Posts

Fandom, Not Genre, K-Pop Surpasses The Limitations Of Music

Fandoms

When a friend of mine recently asked why K-pop is a fandom rather than a genre, it was puzzling; of course K-pop is a fandom. Looking around at K-pop’s international fanbase, the question hardly makes sense; it’d be like saying The Beatles are a genre when they are in fact so much more. But that doesn’t resonate with people unfamiliar with what K-pop is, who just assume that K-pop is a very specific type of music rather than an entire entity.

K-pop, at its heart, isn’t one sound but rather a production style coming out of South Korea today and the pop culture surrounding it. K-pop is Korea’s music industry and all that it contains. Similar to Hollywood being the umbrella term for the industry, its stars, and its products, K-pop is the blanket term for music, celebrities, and a variety of other aspects of Korea’s pop culture.


Also on KultScene: Playlist Sunday: K-Pop In Wonderland

Understanding that K-pop is the overarching term for a variety of music coming out of South Korea is key to erasing the idea that K-pop is a single musical style. What most people think of “K-pop” is actually idol music, pop music acts produced by large entertainment agencies. There are usually, but not always, synchronized choreographies. K-pop doesn’t just mean idol music though, since all of South Korea’s mainstream music is now coming under the title. But that’s not everything under the sun in South Korea, and even Korean indie acts are falling under the broader K-pop umbrella; this year’s SXSW’s K-Pop Night Out includes a girl group, two R&B artists, an IDM producer, an alt-punk indie duo, and a glam metal band.

And they’re all included in the idea of K-pop to some degree, despite their blatant genre differences.

Because of its utter enormity, fans of K-pop aren’t just fans of a specific style of music, which would in fact make K-pop a genre. A fan may be a fan of an act act, such as idol groups like SHINee or 2NE1, but unlike fans of musical genres, K-pop fans express affinity to the artists rather than the musical style; musical affinity isn’t bound to being a fan because K-pop is impossible to pin into one individual style. While both SHINee and 2NE1 have distinct styles within the K-pop world, their songs themselves are known for genre-blending and musical experimentation rather than sticking to one specific musical style.

Saying K-pop is a musical genre is limiting, since the songs falling within K-pop’s realm range from folk to R&B to bubblegum pop to hip hop and beyond. (It also diminishes the face value of music coming out of South Korea today, since K-pop gets a bad rap as a wholly manufactured industry with little innate artistic value.)

In a recent interview, members of Korea’s most popular boy band Big Bang deplored the idea that K-pop is a single genre. Seungri argued that the title doesn’t express what is good K-pop versus bad K-pop and G-Dragon highlighted the fact that K-pop isn’t K-pop to Koreans; it’s just music. Meanwhile,T.O.P argued that the terminology itself was a failing, and implied that there were racist connotations to lumping all Korean music under the idea of a single genre.

“It’s like this,” he told the Washington Post. “You don’t divide pop music by who’s doing it. We don’t say, for instance, ‘white pop’ when white people make music.”

But clarifying that K-pop is just general Korean mainstream music isn’t really easy to explain in a casual conversation since most people are not likely to understand the nuances of why it’s not a single musical style, making it difficult to expand on the broader definition of how and why K-pop is dissimilar specific genres like country or metal.

Metal fans, like other fans declaring favoritism to a specific style, favor acts that fall under a specific overarching musical genre. Just like K-pop, they identify one another on the streets based on band tees and get excited when a new act comes to town. But without the specific tones of being a metal band, those same fans won’t be interested. If a metal band put out an album inspired by jazz music, their fans would likely be confused and pan the album. K-pop fans eat up that sort of experimentation, since it’s part of what makes certain songs fall under the K-pop title.

But with K-pop, the most genre-bending music “genre” of all, the music is just the beginning of the pitfall that leads fans to start liking all aspects of the K-pop scene. While many songs sound similar, and there are trends in K-pop overall, a K-pop fan can be biased towards the slower, more mellow ballad tones rather than the dance music, but still be a K-pop fan. Most fans of K-pop claim partiality to specific acts and join that act’s fandom (i.e., Big Bang fans are known as VIPs as a whole) but still are a part of the overall fandom of K-pop. They cheer when a K-pop act beats out other acts internationally, coming together to support the industry’s international growth, and get upset collectively when a single fandom may be under attack from outside fandoms.


Also on KultScene: 5 Acts That Define What ‘Kpop Star 5’ Is About

 


While “K-pop” once stood for the specific idol music coming out of Korea, it is now essentially a word handed out freely to describe all Korean pop and even all Korean music. Looking at idol groups alone, there are allegedly hundreds of different sounds and concepts. But when someone says they’re a fan of K-pop music, they’re not saying that they’re a fan of the specific sound of K-pop music because there is no such thing. Rather, they’re saying that they are a fan of the world of K-pop. What that world is is up for debate in South Korea nowadays, just as Big Bang said, but K-pop is no single musical style, despite the Guardian trying to peg Grimes as K-pop in a recent article.

If K-pop were a genre, it’d be the all-encompassing world of Korean pop music and then some. It’s the industry consisting of music production companies in South Korea and the musicians themselves as well as the music. Some of it is idol music, some of it is hip-hop, ballads, indie-style folk music, etc., but it’s the production value and promotional aspects that makes K-pop what it is and why fans love it. It’s an idea moreso than a genre.

Yes, K-pop songs are mostly Korean pop songs, and you could say that K-pop is a genre. But a genre is a style with a limited range of musical tropes. K-pop is definitely an entity, but that entity is so much more than any music genre; it’s an entire scene that, yes, surrounds a certain type of music, but is so much more than a single genre.

What do you think of defining K-pop as a fandom rather than a genre? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

Playlist Sunday: Valentine’s Day

valentine's-day-playlist

This day, once a year, when couples are lauded and told to eat chocolate and do something fun, is all about love. So, for this year’s Valentine’s Day, our KultScene Playlist Sunday is all about love and relationships. Each of our writers has a different take on the perfect love song and what love is. Pairing individual opinions and matching them to their favorite songs, we put together a perfectly romantic playlist for the holiday.

Whether you’re single or taken this Valentine’s Day, B.A.P will be sure to make your heart flutter with their enjoyable and bright song “Crash.” “I can’t believe it, it’s really perfect,” they sing. “I am breathless, it’s not fair. Your eyes, your lips, you’re everything really left me shook up.” Have you ever met someone who put you in an instant daze and left you completely mesmerized? Is it your current significant other or perhaps someone of the past? Or maybe, even someone famous? Regardless of who it was/is, it’s a great deal of feelings and emotions that can’t fully be expressed and put into words. The members hearts are thumping so hard that it’s about to erupt and burst out of the bodies at just the mere thought of meeting someone with such great qualities and characteristics. Does your heart do the same notion whenever you think of or if you’re around that person?

— Tam


Also on Kultscene: 5 K-Dramas To Get You In The Mood For Valentine’s Day

What better song to dedicate to that special someone this Valentine’s Day than IKON’s “My Type?” An ode to the members’ ideal girl, the lighthearted song describes everything about her that they love, including her fashion sense, her voice, her smile, and even her yawn. And though the lyrics describe her body movements as “slightly awkward,” they also let her know that she has no flaws. She can literally be mute, and they would still have the hots for her. But I guess that’s when you know that the love is real, when you are able to look past the other’s faults and appreciate all of his or her nuances, such as the look on his or her face when spacing out. “My Type” works well whether you are confessing for the first time in a “some” relationship or for the thousand and first time in a long-term one, because who would not like to hear how perfect they are?

— Shelley

I’m not much of a romantic, but how can anyone resist an ode to your beauty like in Big Bang’s “Bae Bae?” I mean, next to my intelligence, if you want me to fall in love with you, highlighting my chicness and my doe-like eyes is the way to go. Both the song and the music video for “Bae Bae” are weird, no doubt about that. But it’s awesomeness relies in the fact that it’s different and not cookie-cutter. “Bae Bae” is a testament to the girl they’re so enamoured by, how they wish she won’t change ever because in this moment, she’s perfect. During the honeymoon stage of a relationship, what’s not romantic about that?

— Alexis


Also on Kultscene: Girl Crush: Grace

Sometimes it’s important to constantly remind a person that they are your valentine and you are theirs. Even if they don’t agree, you can do what AOA Cream do and keep shouting, “I’m your baby.” The subunit’s debut single “I’m Jelly Baby” is about a jealous girl who is afraid her boyfriend is looking at other girls. Maybe it’s not the most romantic of songs for Valentine’s Day but the sheer devotion on Cream’s part is admirable and romantic in a creepy way. The song itself is a wonderfully inventive bit of pop rock built on top hip hop beats. Guitars drive the song but it flits in and out styles and contains a chorus which takes a while to get to the point. It also features maybe the most beautiful bit of vocal so far this year with Hyejeong’s second part in the long pre-chorus build up.

— Joe

Park Hyo Shin’s “Wild Flower” is pretty sad as it comes post-breakup, but the vocally expressive song is lyrically beautiful to the point that it is quite obvious that this is love. The ballad, beginning with strings then pausing completely to allow Park’s crisp vocals to be begin backed only by a simple keyboard accompaniment, is about lost love and the future of a new spring together after the “wild flower” returns to bloom again. The song is one of Korea’s most popular songs in the past few years thanks to the poetic lyrics that describe the feelings of love and heartbreak: “Love is a fiery flower that blooms and withers,” he sings at one point. “…On top of the dry land, my entire body is burning. Your scent that remained on my fingers is scattering away.” At a time when many of the most popular Korean “love” songs are nothing more than hook-filled dance songs, Park Hyo Shin’s “Wild Flower” reflects the passion of love and anguish of a break up, while still depicting faith in finding happiness again. So, even though it’s Valentine’s Day and “Wild Flower” seems like a sad song, it’s actually something we should all hope we experience in our lives. We are all secretly waiting for our “Wild Flower”-like emotions of love.


–Tamar

What’s your favorite Valentine’s Day Song? How did you spend the day? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter,Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

Video of the Top 25 Korean Songs of 2015

BTS

So far 2016 has been a slow year, aside from Dal Shabet nothing of any interest has been released. This has led us to looking back at how great of a year 2015 really was. To celebrate it, one of our writers cut together a video of the top 25 songs of the year as voted for by the KultScene writers. As you may have seen our top 50 list, this video takes the top 25 and edits them together in inventive ways. This is something to celebrate the year in music with, but mostly we hope you have fun watching it.

What was your favorite Korean song this year? Share your picks and thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

Blink & You’ll Miss These ‘Doctor Who’ References In K-Pop Music Videos

Doctor Who Meets K-PopK-pop and British pop culture has little direct influence on one another, but some K-pop music video directors are definitely fans of the iconic British television series, “Doctor Who.” Although they’re few and far apart, there are some K-pop music videos that directly take influences from “Doctor Who.”

In honor of the new season of “Doctor Who” being well under way, I took a look into three K-pop music videos that get their inspiration from “Doctor Who.” Even if you’re not a fan of the British show, you know these K-pop music videos and may be surprised.

Big Bang’s “Bang Bang Bang”

Long before Buzzfeed’s Try Guys noticed a connection between the British television series “Doctor Who” and one of this year’s most watched K-pop music videos on YouTube, I noticed a seemingly impossible reference to the iconic sixth season premiere, “The Impossible Astronaut.” In the music video, wearing a cowboy hat and a leather jacket, Big Bang’s rapper T.O.P appears to be no other than the stand in for the show’s leading man, The Doctor.


Also on Kultscene: 4 K-Pop Songs Casting ‘Harry Potter’ Spells

Yes, T.O.P is The Eleventh Doctor. And River Song. Or, at least, he’s wearing a cowboy hat while hanging out with an astronaut, who also appears to be T.O.P. To my knowledge, YG Entertainment hasn’t explained if T.O.P kills himself and ruins the history of time forever or is married to himself, but it’s a pretty humorous few moments in the music video.

Think the cowboy and astronaut are just coincidences and accidentally appear to be referencing “Doctor Who?” Think again, because here are definitely alien-like specimens in jars on the sill and that white room looks a bit like the room from the episode “The Girl Who Waited.”

ZE:A’s “Breathe”

The Big Bang music video is actually just the most recent addition to this list of K-pop music videos that take aspects from “Doctor Who.” The 2014 music video for ZE:A’s song has a bit of a depressing tone to it, like the whole world being destructed and ZE:A dancing in a spaceship, but then we get our space elements that take us to “Doctor Who” and everything seems like it is much better.

In this case, we don’t get a blatant reference to The Doctor or any other character from the show, but we do get a TARDIS. Yes, a TARDIS, but not The Doctor’s TARDIS. This is more like ZE:A’s COE.

Screen Shot 2015-10-01 at 9.39.24 PM


Also on Kultscene: 5 Most Social Media Savvy K-pop Idols

For K-pop fans who don’t know, The Doctor’s TARDIS is his spaceship that travels through time and space, and it looks like a 1960’s police call box from England. Its name is an acronym for “Time And Relative Dimensions In Space.” So, going with that, ZE:A’s blue box has the group’s name it in English, which is Children of Empire so… I decided that ZE:A’s spaceship is called a COE, and it doesn’t really travel through space and time as much as it makes a handsome K-pop group.

ZE:A’s music video has a lot of out of this world elements, but I can’t help but wonder whether their blue stage outfits came before or after someone suggested throwing in one of the most iconic images of British pop culture, the TARDIS from “Doctor Who”.

IU’s “You & I”

Last but definitely not least, we have a K-pop singer emulating The Doctor.This 2011 music video from IU takes us to England, or somewhere that looks like it, with a clock tower that can’t quite compare to Big Ben and a cozy little house with black and white pictures and a random goose walking around IU’s home as she counts down to D-Day.

Do you remember how I explained that the TARDIS is a spaceship that travels through time and space? Well, IU’s waiting for some handsome guy to wake up and there’s a magical mystery device that says “time” and “space” on it.

Screen Shot 2015-10-01 at 9.47.17 PM

And then it gets better!

Not every season of “Doctor Who” has clockwork in the beginning of each episode as part of the opening theme, but clockwork played a role in the intro of the eighth season of “Doctor Who,” and what is IU dancing in front of during the intro of the song? Nothing more than tons of clockwork gears.

Screen Shot 2015-10-01 at 9.48.17 PM

Okay, that may be a bit of a stretch, but here is the best use of any “Doctor Who” reference in K-pop to date- IU uses the TARDIS. Or something that looks like it and works the same way.

Screen Shot 2015-10-01 at 9.55.48 PM

Yes, Korea’s pop princess IU takes a ride on a train called the Fantasy Express and then gets into a time machine that looks oddly like a TARDIS from the outside. “You & I” foregoes the delightful bright blue color for something a bit more sedate, but there’s the same twirling and cosmic ambiance of IU’s box of time and space.

Do you know any other references to “Doctor Who” in K-pop? Let us know in the comments and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

Playlist Sunday: Weird K-Pop Songs

kpop playlist songs heroesTo people outside the fandom, K-pop is weird. And yet, for us in the know, it’s funny, because we know they haven’t seen anything yet. That’s why this week’s playlist is dedicated to those truly odd music videos that actually deserve the “bizarre” tag.

I remember feeling some slight anxiety and excitement while waiting for T.O.P’s “Doom Dada” to be released. Prior to this single, the last time he had a solo song was back in 2010, therefore, the anticipation was riding pretty high. “Doom Dada” was a roller coaster of emotions. My friend and I listened to the song first and watched the music video afterwards. There were moments where we both gave each other really puzzled “WHAT THE HELL?” looks and then there were moments where we were both in tears from laughing at the bigheaded masked baby. T.O.P’s fandom knows that he has strange characteristics; it’s hard to really figure what goes through his head most of the time, so I can’t say I was completely surprised by this song and music video. If anything, it just makes me want to dig deeper and ask him a lot of questions.

— Tam

No collection of weird K-pop songs is complete without the Godfather of Weird, Seo Taiji. In 1992, along with his Boys, he ushered in a new age of Korean pop music. And thanks to his roots in rap, metal, and pop, that age would go on to be a profoundly weird one. So it is because of him that we now have such a diverse of music within K-pop. To show he’s still got it, I picked his most recent single “Christmalo.win” for today’s playlist. “Christmalo.win” combines all of thes influences into one rip-roaring piece that somehow works. It’s the perfect mix between Halloween and Christmas sounds coming off like “The Nightmare Before Christmas” except good (yeah, I went there!). The song bounces between genres with electronics taking up the most of it with interjections of metal and rap. It is a perfect summation of the man and K-pop that a song like this can be released in 2014 and not be considered utterly groundbreaking. To Korea, it’s just Seo Taiji, the President of Culture.

–Joe


Also on KultScene: The Best Songs At KCON LA 2015

If your first thought after watching “Bae Bae” wasn’t “WTF??” there’s something far more wrong with you than with BIGBANG. Seriously, where do I even begin? How about the fact that they made the fangirls’ minds run amok when they said the video would be 19+, only to be surprised with G-Dragon getting handsy with furniture, T.O.P having a very metaphorical sex scene, and all of the members lifting girls’ skirts? I mean, did anyone even pay attention to the actual song –which is quite good, by the way — on their first viewing of the music video? Not this girl. “Bae Bae” is an overall mind fxxk, but a very interesting one. You can watch it multiple times and you will always find something funny or weird you hadn’t noticed before. Some boy bands get cutesy or funny on their music videos to cater to fans. BIGBANG gets weird, and that’s perfectly fine with VIPs.

— Alexis

Of all the weird, early K-pop concepts that I’ve seen (H.O.T, I’m looking at you,) Lee Jung Hyun has always been the weirdest of them all. She is the queen of performances in South Korea, after all. “Wa” is iconic in K-pop but not truly because of its musical style instead, it is primarily famous because of Lee’s live performances. The song is a rhythmic pop-techno fusion song and extremely catchy, and the music video is absolutely insane, with space ships and kimonos and who really knows what. But it’s when Lee performs “Wa” live that I think all of her crazy, weirdness comes out. Definitely check out the music video sometime, but you can’t miss out on Lee dancing her iconic fan performance and using her pinky finger like a microphone. If you’re interested in seeing her perform the song more recently, Lee performed the song on “Infinite Challenge” Totoga earlier this year.

— Tamar

If it weren’t for the sensual reggae vibes of the song, I think I would be a little nervous watching the music video for PRIMARY’s “Don’t Be Shy.” Let’s just say that if I were a parent, I would think twice about letting my girls have a sleepover after this. The video revolves around a less than average sleepover with AOA’s ChoA and friends, where we witness them rip apart Barbie dolls, play ghost dress-up, and summon spirits in the dark; I bet somewhere in there there is a satanic message waiting to be decoded. The whole music video is a nod towards ‘90s grunge, if the Pokemon cards and the gritty quality were not enough indication of that. And even if you don’t fully understand the subculture you can’t deny how much of a total babe ChoA is looking. Her unmatched talents will have you revisiting the video again and again, and saying creepy is the new aesthetics anyways.

— Shelley


Also on KultScene: Best Rookie Girl Groups of July

Yes, we already have them in the list, but we can’t help it. BIGBANG are known for being weird and crazy most of the time, but with their newest release “Zutter” by GD & T.O.P., they hit a home run. First of all, what does zutter even mean? The video not only starts with them peeing, but it also has this crazy story, that after seeing the video repeatedly, I still don’t get what the video and song are about. I’m pretty sure T.O.P.’s slimey slaughter of something blurry and the puing of guts has somewhat of a metaphorical artsy meaning. Nevertheless, the video is not only weird, but it’s funny in a really crazy way. What gets weirder than T.O.P. peeing on G-Dragon? I honestly don’t think anything could top that. The song is really good and it seems as if it could have been in their first debut album as a duo.

— Alejandro

What’s the weirdest K-pop song you’ve ever heard? The weirdest K-pop music video you’ve ever seen? Let us know your picks in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

#CallMeBabyXWin: Korean Music Shows & the Songs That Win Awards

Here’s a question for you: Does popularity mean great? That depends.

I used to think that for a song to win numerous music shows and to top charts, it had to be a very good song, or at least of a better standard than the rest of its competitors. The more I am exposed to the kpop world however, the more I realise that I was under a misconception.

Ever since EXO came back on March 30th with its new album EXODUS and the title track, Call Me Baby, the particular hashtag #CallMeBabyXthWin (X representing the number of wins, i.e #CallMeBaby18thWin) has trended regularly on Twitter. For readers who are not familiar with this hashtag, it’s commonly used by fans to celebrate the music show wins of their favourite groups, and it normally starts trending right after the results of the music shows are announced. Said music shows include SBS Inkigayo, Mnet Mcountdown, to name a few. These shows run throughout the week on different days, and are the main channels in which idol groups can promote their new singles and albums. As of May 5, 2015, EXO’s Call Me Baby won 18 awards from six different weekly Korean music shows.

Call Me Baby Loser trends

Screenshot of trends in Twitter (2/5/15)

These music shows are also competitions, with battles for the #1 song every week. When I was first introduced to the world of K-pop, these music shows caught my eye, mostly because of the cool and flashy performances by various artists or because of the artists posting pictures or tweets after winning to thank their fans. Either way, I used to think that these shows were a big deal, and that the songs that won on music shows were definitely good. But not anymore. I believe now, that music shows do not determine which songs are better than others but instead represent popularity.


 Also on KultScene: EXO’s ‘Call Me Baby’ Song Review

Disclaimer: I don’t intend any offense or harm to any of the artists mentioned. In fact, I’m a big fan of most of these artists and their music!

Before we dive deeper into this question of whether winning on Korean music shows is a way to determine the quality of a song, let us examine how the results of these music shows are even tabulated. For the purpose of this article, I will be using the examples of 2 particular music shows, Mnet’s M Countdown and SBS’sInkigayo (The Music Trend.)

mcountdown

Inkigayo-chart
As seen above, anywhere between 30%-45% of these two music show scores are determined by active fan-voting, be it on social media sites or via live voting. The percentage weightage of Digital sales points as compared to those of physical album sales are also very high, ranging from 50%-60%, which is vital because digital sales opens the market to a larger and more global audience. Hence, it can be seen here that idols who have larger and more international fan bases definitely have an advantage over less well-known idols, and will therefore have a higher chance of winning these music shows.
Admittedly, it is not easy for idols to claim that trophy on music shows, let alone for several shows in a row, regardless of how many points a large fan base can acquire. Staying atop of the game for multiple weeks is something only a popular song could achieve.
This begs the question, what is a good song? A song that is catchy? Addictive? In my opinion, a good song would be one that showcases the individuality of the artist/group and still sounds coherent as a whole. It would be an added bonus if the artist/group was able to showcase a new side of themselves, or to show some growth and development in the music they release.

EXO miss A Red Velvet

EXO’s win against Miss A and Red Velvet on Inkigayo (12/4/15)
Bringing it back to the context of EXO’s recent comeback, there were other songs released at the same time as Call Me Baby, but failed to receive any recognition from music shows. Notable examples would include Miss A’s Only You, the title song from their newest album Colors, which was released on the same day as EXO’s album, on the 30th of March. Miss A achieved a triple “all-kill” on Korean music charts with their song appearing in first on all Korean music charts, but still failed to win a single number one on music shows as the girl group was constantly in second place behind EXO. That wasn’t because Miss A’s song wasn’t catchy, addictive, or original, or even popular. Rather, it was more likely because Miss A’s fanbase, Say A is a significantly smaller one as compared with EXO’s “EXO-L” fanbase. Although both groups are famous internationally and have members from both China and Korea, the popularity of EXO is astronomical and few other K-pop idol groups could compare, thus aiding my point that large fan bases are an integral part of music show wins and wins should not be a factor to determine the quality of a song.


 Also on KultScene: Playlist Sunday: BIGBANG

Another example displaying this point would be the respective comebacks of Big Bang and BTS. Big Bang came back on the First of May with two tracks, Loser and Bae Bae. Both music videos reached one million views on Youtube within 8 hours of the same day. On the other hand, BTS (Bangtan Boys) also came back with their latest mini-album on the 29th of April, and the contrast between the groups is extremely clear. One, Big Bang, is one of South Korea’s most popular musical acts and releasing its first music for the first time in three years. The other, BTS, is a popular K-pop idol group but had not previously released a song that won awards on Korean weekly music shows.

Big Bang Loser YouTube Count BTS I Need U YouTube Screenshot

Screenshots taken from Youtube (2/5/15)

The difference in MV views can be attributed to a few factors, most significantly the size of their fanbases. Big Bang has an extremely huge and global fanbase, as can be seen by the fact that Big Bang’s 2012 album, Alive, was the first k-Pop album to chart on the United States’ Billboard 200 Album Chart. Big Bang is also established and respected as artists, both as a group and as solo artists. In comparison, while BTS also has a sizeable (and still increasing) fanbase, it is definitely smaller than that of Big Bang, and BTS is also not as well-known globally. Being a relatively new group as compared to the veteran Big Bang, these statistics are understandable, however does this mean that BTS’s song is of a lower quality than that of Big Bang? MV views also contribute heavily toward music show rankings, so the same question can be posed. Do music show wins define the standard and quality of a song?

There are plenty of examples of this in the Kpop world, be it in the underrated but amazing releases from rookie/relatively unknown singers or the classic releases of singers who have, after a certain number of years, lost their popularity. All of them deserve recognition for their work, but there can only be one winner. Let us not allow these music shows to define the quality of a song for us, but let us formulate our own opinions and follow our hearts. After all, how good a song is is really dependent on everyone’s personal preferences, so there shouldn’t be a way to judge these songs, be it through music shows or through any other mediums.

What is your opinion about kpop music shows? What do you define as a good song? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

SM Entertainment: The ‘Brand’

sm entertainment smtown sm artists idols groups

A few weeks back I wrote about the idea of authenticity that YG Entertainment uses to sell its artists. While I stand by most of my opinions, I feel it comes across as too one sided. I was ready to slam YG and I didn’t stop to consider the ideals of other companies. By other companies I really mean SM Entertainment. They are the yang to YG’s yin. My YG article clearly misses that yang, there is a sense that I prefer a different approach to the YG one, but don’t touch on it. I don’t know if I prefer the approach, but I do prefer SM’s music, so that probably influenced my opinion.

The Asian idol system is a thoroughly transparent one. Fans are allowed to see all elements of how an idol comes to be, their extensive training in not just singing and dancing but acting, PR, and fitness. It is not an entirely glamorous regime, but it’s what it takes to be a star. This transparency means, however, that fans are also under no illusion as to the creators of the music and its authenticity. SM makes no attempt to hide this or push their artists beyond this. So why is SM so popular and yet have no discernible musical figureheads?

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E8ZrPFMr_nY&w=500&h=281]

Another writer on KultScene got to the heart of this when she wrote about how SM and Disney are very similar companies. It wasn’t totally positive either, equating the recent controversies of SM to Disney’s own troubles with diversity and such. In the context of the companies actual content though, for me, it boils down to the “brand.” These companies are loyal to their brand and what will make their brand the most money. SM has time and again shown that the overall company is more important than any individual. From apparent slave contracts to over-worked idols, no company has had as many high profile departures than SM. The amount of cases show it be a serious problem for young idols and show a lack of understanding from an imposing company.

While groups like Shinhwa and Fly To The Sky left SM after their contracts expired and achieved much success, leaving SM Entertainment prior to the end of the contract has meant difficulties.

The worst of all, of course, is the case where three members left former-quintet TVXQ,  which left Junsu, Jaejoong and Yoochun  (who formed JYJ) unable to attend any Korean television programs. If they do, the station that shows them will potentially not get any SM coverage in the future, losing the station a ton of potential viewers. So JYJ is essentially blacklisted (although Junsu just performed for the first time on television in six years, thanks to EBS.)

 


 Also on KultScene: What Will SM Entertainment Look Like In 2015?

Like Disney, people have grown to essentially worship the brand of SM. Even after all these controversies, loyalty remains and the fans nearly always side with the group and not the individual. This sort of attitude can lead to a company becoming a Disney-like juggernaut, and that’s a problem. If SM continues growing and accumulating smaller companies, like Woollim Entertainment, they can build a possible monopoly. This might not seem so bad since Woollim has been proceeding business as usual with their affairs, but they’re still under SM’s control. If this continues, the whole Korean music industry would revolve around SM, making it possible that if SM goes under, so does all of K-pop.

Let’s steer away from the dramatics for now and back to a real, current problem for SM: the treatment of individual stars. Maybe it’s not a problem, but just a clear difference in style to YG. Emblematic of SM’s love of the brand, they prioritize cohesive groups over individual talents. It was actually listening to F(x)’s Pink Tape and realizing how replaceable they are as a group that gave me the idea for this article. Yet I still think it is one of the best full length albums in K-pop history. Apart from TVXQ and to a lesser extent, SHINee, all of SM’s groups feature members that could be left out and would make no difference to the quality of their music. Similarly, no group has a defining creative head like G-Dragon, CL or even Bobby, whenever iKon debut. Even TVXQ who are possibly the most talented group in K-pop history, do not have a creative head, merely extremely proficient singers and dancers. This lack of strong individuals shows SM are not interested in people who leave the group or company, in order to shine on their own right as solo artists, overshadowing their previous SM-related efforts. When one of them threatens to possibly do this, they are swiftly taken care of, like former Girls’ Generation member and head of fashion line Blanc & Eclare Jessica Jung.

What about the music these large, anonymous groups are releasing though? This is where it gets tougher to pin SM down. SM is known for creating songs it dubs SMP, SM Music Performance. This is a type of song that is created together as a complete song and performance, which cannot be separated. Essentially, these are incredibly complex songs that go above and beyond what a pop song is expected to be. Examples are SNSD’s I Got A Boy and TVXQ’s Rising Sun. What’s really interesting though is that these are the type of songs that big brands would never dream of releasing. They play with structure in strange ways and swap genre without any notice. Pop songs were designed to lull you into security, make you feel at ease so you won’t go against the system. SM does the opposite and its makes for an interesting case.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3vBzLtZMCno&w=500&h=281]

To find out why SM does this though, is not easy to find out. We can look at the producers of the songs. A lot of them are outside producers, people like Teddy Riley, Will Simms and The Stereotypes. SM would not let them produce such weird tracks without their consent though, and probably would have even specifically picked out songs like this. This comes across as more of a negative in reality, as it makes SM seem uninterested in even their own artistry not just their groups. Always using outside producers gives them an image of business people rather than musicians, but this is not wholly true either. There are many in house writers and producers like Yoo Young Jin, who has worked on almost every great SM song since its inception.


 Also on KultScene: Artist Spotlight: DaeNamHyup

My last and most likely theory has more to do with the Korean public than the music itself. South Korea did not have pop music as we know it until 1992 when Seo Taiji and The Boys burst onto the scene with their musical fusion. They mixed rap, metal, dance, and many more genres to create something never heard before in the country. At the time they used this music to criticize Korean society (see Gyosil Idea,) which Seo Taiji still does to this day, and it worked thanks to the genre mashing and structure bending forms of their songs. They were so popular, however, that this style of music eventually became commonplace in K-pop. So maybe SM’s songs today are not as strange and revolutionary as I thought, but merely the norm in the country.

One thing I can be sure of though is that SM Entertainment and YG Entertainment have completely different ideologies when it comes to their brand. Of what I have written about, they do share at least one thing in common, having lots of great, artsy teasers, but not delivering with the final product (WINNER for YG and EXO for SM) and I hate them both for it. Ultimately, I don’t know what side I come down on in favor anymore. I prefer SM’s music, but I don’t respect any of their individuals as much as I respect CL and her brazen individuality amongst idols. Either way I’m supporting a big brand whose only goal is to make lots of money.

Let’s support neither of them. Go find a smaller company whom you can get behind and encourage by rewarding quality music and artistry with your support. Like Chrome Entertainment, home of Crayon Pop, whose DIY attitude is already changing K-pop or Source Music who have been accused by netizens of making deals with journalists so G-Friend can get on the charts or any other of the large number of smaller, less corporate companies currently struggling to stay afloat.

What do you think of SM Entertainment’s system? Who do you prefer SM or YG? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

[This article was updated on April 21, 2015.]

YG Entertainment and Authenticity in K-Pop

The idea of authenticity in pop music is always a contentious one. In the west, every effort is made to make sure the pop star is seen to be the real deal. While in Asia, the idol system is a transparent one in which the fans know young girls and boys train for years to debut and are almost completely controlled by their company. YG Entertainment pride themselves on their more authentic than usual idols and roots in hip-hop. From the acquisition of rap royalty Epik High to the home grown writer producer G-Dragon to the real rappers of iKon, YG has continually put its faith in authentic talent. YG still deal in pop music though, and Yang Hyun Suk and producers like Teddy and Kush are well known as big parts of the music in the company.

Money making and authenticity tend to not go together well, but all pop music is made to make money. So can there be authentic pop music and is YG it? Is their style true or a clever marketing trick? I want to examine YG’s output of 2014 to try and get at some answers. I won’t necessarily be looking at the specific quality of the songs, although it can’t be avoided, but mostly how they were marketed compared to how authentic or interesting they turned out to be.

There is no doubt as to YG’s hip-hop roots being fairly legitimate. YG has come a long way since then however, and are now the second biggest music label in South Korea. In order to get to where they are now though, they have sacrificed some of their ideals in order to get ahead. The idea of authenticity has changed within the company as it becomes more focused on idol groups. The illusion of authenticity has proven to be more effective than putting the work into originality, and 2014 was the year it all came together.

Also on KultScene: YG Entertainment Wants You To Know It’s Different

Last year, YG debuted two new groups, AKMU and WINNER, and created a new one to debut later this year, iKON. Without even getting into the details of the groups, we can see a difference between them and YG’s roots. A lot of them come from talent shows; this immediately raises alarms about the authenticity of these groups. That’s not to say everyone who auditions at talent shows is inauthentic, but it is hard to find true artists through them. There are many talented singers, dancers, and rappers, but how many are the brand of supposed authentic that YG claims it wants?

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Oi8jDMvd_w]Akdong Musician were one of these, and were a huge sensation after K-Pop Star. Their music appealed to the Korean market but brought with it an interesting undercurrent thanks to Lee Chanhyuk’s compositions and the vocal dynamic between him and Lee Suhyun. After winning the show, they had the choice themselves to choose between the big three companies. They chose YG explaining that they felt they could express themselves the best there. YG’s image was working for them before even signing Akdong to their label. I have no doubt about the talents of AKMU and they had the right idea by singing with YG, but I wonder if Akdong still feel the same today.

YG has taken the soul of what Akdong Musician are and diluted it with the “YG style.” This is a disservice not only to Chanhyuk and Suhyun but to fans who came to love Akdong’s original sound and image. Their debut single 200% was a generic soft hip-hop pop song which did nothing to showcase the possible talents of Akdong. They even made them dance for the live shows which looked awkward for all involved. They even changed their name to AKMU. It’s not all bad for Akdong though, as their other big song of the year, Melted, is an incredible social critique with a stripped back piano accompaniment, and one of the best music videos of the year.

While Akdong Musician were taken from outside of YG’s doors, WINNER were created in a reality show made by the company. WIN: Who is Next? followed two different boy groups made of YG trainees as they fought to debut as the first YG boy group since BIGBANG. They were Team A and Team B, with Team A eventually winning, being christened as WINNER and given a debut.

Pop music is a business, and in business, major companies do not take risks on letting the public have a say in their next move. So when a show like this runs, I can’t help but be sceptical. YG ultimately would have total control over what was shown and it would be naive to think that they wouldn’t have made edits in accordance with their own plans. Favour was more than likely thrown in Team A’s direction to keep in line with these. The fact that Bobby from Team B, or iKon now, couldn’t make the top team even though he is the hottest property on the K-pop market right now shows there was a plan for each group prior to shooting the show. Considering that YG had the ultimate say in who won confirms this to be nothing more than a vanity project attempting to showcase their authenticity.

I realise these are completely unfounded claims, but I can’t help but feel that show was completely manipulative. Putting these aside, I want to look at WINNER’s highly anticipated debut. The promo for it was one of the best ever seen in not only K-pop but all pop in recent years. It featured micro films with each member, short documentaries about their feelings leading up to their debut and even an incredibly produced instrumental track over interesting visuals. Everything was done in a consistently stylish and artful manner. Expectation was high for something truly interesting.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gEqlF5N8UMs&w=500&h=281]

… Then they released a ballad.

Ballads are the safest, most mainstream and dull kind of song in all of K-pop. Ballads from drama soundtracks consistently top the charts and have been doing so more and more recently. So when WINNER, after the amazing build up, released Empty, I was severely disappointed. That’s not to say it’s necessarily a bad song, just a completely safe one considering the teasers and YG’s talk of WINNER being more than just a Korean group. So of course Empty went on to be a huge success making WINNER the fastest boy group to win a music program award and winning more awards at the MAMAs and Melon. As soon as YG saw the success they doubled down by releasing a solo song from WINNER’s rapper Mino, I’m Him which sounded like a rejected G-Dragon album cut.

Also on KultScene: Let’s Discuss: WINNER As A New Type Of Idol

I want to save any criticism or praise for iKon for when they properly debut. I will say however that Bobby seems to be trying to make a legitimate career for himself, but doesn’t see that he is now an idol because of this. Trying to distance himself from other idols won’t help him at all as it will only make him seem like a try-hard boy group member.

All of 2014’s releases stem from an apparent move from YG to become a more global company. Even Epik High have lost the personal touch that made their earlier music so good. With CL making her way over to America and PSY already achieving huge crossover success, YG can obviously see themselves as the biggest K-Pop players –in the U.S. at least.

In order to continue attacking the western market though, they are losing any sense of true authenticity in place of a corporate illusion of reality. They put the main focus of their groups on their supposed legitimate rappers to give a sense of originality to them. Yet when music is released, it is generic and uninteresting. YG has essentially tricked their fans into believing everything they do is true artistry, that everything they release comes 100 percent from the members themselves. In the pop music world, this is impossible. This is the true quality of YG, making corporate look authentic.

What do you think of YG’s authenticity? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.