Wednesday, July 28, 2010

K-pop, etc.: A coolsmurf Q&A

"coolsmurf" is someone's internet alias that has quite a following among Asian pop music enthusiasts, specifically of contemporary Korean music known as K-pop. As a university student, his turf was YouTube and, as avid blogger, was often credited as source of information, photos and even of videos of  K-pop related matters, by users of online forums since about 2007.

"coolsmurf" is one of two people who were key to the spread of videos that became very popular, of teen singer Charice Pempengco's, particularly of her translated and subtitled first appearance in Korea's Star King variety show in 2007 which "coolsmurf" uploaded to his YouTube channel in the same year. (The other key person being Filipino "FalseVoice," whose name appears on the liner notes of Charice's eponymous debut album1 and who uploaded videos of her Little Big Star competition videos, among others.)

"coolsmurf"'s video upload of Charice's first appearance in Star King eventually got the attention of American talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, who, in turn, extended the momentous invitation on television for Charice to guest and sing live on the Ellen show and, subsequently, of Oprah Winfrey's staff in their search for talents for her program's recurring World's Most Talented Kids segment. Because of  "coolsmurf's" and "FalseVoice's" videos, the rest, as they say, is pop music history.

A bit more of "coolsmurf"

"coolsmurf" is Alvin Lim, out of university and now, fittingly, Content Editor of the popular site It was a pleasure exchanging emails with "coolsmurf," and I would like to thank him for his permission to share our Q and A below:

K: What country are you from?
Alvin Lim (coolsmurf): Singapore.

K: When did you start getting interested in K-pop and why?
AL: I was exposed to K-Pop earlier on with Lee Jung Hyun because Hong Kong singer Sammi Cheng used her songs to sing in Cantonese. But it was not until when I watched Princess Hours starring Yoon Eun Hye and that led to me watching her variety show, Xman, which in turn led me to discover Kim Jong Kook and from then on, I was hooked onto K-pop.

K: What was in the Star King segment where Charice appeared that appealed to you enough to sub it and upload (or, was this something you regularly did with all other K-pop related videos in your free time back then)?
AL: I did regular subbing of shows back then. Primarily for Xman and interesting clips. Then a Super Junior fan suggested for me to take a look at this young girl belting out tunes. I didn't think much at first, but when I saw her singing And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going, it just felt like I was there in person even if I wasn't. It was just sensational.

Charice's entrance on Star King episode (2007) singing "And I Am Telling You (I'm Not Going)". Note coolsmurf's English subtitle (bottom of image) and chicklet below the TV station ID "SBS" (right-hand corner).
Duet with Super Junior's Kyu Hyun in the same episode from coolsmurf's defunct YouTube channel.

K: Would you still remember exactly when you uploaded that segment?
AL: It was two weeks after it had aired in Korea.

K: What was your process like, i.e., did you upload as soon as the show was over or did it take days/weeks?
AL: I got the request about a week after the show. Then it took me half a day to complete and upload. Pity it got killed by YouTube at 5million hits and counting due to SBS strict copyright laws (which it had the right to do, of course).

K: I read that you are with as Content Editor, and I am wondering if that's correct. (I did read in your last entries at the "coolsmurf" blog that you were scouting for a job last year, and I am curious as to what came of that.)
AL: Yes. No one offered me a job other than that.

K: I read about your videos as being popular on a "UCC" channel but I am lost in my search concerning that. Is it still active and to what market does it cater?
AL: UCC channel refers to user-created content. It's just a common term to coin video sharing websites in Korea like Daum, Naver, Tagstory, Egloos, etc. YouTube is of course the No.1 website of this kind in the world.

K: Were you aware of the impact your uploads would have given Charice back then?
AL: I wasn't aware. I just did the request for a Super Junior fan who wanted to understand the whole segment. But I guess the Super Junior factor + Charice can really sing + English subs just made it popular in the world.

K: How big do you think is K-pop as a music influence in Southeast Asia? [i.e. Korean drama series are big here in the Philippines and a few make it on radio (i.e. Wonder Girls, Super Junior) but not any bigger than Korean TV actors and actresses, in my opinion, because of their daily exposure...]
AL: It's hard for music to become a big influence outside of their fans because of the short attention span of people these days. Dramas play longer than 3-5 mins of a single song, so that's why people can identify with them more easily. It's also easier to market dramas, movies than music. It's more of selling the image over music these days in Korea even though the latter is still crucial.

K: Who were the Filipino musicians who you were aware of before Charice, and who do you know today? How about [musicians] in your country [who you follow]?
AL: My knowledge is strictly limited in this area. The only one I knew of, and [still know] now is Regine Velasquez because she sang a duet with Hong Kong singer Jacky Cheung before. There isn't much of a following for me in Singapore because of the lack of interest.

K: Charice returned to Star King, as you know, which will be aired in Korea in 3 days2. Do you think that in those years since she appeared, that she had a good following among Koreans before this latest guesting on the show again?
AL: Yes, she has a good following because of her talent and she didn't just come back for the 3rd time on Star King for nothing!

K: With her US career building up, would you say those who follow her in Korea took her seriously as a musician (before today, that is)?
AL: Yes, because she is recognized for her vocals.

K: How do you feel about her as an Asian making it in America, and do you think she really helps in giving other Asians the opportunity she has?
AL: It's great to see that happening and it just gives people hope that dreams do come true in some cases.
Alvin Lim, aka "coolsmurf," (second from left, standing) with Charice (seated, left) and her followers. [Used with permission]
K: I saw that you and Charice did meet in Singapore [in December 20093]. Other than that, though, did you ever get to see her in person before?
AL: That was the one and only time. And it might just stay that way.

1"Charice," the album, peaked at #8 on the Billboard charts when it was released in May 2010.
2The Star King episode was telecast on SBS channel in Korea on 24 July 2010.
3At the finals night of Singapore Idol in which Charice was special guest.


Some notes on subbed YouTube videos, YouTube phenomena

coolsmurf—Alvin, rather—mentioned in the Q & A above that besides the presence of [members of] Super Junior and Charice's singing, that his translation and subbed videos helped make this particular segment popular among viewers outside the K-pop environment since it first appeared on his YouTube channel.

Since then, many of Charice's appearances in many countries, particularly of those in the Philippines that have been recorded and uploaded to YouTube, continue to be translated and subbed specifically targeting English-speaking viewers such as those seen on the channels tmgtw, tmgtwASIA and tmgtworld. These channels are maintained and operated by a loose but dedicated subb'ing group of YouTube users from Asia (the Philippines/Southeast Asia, Japan, Korea), the U.S. and Canada, and Europe (i.e. Germany) collectively known as the "CTV Crew"a.

Similar to what "coolsmurf" and other music/celebrity aficionados had started on sites like YouTube, and with newer, faster technologies that provide users the chance to communicate and exchange notes and information across boundaries, translated videos continue to thrive on YouTube and in many other video sharing sites as well. Most of these types of videos are without the prodding of the featured musicians or celebrities, but were created out of personal or group interest, or from a fan request, or as alternative way of promotion by interest-specific groups. Not all of these types of videos have become as popular as that of  "coolsmurf"'s , nor taken on a true viral status as videos with funny or unusual subjects.

It's a perpetual cat-and-mouse game that these subbed "uploaders" continually dodge, specially with regards copyright complaints and such, as what also happened to "FalseVoice"'s YouTube accounts when the Philippine network ABS-CBN appealed to have his channels banned despite soaring viewership count, or they—the "uploaders" and channel owners—being collectively instrumental in even more doubling the number of YouTube viewers and users daily.

Where it once once the playground of unknown film and video enthusiasts consisting of casual viewers, video addicts, musicians and amateur and professional film creators, today, part of what makes up the phenomenon of YouTube being well ahead of all other sites of similar nature is hosting the entertainment industry's biggest networks, celebrity shows and film outfits which use it as a public repository of their video catalogues.

It's amusing how, in the continuous evolution of these sites, particularly of YouTube, the very entities that were sources of uploads and who appealed for the banning of YouTube's anonymous users for copyright infringement are themselves very active YouTube account holders today, and, as I have observed in some cases in the Philippines, ironically use YouTube clips in network news or feature segments, albeit not all of them giving the video or channel owners due credit.

Anyhow, Charice is just one of many talents who have come out and became success stories in themselves because of YouTube (Arnel Pineda is another Filipino singer who credits the site for his success; and, not to forget, Justin Bieber and Susan Boyle). Because of this, many more, from non-English speaking countries, even, will wish to follow in their footsteps by doing it on the internet, one viewer click, one translated and subbed video at a time.

a"...collectively known as CTV Crew." is an updated entry, 01 Aug 2010.

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