Hold on, looking for more

Aisha
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Another "explanation" video educating English-speaking audiences about Korean pop music is getting passed around: "The Economics of Kpop" with almost 200,000 views and at the time of this writing with 8.7K likes and 223 dislikes.  
As a fan of pop-economics and Kpop I quickly clicked the video before I realized this was going to be another cheap attack on the genre, whose narrator's chief accomplishment with the piece was a demonstration of his and his audience's ignorance.
So let's begin:
0:00 SkillShare Advertisement, I guess YouTube just isn't paying enough -- cool, we all need to make money to survive and creators should be rewarded for their efforts in producing content.
0:11 "Visiting Japan feels like taking a trip to the future." Here we are treated to the narrator's outgroup homogenity bias where he conflates Korea and Japan and lists some things that westerners might find whimsical and futuristic about Japan. Neat bro.
0:40 The narrator continues by going over Japanese music consumer preferences and contrasting them with the west's. He concludes that physical merch sales are mainly driven by three factors: Copyright laws, Licensing Restrictions and "Rental Culture." These ideas seem lifted almost entirely from this article on QZ.
1:20 Finally we're onto Kpop! I almost thought the entire video would be about Japan.
1:30 The narrator goes on about Kpop groups offsetting losses from piracy by selling physical albums, "usually sold to fans that will never play them." What a start!
1:54 "Artists aren't found, but created" he continues, his voice dripping with disdain, "sculpted for maximum reach, over many years in a factory system" The author uses the more dismissive language, questioning the personal agency and thus artistic merit and accomplishments of Kpop idols. 
2:07 "Kpop is a deliberate, government-funded project aimed at growing South Korea's global power"
Bam, hit Americans with the biggest boogeyman of all -- socialism. ARGUMENT WON! DROP THE BALLOONS. Fun fact: Pretty much every successful business enterprise is subsidized by the Korean government from Busan's shipping docks to Seoul-based LG. This is how the South Korean mixed-economy works.
2:20 The 1988 Olympic games were indeed a pivotal moment for South Korea on the international stage, though I'm not sure how many early Kpop idols were inspired by that instead of the ballads of the 80s and international music of the early 90s, and the rest of the Seo Taiji and Boys era,
2:40 The narrator gives an example of Korea "rather than waiting for demand, Korean entertainment hooked foreign viewers and created it" by citing that one of the most successful dramas of all-time, What is Love? being translated "for free" and released to CCTV, a major Chinese broadcasting network. "What is Love?" scored the second-highest ratings ever recorded in Chinese television history at the time. "Creating demand" indeed.
2:50 The narrator talks about the 1997 financial crisis and how the government increasingly turned to the entertainment industry, including a new "Ministry of Culture" being formed when in reality it was just renamed and given a larger budget. Again South Korea was just hitting developed nation status at this, this is quite a natural and linear development.
3:44 The author again betrays his lack of familiarity with Kpop by citing and then mispronouncing Psy's 2012 hit "Gangnam Style" as being the catalyst of the 2nd wave of international Kpop. "Waves" are even more subjective than  "generations" and have no real explanatory power in the development of Kpop. 
3:56 He briefly alludes to the interesting aspect of Gangnam Style's success -- that it is defiantly anti-Kpop with "And while it wasn't truly representative of Kpop as a genre..."
4:15 He continues his confused hit-piece by explaining the difference between Kpop and other genres is that Kpop is reverse engineered based on consumer preferences. That is actually the defining quality of all pop music, not just Kpop.
4:25 But his fever-dream version of reality continues, "Where most musicians start off practicing in their parents' garages, driven only by a passion for the art and eventually get discovered by a record label, Kpop groups usually begin, rise and change directions from a conference room"
This weird moralizing about his romantic notions about how musicians are supposed to develop their talent aside, there's nothing specific about Kpop in this. This is how the entire pop music and movie industry works.
For instance, America's most popular girl group was created after their failure to advance to the finals on the reality TV show X-Factor by Simon Cowell, the same guy who recently lamented his own nation's lack of global relevance compared to Kpop.
4:40 He goes into the "big four labels", and that the term label is "deceiving" because they are realistically "product designers" -- continuing to dehumanizing Kpop artists with the usual anti-Asian tropes.
4:53 We get the guy's ideas on group composition, "Companies look for a set of distinct yet cohesive personalities so as to appeal to as large a fan base as possible, while not generating unnecessary internal conflict" 
Everyone who has ever put together a team operates under these sort of rules. And with "Appealing to as large a fan base as possible" as the terminal value of pop music-- anything that helps in that regard is going to be used. 
5:30 "Other companies recruit based only on qualities like appearance" This is a really common criticism of Kpop, and to an extent it's somewhat true, though I'd point an important caveat that it's just as true in the west as the reverence of youth and beauty is a universal part of the human condition.
What's funny about this argument though is it directly contradicts another popular argument that these types use against Korea, that everyone has had plastic surgery.
5:45 We get a glimpse at a hypothetical trainee's schedule with helpful graphics of the "hobbies and dreams" that are sacrificed by such trainees including: the Piano, Football, Netflix, and Friends. This guy truly has his finger on the pulse of Korean youth culture.
6:10 Yep, entertainment industry contracts are notoriously tight in Korea. Though to be fair to these labels, everyone I know in South Korea complains about long hours and being overworked. 
6:25 Helpfully he adds a clip of Seungri being surrounded by journalists during the height of the Burning Sun scandal to illustrate his point about contract stipulations.
6:30 The narrator continues his comparison of Kpop and Jpop, with Kpop having an international market focus and Japan having an internal market focus. True.
6:57 "Group names usually consist of a short easily-recognized English word or acronym" Yep, Korean groups love their acronyms but other than that they seem to follow the same international pop music naming trends as everyone else.
7:03 "Another common strategy is to have at least one Chinese, Japanese, Thai or Taiwanese group member" I struggle to see why diversity in groups is a bad thing here, even if it is also strategically advantageous from a financial perspective. 
This "strategy" has also been in use in western contexts since at least The Spice Girls
7:21 The narrator's argument reaches a crescendo as he contemplates contemporary geopolitics "Kpop is so political because it paints such a vivid national image" 
What an insight! Of course it could also be said about any country's largest export. 
7:55 Yep, China uses access to their enormous market as leverage. 
8:39 "Finally the last step is to sell every millimeter of unused space... Extreme fan loyalty translates into extremely effective paid endorsements, product placements and sponsorships" 
And now for a brief word from our sponsor, SkillShare! Just kidding, the narrator goes on that the quintessential example of this formula's (as in, everything he's said so far) success is somehow BTS, whose success really has nothing to do with the "standard kpop formula" as defined by our narrator at all besides having an acronym for a name. 
9:25 And now for the powerful close "Some say Kpop is too commercialized, too scripted, too fake." I wonder if the author feels the same way about the movie industry, and not just Marvel/DC, but the entire movie industry.
9:30 "but Kpop is honest about its motives: profit!" The snuck-in subtext that Kpop isn't really about music is doing a lot of work in this sentence.
9:48 "It may be fake but very real is the joy it brings millions of fans around the world"
I wish this narrator would speak plainly and be honest about HIS motives. He clearly feels western popular music culture is superior to Korea's, but instead of coming out his own arguments, he cannot even figure out his own motivations, so he resorts to lifting arguments he found from a few quick google searches and then adds a few popular keywords in the video (gotta mention BTS at least once)
It's really pathetic. But what's more pathetic I suppose is the audience that watches and shares these videos, but then again, I suppose the average American IQ is a measly 98 compared to Korea's average IQ of 106. Perhaps we should lower our expectations for the west.


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VendettaForV   7 days ago
Everyone is just out there fighting for their own biases (in kpop and outside of kpop) 😅😅
7 days ago

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