The 2nd level of hangout *SCAPE sees few weekday shoppers, but on one particular Wednesday, a queue snaked through the Atrium of the youth park at Orchard Road and continued growing. Consisting of mostly female students from secondary schools and tertiary institutions decked out in uniforms and K-pop paraphernalia, this flock could be mistaken for a throng of fangirls waiting for their favourite Korean boyband. Instead, they were waiting to meet the owners of the Eat Your Kimchi blog, the most subscribed-to lifestyle blogging channel on YouTube, with over 400,000 subscribers. The UrbanWire spoke to Simon Stawski, one half of the couple, who runs the blog with his wife Martina.
Coming a long way
The UrbanWire first discovered and interviewed the Stawskis in Bucheon, South Korea, 2 years ago. Then, their blog, Eat Your Kimchi, was less than 3 years old. Their YouTube channel consisted of random videos on life in Korea, with their weekly K-pop music video review program still in a stage of infancy.
Fast-forward to today, the Stawskis have a regular repertoire of programmes, including the likes of Food Adventure Program For Awesome People (recommending food places in Korea and Korean recipes), Wonderful Adventure Now Korea (touring interesting places in the country) and Wonderful Treasure Find (a recently revived series featuring quirky products found in Korean stores).
But the main draw of their channel’s most definitely Kpop Music Mondays, where the couple critique music videos of Korean artistes and perform skits in homemade costumes. The series, already into its fourth season, has featured over 140 reviews since September 2010, and is the birthplace of numerous inside jokes associated with the couple. It was also where the name of their fan-group came from. In July 2011, the Stawskis simply followed their routine, posting up an episode of Kpop Music Mondays. In that episode, a review of 4minute member Hyuna‘s solo ditty “Bubble Pop“, Simon tried to emulate the then-19-year-old’s raunchy dance moves – while swooning a now-famous catchphrase, “Ooh, you so nasty.”
With more and more fans latching on to that slogan, the Stawskis decided that their fans would be called ‘Nasties’. Simon tells UrbanWire, “Most K-pop fans have very florid names for their fans. Like Everlasting Friends or Princesses or something really… saccharine. Our audience, I think, is more playful, and they like the idea of taking a fan-group name jokingly.”
Having fans is ‘exceptionally-bizarre’
The popularity of Eat Your Kimchi has taken the Stawskis on a world tour of sorts. In 2012, they were invited to the Talk To Me In Korean Around The World event and even KCON 2012 in Irvine, California. It was there that they came face-to-face with girl groups like the Wonder Girls, Sistar and boyband MBLAQ, who were enjoying a surge in popularity at the time.
But their travels haven’t stopped there. More than 2 years after sharing with UrbanWire their interest to journey down south to Singapore, the couple landed here in May for the YouTube Fan Fest. During the 2-day extravaganza, which coincided with the Social Star Awards (an inaugural awards show for social media superstars), the Stawskis rubbed shoulders with YouTubers like Hawaii-born Ryan Higa (nigahiga) and Australian John Luc, better known as mychonny.
Simon describes the experience as “thoroughly invigorating”. “We don’t get the chance to speak with full-time YouTubers in Korea, because there really aren’t any. Most of YouTube Korea is corporate: the big music and entertainment media companies, who use YouTube as a distribution method. Regular YouTubers, though, content-creators, are rare, so when we can finally speak with some of them from the US we’re exceptionally excited because we can finally speak with people who understand what we do.”
Still, Simon’s puzzled as to how their popularity grew to such an extent that fans from all around the world would want to meet them.
When they first arrived at Changi Airport, the couple were mobbed by over 100 Singapore fans clamouring to greet them. “It’s exceptionally bizarre to us,” Simon muses, “we understand when artistes go touring so that they can entertain an audience with their musical or performance skills. We… don’t have any of those… We speak on camera a lot and edit footage thoroughly. We’re not sure how well those skills translate into real-world performances, you know? So it amazes us that anyone wants to bring us anywhere!”
The Stawskis are baffled with the extent of their popularity. Nevertheless, Simon says he’s “touched” with the love Nasties give. “We do our best to connect with people online through all the social media platforms we can use, but none of that really compares to being able to hug a viewer in real life, you know?”
Growing as a business in Korea
Besides expanding in terms of international reach, the Eat Your Kimchi blog, now based in Seoul, South Korea, has also grown on a local level where it started. In September 2012, the Stawskis, into their 4th year of living in Korea, finally decided to sink their roots far from their native Canada by taking things one step further – registering Eat Your Kimchi as a business.
Undeterred by a lack of funds. The duo started a fundraiser on crowdsourcing site Indiegogo. The exercise totally exceeded their expectations and proved the Nasties’ love for the Stawski’s work – their goal of raising USD 40,000 garnered more than USD 100,000 in donations.
This enabled the Stawskis, who celebrated their 6th wedding anniversary in June, to set up a studio in the Hongdae Area in Mapo-gu, western Seoul. And as with most companies, they expanded their team of staff members. Joining the Eat Your Kimchi duo were Soo Zee Kim and Leigh Cooper as crew.
Simon, however, admits it felt ‘odd’ when their 2 employees first joined. “We were used to being boxed in for days and seeing only each other. Interacting with others, as a result, was a difficult transition. We had to learn how to re-socialize ourselves a bit, you know?” But after almost half a year of having Soo Zee and Leigh in the team, the Stawskis now feel at home with them. “They feel like family now!”
Besides expanding their business, the Stawskis also expanded their ‘family’. In addition to their 10-year-old Pekinese dog, Spudgy, adopted from an animal shelter 5 years ago, they brought home a Scottish Fold kitten last July, whom they’ve named Dr. Meemersworth.
Unfortunately, with all that work-related travelling (and an Europe tour in the works), the Stawskis have had to separate from their pets. Thankfully, Simon says the couple invites a friend, who takes “phenomenal care” of their pets, to live at their place on those occasions. But if there’s one grouse Simon has, it’s that she “torments them” by sending them streams of cute pictures of their animals online when they’re gone.
Not done yet
With the setting up of the Eat Your Kimchi Studios, the Stawskis have had numerous entertainers’ agents requesting for their charges to be interviewed. As such, U-Kiss sub-unit uBeat, solo crooner K.Will and hip-hop trio MFBTY have all done interviews there.
Still, the Stawskis have 1 artiste who takes top priority on their list – Junsu of pop group JYJ. Many of the former TVXQ member’s music videos have been reviewed by the Stawskis, who have unwittingly made him the butt of countless inside jokes, the most famous of which is derived from their review of JYJ’s “Ayyy Girl”. The dance move was termed “rolling down my sexy windows” due to its resemblance to the action of manually winding down the windows of older cars.
“We’re just really fascinated with his takes on both sexuality and independence, both stances on which seem to be opposed to what we usually see in K-pop,” says Simon.
With their fanmeet at *SCAPE wrapped up, the Stawskis have finally made good their promise to see Singaporean Nasties at close quarters.
But Simon reveals that there’s still 1 thing on their bucket list to do in Singapore.
“We STILL didn’t get a chance to eat Chilli Crab! Arghh!” Simon exclaims.
Hopefully the Stawskis get a chance to try the spicy local delicacy that Michelin-starred chef Gordon Ramsay learnt to cook in July, the next time they drop by. 1 thing for certain is the fact that there will still be Singaporean Nasties rolling down their “sexy windows”, going “Ayyy girl…” the next time they come to our neck of the woods.