The Hallyu Wave That Wasn’t
Normally, when I tell people about how I got into k-pop, it usually starts around 2010. Something to do with my friend who was really into JoKwon getting me into the artists by her generous use of gif files on Livejournal, led to 2PM, and then SHINee. However, the truth is, I could, and by all accounts, really should have been a fan long before that, because I actually was a fan of a k-pop idol before I even knew what a k-pop idol was.
In 2007, I was still head deep into j-pop. I also was a huge fan of Stephen Colbert and other late night talk shows (nothing has changed really.) I was preparing to move to Japan, I was studying Japanese constantly… My entire life was around getting to Asia. So when Asia randomly showed up in my Stephen Colbert, I was really excited. Because not only was it Asia… It was Asia with a FANDOM.
Did I know anything about Korea? No. But did I understand what happened when Rain suddenly shot to #1 in the Time Most Influential Poll? Oh yes. Those were fangirls. I knew nothing about the insanity of Korean fangirls, or Rain fans specifically, but I soon learnt.
The very first song I learnt in Korean was “He’s Singin’ In Korean”. Even when I would go to noraebang, I would program in Rain’s “Ways To Avoid the Sun”, and I would still be able to sing the Colbert version over and over again.
At first, it was just a good joke. But for some reason, Colbert really drew it out. Anyone who has watched The Colbert Report for a long time will know about “The Colbert Bump”, and probably has an idea of exactly how influential the Colbert bump could be. Then it faded, as good jokes do.
Then 2008 rolled around.
Rain came back. And this time, he had work to do. In 2008, Rain was promoting Speed Racer, and had Ninja Assassin coming up a year later. He needed that Colbert Bump. So when he started to dominated the charts again, he decided to poke at the fire a little, and obviously arranged to drag this out further with Stephen Colbert.
I had absolutely no complaints about this. I had no idea who Rain was really, or anything about his music, but I know I went to see Speed Racer because I thought he was good looking. I became a fan simply because he was showing up on Stephen Colbert. Looking back at the videos, it was incredible to see all the amazing references that Colbert manages to make in his multiple Colbert Bumps in 2008. My personal favourite is “When I find you, it is going to be the most humiliating thing to happen to Korea since Japan forced the Choseon dynasty to sign the treaty of Ganghwa in 1876” As a history major who spent three years in Korean public schools, I became very familiar with hearing about that treaty from basic Korean history classes. However, it is NOT in your standard book of history, so MAJOR kudos to the Colbert staff for finding a burn that is like 5 alarm, street food toppoki level scorching burn. He also mentioned reading a biography of Emperess Myeongseong, which I did doubt, but still. She’s one of my most favourite parts of Korean history, so thank you for educating people.
But I digress.
So, the challenge was thrown down: a dance off. Or cuddle off, or spoon off, or whatever Rain would go along with. And given this is Korea, I don’t think this would be too ridiculous. And I can remember being so completely aware of when Rain was doing press in NYC. I knew when he HAD to be in the right area to be able to do the Colbert Report. I knew he HAD to show up. He HAD to.
And then. Every wish I could possibly have had was answered with an “I don’t think so.”
Mechanic scuffy Stephen. Shiny pants Rain, rocking the most gorgeous hair in the entire world. That nod when the DDR machine starts up and Rain is like “AWW HELL MAN, THIS IS MY GAME BRO”
And then that ending. So perfect. “Rain? RAIN? RAAAAAAAIN!!!! ….Rain…” *dramatic rain*
But what happened next?
Well, Rain was supposed to have all these concerts with his Legend of Rainism tour, but almost every location fell through. So Rain returned to Korea, did a little work, went into the military, then broke every rule he could, left the military, and his image isn’t as good as it was.
But the potential was there… Rain could have been the first Psy. He could have been the one to make the Hallyu Wave very sexy, instead of a weird old guy singing in a suit. Our views of Korean music would be very different if we could have been treated with an English version of “Rainism” or, even better “I’m Coming” with his feature with Tablo. Maybe he could have even performed the proper English version of “Ways to Avoid the Sun”.. But then it would ruin the Colbert version.
If Rain had truly sparked the first US hallyu wave, things would have been very different.