Putting a phoenix borne from trauma to rest

An ode to our blog baby, KultScene

Back before I ever thought this could be a career, I started writing for K-pop blogs while studying abroad in Seoul. One of them was full of amazing people, and we all worked hard to make it something great. The owner of it was far from amazing, however, and to say that we all came out with PTSD would probably be a bit of an understatement. We were unpaid and overworked, and very, in retrospect, abused.* But we did come out with a lot of experience, and each other. A few of us ultimately decided to eventually start our own site, which grew to become what we now call KultScene. We said goodbye to it on Friday, May, 19, 2023, almost a decade since launching it in May 2014.

KultScene was created as a site run by fans, for fans, of Korean entertainment, bringing international fan perspectives to a variety of subjects, and introducing new artists and thought-provoking pieces, and many fun ones, most of which would never be covered by any other outlet out there. It was what we wanted to see, but weren’t. (It was actually very briefly called Kpop Me but we had to change, because there’s also a tour promoter of the same name! In retrospect, I very much prefer KultScene, it just kinda fit us better.)

To say KultScene changed my life would be a bit of an understatement, since a lot of the basis of the work I now do came out of that site. But it was more the people and less the things we wrote, the shows we covered, the impossibly hard K-pop quiz I made that now is lost in cyberspace.

Thank you, everyone who has ever worked with or loved or just read once KultScene. It was really everything to us for a time, and now that time is over, and it’s sad, but that’s okay, because it was something that brought us out of the darkest times and taught us a lot about editing, writing, working with friends, onboarding new talent, running sites, etc.

We had the best crew, coming from all over the world, with some still in high-school, then college. Our group chat was a disaster, fighting over faves and coverage and wording in articles. Every year without fail we’d have huge fights over our end of year lists, then scramble multiple times when realizing some generally loved song** wasn’t on the list we had already finished editing and were about to hit publish on. But we loved the song so much, we just had to change things in the 11th hour. We spent our days together, texting about releases and finding a little KultScene community, even with those who never made it into our group chat (or the ones who were sane enough to opt out of our special brand of over-the-top arguing about girl groups).

Kultscene's front page on May 22, 2022

Alexis as EIC made sure shit got done, and made sure the coverage we did was what we wanted to see and weren’t seeing elsewhere. Alejandro/Javi did all our site and graphics. Joe gave us exceptional end of year movies. Stephen and Scott entrusted us with a podcast. Tammie, Shelley, Kushal, Anna, Nnehkai, and Ana each brought their unique perspectives to writing, while Kathy, Yas, and Jean are some of the best photogs I’ve ever worked with. I’m definitely forgetting someone since there are so many more people that we worked with, either one-offs or a few times, so I’m sorry in advance for not naming everyone, I’m full of emotions and tears while writing this all. Regardless, named or not, I love you all, sorry for being so annoying all the time. I guess I did some editing and whatnot, but for the life of me I think I mostly just spent my days sending terrible hot takes into our group chat. Sorry not sorry!

We decided last year to close KultScene for good, after doing some of our best work in 2020 but then falling off in 2021. We decided that, for the first time, we were able to pay a few people for their work, and that was something really important to our hearts as we ourselves started to make some money, though to be honest, everyone who offered anything to KultScene' are invaluable and they are priceless. We never made a cent of KultScene, probably spent a small fortune, but it was worth it.

Everyone is now older, and more focused on different walks of their own lives, with some people launching new stages of their careers after working with us. Other sites have taken over the mantle of what we wanted to accomplish, with K-pop and Korea-adjacent pop culture reporting actually being a thing now at many outlets??? It’s still kind of wild, to see how far things have grown, and hope that maybe some of our work had an impact. We didn’t have the most readers, but we were the best.

Saying farewell to KultScene feels particularly tough right now, both because I’m in the midst of some personal turmoil, and that the last thing I feel the world needs is fewer outlets for writers with passion for arts and pop culture. But it’s the way the world works, that everything must come to an end, and an end we’ve reached, slowly dragging our feet not wanting to let go but knowing the time has come.

*This is sadly common for sites that take advantage of fan labour. I’ve been wanting to write about how the K-pop blogosphere takes advantage of passionate fans who want to get into the industry, so maybe that’ll be an upcoming edition.

** I don’t know why, but I feel like it was more than one year where we nearly missed out on either a f(x) or a VIXX song. I think we all really loved whatever they did, but we were all assuming someone else would put their songs into our communal spreadsheet of options for end-of-year lists, and they never made it. We got them in, don’t worry!

Recent work

I actually wrote it over a year ago, but KultScene’s farewell letter from the editorial staff.

I began writing for Alternative Press, and interviewed the extremely talented, very interesting, alt-K-pop collective Balming Tiger.

Also for Alt Pres, I introduced readers to some of Stray Kids’ most underrated songs.

For Notes on K-pop, in case you missed it, I Elise Hu shared thoughts on beauty in a 5 Minute Focus about her upcoming book Flawless, and featured one reader (and one of my editors’!) perspective on the relationship between idols and fans in my first-ever Notes on K-pop mini note.

What I’m listening to

I spent the weekend at the Head in the Clouds festival, and am still on a high from seeing XG and Niki live. But I’m also dancing around my apartment listening to iKon’s Song’s solo track, Fighting. I thought I knew what to expect from iKon at this point, but their first post-YG album Take Off is a lot of fun, and Song (aka Song Yunhyeong) showing up with a full blown trot song is just the best thing ever for some reason.

What I’m reading

The recent  newsletter about the hard part about being a follower really resonated with me. Kate Lindsay was writing specifically about YouTube creators, particularly Hank Green, but it felt very relevant for K-pop fans: “The relationship between a creator and their followers is a weird one. It’s parasocial, certainly, but not in the way people have used the term for more traditional celebrities like John Mulaney. Creators give so much more of themselves to us, and with digital tools like comment sections and DMs, it can feel like the relationship between us goes, in some respects, both ways… It’s weird to realize that I’ve invited more relationships into my life to worry about, to one day grieve, and it is frustrating that there’s no real model for how to do so. There’s a natural caretaker instinct that, as a follower, I have no outlet for.”

The newsletter was reflecting Lindsay’s perspective after Green revealed he is facing a battle with cancer, and what that means for audiences. But it felt very relevant, especially in light of K-pop losses. We feel so connected, and it surely goes both ways, but what happens when someone we love and adore from afar, feel we have a tight relationship with, suffers? It’s hard, that’s what. But it’s also a bit off-kilter, and I think this Embedded is evocative in how it peruses that dichotomy.