I think it is fair to say that my whole family has been affected by my K-Pop consumption. They will now often sing along to the songs that come blaring from my iPod or ask me to put on a certain track. My parents even persevere to learn different group members’ names and ask what area of talent they specialise in. This leads to many hilarious mistakes on my family’s part, such as my Father calling TOP of BIGBANG “Glonk” for some peculiar reason…
In any case, they are incredibly accepting and have even begun to enjoy parts of it for themselves. A while ago though, my brother expressed his incredulity at the fact that he enjoyed the genre so much.
He said that he disliked the fact that the groups were so “obviously manufactured”, but that at the same time, he found the training systems of South Korean entertainment agencies very interesting.
This – along with the recent, huge success of PSY’s ‘Gangnam Style’ here (whereupon, his background as a part of YG Entertainment was barely even touched upon in UK coverage) got me thinking. Would the openness of South Korean Entertainment agencies have an adverse effect on the success of the K-Pop genre here?
I don’t think I am speaking of only people I know closely when I say that the vast majority of music consumers will often turn their nose up at any slight mention of a “boy band” or “girl band”. This sort of music is often confined solely to a person’s early teenage years, or perhaps is a very guilty pleasure that sits on their iPod, not intended for public view.
Let’s face it; the notion of boy bands and girl bands does tend to bring about images of cheesy songs sung by garishly dressed singers with bad 90s haircuts.
There are also the more concealed ideas that these performers were plucked from the streets by fat cats from a record company, given the lyrics to sing and dance moves to do to look the part, play the character and sell the records, tickets and merchandise. No more than a puppet being controlled for the benefit of the corporate machines’ wallet. (Wow, Karl Marx would be proud of that sentence!)
I’m not saying this was the case with every single Western pop act in the past (talented songwriters such as Take That’s Gary Barlow serves as a great example), but it seemed to be more or less the norm.
No wonder then that many listeners are put off by any act that recalls that business format. People often want to be seen to support artists that have genuine talent and have worked hard to get their personal section in your mp3 player.
Personally, it took me a while to adjust to the rather surreal world of Asian entertainment agencies. Very young children audition and sign a long contract to embark upon strenuous training regimes paid for by the company. They are whipped in to shape and pushed to be able to cope with the many different roles they may have to take in all entertainment areas.
Many of the biggest K-Pop acts on the scene today were thrust together at the last-minute and expected to work well together. An example of this being KyuHyun of Super Junior, who joined the group about a year after their debut, and the difficulties he faced as a result of this have been frequently expressed by the individual.
There are also a lot of documentary series that expose the bare bones of K-Pop production. Also, many of the world’s best in songwriters and choreographers are enlisted to create the next No.1 K-Pop hit.
This sort of information may usually remain behind closed doors or in the (incredibly) small print of the album details of Western acts, however, many agencies and artists alike involved in the K-Pop world will openly give credit to people aside from themselves that have been involved in their work or show their fans what goes on daily behind the scenes.
I was also initially quite shocked by what South Korean programmes such as “Intimate Note” entailed.
If members from an idol group do not get along with one another, they can be tricked into a false sense of security to then be forced to sort out their differences in front of the camera.
I would have thought that this complete openness would work against the groups’ success levels – but it doesn’t seem to work that way in the crazy world of K-Pop!
I suspect that this sort of thing would not likely be revealed for current Western pop acts because it could shatter that suspension of disbelief that a fan holds for their favourite groups. Music producers would probably worry that this would affect sales badly.
It is only recently that past rifts in Western pop groups have been shown to the public, and this is only for the groups that have made a comeback in their later years like Take That and the Backstreet Boys – and that is probably because these acts are now targeting an older audience (fans from the first time round) that would not be as crushed by the knowledge that their favourite members may not all love each other unconditionally.
Having said all this, the emergence of talent shows since the early 21st century like ‘Pop Idol’ and ‘The X Factor’ have worked to pull back the curtains of the Western music industry and they have been very well received by the general public.
Successful boy bands like JLS and One Direction have been born from these programmes and are currently some of the highest-earning artists in Britain today.
It should also be noted that some groups (e.g. One Direction, Little Mix) were actually also thrust together and expected to work as a group after coming to the audition as solo singers.
Overall, it may be said that it is thanks to bigwigs like Simon Cowell that the general public are now more exposed to what goes on behind the scenes of modern pop music production.
South Korea have been a little more relaxed about what they show, but also probably have their fair share of secrets tucked away from public eyes.
Personally, I see that openness as a great aspect of K-Pop, but am not naïve enough to deny that a certain amount of theatrics are still employed in its construction. I guess that’s just a part of show business!
I just hope the fact that we are often shown a lot of the inner-workings of K-Pop, will not cause UK listeners to recoil in horror, wishing for something more ‘genuine’.
After all, just because these acts are given an exposed platform while on their way to success does not make them any less talented. I would also say that K-Pop acts are some of the most hardworking individuals I have ever known.
What do you guys think on this topic?
Will the openly ‘manufactured’ nature of K-Pop work against it?
[Image Source: Google Images].