Entertainment Spotlight: KJ’s K-Pop Planet
Written By Rachel Hunt
Photographed By Breanna Kulkin
It all started with a video posted to YouTube by international pop stars…
“It was an accident,” Kadijah Weaver, the 15 year-old behind the two-hour radio program, “KJ’s K-pop Planet”, says innocently. “At first I was really into anime and then this one girl band, 2NE1, they had a music video where they’re animated characters. So I clicked on the link thinking that it was anime, and it ended up being a great song.”
“Honestly, I was surprised! I was thinking, ‘What is this music?’ and I found out it was K-Pop. Originally, I was just into that one band and then started listening to other bands and just got, like, obsessed after awhile,” she admits with the eagerness of a young adult whose found something they’re truly fond of.
It’s been two years since Robert, a.k.a. on-air personality “Mighty Jah Rock” started mentoring his daughter, teaching her how to be a programmer at the Case Western Reserve University-affiliated college radio station, WRUW-FM. “I’m a lifer here,” he laughs inside of the station’s on-air studio where he previously hosted his own reggae program, “Dub Style and Beyond”. 91.1 FM has been his home away from home, a place he’s volunteered at, for just shy of twenty years.
“This one right here,” he says pointing at Kadijah, “her first day at WRUW she was in a bassinet and was less than a week old. She had just come back from the hospital. She’s grown up here. I always figured it would just be a matter of time before she’s on air with me.” Despite his own love of dub, dancehall and reggae, Robert decided to turn the mic over to “KJ”.
The first time I listened to this duo left of the dial, I envisioned them as two college students bantering about a genre not often covered on Northeast Ohio airwaves. That’s not a hit on their professionalism but a comment on the close-knit relationship that the two have, especially on the show. Going back and forth, Kadijah spills gossip on all things Hallyu (that means South Korean pop-culture), while her Dad provides his own commentary.
“It was a process. He didn’t like it so much at first,” she says giving her Dad a look. “I used to listen to it in the car with headphones on, but now I just BLAST it! He really started to get into it because the music reminded him of the 80’s and 90’s, but just more modern. They use a lot of retro beats in K-Pop.”
How does a high school kid from Solon find out about hundreds of musical artists halfway around the world? “There’s a lot of websites,” she explains. “There’s this one app called Soompi, it’s everything Hallyu. It’s a news app that keeps me up to date with actors, K-Pop idols, really anything Korean pop culture. I follow every band that I like on Twitter and Instagram. Also, there are many articles about scandals and stuff. If there’s a big scandal that has come out, I’ll just know because my YouTube is all K-Pop.”
“K-Pop, and Hallyu in general, is really big,” emphasizes Kadijah. She’s not joking around. In 2016 Seoul Space estimated the two top South Korean K-Pop agencies, SM Entertainment’s and YG Entertainment’s combined yearly sales at just under $650 million USD. These numbers seem small in comparison to Sony Entertainment’s $1.3 billion USD for the same period, but factor in the multiple international branches of Sony servicing music streamers worldwide from the UK to Japan and the United States, then suddenly, South Korea looks extremely competitive.
It just was about the music at first and then suddenly, it was more about the language and the culture. The language itself, I don’t know, it just made sense to me. Even though I didn’t understand it, I felt like I needed to learn what they were saying
Kadijah has attended KCON USA, a Korean wave convention especially for American audiences, in both New York and Los Angeles (different versions are hosted throughout the year in many countries). This year’s line up for the three-day L.A. festival in August includes SF9, Girl’s Day, GOT7 and Astro among the 18 group and individual artists packed into nightly concerts after a day full of panels and exhibitions dedicated to all things Hallyu.
“It just was about the music at first and then suddenly, it was more about the language and the culture. The language itself, I don’t know, it just made sense to me. Even though I didn’t understand it, I felt like I needed to learn what they were saying,” she says about the music.
Her Dad supported his daughter’s fixation full-heartedly—“I think it’s kind of genetic, because when I was her age I was really deep into Hispanic culture and language. I learned to speak Spanish pretty fluently and I got into the music too. I thought she might have a facility for language also, so I was trying to push her towards Spanish, […] then turns out it was Korean! But that’s fine! I’m cool with that.”
This summer, Kadijah attended a Korean language and culture immersion camp at Concordia Language Villages in Minnesota to help prepare her for six months abroad during her junior year of high school. From her bright blue ombré braids to her favorite after school activity (dance), it’s evident the impact that Hallyu, in all of its forms, has had on KJ.
“Choreography is something I love to do, and if I grew up and did live in Korea I would love to teach, but if I wanted to do something artistic, I would love to choreograph K-pop dances. It’s just a dream,” she says modestly, but with how far K-Pop has already taken her, the galaxy and not the globe, seem to be the limit.
“I think [K-Pop specifically] has some special equation. The bands are not put together just to be put together. They go through years of training at specific entertainment companies,” Kadijah wistfully reviews her favorite groups. “After going through all of those years of training, what you want the most is for them to succeed after they’ve debuted. I think that the will to succeed makes them very interesting. They have great dancers, great singers, they always have a visual and that one face.“
No matter what the language, it’s evident that teens around the world won’t tire of boy bands and girl groups anytime soon. You can listen to “KJ’s K-Pop Planet” live on Wednesday nights from 7:30-9:00 p.m. EST on WRUW-FM 91.1 in Cleveland, or stream it online at www.wruw.org. Robert and Kadijah will be playing their favorite K-Pop tracks between 5:00 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. at July’s Night Market Cleveland on the main stage.