I’ll Believe in Christ before I Believe in K-pop

fuck the haters.jpg

Korean pop music, for this listener is a sorry experience for the most part. The constant brutal onslaught of mere single-based releases makes it hard to find a foothold; much harder so to pick a ‘favorite’. Coming from a background that appreciates albums as albums and likes to have deep cuts that enhance the rewards of being a fan, I’ve yearned for music from South Korea to be simply music. Give me an album that doesn’t rely on three tracks to hold the entire weight.

It seems that whenever I find something interesting, it’s only a little side step or footnote of an artist’s otherwise abysmally standard discography; take last year’s “End Again” by Gain for example. Sure I was at first attracted mainly due to it’s Shiina Ringo-esque show-tune trappings, but it really stands as it’s own project. And that’s the problem; Gain seems to have only pulled it out as a one-off. The rest of her output is just the usual teeny-bop bullshit that any other Korean pop artist is putting out- and it’s really a shame.

It’s not as if the genre itself is the problem; its fine to have your rub-a-dub-dub flavor of the month cheese. Everyone needs a little bit of trash in their life. The problem is that almost EVERYTHING in the limelight is this. How people tell one group apart from the next is beyond me. “CHECK OUT BLACKPINK OMG”, “(fx) REALLY BREAK NEW GROUND!”. What new ground? All I hear is the same recycled music we heard in the late 90s, with glossier production. Five with a bit of bro-step. Spice Girls with some trap. This is fine, but if you’re gonna call it revolutionary, give me something legitimately amazing.

It’s hard to take any kind of praise beyond that of singles merely being good bops (and they certainly are, there’s no denying it) seriously when it is unquestionably one of the most insanely corporate, revenue focused music industries in the world- if not the most. This of course, isn’t necessarily a bad thing- this is POP music after-all- but there just isn’t enough consistently solid releases to warrant any kind of positive reaction other than what it is on surface level.

There’s also the comically audacious overuse of the term “comeback” for every single release by an artist that has been gone for seemingly as long as a quick potty break. If there’s one indicator of how frivolous and short life-spanned the genre is, it’s surely this. Remember when Hikki came back after eight years hiatus? That’s a comeback (if not a particularly exciting one). A new album or single is a new release, no more, no less. Yes, I understand fans getting all excited for a new release or tour, I do; but calling it a comeback when the artist hasn’t even been gone long enough to notice them missing is a bit of a far fetched sentiment.

A major blow to Kpop’s chance at being taken truly seriously internationally was ironically, it’s greatest success, the dreaded “Gangnam Style“. This forever cemented Kpop into the general public’s eye as a novelty genre and whether it will recover as a whole is yet to be seen. Like similar cases in Japanese pop (see Kyary Pamyu Pamyu‘s “PON PON PON”), the song will forever go down as a joke hit and will prop up at ‘remember this‘ parties, alongside Los Del Rio‘s “Macarena” and Eifel 65‘s “Blue (Da Ba Dee).

It’s not all doom and gloom though, South Korea does have a blossoming and interesting indie/net-label scene. Artists like Neon Bunny, for example, released some of the most exciting material last year. Progressive rock band 3rd Line Butterfly have seen moderate success and just released a pretty great new album this month. The good music is there, in small quantities, if you are willing to hunt for it. And that’s a major problem in itself- exposure. With music from the west, or Japan, the alternate to the mainstream is never hard to find (It’s not as if Jpop (the genre I support the most) doesn’t have it’s fair share of garbage too; but at least the alternatives are far more pronounced and in plain sight), more than one genre penetrates the charts. Kpop however, does not seem to have anywhere near this kind of variety, which makes it hard to get more involved with, at least on a personal level. Some may argue about the differences in the sub-genres of it all, but really, it’s woefully minor. The western cliches of “what Kpop is” are harder to defend- because indeed, Kpop is what it is.

This isn’t meant to be an attack on people that do genuinely love Kpop, I can understand the idea of liking ‘fun music to be fun‘. There’s nothing wrong with that. Everyone likes to ogle at beautiful people (Hyuna really does it for me in that regard). It’s just when people try and force this idea that it’s some kind of revolutionary, supreme genre that it all gets a little silly. It’s understandable that a market that is pretty much 100% digital would want to focus mainly on singles, but it really doesn’t excuse the lack of decent full length albums from a music listener’s experience. Give us something meaty to chew on if you want to make a real, lasting impact. I do have faith in the South Korean alternative and indie scene, however, I’ll believe in Christ before I believe in Kpop.

Now excuse me while I run to the hills.

I’ll Believe in Christ before I Believe in K-pop

2 thoughts on “I’ll Believe in Christ before I Believe in K-pop

  1. Your Sachsen says:

    What’s worst even is the unability of most of the supporters of the genre to trace its history. That leads us to the assumption that pop in South Korea came into existance with “the wave”, and that’s not true!!

    “K-pop=Music produced in the last two decades”
    Ok, that’s fine because those are the only releases that the regular fan knows about, but what musical tradition is this supposedly ‘new genre’ based upon?

    We could honestly say none. We’re dealing basically here with a shoddy ‘repackaging’ (oh look another Konglish term to make a combination of old songs and a few new ones pass off as the equivalent of a real album in J-pop terms) of Korean pop tunes with a foreign style that is the most important part of the mix of course (showy dances and costumes like the american pop stars, etc.)

    Now, examinating thoroughly a sizeable part of the catalogue of wishy-washy music big companies put out, we discover that is either penned by foreign composers teams (Swedish, British, American specially, or insert any other nationality here) or South Korean composers doing the same work for groups as different as f(x), KARA, 9muses, Rollercoaster, Infinite, etc (refer to Han Jae Ho and Kim Seung Soo’s “Sweetune”.)

    Ever asked yourself why 9 muses’ figaro and f(x)’s love are disco-themed? Now, is not that there isn’t quality there because I like the work done on both songs by Sweetune, but there’s hardly wide-spread originality in other cases for the rest of the groups that amass so much money and attention.

    So one day in my curious search I found that yes, there was some decent South Korean singers from the 80’s and 90’s. It seemed even that some female figures like Park Mi Kyung and Kim Wan Sun had similar stuff to that of golden era pop singers like Nakamori Akina (not that fan of her stuff but well she’s a very respected referent, you know.)
    Lee Sang Eun, a very idolesque singer at the begining but later an accomplished composer, had some hits on Japanese charts and appeared on top chart programs from that country too. She has some interesting songs too if you ask me!

    But in my opinion the kpop fanbase can’t see this because is a largely uneducated one full of fangirls/fanboys (people that can’t see beyond their noses and look forward to the next single to see what kind of choreography or amazing merchandise will their loved ones come up with.) I kinda understand too because I’ve bought some stuff for the good songs and hot photobooks too haha, but nothing is above the music for me!

    The only way I could get a bit closer to the forgotten scene of last century’s Korean pop was watching the program “Inmortal songs”.
    And let’s not forget too, that apart from the great lack of exposure the country gives to indie/alternative music creators, some musicians have had to turn their look towards places with more appealing and indie-friendly music scenes. Juniel herself a big fan of Shiina Ringo, decided to go to Japan and there signed wih Warner Music Japan.

    That itself imo is telling.


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