19 June 2011

The Problem with K-Pop

By Bian-lian Huang

Korean popular music, or K-pop, has been spreading throughout Asia like wild fires over the last 15 years.  Legions of crazed teenage girls line up in Beijing, Shanghai, Tokyo, Manila, HCM City, Jarkarta and, of course, Seoul to welcome these K-pop idols whenever they come to town.

At its core, K-pop consists of very good-looking kids (boys and girls) singing beautifully written songs and executing flawless dance choreography.  Often these kids are cosmetically enhanced and always dressed in the most amazing clothes/costumes which would make any L.A. fashionista green with envy (because we can't get them here in America!)

Therein lies the problem.  K-pop is too perfect and formulaic.  It is so because K-pop is a product of the massive South Korean pop industry.  In fact, most K-pop idols physically live under the same roof -- the company dorm -- where they rehearse the songs and dance routines hours on end.  One can say that K-pop stars are trained like Chinese Olympic athletes.

The result:  perfect, cookie-cutter boy and girl bands that wow Asian audiences.  However, the same bands have yet to win over American and European audiences, except for the niche crowd.  Why is that, Mr. Fairbank?  Because K-pop has no soul.  It's a mass-produced product -- just like widgets or Hyundai cars.  

Western audiences, for the most part, have gone beyond the sleek dance routines of the 1980s (a la Michael and Janet Jackson) or the good-boy image of the 1950s and 1960s.

We want something more organic and genuine.  We like performances that are rough around the edges.  We want a few scars on our performers' faces to signify maturity and a real life that has been lived.  We are way beyond the bubble gum era of the 1950s.

K-pop has yet to experience its versions of the Rolling Stones, the Doors or the garage band phenomenon.  In this regard, K-pop is invariably stuck in the 2010s-version of the 1950s And it will remain there and continue to produce cookie-cutter pop stars who execute sleek and technically superb dance routines that are still soulless and mesmerizingly mechanical...

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