Dancing in the Digital Age: Interview with KPop Cover Artist Lisa Rhee
“I don’t earn money from my videos, so even [with] 1 million views or 2 million views, I get zero”
Lisa Rhee, a Youtuber boasting a 2 million subscriber following, specializes in covering Kpop dances. From the onset of her cover artist career, she has solidified the reputation of releasing accurate Kpop covers within an incredibly short amount of time. She is currently a partner with CJ Entertainment & Media, a mass media company in South Korea, and has collaborated with notable artists like Everglow and VAV in the past. Off-camera, she is a Ph.D. Candidate, studying communications and social media at Ohio State University. The Penn Innovators in Business Network was incredibly impressed by her talent (can you tell we’re huge fans) and asked her to share her academic journey and how that has fused into a Youtube part-time career …
What skills do you regret not learning?
“I think what I would have done differently is to utilize more of my resources. I went to Northwestern University and there were highly esteemed professors, but I didn’t take the opportunity to talk to them and get to know them. I would’ve liked to try to build more networks because [outside of undergrad] building networks gets harder and harder. Being in school with people that share the same interests is a great place for you to build social networks that you can utilize in your future career.”
What compelled you to start creating Kpop covers?
“I was taking this class in my undergrad and my professor was saying how, as a communication major, you have to have a strong online presence. She made me Google my name and I was shocked that none of the results were about me. I had zero presence online. Because of that, I was like, ‘I got to do something that would build my reputation and fill my presence’. I tried to build my own website and do blogs, but that wasn’t really fun. My friend was a Youtuber, so I was like ‘maybe Youtube is something I could do’ because you can actually see the numbers go up and see if you have a presence. I picked K-pop dance covers because ever since I was little, I learned dance covers off of videos online, so that was something I had been doing anyhow.”
How do you plan your dance covers?
“When Red Velvet [for example] announces their comeback, I mentally prepare. When they release their photo teasers, it’s highly likely that they’re going to wear that outfit for their performance, so I try to find that outfit in my closet. Because I work with YesStyle and Kooding as an affiliate, they send me clothes every month, so there’s a likely chance that there’s something in my wardrobe that’s very similar — I have to tweak it a little bit. Sometimes I get my needle and sew a bit to make it more like the outfit. On the day when the music video is released, some groups have showcases. That’s when I can actually learn everything and upload it on the day of.”
Is there a reason why you release dance covers so fast?
“The reason why I try to make them as fast as possible is to make time for myself to study. It’s like, ‘I need to get this out of my head so that I can work’. So that’s why I try to learn — so I could stay focused and do [school] work the rest of the days, but now I feel like I have this reputation that I need to upload as fast as possible and to fit this reputation that other people have of me. Uploading fast dance covers is the reputation that I want to maintain and constantly work towards. Although I am working towards uploading covers in a short period of time, good quality and accurate covers are my first priorities.”
How do you establish collaborations with other artists and organizations?
“When there are events like KCON or something that’s huge in America, CJ Entertainment & Media reach out to me and they’re like, ‘do you want to come out to this event?’ Once I am confirmed to attend, there are some brands that reach out to CJ and they’re like, ‘is there anyone who you think would fit with our brand?’ CJ Entertainment & Media plays the role in connecting brands and me together.”
To what degree does your management control your content?
“It’s totally up to me. I have full control over my Instagram and Youtube and they help by connecting me to brands or provide opportunities to work with artists.”
Would you ever consider making Youtube into a full-time career?
“I don’t think so because 1) Since I’ve danced ever since I was little, I’ve had a lot of physical injuries and therefore, don’t think I can do it for a long period of time 2) It’s hard to live off from just what I earn as a dance cover Youtuber because there’s always a copyright issue. You can’t really earn a lot of money off of your videos. Most of my videos I don’t make money off of. Just by using the videos themselves, I can’t live off of that.”
Would you ever go back to anonymity?
“I am studying social media in my program right now, and I think there are more benefits of being actively engaged online because there are some things that you can’t have. For example, you can’t build a lot of networks offline because there are physical limitations and so I don’t think I would ever go not anonymous.”
What do you hope that your viewers take away from this interview?
“Don’t be too hard on yourself, because that’s what I do to myself. That’s something that I needed to improve on. I’m sure a lot of people struggle with this too because after you graduate from undergrad, there’s this society norm to have a job and to be earning a lot — and there’s just so much pressure on you. It’s okay if you don’t get a job right after you graduate; there are so many opportunities in the future. Take things slowly. It is important to make sure that you are doing something that you love and that you have passion for. Don’t rush yourself just because you have this social pressure that you have to be this perfect person.”
Written by Grace Wu