No Brain works under the label Rock Star Music. But the group says it has never signed a contract with the label. Yes, the band that has risen to superstar status in the past 10 years has never signed a contract concerning labor conditions or distribution. This would be impossible for a small- or medium-sized label, let alone a major record label. How did this happen? This is when we began thinking of the culture of the Korean sentiment, ``jeong.''
Out of all the Asian countries that use Chinese characters, only Korea and Japan use ``jeong'' as an independent word. It's a difficult concept to explain to a foreigner. Koreans unconsciously define and remember relationships through ``jeong.''
This cultural practice could be difficult to understand in the Western world, where contracts are crucial, and from a Chinese perspective. But in Korea, the close connections of a ``jeong'' culture positively influenced certain areas of rapid economic development. The culture of ``jeong'' can also be found in a cultural world growing as fast as the economy. The reason No Brain was able to work without a contract can be found in Korea's ``jeong'' culture.
We asked the band how it was possible for them to work without a contract. Vocalist Lee Sung-woo replied, ``Having a contract just makes us nervous, and I think we work harder because we don't have one.''
It is clear that the relationship between No Brain and their label comes from Korea's culture of trust and ``jeong.'' But there's more to it. We might have understood this relationship through Korea's unique culture of ``jeong,'' but in 21st century Korea, that couldn't be the only reason.
The author of The Joshing Gnome had an interesting series in 2008 called "What is Jung and How Can We Kill It?" and each time I read about how unique Korea's jeong is, I think about this passage from part three:
Koreans claim that jung is an untranslatable Korean concept. The reason that Koreans have a difficult time translating jung is that it is, in fact, an alien concept to them. Korean culture draws that ten foot trench between those you care about and those for whom you feel nothing. To feel some affinity for someone on the other side of that trench is jung. And it’s totally outside of the basic bounds of the culture. That’s why jung is such a hard thing for Koreans to explain to you. Because you already feel it all the time. It would be like you explaining buoyancy to a fish. You’s be at such a loss to express the concept that fish would merely nod in wonder when you told them ‘I guess buoyancy is a human concept that you just wouldn’t get.’