They are Born in NY and Made in Seoul. They are known as EXP…? An experiment for what purpose?

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EXP is a group composed of non-Koreans who are trying to “break into” the K-Pop market. The project is known as “I’m Making A Boy Band.” The band’s name EXP is short for Experiment something that their founder, Bora Kim an artist herself as well as a sociologist, and two of her colleagues Karin Kuroda and Samantha Y. Shao, came up with as a thesis project for her Masters of Fine Arts at Columbia University. The original six member group were selected after three rounds of auditions in November 2014 and debuted in April 2015, six months later as stated here.

In the video showed above, Ms. Kim states that Korean Pop is heavily influenced by American Pop Music. That it is hard to pinpoint what is Korean about K-Pop although K-Pop has now become part of the identity of Korea.

What’s startling about this whole experiment is that they admit that these young men have no ties to South Korea. They know nothing about the industry either. Everything they know as far as language and cultural practices they have learned from their founder, Ms. Bora Kim including a “cuteness workshop” (which we can understand to mean aegyo.) They have even discussed the concept of masculinity which oftentimes confuses Western listeners who are socialized to have an oftentimes rigid view of what it is to be masculine, something your Admin Pisces thinks is appropriate to address.

“I wanted to see what would happen if I made American boys into K-pop performers, by teaching them how to sing in Korean and act like Korean boys, and complicate this flow/appropriation even more, since I’m in New York, where so many talents are just one online recruitment ad away,” she said in 2015 as cited in this online article on Independent.

The members of the group do acknowledge the comments they have received in multiple languages pointing out the very obvious. None of these members are Korean and what then are their ties or understanding of the culture..? What is their place? But as the members of EXP state in this video, that’s the point.

They appear committed to seeing this experiment through and seeing how far this fresh, new idea will take them. They also appear to be gaining some traction since their posting of their initial video.

The members hail from different backgrounds:

Koki Tomlinson (half Japanese and German)

Frankie DaPonte, Portuguese

Hunter Kohl, from New York

Šime Košta, from Croatia

These are all backgrounds that K-Pop fans themselves may also share. But what is interesting to note is that fans are not so receptive despite similar backgrounds. Of also being outsiders looking into a small scripted picture of South Korea meant to lure and woo you, if you will. This is what popular music is. It is a ruse and South Korea has found their niche to bring their country to economic heights.

But let’s return to the comments made by K-Pop fans, the theme of stans’ concerns (voiced on their own individual YouTube channels and underneath EXP’s music content on YouTube) about the group is that while the K-Pop industry is continuing to gain worldwide appeal the timing of this experimental group simply looks like an attempt to join the bandwagon which is offensive considering the stories of rigorous trainee life in a traditional company. How can these men relate to men and women of South Korea who had to audition (some numerous times) and wait for quite some time before being allowed to debut with a group? How can they relate to the culture of South Korea which is not necessarily plastic though K-Pop certainly makes it appear that way? Stans are used to a certain level of precision when it comes to the presentation of K-Pop. From the choreography to the makeup. There is a story to every concept and the details must be definite. It is unacceptable according to the comments amassing online for EXP to be at the state that they are and asking for the same fair shake with young men and women who have worked very hard to stand on the stages that they do.

leopolitan1st-Jul-2015 03:04 am (UTC)
im confused as to whether this is an art project or an actual attempt to break into the industry, but it seems like a half-assed effort at both? like if you want to make some statements about differing ideals of masculinity and w/e else, it could be communicated more effectively through…any other artistic medium besides holding an experiment with real life people? it just seems like putting them through unnecessary hardship and inevitable failure, and the guys themselves don’t seem to “get” it
also it just seems like a completely worthless experiment when you consider that these guys experiences will be totally different from rookies in Korea. they havent trained for years, first of all. and there’s a lot of other shit rookies have to deal with as well but point is id rather just watch a rly good documentary
Edited at 2015-07-01 03:06 am (UTC)

This experiment seems to also further add to the confusion that is the mixture of social and cultural elements not native to South Korea. Appropriation has continued to be one of the main criticisms of K-Pop. Appropriation of stereotypes of those non-native to South Korea, black people of America and the world at large in particular as well as Indian people, Native and Indigenous People of America and on and on. While the members did state in the video that they do not intend to mimic or “steal” the styles of any of the current beloved boy and girl bands of K-Pop today, will they also participate in the appropriative practices we have witnessed as fans of K-Pop? What happened to members Terrion and David who could have represented darker skinned men and been someone for darker skinned fans, young men and women alike to identify with when looking at the group?

The era of boy bands and girl bands has seen a resurgence because of K-Pop. And K-Pop isn’t just about boy bands and girl bands either…K-Pop isn’t just one genre. It has been influenced by Western pop, rock, jazz, hip-hop, R&B, reggae, electronica, techno, rave, nu metal, folk, country, and classical as well as traditional Korean music. How will EXP fit into the mix? What will they contribute to the music scene as they are of the Western pop culture from which K-Pop has continued to find its inspiration (and means for appropriation unforunately as well)?

How will they fit into the culture of K-Pop? Is there an understanding of the intersection between traditional cultural influences of South Korea as well as the fan culture of K-Pop fans? No doubt EXP and their fan base will have their own way to communicate with one another as all fans and groups do but how will they fit into the grander scene? Will we see an acceptance of the group into the much larger K-Pop culture? Will they use and have an understanding of industry specific language like all-kill, daesang and bonsang? Will we see the South Korean public affirming and accepting EXP as well? Will they gain a stable fan base and be invited to shows like Running Man, Return of Superman, Infinity Challenge, We Got Married, Immortal Song, Saturday Night Live Korea, King of Mask Singer, or Weekly Idol?

Can we anticipate an acting debut? Seeing them at the Drama Awards? Nominated for Idol Actor? Will we see them perform at annual end of the year celebrations like SBS Gayo Daejeon? Will they chart and make records that compete with current K-Pop groups in order to be nominated for award shows occuring all year round? Will we be able to look forward to collaborations between current and future K-Pop acts?

When does the experiment end and what will the results be? How will the members of EXP fare?

As both of your Admins, Aqua and Pisces, are international fans we are also on the outside looking in and learning just as the members of EXP are learning about the culture of South Korea. About the difference between the traditional culture and history of this country as well as the popular culture heavily influenced by Western society. But it is one thing to observe and participate as a fan and another to try to “break into” the industry. This is not said to say that the members of EXP are insincere at all in their efforts to make their mark on the industry and create music for the love of creating music in a new country and becoming part of a different culture. But the fact remains that the premise of this entire group was to provide information for academic purposes about the transformation taking place in South Korea’s pop culture because of global influences.

It also seems unfair to thrust these young men into this experiment for academic gains and sound bytes while they will be the ones enduring the very harsh comments and critiques of fans and anti-fans. Have the founders, Ms. Bora Kim, Karin Kuroda and Samantha Y. Shao, also prepared the members for some of the very ugly things that can happen as well? We fans always comment on the admiration we have for K-Pop Idols when they handle the tough times with such grace (at least from what we can see when they are on camera and in front of us.) That certainly comes through strong individual moral fiber but through education and support as well. Support of their families in the industry, their members, their family back home and their family of fans. We hope the best for the members of EXP and we shall see what comes of this experiement.

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