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Heather Willoughby

Heather Willoughby received her Ph.D. in Ethnomusicology from Columbia University. Recent research and publishing efforts focus on gender and image-making issues in Korean popular music and contemporary p’ansori performance practices, as well as diverse topics covering comparative cultures and disability studies. Having lived in Korea for a total of seventeen years, she is currently employed as a cultural anthropologist and musicologist in the Graduate School of International Studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.

"That’s a Rap, Grandma: Battling Stereotypes, Gender Norms, and Generational Gaps in South Korea"
In recent decades, music of all varieties has been used in South Korea to try to bridge generational gaps. For example, traditional epic narrative singers have teamed with jazz or rock bands to appeal to a broader, younger audience. Rarely have distinct generations been assembled face to face in an attempt to enhance understanding and change the soundscape, but a 2016 television show aimed to do just that, and more. The premise of the first season of Tribe of Hip Hop was to pit eight “grandmas” (women ranging from 60-80 years of age) against one another in a series of challenges and rap battles. Each of the senior women (who were/are well-known actresses/musicians/athletes) was paired with a young rap star to mentor and assist them in their quest. While at the same time, the grandmas shared their life experiences and wisdom to guide and influence their junior partners. Through the course of the show, not only were generational gaps successfully navigated while grandmas were portrayed as hip and relevant, but negative stereotypes of both young and old were shattered. Of particular interest is the way in which certain gender norms were simultaneously substantiated and obliterated. While older Korean women have a reputation of being both doting grandmas and fierce forces in society, young rappers, though popular, are often thought of as rebellious and balking cultural norms. This paper will investigate the ways in which the grandmas interacted with their (primarily) male mentors and the resulting building, breaking and bending of stereotypes, gender norms, and generational gaps.