Monthly Archives: April 2014

There is so much we don’t know; or, a small primer on the business end of the arts

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So, the various English-language K-Pop news outlets have covered Block B’s cancellation of promotions for “Jackpot.” AllKPop (I know, I don’t like them either, but I feel an obligation….) did an article that got a lot of comments, and I found the comments really interesting.

(Well, mostly they were interesting. The person who labeled a #1 album a “flop” needs to show their math. Although they weren’t nearly as funny as the people on OneHallyu who respond to every scrap of news about Block B by saying, “They should disband.” Yeah. I’m sure they’ll get right on that. Because when you have three #1 albums in a row, there’s really no mountains left for you to climb, and it’s time to close up shop.)

Many of the comments on AllKPop are by people trying to suss out exactly how this is going to affect Block B’s bottom line. And the thing is, that’s completely impossible to do with Block B.

Why?

1. Block B is not with a label, and was never with a major label. The members of Block B had contracts with Stardom, which was basically a new company when they joined it. Unlike, say, SM, the terms of Stardom’s contracts were not contested by Block B in their legal action against the company–instead the group charged that the contracts were not being honored–and for the most part the terms themselves never became public.

After Block B lost their suit, they negotiated a transfer of their contracts to Seven Seasons, a newly-formed management company. But did they simply transfer the contracts whole, or did they void those contracts and negotiate new ones with Seven Seasons? I tend to assume that they did the latter, but in all honesty, I have no idea.

As a result:

2. Nobody on the outside has any idea what the terms of Block B’s contracts are. This is HUGE. Do the members of Block B make no money from music sales? Or do they make heaps? Hell if I know!

And don’t think that the percentage cut given the artist doesn’t really matter. I’m a writer who currently writes novels. I self-publish for many, many reasons, the primary one being that I keep 70% of the money I make. It’s not uncommon for an author with a traditional publisher to get only 10%.

What does that mean? I sell a dinky $3 e-book and I make the exact same money as an author who sells a beautiful $20 hardback.

I also sell paperbacks, which cost about $14. People sometimes say things to me like, “Oh, I got your e-book and loved it, so I’m going to buy the paper copy in order to support you!” I tell them, “Don’t bother!” I don’t make any more money off that $14 paperback than I do off the $3 e-book. But for many traditionally-published authors, that is a good idea. Why? Because their contracts stipulate that they get a truly puny amount of money from e-book sales–if you don’t buy paper, the writer gets screwed.

Change the terms of the contract, and everything else changes. What works business-wise for one person won’t work for another if their contracts are not the same. (Remember that the next time someone tells you that no one makes any money from digital music.) And Block B is in such a weird position, it’s not like a standard K-Pop contract with a major label is going to be any help at all with figuring out what their contract terms are.

If that weren’t complicated enough, another factor is that:

3. Seven Seasons has no legacy costs. Seven Seasons did not come onto the scene until Block B had a #1 album under their belt. Seven Seasons did not recruit a bunch of unknowns and lovingly mold them into the talented performers we see today. (Snerk. Sorry, but I just don’t buy the whole notion that K-Pop labels have these AMAZING training systems that spin straw into gold. I’ve seen too many shitty performances to believe that.) Seven Seasons did not have to sell the Korean public and media on something they’d never seen before. They’re not trying to push a slew of new groups. There’s a big hunk of the cost ledger at a traditional label that simply doesn’t exist for Seven Seasons, because they came in after the hard part was over.

All this is why I rely on the very simple argument that if Block B really needed the money from this comeback, they wouldn’t have canceled it. As people have remarked (both admiringly and in a “what the hell are you doing!?!” kind of way), theirs is an extreme position–other K-Pop groups are unlikely to up and cancel their comebacks the way Block B did. But Block B is in a very different position than most K-Pop groups.

Exactly how different, we just can’t know.

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Hee-hee-hee

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Kpopalypse and Asian Junkie both did interesting posts recently on sexy concepts in K-Pop and how well they work at generating attention–especially from people who are allegedly criticizing them.

I saw a lot of that in New York City because there’s a lot of tabloid-y new there, and tabloids always do this fan-dance of “Oh, isn’t THIS outrageous!!! Here’s a bunch of pictures so you can see EXACTLY what I’m talking about and just how immoral it is!!!! Aren’t you shocked? Here’s some more!!!!! So shocking! There’s video, too!!!! It was so awful and perverted that we had to put it on the front page three days in a row!!!!!!”

I actually saw:

TELEVISION ANNOUNCER: Video vixens!

Cut to about 60 seconds of edited-togther video clips of scantily-clad young ladies dancing around. Boobs! Butts! As much as you can show of the mons veneris* and labia without getting your FCC license revoked!

TELEVISION ANNOUNCER: Have they gone too far?

I also saw a tabloid newspaper headline that was laid out like:

Are

TEENs

having too much

SEX?

Sadly, WordPress won’t let me make the words “teen” and “sex” twenty times larger than the rest of the text, like that newspaper did.

I’ve also seen enough non-humorous versions of Kpopalypse’s pseudo-feminist “critique” of Hyuna enough times to have formed my own theory about them, which dates back to college and differs from his: I always think, “Some young lady needs to come out of the closet in the worst way.” If you can write 150-page dissertations on cleavage and female masturbation (because that’s what interests you!), you need to admit to yourself that you are into chicks. And, no, I don’t mean that you are a committed feminist who is dedicated to women’s studies–you may be that as well, but you are also into chicks. Be honest with yourself–it’s really the only way.

*I swear to God, AutoCorrect, it’s “veneris” not “veneers”! Please do not inflict your sad lack of sexual education on the rest of us!

This, I am not at all torn about

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So, apparently some “fan” decided to chase a member of Shinee named Taemin down the street. She was really proud of her behavior, too, and crowed about her magnificent accomplishment online–ugh, that whole “power of fangirls” bullshit she wrote is BULLY LOGIC. Yes, girl, you’ve got the POWER TO TERRORIZE SOME POOR SLOB who never did anything bad to you! You chased him down the street, and then you went online to brag about it and basically call him a faggot. GIRL POWER!!!!

Honestly, if you ever find yourself writing some kind of academic paper or article on how women are every bit as capable of sexual violence, intimidation tactics, and really fucked-up power plays as men are, just cite that “Let me show you the power of fangirls chasing their idols” bit. Why not catch those idols, sit on them, and slowly choke them to death as they plead increasingly-faintly for life? Then they’d really know who’s BOSS.

And of course she’s a fangirl (and he’s her idol). That means she can do whatever she wants to him, because he belongs to her. Just like if you have a boyfriend or husband, he can do whatever he wants to you, because you belong to him. If you try to explain to him, No, I never agreed to date you/we’re not together any more, he will show you who is boss, just like this girl showed Taemin who is boss. Just like the slave masters used to show runaway slaves who is boss.

I do think that this is part of K-Pop’s general degradation of performers–I mean, recently a court in Korea had to explain that K-Pop companies can’t actually ban dating nor legally beat employees. But as Teen Top recently discovered, this kind of controlling batshit “fan” behavior is by no means limited to Korea. And how many people have I blocked on Tumblr for writing stuff like “I’m gonna rape Zico!” “How dare U-Kwon not hug people–that’s not OK!” “Jaehyo is so beautiful that I want to punch his fucking face in and gouge out his pretty eyes!”–? Quite a few.

And I am torn

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So, it seems that Block B may just bail on promoting “Jackpot.” The Sewol tragedy means that music groups can’t start promoting until May, and in June the World Cup starts, so there’s a very narrow window for everyone to pile into. Block B could wait until July, but their schedule doesn’t really fit a July comeback–they’ve got all kinds of stuff going on starting in mid-May through June, include visits to the U.S., Japan, and now Russia (cooool), and I would assume that they don’t want to sit on “Jackpot” until after all that.

As a fan, of course I feel like

tumblr_n4idl6ASFG1txlls0o1_500

I want to see the live choreography! (Of course, not having an official comeback doesn’t mean that they won’t perform it at all–they might do special appearances and the like. I have hope.)

bbjackpot5

And I want to see P.O to do this onstage!

Nonetheless as a business reporter…well, let’s just say that I’m noticing that a lot of fans (and a LOT of haters) are assuming that, if Block B does cancel promotions, then that would be really bad news for the group, and I have to question that assumption.

I mean, gee, guess who’s number 1 on the Gaon charts this week? Mind you, that’s for a really expensive CD with all of one new song on it (the other two songs are remixes). Despite not being promoted, the “Jackpot” video has 1.68 million views 11 days after release (so, it’s presumably still doing better than “Very Good” did with promotions), and it is currently topping Eat Your Kimchi’s K-Pop chart, meaning it will probably be reviewed and get that bump. Releasing the digital version of the song would open up another income stream.

Groups do get appearance fees when they’re on television, so Block B would be losing that money, but frankly if they desperately needed that income, they wouldn’t be considering canceling.

ETA: Ugh, they’re not releasing the digital edition at all! Ah, well–presumably they’ll release it with the album due to come out this year. And the Jackpot CD has just become a collector’s item…..

Will no one think of science!

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So, this is pretty much the wonkiest whine ever, but the “Jackpot” video is on YouTube on both Seven Seasons’ channel and CJ E&M’s channel–as was “Very Good,” but if you search YouTube for “Block B Jackpot,” your first link is CJ E&M’s, and then about a gazillion reaction videos. Seven Seasons’ channel shows up on the first page, but their link to the video does not.

Naturally the CJ E&M version has more views.

I’m assuming this doesn’t make a huge difference to Block B’s finances, otherwise they would have gotten on top of this a while back–“Be the Light” is in the same boat. The split in views is annoying to fans, but there are a lot of things fans care a great deal about that don’t necessarily matter to the bottom line (*coughcoughonlinepollscoughcough*). It might make you feel all proud to see a higher view count for your favorite video (and if the video reaches a really big milestone, like 100 million views, you can get some press), but it may not make any difference to Block B, especially if the various music shows count views on both channels. In fact, it may even keep Block B in CJ E&M’s good graces to let them have the views–who knows?

But it sucks for me, the data dork! Since I didn’t keep track of the overall views of “Very Good,” I have no direct way to compare interest!

Well, I’ll give it a shot, anyway, with all the various caveats in mind. It took “Very Good” 11-12 days to reach 1 million views on the Seven Seasons channel. (Additional caveat–that figure is based on my recollection at the time.) Looking at current figures, if you add CJ E&M’s 998,837 views to Seven Seasons’ 4,547,189 views, we’re at roughly 5.55 million views of “Very Good” today, about six months after release.

Now with “Jackpot,” it’s 577,984 views on CJ E&M’s channel, plus 419,633 views on Seven Seasons’ channel, for close to a million views four days after release–and that’s with Block B’s promotions truncated and delayed on account of that horrible ferry disaster. So it seems like Block B is doing quite well, at least on YouTube–Seven Seasons’ channel is adding viewers at the same rate as it did in the early days of “Very Good,” and CJ E&M’s channel is doing waaaaay better.

(You know who isn’t counted on YouTube? China! Damn it–more black boxes….)

Jackpot!

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This came out today:

I actually don’t love the song–it’s a bit of Frankenstein song, much like “Tell Them.”

That’s often the knock on K-Pop–the songs sound like a bunch of different songs of different genres just kind of bolted together.

But hell, watch the “Jackpot” video with the sound turned off if you have to–it’s brilliant. It’s basically the world’s most demented makeover video, and I’m sure it was largely inspired by what Block B has seen and experienced in the industry.

Hee.

Some more thoughts on the Zico thing

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Update: Seven Seasons, Block B’s management company, has replied to a letter by Block B International regarding Zico’s “joke.” The reply reads in part (translation by youngha @ blockbintl):

The related remark on hand was never meant to have any disparaging intention, but we will pay heed that it could give pain to someone. We all, Seven Seasons and Block B, will work hard so that this kind of thing does not happen again.

I’m really happy to see this, and many thanks to Block B International for sending the letter.

I’ve taken down the marketing page over at BlockB.com–there’s just no point in trying to market Block B in the U.S. at this point. “Block B is fun!” “Block B has great music!” is doable, “Block B is racist!”–not so much.

I realize that there’s a lot of bafflement by non-American English-speaking BBCs over why this is such an issue to Americans. It may be true that minorities get treated like shit in your country and nobody–that is, nobody who really matters–minds it, but that’s not gonna fly here.

The other thing that keeps getting brought up (by people who are apparently completely unfamiliar with American media, American culture, and American history) is the notion of a double standard–it’s OK when non-Asians make fun of African Americans (Really?), but for some odd, inexplicable reason, this:

m8d9uv.jpg

is a big deal, and I don’t know why. The world is so unfair.

I will just note that I have lived in the United States almost exclusively since my birth in 1970, and I have never, ever seen anyone do what Block B did. You know:

PERSON A: Hey, show us your impersonation of [a member of an ethnic or racial group]!

PERSON B: Sure, here goes!

Never. Not on television, not in real life. I’m sure it happens in real life, and I’m sure if you comb through every single minute of American television broadcast in the past 40-odd years, you will find something, but it’s extremely uncommon. Why? Because the vast majority of Americans hate that sort of thing.

Does that mean no one ever impersonates someone from a different ethnic or racial group? No! The United States is very diverse, and if, say, an Irish/German/Cherokee/we’re-not-quite-sure-what comedian had to limit themselves to their own ethnicity, they could never imitate anyone. (“Hey, I’m Scottish/German/Cherokee/we’re-not-quite-sure-what! That’s offensive!”) But they impersonate a character. An individual. type of person. They don’t impersonate an entire ethnic or racial group, as though everyone in that group talks and acts the same. (And if they do, guess what? There’s a shitstorm of controversy!)

That’s what Zico did, and that’s the problem. If he wants to imitate Jay-Z, he can be my guest. If he wants to imitate black people–well, let’s just say that I can’t market that here (nor do I want to).

It’s a shame, because from the previews, the “Jackpot” video looks and sounds really good. It really frustrates me, because I thought that the tour combined with the music release meant that we could really get some good American press coverage for Block B and hopefully increase their fan base in the United States. But that can’t happen now–we can’t have the American press looking into Block B because Zico’s fuck-up is so fresh. The English-language K-Pop press seems willing to ignore it, but your average American publication doesn’t give a fuck whether K-Pop does well overseas or not, so they have no motivation to sweep this kind of shit under the rug.

Maybe we can do something for them next year, if Block B returns to the U.S., and Zico doesn’t put his foot in it before then. (An apology would also help, and it would probably make their U.S. tour a hell of a lot more pleasant. Just saying.) But not now.

***

The other thing that sems to cause confusion is, I think, caused by the use of the term “black music” in Korea to mean hip-hop and R&B. People are wondering why Zico is getting in trouble for imitating black people now, when he’s been “acting black” his entire career.

Which, of course, is the problem with terms like “black music.” If you didn’t know, there are many African Americans who don’t like hip-hop at all. I would guess that the majority of older African Americans hate rap and wish everyone would just stick to singing–whether you like rap or not tends to be a generational thing.

Baseball caps, baggy clothes, strutting, going “Yo! Yo! Yo! Yo!” and making faux gang signs are not black, they are hip-hop. Hip-hop is completely mainstream in the United States, and it is popular around the world. Many, many different kinds of people like hip-hop, and many of them express their liking by dressing and acting a certain way. Some African Americans are in this group of hip-hop lovers and act hip-hop; some are not and do not.

ice-t

Acts hip-hop

Condoleezza_Rice_cropped

Does not act hip-hop

Point of interest: It’s this very diversity among African Americans that gets obliterated every time someone decides to mimic blacks.