As The Bias List continues to grow, I’ve been thinking a lot about my musical influences and preferences, and how my history with pop music has shaped the reviews that I write today. With this in mind, I thought it would be fun to take a day for a more personal post. More than anything, I trace my life by the music that soundtracks it. The “about” page on this site hasn’t been updated for over three years, so take today’s post as an unofficial revamping.
The first cd I ever owned (yes, we were still listening to cds back then) was Savage Garden’s self-titled 1997 debut. That, along with Janet Jackson’s The Velvet Rope and No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom became my trio of pop music roots. As any pop-loving teen would, I then branched back to classics by many of the industry’s icons: Michael and Janet, Madonna, Prince and the like. As my personality is prone to do, I quickly formed an all-encompassing understanding of American pop music throughout the decades. I became a massive fan of the Jackson family discography – particularly Janet. I still consider Rhythm Nation 1814 to be the finest pop album ever recorded.
My first experience with pop music from East Asia came in the form of J-pop idol group Dream’s 2001 single Private Wars. That might seem ridiculously random, but it’s important to remember that every K-pop/J-pop track is somebody’s first.
Instantly, I found the sound of Private Wars to be intoxicating. It was so immense and bombastic and stuffed to the brim with sounds. In a world of Britneys and Backstreet Boys, it felt like it had emerged from a different planet entirely. To this day, the song’s opening bars still give me chills. What I didn’t know at the time was that this late 90’s/early 00’s techno dance explosion was a particularly fun era for J-pop as a whole (worth exploring further if you’re willing to go down the rabbit hole).
Rather than usher in a fascination with Asian pop music, Private Wars became more of a one-off for me. I was in college at the time, and imported music still wasn’t readily accessible. Instead, my attention moved toward an emerging – and decidedly retro – branch of indie pop that was beginning to make waves in the global music scene.
It was the era of bands, with acts like The Killers and Scissor Sisters ruling my playlists. Beyond these two groups, all the worthwhile music seemed to be coming out of Europe. My attention focused first on the UK, but later on Sweden – who was experiencing a renaissance of cool pop sounds with indie sensibilities. I became obsessed with the glam-pop band The Ark (still my favorite band of all time), and their colorful cohorts Melody Club, The Mo, and the Sounds. Pop acts like Robyn and Bodies Without Organs began to rock my world, and eventually led to the creation of my first music blog, #1 Hits From Another Planet.
I started Alienhits, as it became known by many, in February of 2006. The blog is still accessible, though many of the song links are likely dead and the graphic design leaves something to be desired. Blogging was in a different place thirteen years ago, and not as many of us were doing it. It was easier to gain an audience right away, and I quickly found myself embraced by a host of like-minded pop blogs. The Bias List is different by design, but many of its roots lie in my work with Alienhits.
All of this obsession with European music led me to take a teaching internship at a British school in the spring of 2006. This internship was a chance to hone my teaching skills (it was… I swear it was!), but more than anything it was an excuse to follow my favorite bands around the continent. Thanks to my newfound proximity and the magic of budget airlines, I was constantly in and out of Sweden, attending concerts in amusement parks, glorified block parties and three-day, camp-in-the-Scandinavian-farmlands music festivals. Anything to see my favorite acts.
I checked in with K-pop here and there from about 2009 on, but the floodgates really opened in 2012. Between EXO’s debut, Bigbang’s Alive album, TVXQ’s Catch Me and (of course) Infinite’s The Chaser, K-pop began to lure me in beyond the “oh, that’s kind of cool” novelty I’d associated with the industry in the past. You can see this fascination start to bloom on my old blog, where K-pop posts began to mix in with the usual music from Western artists.
This burgeoning fascination grew steadily, until Korean variety and weekly music shows began to creep into my daily habits around late 2013. So much of K-pop’s appeal runs below the surface of the actual music, and up to this point I hadn’t really bothered getting to know the idols that performed my favorite songs. But as many can attest to, once you start falling for the personality-driven charms of these groups, there’s no coming back. I was undeniably hooked.
Over the next few years, #1 Hits From Another Planet became more and more of a K-pop focused blog, so much so that I felt I was doing a disservice to the readership I had built up to that point. I couldn’t hide my enthusiasm for everything K-pop, but I knew that not everyone who visited my blog felt the same way. Hits began to slowly dwindle, along with my passion for writing about Western music that I, quite frankly, didn’t think was all that great anymore. Add to that a burgeoning book deal, and I was unexpectedly spending the vast majority of my writing energy crafting a young adult sci-fi trilogy.
Around 2015, the global pop music scene seemed to change drastically. It was harder and harder to find Western sounds that I cared for. All the cool stuff was happening in K-pop (and J-pop, of course). Posting new entries on my old blog felt like a chore, so it was time to start over.
That’s where The Bias List comes in. When I founded this site at the beginning of 2016, I had a general idea of what I was going for. One of the things that had bothered me about Alienhits was that I had to love a song to write about it. The blog had always been designed as a music recommendation platform. With The Bias List, part of the fun is that I write about everything – the good and the bad. This makes the cultivation part of the process so much easier, especially since there are new songs released all the time in Korea. And, I think it makes the writing more interesting.
The Bias List has enjoyed rapid growth each year, and I’m proud of the community of readers that it has garnered. It’s now a more widely read site than Alienhits ever was, and K-pop’s ever-evolving release schedule makes it consistently engaging to write (except maybe during the industry’s coffeeshop-heavy periods). My music consumption is now drawn 100% from East Asia, though there are a handful of Western artists that still have the power to pull me in (my #1 pop music love Janet Jackson being chief among them).
So here I am in 2019. My tastes have changed as the years have gone on, but not drastically. At the core, I’m all about a killer melody, polished production and a dynamic performance. Current global trends have led me to more aggressively pursue bright pop sounds (hello, Golden Child!), but the bedrock of my pop music appreciation has been built on a diverse foundation. That open-mindedness is a perfect fit for K-pop, and I look forward to many more years of writing about the most exciting music industry on the planet!
Now it’s your turn! I’m curious, what was your first brush with K-pop? What were your earliest pop music obsessions?