Super Junior (슈퍼주니어) is one of the largest, most popular, and oldest boy groups in South Korea today. The group originally was comprised of 13 members, however due to their age (mid-to-late twenties) and Korea’s mandatory military service by the age of 30, some members are gone for 2 years at a time. Super Junior has an amazing following, with thousands upon thousands of fans. Last fall, tickets for their “Super Show” went on sale. Both nights of their arena-sized concert sold out within MINUTES. If you were not sitting by your computer waiting for the clock to turn and if you didn’t have some of the fastest fingers out there, you didn’t get tickets. Their fans are extremely dedicated and don’t mess around when it comes to getting tickets to see them in person. When it comes to music videos, Super Junior is known for having large, wide stages (for all of them to fit on!) and meticulously choreographed dance routines, like the one you watched above in Mr. Simple. Their songs are always super catchy and get stuck in your head for days.
Each and every year, Korean boy bands’ international reach and global consumption seem to widen. Whether foreign fans see videos on Youtube, they hear about Korean bands via word of mouth, or what have you, more and more people have seen Korean music videos, or are at least aware of their existence. Another reason Korean boy bands are able to extend their global influence, Sun Jung says, is due to the concept of ‘mugukjoek’ boys.
To quote Sun Jung, “This hybridity contributes to the aspect of mugukjeok (무국적, non-nationality) in globalized South Korean popular culture to be globally consumed, which is the principle trait that enables South Korean popular culture to be globally consumed.” She says that for the purposes of her book, she references Koichi Iwabuchi and his book Recentering Globalization. In that book, he suggests the concept of ‘mukokuseki’ (non-nationality or non-Japaneseness), “where he emphasizes ‘culturally odorless’ aspects of Japanese consumer products such as the Sony Walkman or computer games.” In other words, even though a certain country [Korea] is producing a product [music videos], that doesn’t mean that that country’s identity, language, customs have to be attached to that product. In fact if they are not, the product may be more marketable to a variety of foreign countries around the world. “I use the concept of mugukjeok here within the paradigm of transcultural hybridity, to refer to how popular cultural flows enable the mixing of particular cultural elements (national, tradition, and specific) with globally popular cultural elements, which then causes those particular cultural elements to become less culturally specific.” So, Sun Jung is saying that mugukjeok doesn’t really mean “non-nationality,’ but rather that popular culture has a transcultural hybridity.
One example of this ‘mugukjeok’ concept can be found in the second music video here, whose title translates into English as “Perfection.” Super Junior has a couple of sub-units where only some of the regular members (plus a couple of non-regular members) comprise a group independent of the main group. Super Junior-M (the M stands for Mandarin) has some of the normal members as well as 2 Chinese nationals. The songs that they sing are in Mandarin. Branching out and singing in another language and having native Chinese speakers in your group widens your fan base and increases your popularity internationally. Remember Nichkhun from 2PM and the fan base they have in Thailand thanks to him?
Super Junior is by far not the only group singing songs in other languages. In fact, all of the groups that we have looked at so far have done songs in Japanese and have also gone on tour there. Japanese is the most popular foreign language that groups sing songs in, partly because of how close Japan is to Korea. They are related languages and it is relatively easy for them to learn how to speak Japanese. Korean groups have an overwhelmingly large fan base in Japan that just keeps growing and growing. The more people you can appeal to, the more money you can make.