Who’s Better, Who’s Best: Competition and Manipulation in K-pop

Image: Pixabay

Crystal S. Anderson, PhD

Director, KPK: Kpop Kollective

Recent developments involving award and competition shows reveal the impact of mainstreaming on K-pop. As stakes increase for industry and media, accolades and competition are perceived as metrics for quality. However, they largely measure popularity, which is subject to manipulation.

While many K-pop acts are managed by an agency and undergo rigorous training that may span years, others result from competition shows developed by broadcast companies. These shows produce a temporary K-pop group that promotes during a fixed promotion period, and then often disbands.  Such shows have proven popular, drawing on the increased global popularity of K-pop. For example, Produce 101, created by CJE&M, has produced K-pop groups I.O.I, Wanna One, IZ ONE, and X1 in four seasons.

Such shows have not been without controversy. While fans may express their displeasure when their favorites do not win, police in South Korea have found that results of the shows were manipulated. Writing for soompi, D.S. Kim reports: “According to the police, the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency’s cyber investigation team found differences between the number of votes revealed on the final episodes and the raw data showing the actual votes that were sent in by viewers.”

Questions about vote manipulation are also leveled at accolades such as awards. Not very long ago, mainstream recognition was not an issue in K-pop because of its marginalized status. However, the mainstreaming of K-pop involves participation in award shows. When the K-pop girl group BLACKPINK recently won several People’s Choice Awards in November 2019, major American media outlets like Newsweek reported on the frustration of fans of BTS, who during the past couple of years had been the most recognizable K-pop group in the United States. Other media outlets revealed suspicions by BTS fans similar to those that sparked the Produce 101 investigation: “Others were confused at the group’s loss given how popular BTS is, with a few fans keeping tabs on fan voting for the People’s Choice Awards. ‘There is no possible way that blackpink beat BTS for this award,@peopleschoice you have some explaining to do,’ wrote @tae25 while tweeting out screenshots of Awards stats that show BTS leading in votes” (Ali).

While fans often lead the charge with accusations around manipulation, it is the personnel in the corporations that manage the competitions and awards. They encourage the use of popularity as a metric of quality. The Produce 101 competitions ultimately relied on fan votes that were based on the performances shown by the show itself, performances that generated profit for the companies when the shows aired. Similarly, awards like the People’s Choice Awards are popularity awards, popularity which results from exposure that the media helps to generate in the first place.

When accusations of manipulation are made, it is in part because of an environment that uses popularity as a metric for quality and benefits the very entities that create the competition.  This is only possible when K-pop goes mainstream, generating a certain level of popularity.

Sources

Ali, Rasha. “BTS fans upset after K-pop group lost to Blackpink at 2019 People’s Choice Awards.” USAToday. 11 Nov 2019. https://www.usatoday.com/story/entertainment/celebrities/2019/11/11/peoples-choice-awards-bts-fans-frustrated-k-pop-group-lost/2560369001/ (16 Nov 2019).

Kim, D.S. “Update: Police Find Suspicions That “Produce 101” Seasons 1 And 2 Were Also Manipulated + Mnet Responds.” soompi. 14 Nov 2019. https://www.soompi.com/article/1365570wpp/police-find-suspicions-that-produce-101-seasons-1-and-2-were-also-manipulated (16 Nov 2019).

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Who’s Better, Who’s Best: Competition and Manipulation in K-pop by Crystal S. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

만나서 반갑습니다: Let KPK Introduce You To…

Kaetrena Davis Kendrick, M.S.L.S.

University of South Carolina Lancaster

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BTS is pleased to meet you!

Korean popular music includes many genres – Jazz, Hip-Hop, Rock, Rhythm & Blueseven Ska and Bossa Nova. One of the reasons Kpop is so addictive and has continued its growth globally is because, despite language differences, the music seems so familiar to its listeners, particularly for non-Asian audiences. Fuhr (2015) writes, “K-pop producers strongly follow the formulaic production standards set by Western mainstream pop songs…, but they combine all the well-known elements in a way that audiences in the East and West equally seem to receive as refreshingly new but also familiar.” (pp. 238-239)

Not only do Korean producers strive to mix (and remix) Eastern and Western musical elements, they work closely with Western singer/songwriters and producers or purchase western-based music tracks for use by Korean artists (Note: purchasing tracks is a popular practice in the global music industry. Demo tracks, guide vocals, backing vocals are some terms you can search to learn more).

KPK members have noted that Kpop fans may not be familiar with why many songs sound familiar to them. This realization was crystallized when TVXQ released their strong R&B balladBefore U Go,” (2011) which includes a partial guitar riff from the Isley Brother’s songVoyage to Atlantis(1977) – many people, instead, could only reference Chris Brown’s song “Take You Down” (2008)  – which still echoes the musical composition of the aforementioned Isley Brothers song. Moreover, recognition gaps go beyond music composition to include singing styles, choreography, and song instrumentation or arrangement. Additionally, we’ve found that such oversights are glaring in academic literature, which overwhelmingly focuses on K-pop music as a political tool or economic commodity (Lee 2008, Jang & Paik 2012, and see this bibliography).

The “Let KPK Introduce You To…” blogpost series hopes to help Kpop fans discover links between what they hear in Kpop songs (or see in Kpop promotions) and the recent history of American music and popular culture – from a particular song or a musician’s vocal runs to costuming, training, dancing, or overall presentation.  The primarily audio/visual – and brief – blog posts will open with the K-pop artist song,concept, or performance and then readers will be introduced to the “why it sounds familiar” song, concept, or performance. The entry will end with brief biographical or explanatory text of the “original” artist, sound, idea, or concept. Simple right?

Part lay ethnomusicology and part historiography, the series offers a gateway for music enthusiasts to contextualize the foundation and development of Kpop music, and for critics to move beyond discussions of cultural appropriation in K-pop and toward the more likely premise of global creative collaboration.

If you’ve ever heard or seen a Kpop song, dance, styling, or presentation  and and thought “that sounds like/looks like/feels like/reminds me of…,” this series is for you! Look forward to it.

Sources

Fuhr, Michael. Globalization and popular music in South Korea: Sounding out K-pop. New York: Routledge. (2015).

Jang, Gunjoo & Won K. Paik. Korean wave as tool for Korea’s new cultural diplomacy. Advances in Applied Sociology, 2(3): 196-202. (2012).  http://file.scirp.org/Html/22229.html (16 June 2016).

Lee, Keehyeung. Mapping out the cultural politics of the “Korean Wave” in contemporary South Korea. In C.B. Huat and K. Iwabuchi (Eds.) East Asian Pop Culture: Analyzing the Korean Wave. pp. 175 – 189. Aberdeen: Hong Kong University Press. (2008).

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

BTS: Dark and Wild

BTS
BTS

BTS, also known as Bangtan Boys, stands for the Korean name of the group (Bangtan Sonyeondan), which translates to Bulletproof Boy Scouts.  The members include leader Rap Monster (Kim Nam Joon), Jin (Kim Seok Jin), Suga (Min Yoon Gi), J-Hope (Jung Ho Seok), Jimin (Park Ji Min), V (Kim Tae Hyung) and maknae Jungkook (Jeon Jeong Guk). The group debuted on June 13, 2013 with Big Hit Entertainment. 

BTS is a group that draws heavily from hip-hop but is also extensively involved in the production of the group’s music. As the group released music, “the sound started to morph from the clear underground hip-hop influence that the rappers brought in to something with more balance and depth. And as the boys experimented, they all started to become more comfortable with writing their own material” (The Daily Dot). Some have characterized the group as being more outspoken than the average K-pop group: “BTS isn’t the first Korean act to speak about substantial topics, but it is one of the acts doing it in a clever, shrewd way–and it’s only getting more popular by doing so” (Fuse).

The fandom is called ARMY, an acronym for Adorable Representative MC for Youth. ARMY signifies the military in English, as the body and the military are always together, so too are BTS and ARMYs.

Websitehttp://bts.ibighit.com

Image: 1

LABEL MATES

Homme | Lee Chang-min | Lee Hyun | Rap Monster | 8eight

COLLABORATIONS

BTS X GOT7: 2015 MAMA | 2PM X VIXX X BTS: Power Performance MV | MFBTY X LE (EXID) X SUGA (BTS) + Rap Monster (BTS) X Baro (B1A4):  2014 Letv Dream Concert | Zion T X Jungkook: KBS Collaboration | SoYou X Rap Monster X Sandeul X CNU X P.O X Kyung: 2014 KBS Song Festival | BTS X Block B: 2014 MAMA | BTS X GFriend: Family Song MV

RELEVANT SOURCES

Articles

Jeff Benjamin. “K-pop’s Social Conscience.” fuse. 4 Dec 2015. (8 Dec 2016). Evernote.

Colette Bennett. “How BTS is Changing K-pop for the Better.” The Daily Dot. 12 May. (8 Dec 2016). Evernote

Videos

BTS X GOT7: 2015 MAMA. Fatima Aliriza Aguil. “[151202] BTS and GOT7 Collaboration (Intro) + If You Do for MAMA 2015.” YouTube. 8 Dec 2015. https://youtu.be/bjZLVU-lmLE, (25 Nov 2016).

2PM X VIXX X BTS: Power Performance MV. KBS World TV. “2PM & VIXX & BTS – Power Performance [2014 KBS Song Festival / 2015.01.14].” YouTube. 23 Jan 2015. https://youtu.be/ZaE4F8R9Hag, (8 Dec 2016).

MFBTY X LE (EXID) X SUGA (BTS) + Rap Monster (BTS) X Baro (B1A4):  2014 Letv Dream Concert. “MFBTY ft. LE (EXID) + Suga + Rap Monster (BTS) + Baro (B1A4) – Monster @ Letv 2015 Dream Concert.” YouTube. 30 May 2015. https://youtu.be/kvwT7Di957Y, (8 Dec 2016).

Zion T X Jungkook: KBS Collaboration. “2015 KBS 가요대축제 1부 – Zion.T&정국(방탄소년단) – 양화대교. 20151230.” YouTube. 30 Dec 2015. https://youtu.be/VzNCyL2Tydc, (8 Dec 2016).

SoYou X Rap Monster X Sandeul X CNU X P.O X Kyung: 2014 KBS Song Festival. KBS World TV. “SoYou & Rap Monster, Sandeul, CNU, P.O, Kyung – Collaboration [2014 KBS Song Festival / 2015.01.14].” YouTube. 22 Jan 2015. https://youtu.be/yuIyTuIMvL4, (8 Dec 2016).

BTS X Block B: 2014 MAMA. Mnet K-POP. “2015 MAMA [Boys In Battle] BTS vs BlockB (2014 MAMA) 151127 EP.5.” YouTube. 30 Nov 2015. https://youtu.be/fnjQB4xpYG8, (8 Dec 2016).

BTS X GFriend: Family Song MV. Jungkookie. “[ENG SUB] BTS X GFRIEND Family song MV smart school uniform.” YouTube. 6 May 2016. https://youtu.be/z3tfGe2HH70, (8 Dec 2016).