This does not suck

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Fan cams from Amsterdam are starting to crop up!

People seem excited:

ETA: I’d heard rumors of a lap dance! So happy they’re true!

(Looks like someone has most of the concert up here. Cool!)

And this is just the beginning….

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, Block B is going to be at a concert at the Yoyogi First Gymnasium in Tokyo, which seats–get this–13,000 peopleThat’s not bad! It’s not just them, but they are one of only four acts (including an opening act, making them one of three headliners), so that’s really nice. (ETA: Apparently there will be more acts, but it also sounds like it’s going to be televised nationally…cool.)

Also:

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That includes a lot of traffic to the schedule page after the concert. Do people want to see them again or something? Or maybe the fan accounts are tipping the people on the fence over to the “Yes, it’s worth every penny!” side of things….

More on the inherent unfairness of charts

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In my last post, I mentioned that bestseller charts and lists are inherently and unavoidably unfair, and I wanted to expand a bit more on this.

Even before this latest round of reforms, I’ve noticed more interest in the charts. For example, there’s this whole effort on OneHallyu to gather data from the Gaon charts and present it in different ways. At times, it’s just people looking for tools to use to bash other fandoms, which is annoying, but on the whole, I think that fans delving into the numbers is a good thing, because being willing and able to crunch data is actually a really good skill set to cultivate. (It’s a bit like fans learning Korean because of K-Pop–people might be critical of the motivation, but hey, anything that encourages people to learn a foreign language is all right in my book.)

Plus sometimes I see these fans stumbling upon an important realization: If you crunch the data this way, Group A comes out on top. But if you crunch the data that way, a totally different group comes out on top, and Group A looks like a bunch of losers!

It’s almost as if–stay with me here–“topping out on the charts” is a somewhat artificial phenomenon, or at least something that (while good news) is certainly not so fraught with significance as to be equivalent to success itself. Plus it’s completely irrelevant to quality, which is why it’s pretty ridiculous when fans look to the charts for no other reason than to attempt to “prove” that their favorite group rocks and everyone else’s favorite group sucks eggs. (And let me encourage you to further skepticism, since this kind of statistical overreach is by no means limited to music charts: Like pictures, numbers do indeed lie, and it’s important to be aware of the various methods used to make them lie.)

The most fundamental problem with looking at the charts to determine how well a group is doing is that there’s more than one way to make money. Does a group actually rely on digital sales in Korea? Do they instead rely on the sales of event tickets, CDs, and other goods geared towards fans? Do they make their money in non-Korean markets? Is music a near-irrelevant income stream to the group, which uses new releases as nothing more than a loss leader to get more endorsement, variety, and acting deals for its members?

Even if digital sales are where it’s at for a particular performer, chart rankings can be extremely misleading, and even sales data can give you only a partial picture.

Look at Zico’s discography: “Day/Predator” and “Oasis” both topped out at #5 on the Gaon weekly chart–the rankings are totally the same. If, however, you look at the data from each song’s first week of release, it looks like “Oasis” did a bit better than “Day/Predator”–it sold 180,000 copies compared to 117,000.

But “Oasis” sold more than four times as many downloads overall–it was a major hit! “Oasis” stayed on the chart for ages, while “Day/Predator” fell off pretty quickly–a fact that neither the ranking nor the first week of sales reveal. Or look at “Eureka,” which sold 1,180,000 downloads. That’s a number that should have put it in the top 25 of the 2016 Gaon download chart, yet it’s a lowly #69. Why? Because it was released in December of the previous year, so sales were split between the two years.

Who is the top-selling K-Pop group? What is the best-selling song? It all depends on how you slice it. That’s really nice for marketers, because you can usually figure out some way to spin a release as successful, but for anyone interested in objective reality–well, this is why you learn to get comfortable with crunching data yourself.

* * *

When people hear that charts are not, in fact, Divine Truth carved into a pair of stone tables and handed to Moses by God himself, they often start in with the conspiracy theories. But you don’t need a conspiracy for charts to be Made Useful–or rather, the conspiracy doesn’t need to be limited to a few well-heeled players. Like all effective marketing tactics, charts benefit the industry and the chart-maker, and (believe it or not) can benefit consumers as well: Sometimes what people call a “conspiracy” is more accurately labeled “market forces.”

To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, I’m going to explain the workings of the bestseller lists I myself have manipulated: Amazon bestseller lists.

Some background: About six or seven years ago, Amazon made some changes in the way that they sold e-books that suddenly made it much easier for self-published authors to sell enough to actually make a living.

But how should a self-published author market themselves? Especially if they don’t have the money to buy ads everywhere?

You can probably guess what the answer is going to be: Get onto one of Amazon’s bestseller lists.

This works very well–even though I completely stopped marketing my books, it took over a year for my sales to slow significantly.

That was great for me, it was great for Amazon (which gets a cut of sales), and it was even great for readers, because bestseller lists make it easy for them to find books that interest them. Indeed, that is why Amazon has about a billion different genre-related bestseller lists–that way people looking for very specific kinds of books can find authors who write those books! Everyone is happy!

Except that everyone is never happy. Authors figure out Amazon’s chart algorithms and start to game them to improve their chart ranking. Then readers stop buying what’s on those charts, so Amazon changes its algorithms. Then a bunch of authors suddenly aren’t selling books any more, which makes them very upset. Amazon is both a chart-maker and a book retailer, so they weigh their charts to give preference to books that aren’t available anywhere else. This puts authors in the sticky position of having to choose between putting all their eggs in one basket, retailer-wise, or losing a valuable chart position.

Do you begin to understand why I so reject the notion that charts are about fairness? I mean, honestly–fairness? There is no fairness here–there are a bunch of competing demands and agendas, and none of them are more noble or moral than any of the others.

Is it therefore a bad system? I don’t think so–I think it’s a vast improvement what came before (which also relied heavily on bestseller lists, albeit ones that were harder to get on). More authors can sell more books, more readers can find books they like, and the company that makes it all possible is also rewarded. If you want to call it unfair, go ahead–but I feel like it’s unfair in everyone’s favor.

A reminder that music charts are marketing tools

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Apparently there’s some brouhaha over the real-time Korean music charts nixing midnight releases.

Will this help or hurt Block B? I dunno–they’re doing well enough these days I doubt it will make a difference.

But is it just? Is it fair? Is it right?

Oh my God don’t ask these questions!

Obviously I am all for justice, fairness, and rightness. However, music charts are not, and they never have been about any of those things.

What are music charts? They are marketing tools. That is all they ever have been, and it’s all they ever will be.

I know fans often take the view that there is a Just, Fair, and Right Way to run a music chart: Whatever way will most benefit their favorite group. So when fans argue over What Is Fair? they are in truth arguing over which group should benefit the most from the way the charts are run.

That’s the moral high ground here–I took it in the second paragraph of this post: What about me and my group?

Not surprisingly, the people who run the music charts and the labels who rely on music charts to market their acts don’t worry about stuff like fairness–life is unfair, charts certainly are, so get over it and start gaming those rankings like a fucking professional, OK?

What do the people in the industry worry about? They wonder: Is this chart still an effective marketing tool?

That is a very important question. And the problem with things like BTS songs occupying every spot on the Melon chart is not that it’s unfair to other groups–after all, is it fair to all the BTS fans who went to such efforts to undo their hard work?

The problem with it is that 1. if the Melon chart is all one group’s songs, it’s really boring, so people will stop paying attention to it, 2. the other labels say, “Hey, Melon! Where are our groups? Your marketing sucks ass!”

So, that’s what’s going on here. The charts couch this in the language of fairness because they know that’s what fans want. The whole song-and-dance about the fairness and integrity of bestseller lists and charts is, in itself, marketing–yes, they market the charts that market the music!

A chart might actually police itself in various ways, but the purpose of that is to help keep the chart interesting to people. Fairness in and of itself is not, and will never be, a true factor. And it actually can’t be, because charts are inherently unfair and biased–even the most basic things like making a chart coincide with the calendar year will help some song rankings and hurt others.

What’s up with Block B? SO glad you asked!

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A not-too-terribly bright individual posted this question on OneHallyu:

Block b ? what’s up with them?

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The person goes on, but needless to say they do not like Block B, and their theory regarding the group’s current success is–of course–sajaegi.

My point is not: Look at this idiot! Instead, I want to note that 1. it has been almost six years since Block B’s debut, and 2. the person is completely correct in saying that debut didn’t do very well.

So–let’s take this question seriously: What is up with Block B? What did Block B do in those six years between their not-particularly-successful debut and songs like “Toy” or “Yesterday“?

They persisted.

Now, persistence isn’t just a fun political meme these days or even just an admirable personal quality. Persistence is something that is completely necessary if you wish to pursue a career in the arts.

Persistence is very much needed on a personal level, because there are a lot of people who think they want to work in the arts, but many fewer people who want to cope with the realities of it. (Such as the need to, you know, actually generate some form of artistic content. You would not believe what a stumbling block that is for certain artistes. I mean, they’ve got the clothes, they’ve got the hair, they’ve got the attitude, they’ve even got the drugs–you expect more?)

So in order to enter pretty much any artistic field, you have to endure what is essentially a hazing process designed to weed out the posers. Once you’re in–well, even very well-established creative artists will see crazy and unpredictable responses to their work. That’s why Park Kyung was so philosophical about the sales of “When I’m With You”–I’m sure he’s seen these kinds of sales swings before (anyone with any professional experience has). So, instead of curling up into a little ball under his bed, he put out another song, and lo and behold, “Yesterday” was a big hit!

Even if your very next release isn’t some big hit, you can still make a decent living in most areas of the arts if you are persistent. The Dok2 approach of creating oodles of songs works in many fields–even if no one work has monster sales, you can basically make it up on volume (and recycling is a low-cost way to help generate that volume).

So persistence is really helpful! Or at least it is if–and this is a big if–the industry will let you be persistent.

How could an industry player prevent you from being persistent? That’s easy–through a contract!

What makes a contract a total piece of shit? Well, I would say a lousy revenue split doesn’t help, but I think the more important terms are:

  • The contract is a long-term contract
  • The artist has no power over new releases
  • The contract is strictly exclusive, so that the artist cannot do any other work outside of the contract

How bad can these terms be? VERY, VERY BAD. There have been publishing contracts that contain so-called non-compete clauses that make it a breach of contract for the writer to ever write anything in a genre similar to the (most typically just one) book written for that particular publisher.

Ever.

(You see why people go indie!)

A bad release is a setback. A bad contract can be a career killer. (And you can not only fuck over yourself for your entire lifetime, but you can fuck over your heirs financially as well. Like, literally generations of your family will be wondering how you could be so dumb as to sign that thing!)

The thing to remember is that any largish publisher/label/studio/whatever has a bunch of talent waiting in the wings. Their method of being persistent is to keep releasing different things from different artists to see what takes off. They don’t want to waste time and money doing release after release from someone who’s not currently a hit-maker, so they’re going to focus on whoever in their stable is the most profitable.

That approach doesn’t necessarily benefit a given artist in the stable. In fact, it usually means that the career of the individual artist is quite fragile: One failure, and you vanish from the public eye for the duration of your contract.

It’s not like artists can’t possibly be persistent in that situation, of course. In K-Pop, where shit contracts are the norm, people jump ship when their contracts (finally) expire, or they sue to get out of their contracts, or they convince another label to buy their original contract out. But obviously that’s not the easiest thing to do, and it requires even more (you guessed it) persistence.

K-fans, i-fans, and boycotts

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I was noticing tonight that this post is getting a lot of attention from BAP fans, who apparently are being asked to help out with some kind of boycott by K-fans.

The short version: Don’t just automatically do whatever K-fans tell you to. Do some research into the claims being made, and if the arguments presented to you do or don’t add up, have confidence in your judgement.

The long version: I don’t know what’s going on with BAP right now–I don’t follow K-Pop groups other than Block B closely because I don’t have the time. So I can’t give advice specific to this situation.

But I am going to say that, while there have been cases where it made total and complete sense for fans to boycott something, and K-fans were merely alerting i-fans to a genuine issue, there have also been cases like…well, like last fall’s Block B boycott.

What actually happened was K-BBCs started to feel neglected (Block B was promoting in Japan a lot, but this was also right after the news of Zico and Seolhyun dating came out–draw your own conclusions there about how “chill” BBCs actually are), so they boycotted a DVD.

Now, I thought that was pretty childish, but whatever, right? It’s kind of douchey, but K-BCCs have been getting more activities in Korea post-boycott, so–they got what they wanted, however they did it.

Where things got really questionable in my book was when some of the English-speaking K-BBCs decided to recruit i-BBCs into this boycott.

Since BBCs do believe themselves to be a chill fandom, “Zico is dating–boycott Block B!” wasn’t going to fly. There was some traction for the “Block B is spending too much time in Japan, which is unfair to Korea” idea (J-BBCs were never targeted for recruitment, of course).

The main thing that got lots of play among i-fans, however, was this idea that Block B was being horribly mismanaged. Like BAP, Block B has in fact been horribly mismanaged in the past, so i-fans were quite receptive to the idea that it was happening again.

But gee, Block B is doing really well now, right? And they were doing really well last fall, too!

How to sell this idea that they’re being horribly mismanaged?

That’s easy! LIE.

Lie about how well things were managed in the past. Lie about how members have been treated. Lie about why things happened. When you’re not lying, edit: Keep the rampant anti-Japanese sentiments out of the material created for an English-speaking audience, and make up an English hashtag that asks for feedback, please, while the Korean hashtag tells the label you hate them!

The Block B boycott got so much traction among i-fans that it even got stories in the English-speaking K-Pop press–something that did not happen in Korea. I should note that there’s a real tendency to copy/paste any and all allegations that make their way into English without stopping to figure out if they are true or not. And once they’re in English, they’re also much more likely to get translated into still-other languages because so many people are English-bilingual.

So, yeah. I’m certainly not trying to suggest that K-fans are always lying or always attempting to manipulate i-fans for their own purposes (I hope to God that’s not true, anyway). But you should be aware that it does happen. If this BAP boycott makes zero sense to you, don’t just assume that the K-fans know better and that you should follow along.