far, now
that I'm trying to make a case about idols, their managements,
controversy, and mental illness, I'm going to add that one to my
remit, which is also another SM example:

Kim Jong-Hyun, born in 1990, killed himself in 2017, so he, unlike
the more recent examples, is a member of the 27 Club. He was a
member of Shinee, and increasingly writing their and his solo music.
[5] He'd used his fame to publicise the concerns of a bisexual,
transgender student protester, drawing both support and criticism.
He sent a "suicide note" to an indie singer friend [6] in early
December; she said that, at the advice of her own agency, she'd tried
to help. However, he killed himself on December 18.

"Sulli", whose surname was Choi, was known as an exceptionally
outspoken idol. She specifically attacked cyberbullying (to which
she, like most idols, had been subjected), supported going braless
(which in an East Asian country, where many women wouldn't benefit
from bras as physical supports, probably has a different meaning from
the US's bra-burnings), and identified as feminist. She also
publicly admitted mental illness, though not actually depression.

Both Kim Jong-Hyun and "Sulli" were SM artists.

Goo Ha-Ra was not. She appeared on a beauty show in April 2018, and
apparently met a man there whom she started dating. In September he
broke into her house at night; a violent altercation ensued, which he
claimed she'd started, but which seems to have resulted in extensive
injuries to her. He subsequently began trying to sell a sex tape.
Her agency dropped her in January 2019 due to the "controversy".
Around that time, she seems to have helped a reporter working on what
English Wikipedia calls the Burning Sun scandal, specifically on the
part that concerned sex tapes. [7] The boyfriend was convicted of a
bunch of charges in April 2019, but allowed to serve his sentence on
probation. She attempted suicide in May, apologised, actually
recorded a song, but then, a month after "Sulli" died (who's been
described as a friend of hers), succeeded in killing herself.

Nam Tae-Hyun also hasn't been an SM artist; he used to be with YG
Entertainment, which besides SM and JYP is one of the "Big Three" by
some accounts. He belonged to boy band Winner, but in October 2016
he parted with both the group and YG, explicitly because of mental
health issues; he's since said this was severe bipolar syndrome. I
haven't researched him much although he's on my list [8], but it
looks like he's experienced a lot of turbulence in his musical life,
starting a band with an existing group who then left one by one,
getting his brother to help out, and now apparently back with a full
band; he's also running his own agency. When "Sulli" died, he called
for cyberbullies to stop and said he'd attempted suicide before. Of
those on my list, I worry most about him.

My interpretation of a TON of drama scenes is that many South Koreans
believe that all mental problems, including not just "mental illness"
as usually identified but also phobias and prosopagnosia, are
failures of willpower. South Koreans do wear glasses and contacts,
so they apparently don't see eye shape as amenable to self-control.
But I've just watched a Web drama whose makers go out of their way
not to offend, in which neither party sees anything immoral about a
woman demanding that her acrophobic boyfriend go sky-diving. The
only exception I can think of, the only case in which actual
treatment is called for for any mental ailment, is a recent cable
drama, <What's Wrong with Secretary Kim?>. So publicly admitting to
a debilitating mental illness in South Korea appears, to this drama
watcher, to be an act of courage, a willingness to accept that
millions of idiots will consider you a failure for the admission.

As to Goo Ha-Ra in particular, South Korean women aren't supposed to
have non-marital sex. In some cases, the people who say this really
mean it; one has to assume Protestant pastors, the backbone of social
conservatism in South Korea, even mean it for both sexes. But the
online enforcers, many of whom are imagined as unshaven guys in
basements, probably believe nothing of the kind; after all, if women
didn't engage in non-marital sex, they themselves would have to go
celibate or gay. Rather, for them, the object of the prohibition is
to shame women, thus encouraging their subservience. It's easy to
trace this aspect of the war between the South Korean sexes, which is
a much hotter war than the one in the US, to the ongoing failure to
replace the social order that collapsed in 1997 with another that
works, or, put another way, to the economic emasculation of many
South Korean young men. But it's still a hideously evil double bind.
Many of the women drugged and/or raped in the Burning Sun sex tapes
were terrified of exposure; even in a drama as sunny as <Dream High>,
a major character is stigmatised for having been sexually harassed.
And in reality, Goo Ha-Ra was *widely* condemned for having the
audacity to continue existing after having non-marital sex, though
her ex-boyfriend has not been.

It's counter-intuitive that idols, winners of a fierce selection
process, would kill themselves more than indies, but it sure seems to
be true. SM in particular, but the industry in general, appear not
to do an even halfway decent job of weeding out people not up to the
pressure the companies, and the goldfish bowl of South Korean fame,
put them under.

I said I was unaffected by these deaths. That seems not quite to be
true, in at least one meaning of "affect".

Joe Bernstein

[1] Huh. I've been citing her without mentioning the song that got
me interested in Melody Day. It's this one:

Melody Day were distinctive because they weren't simply the usual
collection of sopranos. "Cha-Hee" has a very high soprano; Ahn Ye-
In a rather lower one; and I think "Yeo-Eun", whose surname is Jung,
is an actual mezzo. (She was their main singer, and a very good one,
but I don't think she has the lung capacity to succeed in the ways
mezzos normally do.) They were also distinctive because they spent
*years* doing soundtrack work and anonymous singles before their
formal début, which in turn came before they added a fourth member,
Na Yoo-Min, as main rapper. I'm familiar with about half the
quartet's work and all of the trio's. Some of their soundtrack work,
not actually including the song I originally picked, was by composers
who made good use of the group's differing voices. Most of Park's
non-group work came after my study of the group, but here are some
group songs and work by Ahn and Jung that I like and more or less
frequently return to:



and for one song, either its video or a different performance:
video or
stage performance
(and yes, this song works for me - is pretty much the tune I remember
Melody Day by - despite having *two* rappers in it)
TV appearances


(Jung solo)
and
(Ahn with yet another
rapper)

It's a pleasant not-quite-surprise when my favourite work by a
performer turns out *not* to be the first song I heard; that proved
to be the case in spades for Melody Day, which makes me glad they
were at least a little less restricted than many of their peers.

[2] For this song:


[3] I'd gone nuts picking indie songs for a couple of dramas, and
wanted to use <Dream High>, an idol-laden teen show, to even the
balance, so I decided to add to my list of performers anyone who'd
sung any of the songs I picked in relation to the show, whether or
not I'd picked that singer's version. This turned out to be an
abject failure at recruiting idols - it only got me two - but added
four much more substantial bodies of work to deal with, so I dropped
it. I also dropped the song that had qualified Min in the first
place, another long story. Her version of that song:

Later the Wonder Girls returned to my remit in the usual way: a lame
Web drama used this much stronger song from Lee Sun-Mi:

warning: moderately scary video

[4] It's an unpleasant not-quite surprise when my favourite work by a
performer *is* the song that first got my attention. To be fair,
though, my work on Eugene (Kim Yoo-Jin, yes, it's her real name), an
S.E.S. member, was early in the sequence and didn't involve, as later
work did, listening to everything; but I did listen to quite a lot.
The song from my ninth drama:
(yes, Eugene is only
backup singer there, but this song was meant to stand in for others
she sings solo in a similar vein, such as:)

S.E.S.'s most speculative video:
(they were 16-18)
Eugene's "Wuthering Heights":


[5] Neither Kim Jong-Hyun nor Shinee is on my list. Shinee featured
in my twelfth drama, but I actively disliked this song:

My other encounter with him before his death involved a song he wrote,
then gave to "IU"; I never connected the song to Shinee then.


[6] She was already on my list, for this song:

I happened to search for her pseudonym, "Nine9", after the death, and
found that she's now known in English almost exclusively thanks to
that suicide note. The search may have been prompted by speculation
from the K-pop Vocal Analysis folks that she might be an actual
contralto. More recently, I added this song, used in a drama I'd
watched earlier, but re-watched at that time primarily for its music:
<https://www.youtube.com/watch/v=lux1p8QwPcI>
That has become one of my most frequently watched videos. The
keyboardist in it left before the song listed first in this note.

[7] The main maker of Burning Sun-related sex tapes is a guy, of
whose idolness I'm unsure, who's actually made *two* songs I've
picked, sad to say. A criminal on a much larger scale than Goo Ha-
Ra's ex, he nevertheless, unlike the ex, did the honourable thing and
fell on his sword, so to speak, retiring from public life, upon the
scandal's breaking, though he disputed some specific charges. He has
just (11/29) been sentenced to six years in prison on exactly those
charges he disputed; I don't know whether he's already physically
there. The songs I picked:



[8] For this song, which he also wrote:

--
Joe Bernstein <***@gmail.com>
Joe Bernstein
2019-12-09 03:34:05 UTC
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Post by Joe Bernstein
Most stories about the two recent suicides have also mentioned a
rather earlier one, and although I've resisted doing so thus far, now
that I'm trying to make a case about idols, their managements,
controversy, and mental illness, I'm going to add that one to my
One day later, another (non-SM) example seems to have been added to
my remit.

Depending on what you may have heard or read, this may not be obvious.
"Cha In-Ha", 1992-2019 (and yes, now a member of the 27 Club), was
primarily an actor. I had only encountered him as such, in the Web
drama where I found Lee Sun-Mi's "Noir", as mentioned in note [3] of
the post to which I'm following up, a drama I there called "lame".
His part in that drama is essentially as a wish fulfillment boyfriend,
so although it's his only starring role, it may not be the best place
to see his abilities. [1] Thanks to the way actors are usually
listed in cast lists for K-dramas, it isn't easy to compare his parts,
but I *think* he was slowly moving up; many obituaries say the part
he was playing when he died, in a drama that had just begun, had
brought him the most attention.

In addition, it's genuinely un-obvious that his death really was a
suicide. Problems with reaching that conclusion: 1) No note or will;
so far, no friends coming forward to report depression, threats, or
even specific stressors. 2) His family requested that no autopsy be
conducted, and this was granted. 3) He posted some quite banal
things to Instagram the night before his death. (A few articles have
tried to make hay of these, but they're misinterpreting.) Only a few
media outlets have dared use the *word* "suicide", though this is at
least partly out of concern for copycats. (More use it in the list
of resources for the depressed that is appended to most articles on
his death.)

On the other hand, it's also un-obvious what else his death was if
*not* a suicide, unless it was an overdose, i.e. a suicide by proxy.
And although he was mainly an actor, he was one of only ten actors
of a new *kind*.

Actors have long killed themselves, in South Korea as elsewhere.
In South Korea, people talk about "waves" of suicides, and
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suicide_in_South_Korea>
shows three such waves since 2005: one arguably 2005-2010 *mostly*
actors and actresses; one 2014-2016 of various executives
responsbible for various scandals, and one 2017-present of
entertainers. The deaths of actresses Choi Jin-Sil and Jang Ja-Yeon
are famous, as Goo Ha-Ra's will be, for the damning evidence they
furnish of aspects of the treatment of women in South Korea.

But "Cha" worked for Fantagio, a big company (like the companies that
trained all four of those I've already cited). Fantagio mostly
represents actors, but a year after they unveiled their first idol
act, girl group Hello Venus, they tried something different with
five of those actors. In 2013 they débuted 5urprise [sic], a boy
band which actually released some songs, and acted together in one
Web drama, before parting to their separate acting careers. Fantagio
was apparently satisfied with the results, so in 2017 they followed
the same script with Surprise U, another five-man group, of which one
man was "Cha". Now, I haven't listened to their songs or watched
their videos, but I'm confident that these ten men actually underwent
a variant form, heavier on acting lessons versus others, of idol
training. So that's why I think, *if* his death was a suicide, "Cha"
would be in this thread's remit.

He was unlike the four people I already profiled in that he wasn't
known for anything controversial by South Korean standards.

Joe Bernstein

[1] The drama's English title is <Miss Independent Jieun 2>, 2019.
It's only distantly related to <Miss Independent Jieun>, 2018, in
continuity and plot, a little closer in themes (which is where my
complaints centre, but I'll spare you the details here). The maker's
playlist is cluttered with more or less unwanted stuff; if you search
YouTube on the English title and pick a playlist with 16 videos, you
should be fine. As the title (and its better Korean counterpart)
suggest, the focus is very much on the leading lady, but they gave
"Cha" episode 14 as more or less his own.
--
Joe Bernstein <***@gmail.com>
Quadibloc
2019-12-03 23:41:39 UTC
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This video



is in Portuguese, but there is an option to turn on closed captions and have
them auto-translated into English.

Bascially, he says that the situation of K-pop, if one knew about it, would be
enough to make your hair stand on end. The young hopefuls sign contracts which
basically mean the company owns them; they train hard while only doing the legal
minimum required for their school studies - so if the group they debut in does
not succeed, there they are in highly competitive Korea without the high
academic rank needed to enter college. (Of course, one could counter that this
predicament would not be unlike the fate of _most_ Koreans.)

John Savard
Joe Bernstein
2019-12-04 03:47:49 UTC
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Post by Quadibloc
This video
http://youtu.be/gEFSlpBy3gQ
is in Portuguese, but there is an option to turn on closed captions
and have them auto-translated into English.
YouTube's auto-translations are becoming the bane of my life. I
prefer to keep English closed captions on by default, but YouTube
insists on classifying its gibberish as English and messing things up.
(For example, in videos with English subtitles already encoded into
the video, where the gibberish hides them.)

That said, there are lots of videos attacking the idol industry; I've
watched at least one.
Post by Quadibloc
Bascially, he says that the situation of K-pop, if one knew about it,
would be enough to make your hair stand on end. The young hopefuls
sign contracts which basically mean the company owns them; they train
hard while only doing the legal minimum required for their school
studies - so if the group they debut in does not succeed, there they
are in highly competitive Korea without the high academic rank needed
to enter college. (Of course, one could counter that this predicament
would not be unlike the fate of _most_ Koreans.)
Well, I don't know much about the most abject failures, since I don't
live in Seoul and have personal access to them. But some examples of
failure I do know about. First, though:

Most South Koreans go to college. South Korea is heavily over-
colleged. What high school students compete over is access to the
three or so universities whose graduates can hope for what is seen
as a normal life - a steady progression up in some corporation.
Everyone else gets what amounts to temp jobs, and can't marry, buy
housing, etc. until they escape those, if they ever do. Hence low
birth rate, profound hostility between the sexes, yada yada, and this
is why cheating on élite college access is the third rail of South
Korean politics. But everyone still gets college degrees.
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_in_South_Korea>
says in its info box that 70% get post-secondary degrees.

OK, some failures.

Wow, this got long. It's dawned on me that in this thread I've
managed to make my posts on Korean music as universally TL;DNR'd as
my posts on Korean dramas long have been. (Also, I have no evidence
that anyone's followed any of the YouTube links I have to take some
trouble to post.) So I'm going to pass, and say, long story short,
that what I *know* of the following idol failures:

JOO (soloist)
Bebop (girl group who played instruments rather than dance)
two girl groups linked to Bebop, and two individual trainees
Move in Key (boy band with a member who competed with a Bebop member)
Christian singer-songwriter Kim Ji-Min, who *beat* that Bebop member

does not surpass, in economic damage, what I know of the following
indie *successes*:

"Kangdu" of The Jadu - wound up back at his family's chicken shop
"Moonlight Nymph" - died apparently for lack of medical care

and so I'm inclined to believe that whatever else is wrong with the
idol system, of which there's plenty, it probably isn't all that bad
in terms of future success in life, for those who keep living. Even
if some trainees complain about the time they put in without ever
getting to début, can they really say they'd have gotten into Yonsei
or SNU otherwise?

But in fairness, I don't know the whole economic/educational story
for any of these people, and for many, know very little. One former
girl group member who also competed with that Bebop member, when
asked what her former colleagues were doing, answered, "Pursuing music
under assumed names."

Oh, one other thing. I said earlier in this thread that South
Koreans haven't come to see music as optional. What does that imply
for you about the value of musical training and experience in the
South Korean job market?

Joe Bernstein
a college non-graduate
--
Joe Bernstein <***@gmail.com>
Robert Carnegie
2019-11-26 22:21:37 UTC
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we have to question drawing entertainment from
something, system or no, that drives its labourers
to this. I haven't noticed any of the *non*-idol
musicians of interest to me killing themselves
recently.
It happens, but not necessarily so often amongst
artists that you follow. Some start out troubled,
some go wrong... "western" popular music tends to
involve "touring" and performing over and over;
that's where you mostly earn money. "Idols" might
be more secure, being employees?

Cases that I think of are Scott Hutchison and
Amy Winehouse, although one of those cases can be
considered "lethal overdose of fun". If that still
counts as fun.
Juho Julkunen
2019-11-27 01:18:44 UTC
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Post by Robert Carnegie
we have to question drawing entertainment from
something, system or no, that drives its labourers
to this. I haven't noticed any of the *non*-idol
musicians of interest to me killing themselves
recently.
It happens, but not necessarily so often amongst
artists that you follow. Some start out troubled,
some go wrong... "western" popular music tends to
involve "touring" and performing over and over;
that's where you mostly earn money. "Idols" might
be more secure, being employees?
Cases that I think of are Scott Hutchison and
Amy Winehouse, although one of those cases can be
considered "lethal overdose of fun". If that still
counts as fun.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/27_Club
--
Juho Julkunen
Robert Carnegie
2019-11-27 09:11:46 UTC
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Post by Juho Julkunen
Post by Robert Carnegie
we have to question drawing entertainment from
something, system or no, that drives its labourers
to this. I haven't noticed any of the *non*-idol
musicians of interest to me killing themselves
recently.
It happens, but not necessarily so often amongst
artists that you follow. Some start out troubled,
some go wrong... "western" popular music tends to
involve "touring" and performing over and over;
that's where you mostly earn money. "Idols" might
be more secure, being employees?
Cases that I think of are Scott Hutchison and
Amy Winehouse, although one of those cases can be
considered "lethal overdose of fun". If that still
counts as fun.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/27_Club
British satire magazine _Private Eye_ reports
obituaries of people who died at a particular
later age as the "94 Club".
Carl Fink
2019-11-27 14:35:55 UTC
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Post by Joe Bernstein
Anyway. The media are currently discussing the suicides of two South
Korean girl group members in as many months. Let me explain a bit
about this. A Korean "girl group" or "boy band" (either way,
normally everyone sings and dances, and nobody plays an instrument)
is normally a product of something called the "idol" system.
"Trainees" compete for a chance to "debut", sometimes solo but
usually in groups as described, after which they're "idols". The
deceased were both idols in this sense. Conditions for trainees and
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slave_contract>
So identical to the Japanese idol system, then. I wonder who influenced who,
or if it was mutual.
--
Carl Fink ***@nitpicking.com

Read John Grant's book, Corrupted Science: http://a.co/9UsUoGu
Dedicated to ... Carl Fink!
Joe Bernstein
2019-11-27 23:58:21 UTC
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Post by Carl Fink
Post by Joe Bernstein
Anyway. The media are currently discussing the suicides of two South
Korean girl group members in as many months. Let me explain a bit
about this. A Korean "girl group" or "boy band" (either way,
normally everyone sings and dances, and nobody plays an instrument)
is normally a product of something called the "idol" system.
"Trainees" compete for a chance to "debut", sometimes solo but
usually in groups as described, after which they're "idols". The
deceased were both idols in this sense. Conditions for trainees and
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slave_contract>
So identical to the Japanese idol system, then. I wonder who
influenced who, or if it was mutual.
There are lots of similarities. The Japanese system is considerably
older, which makes it pretty obvious that influence would've gone
mainly one way.

One important difference is that Korean idols are much more musical.
South Korea has never bought into the Western tendency to think of
music as optional, such that there are something like five or six
levels of actual musical ability buried under the Western label "tone
deaf", so there's certainly a tendency to recruit good-looking people
and assume they can learn to sing well. But normally recruitment
involves *some* music, and often idols stay in music after their idol
phase is over. I take for granted that idols are actually musicians,
and am right more often than not. I think "indie" musicians in South
Korea are much less likely to assume idols aren't musicians than
similar people in Japan; I know of a bunch of "indie" performers who
are actually ex-idols, and who routinely collaborate with other
"indie"s. ("Indie", in South Korea, means "not idol".) Come to that,
"IU" routinely collaborates with "indie"s.

There were two important precursors to the Korean idol system. In
the 1980s, the single top-selling woman singer had been trained by
her aunt in a clear precursor to South Korea's later idol system.
<http://askakorean.blogspot.com/2012/03/50-most-influential-k-pop-artists-19.html>

And in the 1990s, just before the idol system got going circa 1995,
a top act was a boy band who danced and whose songs had rap bridges,
just like the later idol boy bands.
<http://askakorean.blogspot.com/2017/12/50-most-influential-k-pop-artists-2-seo.html>

("IU" has worked with both Kim Wan-Seon, the 1980s singer, and Seo
Tai-Ji, the 1990s band's leader:



So I don't think the Korean system is simply the Japanese one
transplanted, even with modifications. But that's not to say that
the aunt, or Seo, didn't get ideas from Japan, and it's past belief
that the actual makers of the Korean system
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SM_Entertainment>
didn't draw on Japan. To start with, if *they* hadn't seen a
similarity, they wouldn't have used the same word for it. (That
isn't just an English label.)

Recently there seems to be a tendency to create really big groups.
Sure, Girls' Generation and Super Junior go back further, but a lot
of the major groups of, say, 2010 were two to six members. Two
singers I've noticed who did well in big musical contests (a
recruitment avenue I doubt the Japanese system relies on) asked to
start out in groups rather than as soloists; one wound up with a nine-
member group, the other ten. [1] Well, Japanese idol groups are
famously huge - 48 members, 65, 532, who knows. Korean ones haven't
reached that level of anonymity, but perhaps the trend is that way.

IF Japanese idols have gotten more serious about music in the past
decade or 15 years, I would say that'd be a clear influence from
Korea. More mundanely, if they've started to use rap bridges. In
general, however, in East Asia, influences flow downhill. South
Korean dramas, for example, often have Japanese sources, but the
reverse is rare; Philippine dramas often have South Korean sources
(on English Wikipedia, Filipinos can't shut up about this), but the
reverse is unknown. One way you can tell that Taiwan has just about
caught up is that one or two Korean dramas have Taiwanese sources.

Joe Bernstein

[1] I found these groups through a single soundtrack, the one I've
liked best of the dramas I've watched in recent years. Song Hee-
Jin, who'd come in third in
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superstar_K_5> in 2013, sang this
in 2017:

(so no, that isn't her usual voice). Her group, Good Day, had ten
members. It didn't record much. Six of the members, including Song,
competed in this show meant to revive flagging careers:
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Unit:_Idol_Rebooting_Project>
in 2017-2018. English Wikipedia now says a new group is being formed,
including so far six of Good Day's members, but not Song.

Han Hae-Bin sang this in 2017:

(I liked the singer's voice better than the song). She's one of the
main singers in Gugudan, which was formed around Kim Se-Jeong, also
known as Goddess Se-Jeong, who came in second in
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Produce_101_(season_1)> in 2016. Han
has not, it turns out, so far recorded anything else in that voice,
though she's sung more normally a few other songs. Neither she nor
Kim gets significant lines, despite being titularly the main singers,
in Gugudan's songs, because there were nine members (now eight).
Gugudan has recorded more than Good Day but is nowhere near being one
of the top groups.
--
Joe Bernstein <***@gmail.com>
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