K-Pop – random thoughts…

Sakura’s Kara Earworm got my mind wandering this morning and I happened to have my laptop in my bag, so here are some random thinkings…….

I have to confess that I’m kind of fascinated by the whole K-pop phenomenon. As you may know, most K-pop stars are required to attend intensive and thorough training and teaching in a wide range of skills – singing, dancing, language skills (usually English, Japanese and Chinese), interview and media training etc alongside regular school studies, for a number of years before they are unleashed on the world as a complete unit. It’s like a combination of university study and job training.

I think the whole idea of giving in-depth skills training is brilliant. I don’t see it as being manufactured at all, it’s just giving people the necessary skills to do the very difficult job of being an international pop star. If you don’t have training, you can often end up with……Travis ! I know they are an easy target, but I single them out for two reasons a) I once read an interview with Fran Healy where he said that he didn’t really listen to music and only owned about 10 CDs – which I just find so depressing. It’s difficult to see how can someone with no knowledge of or interest in their job can have the temerity to present their music to the world and expect to be taken seriously, and b) they are shit.

Other creative industries have colleges and universities; art college or drama school for example, and people expect artists and actors to be highly trained and knowledgeable – they don’t accuse them of being ‘manufactured’ because they take learning their craft seriously. “But they don’t write their own songs or play their own instruments, they’re not REAL musicians” I hear you cry. Well, actors don’t write their own films or build their own sets – they just perform what’s written for them in the manner that the director tells them to. Good actors do it well and transcend the tight restrictions laid on them, and so it is with good pop stars too.

I once read that K-pop groups like Kara or Girls Generation deliberately make their performances less slick and smooth and add imperfections for their Japanese audiences, as in Japan we prefer the home-made-outfits and DIY approach of the AKB-style bands and find being slightly crap endearing and kawaii (yet another thing in common with the Brits). I was astonished at this at first, but then I realised that it is just clever marketing – like the latest James Bond film having a different poster for the Indian market or whatever – and shows awareness and respect for the people that buy their records.

The likes of Big Bang, Girls Generation, Super Junior and 2NE1 (Psy doesn’t really count!) are already filling stadiums in the US and with such a well-planned and professional approach it’s surely only a matter of time before the UK falls too. And when it does, don’t criticise them for being slick and manufactured, but salute their attention to detail, passion for perfecting their skills, taking their careers seriously and respecting their audiences enough to learn a whole new language just to communicate with them. Or alternatively, just sit and stare in admiration at the girls’ lovely legs and the boys’ great hair and perfect cheekbones!

16 thoughts on “K-Pop – random thoughts…

  1. Speaking as a huge Travis fan I find your attitude most……only kidding !

    Indeed it is the professionalism that is really impressive. I’m not sure it’s what I look for in music though. It has more in common with musical theatre, I think.
    Being of the “old punk” school of thought I’m pretty much anti anything that smacks of “stardom” and wouldn’t really bother going to see the kind of show on offer.

    That said I realise that I’m in a minority ( of 1 ?) and that there is huge potential for the Korean acts if the language barrier can be broken through. Maybe Mr Psy will have done them all a favour.

    From what I’ve seen and hear the quality of the productions is of the highest calibre.I’m hugely impressed by artists like Black Queen and Jewelry ( whose “Look at me” is a, perhaps, surprise favourite at the moment).

    Gawd Bless ’em, I say.

  2. Very interesting – and I’m resisting the temptation to start banging on about Walter Benjamin’s The Artwork in an Age of Mechanical Reproduction, which is a pioneering study of, effectively, the reasons why authenticity (identified by a carefully limited amount of imperfection, i.e. it’s reminiscent of craft work rather than mass production) becomes so highly valued in modern western culture. Still doesn’t actually make me want to listen to any of it…

    • With Japan, as I understand it, there’s a deep running tradition of admiring “imperfection” ( as we might see it) “wabi sabi” which, I suspect, springs from Buddhist/Shinto/Taoist beliefs.

      I do wonder if this is behind, however subconsciously , the tend for Japanese pop to be a little more “home made” and “amateur” looking ( of course it takes a lot of skill and effort to be effortlessly lacking in skill).

  3. This is a great post and i agree with everything you say ! ! !

    I remember when I heard about Little Mix I was quite excited but when I saw them I was really disappointed at how armature they were.they were.

    If you want to be a professional entertainer then you need to train hard and study to build your skills and to be good at it.

  4. Crosses the line a little for me into SAW, Simon Cowell or even early Rock & Roll where you had umpteen covers of a tune written by someone else. It’s a bit like paint by numbers or telling an artist what to paint.

    • I see it as giving the artist the tools and skills and the support and guidance to paint…not just telling them what to do…but maybe I’m naive…!

  5. they’ve cleverly got around the language barrier in Japan by mainly singing in Japanese (no mean feat !) and just adding interludes of Korean (and of course some English) to retain the exoticism and the Korean identity.

    I’m sure they will do the same in English as they move more and more into English speaking countries…..resistance is futile…..!

  6. No, sorry, I can’t see this as a ‘good thing’ at all. Isn’t this teaching people how to become excellent draughtsmen (& women), rather than painters? I’m all for understanding the craft and the mechanics of how music is done but where’s the originality, spark and madness that is necessary for new stuff to be created? There’s no ‘right’ way to create music and insisting there is kills creativity (see ‘classical music’ and the X-Factor poo-factory). Giving acts ‘interview and media training’ I find absolutely horrifying: nothing unusual can ever be created by people interested in pleasing the media and the ‘general public’.
    In such a world, Punk becomes a crime. And, even though I hated an awful lot of it for simply being bad music (in my terms), it was an injection of vital life-force essential to the survival of music as a whole. K-pop is not (although anyone is free to love it, of course).

  7. I didn’t know how K pop bands work, it sounds very organised. Although it’s not for me, I suppose there is room for it in the world, as long as the girls enjoy their work. What happens to them when they’re older? Do they go on to better jobs as a result?

  8. I can see part of your point. Should people be sent out badly prepared into the big wide world in order to earn huge amounts of money for the music industry and then tossed aside? Probably not. It still sounds like “stage school” on a big scale to me, which is not what appeals to me about music. That said I don’t really get too hung up about authentic vs manufactured these days.
    I agree Travis were probably just about the dullest “authentic” band of their time but at the same time who wants to read or watch an interview with someone who’s just regurgutating their media training? If the Pistols had media training would we have had the Bill Grundy interview?

  9. I have on several occasions very nearly made that same argument re actors not writing their own material in response to commenters lambasting, eg, Girls Aloud on the Graun. This idea that nothing valuable/meaningful/entertaining can be created by a team as opposed to a single ‘auteur’ is kind of farcical (as well as precious and intellectually snobbish).

    With a decent theatrical production, you have the input not only of the playwright, but also the director, the actors, the set designer, the lighting and sound guys… Maybe an overall solo directorial vision is worthwhile (roll on the pop svengali…), but it’s always a collaborative effort.

    And that’s before even considering the possible role of the ‘muse’ to songwriters. Brian Higgins’ Xenomania team have consistently produced their best work with/for Girls Aloud. Did they just happen to hand their best songs to them? Were they inspired by the girls’ personalities/attitude when writing? Are the girls simply great pop interpreters? Is there a more complicated alchemy going on there involving a combination of all of the above?

    And isn’t this obsession with ‘authenticity’ a bit ‘of our time’? Presumably it wasn’t so prevalent 50 years ago? Were people so down on Dusty or Elvis for not writing their own material?

    All that said, I too am a little dubious about training people up to be the perfect ‘product’. You need a little oyster-style grit and grime to create the perfect pop pearl, surely? We respond to personality in performers, not perfection. I guess it’s analogous to the difference between good actors, who find some genuine emotional connection to the material and thus deliver an apparently genuine emotional response, and bad actors, who deliver some mugged face-acting facsimile of emotion. So if these K-Popstars are being trained to reach down within themselves to connect to the material, to use themselves to find emotional truth, etc, all to the good. If they’re being trained up to ape the ‘moves’ of others, to emote in the style of someone else, not to put a foot wrong on the media treadmill, then I can’t imagine anything particularly inspired and ‘new’ being created. Proficient, yes; inspired, no.

  10. ah….good healthy debate…great!

    Great points one and all, and I especially agree with Bish ! Judging by their appearances on TV shows in Japan and interviews, they are definitely not automatons, but intelligent, funny and unique individuals one and all.

    I can’t help wondering if K-Pop will be the Tiger Woods of the pop industry. I’m not suggesting that they will become serial philanderers of course – although, they well might! – but that they will bring a level of technical proficiency and marked professionalism that forces everyone else to up their game and transforms what has up to now been an ad hoc and fairly amateur industry into a proper one. This can only be a good thing for the audiences, I think.

    • Except if they turn out to be the Lance Armstrong of the pop industry – though I suspect that’s the Simon Cowell enterprise…

  11. I have no worries about people being trained to ‘perform’ well.

    But it’s just different to creating something unique for yourself/band – that’s my idea of the difference.

    I like pop – manufactured is fine – but it’s usually the freaks that stand out – those that don’t perform as standard…. those that kick against their masters/business plan, they are MORE fun.

    Your art collage comment is all fine and well – because those that go to collage and get trained become ‘Damian Hurst’ -Technically competent and good at sales and publicity.
    Those that produce ‘art’ go to collage so they have materials to use and a warm room – they could be doing that in a garret in a shed or in their mind – it doesn’t matter.
    The type of music I love to listen to is music created by those that would be doing so in their own rooms/minds/sheds even if I cared or not.

    But it’s not ‘exclusive’ and not ‘elitist’ or ‘authentic’ (our time is full of people creating careers – not albums) there are so many levels of crossover and subtlety that it doesn’t matter – just listen to what you like.

    The best thing about setting up a record label was listening to all the variations of demos – and just thinking … “I’m giving these poor sods 20 seconds to impress me” it wasn’t fare – and anyone who gets anything out ‘THERE’ – is okay by me.

    I’m still going to criticise what I don’t like – that’s the fun of being an individual, and a opinionated one at that – but only as ‘Not my personalities taste today – and this is why:’ rant – because otherwise, perfected business plans would be all we are left with – be it the ‘art’ side of music or the ‘performance’ side.

    The world is richer with everything we through at it… long may they all live in disharmony.

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