2016 summer K-pop top 10 playlist

I will travel to Seoul this summer and I am inspired by all the great K-pop songs that I have listened to since I was there last time, in June of 2009. I realize that many of these I have been listening to for several years. Hence this summer’s list is more of a best of K-pop list than a fresh summer list.

All the songs are from 2009-2015. To be honest, I have heard very few good songs from this year and most rookie groups and comebacks appear to be quite lame. Tiffany’s (Girls’ Generation) solo album is okay, though, but did not make it into this list. Most songs do have an official music video but some have not, such as EXO’s “Machine” and “Transformer”.

As one may notice, groups from S.M. Entertainment dominate, with G-Dragon and Taeyang as the only exception.

Dog meat consumption and dogs as pets in South Korea

Recently, people – especially in Western countries – have used social media tools such as Facebook in order to protest against the dog meat festival in Yulin in South Central China at 22 June. A significant request has also been signed and sent to the government of Yulin.

As a Korean wave scholar, this is of some significance since one may try to learn as much as possible about (contempory) Korean culture in general. Additionally, Korean cuisine can be regarded as an integral part of a larger and multi-faceted Korean wave, and since this is related to national branding and image, one can hypothesize that the consumption of dog meat in South Korea will be downplayed or questioned by native Koreans in order to please Westerners. It might also be the case that since other East Asian populations – particularly Japanese and Chinese people – are the main targets for Korean cultural products, the opinions of Westerners are of less significance. Overall, this is not to be regarded as a big issue – at least as long as South Koreans do not promote similar events such as those in Yulin – and a large share of Westerners do nowadays probably associate the country in question much more with Samsung products and K-pop than this.

However, in conjunction with the Summer Olympics in Seoul in 1988, and the jointly hosted football World Cup in Japan and South Korea in 2002, the dog meat issue has been highlighted by Western media. Since the latest event took place almost 13 years ago, it is relevant to look into more recent studies on this phenomenon. One sigfinicant contribution is Anthony L. Podberscek’s article ‘Good to Pet and Eat: The Keeping and Consuming of Dogs and Cats in South Korea’ (Journal of Social Issues, vol. 65, number 3, 2009, pp. 615-632). I will briefly discuss some of its contents.

One may note that in all of Asia, ‘only’ about 13-16 million dogs and cats are eaten each year. Thus, even though one may see the dog meat festival in Yulin as an horrific event, it would be very misguided to regard Chinese people in general as large consumers of dogs, “It has been calculated that in Asia, about 13–16 million dogs and 4 million cats are eaten each year (Bartlett & Clifton, 2003).”

The same goes for South Korea. However, as the results from Podberscek’s study indicates, a significant share of South Koreans would not support a hypothetical national dog meat ban. South Koreans eat dogs for a variety of reasons, such as to be sociable, for the taste, and due to the belief that it has health benefits, and about 40 per cent do it occasionally. The idea of various health benefits is largely related to Confucianism:

According to Ann (1999, 2003a), the eating of dog meat has a long history in Korea, originating during the era of Samkug (Three Kingdoms, 57 BC to AD 676). It was not common after this period, though, as Buddhism grew in popularity and became the state religion during the Koryo Dynasty (918–1392). However, during the Choson Dynasty (1392–1910), Confucianism became the state ideology, paving the way for the return of dog meat as food. Indeed, Confucians enjoyed the meat so much that it was, according to oral tradition, nicknamed “Confucians’ meat” (Walraven, 2001). To justify this, Confucians pointed to the canonical authorization of the so-called Chinese Book of Rites, in which dogs are divided into three classes: hunting dogs, watchdogs, and food (Ash, 1927, p. 59; Walraven, 2001). During this period, dog meat was served in many ways, including gaejangguk (original name for dog soup; also spelt kaejangguk), sukyuk (meat boiled in water), sundae (a sausage), kui (roasted meat), and gaesoju (literally “dog liquor,” also spelt kae-soju; Ann, 1999). Kim (1989) found details of 14 different dog meat recipes for the period of 1670–1943. The consumption of dog meat has mainly been associated with farmers trying to maintain their stamina during the oppressive heat of summer (Simoons, 1994; Walraven, 2001). However, exceptions to this have been found. For example, in 1534, there is a reference during the reign of King Chungjong that dog meat was offered to a high official as a bribe, and in 1777, a reference was made to government officials going out to eat dog meat soup (Walraven, 2001).

These attitudes may have changed more or less in just the recent years, but dog meat consumption has unhesitatingly still persisted to a fairly large extent. Historically, dog meat has been distinguished from pet dogs, and similar to Japanese and Western people a significant share of contemporary South Koreans invest time and money in the caretaking of their pet dogs; cats are however seldom used as pets and are not looked upon as food (almost at all).

In relationship to Western and Japanese consumers of South Korean cultural products, one may suggest that South Koreans might want to downplay the dog meat consumption and instead highlight that certain dog breeds are used as pets and are not ill-treated. Chinese people in general will probably not be upset due to their neighbors dog meat consumption – instead it can be regared as evidence that Chinese culture has influenced smaller countries in the East Asian region – and might also be influenced by the ways that South Koreans treat their pet dogs. The reason for this suggestion is because of that Korean celebrities are highly regarded among a significant share of Chinese people, and it is not unusual that some of these walk around with their cute pet dogs. To take care of a pet dog may appear as cool, cute and cosmopolitan.

Lastly, I have also included a rather extensive quote regarding dog and cat meat consumption in a regional and global perspective, and on the objects of the study:

Today, the consumption of dogs and cats still occurs in a number of countries, including Cambodia, China, Thailand, and Vietnam (see Bartlett & Clifton, 2003; Podberscek, 2007), but the eating of dogs was outlawed in the Philippines in 1998 and cat eating was banned in Vietnam in 1998. In 1996, it was reported that dog meat was still being eaten in parts of Eastern Switzerland (De Leo, 1996). It has been calculated that in Asia, about 13–16 million dogs and 4 million cats are eaten each year (Bartlett & Clifton, 2003). The issue of eating dogs and/or cats is highly emotive, especially in countries (largely Western) where the practice has been extinguished for a long time or has rarely or never occurred (e.g., UK, USA). In these countries, the very idea of consuming a cat or a dog is viewed as abhorrent and morally corrupt. This is perhaps unsurprising, considering dogs and cats are mainly kept as pet animals. But in the countries where cats and dogs are consumed, these animals are also kept as pets (e.g., China and Vietnam; Podberscek 2007). The concern that people have about dog and/or cat eating manifests itself in the form of international campaigns calling for a ban. One country which has received an enormous amount of negative, international media attention because it allows the consumption of dogs and cats is South Korea. However, little scholarly literature exists on the consumption of dogs and cats in this country (or, indeed, pet ownership) and the attitudes residents hold toward consumption and pet ownership. The present study, funded by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), was designed to fill this gap. Firstly, historical and current information on the roles of cats and dogs as pets and food in South Korea will be provided. Secondly, the results of an opinion poll on what adult South Koreans think about dogs and cats as pets and as food will be reported.

De senaste veckorna och dagarna har den årliga hundköttsfestivalen i Yulin i södra Kina, som hade sin huvuddag under måndagen den 22 juni, hamnat i blickfånget, och lett till en våg av reaktioner på sociala medier och bland en del kändisar och djurrättsaktivister.

Det är framför allt västerlänningar som har upprörts av detta men i viss mån även människor från andra kultursfärer, inklusive kineser. Det mest upprörande torde inte vara hundätandet i sig utan de bestialiska slaktmetoderna och de dåliga förhållanden som hundarna – som ofta stjäls från hundägare – upplever innan de dödas för att säljas och ätas. Mest groteskt är när hundar flås levande och lämnas hudlösa för att dö i plågor. Med det sagt finns även en klar kulturell skillnad eftersom hundätande inte ses som legitimt eller knappt ens är förekommande alls i västerländska länder, åtminstone sett till de senaste århundradena. I samband med perioder av hungersnöd har dock en viss mängd och andel hundar ätits i Europa.

Noterbart är dock att det “bara” äts omkring 13-16 miljoner hundar och katter i hela Asien varje år med tanke på att det bor drygt fyra miljarder människor i denna världsdel, “It has been calculated that in Asia, about 13–16 million dogs and 4 million cats are eaten each year (Bartlett & Clifton, 2003).” Därför är det självfallet så att kineser i gemen inte äter hund i särskilt omfattande utsträckning. Det är viktigt att ha klart för sig, och det tror jag att många förstår.

Som akademiker med inriktning mot modern koreansk populärkultur (hallyu) har jag dock närmat mig frågan ur ett sydkoreanskt perspektiv genom Anthony L. Podbersceks studie “Good to Pet and eat: The keeping and sonsuming of dogs and cats in South Korea” (Journal of Social Issues, vol. 65, nummer 3, 2009, sidorna 615-632).

Ovan finns en del citat från denna studie och jag tänker inte gå in på varenda aspekt, men det man i all korthet kan slå fast är att ett hypotetiskt förbud mot hundätande i Sydkorea inte skulle stödjas av en majoritet vuxna koreaner. Cirka 40% av dessa äter hund vid åtminstone enstaka tillfällen, och en inte obetydlig andel har hundar som husdjur – man skiljer därmed mellan olika hundraser och deras olika funktioner.

Orsakerna och rötterna till koreanskt hundätande är flera, bland annat har idéer från neo-konfucianism – som har sitt ursprung i Kina – påverkat koreaner (och kineser givetvis), och innebär att man tror att kundkött kan förbättra potensen hos män och hälsan hos människor i allmänhet. Det finns alltså en koppling till en betydande andel koreaners nationella självförståelse och kulturella identitet. Även smaken och den sociala dimensionen i fråga om hundätande, liksom gemensamma måltider överlag, är något som också lyfts fram i sammanhanget. Det kan alltså vara trevligt att äta ett stycke hundkött tillsammans lika väl som andra rätter.

Kopplar man i sin tur detta till kineser kontra västerlänningars generella attityder och deras samband med vågen av koreansk populärkultur, kan man tänka sig att kineser överlag inte upprörs över att det äts hund i Korea – tvärtom kan kanske koreaners särskilda sätt att tillaga hundkött ses som intressant bland en del kineser – medan en betydande andel västerlänningar kan bli upprörda och få en sämre bild av Sydkorea som en följd av detta. Därför skulle man kunna tänka sig att sydkoreaner vill tona ner bilden av hundätande i relation till västerlänningar – och i stället lyfta fram att man har ett flertal raser som husdjur – men inte i relation till kineser eftersom det inte behövs. Möjligen skulle man dock kunna tänka sig att kineser blir påverkade av k-popstjärnor som har söta hundar som husdjur.

Men i och med att Sydkorea i dag mest är känt för Samsungprodukter och k-pop kan man också behöva betona att det här ses som en mindre viktig fråga (såvida det inte skulle anordnas en lika bestialisk festival i Sydkorea). I samband med sommar-OS i Seoul 1988 och fotbolls-VM i Japan och Sydkorea 2002 belystes dock frågan i västerländska, inklusive svenska medier. Och i den mån västerlänningar intresserar sig för koreansk mat så väljer man vanligen andra rätter än dem som innehåller hundkött – det finns många sådana att välja mellan, som kimchi, bibimpap, kimpap, amgyopsal, doenjang jjigae och många, många fler.

Avslutningsvis kan det även nämnas att koreaner inte äter katt, ej heller har katter som husdjur annat än i begränsad utsträckning. I djuraffärer i Seoul har jag dock sett kattungar, vilket framgår av fotot nedan som jag tog för drygt sex år sedan i samband med vistelse i huvudstaden.

Why K-pop groups are superior in dancing and East Asians in educational achievement

While being in the process of making final revisions on a peer-reviewed journal article on K-pop, I have looked into some K-pop-related scholarly works that I have not previously examined. Such as Wonho Jangs and Youngsun Kims article ‘Envisaging the Sociocultural Dynamics of K-pop: Time/Space Hybridity, Red Queen’s Race, and Cosmopolitan Striving’ (2013).

I will not make any subjective or personal assertions regarding the pros and cons with having a strong work ethic and highly competitive meritocratic education system and social culture. However, this is nevertheless one of the endogenous factors which seems to underlie both the high PISA scores and the hard-working K-pop stars. The quotes – and not the least the imbedded videos – below say something substantial about this general East Asian, yet particularly South Korean phenomenon (at least regarding pop music).

As one may notice, contemporary South Korean nationalism is intimately related to globalization and cosmopolitan striving. That is: to either succeed abroad, at an overseas high-ranked university (preferably in the US or UK), and hence to be acknowledged in South Korea, or to be globally famous within the frames of for example the South Korean entertainment industry (which simultaneously implies some degree of overseas fame, at least in East Asia and Southeast Asia).

One may also note that Jang and Kim emphasize Confucian elements with regard to the general K-pop talent trainee system, which, however, John Lie is skeptical about in his latest work on this subject. Since I have read both of these two contributions, as well as an earlier article on the same topic by Lie (2012), I do sort of take a middle position regarding this very particular subject; hence there is still some degree of Confucianism left in contemporary South Korea, and it seems to affect behavior among citizens such as family values, but it is no longer very distinctive and much of its former doctrines, practices and social structures have been lost in oblivion.

Additionally, since Jang and Kim regard high results and high-quality performances among (young) South Koreans in general as a part of the same socio-cultural phenomenon and dynamics, it should be emphasized that other (East Asian) countries and city regions, such as Shanghai, Singapore, Hongkong, Taiwan and Japan – and with Finland and Switzerland as prominent exceptions among European countries – have high PISA results while not being particularly successful when it comes to the production and distribution of pop music.

Thus, if the aim is to explain the relative regional and global success of the production, distribution and dissemination of South Korean pop music, i.e. K-pop, then one has to keep other endogenous and exogenous factors in mind too. (In my article I put emphasis upon some of these key factors, which scholars such as for instance Lie and Ingyu Oh have examined, and to whose works I have referred to.) Or rather, one may have to clearly differentiate between particular kinds of socio-economic and socio-cultural domains and activities – school performance is one thing, while pop performance is another (although these may overlap to some extent).

With regard to educational achievement in East Asia and Singapore – particularly test perfomance scores such as PISA (국제학생평가프로그램 in Korean) – and work ethics, Confucian or post-Confucian elements may be – combined with largely Western-influenced capitalism and meritocracy – part of the explanation, but then it is more about general regional characteristics than local endogenous factors. However, the largely export-oriented South Korean economy is definitely one key component in this respect; both in relationship to overall economic patterns and outcomes and pop cultural circulation, and clearly differs from the more insular Japanese economy. [1]

The tenative conclusion at this point is that there is not any single main factor that underlies neither educational achievement nor pop cultural success, but strong work ethics and a vast amount of practice or studies are unhesitatingy linked to all of these outcomes. Over the last ten years or so, K-pop has become the – at least commercially – the superior form of pop music in Asia, and to less extent the entire world, and once its talent system is put into place new stars will continue to be educated within its highly competitive frames. The reason for this may in turn partly be due to what is labeled as cosmopolitan striving.

[1] Apart from the first-mentioned article, among several studies of significance in this respect one may also mention John Lie’s K-pop (2014), Donald Baker’s Korean Spirituality (2008), and Niall Ferguson’s Civilization (2011).

To reiterate, both the exogenous and endogenous features of a particular music genre or a particular group of singers must be discussed in order to explain such massive success. Many scholars have underestimated K-pop’s endogenous success factors, although they highlight the exogenous ones, such as globalization, regionalization, and the influence of J-pop and other Asian pop music on K-pop (Iwabuchi 2001; Chua 2004; Cho 2007; Allen and Sakamoto 2006). Even when endogenous factors were investigated, only the negative factors, such as the long-term contracts which were even referred to as “slave contracts,” were unnecessarily highlighted (Ho 2012), without addressing the validity of the harsh training system based on such long-term contracts. This system has only been effective in Korea and is seen as largely responsible for the global success of K-pop, particularly because such intense training and long-term contracts in other countries, such as Japan, China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, have not had any positive influence on singers in the long run. This section, then, attempts to shed light on the endogenous elements that are deemed germane in the formation of the global K-pop fandom. In order to do so, the reasons for K-pop’s success should first be discussed before examining the negative endogenous factors that may cause its possible future failure. We suggest three specific features of K-pop that have been pivotal in K-pop’s ascendance to its present global status: the contemporaneity of the uncontemporary, the synchronized dancing to melodic music (vis-à-vis beat music), and the multi-top dancing formation.

Boy and girl bands all over the world usually dance to beat music in a synchronized fashion. However, the preference of harmonized melodies over beats in synchronized group dancing is not common, as it is hard to dance to certain types of trendy beats, while singing a song that incorporates complex harmonies. A common claim regarding the reason K-pop bands are able to master synchronized group dancing while singing complex harmonies is that these singers were harshly disciplined and carefully controlled by their so-called “slave contracts.” For example, Nusrat Durrani of MTV World pointed out that the nine members of Girls’ Generation perform “every dance move in sync, every [melodic] note precisely hit.”

Cosmopolitan striving is a metaphor for a collective motivation toward upward mobility in a transitional society from Asian or developing economies to modern and Western economies (Park and Abelmann 2004). In Korea, it is widely thought that learning English, for example, is a quick way to become rich and powerful, as English is thought to provide one with new cosmopolitan opportunities, such as studying in the United States and the United Kingdom (Park and Abelmann 2004). Learning about Western culture is also considered to be an important stepping stone to advance one’s economic fate in society. Under this type of biased Western-centric, promodern social rubric, cosmopolitan striving motivates people to pursue what Oh (2009, 436) calls “forward learning.”




Jag håller för närvarande – parallellt med andra sysslor – på och reviderar en peer-review-granskad tidskriftsartikel om k-pop. Inte bara om denna företeelse i allmänhet utan om vissa särskilda aspekter av detta ämne.

I samband med denna process har jag även tagit del av ett antal studier som jag inte har läst tidigare, till exempel Wonho Jang och Youngsun Kims artikel ‘Envisaging the Sociocultural Dynamics of K-pop: Time/Space Hybridity, Red Queen’s Race, and Cosmopolitan Striving’ (2013).

Denna sätter till stor del fingret på unga nutida sydkoreaners höga utbildnings- och prestationsambitioner, och är i sin tur en av orsakerna till att k-popstjärnor och -grupper, som exempelvis TVXQ, Girls’ Generation och Super Junior, kan träna så pass enträget och frekvent att de klarar av att göra mer eller mindre perfekta synkroniserade dansformationer, både i flera av sina musikvideor och live (även om de ibland förenklar sina framträdanden, inte minst danskoreografin, i en del livesammanhang).

Snarlika typer av hårda och envetna tränings- eller studieprocesser tycks ligger till grund för sydkoreaners höga PISA-resultat, och benägenheten att vilja söka till utbildningsinstitutioner i andra länder, allra helst de högst rankade universiteten i USA och Storbritannien.

När det gäller åtminstone PISA-resultat kan man dock notera att andra (till stor del östasiatiska) länder och storstadsregioner som Shanghai, Singapore, Hongkong, Japan och Taiwan, samt vårt grannland Finland, också har mycket höga resultat inom matematik, naturvetenskap och läsförståelse. Därför måste man belysa även andra för Sydkorea typiska faktorer när man förklarar k-popartisternas högutvecklade förmågor. Dessutom är k-pop en transnationell företeelse, som över huvud taget inte kan förstås utan USA, Japan och i mindre utsträckning även andra länder, varför fokus delvis måste ligga på exogena faktorer.

Som ett flertal olika studier visar när det gäller många östasiatiska länders – inklusive Sydkorea – höga resultat kan säkerligen konfucianska element och värderingar spela en viss roll, men ännu viktigare är de västerländska influenserna som har kommit till och spridits inom denna region via framför allt USA och Japan. Den är i sin tur en historisk förutsättning för den kosmopolitiska strävan som finns bland en stor andel unga sydkoreaner. [1]


[1] Se till exempel John Lies K-pop (2014), Donald Bakers Korean Spirituality (2008), och Niall Fergusons Civilization (2011).

K-beauty on a rise and undermines Western hegemony

As the Singaporean sociologist Chua Beng Huat has asserted in the conclusive discussion of his book, Structure, audience and soft power in East Asian popular culture (2012), ‘The emergence of an East Asian Pop Culture stands significantly in the way of complete hegemony of US media culture, which undoubtedly continues to dominate the entertainment media globally.’

Still, the US and other Western G7 or G10 countries – besides Japan – dominate the world economy and hence also the pop cultural industries, at least those of major significance looked upon in a larger economic perspective. Thus, even if East Asian countries like China, South Korea and Taiwan – often inter-related to the Japanese domestic market and the prefences of the Japanese consumers – can offer alternatives to Western products on a larger regional level and scale, those are nevertheless more or less subordinated to the largest markets, producers and products in the world (whether films, TV series, music or some other significant category in this regard).

For instance, South Korea – although it is an OECD country which constitutes the thirteenth largest economy in the world at this point – is yet regarded as a ‘semi-peripheral’ country. In East Asia, it is only Japan that can ‘exist on its own’ (even if that is a truth which requires a large degree of modification in order to hold up) and be a powerful economic and pop cultural force ‘in itself’.

K-pop – with Psy as the only exception so far – is for instance, relatively speaking, no competition for artists like Nicki Minaj, Rihanna and Shakira, and eight of the ten largest music markets in the world are Western.

These facts are also manifested through closely related phenomena such as fashion and looks. For instance, the Korean wave, hallyu (한류), consists of several sub-categories such as K-films, K-drama, K-pop, K-literature, and K-beauty, and most of these – even though there undoubtedly has been some degree of diffusion of products on a global scale, including economically significant Western countries – they do, in an overall sense, at most constitute important niche markets outside the East Asian and South East Asian ambits.

But something might actually be thorougly happening to the Western ‘beauty hegemony’. The Independent Critics List has namely chosen a South Korean artist, the singer Nana (임진아, born in 1991), from the seven-member girl group After School (애프터스쿨), as number one on their top 100 list of ‘the world’s most beautiful faces in 2014’.

Other prominent South Koreans on the list include for instance Tae-yeon, Jessica Jung (former member of Korean-American origin), Sooyoung and Yoona, all fom Girls’ Generation (소녀시대), and Suzy from the girl group Miss A (미쓰에이). Besides from the domination of Koreans, a number of Japanese and a lesser number of Chinese women are also placed on the list.

This list is, of course, only one relevant example in this respect, and other influential magazines or websites may tell quite different and perhaps also more ‘Western-biased’ stories about beauty ideals. However, this still showcases the global impact of hallyu and, specifically, K-beauty, and probably also the importance of fandom. Many fans have obviously voted in favor of South Korean celebrities.

Footnote: Swedes may be proud of, not the least, the young singer Zara Larsson, who was placed as number five, and the model Elsa Hosk (thirteenth place).

Som de flesta torde vara medvetna om, dominerar USA och i mindre utsträckning andra delar av västvärlden den globala ekonomin och följaktligen populärkulturen. Trots Kinas stora framsteg på senare år, och mindre men ekonomiskt framgångsrika länder som Sydkorea och Taiwan, är det i Östasien endast Japan som så att säga kan stå på egna ben (som i och för sig är en sanning med stor modifikation då alla länder är mer eller mindre beroende av omvärlden).

Visst finns det en betydande östasiatisk populärkulturell industri, vilket många forskare har uppmärksammat under de senaste åren, och sedan några decennier har framför allt Sydkorea kommit att bli en viktig maktfaktor både regionalt och globalt i och med sin ganska omfattande spridning av filmer, tv-serier och popmusik (inte bara Psy, även om han är mest känd genom “Gangnam style”). Men i jämförelse med USA och andra framträdande västerländska länder är den ändå ganska begränsad – allt är relativt, som det ofta heter.

Detta kan dock till i alla fall viss del börja att ändras rejält i och med The Independent critics lists skönhetslista, i vilken man under 2014 har listat årets 100 vackraste kvinnor. På första plats är nämligen den sydkoreanska sångerskan Nana (född 1991) från gruppen After School. Den sydkoreanska gruppen Girls’ Generation har ett flertal av sina medlemmar med på listan, inklusive den före detta medlemmen Jessica Jung, som är amerikan men med koreanskt ursprung. Vid sidan av den sydkoreanska dominansen finns även ett flertal japanska och i mindre utsträckning kinesiska kvinnor med på listan.

Visst finns det alltjämt många (vita) västerlänningar representerade, och många andra listor av den här typen kan presentera ett mer eller mindre annorlunda innehåll, men det säger ändå någonting om både globala populärkulturella trender och skönhetsideal som i viss grad ser ut att vara stadda i förändring.

Noterbart är också att flera svenskor finns med på listan, varav sångerskan Zara Larsson är högst placerad, som nummer fem.