clc’s no, SKY castle, and activism in hallyu

I’ve been obsessed with two things lately: CLC’s No and the JTBC drama SKY Castle. While I’m still gushing over how amazing these two things are separately, it made me realize that they both have something in common too! But I still want to ramble about how I loved No and Sky Castle so let me get to that first, haha!

EDIT: SKY actually refers to South Korea’s top three universities Seoul National University, Korea University, and Yonsei University. Makes more sense now!!!

Ok, let’s start with CLC’s NO. What I like most about this group is how they try different things and still manage to come up with great results. From Pepe to No Oh Oh to Hobgoblin to Where Are You, all of their comebacks have been solid despite being almost unique from each other. Having that diversity is daebak but it is also important for struggling groups like CLC to find that one particular style that will skyrocket them to fame. This especially holds true as we all know how greatly the shelf life of K-pop groups depend on a solid fanbase and decent profit.

That’s why I was in it when they took off from where 4minute left. A little reductive on paper but just like what I said, CLC puts out a lot of great work with whatever concept is handed to them. Hobgoblin was ok and last year’s Black Dress was amazing. Now, they amped this concept with NO and brought a dash of sass and room for more experimentation. What I like about it is how it sounds sparse and busy at the same time. Its structure is also a little uncommon but it does not veer away that much from commercial appeal because the song sounds hip and current when it all comes together.

It’s so good that I can’t even imagine 4minute doing this had they went on. The fact that CLC duplicated what their sunbaes did before but brought the notch up to something that they can call their own makes NO a success. Also, Seungyeon can fucking get it!


Now let’s go to SKY Castle. I’m not big on K-dramas – I mean the last one I finished was Reply 1997 and that was back in 2012. I have this sick stereotype that all K-dramas are romcoms so I just choose whatever piques my interest based on the plot. I remember watching It’s Okay That’s Love (because of Kyungsoo) since it’s about mental health in the same way I got hooked on Kill Me, Heal Me but I really never got to finish those. Oh, I did also like that drama of Sooyoung where they were tax collectors but I wasn’t able to follow that religiously too. Sky Castle only caught my attention because one of my favorites in SF9 (Chani) is there and when I read the premise, it didn’t reek of a plot that was so generic (at least for me). It’s not rom-com, historical, action, or fantasy. It’s a dark comedy that zooms in on one of the issues that plague Asian societies: education.

I don’t like FMVs but this captures a lot of what to expect in Sky Castle

SKY Castle touches on a lot of topics deep enough to give you a glimpse but not that thorough to engage you to revolt or something. There are parts of it that shed light on academic pressure, social stratification, class struggle (“Why should the poor know about the rich?” is an iconic line from this show), tiger parenting (there’s a little reference to Jennifer Pan but not that extreme), abuse of privilege, dysfunctional families, fraud, greed, and the list goes on. Basically, these are families who rely on education as a social identifier and the means they are willing to go through just to ensure that they remain on top. The show may be a drag for some with its lack of visual assault so to speak but the real pace of Sky Castle is best appreciated when you listen to what they say. It’s almost slice-of-life so everything flows naturally. Please watch it, I need someone to talk to about it haha.


Anyway, to that string that binds these two together. Both NO and SKY Castle touch on societal problems that a lot of people face on the daily. NO is about consent and embracing what you really want without letting others dictate you. SKY Castle is about the harsh and complicated education system in some Asian countries that lead to deaths among students. But here’s the thing – are these two enough to critique the ills that beset our society? Is pop culture (especially Hallyu) a legitimate avenue to address such problems? Here’s some context: this makes more sense if you take into account how the K-pop music industry, for example, is run by huge corporate entities that thrive on profit. Where do we draw the line in Hallyu in terms of an avenue activism or just a stunt for plain virtue-signalling and fandom-pandering?

I seriously don’t know the answer to those questions and I’d like to hear some discourse about it and something compels me not to go too deep so as not to spoil how I benefit from the whole Hallyu movement (self-indulgent, I know!! ) but here’s what I think: pop culture is good enough to get the ball rollin’. It does not promise to solve all that is wrong with the world but it is a great way to shed light on some “realities” that needs to be faced to a huge audience. Of course, it is not without flaws. Watching how Sky Castle ended made me realize that it didn’t address the bigger culprit that messed up the lives of the characters. It’s almost as if everything just went back to normal. But hey, at least it gets into more people and allow us to actually give it some thought (hopefully).

Something can only be brought up when it is heard loud and clear so in that sense, pop culture (Hallyu) holds a crucial role. As to what will reinforce whatever awakening that any pop culture event stirs, that is reserved for some other time. I just hope that people who have listened to NO or watched Sky Castle don’t allow the message to fly over their heads and actually find something insightful from it.

How about you, any thoughts on pop culture’s capacity to shape up our society? Leave a comment and let’s discuss!


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