Girls' Generation are the most popular singers in Korea, a recent poll by Gallup Korea of 3,401 people shows. The all-girl dancing band topped the list last year as well, and in 2007 and 2008, the Wonder Girls were the most popular. It has been some time since girl bands became synonymous with Korean pop music. Seven out of the top 10 most popular singers in Korea were manufactured bands like Girls' Generation, according to the survey. The remaining three were Jang Yoon-jung, Tae Jin-ah and Song Dae-kwan.
There are no proper bands among the top 10, and other than Tae, who composes songs, no other singers are capable of writing their own music. And all of the top singers spend most of their time on reality TV shows rather than performing live on stage or making albums.
Last week, the Chosun Ilbo asked 28 music experts to choose the top album of 2010 and they pointed to "Graduation" by Broccoli, You Too, while naming Nah Youn-sun and Super Session as this year's best artists. This shows the gulf between music experts and the public in preferences for pop music. How did this happen?
Over the last 20 years, Korea's GDP almost tripled, and Koreans have grown to enjoy more affluent lifestyles. More and more people drive expensive cars, travel abroad on holiday and get married in expensive hotels. Elementary schoolkids carry smartphones, and adults drink premium whiskey. But still their sole channel for finding out about music is television. Koreans rarely buy albums or go to live music performances. They think that celebrities who appear on talks shows and perform a tune or two are singers. And yet they complain that there are no good songs these days.
The medium of TV is not a good conduit for the intricate characteristics of music. Because it needs to find a common denominator for a random majority, TV tends to prefer only good-looking or funny people. There is not much interest in good musicians. A talented Korean percussion artist made his TV debut on a show featuring people with interesting party tricks or skills rather than on a music program. That shows just how unsuited TV is for talented musical artists.
Korean pop music can be classified into two categories: manufactured bands who spend all of their time and energy on TV programs and indie bands who have no interest in appearing on television. Musicians who do not fall into those two categories either become radio DJs or music teachers. But none of them make proper music, because nobody is willing to listen to good musicians these days.
The popularity of Girls' Generation may be a passing fad, but the fact that young manufactured bands are sweeping the popularity stakes is a sign that popular Korean culture is becoming shallower by the minute. We need to do something about that before it's too late.
Source: Han Hyun-woo @ The Chosun Ilbo