Growing student interest group Hallyu UTD focuses on Korean pop culture, expresses avid fascination
The existence of Hallyu UTD, a new K-Pop club, might be just as much a surprise as the astronomical rise of a certain Korean singer named Psy. But, founding member Taurian Witt has been following Korean pop culture for years.
“Hallyu,” the Arts and Technology junior said, “is Korean for the word ‘wave,’ as in the wave of Korean pop music that has gradually gone global over the past decade.”
K-Pop has origins as early as the 50s, when visits to Korea by American pop culture figures like Marilyn Monroe prompted interest in Western musicality. Passing decades saw the adoption of Western styles in popular Korean music. Musical acts popped up across the country, imitating the rock ‘n’ roll, jazz and blues traditions from across the Pacific.
Hallyu UTD is a club where Witt and others meet to “fanboy” over Korean pop culture in all of its historical complexities. This includes listening and discussing the myriad of groups and solo acts that make up the Korean pop music scene.
The club was formed last semester by undeclared freshman Rocio Diaz, attracting collaborators like Witt by word of mouth, and the club plans to become official following spring break.
They meet each Wednesday at various locations on campus to recommend programs and artists to one another, help each other learn Korean and arrange karaoke nights for their community. Members also post information on activities and meetings to the “Hallyu UTD” Facebook page.
K-Pop is a matter of intense fascination to a certain population, but Witt said that the population is small. This might have to do with misconceptions of the nature of K-pop altogether, he said.
Where most people saw “Gangnam Style” as a slapstick song and dance number that got lucky, Witt said that the piece was a sort of underdog story rooted in the narrator’s aspirations to belong in Gangnam, the wealthiest district of South Korea.
The object of that aspiration is the woman about whom he sings — a classy girl who knows how to enjoy the freedom of a cup of coffee but lets her hair down when the right time comes, to paraphrase.
It is a tall order for the narrator, “a guy who one-shots his coffee before it even cools down.” The song has an almost Bob Dylan quality with its confession of incompatibility, Witt said. It also describes Psy’s position in the rest of the K-Pop world of hyper-attractive youth.
The way things turned out, the song almost became a metaphor for Psy’s real life ascension story, Witt said.
A country music enthusiast herself, Diaz said she’s discovered the common thread of K-Pop with friends who tend toward hip-hop and rap.
“K-Pop brings together people from very different backgrounds,” she said. “Right now, we’re looking to attract dancers and singers and people who know or want to learn Korean. We want to be a collaborative place for people of different talents and interests.”
Rocio hopes to grow the club dramatically this year, but she keeps what initially attracted her to K-Pop close at heart.
“When you look in the background of K-Pop,” she said, “at the production of music videos and the teamwork of the artists, you see a lot of friendship and spontaneity. Everyone seems like they’re part of a big family. That’s what Hallyu UTD is all about, too.”