AATK COLLOQUIUM – FALL 2020

Beyond the Scene: Analyses and explorations of the BTS phenomenon

November 6 (Fri) 8:00-10:00 pm (EST)

Via Zoom (the link will later be provided to AATK members)

Moderator: Joowon Suh (Columbia University)

BTS, undoubtfully the biggest K-pop phenomenon in the global music industry and digital media, has gained increasing popularity over the last three or so years, as BTS’s popularity and influence have grown beyond Korea and Asia and successfully penetrated the Western music
scene. In the Korean language classroom, teachers often introduce BTS and other K-pop groups to teach certain words and expressions or simply to promote students’ interest in Korean popular culture. In this colloquium, we collectively try to move beyond a simple pedagogical approach to BTS popularity to better understand ‘the BTS phenomenon’ as an interdisciplinary research focus.

Three invited papers explore the underlying translinguistic, transcultural, and transnational
interactions and development from three different research disciplines: linguistics, literature, and media studies. We pay special attention to BTS as an astonishing cultural phenomenon, and maybe rightfully so, but the discussion will provide us with new insights into K-pop, K-drama, and other forms of Korean popular culture as powerful sociolinguistic data and effective foci for multimodal analysis. It is hoped that the presentations and the ensuing discussion will assist us to appreciate how a locally-originated, cultural phenomenon such as BTS shapes a new genre of literacy and media discourse in the globalized world and will generate important sociolinguistic and sociocultural implications for Korean language education.

E

Multilinguistic Hybridization in BTS Songs: Its Effects and Possible Uses in Teaching Korean

Kim, Mi-young (The University of British Columbia)
Kim, Huai-Rhin (Purdue University)

The Korean Wave (K-Wave) has contributed to making many aspects of Korean culture and its products seem desirable and attractive to its fans. Some scholars (e.g., Jin, 2018) attribute K-Wave, including Psy’s Gangnam style in 2012, to the notable increase in many aspects related to Korea including the Korean language. For instance, various statistical data published by Modern Language Association prove that Korean Language and Studies programs have become increasingly popular around the world with the number of college students enrolled in Korean language programs almost doubled between 2006 and 2016 (Looney & Lusin, 2018). In particular, BTS has showcased the Korean language and culture to its fans around the world in their songs, performances, and through various online communication channels, becoming the youngest recipients of a national cultural merit award in 2019 for having been “ambassadors” of Korean culture.

This study investigates how BTS makes the effective use of linguistic puns, rhymes, and minimal pairs, among other linguistic features in their songs, particularly in “Love Myself” and “mikrokosmos” in conveying their message while illustrating some Korean-ness to people with diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds. Using content (See Epps & Dixon, 2017) and discourse analyses (e.g. Aleshinskaya, 2013), this study argues multilinguistic hybridization, i.e., code switching, in Korean and English in BTS songs is more likely to have been used as a discourse strategy with an agenda rather than a rhyming scheme alone, whereas some other K-pop songs use code-mixing mainly for attention, as well as demonstration of self-assertion and resistance to the mainstream value (Bolton, Kachru, & Kachru, 2006; Jin, 2018; Lee, 2004). Furthermore, this study supports that some of their songs could possibly serve as examples to contrasting vowel sounds (e.g., 아 vs 어)  as well as demonstrating some consonants (e.g., double consonants) unique to Korean language that some Korean language learners may find challenging.

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BTS’s Kiyŏk (ㄱ)ing of Kiŏk (Memory) in Map of the Soul: 7 (2020)

Choi, Kyeong-Hee (The University of Chicago)

BTS’s song lyrics are often identified as the source of the group’s “good-natured influence.” As non-Korean speakers’ access to their meanings has been facilitated through many on- and offline venues of translation and transmedia storytelling, however, the outsized impact of audiovisual elements in the group’s performances and public staging makes it difficult to tell to what extent or how deeply the audience–including Korean-native speakers–grasp the full extent and resonances of BTS’s intricate and nuanced language work. Instead of pursuing those contestable questions, this presentation scrupulously engages with their lyrics, viewing them as poetic practice—artistic language work that privileges an autobiographical search for one’s own genuine self.   

To be sure, BTS’s albums and mixtapes can all be viewed as showcasing self-portraits in which the members construct their artistic personas either individually or collectively. But Map of the Soul: 7 marks a new development for their soul-searching, as underscored by the album title. The lyrics’ enactment of the song writers’ re-visit to their old identities and memories takes place at the pinnacle of the group’s irrefutably global super-stardom, precisely as a necessary path towards reckoning with the totally new lives both already and not yet experienced by them. Selected for the main analysis are the three recent solo songs written and performed by the group’s rapper line: “Persona” by RM, “Shadow” by Suga, and “Ego” by J-Hope, which constitute the intro, the interlude, and the outro of Map of the Soul: 7 (2020) respectively. Although individual journeys differently route in these lyrics, their paths eventually merge in a holistic and unifying movement. The paper argues that at the core of the members’ coming to terms with their plural selves is the lyrics’ ludic language work. Tailored for the rap genre, the playful but carefully calibrated poesis deploys reverberating sonic similarities and semantic differences; it draws upon a felicitously rich treasury of graphemic and phonemic registers of vernacular Korean, naturalized Sinitic-literary (hanja) words, and English expressions. The intra-textual reading of the three rap lyrics inter-contextually concludes, taking a cross-historical look at a few notable instances of the Korean poetic heritage whose autobiographical ethos and creative wordplay meaningfully resonate with BTS’s, despite their generic differences.

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BTS, Transnational Fandom, and Affective Identities in the Social Media Era

Jin, Dal Yong (Simon Fraser University)

BTS—a seven boy band from South Korea—has continued to expand their global reach. Even during the COVID-19 era, BTS achieved its first No.1. on the Billboard Hot 100 with its new song Dynamite in August 2020. BTS especially introduced a new form of cultural activity, titled ‘Bang Bang Con: The Live,’ on July 14, 2020. This live event was streamed over around 100 minutes remotely from a studio in Seoul–drew some 756,000 viewers from across the world. Fans from 107 countries or regions, including Korea, the U.S., the U.K., China, and Japan, logged in to view the online event. As such, BTS’ global popularity, backed by their devoted fanbase ARMY, continues, and global fans and researchers together raise questions surrounding transnational and transcultural flows of hybridized popular cultures in an era of new media technologies. Drawing on theories of transcultural fandom, this talk discusses BTS within and as a product of these hybridized transcultural flows of content and identity. Utilizing mixed approaches, the popularity of BTS is explored in the context of fans’ social media use and in their identification with BTS through their online content, music, and authentic image. The use of social media is significant not only in terms of access to BTS content but to fannish practices of consuming such content. Flows of meaning and affect between BTS and fans are also mediated through social media, suggesting that hybridized popular culture is circulated not only through transnational flows of content but also transcultural constructions of affective investment and identity. 

About the presenters (in alphabetical order):

Professor Kyeong-Hee Choi is the Korea Foundation Associate Professor of Modern Korean Literature at the University of Chicago. Her research and teaching interests reside in the intersection of gender, censorship, and modernity in Korean-language literary and cultural texts. She has published on New Womanhood, motherhood, impairment, and colonial censorship and its legacies with a focus on Korean women writers’ works. She is currently working on “Beneath the Vermilion Ink: Japanese Colonial Censorship and the Making of Modern Korean Literature” and “A Genealogy of Colonial Censors in Korea.”

Professor Dal Yong Jin is Distinguished SFU Professor. He completed his Ph.D. in the Institute of Communications Research at the University of Illinois in 2005. Jin’s major research and teaching interests are on digital platforms and digital games, globalization and media, transnational cultural studies, and the political economy of media and culture. Jin has published numerous books and journal articles, book chapters, and book reviews. Jin’s books include Korea’s Online Gaming Empire (MIT Press, 2010), New Korean Wave: transnational cultural power in the age of social media (University of Illinois Press, 2016), Smartland Korea: mobile communication, culture and society (University of Michigan Press, 2017), and K-Pop Idols: Popular Culture and the Emergence of the Korean Music Industry (Lexington, 2019). He is the founding book series editor of Routledge Research in Digital Media and Culture in Asia.

Dr. Huai-Rhin Kim is currently teaching Korean language courses at Purdue University in the U.S. where she has previously taught First Year Composition for International Students. At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, she earned a B.A. from the Department of Linguistics in 2003, an M.A. in Teaching English as a Second Language in 2004, and a Ph.D. from the Department of Speech and Hearing Science in 2008. She was a recipient of a Brain Korea 21 Plus postdoctoral research fellowship funded by the Ministry of Education, Korea. She worked in the Department of Communication Disorders at Ewha Womans University while teaching two graduate courses at Yonsei University in Korea from 2014 to 2015. After returning to Canada, she was appointed a director at Wiseways Preschool and Daycare in Victoria.

Dr. Mi-Young Kim is a Lecturer in the School of Journalism, Writing, and Media at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver, Canada. In this research-oriented, writing intensive course, she introduces the topic of “fad, fashion (trend), and fit” in which she encourages students to investigate how a social influence, i.e., fad, affects people as producers, distributors, and consumers, ultimately shaping or forming their identities. One major thread of discussion includes a recent fad of K-pop with a particular focus on BTS. She earned her Ph.D. in Language and Literacy Education at UBC and MA in TESL from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her main research interest, also her dissertation topic, is academic socialization of second language learners. She is also passionate about pursuing research on sociolinguistics, particularly on the topic of identity and ideology of language learners, academic writing, translation, Teaching English as a Second Language, among others.