Monthly Archives: October 2013

Working with the numbers I have

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After writing my last post bemoaning the lack of good data to judge the impact of various marketing activities, I decided that I should start tracking the data that I do have access to, namely YouTube hits.

The upside of YouTube is that it’s an international measure–while different retailers dominate in different countries, pretty much everyone goes to YouTube. In addition, I’ve been checking it at around 9 pm Pacific Standard Time, which is about 1 pm the next day in Seoul. Usually television or radio appearances happen in the evening, so that’s actually a good time to check the counters–the previous evening’s appearance has presumably had its effect, and the group hasn’t made its new appearance yet. (The big exception to this was October 22, when I checked it at 3 pm and 10 pm PST for reasons I will explain below.) At first I was annoyed at myself for not thinking of doing this sooner, since the album has been out for almost three weeks now. But then I realized that if the existing fanbase is basically satiated by this point, then an uptick in views would presumably be coming from new people–and it’s good to know what reaches them.

This is by no means a perfect measure–“Very Good” is on more than one YouTube channel, although the Seven Seasons channel I followed does get the most hits, and it appears first when you search the site. Sometimes fans have campaigns to drive up the number of views (which helps with winning the countdown TV shows), and if the Korean fans organized something like that, I probably wouldn’t know about it. Presumably those campaigns would precede a television appearance, however, and I noticed that the big upticks tend to happen after I went to bed (i.e. in the later afternoon/evening in Korea), which suggest that they are the result of the TV appearance itself, not of a campaign that preceded it. But YouTube’s counters also stall, sometimes for hours, so I can’t be sure about the timing, or even that a flat day-to-day reading is actually real (since it could be caused by a really long stall).

After a couple of days of this I realized that I could also track Very Good‘s listing on the Amazon K-Pop bestseller list. The issue is that the album has been bouncing around wildly (It’s #21! It’s #6! It’s #38!) with no apparent pattern. That suggests to me that Amazon (which serves a primarily American audience) doesn’t sell that many K-Pop albums, and that small shifts in the number of people who buy Very Good (or any of the other K-Pop albums they sell) have an outsize impact on the ranking. So I gave that up for the most part (but I will note that Blockbuster has been selling almost as well most days on Amazon as the newer album).

Although I didn’t start tracking views until this week, if memory serves, it took “Very Good” about 11 or 12 days to reach a million views, suggesting that the video was getting about 100,000 hits a day when it first came out.

Date                                  Views (in thousands)           Views added (in thousands)
10/19 (~9 pm PST)            1,181
10/20 (~9 pm PST)            1,219                                    38
10/21 (~9 pm PST)            1,235                                    16
10/22 (~3 pm PST)            1,266                                    31
10/22 (~10 pm PST)          1,284                                    18
10/23 (~9 pm PST)            1,320                                    36
10/24 (~9 pm PST)            1,357                                    37

You’ll notice that a lot more views were added on October 20 and October 22 than were added on October 21. Block B appeared on the music television show Inkigayo the 20th, while on the 22nd they appeared on Simply KPop and The Show. (These were all musical performances.) They didn’t have any television appearances on the 21st. So if Block B appears on a music show, then their views get a noticeable boost.

I checked their counts twice on October 22 because EatYourKimchi.com did a review of “Very Good” that was released at 2 pm PST. (I didn’t see it until an hour later; YouTube had a lengthy counter freeze that afternoon, so that delay may not have affected accuracy any.) Given EYK’s subscription base (they have more than 425,000 YouTube subscribers), I was curious to see what the impact was. By 10 pm PST EYK’s review video had 27,000 views, and it looks like a good chunk of that audience went on to watch “Very Good” itself.

The numbers for October 23 are complicated because in addition to the EYK video, Block B appeared as non-musical guests on the comedy program Weekly Idol. But the EYK review video had 60,000 views by 9 pm PST, the number of “Very Good” views increased by 54,000 in that same time period, and I think it’s fair to say that being on EYK helped. (I don’t know this for a fact, but I’m somewhat doubtful that lots of people tune into Weekly Idol because they hope to find new music–it seems like the kind of thing that would appeal more to existing fans, although I’m sure the show has its own fan base as well.)

On October 24 Block B did nothing promotional, but “Very Good” added a healthy 37,000 views nonetheless. On that same day, the EYK review added only 10,000 views. That could mean that there’s some other unknown factor driving “Very Good” views, but the optimist in me is hoping that this is the result of EYK reaching an audience that knows less about K-Pop, so there’s a surge in interest by those people (who hopefully tell their friends). Interestingly, the Very Good album has been in Amazon’s K-Pop top 10 consistently all day, and while in the past Blockbuster tended to follow Very Good‘s ups and downs (consistently trailing it slightly), on October 24 it decoupled and spent the day much further down the list.

Anyway, what I’m taking from this is that, yes, it’s certainly worth it for fans to work to boost song scores on the televisions shows and to vote up videos on Eat Your Kimchi (the former mostly reaches an Asian audience, while the latter reaches an English-speaking one, so both are good). Getting the most votes is the only way to get a video reviewed on EYK, but with the television shows voting actually counts for a relatively small fraction of a song’s score–sales matter more (details here). Since I wasn’t keeping track of YouTube views when Block B won Inkigayo, I have no idea how much or even if a win is better than just an appearance–but an appearance is pretty damned good, so keeping the group’s score up high enough for it to be invited back is important. The nice thing is, YouTube views add to the show scores, so there’s a virtuous cycle there of higher show scores => more appearances => more YouTube views => higher show scores.

(ETA: I did this for another week, just to make sure October 21 wasn’t some kind of weird fluke, and it wasn’t–on days they didn’t appear on television, they got about 10,000 fewer new views than days when they did.)

Sales, markets, and hidden markets

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I’m a writer, so in this day and age, I self-publish. What is interesting about self-publishing is that it essentially isn’t measured: The various entities that purport to track book publishing actually track book publishers. So as more people self-publish, more books fall off the radar, and the industry data indicates that the volume of books sold has fallen. That may or may not be true (without data, who knows?), but what appears to be a drop in book sales is actually a drop in books sold through publishers, which is an important distinction.

Another truism about book publishing is that bestseller lists are basically bullshit: It’s not quite payola, but being on a bestseller lists nowadays really, really does not mean what it used to mean. It’s become a very political thing (the most notorious case being when the New York Times decided that Harry Potter books should not be on its bestseller lists, and voila! those books were no longer New York Times bestsellers), and it’s not uncommon for a writer to get greater sales from a book that was never on a bestseller list than from a book that was listed all over the place.

I bring all this up because Block B’s Very Good album has apparently doing very well, which is great, but of course it’s totally impossible to determine exactly how well it is doing.

Not helping the cause of understanding is the truly half-assed job done by the various English language K-Pop “news” sites. So this Korean news story (translated by Youngha@ BLOCKBINTL):

60,000 copies of ‘Very Good’ were sold within a week, and they’ve almost reached 100,000 copies in sales.

Gets transmorgified by AllKPop into this:

HEADLINE: Block B making future plans due to the success of their comeback, over 100,000 albums sold
They won first place on SBS’s ‘Inkigayo’ on the thirteenth and sold 60,000 copies within a week of the album’s release.  At the current time, it’s been reported that they sold over 100,000 copies!

(OK, seriously? IT’S “MORE THAN.” NOT “OVER.” Pick up a style guide, for fuck’s sake, so that your misinformation is at least grammatically correct!)

Not to be outdone by AllKPop, someone has updated the Block B discography on Wikipedia to read that Very Good has sold more than 100,000 copies in Korea alone.

Now, that would be quite an accomplishment, and no one would be happier than me to see that happen. There’s only one problem: There is absolutely no evidence that Block B has sold more than 100,000 copies of Very Good, and there’s especially no evidence that that number has been hit in Korea alone. If you’ve ever dealt with fandoms, you know that when the end of October rolls around and the Gaon numbers come out anywhere south of “over” 100,000 copies–like, 99,999 copies–there’s going to be some quality time spent talking people off of rooftops.

Definitely sales are going well: You don’t have to take AllKPop on faith that Block B sold out their initial 30,000-CD production run, you can look at the Gaon CD sales chart for September and see that they sold close to 25,000 copies of Very Good before the album was even released, note the various shortages that cropped up a week or so ago, and use your own deductive reasoning skills.

But as far as a hard number is concerned. . . ? Good luck, especially with a group like Block B. They have always sold well outside of Korea, and the problem with the Gaon charts–even the digital charts–is that they don’t report sales abroad.

Why does Block B sell so well internationally? Theories at the 1:45 mark. Clearly, Park Kyung has a bright future ahead of him as a music-industry consultant.

There’s also the Hanteo charts, which captures sales from retail outlets that non-Koreans can buy from. But of course since Hanteo only captures data from certain outlets, it’s really not useful if you’re hoping for an overall picture of sales.

Neither Gaon or Hanteo capture sales through channels that Americans are likely to utilize, like iTunes and Amazon. These are captured via Billboard’s world album chart, which charts U.S. sales and which listed Very Good as #6 last week and #10 this week. Presumably Very Good is doing better in the United States than Blockbuster did, since Blockbuster only reached #10 on the world album chart. But unlike Gaon, Billboard doesn’t give actual sales numbers, so that’s really just a supposition.

More important, it’s impossible to know where Block B makes the majority of its sales. Is the U.S. market as big for them as the Korean market? What about the European market? The South American market? The Arab market? (Seriously, I get hits on my Block B Web site from all over the planet.)

Who knows?

Hopefully Block B does. What I worry more about is the fan efforts. Right now, people are putting a lot of trouble to make sure that Block B does well on the various Korean music countdown shows, which rely in part on Hanteo numbers. And it certainly means a lot to the group when they win one:

Buuut . . . while the fan in me loves the emotional payoff of a win like that, the business reporter in me can’t help but wonder how much this sort of thing is actually going to help sales. It may well help–people certainly respond to that kind of emotion, anyway–but I really wish I had numbers. . . .

ETA: And yup, the Gaon numbers came out, and Very Good has sold 43,467 copies in Korea. Which means that, assuming Block B did manage to sell 100,000 copies of the album, more than half their sales came from international fans.

Thank you for your patronage

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I guess it’s because most Block B videos are more or less like this:

I’m always kind of surprised and appalled to see the, shall we say, more-typical K-Pop take on the group. Stuff like this:

Look! Little cartoon people telling you THESE MEN ARE HANDSOME. YOU FIND THEM ATTRACTIVE. RESISTANCE IS FUTILE. YOU WILL BE ASSIMILATED.

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YOU WILL FORGET YOU SAW THIS.

Oh, and hey, are you an older woman who isn’t getting enough sex? Don’t worry! Assistance is at hand!

From the tone of this thing, I’m amazed they didn’t offer matching group-branded vibrators.

These videos remind me of watching certain Elvis or Marilyn Monroe movies, where they stop the action to have one character point out that Elvis/Marilyn Monroe has an attractive physical feature, and another character chimes in with something like, “Yes, they certainly DO have an attractive physical feature! I am feeling extremely attracted to them right now, thanks to this attractive physical feature!” and the whole thing comes off as bizarrely educational, like the writers were really, really hoping that this time, they would eradicate homosexuality once and for all.

I realize that these things exist because that’s how they market idol groups in Korea–as romantic objects–and that my discomfort with it probably stems from the general American discomfort with fan service.

But what really annoys me about this is the implication that women can’t possibly like music, you know, as music. Like we must listen to it with our pussies or something.

In that vein, some fool rapper released a diss tape whining about Zico’s appearance last summer at a hip-hop festival called All Force One. It’s completely pathetic–he can’t say anything bad about Zico’s performance, and he’s mostly upset because Zico has a lot of female fans.

I think I’ll let Zico reply to that one:

(“Sam” means “jealous” in Korean, BTW.)

But of course the guy has to call out the female fans, because you know, they’re females, and females can’t possibly be interested in music. Especially not hip-hop. Because it’s not like that’s what Zico does or anything.

When you perform fangirls come to the performance.
Honestly, you know too: those girls have no interest in hip hop. . . .

Of course, on the day of the performance there were female listeners everywhere.
How many of them would have the respect for the scene?
How many people do you think couldn’t attend the performance because of the fangirls?
Of course it isn’t just you to take the blame.

So from now this goes to BBC bitches.
Yeah I understand that these days your oppas don’t come out much on TV
so you need to attend their performances, I understand.
But this is overboard isn’t it? Really.

(Translation by Omona They Didn’t)

So, you know, I’d like to start with a simple message from all women: FUCK YOU, ASSHOLE. DIE A VIRGIN. Then I’ll move on to the observation that, because Zico was at All Force One, I wound up buying this song:

And this song, along with several other songs from the excellent Thunderground.

Yeah, those guys aren’t Zico, are they? And yet because I follow Zico and went on YouTube to watch his All Force One performances, I wound up watching the other rappers who performed there as well, and that’s when I decided that I really did like Beenzino’s “Aqua Man” enough to buy it and that I should check out Dok2’s older stuff. (And gosh, I sure hear a lot of female voices singing along and cheering during those non-Zico performances. It’s almost like they know and respect the scene or something!)

Oh, and are Beenzino and Dok2 the only Korean hip-hop artists to benefit from my interest in Zico? Not at all. It’s fair to say that I owe my entire knowledge of the Korean hip-hop scene to Zico. Why? Because he’s a huge dorky fanboy who is constantly Tweeting about music he likes, and our tastes overlap enough that I always check his recommendations out. Korean hip-hop being what it is, one song invariably leads to many others. I’ve probably have close to 300 Korean hip-hop songs on my iPod at this moment, and the vast majority of those artists are people I found either directly or indirectly through Zico.

Is this because I hope one day to marry Zico and have his children? NO.

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Second from the right in the back? Yeah, that’s really father material right there.

It’s because I like music.

Asshole.

How live is it?

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So, Kye Bum Ju recently had a performance of his go up on the American Billboard Web site. It’s well worth watching (I can’t get it to embed, sorry), both on its own merits and because it demonstrates that quality live music is not some completely alien concept to Korea. (Too bad that if you search “Kye Bum Ju Something Special” on iTunes you get no results, because the song is listed under Kye Bum Zu. Kid, you’re killing me.)

That kind of live performance might be a surprise to you if you’ve gone on YouTube and looked up “live” versions of K-Pop songs. While possibly the only thing that will infuriate people and damage careers in the United States is lip-synching (beating the shit out of Rihanna, snorting coke onstage, and obtaining sexual gratification by peeing on minors are all apparently OK), it’s totally common for K-Pop acts to sing and/or lip-synch over their own vocal tracks, especially in television performances. In fact, until CNBlue came along and started making demands, K-Pop groups were not allowed to play live instruments on television shows–if a band had, say, guitarists, they had to pretend to play.

This really baffled me, because that’s an approach pretty much guaranteed to make you look like an idiot and sound like shit. No musician looks excited when they pretend to play, and whatever virtuosity they might have is never given a chance to shine. Singing over your own vocal track in particular makes you sound awful: Very few people sing a song the exact same way twice, and any variation over a vocal track sounds like a mistake. (ETA: Here’s a good example, at the 2:41 mark.) In addition, in the United States live performances are viewed as a proving ground: If you lip-synch during a live performance, you might as well hang a banner on yourself that says I CANNOT SING.

But now that I’m watching Block B run through what I assume is a pretty typical promotional schedule following a new music release in Korea, I’m beginning to understand. Korea has a wide array of weekly music-countdown shows, and it seems like the thinking is, the more of these a K-Pop group hits, the better. And it’s not a one-time thing–as long as your song ranks high enough on their charts for them to want you, you come back every week.

Throw in concert appearances, and your schedule starts to look like this:

Oct. 3. Concert and television performance.
Oct. 4. Television performance.
Oct. 5. Television performance.
Oct. 8. Television performance.
Oct. 9. Concert performance.
Oct. 10. Television performance.
Oct. 11. Television performance.
Oct. 12. Concert and television performance.
Oct. 13. Concert and television performance.

Guess what that kind of schedule does to your voice? Luckily for the most part these performances are only one or two songs, so things aren’t bad yet, but you can definitely hear Block B’s voices get a little rougher and a little strained. They also skip the bits that are especially rough on the voice, and they’re skipping more as the month wears on.

October 3

October 11

I assume that by November they’ll be reduced to 100% lip-synching, as well as using sign language in interviews.

So now I get it, but that doesn’t help my particular situation: Knowing that Americans hate hate HATE lip-synching, and are none too fond of recorded music, how do I choose live performance videos that show Block B in the best light? Given the unfortunate alignment between what is considered totally understandable and normal in K-Pop and what is considered completely unacceptable in the United States, how do I make an idol group look like good musicians, instead of setting off Americans’ No-Talent-Hack Alarms?

The answer is, I have to be really picky. Right now, I’m relaxing the standards a bit because there’s so much new stuff coming out (and my Web site has to serve existing fans as well as–hopefully–converting people into new fans). But normally I never use a song that Block B has recorded–the live videos are of cover songs, because those don’t have much in the way of vocal tracks. And the cover of “Niji” was a freaking God-send–U-Kwon and B-Bomb actually perform the music as well as sing the song. Of course, they hide Taeil in the back, so that it sounds like there just might be a vocal track in there….

The other source of American-acceptable performances are Zico’s solo performances at hip-hop concerts. As luck would have it, the Korean underground scene is far more palatable to American sensibilities than the idol world: Underground rappers are expected to have mad skillz, so they don’t use vocal tracks.

Relying on live performances that aren’t televised in Korea also means relying on what are called fan cams. These exist because, instead of having the copyright police beat to death anyone who dares bring a camera into a concert like we do in the United States, Koreans allow and even encourage fans to film concerts. Some fans bring in top-quality, expensive equipment and make a name for themselves as makers of amateur concert films. (If you notice a watermark on a fan-made concert film, that is the sign of a hard-core fan cammer.)

I like that fan cam videos exist–pretty much every concert gets filmed thanks to fan cams, which is cool. The quality of the fan cams videos is, of course, quite variable, because not every fan cammer has top-notch equipment or winds up in a place where they can get a good shot (more often than not because all the other fans’ cameras are in the way!).

The main drawback, to my way of thinking, is that hard-core fan cammers also tend to have what in K-Pop is called a “focus” (and what in the United States is called “an obsession that is probably harmless but makes me very nervous anyway”). When a Block B fan cam video has, say, a Taeil focus, that means that when Taeil is singing, the camera is on him. When he’s not singing, the camera is also on him. When he’s drinking water, scratching himself, wandering around the back of the stage looking bored because he knows he’s doing nothing on this song–on him. When he’s looking on in amazement at something very cool that someone else is doing–yeah, you guessed it. Nothing dissuade fan cammers from their “focus.” Because what could be more entertaining than watching someone else be entertained by something that perhaps you could see, but you aren’t allowed to?

But there’s also a major upside to fan cams–nothing is better at capturing the audience feel. I love the fan cam video of Zico and Park Kyung performing “No Joke.” Park Kyung’s appearance was a surprise, so the audience just goes apeshit.

A professional video would have been better quality, and a professional cameraman (probably) wouldn’t have missed Park Kyung’s little dance, but the raw energy of that audience would have been lost, and that would have been a shame.

What are you hoping to accomplish?

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So it turns out that I wasn’t completely accurate about the kerfluffle over the latest Block B video: The belief is not merely that G-Dragon is being copied; the belief is that he (and Big Bang, the group he leads) is being mocked. So, for example, in the “Very Good” video there is a clown with long hair. This is seen as poking fun at G-Dragon, who in the video for Big Bang’s “Fantastic Baby” has long hair.

Of course, the clown’s hair is a pretty conventional black wig, while G-Dragon’s hair in “Fantastic Baby” is a truly epic ‘do, with awesome red bangs that are so long they flow across the floor.

Somewhere in Korea, a G-Dragon sylist is feeling very unappreciated right now.

Then there’s the line in “Very Good,” sung by Block B’s U-Kwon (and translated by youngha of BlockBIntl), that goes:

Pretty boys give their best
Even when they act tough, they’re just too cute

Obviously that must be a reference to G-Dragon, or maybe Bang Yong Guk, or perhaps those adorable kids from BTS. It certainly couldn’t be a reference to this guy:

You know, Kiity-Kwon the Puppy Lover. Block B’s “Smile Representative.” The guy who defeated BtoB’s Ilhoon in a cuteness contest by doing “The Cutie Player,” a cuteness routine Ilhoon invented.

This idea that G-Dragon is being slammed is being taken quite seriously in some circles, with lots of nasty YouTube comments being left by gangs of wanna-be defenders.  It’s kind of amazing to Americans–after all, when Eminem claimed in a song that he had a sound file of Christina Aguilera performing a sexual act, the response was a bit of tongue-clucking, but only because it turned out that she didn’t really appreciate that sort of humor.

Of course, Eminem also claimed in a song that he was once attempting to rape a woman, and she hit him in the head with a brick. Fortunately, he was high on crack, so he didn’t feel it, and the rape was successfully accomplished (although later there were other difficulties). Some songs are not meant to be taken seriously. Especially, I would argue, songs that begin “FOOOOOOD FIIIIIIIIIIIIIIGHT!!!!!”

Anyway, you see how ridiculous this all is, and so do many G-Dragon fans–in fact, some of the most-vitriolic exchanges that I have seen are between those fans who think these sort of hate campaigns are completely stupid and obnoxious and those who seem convinced that they are doing something necessary and constructive.

I would suggest to the people in the latter group that they think long and hard about what they are trying to accomplish.

If what they are doing is so annoying to their fellow fans, what is like to outsiders? The hate campaigns against Block B are already considered comedy gold in Korea. These are from last year–and last year’s hate campaign.

The 8:13 mark

The 1:11 mark

At least Koreans laugh. In the United States, these kinds of things are seen simply as terrifying and dangerous. Remember, you’re talking about a country that is quite sensitive about celebrity stalking–and yes, we do consider people who engage in aggressive online behavior to “protect” “their” celebrities to be well on their way to putting Crazy Glue in orange juice. If that weren’t bad enough, bear in mind that in the States you’re already dealing with the perception that Asian music is only for people with mental and emotional problems.

What harm does it do G-Dragon to be mocked (if he is being mocked, which he is not)? Miley Cyrus is quite obviously being mocked in that video–the distinctively awkward spread-legged dance, the licking (and licking)–and I don’t think she’s going to lose a single sale from it. Block B is far (far far faaaaaaar) from the first to mock her, and she’s chugging along better than ever–attention, even in the form of parodies, is almost always a good thing.

What harm does it do G-Dragon to be surrounded by a pack of angry fanatics who lash out at every perceived slight? Keep in mind that most Americans have not the least idea who G-Dragon is (and he’s being marketed in a way that seems designed to make them think they don’t want to know), so they’re not necessarily going to come to him initially. You don’t know how someone will first hear about G-Dragon–and if what they first hear is “I’M GONNA KILL YOU ASSHOLES YOU BASTARDS!@@!~@!!!!HOW DARE YOU MAKE FUN OF MY HUSBAND TNJUDEU GEUJ OIFDLI: OL!~~~!!!!!” that is not going to encourage them to check him out.

ETA: Everything I’m saying here about G-Dragon fans also applies to Block B fans, of course. Coming across like a psycho or attacking someone who likes “Very Good” for what you deem to be the wrong reasons–that’s just stupid. People discover new music all kinds of weird ways (I discovered Block B because of this horrible article–I read it and thought to myself, “Well, if they’re such terrible idols, I bet they’re really good musicians!”), and no matter how someone comes to the group, their money spends just as easily for Block B as yours or mine.

You’re copying!

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When I first heard Block B, my thought process went a bit like this:

Oh, they’ve got three rappers!

Oh, two of them have higher voices, and one has a low, raspy voice!

Oh! That’s just like the Beastie Boys!

For the purposes of this post, I should note that I saw nothing negative about this. In fact, I was extremely excited by it–the Beastie Boys did very well with that particular arrangement, so in my mind, it has power: You can make two higher rap voices/one lower rap voice work very, very well. It was the first inkling I had that Block B had some serious musical possibilities.

Apparently, it turns out that this is a culturally very American way of approaching music: I’ve got the little Amazon “If you like THIS, then you’ll like THAT” algorithm firmly ensconced in my head.

Actually, instead of saying this is an American approach, I should say it’s very much NOT a K-Pop idol group approach. (Korean underground music clearly operates on a similar principle–if you like So-and-So’s guest appearance on Such-and-Such’s song, you should go check out more of So-and-So’s music.) What you get instead from K-Pop fans is accusations of “copying.”

The problem is that given 1. the relative youth of K-Pop fans, 2. the emphasis on personal loyalty to K-Pop groups, and 3. the resulting lack of broad cultural knowledge, the copying accusations primarily serve to indicate the extreme ignorance of the person making them. It’s like dealing with someone who thinks J.K. Rowling invented the Fair Unknown motif, and maybe wizardry as well. If you’ve never heard an R&B song, and Your Idol Group does an R&B song, then guess what? They invented R&B–just like that!

Think I’m exaggerating? Right now there’s a huge brouhaha over this video:

because it contains a funny boxing scene and a weird dinner scene. And so does this video:

But those scenes are really nothing alikeyou say. Oh, how little you know–boxing and dinner are apparently “G-Dragon imagery” (yes, someone actually used those words, like G-Dragon was the Roman Catholic Church or something). Of course you’re wondering about the roughly 12 gazillion music videos and movies and television shows that feature funny boxing and/or weird dinner scenes and came out looooong before “One of a Kind”–well, obviously the answer is that all those people invented time machines, traveled forward in time, and stole G-Dragon’s ideas! Bastards! (Oh, and Lil John, Ja Rule, and MCA all copied T.O.P.’s voice as well. Now you know.)

It’s not just this group or this video: Earlier a group called 2PM did a video of people dancing in a club, and people got upset because G-Dragon and T.O.P. had earlier done a video featuring . . . wait for it . . . people dancing in a club. Because apparently they are the first musicians in the entire history of music to realize that, if you want to promote a dance song, accompanying it with a video of people dancing in a club is the way to go.

What some folks will argue (and argue seriously!) is that K-Pop is K-Pop. In other words, Korean musicians only look to other Korean musicians for inspiration, so if something (like, say, the invention of boxing) happened outside the world of K-Pop, it doesn’t count. That’s just laughably false–if Korean musicians never looked outside Korea for inspiration, the Korean music scene would be very, very different from what it is today.

Seriously, if you don’t know anything other than what YG tells you, please watch this episode of Eat Your Kimchi. What is the complaint? YG recycles American hip-hop tropes. That’s what they do–they’re looking abroad, even if their fans hermetically seal themselves into the world of K-Pop. You can like YG’s music, sure–I like quite a bit of it myself. But what they do in their videos (like putting a rapper on a throne) is often not particularly original, and you shouldn’t get all bent out of shape when someone else decides to tap those tropes as well.

I’m not arguing that there aren’t trends in Korean music–I’m sure the success of T.O.P. opened the door for other Korean rappers with deep raspy voices. (And I thank him for that!) But that’s rather different than saying that any rapper with a deep raspy voice is imitating T.O.P.–some people just have deep voices and can rap. Which is a good thing!

It’s not just a general cultural ignorance–a lot of the time the person clearly is not overly familiar with either the work that they claim is copying or the work that they claim is being copied. (The most felicitous occurrence of that for me had nothing to do with K-Pop–people claimed that Firefly was just like Cowboy Bebop. Given my “If you like THIS, then you’ll like THAT” mentality, I promptly made a point of watching Cowboy Bebop. loved it, but my God, it is nothing like Firefly–it’s not even a western!) I can’t ever decide if that sort of thing is just straight-up trolling or if it’s just the loyalty/inexperience/jackassery kicking in. In either case, I generally try to give people the benefit of the doubt and suggest, as politely as possible, that they actually experience the cultural product that they are attempting to judge.

But the thing that kind of fundamentally bothers me is that people are cutting themselves off from stuff they might enjoy (and sounding like idiots in the process). I mean, if you love a sweet tenor, why limit yourself to just one? If you love a husky-voiced rap, why stomp all over every new husky-voiced rapper who comes along? The only person you’re really hurting is yourself.

The Dogs of Peru

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My mother and I encountered our first dog of Peru in the Lima airport as we were waiting for our bags. He was a charming little beagle. We assumed he was a drug dog, and since we were not drug smugglers, we ignored him.

He was not a drug dog. We would see the drug dogs in the international departure lounge of the Lima airport. They were a lot bigger, and not nearly as cute.

The adorable petite beagle was, we were to discover, a fruit dog. A very good fruit dog. So good that he could smell the juice from the watermelon we had eaten as a snack on the plane through a bag and a sealed Tupperware container.

You are not supposed to bring fresh fruit into Peru, because it might contain exotic pests. Between our insufficient Spanish and the fruit guard’s insufficient English (and the fact that, no, we did not have fruit with us, because we had eaten it all), it took a while to sort out the situation. Eventually everything was cleared up, and we told the fruit dog that he was a good dog, because it’s not like you can blame the dog for doing his job and doing it well.

(And it gave us an instant story to tell our guide: “Sorry we’re late! We set off the fruit dog!”)

When we were touring Lima, I saw in a courtyard a bunch of dogs off leash with no collars.

“How sad,” I thought. “Strays. It is a shame that there is such poverty.”

Except a thought occurred to me–for miserable, impoverished strays, the dogs we kept encountering looked…pretty damned good.

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Life on the mean streets of Lima.

And they were…awfully well-socialized.

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Hi there! I’m one of the famous Peruvian hairless dogs from the north coast. Won’t you pet me? I’m a tourist attraction!

Eventually I realized something–the collarless dogs we kept encountering at places of business were not strays.

What I had taken as evidence of Peruvian poverty (and there is poverty in Peru; it just doesn’t take the form of roaming packs of strays everywhere) was actually evidence of a very different culture of dog ownership. Most Peruvians don’t leash or collar their dogs, and perhaps as a result, most Peruvians dogs don’t need a leash or collar.

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Even the puppies heel like a boss!

That guy works in one of the north coast digs, and his puppy comes to work with him. That’s what dogs in Peru do–they come to work with their owners. They don’t usually get to go inside, of course–instead they meet up with the dogs of the other people who work in the area, and they hang out. We witnessed any number of human commutes/joyful dog reunions in Peru–they were very cute.

We paid a lot of attention to the dogs.

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Dogs on the north coast look like this.

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Dogs in the Andes look like that.

I finally started making jokes about it, because it seemed like we were always doing this:

GUIDE: Here is this amazing piece of miraculously preserved pre-Columbian architecture, the likes of which you will never see anywhere else!

GROUP: OH MY GOD A PUPPY!!!!

Finally one of the guys in the group came up with a theory: Dogs are familiar. Maybe your Spanish sucks and you don’t know how anyone finds their way around, but dogs–dogs you know.