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

November 24 • 8:00 AM

Why Do We Elect Corrupt Politicians?

Voters, it seems, are willing to forgive—over and over again—dishonest yet beloved politicians if they think the job is still getting done.



November 24 • 6:00 AM

They Steal Babies, Don’t They?

Ethiopia, the Hague, and the rise and fall of international adoption. An exclusive investigation of internal U.S. State Department documents describing how humanitarian adoptions metastasized into a mini-industry shot through with fraud, becoming a source of income for unscrupulous orphanages, government officials, and shady operators—and was then reined back in through diplomacy, regulation, and a brand-new federal law.


November 24 • 4:00 AM

Nudging Drivers, and Pedestrians, Into Better Behavior

Daniel Pink’s new series, Crowd Control, premieres tonight on the National Geographic Channel.


November 21 • 4:00 PM

Why Are America’s Poorest Toddlers Being Over-Prescribed ADHD Drugs?

Against all medical guidelines, children who are two and three years old are getting diagnosed with ADHD and treated with Adderall and other stimulants. It may be shocking, but it’s perfectly legal.



November 21 • 2:00 PM

The Best Moms Let Mess Happen

That’s the message of a Bounty commercial that reminds this sociologist of Sharon Hays’ work on “the ideology of intensive motherhood.”


November 21 • 12:00 PM

Eating Disorders Are Not Just for Women

Men, like women, are affected by our cultural preoccupation with thinness. And refusing to recognize that only makes things worse.


November 21 • 10:00 AM

Queens of the South

Inside Asheville, North Carolina’s 7th annual Miss Gay Latina pageant.


November 21 • 9:12 AM

‘Shirtstorm’ and Sexism in Science

Following the recent T-shirt controversy, it’s clear that sexism in science persists. But the forces driving the gender gap are still being debated.


November 21 • 8:00 AM

What Makes a Film Successful in 2014?

Domestic box office earnings are no longer a reliable metric.



November 21 • 6:00 AM

What Makes a City Unhappy?

According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, Dana McMahan splits time between two of the country’s unhappiest cities. She set out to explore the causes of the happiness deficits.


November 21 • 5:04 AM

Sufferers of Social Anxiety Disorder, Your Friends Like You

The first study of friends’ perceptions suggest they know something’s off with their pals but like them just the same.


November 21 • 4:00 AM

In 2001 Study, Black Celebrities Judged Harshly in Rape Cases

When accused of rape, black celebrities were viewed more negatively than non-celebrities. The opposite was true of whites.


November 20 • 4:00 PM

Women, Kink, and Sex Addiction: It’s Not Like the Movies

The popular view is that if a woman is into BDSM she’s probably a sex addict, and vice versa. In fact, most kinky women are perfectly happy—and possibly healthier than their vanilla counterparts.


November 20 • 2:00 PM

A Majority of Middle-Class Black Children Will Be Poorer as Adults

The disturbing findings of a new study.


November 20 • 12:00 PM

Standing Up for My Group by Kicking Yours

Members of a minority ethnic group are less likely to express support for gay equality if they believe their own group suffers from discrimination.


November 20 • 10:00 AM

For Juvenile Records, It’s ‘Justice by Geography’

A new study finds an inconsistent patchwork of policies across states for how juvenile records are sealed and expunged.


November 20 • 8:00 AM

Surviving the Secret Childhood Trauma of a Parent’s Drug Addiction

As a young girl, Alana Levinson struggled with the shame of her father’s substance abuse. But when she looked more deeply into the research on children of drug-addicted parents, she realized society’s “conspiracy of silence” was keeping her—and possibly millions of others—from adequately dealing with the experience.



November 20 • 6:00 AM

Extreme Weather, Caused by Climate Change, Is Here. Can Nike Prepare You?

Following the approach we often see from companies marketing products before big storms, Nike focuses on climate change science in the promotion of its latest line of base-layer apparel. Is it a sign that more Americans are taking climate change seriously? Don’t get your hopes up.


November 20 • 5:00 AM

How Old Brains Learn New Tricks

A new study shows that the neural plasticity needed for learning doesn’t vanish as we age—it just moves.


November 20 • 4:00 AM

The FBI’s Dangerous Misrepresentation of Encryption Law

The FBI no more deserves a direct line to your data than it deserves to intercept your mail at the post office. But it doesn’t want you to know that.


November 20 • 2:00 AM

Brain Drain Is Economic Development

It may be hard to see unless you shift your focus from places to people, but both destination and source can benefit from “brain drain.”


Follow us


Sufferers of Social Anxiety Disorder, Your Friends Like You

The first study of friends' perceptions suggest they know something's off with their pals but like them just the same.

Standing Up for My Group by Kicking Yours

Members of a minority ethnic group are less likely to express support for gay equality if they believe their own group suffers from discrimination.

How Old Brains Learn New Tricks

A new study shows that the neural plasticity needed for learning doesn't vanish as we age—it just moves.

Ethnic Diversity Deflates Market Bubbles

But it's not in the rainbow and sing-along way you'd hope for. We just don't trust outsiders' judgments.

Online Brain Exercises Are Probably Useless

Even under the guidance of a specialist trainer, computer-based brain exercises have only modest benefits, a new analysis shows.

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.