Sunday, October 28, 2012

Pop Culture Filler 'Cause My Brain is Fried

I’ve been working on some other posts, but work has pretty much consumed my life lately, so it’s slow going.  But I didn’t want to completely abandon my blog until things cool down, so I thought I’d write something quick about entertainment/pop culture. Filler material, this is what my blog has become! Pretend it's very insightful.

First, some Korean stuff.  I know, that’s all I ever write about lately. I don’t watch a lot of television, and when I do, it’s usually so that it can help me with my language learning, so it’s either French or Korean. But the French television I can find over here is honestly not that good.  The one show I liked, YouTube shut down the videos, so I can’t watch it anymore.

So, anyway.  K-pop. I don’t listen to it much because I don’t listen to pop music much, so I can’t make many recommendations. Earlier this year I thought K-pop was taking an interesting turn in the direction of being, well, interesting, but I think I was mistaken.  The K-pop star Junsu came out with a song, Tarantallegra, which I was determined to hate for its stupid name alone.  And as I started watching the video so that I could hear the song I was ready to mock, for the first part of the video, I was happily surprised—surprised by how it was so much worse than I thought it would be.

Let me back up and fill you in on why my expectations were so low, even aside from the song’s name.  I had heard two songs involving Junsu before.  One, when he was a member of the boy band TVXQ.  After hearing about one of their songs from EYK, RR and I pulled up the video.  The song was pop-y but catchy, so we watched the video to the end.  The guys seemed like good dancers.  And then, then, at the end of the video: dancing ninjas. That’s not ok, you guys. Ninjas don’t dance in k-pop videos, and if they did, we wouldn’t see them, they’d be too stealthy.  I guess these ninjas were ninja-like in that we really didn't see them coming.  We completely did not expect them.  So, anyway, cool factor—gone.  This was a band we would not be taking seriously.

Then that group broke up, and three of the members—including Junsu—formed a new group, JYJ. We had heard that the split was due to issues with management, so we thought, awesome, sticking it to the big corporation, we should support these guys, even though we aren’t really pop music’s biggest fans.

We saw exactly one video, which we couldn’t even make it all the way through: “Ayy Girl.”  If you like that kind of music (I don’t), I guess the song is good, but I defy you to defend that video. It was awful, in the kind of way that makes you wonder if it had been meant as a joke.  And that was the end of our ability to support JYJ.

So, anyway, apparently Junsu came out with a solo album as well, which I didn’t know anything about because I don’t keep up with K-pop and I didn’t know the names of any of the band members anyway, so if I had heard "Junsu has a solo album," that would have meant nothing to me.  This song was off that album, I guess? I don’t know. Anyway, so I started watching the video, and Holy MST3K-worthiness, Batman.  The clothes! The clothes were so Vanilla Ice! And then he started dancing. And the dancing was so very Vanilla Ice-esque! I was delightfully horrified. I had thought that we humans had all agreed that anything remotely reminiscent of Vanilla Ice was something we’d never accept again except as a joke. But here it was, on my computer screen, apparently not a joke.

But then, you guys, I had to change my mind. As the video went on, it became clear that this song was an actually catchy dance song, and this guy can actually dance.  And I don’t mean that this guy has memorized a lot of complicated choreography, I mean he makes it look easy, like his legs just move that way. That's the kind of dance skills I envy.  Gene Kelly, Bi/Rain, Jane Powell kind of talent.

But what makes the video interesting is the androgynous role that Junsu takes in the video.  There are other groups I've seen that have an androgynous member, but always in a "that's the cute one, that's the best dancer, that's the best singer, that's the androgynous one" kind of way.  This is the first time in recent years that I've seen a pop star, K-pop or otherwise, be aggressively, purposefully androgynous, in a "I'm hereby challenging all of your views on gender roles and who you are or believe you should be attracted to" kind of way, a "I dare you not think I'm sexy right now despite how confused you're feeling" kind of way.*  That's interesting, and it’s different. I was really excited for a bit that we might be seeing a new direction in pop music that would make it interesting to watch again, culturally-speaking.  I think RR got tired of me talking about it, frankly.

*I can't say I find him attractive because, he’s, like, 12, or enough younger than me that he might as well be 12. If I were a teenage girl, I’d probably think he was cute.  As it is, I just want to tell him to put a shirt on under his jacket.

But instead, next from him we got dancing pirates.  Just kidding! It was just a normal looking music video. I don’t know, maybe the song is good, I watched about 3 seconds of it. Maybe there were pirates later on in the video. But from the part I saw, it wasn’t signaling that he was interested in challenging cultural norms, so I’m back to not paying attention to K-pop until someone tells me that somebody’s doing something to make people uncomfortable in the right kind of way.

And now for something completely different.  Here's a super cute video (love the ending) for a mellow song by Busker Busker.  While we were in Korea back in May, our friend MJ told us that this was her favorite Korean song at the time, which made for a nice bonding moment.  I love it when you discover that you and your friend love the same song, plus now we have a new song to add to our noraebang repertoire.  Even months later, it still has the ability to chill me out when I’m having a bad day.

If this song doesn't mellow you out a little bit, and you don't think this video is even a little bit adorable, then you probably also don't like sunshine or Wes Anderson films or that cute little noises that babies make. 

Speaking of Wes Anderson, I still haven't gotten sick of that one Hyundai commercial he did.  And I can bring that up here because it's pop culture-y and because Hyundai is a Korean company. 

As for t.v., we finally finished watching “History of the Salaryman,” and I still say that this is one of the best t.v. shows I've seen in a long, long time.  I agree with commenters who say that the show would have been better if it hadn't changed from a show about character development into one of good guys vs. bad guys.  But even though it could have been better, it still makes my list of all-time faves.  [And it got us to watch “Dr. Champ” so we could watch Jung Gyu Woon as a character we didn’t hate, and although that series was highly, highly predictable, it was also seriously adorable.  Sometimes you just need cute.]

Kim Seong Oh has a small role in “Salaryman,” and while watching it I realized that he was also in two of my favorite movies (Ajusshi/Man From Nowhere and Kiss Me, Kill Me, both of which I've written about on this blog).  And he played (believably) a totally different character in all three.  So I guess I should be a fan of his, too, seeing as how he's proven himself to be a skilled actor.

As far as Korean movies, we recently saw "The Thieves" in the theater.  I had a few quibbles with it, and I didn’t like that it made me sad in parts, but I liked it overall. If you like heist/caper films, this one is worth watching.

On the Europe front, PBS recently aired another series of the Wallander adaptations by Kenneth Branagh, which you know I like.  I only got to see one episode, but it was as tense as always. I really hope Netflix starts streaming it soon.  This series is beautiful to look at and very suspenseful, very well-acted.  And speaking of Wallander, has anyone has seen any of the Swedish adaptations? I think I can get the movies on Netflix, but I wasn’t sure if they were any good. I may just have to watch to find out.

As far as U.S. television goes, I don’t watch it much because I can never remember when stuff comes on, but I have been enjoying “Elementary.” I pick holes in every episode, but I still like it, possibly because I just really like Lucy Liu. I know some people get all twisted up with annoyance about how CBS is trying and failing to copy the British “Sherlock” series, but I’m not one of them. For one thing, the shows are entirely different, and I don’t think adaptations are like the Highlander and THERE CAN ONLY BE ONE. I would be happy if there more Sherlock Holmes adaptations on, each take a little different. And furthermore, although some episodes of “Sherlock” are fantastically good (the pilot episode took me from being skeptical about a modern day Holmes to being 100% on board with it), others . . . aren’t.  The acting is always very good, but the plots/scripts of some episodes should not win any awards. 

So that’s it for my long, not that helpful pop culture post. Does anyone have any good foreign films or t.v. shows to recommend?

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