I’m not a fan of Korean music (even though Char absolutely adores SNSD). For me, it suffers from the same problems that Chinese music suffers from: everything sounds the same. Every single Korean song I’ve heard is either a) ballad or b) Pop. And it doesn’t help that almost all of their voices sound almost identical to one another.
Don’t get me mistaken, they all sound good, but they sound the same. Come to think of it that’s also probably because plenty of the Korean groups are managed by just a couple huge music companies. These profit-driven assholes companies treat these bands as investments and entities rather than actual artists or musicians. You get to see glimpses of the potential some of them have when there are those rare lines in a couple of songs that force them to really sing. But unfortunately they’re stuck with boring ol’, almost kiddish sounding K-pop songs most of the time. And think about it, they have to fly around the world, performing these same few songs with those same few dance choreographies over and over and over again. Sure other musicians perform the same old songs during their concerts as well, but most of them are “true” (for lack of a better word) musicians. Some of them write their own songs, others are at least given some form of artistic freedom to interprete the song they’re given in their own way. In some way or another, these artists at least feel emotionally invested in the music they put out. Korean bands on the other hand feel like they’re just given the lyrics, the song, the choreography and told to go memorise and practise.
Add on top of that the fact that some of these performers have like 10 year contracts with their “management agencies” and you really have to wonder if they are truly happy with what they’re doing. And then you have Singaporean kids as young as 11 years old raring to fly to Korea to go through ardious training for something they might ultimately hate.
It’s almost as if Korean music in the 2010s is in the same state that Western music was in the 1990s, when boy bands were all the rage. I generally had the feeling that boy bands also suffered from the “take-this-song-and-memorise-and-practise” syndrome. They were relatively good singers, but they weren’t genuine artists, which is why the whole boy band trend has fizzled out and died. Plenty of people can sing, what the people want are truely talented musicians. You just don’t associate a Backstreet Boys’ song with the band itself the same way you associate, say, Thriller with Michael Jackson. It doesn’t matter that Michael Jackson had no invovlement in writing the song, what matters is that he took it and made it his own, through and through. No other artist could perform that song and achieve the same results. On the other hand, I think if you got SNSD to record Wondergirls’ “Nobody”, the average person wouldn’t be able to discern much of a difference.
Despite (what I think are) shortcomings of Korean music as a whole, it is absolutely astounding the level of influence it has had in Singapore. The J-pop wave kind of hit Singapore a couple years back, and while I wasn’t old enough back then, I generally got the feeling that only a niche group really got into Jap music. But now with the whole K-pop wave, almost everyone knows at least a couple of people who are gi-normous fans of these Korean bands. Interestingly enough, Korean girl bands are way more popular than their male counterparts. While the boy bands of the 90s had a predominantly female fan base, Korean girl bands have the benefit of having ardent male and female fans alike. Guys love them because they’re absolutely gorgeous, sing well and dance amazingly well. Girls like them because… well… they’re absolutely gorgeous, sing well and dance amazingly well.
For that reason, I think Korean bands are going to be around for quite some time. The fact that their fan base could potentially be twice that of those good ol’ boy bands means a much larger target audience and thus more people to buy their albums and attend their concerts. Couple that with the fact that those greedy “talent agencies” are constantly recruiting new kids and putting them through years and years of training, pumping out band after band after band, resulting in a never-ending influx of new bands. To them, even if some bands fail to gain any traction, so what? Out of the dozens of bands they pump out, surely at least a couple of them will achieve the level of success that SNSD has. (Though you really do have to wonder what happens to those bands that get cast aside, are their contracts automatically revoked or something?) And those few investments will probably provide enough returns to earn them a handsome profit.
Ultimately though, I think that this formulaic, scientific and rigid approach to producing “music” and “artists” will be the downfall of the Korean music industry in the near future. How an entire country worth of talented artists all produce similar sounding music just astounds me. Unless the industry realises that they can’t just rely on this one “shtick” to sell albums and recognise the need to evolve and progress past the pop genre, I don’t expect any of these songs to be considered “classics” decades from now.
Of course, I could be completely wrong and SNSD songs will live on as timeless classics forever and ever. Oh the horror…
P.S. They are GORGEOUS though: