Students put fresh spin on Asian pop


Members of FRESA recreated a South Korean pop music video outside of the Stephen Foster Memorial Museum (Screenshot via FRESA YouTube Channel)

Lynn Urbina still remembers the first music video that hooked her on K-pop — “Sherlock,” by the popular group SHINee.

She was struck not just by the music video’s aesthetic — which featured the band, looking like Sherlock Holmes, peering around corners with magnifying glasses— but also the identity of the performers.

“There’s this weird lack of Asian faces in the American music scene, so seeing someone from Asia being really popular and being good at performing and dancing was really interesting to me,” Urbina said. “I really connected with that.”

Urbina found a space to express her love of K-pop, music and dancing at Pitt when she joined FRESA, an Asian dance club on campus, during her sophomore year. The senior mechanical engineering major became FRESA’s president this year.

FRESA, short for Fresh Entertainment by Student Artists, allows its members to recreate their favorite Asian pop music videos and step into the shoes of their K-pop, C-pop and J-pop — or Korean, Chinese and Japanese pop — idols.

This video-making process can take anywhere from a few weeks to an entire semester, with club members learning choreography, performing, filming and editing. The finalized product is then posted to YouTube.

In a video performance posted to the group’s YouTube channel in July, FRESA covered “Knock Knock” by South Korean girl group Twice. In the video, nine female members of the team bop their heads and kick their feet outside of the Stephen Foster Memorial Museum in red, white and black outfits. The music is funky, fast-paced and has a peppy beat, matched by the dancers’ lively movements.

Emory Verstraete, a first-year student studying neuroscience, was thrilled to find a Pitt club that would allow her to express her passion for the genre.

“I’ve been really into K-pop since high school, and I first came across FRESA when I was surfing Pitt’s club list earlier this year,” she said. “I saw it, and was like, ‘Okay, I’m doing this.’”

Verstraete sought out FRESA to find a bigger community where she could meet other K-pop superfans like herself.

“It’s usually hard to find people in America who are into East Asian pop,” she said. “Nobody in my high school, save me and a couple of my friends, were into it.”

FRESA’s creative director, Paige Bruckner, is responsible for the lengthy process of organizing video shoots and ensuring that videos are edited and uploaded to the group’s YouTube account.

Bruckner, a junior linguistics major, hopes to provide club members with access to recording equipment this year so they can integrate their own song covers for the first time.

“We try to follow the actual music video if we can,” Bruckner said. “If there’s a cool shot we try to manipulate our video so it looks the same.”

Because a typical K-pop group has between five and 15 people, FRESA’s nearly 40 members divide themselves into specialized subgroups for different performances to accurately mimic the original music videos. These groups rehearse weekly and come together at the end-of-year showcase.

The group’s first monthly meeting this semester was held in the William Pitt Union Wednesday evening, where interested students and returning members crowded into a room looking to recreate their favorite performances and step into their idols’ shoes.

Officers listed off several performance options to the eager crowd. Some dance subgroups required people to audition, others to simply sign up. This year, songs for the more complicated audition projects included C-pop singer Luhan’s “Roleplay” and K-pop boy band Exo’s “Call Me Baby.” Songs from the easier projects included K-pop girl group Pristin’s “Wee-Woo” and K-pop girl group Girls Generation’s “Holiday.”  

Gavin Jia, a first-year biology major, attended the meeting because he wants to learn how to dance in a “fun and fashionable manner.”

“I want to do something that gets me to exercise but also looks good,” Jia said, adding that he plans to audition for the “Roleplay” project.

Aekta Bhatt, a junior fiction writing major, joined the club last year after transferring to Pitt. Participating in FRESA not only fed her K-pop obsession, but she also made new friends and and enjoyed a needed break from her studies.

“The people I met through this are the best part of the club,” Bhatt said. “Plus it’s a great stress reliever.”

Bhatt, who is overseeing the club’s Girls Generation dance project this year, said her favorite part of East Asian pop performance is how eye-catching they are compared to American performances.

“The dances are a lot more complicated and the performances overall are very colorful,” Bhatt said. “There’s just more to look at.”

Urbina said everyone is welcome to participate in FRESA and the existing members of the club are willing to help improve new dancers’ performance skills.

“If you’re interested, but you don’t think you’re good enough, just come,” Urbina said. “We want anybody to just really enjoy the fact of performing and singing and not being shy about it.”