Monthly Archives: October 2014

Gee, I’ve been promoted

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A Japanese news report (It sounds like Block B may do an album in Japan? Maybe? Is that what “debuting” there means? I’m relying on Google Translate here. ETA: Yes, that’s exactly what it means! Cool!) listed BlockB.com as Block B’s official Korean Web site. Wow, that is so wrong on so many levels….. Glad to know it’s not just the English-language K-Pop news that sucks donkey balls. (What is the very first question answered on the FAQs page again?)

Anyway, for some odd reason the track lists have been pulled from Wikipedia’s Block B discography page, so I was getting a lot of searches for that on BlockB.com. I realized that it would probably be easier and better if I added track lists to the Albums page instead of trying to fix Wikipedia, so if you want to check that page for any typos, please do and let me know.

Happy Halloween! I celebrated last night by having some fool run a red light and smash the living Jesus out of my car. Whee! (Happily no one was hurt, but my car had to be towed.)

 

Trying to crack the B.A.P nut

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I stopped paying attention to B.A.P’s music after they went hard after a pop sound, but I kept noticing stuff floating around indicating All Is Not Well with the group. A lot of it was the kind of concerned fangirling I find easy to ignore, but then there was a very negative blind item a while back that everyone seemed to think referred to B.A.P (which is never a good sign).

And now they just canceled an entire Latin American tour a week before it was supposed to happen. (Holy snot! Oy, that’s bad–my sympathies to the fans, wow.)

Whenever that kind of stuff has come up about B.A.P, people have speculated that perhaps they aren’t doing well financially. Obviously, I can’t know for a fact how well they are doing financially, but it’s actually not that hard to figure out how well a group should be doing financially.

Let’s start with the basics: Album sales. Our baseline will be Block B, since they seem to be doing well enough these days, and because unlike some groups they don’t make the majority of their money from endorsements.

The lovely K-pop Sales blog compiles Gaon sales into easy-to-read English tables, so let’s see how B.A.P is doing in Korea!

For the first nine months of the year:

  • B.A.P sold 138,826 albums
  • Block B sold 123,451 albums

Looks like B.A.P is doing pretty well! They are the eighth biggest-selling male group in Korea, and if you throw the girl groups into the mix, they get bumped down only to number nine.

And they edged out Block B. But of course Block B typically sells well abroad–what if B.A.P sells only in Korea?

Luckily, K-pop Sales also compiles K-Pop sales in Japan! For the first nine months of the year:

  • BAP: 103,417 albums
  • Block B: Not on the list

Nope! Block B is not in the top 20 of K-Pop acts in Japan, which means that they sold fewer than 64,310 albums there. B.A.P is beating them handily in the Japanese market!

Which means that B.A.P is definitely not a group that does well only in Korea. They’re doing just dandy in Japan; they’ve won numerous awards in Europe (even more than Block B), suggesting a solid fan base there; and they’ve sold out a number of concerts in the U.S. (Block B did not sell out a one–of course, B.A.P charged less for tickets.)

The fact remains: If Block B is doing fine, one should expect B.A.P to be doing even better.

What some people have pulled out as a reason they may not be is that, since B.A.P tours a lot, they are losing money because touring is a money-losing proposition. That’s kind of an odd argument to me, because for U.S. acts, touring is often a major (and sometimes only) source of revenue.

The other thing is that B.A.P has done many tours. If they’ve been losing money on each tour, that would suggest that their label needs to 1. manage their tours differently, 2. stop having them tour, or 3. limit their tours to a market that is inexpensive to reach and lucrative, namely Japan. Business isn’t rocket science: If you lose $1,000 on something the first time you do it, you’ll be losing a total of $100,000 the hundreth time you do it if you don’t switch things up.

Which brings us to the X factor–what (the hell) is their label doing?

That, I think is the important question. B.A.P should be doing OK. They should. So far in 2014, they are the ninth best-selling group in Korea and the seventh best-selling K-Pop group in Japan. That should be good news!

If they aren’t doing well financially, then I think you have to look to the label for an explanation–does it have a lot of debt? is it spending tons of money on God-knows-what? Because B.A.P ought to be doing fine–the sales are there, and the audience is there. If the money isn’t there, it’s presumably not because of something the group is doing–something else is going on.

Bienvenidos a Mexico?

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So, there’s some indication that Block B may be coming to Mexico next spring. This isn’t just a rumor, but it’s far from being definite–right now it seems like the source of the news is a Mexican company that sells glow sticks. They are swearing up and down that it’s true, for what that’s worth. Who knows, but if does pan out, I will be endlessly amused by the fact that the glow-stick business is the industry that truly has its hand on the pulse of international K-Pop.

Anyway, I’m kind of hoping that, if Block B is going to Mexico, that they’ll go to other places in Latin America as well–they’ve apparently sold well in Peru and Chile, and they have active fan bases in Argentina and Brazil. (Of course, I wouldn’t say no to another visit to the United States, but I don’t want to be greedy.)

Whatever’s happening, presumably it will have to happen after U-Kwon finishes up with All Shook Up–the show closes February 1, although of course he may not be in the last shows. But I think it would be super-cool if they toured Europe and then hit the Western Hemisphere again. Fingers crossed!

ETA: And you know something? Spring is a miserable season in the Pacific Northwest. It’s actually a standard medical recommendation here that you GTFO and go someplace sunny in the spring, otherwise the seasonal affective disorder will kick your ass. So I officially have my hopes up about this one–Mexico is sunny and easy to visit!

With fans like this, who needs haters?

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Your name is Song Minho, and you are a rapper. Under the stage name Mino, you’ve been trying to have a successful career in the Korean music scene for some time. First, you joined a hip-hop/idol group along with a friend of yours, but the guy who ran the label was an asshole and a crook, so you quit. Then you joined a ballad group–the guys were nice, but you weren’t really a good fit musically, and it all became moot when the group flopped and disbanded.

Finally you caught a break: You were cast in a music-competition show by the label YG. You won, and your group debuted under the name Winner. You’ve only got one album out, but it’s done pretty well.

One day, you hear that one of YG’s hip-hop acts, the group Epik High, led by Tablo, might–just might!–have an opportunity for you. Epik High is pretty much legendary–they’ve been performing for over a decade, and they’ve worked with EVERYONE of note in Korean hip-hop. As you might expect, most of the time when guests appear on their singles, they are people who have been on the scene forever. But this time, you’re told, they are letting YG rookies in on the action!

Holy shit!

You run over there as fast as your feet can carry you, and you let them know that you would be very, very, very, VERY honored if they would please pleeeease PULEEEEEEEEEEEEEZE!!!! let you perform on this single.

And OMFG, they say yes!

And then your fans make Tablo apologize for joking that you acted like a loser.

WHAT IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE? This is Mino’s fucking job, for fuck’s sake! These “fans” are like those goddam helicopter parents who call up their little Suzy’s manager every time their precious princess gets a bad performance review at work, and then they just can’t understand why their little Suzy never gets promoted!

Tablo did something good for Mino’s career. He has a following that is now that much more aware of Mino and thinks of him as someone who makes good music. (Personally, I already liked Mino, but I did not have such a good impression of Bobby or B.I. “Born Hater” made it about a bazillion times more likely that I’ll be checking out their output later on.) In addition, since Mino wrote his own lyrics, I assume he’s getting some kind of copyright payment from what so far looks to be a hit song.

If you consider yourself Mino’s fan, you do not shit where he eats, OK?

This is one of the things that drives me crazy about people who consider themselves fans–half the time, they are so disconnected from the reality of how musicians (or anyone in the arts!) make a living that they would happily let their favorite musician in the whole entire world starve to death. You’ve got your hipsters, who don’t want anyone else to like what they like, and you’ve got your teenyboppers, who will spend countless hours and dollars crafting alters to their love for a musician, and then pirate the actual music.

And you’ve got your fucking obsessed helicopter fans, who, when they aren’t ripping into a musician’s loved ones, are ripping into the people who are actually trying to help the poor slob have a decent career.

There’s a reason why some fans experience the full force of Park Kyung’s greasy gratitude while others just get scolded. Fans need to be helpful. If you just can’t swing that one, at least try not to actively do harm.

(I recently had someone contact me to make sure that the songs on the mixtape pages of BlockB.com really were given away and not pirated before she downloaded them. That’s the kind of concerned fan I like to see!)

More fun with Korean consonants: Double consonants and the L/R conundrum

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I got sick and then I got busy, so of course my program of self-study went right down the toilet. Today I attempted to climb back into the saddle–predictably I had to look up really basic words I used to know very well, plus I seem to have lost my preposition flash cards. But, hey, at least I’m back at work on it.

Anyway, in the spirit of reminding myself that I do still know a (very) few things about Korean, I thought I’d post again about some of the more confusing-to-the-English-speaker aspects of Korean. Korean consonants are, of course, a bottomless well of weirdness, but there’s even more strangeness than what I mentioned before.

A quick review: In Korean, unlike in English, certain changes of pronunciation don’t matter. Depending on the letter, a consonant can be pronounced guh or kuh, or buh or puh, or tuh or duh, and the letter won’t change.

But certain other changes of pronunciation do matter, do change the letter used, and do change the meaning of a word!

One change that matters is whether or not you aspirate a lot–breathe out a lot when you say buh or puh, and you’ve pronounced a different letter. Being breathy makes no difference in English, but it makes all the difference in the world in Korean.

Another change is even trickier: You can double a consonant in Korean. But–and this is very important–it doesn’t work the same way as when you double a consonant in English. Like, at all. A double consonant is a different kind of letter in Korean–it’s not just two consonants next to each other, like it is in English.

This gets all the more confusing because when people romanize Korean, they will use double English consonants to indicate double Korean consonants. I understand why people do this, but just like when people throw in random consonants to force you to say the vowel right, the result can be quite misleading.

Let’s take that good old standby found throughout the K-Pop world: oppa.

Oppa is a word women use that means “older brother.” It can also be used to address close male friends or one’s boyfriend. It’s thrown about in K-Pop like it means nothing, but normally women in Korea do not address random older men as oppa unless they charge money for dates or something.

But how do you pronounce oppa?

Well, if you’re an English speaker, that’s easy–oppa has a double consonant, so it’s a two-syllable word split between the ps. Op-pa, right?

Wrong!

In Korean, the double consonant indicates that a syllable is stressed. It’s not just two consonants together, like in English, it has a very specific effect on pronunciation as a stress marker. Since the double consonant in oppa is in the second syllable, it is telling you that the word is pronounced o-PA, not O-pa or o-pa. (In Korean, a multisyllable word doesn’t have to have a stressed syllable.)

In multisyllable Korean words, the double consonant works just like an English stress marker would–the people use sometimes, or the use of italics or (as I am doing) all caps. It means you come down hard on that particular syllable–the entire syllable, not just the one consonant. So the Korean word babbayo (which means that someone is busy) is pronounced ba-BA-yo, not BA-ba-yo.

(Notice how I spelled oppa with a and babbayo with a b? Yeah, you could do it obba or pappayo or even bappayo–it doesn’t really matter. When people romanize double consonants they’ll go for the or the or the instead of the or the or the d because you’re more likely to make the k/p/t sound when you stress a syllable. There’s nothing wrong with them doing that–just don’t get perplexed if you hear the heroine of a Korean drama screaming “Obba!”)

Where it gets more confusing for English speakers is when the word is one syllable but has a double consonant. For example, ssal means uncooked rice, but sal means flesh–the first is stressed while the second is not. I can’t think of an equivalent in English–all our one-syllable words are stressed the same. I just try to really ease off the one-syllable words if I know there’s another, similar word out there with a double consonant.

* * *

There is a consonant that is never doubled or even aspirated–it doesn’t even change pronunciation at the end of a syllable! But it will give you fits nonetheless.

That letter is: ㄹ. Looks kind of like a backwards S, and is pronounced kind of like an English l, but not really. Often it’s described as an l/r, but unlike the Korean g/k, b/p, and d/t, the pronunciation only happens under specific circumstances, and I would argue that it’s better to think of this letter as the Korean l.

As an English speaker, in order to understand the Korean l, you have to first understand the English and the English r.

Ever notice something about those two letters? No one can pronounce them right.

I mean, if you’re an adult, sober, well-rested native English speaker with absolutely no impairments to your hearing, your muscle control, or your mental functioning, you can. But man, try to teach a kid to say “rabbit” and “yellow” instead of “wabbit” and “yeyow,” and you will realize just how freaking difficult these two consonants are to say.

The reason is because both require extremely precise placement of the tongue. In order to say the English l, you press the tip of your tongue firmly against the back of your front teeth. At the exact same time, you pull the sides of your tongue away from the insides of your molars.

In order to say the English r, you hold your lips pretty much the same way you do when you say the English l. You pronounce it in the same part of your mouth that you do the English l. What makes the difference in the sound? You’re reversing the tongue action: You press the sides of your tongue firmly against the insides of your molars while pulling the tip of your tongue away from the back of your front teeth.

If you are in any way imprecise in the placement of your tongue, you will not pronounce the English or the English correctly.

On to the Korean l. It is pronounced very much like the English l, except that, instead of jamming the tip of your tongue firmly against the back of your front teeth the way English speakers do, you just flit it against the teeth. It barely touches, and that, just for a moment.

If the other letters around the Korean make it hard for you to hit the back of your front teeth with your tongue, you just don’t. Since the rest of your mouth is more or less in the position to make an English r, you wind up with something that sounds kind of like that.

So, 몰라요, which means “don’t know,” gets pronounced mor-ra-yo or mol-ra-yo, because that’s easier to say than mol-la-yo. But 빌려요, “borrow,” is pronounced bil-lye-yo, because the and make it easier to place your tongue so that you hit the sound. Making an sound in Korean isn’t really a deliberate thing–it’s like how English speakers say wanna instead of want to.

(I realize there’s a lot of stereotyping regarding the Asian “confusion” of and r, as well as totally justifiable resentment against said stereotyping, but as this post points out, the stereotype, while massively overgeneralized, does have some small basis in reality.)

The problem with indentures

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K-Popalypse’s post has me feeling all rant-y, so I’m going to talk about something that really bothers me about the K-Pop industry.

I mean, other than the multi-year contracts, the shit revenue splits, the pressure to have plastic surgery, the open encouragement of stalking, the physical abuse, and the attitude that performers don’t deserve to have personal lives or what are generally regarded as human rights.

Other than that, the common practice that really bothers me is the whole thing where, in order to get signed onto a label, you go into debt to that label. This actually relates to dodgy practices that can easily be found elsewhere in the arts.

So, what’s wrong with going into debt to a label?

Wrong Thing #1: You Are Surrendering Control of the Bookkeeping and Decision Making to Someone Whose Financial Interests Differ from Yours.

How much debt is fair? Let me guess–however much debt your label says is fair. Yup! They’re going to house you and train you and feed you and whatnot–so it’s “fair” for you to owe them a gazillion dollars!

Of course, no one said they were going to house/train/feed you well. Are they actually spending a gazillion dollars on these things? Or are they spending as little as possible–we’re talking, not even bothering to keep things legal–and overcharging the shit out of you? Is there any way for you to find that out? If you did get a hold of financial records and found out that you were being massively overcharged, could you do anything about it?

Oh, and who, exactly, is calculating how much you are earning against your debt? Gee, did you say your label? Wow, I can’t imagine how that could possibly be abused!

Even if everything is totally above board–the calculation of your debt is fair, there’s nothing funny going on with the calculation of profits–there is really no motivation for anyone to ensure that your debt is being paid off as quickly as possible.

Here’s one thing that I find very telling: There are K-Pop fans who are surprised and upset that Block B buys clothes off the rack and recycles outfits. These fans do not understand why Block B does not have new outfits custom-made for darned near every performance like a normal K-Pop group would.

Why don’t they? I’m going to guess it’s because they are trying to turn a profit. They don’t want to come out of this with each member $300,000 in debt.

But a label wants to make a profit, too, right? How can they afford multiple custom outfits and make money?

How?

How?

Yes–they charge that expense to their talent! Those are, um, let’s call them “promotional expenses,” and they get added to the debt of the group members. This way, the label has far fewer promotional expenses–and their end is so much more profitable!

In that case, the label might as well order another set of custom-made costumes that will be thrown out after just one wearing. I mean, seriously, why not?

Do I know for a fact that this happens? No, I do not, but color me highly suspicious. It is also why I tend to grit my teeth when someone is like, “My faves shot a music video that cost a bazillion dollars! Their label has such faith in them and supports them so well!”

Oh, no, that does not mean what you think it means…..

Wrong Thing #2: You Are Paying in Advance for Services Not Yet Rendered.

If you join a K-Pop label and then decide to leave, you owe that label money. So someone (like your parents) has to pay it.

In other words, the moment you signed with your label, they were making money.

What that means is that you do not have to be successful for your label to make money off you. Sure, your label will make more money if you do succeed, but they might do just fine with a bunch of “trainees” who sign a contract, slowly come to realize that this is pretty much a scam label, and quit. All your label has to do is provide enough services to cover their ass legally–after all, they’re not promising to make anyone a star (no one can promise that).

Now here’s where it gets really exciting: If a label can make money off of every single trainee who fails, then it’s in their interest to encourage as many failures as possible.

No talent? No potential? Who cares! As long as you have money, they’ll take you!

This is a fine old scam in the world of publishing, and it can be found pretty much in any industry where there are more people who want to do something than there are slots available. Instead of saying “No” to the 99% that aren’t going to make it, you say “Yes” to everyone–for a price. Eventually the people who don’t make it will get really mad at you, but you can make an awful lot of money in a very short amount of time this way.

The pernicious effect of all this is that it creates a financial incentive for perfectly legitimate labels to lead people on. Let’s say you own a label that does a pretty good job selling music. You’ve got your winners, but inevitably you wind up with some no-hopers–people who aren’t a good fit and would probably be better off elsewhere. Do you try to keep that cadre of no-hopers as small as possible? Or do you say “Yes” to few more people than you would have otherwise, because each one of them brings you a little more potential revenue, each one enables accounting tricks that offset losses, and each one makes your business just a little more profitable than it would be otherwise?

ETA: Eat Your Kimchi just did a good video on this topic, so I’m posting it here:

This is really good

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Kpopalypse has an excellent post up about why people leave K-Pop groups. Seriously: It’s a ton of work, and you’re probably never going to make any money. Why the fuck wouldn’t you leave? In my book, the problem is that people sign on for this crap in the first place (the need for suckers is, of course, a major reason why the industry recruits kids).