What yardstick are you using?


(I’ve been posting a lot here lately, huh? That’s because the alternative is doing my taxes.)

The other day I stumbled across the first “MR removed” video that I had ever seen.

The idea is that they remove the recorded vocals that are invariably played during live musical performances on Korean television so that you can tell what the vocalists really sound like.

My first response was to wonder, “How do you remove the recorded vocals without removing the live vocals? Unless you managed to sneak into the TV studio and record the audio feeds from the microphones, it doesn’t seem like you could make an accurate recording. You might even wind up totally removing the voice of the person who sings the closest to the recorded version, making the best singer of the group look like the biggest hack! But what do I know? I really don’t know anything about the technical side of music.”

Well, it turns out that other people do, and sometime your first response is totally correct!

My second response was to wonder, “Why do this in the first place?”

The thing is, if you’re trying to figure out if a particular K-Pop group can really sing, why the fuck would you reference a Korean television performance? To all appearances, they set these things up specifically so that the artists don’t have to sing.

And please don’t tell me that you are honestly shocked, shocked!!! to discover that in this performance

they aren’t always singing. What clued you in? The way Zico “shouts” when his microphone is nowhere near his mouth and his lips aren’t moving?

I think this is a case of people taking American (semi-hysterical) expectations of live musical performances and imposing those on the “live” musical performances typical of Korean television. The first Korean group I found that I really liked was FT Island, and their main singer is amazing. But if you try (and I did) to watch FT Island live by watching their Korean TV performances, you are going to be extremely disappointed.

Think about it: At the average Korean TV appearance, the singer has a huge vocal track blaring away behind them, so no matter how well they sing, they’re going to sound like shit. These vocal tracks are provided so that the singer doesn’t overexert themselves, lose their voice on stage, and collapse the way FT Island’s lead singer actually did once.

Why the hell would a singer bring their A game to that kind of environment? Seriously, why?

If you want to hear FT Island’s lead singer live, you should watch something like this:

If you want to hear Block B sing without music, try these:

In other words, if you feel a need to investigate whether or not a K-Pop group can actually sing, try listening to them in a situation where they know that they don’t have the cover/interference of vocal tracks, back-up music, and screaming fans. Watching musical performances on Korean television is like watching an exhibition game–no one’s going to try that hard with the vocals, because it doesn’t really matter. They’re not lazy; they’re smart–why risk injury for a performance that doesn’t really count for anything?

You’ll also notice that in the Shimshimtapa performances all the members of Block B have functioning microphones (not always a given), and they’re standing still. “Very Good” as Block B performs it live is an aerobic workout–after they do it, they mop off sweat and hyperventilate (and everyone looks a little askance at Zico because he’s asthmatic and has a congenital heart defect and therefore might die).

Personally I think dancing is very entertaining (and some K-Pop groups do seriously crazy acrobatics), but those kinds of performances certainly don’t pretend to be all about the music, and it’s kind of silly to act like they do.