University of California Santa Barbara recently hosted a series of K-pop events as part of a conference called Korean Popular Music and its Global Reach, subtitled #UCSBKPOP.  The series kicked off on Monday, April 13th with an exhibit opening and film screening, and culminated on Saturday April 18th with a full-day symposium.

Film Screening

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The 2014 film Us & Them: Korean Indie Rock in a K-Pop World was presented by professors-turned-filmakers, Stephen Epstein and Tim Tangherlin and included a post-screening Q&A session moderated by Japanoise scholar David Novak. The documentary looks at the state of the Korean punk and indie music scenes in recent years and the impact the globalization of K-pop is having on them. It features interviews with groups like Crying Nut, The Geeks, and RockTigers –and is actually a follow up to their 2002 film, Our Nation: A Korean Punk Rock Community. Check out the trailer for Us & Them below and keep an eye out for screenings at a university near you!  (Or tweet @tango63 and ask him when the DVD will be back in stock at Amazon.)

Library Exhibit

UCSB Library exhibition K-Pop Material Culture & Global Fandom is on display on the library’s 8th floor from April 13th through May 29th, 2015. The exhibit examines “the relationships between K-pop things, the industry that produces them, and fans who collect them.” The objects (merchandise and memorabilia) are pulled from the library’s collection and the personal collections of some of UCSB’s own K-pop fans. Can’t make it to Santa Barbara before the end of May? Check out the online exhibit guide for an overview.


The Saturday symposium was a full-day event featuring K-pop related presentations by UCSB faculty, a librarian, graduate and undergraduate students, and a special keynote speaker. The program also included K-pop cover performances by members of UCSB’s student group, Seoul’d Out. The day’s full roster can be found here.


Symposium Highlights

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Dr. Suk-young Kim, Professor of Theatre and Asian Studies and director of the UCSB Global Performance Studies Initiative, presented on SM Entertainment’s use of American Broadway theatrical concepts and imagery in SNSD music videos and the company’s recent musical theater productions (Singing in the Rain and School Oz). Dr. Kim’s next book will be about how the rise of digital media has impacted the global circulation of K-pop — so watch for that coming out in the hopefully not-too-distant future.

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Keynote speaker Ji-ae Sohn, the former CEO of Airirang TV, talked candidly about the birth of After School Club – the live broadcast show that lets global K-pop fans engage with idol groups via Google Hangout. She said that back in 2013 they were very nervous about the show’s concept and she almost cancelled it before it even aired! But when the first EXO episode drew a record 6,000 applicants for the 10 Google Hangout spots, and the Twitter hashtag #exoasc generated 100 tweets per second (a record at the time for a non-natural disaster hashtag) –they knew they had something special on their hands. The program was so successful that Arirang TV now hosts it twice per week at different times to accommodate different parts of the world. And K-pop entertainment companies are even using ASC to better understand the scope of their fanbases as the show’s viewership is wholly comprised of fans outside South Korea.


It’s too early to know if there will be another conference next year – but keep an eye on UC Santa Barbara in case #UCSBKPOP becomes an annual event.

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