The music industry is a bit like a first-class food buffet at a charity event for a bunch of bored millionaires. You will find so many different dishes with unique flavors all crammed into your view so it is overwhelmingly satisfying but also sickening at the same time. Since it is a high-class event, you expect that the food would be top notch. However, you find that you can’t differentiate between the premium imported steak and the satisfactory local steak under all the fancy dressings and side-dishes. It’s either that or the philanthropists have suddenly lost their senses. Or is it really just different tastes?
Currently, the music industry is serving people quite a meal. It rapidly changes in short periods of time. Fifteen to ten years ago, the main course was sweet Pop music with Pop Princess Britney Spears dominating the centerpiece, accompanied by sugary boy bands such as the Backstreet Boys and Westlife. Around five years later, emo rock and punk music hit the charts; an ensemble of MCR, Avril Lavigne, and Evanesscence. Today, what is the face of the music worldwide? Justin Bieber surely has a strong influence, along with other tween stars hitting the stage. But there have been arguments in favor of another supposedly “different” type of music.
The dish that is fighting to be the centerpiece is KPOP. According to Wikipedia, KPOP is a musical genre consisting of dance, electro-pop, hip hop, and R&B music originating in South Korea. So it’s basically a genre which is made out of a lot of other genres. However, the question would be, why create another genre when it is already describable with the current vocabulary of genres? Why the exclusiveness?
Maybe because it is from Korea, people might say. But then, people from Indonesia, for example, would start calling their pop and Dangdut IndoPop. Or the country music artists in Nashville might even be pickier by labeling their music NashPop. What’s wrong with it? Nothing much – except that describing music would then be based on their origin, not based on the fundamental differences that created the elementary genres in the first place.
Next, why is KPOP so popular? The video clip of Gangnam Style from Psy has already gotten over 300 million views on youtube. In 2009, the Wonder Girls became the first K-pop artist to debut on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart. Both Super Junior and Girls’ Generation have held their concerts here in Indonesia with a welcome that should make Justin Bieber’s managers run for their money.
According to a Rolling Stone author, "K-Pop is a mixture of trendy Western music and high-energy Japanese pop (J-Pop), which preys on listeners' heads with repeated hooks, sometimes in English. It embraces genre fusion with both singing and rap, and emphasizes performance and strong visuals." Meanwhile, the BBC describes the K-pop bands Super Junior and the Wonder Girls as "highly produced, sugary boy- and girl-bands with slick dance routines and catchy tunes." The fact is, many K-pop music videos have colorful visuals and a catchy beat. Dance is an integral part of K-pop. When combining multiple singers, the singers often switch their positions while singing and dancing by making prompt movements in synchrony. K-pop is also recognized for pretty-boys and girl groups that are young and considered attractive (Wikipedia).
With the above description for KPOP, we may assume that the fans would be teenagers and young adults. However, many adults also enjoy KPOP – for various reasons. A lot of grown men are such fans of the Girls’ Generation that they go to the extent of downloading their video clips, collecting all episodes of their reality shows, and going to their live concerts. The question here would be, do the reasons for doing so actually correlate with the music itself?
According to some opinions, the music itself is not the primary factor in the popularity of K-pop. A publication in New York Magazine calls K-pop "catchy but derivative" and states that Girls' Generation fans admit to liking the group for its members' looks and their personality, radiating what the magazine calls "humility" and friendliness to each and one of the fans. A fan stated to the magazine that when Girls' Generation performs on stage, you get the illusion of the girls sometimes looking right at you and interacting with you personally. New York Magazine also adds that Korean girl groups recruit members "for their looks, later augmented by plastic surgery" (Wikipedia).
Several sources claim that KPOP is a major export commodity that is endorsed by the Korean government to spread soft power all over the globe. We can see the effects of that soft power in Indonesia through the current trend of boy bands and girl bands in the local music industry. Cherry Belle has characteristic not unlike that of Girls’ Generation, even similar dance routines. Smash is currently the pioneer of boy bands, also displaying traits similar to Super Junior with a corresponding fan base. It is quite sad that what may be considered as the youth’s creativity is raising too many suspicions that it may be “just a phase”. That Indonesia is yet again another follower in the mainstream.
So what can we deduce from this KPOP phenomena? What are our impressions on the music industry as a whole? Is your taste based on the music itself or is it much affected by the “packaging” of the products?
Whatever your answer is, it will participate in determining the face of the music industry. Or, as my previous analogy suggests, which dish gets to sit on the centerpiece.
All in all, have a pleasant meal!
*this is an article I made for POINT’s bulletin at campus.