Brendan Kim

Yang the Time Traveler: Constructing Myth and Nationalism through K-pop

Faculty Mentor: David Kasunic, Music Department

Major: History, Music Theory

Funding: Ford Research Mentor's Endowment


Scholarship on K-pop music has focused on its role in constructing Korean identity and nationalism. Jeongsuk Joo argues that K-pop should be seen as the result of interplay between “global forces” rather than as something that is exclusively Korean in identity (2011). Scholars like Dal Yong Jin disagree, arguing that a sense of “Koreanness” once existed in K-pop yet has, in recent years, been compromised to appeal to a broader market (2016). Both scholars rely on the concept of hybridity to explain how the genre came into being. Hybridity, however, in its positing the mixing of an existing Korean musical culture with an American musical culture, falls short of capturing the multiplicity of global, non-American influences that have come to shape modern K-pop. This paper seeks to move away from understanding K-pop as a comingling of two musical styles to understanding it in a way that acknowledges and emphasizes its foundations in an act of stylistic translation rather than in a country or nationality. In doing so, I rely on Walter Benjamin’s theory of translation as outlined in his Task of the Translator to examine the career of Korean artist Yang Joon-Il, who has recently been fashioned by popular media outlets as a progenitor of contemporary K-pop. Reframing Yang as a translator (per Benjamin’s definition) rather than a progenitor provides an understanding of K-pop that neither submits to the nationalistic agendas of popular media outlets nor relies on the concept of hybridity and its presumption of a preexisting and stable musical Koreanness.


Watch my research presentation below.

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