Kimchi and Coffee

Justin Eckl

(Brent Schwert)

Korea is so random. When I was walking to work at 6:45 this morning, “Bad Medicine,” by Bon Jovi, was blaring outside some store near my work. “Bad Medicine?” Who still likes that song, and why does anyone still like it here?
When you see that Michael Jackson concert footage from a long time ago and you see that German girl in the audience practically go apoplectic, you laugh because it’s Michael Jackson. But at least it makes sense because it’s Michael Jackson! He was at one point the undisputed King of Pop and he used to be able to really move a crowd.
But would you believe me if I told you the song “YMCA,” by the Village People, is huge here? I mean it’s not Michael Jackson huge but I’ve seen more Koreans unironically, unapologetically rocking out to “YMCA” than I have any other English-language song.
What about the movie “I Am Sam,” starring Sean Penn? Many of you have probably seen it. Some of you have not. But EVERYONE in Korea has seen and loves this movie, and I mean everyone.
Want another example? Ever heard of Sweetbox? It’s apparently a band but I’m pretty sure there’s only one person in it. Anyway, she’s American, she’s white, she doesn’t sing in any Asian language, but she’s huge in Asia, and now I’m talking Michael Jackson huge.
When I asked some of my Korean friends why “I Am Sam” is so popular here I got everything from, “Koeans love movies featuring an underdog,” to “Koreans love movies that make you cry,” to “Koreans love Dakota Fanning.” Something tells me it’s not the latter of the three, but if it’s either of the former then why not any other of the 500 movies a year that Hollywood puts out that fit both of those requirements?
I realized that trying to figure out why this or that random piece of Westernalia gets randomly culturally appropriated and accepted as part of Korean culture is like trying to retrace the origins of the universe, except, you know, not that hard.