From the 1theK interview:
Click the CC button for English subs.
Q: You’ve gone number one on the charts from “HER” to “Tough Cookie.” You’ve gotten #1 with songs that have a totally different character.
Zico: To be honest, “Tough Cookie” isn’t a song that I released in order to make money. It’s not a song that I made to release, but a song that I made because it seemed like a good song to perform as a solo at our concert. However, after making the song it seemed like if I didn’t release it, it would be unpleasant….
It was interesting to me because one of the things about Block B that I find kind of frustrating is that the members come up with songs that they perform but never release.
The mixtape thing seemed better to me–at least you can put those on your iPod!–but I realized something with the release of “Well Done”: The vast majority of English-speaking K-Pop fans/critics have never listened to the mixtapes, and they probably never will.
Part of my frustration with the response to “Tough Cookie” was that people acted like the language was something utterly shocking and unexpected, which is just stupid if you know Zico’s mixtapes. (“Pilophone is dirty rapper fuck-up bullshit, yeah yeah” will live forever in my heart.) Now with “Well Done” people are responding like 1. it’s a totally new thing for Zico to rap about his life, and 2. it’s a totally new thing for Zico to experiment with different musical genres. Again, if you know Zico’s mixtapes, that’s just laughable. (And who do they think wrote “Jackpot” and “Her”? The same magical elves that produce all SM songs, I guess.)
Some of it is just idiocy (I never thought I’d see a song with the line, “Money, fame, and bitches,” lauded for its political correctness, but hey, that’s the magic of “problematic”). But I think a big part of the problem is that, in the minds of a lot of these people, “Tough Cookie” is the only song Zico has ever done.
So I think it’s really a good thing that Zico is releasing these songs commercially instead of just as mixtapes. Even if they don’t make a ton of money in Korea’s shitty digital market, they get him recognition outside of Korean hip-hop circles.
Let’s put it this way: In recent months, Zico released two songs that have received a shit-ton of press coverage. One of them has been performed repeatedly on television.
And Park Kyung released four songs. Did you even know that?
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Obviously one advantage that commercially-released songs have is that their success is measurable. Both “Tough Cookie” and “Well Done” charted well (which, as those links show, gets the songs additional publicity), and download numbers give a sense of how the songs perform over time. (The “Well Done” video only has about half as many views as “Tough Cookie” did at this point, though–ah, the sad lack of controversy! Well, it was probably cheaper to make.) Not only is that stuff quantifiable, it’s also visible internationally.
Mixtapes are a different story. They aren’t sold, so you have no way of knowing how popular they are. The ones that are popular unquestionably have an impact: Even before the release of “Tough Cookie,” successful mixtapes helped Zico become a headliner at a lot of Korean hip-hop shows