The Ninety One Series |||


Hello! I’m Jessica. I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, and writing about pop music in particular for the better part of a decade now.

I started writing about pop music after I started following Korean idol pop, or what most people refer to as K-pop.” But there’s a lot of Korean music that isn’t K-pop,” and there are a lot of pop groups outside Korea that make similar choices in group composition, marketing, and packaging. Idol pop” is my shorthand for these groups, both inside and outside Korea. Idol pop is often shallow, repetitive, frequently downright silly, and aimed mainly at teenagers, if not teenagers’ younger siblings—and yet the more I listened to it, and watched videos of its performers, the more I found myself thinking.

Image of Ryan Higa talking to the rest of BgA, saying, “I mean, they don’t even speak Korean, do they?” from the introduction to the video for “Dong Saya Dae”

Image of Ryan Higa saying, “How can you love something so much that you don’t even understand?” from the introduction to the video for “Dong Saya Dae”

This project is an attempt to play out my thoughts on idol pop. If idol pop is so silly and shallow et cetera, why do so many people long past teenagerdom have passionate responses to it? Are academic conferences centered on idol pop proof of the degeneracy of the academy and the decadence of late capitalism, or is there something worth talking about? Does idol pop inspire people? Does it inspire them to act selfishly, or retreat into an entertained passivity? Why would national governments care what poses idol-pop stars strike? And how, if idol pop is shallow and silly and prone to invoking passivity, did it get a middle-aged, monolingual American to suddenly care a great deal about what’s going on in Kazakhstan?

Maybe there’s more going on to idol pop than is apparent at first brightly colored sight. Maybe the power of idol pop relies on communication, affection, translation, and our collective fear of our own morality. Maybe I just need better priorities. There’s only one way to find out.

About Ninety One

Image of Ninety One, taken 2019

The series covers idol pop in several different countries and mentions a number of idol-pop groups, but the featured group is my favorite, Ninety One. They’ve been performing since 2015, and you can find them on Spotify, Apple Music, and various other online platforms. Also, being an idol-pop group, they have lots of videos available on YouTube. They are Kazakhstani, and goofballs, and thoughtful about what they do, and flawed, and this series will be talking about all of that.

(Here’s a slightly longer introduction.)

Table of Contents

Part 1: Introduction October 20, 2020

Part 2: The Art of Adorkable October 23, 2020

Part 3: Idol Pop and the Languages of Love October 27, 2020

Part 4: Bring Them the Head of Kenesary Khan October 30, 2020

Part 5: The Loyalties of Little Fresh Meat November 3, 2020

Part 6: But Maybe Our Faves Are Awful November 6, 2020

Part 7: Theodor Adorno vs. the Poptimists vs. Zhanar Dugalova November 10, 2020

Part 8: Starlust, the Sasaeng, and the Servant November 13, 2020

Part 9: Ninety One Went to Xinjiang November 17, 2020

Part 10: Ninety One As Nazarbayevean Realists November 20, 2020

Part 11: Conclusion November 24, 2020

You can also read the entire series on Medium, starting with Part 1.


This website is run on Blot, with the Plex Sans font.

(Here’s the source for the GIFs above.)

The header illustrations are all screenshots from Ninety One’s music videos, tweaked by me (using GIMP):

Thanks for stopping by. Feel free to say hello or, if you really enjoyed the work, buy me a coffee.