Thursday, July 17, 2008

Sweety vs Poochie

Via Zen Kimchi, I came across this dramabeans post about a new girl group:

Yes, they do look a little young, don't they? This new group, Sweety, has a average age of 10.5. As this article tells us, there's a seven year old, two eleven year-olds, a 12 year-old, a 13 year-old, and three 14 year-olds. Oh, and one boy, a 10 year-old 'rapper'. The article also mentions that this group (created by Basic Entertainment, about whom nothing turns up when you search their name using Naver) may be part of a trend moving towards performers debuting at younger ages. Most of them had appeared on TV (like Star King) or were models already. Of course, what you really want to see is the video, right? Well, maybe not, but it's like a car crash - it's so very, very hard to look away.

Of course, if you gaze into the abyss, etc, etc. There are many ways to respond to this. Some might fear that the apocalypse is upon us, others might give in and embrace it and make the image on this page their new blog banner, others might worry (as Lester Bangs did in his article "James Taylor Marked for Death") that they may end up on television covered in the blood of the producers responsible for this and, staring wild-eyed into the camera, repeating the words, "We did it. We won," over and over again, while some might opt for a Kurtz-ish cry in a whisper at those images, at that vision, 'The horror! The horror!' Not me, though. My (rather cathartic, I think) response was to open Aphex Twin's "Come To Daddy" in a new window (the music starts at 1:15 or so) and play the music over the Sweety video. Trust me, it really does take the edge off, and is probably a much more appropriate accompaniment to the images above.

So, okay, it's crap aimed at kids. Which is why the pubescent girls are showing off their legs and (in the video) shoulders, I suppose. I've looked at how much more sexualized the images of the Wondergirls are than previous teen singing groups. In this post I mentioned their newest video, which, with a little editing, may make clearer certain aspects of the video:

Obviously, Sweety is not quite near the level of sexualization we see above, and the video is sickeningly, insipidly cute. Still, the image below goes a little bit beyond being simply 'cute', what with the school uniform-style costumes and rather short skirts, suggesting that, perhaps, the producers might be hoping to have the age crossover potential of the Wondergirls. The marketing aspect of this is interesting, and probably applies to a lot of the manufactured pop groups here. If a group has a large number of performers, hopefully at least one of them will appeal to consumers, in effect making the bullseye much larger. This seems to apply to the music as well, with the mix of pop and rap seemingly designed to draw in fans of both. Note what the kids are doing with their hands in the photos below:

Every possible 'cute' pose appears in these promotional photos, from the hearts to the fingers pointed at their cheek in an 'eoljjang' style to... the 'hip-hop pose' of the boy to the... saluting? It would seem James is right about the degree to which Korean society is influenced by militarism.

Above we have the 'oh my!' pose, blowing kisses and a-ok poses, while below we see a pose more at home in a facial cream advertisement:

The girl above is the pint-sized female rapper, who constantly winks and points at the camera, but in this picture is mixing it up by making a heart.

A - Okay!

The only boy in the group seems to be a pint-sized pimp.

The girl above looks ready to ddong-chim someone, while the other clasps her hand all purity-of-essence style.

Sure, I'm poking fun, but it's worth noting that not only do they have numerous performers of different 'styles', hoping to appeal to as many tastes as possible, they also are sporting as many gestures as possible. Drawn from commercials, eoljjang websites, music videos, and tv shows, they're essentially the visual catchphrases of the moment, and by employing as many of them as possible, the producers are essentially throwing everything that is seen as 'cool' at the wall to see what sticks (and they're not alone in doing this, of course).

In this, the video and promotional photos remind me of Poochie. In the 1997 Simpsons episode "The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show", the makers of Itchy and Scratchy decide to add a new character to improve ratings, and end up combining every popular fashion, visual cue, and catchphrase in an attempt to create a popular character.

The clothes and accessories (fanny pack, surfboard, backward baseball cap) mix styles, which is also displayed in the music (the rap can be heard here), while the catchphrases are easily found in the script:

(rapping) The name's Poochie D, And I rock the telly, I'm half Joe Camel, And a third Fonzarelli. I'm the kung fu hippie, From gangsta city, I'm a rappin' surfer, You the fool I pity.

Ooh, Poochie is one outrageous dude.

He's totally in my face.

(playing guitar) Wiggity wiggity, Word up? Rock on party! Catch you on the flip side, dudemeisters. Not!! Hey kids, always recycle... to the extreme!! Bust it!

Viewers hate Poochie, and as Lisa puts it, "Poochie was a soulless by-product of committee thinking. You can't be cool just by spouting off a bunch of worn-out buzzwords."

Of course, Poochie was a child of the '90s, and the episode reminds of the writing found in the Baffler (and collected in 'Commodify Your Dissent'), which examined the way in which the record industry tried to co-opt the indie music scene and market 'alternative' music in the early 1990s. The journal became best known for commenting on this 1992 New York Times article about grunge music, which included a "Lexicon of Grunge" provided by Megan Jasper, a 25-year-old sales representative at Caroline Records in Seattle:

WACK SLACKS: Old ripped jeans

FUZZ: Heavy wool sweaters

PLATS: Platform shoes

KICKERS: Heavy boots


BOUND-AND-HAGGED: Staying home on Friday or Saturday night

SCORE: Great



DISH: Desirable guy


LAMESTAIN: Uncool person

TOM-TOM CLUB: Uncool outsiders

ROCK ON: A happy goodbye

As it turns out, Jasper had made it all up. As this site reveals,
When The Baffler revealed the hoax, the Times demanded an apology from Frank and his fellow editors, but received instead a surly response which read "(W)hen The Newspaper of Record goes searching for the Next Big Thing and the Next Big Thing piddles on its leg, we think that's funny."
If that happened to one of the big three papers here, I'm sure they'd get the GNP to pass a law preventing the Baffler from publishing in some way, much as they're doing to the portals at the moment.

At any rate, if music and its marketing are to be nothing but visual, verbal and musical catchphrases, I don't see a lot of hope for the musical side of the Korea Wave having much long term success with anyone other than the built-in audience of teenage girls that seems to exist for such idol groups.


King Baeksu said...

C'mon, look at the bright side here! At least since these girls are so young, they probably only had to give a few handjobs to their producers, OK maybe a few BJs, too, rather than having to go all the way! That must be some kind of sick progress, no?

matt said...

Always looking on the bright side, eh? Actually, I've never seen anything on that topic in English (though it's been mentioned by Korean friends or adult students) except for the blog post James translated here.

gordsellar said...

Funny how, when I followed your link to Commodify Your Dissent lines from Ginsberg appeared on the very second page! Because I also had Moloch in mind.

At least that band's co-ed, though. That's about all I have to say, till my mind stops bleedingfrom the video.

On the name, all I can say is that I think the raging Sikh who threatened my friend at gunpoint for barring him and his buddies from a dance at her women's college in Delhi was named Sweety. Or Pinky. One of the two, I'd swear. I wonder how these kids would do dancing with turbans and guns. Hell, I'd pay to see that. (As long as the guns weren't loaded, of course. I'd only watch a show with loaded guns on DVD.)

On the sexualization of actors and pop stars:

One time the band I was playing in back in 2002, the year I arrived here, or maybe 2003, and we had a gig at the OLD (yack! mold! but nice mood...) location of Club Bbang. I think it was summer 2003, actually. Anyway, before we played, I went outside into the street as usual with my horn to warm up.

(Saxophones need more warm-up, you know, checking the reed and getting the embouchre tight and so on.)

(Quit laughing about my nice tight embouchre, you dirty-minded slobs!)

Anyway, this guy was standing around, ordering people about as a film shoot for some crappy TV drama or other was being conducted -- apparently some famous show from 2002, but my Korean was so bad at that stage that I missed it, so I guess it was famous. Anyway, I walked off around a corner and walked off to warm up, and came back a while later.

When I returned, the rest of the band was outside having a smoke and beer, waiting for our gig to start. Three guys in the band were foreigners, but I was the only obvious (non-Asian) one. So when I got back, I joined the crowd to watch the film shoot, and the guy running the show noticed me standing there with my horn.

When the actress flubbed something, and they had to re-shoot, meaning the car pursuing her had to drive off. This guy who was running the show turned around and started chatting with me in English. "Pretty actress, isn't she?" A few minutes later, he was bragging about the sexual favors he'd gotten from the lead main actress in the show, and all the women in the show in fact, and how his wife had no idea. (Yeah, sure!)

My somewhat unimpressed reaction was, "Is that so?" He was so brazen about it, and he seemed just sleazy enough to have maybe done so, and quite proud to have gotten a job with such good perks. I was surprised, though, and took his bragging for bullshit. My bandmates suddenly started speaking English, and he joked with them about it, too. It was pretty stomach-turning, as well as surprising -- he seemed to take for granted that his whole crew had no idea what he was saying. Or didn't care, probably.

I asked around after that, and everyone (Korean) I knew said, "Yeah, that's showbiz here. Poor girls. But they get easy money, so... yeah, it's like a 다방 girl..." Maybe it's just such common knowledge (or so commonly assumed) nobody publicizes it?

Anonymous said...

Has the Korean version of Bratz dolls shown up in stores yet? Several years ago, American mom Celia Rivenbark wrote "Stop Dressing Your Six-Year-Old Like a Skank" after a frustrating shopping experience in children's clothing sections filled with midriff-baring tops and hiphugger jeans. I noticed on a recent trip to JC Penney that the mannequins in the size 7-16 girls section had buds, which is realistic, I guess, since the average age of menarche is now 11 years old. I've seen six-year-olds imitating teenage talk and body language, which they've picked up from their parents.

King Baeksu said...

Gord, I'm sure such a classy fellow made very classy shows himself!

Anonymous said...

Aphex Twin corrupts absolutely.

Anonymous said...

Oh wow. Okay so I can sort of understand the sexualization of the Wonder Girls, given that they're getting older now and are cute and whatnot, although I still think that they are definitely showing too much skin and that their innocent dirty dancing can lead to other things... but what the heck are people thinking when little kids are put in outfits like that and made into a group? And frankly, I'm flabbergasted that a group that young has even been made... Taemin from SHINee was 14 when he debuted and although he is very talented that still seems young to me. Maybe because I'm going off of the wrecks who were child stars from Hollywood , such as Lindsay Lohan or Britney Spears? I swear that the younger you start the more chances you have for problems in life due to the pressure.

It is so gross to see pre-pubescents being taken advantage of this way... basically the creation of this group is making a whole new generation of creepy pedophiles... and also confirming that their producers are pedophiles as well. Just wait, they'll put the little girls in shirts that show off their tummies soon, even though none of them will have breasts... and they'll make the boy into some gangster and dress him in chains that are heavier than him. Sickening.

gordsellar said...


Yeah, right! But it was popular TV, I think some big mainstream drama.


I haven't seen any Bratz dolls here. I did go toy hunting a couple of years ago, so anyway, as of 2006 I didn't see any. Ugh!


Whatever one thinks of the stuff the kids are being asked to do -- that's a whole different topic -- I just imagine the kinds of stresses kids in bands undergo must be enormous even without freaks running the show. Do their parents think their kids will get careers in entertainment? Big bucks? It seems a bit intense to have a kid in an actual music group with, you know, deadlines and gigs and so on. Even grownups in bands fight and split up in time. All kinds of pressures exists in groups like this.