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.