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

October 31 • 4:00 PM

Should the Victims of the War on Drugs Receive Reparations?

A drug war Truth and Reconciliation Commission along the lines of post-apartheid South Africa is a radical idea proposed by the Green Party. Substance.com asks their candidates for New York State’s gubernatorial election to tell us more.


October 31 • 2:00 PM

India’s Struggle to Get Reliable Power to Hundreds of Millions of People

India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi is known as a “big thinker” when it comes to energy. But in his country’s case, could thinking big be a huge mistake?


October 31 • 12:00 PM

In the Picture: SNAP Food Benefits, Birthday Cake, and Walmart

In every issue, we fix our gaze on an everyday photograph and chase down facts about details in the frame.


October 31 • 10:15 AM

Levels of Depression Could Be Evaluated Through Measurements of Acoustic Speech

Engineers find tell-tale signs in speech patterns of the depressed.


October 31 • 8:00 AM

Who Wants a Cute Congressman?

You probably do—even if you won’t admit it. In politics, looks aren’t everything, but they’re definitely something.


October 31 • 7:00 AM

Why Scientists Make Promises They Can’t Keep

A research proposal that is totally upfront about the uncertainty of the scientific process and its potential benefits might never pass governmental muster.


October 31 • 6:12 AM

The Psychology of a Horror Movie Fan

Scientists have tried to figure out the appeal of axe murderers and creepy dolls, but it mostly remains a spooky mystery.


October 31 • 4:00 AM

The Power of Third Person Plural on Support for Public Policies

Researchers find citizens react differently to policy proposals when they’re framed as impacting “people,” as opposed to “you.”


October 30 • 4:00 PM

I Should Have Told My High School Students About My Struggle With Drinking

As a teacher, my students confided in me about many harrowing aspects of their lives. I never crossed the line and shared my biggest problem with them—but now I wish I had.


October 30 • 2:00 PM

How Dark Money Got a Mining Company Everything It Wanted

An accidentally released court filing reveals how one company secretly gave money to a non-profit that helped get favorable mining legislation passed.


October 30 • 12:00 PM

The Halloween Industrial Complex

The scariest thing about Halloween might be just how seriously we take it. For this week’s holiday, Americans of all ages will spend more than $5 billion on disposable costumes and bite-size candy.


October 30 • 10:00 AM

Sky’s the Limit: The Case for Selling Air Rights

Lower taxes and debt, increased revenue for the city, and a much better use of space in already dense environments: Selling air rights and encouraging upward growth seem like no-brainers, but NIMBY resistance and philosophical barriers remain.


October 30 • 9:00 AM

Cycles of Fear and Bias in the Criminal Justice System

Exploring the psychological roots of racial disparity in U.S. prisons.


October 30 • 8:00 AM

How Do You Make a Living, Email Newsletter Writer?

Noah Davis talks to Wait But Why writer Tim Urban about the newsletter concept, the research process, and escaping “money-flushing toilet” status.



October 30 • 6:00 AM

Dreamers of the Carbon-Free Dream

Can California go full-renewable?


October 30 • 5:08 AM

We’re Not So Great at Rejecting Each Other

And it’s probably something we should work on.


October 30 • 4:00 AM

He’s Definitely a Liberal—Just Check Out His Brain Scan

New research finds political ideology can be easily determined by examining how one’s brain reacts to disgusting images.


October 29 • 4:00 PM

Should We Prosecute Climate Change Protesters Who Break the Law?

A conversation with Bristol County, Massachusetts, District Attorney Sam Sutter, who dropped steep charges against two climate change protesters.


October 29 • 2:23 PM

Innovation Geography: The Beginning of the End for Silicon Valley

Will a lack of affordable housing hinder the growth of creative start-ups?


October 29 • 2:00 PM

Trapped in the Tobacco Debt Trap

A refinance of Niagara County, New York’s tobacco bonds was good news—but for investors, not taxpayers.


October 29 • 12:00 PM

Purity and Self-Mutilation in Thailand

During the nine-day Phuket Vegetarian Festival, a group of chosen ones known as the mah song torture themselves in order to redirect bad luck and misfortune away from their communities and ensure a year of prosperity.


October 29 • 10:00 AM

Can Proposition 47 Solve California’s Problem With Mass Incarceration?

Reducing penalties for low-level felonies could be the next step in rolling back draconian sentencing laws and addressing the criminal justice system’s long legacy of racism.


October 29 • 9:00 AM

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the Brain

Neuroscientists find less—but potentially stronger—white matter in the brains of patients with CFS.


October 29 • 8:00 AM

America’s Bathrooms Are a Total Failure

No matter which American bathroom is crowned in this year’s America’s Best Restroom contest, it will still have a host of terrible flaws.


Follow us


Levels of Depression Could Be Evaluated Through Measurements of Acoustic Speech

Engineers find tell-tale signs in speech patterns of the depressed.

We’re Not So Great at Rejecting Each Other

And it's probably something we should work on.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the Brain

Neuroscientists find less—but potentially stronger—white matter in the brains of patients with CFS.

Incumbents, Pray for Rain

Come next Tuesday, rain could push voters toward safer, more predictable candidates.

Could Economics Benefit From Computer Science Thinking?

Computational complexity could offer new insight into old ideas in biology and, yes, even the dismal science.

The Big One

One town, Champlain, New York, was the source of nearly half the scams targeting small businesses in the United States last year. November/December 2014

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