Blogger Spotlight: the mind reels
While the discourse of Korean pop reaches its pitch in web sites like seoulbeats, it can still be difficult to find blogs that challenge the preconceptions of Kpop fans as warring fan clans bent on fetishizing photoshoots and promotional videos without taking into consideration the broader contexts of Korean culture and its place in the global market. But Melissa Johnson’s blog the mind reels manages to combine both scholarly interest and hobby into sharp, readable rhetoric about East Asian pop music (emphasis on Kpop). Furthermore, Johnson is one of the few writers to successfully coax meaningful narratives while uniquely weaving an Art History background onto the face of what has already become something of a pop culture phenom.
In one post, she points out the many instances of fairy tales in promotional videos and magazine shoots, subtly inferring the importance of their varied tones and styles. By shedding a wider lens on the intersections of various mediums, she’s able to illustrate how important a broad focus is when dealing with things that may seem odd or inconsequential at first glance. In a post on Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s “CANDY CANDY” PV, Johnson points out the satirical nature of the video’s depiction of classic shoujo anime tropes (the flawed schoolgirl who is late for class, the requisite nemesis who parallels an inner struggle), essentially highlighting how dangerous it can be to make assumptions about the unknown: while many might see Kyary’s PV as nothing more than a jumble of inane images, a recognition of its influences and irony makes the images that much smarter, a kind of an insider’s wink to unfortunate LOLJapan memes.
In a more critical post, “The Dual Identities of After School”, she examines the carefully tuned personae of Kpop idols and their ability to adapt to the overseas market. In using After School’s latest Korean comeback versus their Japanese debut, she compares the construction of images, tailor-made for each audience’s expectations in idols, often in both look and sound. But unlike recent studies of the current trend of exporting Korean idols to Japan, she also discusses the difficulty Western audiences might have in accepting these givens of a somewhat inauthentic representation of self, a topic worthy of insight as Kpop struggles to conquer ever larger foreign markets.
There’s a promising future for writers like Johnson tying loose ends together, for recognizing depth and going beyond the obvious. In a world where recycled research and 100 word reviews are the norm, the mind reels is a blog worth returning to for reads and re-reads, full of unrivaled posts that encourage discussion and keep conversations about East Asian pop open-ended and brilliantly atypical.