Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Brad Moore (center) with his bandmates, Kim Hyung-Tae (left) and Jang Beom-Jun (PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES)

Brad Moore (center) with his bandmates, Kim Hyung-Tae (left) and Jang Beom-Jun (PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES)

The Caucasian King Of K-Pop

• January 10, 2013 • 4:00 AM

Brad Moore (center) with his bandmates, Kim Hyung-Tae (left) and Jang Beom-Jun (PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES)

Inside the Korean music machine

He was exhausted, his makeup itched, and his tight white pants were cutting off the circulation in his legs. Still, Brad Moore smiled and waved from the television-studio stage to the crowd of screaming, clapping Korean teenagers. Mainly, the 28-year-old drummer from Ohio was relieved that his eight weeks on a Korean music reality show were almost over. The fact that his band, Busker Busker, was poised to become a pop sensation didn’t hurt, either.

Moore and his bandmates—guitarist and vocalist Jang Beom-Jun and bassist Kim Hyung-Tae, two young Koreans he’d met while teaching English in Cheonan—had come together as a group only six months earlier. Now they had placed second on Superstar K3, a wildly popular show that is a launchpad for Korean pop—aka K-pop—stardom. Agents with a top entertainment firm, CJ E&M, were waiting backstage to whisk the threesome off to a secluded house where company producers would train them for a long, lucrative concert tour.

This is the Korean music industry’s formula for creating stars, and it’s working very well. K-pop generated $3.4 billion in revenue in 2011 alone. Dozens of new groups debut each year, and their music is gobbled up by millions of kids across Asia and around the world. The genre had its first international megahit last year with the rapper PSY’s “Gangnam Style,” which went viral on YouTube and became a dance staple everywhere in America, from bar mitzvahs to baseball games.

The music—a mix of rhythm and blues, hip-hop, and electronica—is heavily influenced by the West, with sprinklings of English lyrics and synchronized Michael Jackson–style dance moves. Lee Soo-man, the man credited with launching the K-pop phenomenon, developed his formula from studying MTV during his years living in California: recruit attractive teens to form girl and boy bands, then train them for years before unveiling them in highly produced videos and concert tours.

Entertainment companies have no problem finding recruits: nearly two million hopefuls came to the first round of tryouts for Superstar K3. Busker Busker stood out from the start, though, with their acoustic, folk-influenced sound, and, of course, their Caucasian drummer. A few other K-pop acts include Korean Americans, but, unlike them, Moore speaks little Korean and is unlikely to be mistaken for one.

Moore, though, had gotten his fill of the K-pop assembly line while on the show. For nearly two months, he’d lived in a remote house an hour’s drive outside of Seoul with the other contestants, cut off from the outside world. They were pressured to get Botox shots, subsisted on a power-slimming diet of salad and tofu, and had to be in front of cameras around the clock. “We became professional sleepers,” recalls Moore, who lost 25 pounds. “When there was a break between shots, we’d lie down on the concrete outside or in the bushes.”

So after their near-triumphant performance on the show’s finale, the band turned down a proffered contract. “I was exhausted,” says Moore. “And I didn’t really care about becoming a celebrity. I figured, after this is over, I’ll go back to teaching, and it will be a fun story to tell people about someday.”

But the band’s decision only made them more famous, sparking a media frenzy and bringing autograph seekers literally to Moore’s doorstep. And CJ E&M executives kept calling. Finally, the three agreed to sign a six-month contract on the condition that they would write their own songs, play their own instruments, and pick their own producers.

This was K-pop industry sacrilege—but it worked. The group’s first album came out in March 2012. It skyrocketed to No. 1 on every music chart in Korea and spawned a sold-out concert tour.

Here’s a taste:

Still, Moore says he had to push his bandmates, who grew up with the Korean maxim “Work is life,” to go along with the idea of not following the K-pop factory model. “I had to convince them that it’s beneficial to relax and chill out,” he says, smiling.

Ironically, a different Korean cultural mainstay helped Moore convince Jang and Kim to trust him: reverence for one’s elders. Moore knew they’d oblige; he has more than five years on both. –Nancy Averett

Nancy Averett

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

December 22 • 2:00 PM

The Paradox of Women’s Sexuality in Breastfeeding Advocacy and Breast Cancer Campaigns

We capitalize on the sexualization of the breast to raise awareness about breast cancer, yet we cringe at the idea of a woman nursing her child.


December 22 • 1:00 PM

Keep That E-Reader Out of Bed and You’ll Feel Better in the Morning

New research finds e-readers, like other light-emitting electronic devices, can disrupt normal sleep patterns.


December 22 • 12:25 PM

Stop Trying to Be the ‘Next Silicon Valley’

American cities often try to mimic their more economically successful counterparts. A new study suggests that it’s time to stop.


December 22 • 12:00 PM

Pill Mills and the Rise of Controlled Substance Use in Medicare

Despite warnings about abuse, Medicare covered more prescriptions for potent controlled substances in 2012 than it did in 2011. The program’s top prescribers often have faced disciplinary action or criminal charges related to their medical practices.


December 22 • 10:00 AM

Economics at the North Pole: Are Santa’s Elves Slaves?

A pair of economists seek to reconcile two conflicting schools of thought in order to predict what sort of environments increase incentives for labor coercion.


December 22 • 8:00 AM

What Influences Whether Owners Pick Up After Their Dogs?

The presence or absence of suitable receptacles for bags is not the whole picture.


December 22 • 7:04 AM

Coming Soon: This Is How Gangs End


December 22 • 6:00 AM

Politicians Gonna Politic

Is there something to the idea that a politician who no longer faces re-election is free to pursue new policy solutions without needing to kowtow to special interests?


December 20 • 10:28 AM

Flare-Ups

Are my emotions making me ill?


December 19 • 4:00 PM

How a Drug Policy Reform Organization Thinks of the Children

This valuable, newly updated resource for parents is based in the real world.


December 19 • 2:00 PM

Where Did the Ouija Board Come From?

It wasn’t just a toy.


December 19 • 12:00 PM

Social Scientists Can Do More to Eradicate Racial Oppression

Using our knowledge of social systems, all social scientists—black or white, race scholar or not—have an opportunity to challenge white privilege.


December 19 • 10:17 AM

How Scientists Contribute to Bad Science Reporting

By not taking university press officers and research press releases seriously, scientists are often complicit in the media falsehoods they so often deride.


December 19 • 10:00 AM

Pentecostalism in West Africa: A Boon or Barrier to Disease?

How has Ghana stayed Ebola-free despite being at high risk for infection? A look at their American-style Pentecostalism, a religion that threatens to do more harm than good.


December 19 • 8:00 AM

Don’t Text and Drive—Especially If You’re Old

A new study shows that texting while driving becomes even more dangerous with age.


December 19 • 6:12 AM

All That ‘Call of Duty’ With Your Friends Has Not Made You a More Violent Person

But all that solo Call of Duty has.


December 19 • 4:00 AM

Food for Thought: WIC Works

New research finds participation in the federal WIC program, which subsidizes healthy foods for young children, is linked with stronger cognitive development and higher test scores.


December 18 • 4:00 PM

How I Navigated Life as a Newly Sober Mom

Saying “no” to my kids was harder than saying “no” to alcohol. But for their sake and mine, I had to learn to put myself first sometimes.


December 18 • 2:00 PM

Women in Apocalyptic Fiction Shaving Their Armpits

Because our interest in realism apparently only goes so far.


December 18 • 12:00 PM

The Paradox of Choice, 10 Years Later

Paul Hiebert talks to psychologist Barry Schwartz about how modern trends—social media, FOMO, customer review sites—fit in with arguments he made a decade ago in his highly influential book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less.


December 18 • 10:00 AM

What It’s Like to Spend a Few Hours in the Church of Scientology

Wrestling with thetans, attempting to unlock a memory bank, and a personality test seemingly aimed at people with depression. This is Scientology’s “dissemination drill” for potential new members.


December 18 • 8:00 AM

Gendering #BlackLivesMatter: A Feminist Perspective

Black men are stereotyped as violent, while black women are rendered invisible. Here’s why the gendering of black lives matters.


December 18 • 7:06 AM

Apparently You Can Bring Your Religion to Work

New research says offices that encourage talk of religion actually make for happier workplaces.


December 18 • 6:00 AM

The Very Weak and Complicated Links Between Mental Illness and Gun Violence

Vanderbilt University’s Jonathan Metzl and Kenneth MacLeish address our anxieties and correct our assumptions.


December 18 • 4:00 AM

Should Movies Be Rated RD for Reckless Driving?

A new study finds a link between watching films featuring reckless driving and engaging in similar behavior years later.


Follow us


Stop Trying to Be the ‘Next Silicon Valley’

American cities often try to mimic their more economically successful counterparts. A new study suggests that it's time to stop.

Don’t Text and Drive—Especially If You’re Old

A new study shows that texting while driving becomes even more dangerous with age.

Apparently You Can Bring Your Religion to Work

New research says offices that encourage talk of religion actually make for happier workplaces.

Canadian Kids Have a Serious Smoking Problem

Bootleg cigarette sales could be leading Canadian teens to more serious drugs, a recent study finds.

The Big One

One in two United States senators and two in five House members who left office between 1998 and 2004 became lobbyists. November/December 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.