[Herald Interview] ‘Digging deeper into Korean Wave’


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One summer night in 2016, David Kim and Danny Kim were drinking at a pub. Then college students, they were interning at an advertising company and music distribution company, respectively. Company life was draining. They didn’t feel like they were making something of themselves. After hours of complaining, there came the question: Why don’t we make something of our own?

YouTube was booming, and so was K-pop. The two noticed a dearth of K-pop content produced by Koreans in English. A few days later, they began shooting videos. 

David Kim (Left) and Danny Kim (DKDKTV)

DKDKTV — Danny Kim and David Kim TV — has grown into one of the most prominent YouTube channels covering the K-pop scene, with some 378,000 subscribers. When Danny and David talk about K-pop, major media outlets such as CNN, Billboard and Al-Jazeera cite their views.

“After we got 100,000 subscribers, I thought we had found our thing– a good niche that nobody else was doing,” Danny said.

What makes DKDKTV special?

As K-pop has become a global phenomenon, the internet is flooded with related content. Searching “K-pop” on YouTube, hundreds of thousands of videos pop up. To stand out from more typical content, DKDKTV has focused on creating content “no one else can make.”

Like many YouTubers, Danny and David also started the channel by churning out reaction videos. They watched newly released K-pop music videos and recorded their reactions. People liked the videos, and subscribers followed. After a year or so, the two found YouTube was getting saturated with identical reaction videos.

“The structure of the (reaction videos) format is very limited. There is only a set number of reactions you can do on certain music videos. We thought we could provide a lot more than reaction videos to our subscribers,” Danny said.

After ditching the format, the two worked on expanding the content spectrum. Under the slogan “Digging deeper into Korean Wave,” DKDKTV now presents video blogs, street interviews, lyrics explanations and basically anything involving K-pop.

DKDKTV’s killer content has become “KPOP Explained by a Korean.”

“I saw many people on the internet translate the lyrics of K-pop songs. However, the translations often lacked an understanding of the cultural context of the lyrics. Moreover, many times, these incorrect and inaccurate interpretations of the songs would get thousands of retweets on Twitter and people would take them as the answers,” Danny said.

Danny and David thought their precise, native translations would help K-pop fans from other backgrounds enjoy the songs. In 10-minute videos, either Danny or David explains the meaning of the lyrics line by line, expounding on the more complicated terms and their nuance.

Followers instantly reacted to the content. A video in which David explains the lyrics of IU’s “BBIBBI” has garnered over 620,000 views since its release in October, while a video on BTS’ “Idol” posted in August has over 550,000 views. Now there are reaction videos being made by those watching DKDKTV.

In a bid to help K-pop fans understand the cultural context, the two don’t shy away from sensitive issues such as gender politics or the complicated shared history with Japan.

When rapper SanE triggered heated debate with his feminist-bashing release “Feminists,” Danny explained the lyrics by also introducing ongoing gender-related controversies in Korean society.

When Jimin of BTS was slammed for wearing a T-shirt depicting the Hiroshima atomic bomb, Danny met a Korean atomic bomb survivor in person and delivered a voice that is rarely heard.

“We cover the surface of the Korean Wave, but we also dig into the meanings and the cultural context behind it, which I think is what differentiates our channel from others. Since we have been living in Korea for more than 20 years, I believe we can act as a bridge between K-pop and international fans,” Danny said. 

Danny Kim (DKDKTV)

Besides the channel’s unique content, David counted the active communication between subscribers and the creators as key to DKDKTV’s popularity.

“It’s simple. Just get the subscribers what they want. If you upload a video, subscribers put on comments and give you feedback. You can see what the masses want from you. Just catch that and make it into the video. Then people will directly converge into views,” David said.

Danny and David ask questions on Twitter like “What do you want to know about ordinary Koreans and their ideas?” before they go out and shoot street interviews. After looking at the topics followers request, the two pick the one that gets the most likes. 

For an upcoming street interview, for example, they found their subscribers were interested in Korea’s year-end entertainment awards. They wanted to know what Korean’s think about the ceremonies and fairness of the awards. So Danny and David went out onto to the street and asked those questions to people in Seoul on behalf of their followers.

Being a fan himself is another piece of essential motivation for working as a K-pop content creator, David said.

“The normal way to become a K-pop expert is actually loving it and consuming it. I’ve been a huge fan of Big Bang and BTS. Since I was in middle school, I spent all my time watching K-pop videos in a reading room. Even now, I watch all relevant K-pop content such as variety shows and music videos to keep myself in the field.”

In July, David finally met Big Bang’s Seungri in person.

“I never, in my life, thought that I would actually get to meet Seungri! It was such a mind-blowing experience to see him filming the “Where R U From” music video. Indeed it was one of the best days of my life!” he wrote in a YouTube video caption, expressing his excitement.

“When I leveraged YouTube influence to have the opportunity to meet Seungri, I thought ‘Oh, (starting) YouTube was a good move,’” David said.

Why K-pop?

Unlike David, Danny said he was not interested in K-pop much until he started an internship at a music distribution company. As he was exposed to K-pop music in the office all day, he slowly came to appreciate the songs’ sophisticated qualities.

“I think K-pop is a very different thing from what you can find in the rest of the world. It’s like a hypercapitalist form of music,” Danny said.

Hypercapitalism underlying the K-pop scene often has negative impacts, such as in the mistreatment of young artists, but on the other hand, Danny said it’s part of what “makes the music so refined.”

“(The agencies) exactly know what the audience wants. They have special concepts for each group because they want them to make it in this super saturated market. I think that aspect makes the groups strive for different things and it makes K-pop scene interesting,” Danny said.

Danny added that “perfectly crafted” characteristics of idol group members, often created by agencies, are another factor that appeals to K-pop fans.

“A lot of K-pop fans are not just consuming music, but consuming the star’s character or personality. I call it a ‘fantasy.’ Fans are consuming fantasies of these perfectly crafted men or women who can dance, sing and have the perfect personality. It’s the ultimate form of hypercapitalism music, but I don’t think it’s wrong,” Danny said.

 

David Kim (DKDKTV)

Not being limited in the music itself is another appeal of K-pop, according to David.

“K-pop is not just a musical thing. Most K-pop fans approach the songs through music videos, which have a lot of visual aspects. The artists are dressed in a very good way, have makeup on, and the aesthetics of the videos are on a different level,” David said.

“Also, music videos have stories that are connected. It’s like an all-in-one package of arts, rather than just music.”

Rise of BTS

In the same context, Danny and David heaped praise on Big Hit Entertainment’s strategy.

“BTS has the whole BTS universe. If you see their music videos from the beginning to now, they are all connected. If you dive into the BTS, you have to watch all the videos until the end to know the conclusion or understand the theories,” David said.

Among the countless idol groups in the K-pop scene, BTS could take over the world as the group tackles social issues and heals people’s wounded minds, David added.

“BTS spreads meaningful messages whereas other groups often talk about love or how cool they are. As those universal messages touched so many people all over the world, I think that helped BTS go so global.”

Smart use of social media has also helped BTS gain explosive popularity, Danny said.

“Big Hit Entertainment was the first one who let their artists be free on social media. A lot of social media users felt (the group’s active communication) was very authentic and genuine, since social media is all about expressing yourself.”

Asked about who could be the next BTS, Danny said no group could replace BTS in the next 10 years, citing the impact legendary group Seo Taiji and Boys had on the K-pop scene some 25 years ago.

“BTS is like Seo Taiji of this generation. Asking when the next BTS is going to emerge, nobody can know because nobody knew what the next thing would be after Seo Taiji. Korean pop music has never been this big, ever. BTS is also an unprecedented figure in the entire K-pop history. It’s really difficult to imagine.”

David added, “It’s like there’s never ever going to be another Beetles.”

The growing presence of BTS has been directly reflected in the channel’s success.

“The increase in our channel’s subscribers has paralleled with BTS’s success. The more BTS is successful; more people become K-pop fans in general. That enlarges the pool of our audience as well,” Danny said.

When Danny and David had a chance to see BTS in real life at the 2018 Genie Music Awards in November, thousands of fans flocked to DKDKTV to see their experience and hear their impressions.

(DKDKTV)

Now two years since that night at the pub, Danny and David work as full-time YouTubers. The two started YouTube for fun, but the channel has grown into a robust business.

“More than anything, our No. 1 goal is to become representatives in voicing Korean opinion of the K-pop culture to English-speaking audiences. We want to be ‘the guys’ that people talk to when asking about what’s happening in the K-pop world,” David said.

“In the long term, we want to be the ambassadors of Korean Wave. We are trying to expand our content, like to K-dramas or movies in the future,” Danny added.

By Park Ju-young (jupark@hearldcorp.com)


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