The feud between comedian Stephen Colbert and K-pop legend Rain (or as he's known here in Korea, Bi, pronounced 'bee') continued on The Colbert Report this week. The year-long battle between the boys has been fierce.
Last spring, just as I was applying to teach in Korea, I saw an episode of The Colbert Report in which Colbert talks about his position on Time magazine's online "100 Most Influential People Who Shape Our World" list for 2006. Since any mention of Korea on a North American TV program is quite rare (and so far, for me, had been limited to a documentary on the disastrous 1995 Sampoong Department Store collapse), I took particular notice. I was completely ignorant of all things Korean and excited to learn anything about the country I was preparing to move to.
- 10 May 2007 The Colbert Report video: He's Singin' in Korean
This episode provided a lot of important Korean "firsts" for me: the first time I heard of Rain (or rather, any Korean artist); the first company, Hyundai, that I learned was actually Korean and not Japanese like I assumed (a list that, after moving here, has extended to include Daewoo, LG, and Samsung); the first time I heard of kimchi (Korea's contribution to Health magazine's World's Top 5 Healthiest Foods list---a list I didn't know existed but Koreans treat as common knowledge); finally, the first time I heard of bibimbap (a mixed rice dish---topped with an egg, as Colbert mentions---that has become my favourite lunchtime meal).
A month later, Colbert updated us on how his music video had been received in South Korea---or at least, how South Koreans possibly, with wacky translations, may have reviewed the clip*. And he even threw in some more Korean vocabulary (bulgogi = beef).
- 5 June 2007 The Colbert Report video: Rain
Earlier this year, as the competition to top the magazine's latest 100 "Influencial People" list heated up, the fued between Colbert and Rain could only get uglier. As Colbert was attempting to recruit more votes in his favour, Rain fought back with some trash-talking of his own. To settle the score, Colbert finally challenged him to the ultimate show-down: a dance-off (or a cuddle-off or a spoon-off---Rain's choice).
- 10 April 2008 The Colbert Report video: Tip/Wag: Rain
- 28 April 2008 The Colbert Report video: Rain Rivalry Challenge
This week, Colbert updated us on the final results of 2007's Top 100 list, Rain finally took Colbert up on his challenge. He wisely chose the dance-off option and showed Colbert why he's one of the most internationally successful Korean entertainers out there today.
- 5 May 2008 The Colbert Report video: Time's Top 100
- 5 May 2008 The Colbert Report video: Rain Dance Off
For a country that's often overshadowed by China and Japan, I think all this attention is great. Korea's an amazing country that deserves some time in the international spotlight. And if that attention happens to come from an almost-Presidential candidate, all the better.
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* Addendum, 10 May 2008: I asked a couple Korean friends to translate the excerpt Colbert highlighted from the article and they told me it wasn't a word, it didn't make sense. But the headline of the article was something like, "American comedian laughs at Rain." They told me that the Korean music video Colbert made wasn't well received in South Korea because Koreans didn't understand why Colbert was making fun of him.
My friends kept asking me, "Why? Why did he make the video?" They compared the situation to Eminem's video ("Just Lose It") where the rapper dresses up as Michael Jackson and pretends his nose is falling off---a video that offended MJ and MJ's fans. So, I showed them the "Singin' in Korean" clip again, explained the Time magazine list, and also showed them the dance-off. After the explanation of the whole story, they thought it was pretty funny.