An advocate for Korean culture at UC Santa Barbara
By Paula Gentry
Korean pop music [K-pop] has become popular in the United States in recent years thanks to the viral trend of PSY’s “Gangnam Style” in 2012. UC Santa Barbara’s department of East Asian Languages and Cultural Studies in 2014 added a course called the “New Korean Wave.” Clearly, there is an increasing interest in — and awareness of — K-pop, and Korean culture in general, outside of South Korea.
Personifying that trend is Tyler Devin Clark, who goes by Devin. He is co-president of UCSB’s K-pop club, Seoul’d Out. Clark majors in Sociology and will be graduating this spring quarter. He became interested in K-pop by watching music videos with his sister. We sat down with Clark to hear his perspective on K-pop’s advance into the American market as well as K-pop’s influence in his own life.
Q: Why did you join Seoul’d Out? Some students don’t realize there is such a club. Can you tell me how you found out about it?
A. I transferred here last year [and it was my] first time being away from home. I wanted to get involved in things that interested me and, aside from my sister, I didn’t really talk about K-pop with anyone. So I got on OrgSync [a website for clubs and organizations in UCSB] and I was looking at extracurriculars and saw that there was a K-pop club.
I was at an event, talking to a girl about K-pop, and she said, “Wait, there’s a K-pop club at UCSB?” And I said, “Yeah, there is! I just went to it!” So then I thought, “Wow,” there are all these people who have no idea this club even exists, and I’m over here promoting it. I might as well try to get on staff and spread the word.”
Q: Who are some of your favorite Korean pop groups and why?
A. I love HyunA [a female soloist] because she’s really different from all the other K-pop acts. She owns her sexuality and she does stuff that’s out of the box over there. She’s breaking boundaries. I love her because she does whatever [she wants] and gets hate for it - but she’s still herself in the end, which is great.
Q: What do you think about K-pop going into the American market? Should K-pop groups promote themselves or try to garner attention?
A. I know there’s a big international fanbase [in the United States] but America is so backwards, [about] Asians in general. It’s like they don’t even exist here when it comes to the entertainment world. It’s like there can only be two Asian artists or actors at a time, and they’re always the same two. I mean, it’s awesome that those people have made it to the status that they are, but obviously there’s room for more.
So, for K-pop music or just Asian music in general to be big over here, we have to get past Asians [remaining] outside of the entertainment field. And there’s a long way to go for that.
Q: How has K-pop influenced your life?
A. Just being exposed to various music forms in a language that I don’t understand is really good because I can listen to anything as long as the beat or the melody is nice. I feel like that should be how everyone is, because it allows for you to experience different cultures and be more open-minded.
Q: What do you think about UCSB offering classes, either on K-pop or Korean culture?
A. I think there should be more cultural classes. Although it’s good to learn about your own culture, it’s also great to learn about different cultures, because you can learn ways to respect other cultures.
As far as classes on campus go, I feel like when you’re teaching a class on culture, you [have to] try not to be biased. I’m taking a course that’s called “World Music,” and I’m definitely enjoying this class because instructor [Stephanie] Choi is teaching me things I had no idea about. When she’s teaching this information, it’s not biased and I feel like it’s a level playing field, where anyone can ask questions and you can get an answer. But I definitely think there can be more [Korean culture classes].
Q: There are three entertainment companies in South Korea (known as the big three): SM entertainment, JYP entertainment and YG entertainment. YG entertainment focuses on a more hip-hop sound and often has its pop idols in music videos dressed in street-wear style, with their hair in dreadlocks, and using slang. What are your thoughts on cultural appropriation in the Korean entertainment industry, especially when a top Korean company like YG engages in it?
A. I feel like there’s no reason for [K-pop] groups to do that [cultural appropriation]. K-pop idols are so manufactured and they [the companies] make them look another way - it’s really fabricated. It’s just unnecessary. And they [K-pop musicians] don’t care about what they’re using, they just use it.
Paula Gentry is a third-year student at UC Santa Barbara, majoring in Communication.