All About K POP With Emerson Unger

Everyone is talking about K POP! When it comes to music, trends, fashion K POP is taking over but we had so many questions. How did K POP become so popular and what exactly is K POP? Watch our exclusive interview with K POP expert Emerson Unger

Interview by Tijana Ibrahimovic

Edited by Lidia Goldberg

Tijana: Hi guys, I’m here with Emerson Unger the entertainment journalist. K-pop radio DJ and a big K-pop fan as well slash expert, I would say hi Emerson. 

Emerson Unger: Hi. And I am like 100% obsessed. Like this is how I spend 99.9% of my time. Even during my sleeping,

Tijana: Why don’t you first tell us. And I’ve learned a lot from you already.What is K-pop.

Emerson Unger:  Uh, so K-pop is interesting. It is. I would say it’s a genre of music. That’s been the big debate lately. Is it an industry or is it a genre of music? I consider it personally as genre of music. Um, it is the popular mood music that is coming out of South Korea. But that has extensive roots from America.

So like for instance, the head of one of the biggest labels, SM entertainment, he actually studied here in America. So, um, and, and a lot of, uh, the idols, um, not, not a lot, lot, but a good chunk of them are actually American born. Um, they are Korean American. Um, and yeah, it’s just popular music that has, has sprung out of, I would say like really late eighties.

Some people could say nineties is when it got it start. Um, I really think it started like in the two thousands. We’re on our fourth generation now. Um, and it is just popular music in Korea that I feel like has its basis in Motown. A lot of people compare it. To like the boy bands of like Y2K and stuff.

But I think it goes back even farther to like Motown and like The Jackson five, um, Taman is obsessed with Michael Jackson. So, you know, I got to give him his props.

Tijana: That’s really interesting. I mean, a lot of us are just now I guess, 40 years later, kind of learning more about it. Uh, what do you think makes K-pop different and how did you become interested and a fan?

Emerson Unger: Um, I became a fan, which I feel like is going to be so silly. The first K-pop song I ever heard was Size Gangnam style. I was working on the radio station. I was like, woo, woo, woo. 

Tijana: Me too.

Emerson Unger:  So we actually, a lot of people know of K-pop, but I loved it because it was silly and just a lot of fun and great energy.

And then I really got into K-pop, I would say with BTS their wings album, which came out in 2016 and as a journalist in 2017, they came for The Billboard music awards and they won. And so I was like, wait, I can actually take what I love and what I do and marry the two and actually try to move forward into like actually having something that’s what the career.

So I was like really, really excited when they won. And then I was even more excited when they came for the American music wars and  performs DNA. And I was just like, this is great. I am here for this. Um, I remember going to my boss who was like, I can’t, I can’t like. Yeah, you take it. Um, and I’ve been champing ever since.

Tijana: So what are some of the biggest K-pop stuff?

Emerson Unger:A lot of props to Big Bang and G dragon that will hopefully appease everyone so that they know, I do know what I’m talking about. Um, are old school, K-pop like one of the best biggest groups in like the lands? Um, I would say definitely BTS. There are huge, uh, Black Pink is huge XO, which I’m very excited for.

Um, uh, you have to have Twice, uh, Stray Kids Got Seven. I’m trying to think. Uh, let’s see. I’m going through the labels, like paying big bang, uh, 17, which is now under the big hit label. TXT. 

Tijana: Think that they’re sort of really penetrating in pop into pop culture world and, you know, taking over in a sense like when it comes to collaborations with McDonald’s and you can tell us what other collaborations, but I mean more and more daily, we hear about  K-Pop.

Emerson Unger: Yeah, no, no, no, it, they do these collaborations, but they do them in Korea. So the McDonald’s collaboration with BTS being global. Shows the power of K-Pop, you know, I mean, McDonald’s is a global brand and for them to say, yeah, we think we’re work with you like in all the whole globe, that to me was amazing.

Um, you know, cause they had, I mean, they had deals with, you know, Coca-Cola Hyundai, uh, Samsung. Samsung, is their a big one too now’ Um, Dunkin Donuts, which I was like, man, if I was in Korea, I could get my, my container with donuts. Like I’m so like, I mean, they, they touch products and it just goes crazy.

Like John Cook, like he’s the youngest member of BTS. He, the fans caught like behind him, his like fabric softener, and it sold out to the point that went on social media and he’s like, I can’t get my fabric softener.

Tijana : Uh, do you think some of that Western, um, musicians are going to sort of try to get inspired by K Pop?

Emerson Unger: I think they already have, I mean, Taylor swift, when she came out with her, her, her big single, um, you know, Uh, never had another, like me, I’m trying to think of what the exact name of it. That was, it was super duper rainbowy colorful. And I was like, oh, that’s K-pop. And then when Justin did his Yummy, I was like, wow, look at all those bright colors.

That’s K-pop I know it’s a rumor, but like Camila Cabello, like tried to hook up with one of the members of VTS, which I thought was funny. Like they were like, no, no, no, we don’t publicly date. They didn’t know how to handle it. Um, I was very happy to see their collaboration with Halsey. Um, you know, I felt like her music apart from VTS is, is, is very, can be very heavy with a lot of messages and not that BTS doesn’t have messages.

They do, but their messages are just different. They’re not about, you know, They try to bring the positivity, the how to make things better about life. Um, you know, it’s all about loving yourself, finding yourself, finding the best part of who you could be. Um, so they have very strong messages like that. And I just also think that K-Pop.

Out of any genre of music does escapism and spectacle, like no one else on the planet. Um, and so if you are somebody and this is true of the fandom, um, someone who’s experienced trauma or heartache, or you’re sad, you naturally gravitate to it. I have, I have called it in the past your Prozac, but literally you can not.

It just takes you out of a negative Headspace. And so during this pandemic to see what BTS has done with Dynamite and Butter like that to me was just golden. It was just golden. It was a smart move.

Tijana: I love it, Butter, the song. And I heard it first when you shared it with me. So I’m definitely learning a lot about a K-pop from you.You mentioned that K-pop they’re sort of set to a certain standard. So they have high moral values pay attention to modesty tell me a little bit about that.

Emerson Unger: It’s just, you know,  a lot that goes on, but apart from like, you know, being a role model to kids and, you know, representing the country and the culture, you also, um, You know, you have to have high standards, you have to be able to sing.

You have to be able to dance. You have to be able to talk publicly all of those things, and you must do them really, really, really well. For a very long time. Like if you go to a K-Pop concert, there is no opening act. BTS takes the stage and they’re on the stage pretty much with the exception of, um, costume changes for about two to three hours, straight of heavy dancing and singing live while dancing Americans don’t understand.

Nah, there’s a track underneath, but they’re actually singing live like Becky on don’t play. Like his voice is real.

Tijana: What’s the future of K-Pop?

Emerson Unger: Um, the American market was something that K-Pop, didn’t think it could crack or could have staying power and BTS has shown that, you know, you can actually get, you know, and be here and considered, you know, artists here in America. Um, so I just want to make sure that that continues to happen and grow. And then moving forward, I feel like I really want our Asian American community to be represented in this country. I hope for the future, apart from BTS, having a beautiful, mandatory military service and that being done really quickly and more idols coming and Becky on doing a tour, um, I would really love to see Korean American idols come home and have a place here in America so that the next generation can choose to go to Korea or they can choose to stay here in America, whatever they want to do, but have that opportunity.

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