Fan Perspectives: Isabelle T. from London

Isabelle T lives in London, where she is a full time student. She has been interested in music from a very early age and got her first taste of the crazy world of KPop in 2010. Her interest stretches far beyond the music itself - she has been learning Korean for two years and hopes to continue her studies there one day.

How did you first discover Kpop? 

My first introduction to Kpop was in October of 2010. A new girl had just joined the school (let's call her Emma) who spent most of her time at the back of the class squealing over her phone. Further information revealed a feminine looking man by the name of Sungmin and a strange group of men who were deemed to be far too numerous and all look the same by the rest of the class. No one was really willing to listen to Emma when she wanted to share her information about this "Kpop" with the exception of me. I therefore received the full force of a fangirl's fangirlings most every day for the ensuing year. I should emphasize that this really was nothing to do with an interest in Kpop at this stage, I was just trying to be a good friend. This point can best be emphasized by my reaction to Emma telling me that 2NE1 had just won an award for best female music video:

Emma: 2NE1 just won best female music video!

Me: But they're a boy band........right? No? Okay my bad........

Knowing that I was into female artists (think Taylor Swift and Pixie Lott), Emma tried showing me Gee and Genie in early 2011. I maintained that that kind of music wasn't for me but Emma triumphed when she caught me humming the hook from "Gee" later in the day! Things didn't progress until the summer, however, when "The Boys" was released. Emma texted me that SNSD had an English song, which I proceeded to watch. The YouTube sidebar then began sucking me into the vortex of Kpop, a feeling which I am sure is familiar to many fangirls!

Recognizing "Gee" and then "Genie" from what Emma had showed me, I re-watched them and then began to investigate their other the time school had restarted I had been Girls' Generation at least! I only knew of about four of five groups and still had a very long way to go!
There was also the problem of how to acquaint my staunchly anti-Kpop friends with the fact that I had now been "corrupted" by the "dark side" (well, more like the "bubblegum pink side"!). I made my confession in stages:

"Well... maybe Girls' Generation aren't so bad after all. I mean they have a few good songs, but that's about it."

(A fortnight later)

"Ok I'll admit it. I'm a fan of Girls' Generation but I still think Super Junior and the rest of them are really weird."

(Another fortnight passes)

"Actually Super Junior are okay...well....maybe...... I mean......their songs are pretty catchy.....and they don't ALL look the same..."

(You can see where this is going!)

2012 brought the discovery of the world of KPop outside of SNSD and SuJu and I have never looked back since. I have now even surpassed Emma in my interest for KPop! My current bias list includes IU, poor Ladies' Code, *old* Spica (if you see what I mean...), T ara, and of course Girls' Generation. I am not such a big fan of boy bands but do enjoy UKISS, EXO and Block B.

Have you found a community of Kpop lovers? 

I was never particularly aware of any major sort of London community of Kpop lovers until recently, but at the Super Show 5 stop in London, a multitude of fans appeared, so perhaps I'm just out of the loop! I would say that the main place to chance upon fellow Kpoppers would probably be a small restaurant/kpop store in Tottenham - 'Seoul Bakery' - which has been visited by the likes of Siwon and SHINee, who (in Siwon's case) have quite literally left their mark on the store! There are also a few websites dedicated to Kpop/general korean stuff, including Korean Class MASSIVE and United Kpop.

Personally, I have slightly struggled in finding fellow Kpop fans that I can relate to, mainly because most of the ones that I meet are more of the 'OPPASARANGHAE!!!!!!!!' kind, who are very much into idol TV and dramas and anything else featuring pretty boys (!). As someone who prefers to look at my Kpop more critically (with regards to both the music and its message/context), although we both share a love for Korean music, we actually don't have that much in common. I'm not saying that I never ever (*starts singing Jiyeon’s song*) give in to my inner fangirl, just that website of choice would be generally be a review site such as Critical Kpop or Pop Reviews Now as opposed to Tumblr!

What's this we hear about you auditioning for SM?! 

Whilst spending an enjoyable ten days in Seoul last August, I took my life in my hands and went for a walk-in audition for none other than the (in)famous SM entertainment at the Posco P&S Tower in Gangnam. As a white Caucasian girl who is taller than most Korean men, I didn’t really think that I stood a chance, but thought that I might as well give it a shot! On the website it clearly stated that application opened at half past one, but upon entering at 1:30 on the dot I found myself to be 216th in line. My advice to any prospective auditionees: be early! I was given an application form – thankfully in Korean and English – asking for the usual details (including height and weight!) as well as any past experience I may have had (I wasn’t sure if school choir counted!). Upon inquiry, I was also informed in no uncertain terms that no, you may not apply as both a singer and a dancer; no, you may not sing more than one song and no, you may not sing for more than one minute. This left me with rather limited options. In a snap decision I opted for Spica’s "You don’t love me."

Everyone received a sticker with their number (in my case, 216) on it, to wear on the left side of their chest. Mine refused to stick. Even when an assistant smothered in little bits from the edge of the sticker sheet, it refused point blank to stay put. This resulted in a massive panic every two minutes as I looked down and found the sticker nowhere to be found. Eventually it would be discovered on the floor/in my bag/in my hair and all would return to normal. As if my appearance wasn’t drawing enough attention to me anyway…

Mercifully and miraculously, when I joined the queue, I found myself just in front of possibly the only two English-speaking foreigners there, and we then began discussing our biases and song choices. The snake of people moved at a decent rate and so we were in the audition room by about two o’ clock. Somewhat naively, I assumed that I would be auditioning soon…how wrong I was!

The audition room was a huge auditorium filled with other children and teenagers. We filed into a row at the back and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

After about 45 minutes I started squinting at the stickers of the people who were then auditioning. They were numbers 70-79. There was no way we were getting on stage anytime soon!

Sitting in on the auditions for the best part of two and a half hours gave me a good insight into the quality of the applicants. To put it simply: not many of them were any good. If the people in charge of filming the auditions thought that you were any good, you were asked to perform another item. This honour was bestowed on scarcely ten people, out of more than 120. The ratio of girls to boys was about 10:1 with the majority of people auditioning as singers. Around 30% were dancers and a handful were actors/rappers. Engrish was very much in evidence, with many trying to sing in English (to varying degrees of success…). One of the most amusing points in the whole process was when a Korean boy opening his rap piece with ‘welcome motherf***ers’, causing raised eyebrows among us internationals!

Auditionees went up in tens. Each person down the line was filmed performing their one minute piece (you were cut off if it went on too long) with the exception of the dancers, who waited until the end and then all had to freestyle together. Some people were the only dancers in their group of ten and had the stage to themselves, whilst some had to compete for attention amongst four of five others. At half past four our group finally made it onto the stage. The lady in charge of filming the camera (there was no proper judge, so to speak) looked thoroughly bored, and with the quality of the applicants, I don’t really blame her! I delivered my rendition of "You don’t love me" with style and panache, complete with cheesy pointing at the camera and winking (!), but was cut off abruptly after the one minute mark. The whole group was then ignominiously hurried off the stage and out of the room to make way for the next batch and that was it. The experience was over.

Needless to say, I did not get a call back! However it was an incredibly interesting and crazy experience (albeit slightly tedious) which I would gladly repeat, given the opportunity. Any label bringing their global audition to London had better watch out…!

What are you listening to currently? Who would you want to see perform in person?

The most recent releases that I have been looping consistently are Ailee's "Don't Touch Me" and Jieun's "Don't look at me like that" - the former for it's uplifting vocals and irresistible hook and the latter for its incredibly poignant combination of tenderness and desperation (and as someone whose friends never let her forget that her ultimate bias is twelve years her senior, I thoroughly sympathize with the message of the song!!). Though not quite as hot off the press, I am also still listening to EXID's "Up and Down." Granted, I wouldn't touch the choreography with a barge pole, but the song is a quality release with a saxaphone-esque hook to rival Orange Caramel's most recent offering!

As for albums, I have thoroughly enjoyed the latest Taetiseo release. It was fun and girly, with beautiful vocals to boot. It will not revolutionise the music industry or inspire great social movements, but not all pop music needs to. Sometimes it's nice to turn on a little bit of light music and momentarily forget that mountain of essays you (still) haven't done, and "Holler" is the album for just that.

I must also throw in a good word for the lovely ladies of Orange Caramel. "Catallena" was/is/forever will be my jam!

Always a Sone at heart, my dream would be to see the Divine Nine perform in person, but given the current circumstances, the chances of that happening are about as likely as Big Bang having that 2014 comeback...I shall have to settle for rocking up to an OT8 concert in my Blanc (and Eclare?) sunglasses (why is there no London model?!) but even that is somewhat unlikely: the world according to Girls' Generation consists of East Asia and the USA at most!


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