Spotify, YouTube and the Shaping of the K-pop Listening Audience

Spotify, YouTube and the Shaping of the K-pop Listening Audience
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Spotify has become a benchmark for measuring K-pop success, but it limits the growth of the K-pop listening audience. Despite changes in its algorithm, YouTube remains the place to develop and grow as a K-pop listener because of the input of other K-pop fans.

Spotify is recognized for spearheading the music streaming revolution, changing the music distribution model that gave music away for little to nothing to the public and profited from artists in other ways, as Michael Hann explains: “[Spotify’s] main business is not helping listeners discover new music (something it’s not very good at), but collecting information about listeners in order to sell its audiences to advertisers.”

When Spotify began to feature K-pop, it was seen as a win for global K-pop fans. Finally, they had a (legal!), reliable site to access their favorite groups. For some, it was an opportunity to draw attention to their faves with high streaming counts. Kate Whitehead credits the increased global spread of K-pop to Spotify: “In 2014, Spotify launched its K-pop flagship playlist K-pop Daebak, which now has more than 2.4 million followers. Between January 2014 and January this year, K-pop streams increased more than 1,800 per cent and during the same period users listened to more than 134 billion minutes of K-pop on Spotify.” For many K-pop fans, it has become the primary source of K-pop.

However, that access comes at a cost in terms of the variety of K-pop to which fans are exposed, a variety that is vital in creating a listening audience with diverse tastes. Ben Beaumont-Thomas and Laura Snapes argue: “Spotify prides itself on its personalised recommendations, which work by connecting dots between ‘data points’ assigned to songs (from rap, indie, and so on, to infinite micro-genre permutations) to determine new music you might like. Its model doesn’t code for surprise, but perpetuates “lean-back” passivity.” Using data to curate the listener’s experience, Spotify de-emphasizes the discovery of new music that may be far afield of a listener’s preferences.

This is contrast to other ways that global fans develop their K-pop preferences in the past. My own research reveals that K-pop fans have a tendency to seek out new groups and artists after their initial exposure to K-pop. This branching is guided by recommendations from friends as well as YouTube playlists and recommendations. YouTube represents a fundamentally different way of accessing music, one that gives a larger role to the human component in the form of other fans. For example, listeners can access playlists compiled by fans that include entries based on their likes.

The presence of simply more music outside the bounds of those determined by data shapes our conception of the music in general. I compiled a playlist a YouTube playlist for my book, Soul in Seoul: African American Music and K-pop. For example, I was able to find examples by R&B artists who incorporate a monologue at the beginning of their songs, like the Chi-Lites‘ “Have You Seen Her,” the same kind of monologue that K-pop group Shinhwa incorporates into their 2004 track “Crazy.”

 

When I went to create my playlist on Spotify, Shinhwa’s album Brand New was missing from the artist listing, which is a serious omission. Brand New was Shinhwa’s first album after their departure from SM Entertainment, the company with which the group debuted. Not only is it incredibly significant in terms of the development of the group’s sound, it features several hit songs, including “Crazy” and “Brand New.” But a Spotify listener would not know this. In this way, Spotify shapes the listening experience of an individual in a way that omits significant parts of an artist’s musical trajectory.

What does this mean for K-pop? The inability to encounter music outside of a data-driven model means that K-pop listeners are limited if they largely access their K-pop from streaming sites that use such a model,  which can skew their overall perception of K-pop.

Sources

Cloud. “The Chi-lites “Have you seen her.” YouTube. 10 Apr 2009. https://youtu.be/xVYxKRXDT2I

Kate Whitehead. “How Spotify Had a Hand in K-pop’s Meteoric Rise BTS, Blackpink and EXO Among App’s Top Streamed Bands.” South China Morning Post. 27 Feb 2020. https://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/entertainment/article/3052419/how-spotify-had-hand-k-pops-meteoric-rise-bts-blackpink-and

Michael Hann. “How Spotify’s Algorithms Are Ruining Music.” Financial Times. 2 May 2019. https://www.ft.com/content/dca07c32-6844-11e9-b809-6f0d2f5705f6

Ben Beaumont-Thomas and Laura Snapes. “Has 10 years of Spotify Ruined Music?” The Guardian. 5 Oct 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/music/2018/oct/05/10-years-of-spotify-should-we-celebrate-or-despair

omega. “[역대1위곡] 신화(Shinhwa) – 열병(Crazy).” YouTube. 10 Sept 2016. https://youtu.be/BxsSmAXRaXo

Shinwha Official. “GROUP SHINHWA – ‘Brand New’ Official Music Video.” YouTube. https://youtu.be/YowZgL1AOTA

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Spotify, YouTube and the Shaping of the K-pop Listening Audience by Crystal S. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Is K-pop Fandom Becoming Less Visible and More Fragmented?

Image by Elivelton Nogueira Veto from Pixabay

Online platforms have been a major force propelling the spread of K-pop globally, but are shifts in how they are deployed contributing to a more insular fandom?

When you ask K-pop fans about their journey into K-pop, YouTube usually features prominently. Over the last few years, K-pop fans have been treated to content by companies and artists who recognize the platform as a significant way to get content to fans. However, Jeff Benjamin reports a new trend that sees companies shifting their focus from the easily accessed platforms like Youtube (depending on your country of residence) to more proprietary platforms that promise more direct interaction with K-pop artists and more profit for companies: “The apps will enable K-pop companies to retain all of the ad revenue generated by the content they post. YouTube’s revenue-sharing model only gives 55% to channel owners, which can get more complicated when international viewership is involved.”

While access to such proprietary platforms such as WeVerse and Lysn are free, revenue is generated from fees to access more premium content with artists. Fans could pay $30 for a global fan membership or $20 to view the individual fourth season of BTS’s Bon Voyage, while an individual membership for a subscription to SM Entertainment’s personalized message system “Dear U” costs $3.45 per month for an individual member, and  a subscription for all 14 members of NCT could run about $40 (Benjamin 2020).

What are the implications for K-pop fandom, which for years was sustained by free content on platforms like YouTube? On one hand, this move could limit access for fans who choose to not pay for such services, and they may lose interest in K-pop.  On the other hand, fans have been circulating artist-related material for decades, keeping interest going for K-pop long before the companies started to look to proprietary platforms for revenue.

There would be a particular dilemma for the multi-fan of groups who may end of on several different proprietary platforms. Moreover, it could contribute to the continued balkanization of K-pop fandom, with fans becoming even more territorial and defensive about their groups. Channeling fans to proprietary sites may translate to even less exposure to other K-pop groups as well as the larger K-pop industry.

Such a move could also make fandom less visible. Because of its ease of access, YouTube is not only a platform for artist content, but for fan content as well.   This put fan activity on global display. If interaction between artists and fans move to more proprietary platforms, such fan activity becomes less visible. Which stricter rules on sharing, it could also have a negative impact on the visibility of fan-artist interaction, which began on very visible social media platforms in the first place.

Source

Jeff Benjamin. “Why K-pop Content Creators are Leaving YouTube and V Live.” Billboard. 16 Mar 2020. https://www.billboard.com/articles/deep-dive/9332981/why-k-pop-content-creators-are-leaving-youtube-and-v-live (18 Mar 2020).

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Is K-pop Fandom Becoming Less Visible and More Fragmented? by Crystal S. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Streams and Views: What the History of Music Charts Can Tell Us About Popularity and K-pop

Image credit: Pixabay

Increasingly, K-pop songs are being measured outside of South Korea by chart performance. This relatively new development puts greater emphasis on using charts as metrics for popularity, which some equate with music value. However, such metrics are not neutral, and obscure other ways of ascertaining popularity among K-pop listeners.

While subcultures in several countries have enjoyed it for years, K-pop music has recently experienced mainstream popularity, particularly in countries like the United States. K-pop artists such as BTS, NCT 127 and GOT7 have appeared on American television, and several other groups, including MONSTA X, BLACKPINK, and Red Velvet, are embarking on tours of the United States in 2019. With this increased popularity has come increased attention to the performance of K-pop songs on music charts. In 2018, Billboard announced that it would include plays from services such as Apple Music, Amazon Music, Spotify and SoundCloud in its chart calculations, giving them more weight to plays on services like YouTube. Such changes gave K-pop fans more incentive to mobilize to increase the visibility of their favorite groups on such charts. Unofficial fanclubs rally their members to stream and view in large numbers.

In “Reading the Charts – Making Sense With the Hit Parade” from the academic journal Popular Music, Martin Parker explains that music charts are unique in their role as reference points for music listeners (205). On one hand, music charts serve the interests of the music industry: “The sales charts empirically demonstrate the successes and failures of record companies, producers, designers, managers and recording artists, on the assumption that the more units sold the better the individuals have done in their respective jobs” (208). On the other hand, Parker also argues that “the consumer is more deeply ‘involved’ in the play of figures and faces than the professional ever is, the latter’s enthusiasm ending with the (relative) autonomy of leisure, when the former’s begins” (209). Fans also have an investment in artist performance on the chart.

However, this was not always the case with K-pop music, especially for the global fan. Before the ease of access afforded by Spotify and iTunes, global K-pop fans relied on file-sharing sites like 4shared and MediaFire to obtain music. Fans also depended on other fans to upload K-pop music videos and music to YouTube, resulting in several versions appearing on the platform. However, that scenario does not help with chart performance, so increasingly, the number of copies of music videos dwindled as fans encouraged others to view the “official” versions.

A close look at the kinds of media on YouTube by K-pop artists shows how fans now view with an eye to charts rather than enjoyment of the music. K-pop media outlets frequently report the number of views a music video receives over the course of its life on YouTube, from the first 24 hours to milestones of millions of views. However, they do not disclose the views of other kinds of media related to K-pop artist, such as comeback stages on music shows, which are part of the promotional cycle for K-pop artists. Any comparison of music video views and views of music show appearances show a significant difference.

The rise in the significance of views and streams reflect a more active listener interaction, but Parker suggests that it is also tied to the increased interest in K-pop by the music industry, including the music industry media outside of Korea:  “In terms of the music industry this myth of democracy tends to conceal the extent to which the agenda of consumer choices is set in the first place by an oligopoly of transnational entertainment corporations based on a logic of profit” (211). In other words, fans may be the ones doing the viewing and streaming, but it is corporations that have granted value to the activity and act as arbiters of the measure of popularity, the music charts themselves.

At the same time, Parker notes that as prominent as music charts are, they are not the only measure of popularity: “The chart is not central to all consumers and producers of pop music. Many either do not care about it or actively resist it” (206). This is true of K-pop music. Global fans make music recommendations through sites like Reddit, which completely bypasses the charts. Fans still upload songs, and in some cases, whole albums, which allow fans to listen new music without caring about chart performance. K-pop fans continue to introduce others to K-pop music through recommendations on their personal Facebook pages as well as tweets. Even as K-pop music continues to gain more global popularity driven by corporate interests in the mainstream, K-pop fans continue to determine popularity for themselves beyond the music chart.

 

Sources

Billboard Staff. “Billboard Finalizes Changes to How Streams Are Weighted for Billboard Hot 100 & Billboard 200.” Billboard. 1 May 2018. https://www.billboard.com/articles/news/8427967/billboard-changes-streaming-weighting-hot-100-billboard-200 (8 Mar 2019).

Parker, Martin. “Reading the Charts – Making Sense With the Hit Parade.” Popular Music. 10.2 (1991): 205-217. https://www.jstor.org/stable/853061.

 

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Streams and Views: What the History of Music Charts Can Tell Us About Popularity and K-pop by Crystal S. Anderson, PhD is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

“Do Not Re-Upload” and Other Meaningless Phrases Used in Kpop Fan Content Production

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

University of South Carolina Lancaster

“Do Not Re-Upload! If we found [sic] out that the — clip is re-uploaded, we won’t share a — clip again!” – Seen on YouTube (video uploaded on December 18, 2011).

“Credits and shot by b——y. For foreign fans: Please DO NOT modify the film and DO NOT take out without permission. – Please take out with full credits and don’t add yours [sic] credit  in photo. – Do not modify the film & don’t cut the logo.” – Seen on YouTube (video uploaded on February 9, 2012).

“[Korea Data Blackout] is a movement of support for administrators of Korean fansites as well as fans all around the world who work very hard …to provide pictures and videos of Korean artists.  It is also a movement to make international fans realize just how much these people provide to their fandom experience…and to help them understand how important it is to follow their rules.” – Korean Data Blackout website, September 2012.

Screen capture: Korean Data Blackout logo from KPK’s Digital Documentation of the website. Credit: Kaetrena Davis Kendrick.

Earlier this year KPK published an essay about American law-makers’ attempt to pass a bill that would hinder the free flow of information on the Internet. Described as a piece of legislation that would protect copyright on the World Wide Web – with particular regard to how those protections manifest outside the United States – the bill was deemed too far reaching in its scope, targeting websites who so much as linked to questionable information with severe penalties.

Continue reading ““Do Not Re-Upload” and Other Meaningless Phrases Used in Kpop Fan Content Production”

Why Is KPK on YouTube?

As you probably know, KPK does Hallyu. Most international fans of Kpop and Kdrama access their Korean popular through the Internet in general, and YouTube in particular. We know that’s where you are watching Hello Baby and Happy Together! We go where fans go, so we’re now on YouTube! Check out the KPK Channel! Like us! Tell your friends! And watch our channel because we will be bringing our insights to YouTube too!