Generic Pop Music
I'm making this a blog post because it's really more to do with my personal views than anything else, but I wanted to get out my thoughts about something. And I'd love to hear some of the allies thoughts as well.
I've noticed a lot in different circles, the way pop music is viewed is very different. When I talk with my anime, k-pop, comedy, or fashion design friends the general consensus is that pop music is like any other genre. Some of it is good, and some of it is bad. However, when I talk to gaming friends, art friends, or writing friends a lot of people seem to think that pop music is lesser than other genres. That it's generic and bland, that it all sounds the same.
That just doesn't make sense to me. Pop music is probably the genre that's changed the most over the years. What was considered pop music in the past is generally considered its own genre today because of how different it is from other eras of pop. And especially today, pop music is influenced by many other genres giving a lot of songs a unique flavor, at least in my opinion. I don't really mind people not liking pop music. We all have sounds we like and sounds we don't. It's saying that pop music generic that I don't understand. Saying something is generic implies that it's the same as something else, and usually carries the connotation that its worse than the original. But what is pop music trying to copy other than other pop music? What is pop music the cheaper version of? It doesn't really sound like any other genre does. And when it does take influence from other genres, then I think it's hard to say it sounds exactly like all other pop music.
My sister is a good example of this. We're both traditionally trained musicians, but I'm a singer and she plays the clarinet. As a result our tastes in music differ greatly. She generally prefers classical music with a focus on instrumentals, and I generally prefer modern music with a focus on vocals. When it comes to lyrics she thinks they need to have meaning and clever word play, whereas I think the lyrics aren't as important as the vocal performance. You can guess, I like pop music and she hates it. Every time I play something from my ipod in car with her, she complains that every song sounds the same. And every time she puts on her music I feel the same way (albeit less vocally).
Which I think comes to the root of the issue around pop music. I like pop music because I can sense the subtle and major differences between each song and each artist. Because my training focused mainly on vocal technique, and because I spent a lot of time in choirs musical theater, around people who have very different voices then mine, I appreciate the wide range of vocal colors that can be experienced through pop music. Because choir and musical theater are also very dramatic styles of singing and dancing, I also tend to gravitate towards music with dramatic progression and that I can dance to. Whereas my sister who's training focused more on music theory prefers to listen to music with subtle changes in its writing and which highlights the instrument she plays.
You gravitate towards what you know and what you like. And the more you experience something, the more you get to understand what makes it unique. It's like JRPG's, when I first started playing games I thought all JRPG's were basically the same. Now that I'm older and have played a lot of them I can appreciate the range of stories and characters found in JRPG's. It's the same with music. I almost never listen to metal, it's just not to my tastes, as a result it all sounds pretty much the same to me. I can't tell the difference between metal singers, I can't comprehend the differences in metal composition. But if I listened to it more often I'm sure I could. And I think that applies to pop as well. If you listened to it more often, you might be better able to appreciate the differences between pop songs and artists, and maybe you wouldn't think it was so generic. You could play me a 1 to 3 second segment of a song and I could tell you what it was, if there was vocals I could tell you which member of a group was singing. I listen to pop music very often so it's just kind of second nature to me. And it's that way with me for every genre I like, jazz, funk, disco, R&B, any of it.
To close, here are some of my favorite pop songs that I think demonstrate the wide range that pop occupies.
Brown Eyed Girls-"Sixth Sense"
To me at the moment I feel like pop is kinda bad (Western pop, I've no clue what the situation of k/j-pop is like). I think people's view of it as well kinda stems from the fact that's it's 'popular music' which is could be seen as lowest common denominator (I generally tend to agree with that statement, however there's some pop artists who do great work and make music for music's sake lady Gaga is someone who comes to mind). Also I think there's a big constituency of people who just love to hate on the most popular thing because it makes their niche feel better.
@JamboHyland95 I must admit I'm not particularly attached to western pop either. I just listen to Kpop a lot more often then I do western pop. I always listen to my own music instead of the radio so I don't really keep track of what songs are becoming popular. For comparison I have roughly 56 or so Kpop artists that I consistently listen to new releases for and around 25 that I actively stan. Whereas with western music on the whole I only have 5 artists that I would consider myself a fan of (Gorillaz, Daft Punk, TWRP, Bruno Mars, and The Weeknd). And most of those artists aren't really pop artists.
@michemagius yeah, does there tend to be more push on the artists side of things to Foster a community like the one you described in K-pop and J-pop circles? That could also be another factor as to why that's the case, I tend to like more indie bands (Arctic Monkeys, Foals, Glass Animals) and there's just not that push. It's just "hey hope to see you at the show", I think that's where Western audiences kinda coalesce into that eastern fandom (nothing makes you more friends than singing your favorite song with some random person at a live show I find).
@JamboHyland95 Yeah artists and fans are much more involved in Kpop. Artists do a lot more promotion and interaction with fans, they even have there own version of Twitch for fans to watch live streams of their favorite artists. The streams can either be official like music video/album releases or it could just be a sort of vlog. When the app had just started out there were fewer artists using the service so they had live translations running during the streams. Now that the service is really popular and lots of groups use it live translations are usually reserved for bigger groups. All the same it's a nice way to interact and get updates. Also with Kpop an artist's success is almost entirely determined by fan participation. It's all sales, streaming, social media presence, and voting. So it's really important, especially for smaller groups, to have well organized and dedicated fan clubs. I think the higher level of involvement required for being a Kpop fan is what lead me to listen to it almost exclusively. The western music system just seems outdated to me now. What songs get popular has less to do with what the audience thinks and more to do with which songs influencers want to push. And awards are determined by committees rather than fans. Which seems really backwards for pop music, when by definition, the best pop song should literally just be the most popular one.
@michemagius I was just about to say that kpop artists seem to be more multimedia products than artists for music, isn't there like a big investment into these stars from the beginning by these music companies? Almost seems like a necessity to Foster these rabbid fans and cut out your own slice of the market when it seems to be saturated.
@JamboHyland95 Generally speaking producing a new Kpop group is a bit like gambling. The risk isn't as high for say, a member of the big 3 (SM, YG, and JYP Ent.), but it's a risk nonetheless. It costs a lot to first, find trainees. Companies often hold worldwide talent searches (idols from the US, Canada, China, and Japan are very common now), as well as do street casting around the world, and do international visits to schools and training facilities for various arts and sports to do scouting. Once there they also have to train and house the trainees (housing generally only for international trainees and those that are close to debut). They work on dance, singing, composition, public speaking, how to interact with hosts (Korean reality TV is buck wild, they definitely need the training), and etc. They also go through style consultations where professionals determine what a potential idol's best angles are, what colors suit them, what sorts of clothes suit their body, etc. Companies also tend to be pretty strict with their trainees image. I understand them to be less intensely monitored then they once were, but weekly weight checks are common, a lot of trainees are encouraged if not forced to go on extreme diets, all the while training from like 4AM to late into the night. This of course varies from company to company. And more diverse body types are popping up in Kpop these days which is nice. The perception of more normal or curvy bodies by netizens really depends on the experience of an idol though. Experienced idols like Hwasa and Hyosung are often praised for being curvy, while rookies like Jihyo and Kyla get bashed constantly for being a less skinny than other idols. Anyways the idols that do debut usually train for years. JYP's group Twice is a good example of the range of training times. Leader Jihyo trained for 10 years before she debuted while other member Mina only trained for 7 months. The training process is very costly, but not as costly as promoting a new group. 100 or so group's debut each year and if you want your group to last for longer than 1 song they need to stand out. This is usually done in 3 ways. The first and easiest way is to just come from a company with a high pedigree. Groups like BlackPink who came from successful companies found success almost immediately in no doubt thanks to being from a big company. Then there are groups that get their own predebut TV show/concert series. It's important to build public awareness before debut so trainee TV shows are SUPER popular. Concert series are also common. The groups Seventeen, Twice, and Pristin all used this method. The last way to try and get ahead with a rookie group is to have a unique concept, which has brought us some pretty strange ones. You get groups like DreamCatcher that mix cute girls with a horror/heavy metal concept, or groups like Orange Caramel that are comedy based. Even Cosmic Girls that has the concept of all their members being aliens. The other part of a successful debut is hiring the right people behind the scenes. You need composers, choreographers, back up dancers, stylists, actors for the MV, makeup artists, hair stylists, managers, social media coordinators, MV directors, etc. Sometimes small companies with smaller budgets get lucky and their groups get big like what happened with GFriend. But usually the popularity of a group is directly proportional to the size of their company and the size of the budget supporting them.
On idols being more products then artists, I can see how people see them that way. But if you've seen Kpop enough you know that idols really are artists. A lot of them compose and choreograph for their own songs. Even the ones that don't, work hard on improving their own skills. They train hard for a very long time, and I think if they didn't love music they would have quit.
@michemagius can I ask a question, because reading that is mental just from the outside perspective. Do you and your friends not mind this factory-esque approach to these stars? It seems very manufactured. Most music is nowadays but this is to an extreme level, does that not effect your listening of the music? I guess it's all okay in the end if it's all consensual between the stars and these companies.
@JamboHyland95 I guess I don't mind it because it's similar to how I was trained as a singer. Yeah it's manufactured, but I don't know that that necessarily means bad. Because lots of people work together to produce a song it gives a lot of people an opportunity to shine who otherwise wouldn't. It would be nice if every artist wrote and choreographed for all of their music but that's just not realistic. Not everybody has talent for composition, but that shouldn't stop them from singing if they're talented. And not every musician who understands music theory well and can compose has the vocal color or technique required for singing professionally. Not every dancer has a talent for choreography, and not every choreographer is able to perform as often or with as much intensity as the idol lifestyle requires, through working together something great can be achieved. The Kpop production process allows a lot of people to rise to prominence in their fields whether it be dance, music, fashion, etc. I grew up doing choir and musical theater. In those settings performers never choreographed the dances or write the songs. We didn't design props or back drops. We just brought to life what the rest of the team imagined. That setting helped me to appreciate the value of everyone on a creative team and how important collaboration is for a successful performance. As for idol concepts and the like being produced. I can see that. But generally idols are picked for a group because they can fit the intended concept, they aren't picked randomly and then told to change themselves. And a lot of groups are more focused on diversity these days. Take for example Twice, which is probably the most popular girl group currently promoting. Their overall concept is cute/quirky/costumes (it's hard to explain without you seeing their MV's). Generally their MV's tell a cohesive light story. They always promote around Halloween with a holiday themed concept. But when it comes to the individual members they're all encouraged to show their individuality. Kind of like a Korean Spice Girls. Each members unique personality and performance style has developed in to a type of persona for each of the which impacts what characters they play in their MV's. Also, idols concepts tend to change with time. Cute groups turn mature, EDM groups start making ballads. Etc. As the tastes and styles of the members change so does the group's concept.
To your point about not minding the manufactured nature of Kpop, it makes sense to Kpop fans. We don't like Kpop because of its trainee system or the way it treats its idols. In fact we hate most of the Kpop companies. My favorite groups all come from Pledis Ent, and if I saw the CEO on the street I would punch him in the face and tell him to stop mistreating AfterSchool. Kpop companies horribly mistreat their idols. Companies not backing their idols during scandals or during harassment has lead to suicide attempts. Blatant disregard for the safety of idols lead to the deaths of two of my favorite idols (Rise and EunB RIP). Idols regularly develop eating disorders and are hospitalized because of the diets companies put them on. It's despicable. But if we don't look out for the idols no one will. If we don't make petitions, alert the media to potential abuse, or just generally raise a stink the companies won't change their ways. If we don't show idols our support then their morale really drops. We love Kpop for the idols above all else and being a fan means looking out for them as best you can.
@michemagius damn, I didn't really think of it that way. Reminds me a lot of the Gorillaz if ya stop and think about it and yeah I wasn't sure if K-pop fans turned a blind eye to the more seedier aspects of the business, I remember someone telling me some K-pop star was forced to shave her head for having a boyfriend? (Something along those ridiculous lines) and at the time I was kinda taken aback that no one was really voicing disdain of it, it's nice to know you guys aren't into that stuff. Hope my comments weren't insulting or anything like that, generally just curious as to the goings on of it as a music lover looking from the outside.
@JamboHyland95 I totally understood where you were coming from, you don't have to worry about coming off as insulting. And the head shaving incident was actually from J-pop. Kpop idols generally are contractually obligated to abstain from dating until they've been around for a while. There are a few open idol relationships right now but mostly from people who are over 25 years old. The most backlash idols usually face is fans of one idol thinking the other isn't good enough for their favorite idol. Like when Uee dated Kangnam all of her fans started referring to him as Kangdumb. But most fans and companies are a lot more chill about dating these days. And about the shitty aspects of Kpop in general. 80% of a Kpop fans time is spent complaining about how awful Kpop companies are, so we're definitely aware of how messed up the system is.
@michemagius why is there such a stigma on dating? Is it a "interfering with work" thing?
@JamboHyland95 In a sense. The main issue that comes up is the marketability of idols. This isn't how I or most Kpop fans over the age of 18 see things, but a lot of younger Kpop fans, especially in Korea, have huge crushes on their favorite idols and like fantasize about being with them. They refer to their favorite idol as their "boyfriend" or "wife" etc. And once that idol is in a relationship it's harder for fans to rationalize their feelings for their favorite idols. Which usually results in fans lashing out at their favorite idols or at the people they're dating as if them being in a relationship was some sort of betrayal. As a result sales for albums and merchandise involving those idols go down, people stop downloading and streaming their songs, and fans stop voting for them on music shows. It can really do a number on an idol's popularity and sales, hence companies making idols sing contracts that say they won't date anyone.
Now, this sort of thing happens less often and with less intensity as idols get older. Generally a Kpop fan's first favorite group is a rookie group that debuted around the time they became a fan. And because most idols debut between the ages of 14 and 18 that means the fans and idols are similar in age. This sort of creates a stronger attachment between fans and idols. And as idols age their fans do to and they become more mature. Idols hit a certain age where most people consider it normal for them to be in relationships and their primary fanbase which is now also older support idols in pursuing relationships.
So once fans and idols are a little older, dating isn't the issue, marriage is. Because for some reason in Korea, once an idol get's married, that's the end of their career. They leave whatever group they were in and basically go off the grid to start a family and live a normal life. Which I'm sure is desirable for some idols, but is generally pretty upsetting to fans. It's not so much that their favorite idol is in a relationship that causes a huge meltdown, it's the fact that marriage means their favorite idol is retiring.
Me and most of my Kpop friends are in our 20's which means most of the idols we're a fan of are also in their 20's or 30's. I was never a "sassaeng" fan (stalker fan, generally the fans that are supper possessive of idols/invade their privacy), and neither were any of my Kpop friends when we were growing up. I think that mainly has to do with the way celebrities are treated in the West, where dating isn't considered as much of a big deal. But me and all of my friends are generally pretty excited whenever one of our favorite idols starts dating someone.