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K-Pop Crossover: Matt Weston of The U Project Praises Hallyu's Gender Neutrality [EXCLUSIVE]

By Tony Sokol | May 20, 2015 03:30 PM EDT


The U Project is a New England-based rock-electronic-orchestral fusion band with cinematic aspirations.

Bandleader Matt Weston came up with concept of the band in 2014 while he was a bicoastal touring DJ, mashing up his love of music with from the '80s and '90s with his fascination with science fiction and cinema to create the group's unique sound.

Weston brought in guitarist Tom Voytek, a friend he worked with in the haunted house entertainment industry. With the recent addition of bassist-vocalist Sarah Gagnon, the group's live shows border on musical theater happenings, choreographed productions that include actors and acrobats, custom props and costumes, a 3D projection and special effects.

U Project are most likely known to many for their collaborations with Boston-based violinist Madeline Ripley and Psyche Chimera, the singer of the New York City-based steampunk band Psyche Corporation.

Earlier this week, Weston spoke to KpopStarz about how gender roles are handled differently in Hallyu and American pop music, in an exclusive interview.

"I really respect the work of G-Dragon, Big Bang, and f(x)," Weston said.

"There have been several instances where I was incredibly impressed by the production value of the music videos. One in particular is Big Bang's, 'Fantastic Baby.' This video has all the all elements of a Hollywood movies, mixed with Broadway-style musical theater. Between incredible semi-apocalyptic costume design and the massive dance routines, the video has enough visual stimulation and metaphors that it can even be watched without the music."

Weston is intrigued by the spectacle of many South Korean pop videos.

"K-pop seems to take a lot of qualities from the Hollywood industry," he said. "Even though most American music videos can be interpreted as short films, the over-the-top set design and lighting design you see in Hollywood cinema is approached [more] frequently in K-pop music video production. There is a wide use of theatrical elements from extensive costumes and make-up, to elaborate custom and sometimes mechanical sets. Overall, the large-scale production allows the artists to completely realize their dreams and desires for their audience."

As one voice in what he descibes as a "explosion of queer identity and gender exploration cultures," Weston is impressed by Korean artists more fluid definition of gender.

"I find that the portrayal of gender norms between Korean and American pop and rock stars are drastically different," he said.

"Currently in Korean music, there is an audience that embraces gender fluidity between what is defined as masculine and feminine for both males and females. Sometimes this even goes to the extent of not only crossing over lines of gender heteronormality, but even playing multiple roles of gender association."

In America, Weston sees "most stars representing hard lines of what our mainstream culture perceives as male and female."

The male stereotypes "include assertiveness, super muscular, unquestionable power dominance versus females, who play submissive, quiet, house wives."

"Korean musicians have created a visual and metaphorical representation of gender ambiguity and embrace it, while American musicians tend to perpetuate old fashioned gender stigmas," Weston said.

The U Project founder believes artists should care how they represent their gender, because their fans do.

"Audiences have a tendency to imitate [an artist's] actions, perceptions, attire," Weston said.

"In that regard, our celebrities culturally imprint those who adore them and give them a means of self-identification. In K-pop, gender is seen as a fluid construct that allows the audience to decide what gender means to them, without negative consequences. Whereas, a lot of American pop constructs walls of segregation and abomination if the audience doesn't play by stereotypical gender roles."

One K-pop artist stands out to him in this regard.

"A very noticeable example is G-Dragon," Weston said. "The style of his appearance, in both his personal life and within the music industry, has been noticed since his rise into celebrity tiers. He makes no effort to question lines of masculine and feminine tastes, as this does not detract from his born male identity."

But GD isn't the only one.

"f(x), a K-pop girl group, has also mixed the lines of gender fluidity, often seen wearing a variety of both male and female-related clothing in most of their music videos and public appearances," Weston said.

"FTISLAND's lead vocalist, Hongki, also plays to non-conforming gender stereotypes and usually wears an elaborate form of nail art as part of his self expression. All three of these K-pop stars have been celebrated on the covers of Korean Vogue, affirming the mainstream appeal of their gender displays."

Weston believes this is the opposite of what he seesin America.

"A perfect example of overcompensating masculinity would be Justin Bieber," Weston said.

"Bieber started as a boy star and as he grew up, he likely felt incredibly insecure and underpowered when he was taunted by many for appearing feminine and fragile. This resulted in a 180-degree turn, expressing a mask of manliness which our society likes to define in a black and white manner."

West says Katy Perry also plays into gender stereotypes.

"I believe Perry generally lacks self awareness of the image portrayal she has created for herself which is reinforced in her music, videos, and lyrics," Weston said.

"For instance, in her song and video 'I Kissed A Girl,' Perry's representation of femininity and the other actresses in that video is incredibly stereotypical. The video is being sold as a visual sexual commodity, reminding the viewer that females are only pretty in skimpy underwear and that males go after this."

Weston thinks American stars could learn a lot about relaxing gender-based expectations from their contemporaries in Korea.

"K-pop stars have taken a progressive foot forward into redefining the concept of gender norms," Weston said. "Most American stars still are reinforcing traditional gender roles."

Watch the music video for The U Project song "Digital Throne" RIGHT HERE

Tagged :  Matt Weston, U Project, EDM, BigBang, f(x), G-Dragon, K-Pop Crossover


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