Musikalischer Mittwoch: K-Pop Confessions

Among the other things that have happened in the time I’ve been avoiding my blogging duties has been my inadvertent  plunge into Korean soaps (which are really more like  telenovelas in that they have a defined arc–but they are shorter than a Latin American TN) and through this, into….<shamefaced expression> K-Pop.

Now, I was already a fan of My Korean Husband (which has been in the queue for a Time Vampire for a while…since before I went radio silent around here–it’s fabulous and I’ve spent way more time reading cartoons there than I ought), so I’d heard about K-Pop (and Korean Soaps) before, but it’s really all Amazon’s fault I actually started exploring.  They put a bunch of Korean shows up on Prime, and I’m a sucker for subtitles (“Oh, hey, look!  I’ve never watched anything from Korea before…except those random parts of Lost….”) .  Really, you can only dangle foreign media before me for so long and I just have to give in.  It’s a problem I have.  But I digress.

I got sucked into the soap Protect the Boss .  I thought that would be it.  I’d watch the show, become a little more aware of the rest of the world.  Done and done.

Then I wound up with the theme song stuck in my head.

A theme song by a K-Pop girl band called A-Pink.

What results is both my earworm for this week and a combination Musikalischer Mittwoch/Secret Heresy.

The immediate ear worm problem is called “Please Allow Us to Love*.”  But in procuring a copy of this from iTunes to put on an embarrassingly high playlist rotation, I thought I might as well get the whole show soundtrack, right?  Of course right.  And, oh, hey, maybe I’ll just look into other albums from some of these artists….

I’m more ashamed of admitting how much I’m enjoying this whole K-Pop thing than I am of knowing the words to “There’s a Tear in My Beer” (that may be a bad baseline, because as Kristy can attest, I’m not ashamed at all of knowing the words to that one….I should be, though).  I’m at least as ashamed as I am of some of the German Schlager stars I listen to**, or of the Celine Dion albums on my shelf (Shut up.).

K-Pop is, well, cheesy.  It’s all the bizarre cuteness you find in East Asia (that I don’t get….seriously, outside of the Idea Channel analysis of Hello Kitty as Minimalism, I don’t get Hello Kitty.  Or Pokemon.  Or any of the other crazy animated-stuff-with-big-eyes.  I get it’s a thing, but I don’t get why it’s a thing), plus bubble-gum-pop, maybe a touch of electronica, heavy doses of saccharine and inevitably performed by energetic and highly attractive people.  “Please Allow Us to Love” is a girl band, but there’s also an inordinately high volume of boy bands.  And when it’s not the peppy dance beat sucking you in, it’s the whole melodramatic ballad thing  (“Protect You” by Kim Jae Joong, I’m looking at you).  I kind of feel like I should be a 14 year old for my listeing to this to be truly acceptable.

It’s also–naturally–in Korean.  And I speak zero Korean.  I might actually speak less than zero Korean.  Even after a full TV series, I understand more Swabisch than I do Korean.  Hell, I know more Hindi than Korean.  It’s the first time I’ve watched that much of a show in a foreign language and learned so little.    So, clearly, I’m getting zilch out of the lyrics.  Which may be to my advantage because with a sound that bubble-gum, I doubt the lyrics are really deep enough to justify commentary.

So, nothing for me in the lyrics, and since we’ve already established that the sound itself is pop-cheese, I  have no respectable way to defend my obsession.  But, even without a way to explain it to myself and others,  “Please Allow Us to Love” has been on repeat in my queue for almost as long as the theme for “Por Ella…Soy Eva” (which, at least there I understood my obsession–I mean, Jaime Camil?  I know, right?).  And I’m not going to say I was dancing around the kitchen to this song, but there may have been some flailing in something vaguely approaching the same rhythm as the song.

I suppose it boils down to the fact that it’s fun.  It’s upbeat (in contrast to my mood of late).  Sure, it’s completely junior-high, but it’s irresistibly peppy.

All that is rational and logical says that I should stop now.  I shouldn’t embarrass myself any further.  I should limit this K-Pop exploration to the handful of songs from Protect the Boss and the few others I’ve found from artists on that album.  I certainly shouldn’t actually follow up on the My Korean Husband videos on K-Pop that I haven’t had time to watch yet.  I’m already harboring a playlist in my car that sports a lot of German Schlager musik, Bollywood songs, 80s country and Mexican Ranchera & Tejano.  It’s already like a really uncool musical United Nations.  Do I really want to include K-Pop?  Shouldn’t I be worried about cultural appropriation issues or something?

Or should I give in and just embrace the cheese?

*Probably on YouTube, but I didn’t check.
**Not Claudia Jung.  She’s awesome and I have no shame over listening to her stuff….but some of the others.  Let’s just say that unless I’m a 50-something German Hausfrau in Karlsruhe or something, there’s really no excuse here…





Colombian Coffee

Would we have coffee with…Shakira (aka Isabel Mebarek Ripoll)?

Kristy: Definitely. I’m a fan of Shakira’s but not the biggest by a long shot. I own one album (and perhaps a few downloaded tracks). Until Cammy floated me a copy I was unaware of her latest release. But I find her to be a very interesting person. In addition to being talented she’s also obviously very intelligent. It’s funny thought, because while being smart and independent were huge parts of her image in Latin American 10 years ago, in the US she’s kind of allowed the image of the exotic dippy blonde to take over. At first I thought she was a victim of poor record company promotion, but it’s gone on so long I’ve started to think it’s strategy. So I’d like to have coffee with her to ask her about it. My current theory is that she thought her chances of success in the US were higher if she was just an exotic sex kitten than if American realized there was more behind the shimmy. But I’d like verification on that. I’d also like to have a general conversation with her about things ranging from the Columbian poltical situation to the position of women in the music recording industry. And I feel like I should buy her a cup to thank her for always continuing charity work no matter how big she got.

Cammy:  I’ll have coffee with her, if only to demand a return to her pink-hair, angry-chick-rock-ness.  While her music still sounds great by and large, seeing a music or appearance from Shakira is a kind of let down when you are even passingly familiar with the days when her hair had pink streaks and she was rocking out “Si Te Vas” and “Ojos Asi.”  I’m eager to hear what answers she gives to Kristy about the image change (I might even be willing to hold off on my return to pink-hair demands).  And will she be funny?  Usually smart people are funny, but….And after Kristy’s done with Colombian politics?  I’m gonna ask her about the REALLY important stuff:  Mexican remakes of Colombian telenovelas!  Where does she stand on “En los tacones de Eva” vs. “Por Ella Soy Eva”?  Is she all about “Yo Soy Betty La Fea” or is it “La Fea Mas Bella”?  You think I’m kidding, but I want to know.

Note:  The Management would like to apologize for the late appearance of this post.  Technical difficulties (read: Cammy screwed it up) happened.

Musikalischer Mittwoch: Song of the Summer, No “Mistake”

I’ve met lots of people who have “songs of the summer”–songs that may not lyrically define their summer seasonal experience, but which, for some reason or other, crop up through their summer in a way that renders them part of the essential soundtrack of every warm-weather memory for a given year.  Last year I had Sarah Harmer’s “Captive” and Hey Ocean!’s “Make a New Dance Up.”  One summer in high school it was BNL’s “One Week.”  These songs–and usually it’s only one or two–survive multiple rounds on repeat and become unforgettable parts of our summers.

This year, one of the two songs was “Desliz” a duet from Lucero and Joan Sebastian.  Obviously, Spanish practice via telenovelas with Lucero led me to her music, and, well, I’m never one to avoid good music, no matter what the language. So, I bought the newest album from the Amazon MP3 store.  The whole album (Un Lu*Jo) is a great collecton in total, but “Desliz” just amused the hell outta me.

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What Cammy Did On Her Summer Vacation: Summer of the Telenovela

We’re baaaaaaaaaack! Estamos aquí!

Among other things that have taken me from the blog this summer has been my continued efforts to re-learn what little Spanish I ever knew.  Despite having grown up in Texas, I’ve never been fluent in Spanish.  In fact, if not for the kind assistance and interminable patience of Kristy and Mary, I would not have managed the C I got in our shared Spanish class at William and Mary (the one semester I dared to take beyond the additional semester of Spanish required to fulfill my language requirement–it’s also the class that resulted in Kristy and I really meeting Mary, so even if I’d have failed, it would have been a win).

Kristy has long been telling me I should be watching telenovelas (and providing adequate guidance and support for exploration) both for entertainment and to strengthen my knowledge and understanding of the language,  and, years later, this message finally made its way through my thick skull.  I had started with an impulse purchase of Soy Tu Dueña on DVD.  Though highly edited from its original airing*, it was totally addictive.  I was beyond amused.  I’ve sampled others since, particularly those featuring the actors I became familiar with through that first novela.  The edited DVD thing was a downer, though, so when I heard that Televisa had a new comedy telenovela starting Lucero, star of Soy Tu Dueña, I thought it would be a great way to start watching a telenovela in its full run, no edits.  Sadly, you get geo-blocked from watching episodes on the Televisa website, but I was delighted to find that in July, the US Spanish language network, Univision was set to start airing the show.

Even though the Univision station in my area (literally the only Spanish language, over-air broadcaster in my state) is low power and just barely pulls in on the rabbit ears at my home, I was set to start watching in July.

It’s called Por Ella, Soy Eva. The literal translation is “For Her, I’m Eva” though apparently when translating to English someone thought it would be better to call it “Her, Me, and Eva” which is kinda stupid–I think the literal translation was A-OK, so why fuck with it, I ask?  I’ll give you my summary first:  Jaime Camil, cross dressing to clear his name and win (back) the love of his life.

The more “official” version is that womanizer Juan Carolos Caballero (the aforementioned and HIGHLY attractive Jaime Camil) is forced to live a double life as a woman, Eva, in order to clear his name from a theft he was framed for committing, and, more importantly, to win back the love of his life, Helena Moreno (played by the always- awesome Lucero–who incidentally is also a fantastic singer with some great music)–the single mother he had originally intended to dupe out of her project (to develop a particular community in the state of Guerrero into a family-and-environmentally-friendly tourism destination).  Along the way, his time in Eva’s pantyhose teaches him many valuable lessons about sexual equality and the impact of machismo on women (honestly, if sticking men in pantyhose were that effective at curing men of being macho assholes, Leggs would be worth more than Apple).

At this point we’re still early in the series (the Mexican run is estimated to be around 140 episodes*).  Not too late for you to jump into the funny if your Spanish allows.  Hulu Plus has the whole series so far (and also, all of Soy Tu Dueña–in its original, un-edited form) if you’re a member.  If not, there are some sites with summaries available to get you caught up.  And if the strength of your Spanish is worrying you, don’t let it.  You really will be amazed at how much you can follow without the benefit of understanding the language, and more amazing is how much it’s possible to pick up through viewing.  Sites like the blog Caray, Caray!! have some fabulous English language recaps of the episodes (if you read them, BE NICE and leave a thank you for the recapper…).  I have only read one of their recaps for this particular series (been too busy to read others), but I’ve read recaps in the past for series that are completed and they were highly entertaining and informative in and of themselves (SNARK!), as well as being a great way to ensure that you get the important elements even if your Spanish fails you.

And it IS funny.  I had my fears about how amusing I would find the show.  Humor can be so closely related to a culture that it just evades outsiders.  I can’t be 100% sure I’m finding the same things funny that a Mexican would, but I’m definitely amused.  There’s still a dramatic drive to the show (I’ve yelled at characters not to be stupid as much as I’ve laughed, but this is to be expected because in the end it IS a telenovela, not an episode of Sabado Gigante).  Jaime Camil, as I’ve mentioned, is hot, but he’s also great at this comedic role.  He also makes a strangely nice-looking woman (to the extent that I ‘m qualified to judge).  And Lucero continues to make me think she’s the Reba McEntire of South of the Border as she is pretty damned funny herself in the more comedic moments given to her character***.  The supporting cast is also great (another lesson I’ve learned about telenovelas is that the supporting characters and cast can be even more entertaining than the leads, though in this case it’s balanced nicely).  I’m just as invested in their outcomes as I am in watching Juan Carlos learn how the world works when you’re stuck wearing heels.  Mimi de la Rosa is awesome (“La vida es color de rosa! La vida es felicidad!  Llueven flores!  Llueven flores!“), and the whole family dynamic with the Fernando and Marsela and their kids is great (though, it’s hard not to snicker at how 80s names arrived late to Mexico:  the teenaged Contreras kids are named Jennifer and Kevin…).  And Eugenia?  I’m completely touched every time she’s on-screen.

Humor, characters and language lessons aside, it’s also kind of educational to see what it is that other countries are tackling through their media.  In this case the over-arching theme of the impact of male-dominated sexist behavior is a definite reminder that for as far as we still have to go with women’s lib up here in the States, gal’s south of the Rio Grande are fighting some of the cultural norms we ditched by the 70s.  Not to say that all of Latin America is stuck in the 50s as far as women’s rights are concerned, but their pockets of machismo are more widespread than ours.

You also get weird cultural lessons like how absurdly bad some of the product placement is in these shows (if you’re just starting, the further you go, the more blatant it gets), and just how popular spandex appears to be in Mexican fashion (I think it must be the national fiber down there).  And if you’ve got good ears, you can have fun trying to spot the differences in accent (I’m convinced–based on how bad my own Spanish is–that noticing accents is more about having an ear for musical sounds than anything….I’ve been able to note several regional differences for certain characters, even though I couldn’t actually translate what they’d said).

As a linguistic and cultural education exercise, this series is one of the most humorous and entertaining ways you could go.  If Juan Carlos can learn to understand women by wearing their shoes, I’m happy to learn to understand Mexico by watching its comedies.

*Check that:  Between the time I drafted this and my check of the Wikipedia article this morning, apparently it’s up to 150 capitulos according to the Mexican airing schedule.  ZOMG, I’ve got SO FAR TO GO! REVISED AGAIN: Now Wikipedia is showing it will run to 155…
**I am VERY pissed to find out that just about every telenovela you can find on DVD has been heavily edited.  There’s no such thing as a DVD or DVD collection of a Mexican telenovela as it aired originally. According to the primary outlet for the telenovelas produced by Televisa in Mexico, their take is that such a collection would be so expensive, no one would buy it.  To this I say BULLSHIT.  I would TOTALLY fork over for a full copy of Soy Tu Dueña and even though Por Ella Soy Eva isn’t finished yet, I already know it’s more than awesome enough to justify purchase..  If you look at the full run of US TV series that many of us have, the number of episodes from, say, the full run of Babylon 5 or Battlestar Galactica, is approximately the same as an entire telenovela, and many of us paid the $150-200 involved in those investments.
***For the record, I totally want to see a concert line up of Lucero, Reba and Claudia Jung.  Three languages, three countries, a whole lotta awesome.

Gringas Guide to Telenovelas

It’s becoming clearer and clearer that US run television stations are not interested in even trying to keep daytime dramas alive.  Prime time is full of soap opera-y shows but if I may say so, many of them are… what’s the word… appallingly bad.  Which means that the one place left for us to turn is the delicious world of telenovelas.  Fortunately, it is an extremely delicious world.  As I once explained to a friend–Latin cheese is spicier.  And doesn’t mess around with any of that low-fat crap.

But even though the word “telenovela” is generally translated “soap opera” they aren’t exactly the same.  If you’re going to dive into this strange new world there are some things you should know.  Don’t worry, It’s My TV, It’s My Peanut Butter is here to help.

Before we go further let me admit upfront some of this information is dated.  I live in a horrible, horrible place where the only Spanish language channel you can get without paying exorbitant extra monthly fees is Gol TV.  So I haven’t been able to watch telenovelas in several years.  Fortunately Telemundo is apparently looking at increasing their online offerings, so there may be hope for me.

“But wait, Kristy!” you say, “Grande problemo!  I don’t speak Spanish!”  First of all, it’s “problema.”  Second of all, you should learn Spanish.  If for no other reason than being able to act superior and say, “You know, Shakira’s Spanish language stuff was soooo much better.”  Third of all, no hay problema.  You don’t really need to know Spanish.  You can figure out the gist of things without it.    And you can still enjoy the hot shirtless men.  Did I mention the hot shirtless men?  Why are you not watching these already?  But to help you out, here are a few key Spanish words and phrases that they might not have taught you in high school Spanish, but which are important for understanding telenovelas:

“engañar” “to deceive” In telenovelas a lot of people get engañado.  It’s usually key to the plot.  This word may often be used as a euphemism for “cheated on.”

“cualquiera”  One of my favorites though it sadly seems to be falling out of favor.  Literally it means “whatever” but in this form it’s usually used to refer to a woman.  A woman who is something so low you don’t even want to say it.  Because the word probably wouldn’t get past the censors.  Example:  Me engañaste con esa… cualquiera! (You deceived me with that… whatever!)

“amante” “Lover”  Don’t think I need to explain why this one is important.

“La SIDA” “AIDS”  Back in 2000 every Peruvian telenovela I saw had at least one character who contracted AIDS.  That plotline seems to have fallen by the wayside, probably because it interferes too much with the sexypants times.

“de época” This is a term used to describe a certain variety of novelas that take place in a different historical era.  They are their own brand of scrumptious.

“mujer decente” A woman of upstanding moral character.  Often our heroine is una mujer decente, but this is less of an absolute than it once was.

“Un trago fácil” Literally “an easy drink.”  Here it means metaphorically the opposite of “Una mujer decente.”

“casa chica”  The place where a man keeps his mistress and her kids.  Keep in mind that last time I checked a man in Mexico could put his mistress and her kids on his health insurance policy.  Casa chicas are an institution.

Okay… other things you need to know.

1.  Telenovelas tell one story.  One horribly convoluted story, but like a novel, they have a beginning, middle and an end.  They are by design finite and rarely last more than a year.

2.  Because telenovelas tell only one story, sometimes it’s expedient to skip ahead twenty years.  They do not recast the adult characters with older versions, so don’t question why said characters have aged remarkably well.  Usually shows are kind enough to give you some visual cue that the characters have aged:  men may grow or lose facial hair, women may straighten their hair or start wearing it up.

3.  Sometimes one character in the middle of a large family will be obviously Eastern European.  No, this is not a sign that she (it’s usually a she) is the child of a Russian milkman.  You are simply meant to accept this.  I’m quite certain this is somehow Trotsky’s fault.

4.  The maid generally knows everything.  For this reason the “nice” characters are usually smart enough to befriend said maids.  The “bad” characters are usually dismissive of them.  Fools.

5.  Do NOT over think the costuming in novelas de época. You’re supposed to be having fun not commenting that a certain style of petticoat didn’t become fashionable till twenty years later.  The most amusing thing about the costuming is that characters only wear period style undergarments when that is all they’re wearing.  So get used to seeing our heroine wearing some 19th century gown, clearly not wearing a corset, then suddenly wearing nothing but a corset.

6.  Telenovela theme songs are frequently earworms.  Sometimes they are better than the novela itself.  (See:  Vias del amor)

7.  The same telenovelas are frequently remade between different countries.  The first telenovela I really followed, Cuando seas mía was a Mexican remake of a Columbian telenovela Café con el olor de mujer.  (Best title ever!)

8.  It was not so long ago that the “good” girl on telenovelas did not have sex before marriage.  That’s less and less the case, but it’s still considered “bad” for a girl to have premarital sex.  Said rule doesn’t apply so much to the menfolk.  But more and more we seem to be getting the “bad girl” heroines who start off skanky then become one man women.

9.  You can wear a micro-mini skirt and still be a good girl.  You can sometimes show cleavage without sacrificing your virtue.  But if a woman wears shorts she is clearly a slut.

10.  If you watch American soaps you’re familiar with the powerful, rich, patriarch stock character.  The Asa Buchanans, the Palmer Courtlands, the Adam Chandlers (let’s have a moment of silence for them).  These guys still exist in telenovelas, but they have a stock female counterpart.  The power/money hungry matriarch.  She usually has an emasculated husband.  She is frequently evil.

11.  All women want babies.  If a woman does not want babies it is either because she is bad or because she is confused and doesn’t realize she desperately wants babies.

12.  Mexican men always have sex with their secretaries.  Clearly this statement is not entirely true, but keep that in mind when the woman constantly gives her husband’s secretary the stink eye.

13.  American or English men are almost always somewhat effeminate.  Live with it.

14.  Telenovelas make more of an effort to appeal to men than American soaps.   The downside of this is fewer women with an achievable, girl-next-door look.  The upside is they still have plenty of super hot shirtless men.

15.  Ranching in Mexico seems to consist of men riding around shirtless on horseback a lot.  I would totally live on a ranch in Mexico if I lived in a telenovela.

16.  Death is slightly more permanent in telenovelas than it is in soap operas or comic books, but only slightly.  And keep in mind, even if the hot guy dies in the first episode, he can still come back as his ambiguously evil secret agent identical twin.  When he does he will probably have a goatee so you know about his moral ambiguity.

17.  In the end, things will almost always end up the way they should.  Evil will be punished, good will be rewarded, and the girl will get the boy.