The (K-pop) song that started it all

My interest in Japanese pop culture began with anime, so it’s difficult for me to pinpoint the first J-pop song that grabbed my attention; it was most likely an anime theme song of some kind. I remember quite clearly, though, the first K-pop (or Korean pop) song that caught my ear – and my eye.

H.O.T. – “Candy” (with English subtitles)

“Candy” by H.O.T. (which stands for High-five Of Teenagers) was released in 1996, but I didn’t discover it until four years later during my first year of college. I had been unofficially adopted into my college’s anime club – I was one of the few students on my floor with a TV/VCR, and my anime-loving friends asked if they could come over to watch their fansub tapes. As a result, I became friends with several Korean and Korean-American students who were happy not only to teach me about anime but to share pop music from their own culture as well.

This was before YouTube, and before iTunes went global. If you wanted access to pop music from another country, you needed to know someone with a connection to that country who would share their CDs with you and teach you what to look for on eBay and various torrents. ^^

When my Korean and Korean-American friends shared this music video (or MV) with me, I was instantly captivated. The upbeat music, the bouncy choreography, the colorful, fuzzy overalls and mittens – I had never seen anything quite like it, and I loved it. I’ve always enjoyed electronically-based music, so the sound of “Candy” was literally music to my ears.

The lyrics, unfortunately, were another story. Despite the cute atmosphere of the MV and the cheery feel of the song, it turns out that “Candy” is about a near-break-up. The guy wants to leave his girlfriend but he changes his mind before the end of the song.

This was my first encounter with one of the fundamental laws of East Asian pop culture: Just because it looks cute and sounds cute doesn’t necessarily mean it’s about something cute. If you have the option, it’s always best to find out what the lyrics mean before you add a song to your rotation. ^^

Not that the lyrics to “Candy” are bad, mind you – they just weren’t what I was expecting based on the sound of the music and the look of the MV. In my experience at that time, near-break-up songs did not involve fuzzy mittens. ^^

Thirteen years later, though, “Candy” is still a fixture in my car CD player and on my mp3 player. It has since been joined by many other pop songs from South Korea, Japan, China, Thailand and Taiwan, but it remains one of my favorites. I enjoy watching more recent K-pop groups cover the song as well.

H.O.T.’s “Candy,” as covered by SHINee

What song first got you interested in K-pop or other types of East Asian pop music? I’m always on the lookout for recommendations. ^^

– Teresa Santoski

www.teresasantoski.com

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