Well, I was a deprived First Generation American Kpop fan. I’m sure there were others out there who were able to read Korean, or lucky enough to find the original Soompi, (which supposedly came out in 1998. I never found it, unless it was one of those sites that sorely lacked the info I was after at the time, lol), but my 2001 fan days were full of struggles.
(Something important to note: I didn’t even know of the term “Kpop” until about 2010. To me, it was just “Korean music.”)
Imagine being a Kpop fan with no video sites, no communities like tumblr, and no news/info sites.
Imagine knowing of no other English-speaking Kpop fan anywhere besides the random fan site you run into once in awhile.
Here, I’ll tell you about my experiences….
Anime to Kpop
I was always really into foreign languages, ever since I realized they existed at age 7. I always wished I could speak another one. I don’t know why. I just really wanted to know more about the world and the way other cultures did things.
Around age 12/13 (1999), I got into anime because of FOX Kids showing Digimon and Monster Rancher. With that, I grew into Cartoon Network’s (unfortunately named), “Rising Sun” late night anime program around 15. That program had the original Japanese-language theme songs that I had to have, (Cowboy Bebop’s “The Real Folk Blues,” anyone?).
Also around this time, my mom decided to finally get the internet. However, she wouldn’t allow us to “surf the web,” which to her, meant using the “search” feature, (haha… oh Mom…). She would only allow us to type random urls into the browser and hope we got something good. (Ironic). Luckily, one of the sites brought me to Anipike, which was a hub for a ton of anime websites. Through these, I found sites that hosted a couple MP3’s here and there.
One night, I ran into a site that hosted some Kpop MP3’s along with the anime ones.
Now, the funny thing is, at this time, besides anime music, I was really into rock. Pop was okay, but I was really into hard stuff. Coincidentally, these MP3’s included H.O.T’s “Natural Born Killer” and “Iyah,” which are arguably two of hardest-sounding Kpop songs to be created. It was rock to me. A Shinhwa song was also included, (“Trippin”), and I really liked that song a lot too. (I can still sing along to these three songs since I overplayed them so much, haha. I never got tired of it.)
Luckily for me, around that time, I met an “older” guy on DeviantART, (“older,” being in his early 20’s, haha). While we were never really “friends”, he introduced me to p2p sharing by convincing me to download the program Soulseek, (he wanted me to send this crappy version of Photoshop I had). So, with this program, I found more songs.
Of course, since I really had no websites to turn to, no news sites or anything, I just had to type in “Korean music” along with a handful of variations, and hope I got something. (“Korean music,” “Korean rock,” “Korean pop,” “Asian rock,” “Asian music,” ect… I don’t think this habit of mine has died when I have to tag a post, haha.)
Luckily, it worked.
The next group I found was the band Dr.Core 911. This was the first band/group I was obsessed with. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any info on them. I searched everywhere, but even the Korean sites that popped up had very little information. I did manage to find a handful of small photos of them, which I proudly displayed on my crappy little homepage I had made.
Through my relentless Soulseek searching, I also found HOT’s “Candy,” which I adored. This opened me up to the more pop-sounding songs. I soon found two full SMTown CDs from 2000 and 2001 (lucky!), a couple S#arp songs, and a handful of Yoo Seung Jun songs, which, when looking him up, I found A LOT of internet hate for him. I didn’t understand why at the time, since most people were just hating on him for any reason they could find. (One reason that stood out was how he supposedly bragged about his English from living overseas, but he still had a considerable accent). Later, I found the hate was because of the army controversy, but there were no reliable sources back then.
With these, I did find others I didn’t care for. I wasn’t impressed with Fin K.L.’s Melodies & Memories album, and even though I’d still listen to it, I didn’t really like GOD’s “Lie.” I know I had one SES song that wasn’t on the SMTown CD, but it wasn’t really memorable to me, (I can’t even remember what it was). I also got “Outside Castle” by H.O.T. and wasn’t a fan of that one at all.
I also got my first taste of Korean hip hop through Drunken Tiger. “그의 끝에 시작 (Final Fantasy)” was my guilty pleasure, haha. I adored “Do You Know Hip Hop?,” though I had no idea what the real, unromanized name of that song was, lol. (Soulseek didn’t support hangul, so they’d translate the titles like this – “Nuh Yeh Gah Hip Hop Eun Ah Neun Nyah”.)
It’s also funny to note, I had no idea how current any of these songs were when I was collecting them. For some reason, I thought most of them were older. However, now I realize that the majority of them were either just released, or just a couple years old at the time LOL
The Crappy Fan Sites
So around this time, I’d also be searching and searching for any Kpop sites. I just wanted some good info about these musicians. There were a lot of H.O.T., BoA, Shinhwa, SES, and FinKL Geocities & Angelfire fansites, (think dark, neon, & comic sans lol), though others groups were really lacking. I also downloaded 1, maybe 2, advertisements that some artists were in through Soulseek, but I wasn’t able to see any MVs until video sites started popping up more. It felt like something was missing, but I couldn’t tell what it was… until I finally got access to the MVs. Before that, the groups were somewhat mysterious, which was frustrating.
I must have driven my mom crazy playing these few songs over and over and over on full volume every day. I was even able to sing along, though I had no idea what I was saying and could not recognize ANY words, since there were no translation sites available! The only time I came close, was an explanation for HOT’s “Iyah”. But I’ll tell you one thing, something that was popular online was romanizing Korean lyrics. However, the way they were romanized made it difficult to read. They’d just romanize each syllable instead of combining them into words! It was super difficult to follow along with.
Here’s an example from HOT’s “Candy”:
Instead of – “sashireun o-neul neowaeui mannameul jeongrihago shipeo”
It was – “sah shi leun oh neul nuh wahn yeh man nah meul jung re hah go ship uh”
And it was sung so fast, I just gave up and listened for myself….
Things Got Better
Things really opened up around 2004-2006, when video sites appeared. A lot more songs became available on Soulseek as well, and I was a downloading maniac.
I finally was exposed to MVs! (The most memorable one from this era was Lee Jung Hyun’s “Dala,” though I think I watched all her MV’s most out of the groups I knew.)
During that time, not only did I become obsessed with Jang Woo Hyuk, Lee Jung Hyun, Seo Taiji and TRAX, but I also really got into any Japanese and Taiwanese music I could find… but that’s another story. (Side note: I had thought Kangta was my bias in HOT, but then I realized Jang Woo Hyuk had been a member of HOT too, and my mind was blown as I realized he had been my true bias all along, haha.)
I also found my first YG artist through Se7en’s debut, though I didn’t really know anything about him at the time. “Baby I Like You Like That” and “Passion” are both memorable songs for me.
(2010 – Now)
Unfortunately, around 2008/2009, I lost the internet for a while. So, I was pretty much in the dark until about 2010, which was my Kpop revival. One of my online friends was talking about Kpop and I could only talk about old school stuff with them. I started looking up things again, (I think Brown Eyed Girls’ “Abacadabra” was my first MV of this era), and learned of the term “Kpop.” I was super surprised to see how it had caught on! Before, I was all alone in my fandom, but now, there were giant groups with their own slang!
I mean, things were so good compared to when I started, that I could actually finally find info about Dr.Core 911!
So yup. I used Last.fm to just surf around for the things I missed, while at the same time, checking out YouTube. Luckily, I accidentally joined tumblr at that time as well, and the giant community increased my knowledge even more, haha. 2010 was a really fun year because it was almost like finding something new all over again. I discovered Hyori, Ivy, Big Bang, among others. There are a lot of special songs that I’ll always love from that year.
Also, I should note, all this time, I was training up my younger sister to like the same music I did, (she’s 10 years younger than me). So, around 2004-2006 when she was 8-10 years old, I’d burn her a bunch of CDs with songs I thought she’d like. So, when she was a teen in 2010, she really got into Kpop too, which increased the enjoyment factor.
Currently, in 2013, I got pretty maxed out on Kpop, and now am more into Korean hip hop and indie. But of course, there are always some awesome pop songs, and my love for certain groups will never die.
What’s your Kpop story?