Monthly Archives: May 2015

Here’s my problem with the Korean ratings system (warning: 19+!)

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I realize that this is the kind of thing where one’s cultural background plays a big role, but to my mind this:

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and this:

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are just not on the same level of explicitness. It doesn’t make sense to me to put them both in the same ratings class: The first level of exposure is something you can see at any beach or pool; the second, not so much.

(Or have we all just bought Sport Illustrated‘s argument that the mons pubis is not, in fact, part of the genitals? Just forget about that silly clitoris! they cry. The vast majority of Sport Illustrated swimsuit edition readers have no idea where it is, anyway! Even so, outfit #2 would get you arrested most places….)

And don’t even get me started on this being 19+.

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I don’t know why you’re here, either!

I realize that that song and video are about an adult situation, but that’s my point–there’s no distinction between a reference to an adult situation (which simply goes over the heads of kids) and, you know, actually showing in great detail the kinds of activities that lead to people waking up in bed with a complete stranger and no memory of the night before.

You know how this is going to end up

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The whole brouhaha over that kid from Monsta X? (“I’m not Zico, but Zico should be upset!”–person who previously petitioned for Zico to commit suicide.)

ETA: The AllKPop headline cracks me up: “MONSTA X”s Minhyuk apologizes for indirectly calling Zico ugly.” What about “Block B’s Jaehyo totally does NOT apologize for quite directly calling Zico ugly, and that not for the first time today!”

Good job, Taeil!

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Taeil and P.O appeared on the Korean television show Immortal Song 2, where they remade this song

as this.

It clearly impressed the hell out of people–the Korean press was all over it like nobody’s business. Apparently the song, “Why Don’t You Know,” was an early hit by Kim Soo Chul, who is considered a Very Big Deal in Korea, and he had some very nice things to say about the remake (including suggesting that they should all work together some day).

Of course, since it was a respected musician appearing in the mainstream Korean press, not some crazy on Pann who has already been translated into English, the story wasn’t widely covered in the English-language K-Pop press–AllKPop did manage to get it, so good for them for being vaguely in touch with reality this time around.

I know there are people who feel like Taeil really got shortchanged with “Shaking/Inspiring,” and of course if you’re expecting the things international K-Pop fans tend to expect (appearances on music shows, coverage by the English-language K-Pop press), then it really does look like that release just disappeared with a trace and that Taeil is getting no love as a soloist.

But since the release, Taeil has been appearing quite regularly on Korean TV shows that feature singing, but that aren’t like Inkigayo or Music Bank or the other Korean music shows that focus on the latest, hottest music.

Instead, he’s been on shows like 100 Songs 100 People

and King of Masked Singer (if that’s not Taeil, I commend whoever it is for their very fine Taeil impersonation).**

The thing is that Taeil as a soloist is a ballad singer–not a K-Pop act or a hip-hop act. And ballad singers skew to a different audience–they often sing the classics and appeal to older people who would rather hang themselves than brave the mobs at a music show.

It’s definitely a career challenge for Taeil that, say, Zico doesn’t face. While hip-hop audiences and K-Pop audiences are distinct, there’s a lot of overlap–both audiences tend to be young, for example.

The overlap between the ballad audience and the K-Pop audience is much less. As a result, there’s an large potential audience for Taeil of ballad lovers who have never heard him before, because they pay absolutely zero attention to groups like Block B. One of the things that keeps coming up in these Korean singing shows is that people are quite surprised to discover that Taeil can actually sing–meanwhile nobody on the Korean hip-hop shows is ever the least bit surprised that Zico can actually rap.

But Taeil is doing his best to get his name out to that audience, and it looks like he’s doing a pretty good job.

** ETA: Of course it was Taeil, and both he and “Shaking” got a big bump on the Korean search engines. Which is pretty much what’s been happening after these appearances.

And here’s the entire episode of Immortal Song 2, with subs–totally worth watching if you have the time, there are a lot of amazing performances.

Today’s a busy day, isn’t it?

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So, whoo! Block B is coming to KCON Los Angeles!

I can’t go (ironically given that I live on the West Coast, I might be able to make it if they go to KCON New York), but it’s good news in any case.

KCON gets a lot of press on its own, because it’s been expanding–it kept getting bigger in Los Angeles, and then this year it’s expanded to Tokyo and New York. So, it’s definitely of interest to the music press and the local press.

The Los Angeles Times has been good about covering the actual acts at KCON LA, although they don’t always cover both nights. Last year’s review definitely was looking at things like, How good are these acts live? and How well to they cater to American sensibilities?–basically they’re hoping to identify the next Psy. I feel like Block B does well on both counts, but reviewers are always kind of unpredictable, and of course if the reviewer never actually sees them….

Anyway, I shall link to my earlier post about getting media coverage. Los Angeles obviously is a very, very important market–it’s big locally and there are a lot of national outlets located there. So if you live in the area, please do send (friendly!) notes to outlets that have covered KCON before, encouraging them to give Block B a look. Remember, Block B is funny (video links are good!), they produce their own music, and they’re already popular here–the Billboard article on their being named to KCON does a nice job of summing that up.

Sajaegi, sajaegi, everywhere!

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One of the things that keeps coming up in K-Pop is something called sajaegi. Apparently the term used to mean a specific practice to inflate sales of digital songs, but nowadays it is used more generally to mean that a group got onto the charts by buying mass quantities of their own music.

Accusations of sajaegi are getting thrown around like nobody’s business, even though those in the industry say no way. It will shock you to know that sajaegi accusations typically crop up when a newer group is perceived as threatening a more-established group. And sajaegi is often used to “explain” facts that really require no explanation.

For example, BTS was recently accused of sajaegiApparently only sajaegi could explain how a group that sold 101,000 copies of its last album could possibly sell 80,000 copies of its current album. Silly me, I would classify that as “performing at, or possibly below, expectations,” but no, it’s a REALLY BIZARRE sales phenomenon that can only be explained via some kind of underhanded activity. Sajaegi also explains why an $18 BTS CD with nine songs on it could possibly rank higher on some weekly charts than a $26 BigBang CD with two songs on it–the fact that sets you back $13 a song has nothing to do with it.

And of course you’re seeing “analysis” of this issue like this: Somebody claiming in all seriousness that whenever a group gets a breakthrough hit, sajaegi is the “likely” explanation.

(So . . . does that mean we were all bribed to like “Gangnam Style,” even though nobody outside Korea had ever really heard of Psy before? Because if that’s the case, someone owes me some money.)

Do bestseller lists and charts get gamed? YES. ALL THE TIME. I personally have gamed bestseller lists to great effect. Getting on the charts gets attention, and attention is A Very Good Thing in the arts.

The entire reason charts exist from an industry perspective is for marketing–that’s why there are so many of them. Getting on them is well worth a group’s while. Indeed, I will go so far as to say that anyone not willing to game a chart is simply not serious about their career.

But sajaegi? Someone buying enough of their own product to get onto the charts? No, that’s not common.

Why not? It’s really expensive.

BTS’s label said that they can’t afford sajaegi, and that’s entirely plausible. Think of the outlay to buy just 10,000 copies of an $18 album–$180,000! That’s a lot of money to spend on marketing. If an album is totally obscure, it might be worth doing (although if it doesn’t work, you’ve just wasted a ton of money). But if an album is doing pretty well anyway, that’s $180,000 to move it from, I dunno, #4 to #3 on Gaon, which is not a lot of bang for the buck.

Keep in mind, too, that until very recently, BTS never had a popular hit in Korea–unlike some groups, they make their money by selling CDs, not by having tons of endorsements or something. You’re not going to make money selling CDs if you buy them all yourself.

(And the crazy haters go, BUT THEY DO IT TO WIN MUSIC SHOWS! You cannot eat a music-show trophy, OK? K-Pop is a business, not a high school: Status and bragging rights are not worth $180,000.)

Well, if gaming charts is so common, but sajaegi is not, how do the charts get gamed?

So glad you asked! Here’s a quick primer on how to game a chart!

Advertise and Market. This is what I did, and this is what you really see larger labels do. Lots of ads, paying for prominent placement in retail stores–the whole BESTSELLER!!! song-and-dance.

It can work, or it can be an enormous waste of money. That’s why expensive marketing pushes are usually reserved for groups that are already popular–there’s less risk that way.

Fan Events. I did a post about Oricon that is all about this. That’s Japan and Korea: In the United States, Justin Bieber does what are called CD buyouts, which not only gets him money for drugs, fast cars, and lawyers, but also trains impressionable young people to donate useless crap to charities instead of the cash they actually need!

Aim for a Chart. You gear your work or sales to get on a particular chart. This can work several ways.

If charts are broken out by genre or by things like where an album was released, that can be really helpful–the more exclusive a list is, the easier it is to top out on it, because you’re competing with fewer people. Competition is also a factor when choosing when to release something–it’s easier to chart if no popular groups are releasing the same time you are. (This is why it pays to be suspicious of rankings when there’s no data on underlying sales available–remember, Jackpot was a #1 album while H.E.R was only #2, but H.E.R sold far better.)

If charts are broken out by time span–weekly charts are common–then you try to get as many of your sales as you can jammed into that one week.

How do you do that? Events, of course, but you also make the item available for pre-order. That way, people will order it in advance, and then all the sales will come in at once.

Notice that a lot of these practices I’m talking about are standard operating procedure in K-Pop: Fan events, genre classifications, pre-orders. This is all stuff you see so often you don’t even think about it.

Why are these practices so common? Because the risk of using them is very low. The Holy Grail of marketing is to find an approach that is cheap (or better yet, free) and effective. Sajaegi just does not qualify–it’s really expensive and of questionable utility, especially if you get caught. If you were desperate, stupid, and rich, you might do it. But most people in the industry aren’t going to–not because they’re super-pure and moral, but because it just doesn’t make financial sense.

All this is kind of making me happy I never got into J-Pop

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You know, I’ve definitely noticed that Japan does not have the fan cam thing Korea does–this is true for a lot of other countries as well: When Block B performs in Japan you don’t get anywhere near the same volume of better-quality fan cams you see when they perform in Korea.

But this time around it’s been especially dramatic because there’s all this stuff going on, and it’s like it’s all been happening behind the Iron Curtain or something. I mean, in Japan they actually arrest people for uploading shows on-line, so when I do find uploads of the Japanese shows, it’s all marked DEAR GOD KEEP THIS PRIVATE–I HAVE A FAMILY!!!! so it’s not like I can throw it onto BlockB.com with a clear conscience.

And Block B Japan even put up a notice telling people to NOT film the concerts in the Zepp theaters, where the vast majority of the tour is taking place. If Google Translate isn’t completely steering me wrong, taking fan cams is actually illegal in a theater like that, and they are being VERY uptight about it (presumably the theater will refuse to work with groups whose fans don’t follow the rules). I’ve seen all of one fan cam that I dared to put on BlockB.com–it wasn’t filmed at a Zepp theater, and it wasn’t marked as private or labeled in code or anything. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little worried about it at this point.

To top it off, they haven’t officially released the video for the Japanese version of “H.E.R”! There’s a pirate version on YouTube (not marked private, so fingers crossed that posting it here doesn’t get anyone shot or anything). [ETA: Oh, look! There’s an official version up, let’s link there.]:

I prefer to not put pirate versions of things on BlockB.com–sometimes there’s no help for it, but obviously I’d rather not. But this damned thing has been out there, with no official release, for a week now–if the video doesn’t come out when the song comes out on the 27th, at what point should I just say “fuck it” and put it up anyway?

Like I’ve said before, I’m all for copyright, but it gets implemented in such stupid and pointless ways, and Japan just seems to embrace all that with such enthusiasm.

Honestly, why is iTunes Japan completely separate from everything else? The other day, I heard this song:

I thought it was great! But guess what? It’s off the Japanese version of Pixie Lott’s Young Foolish Happy, so yeah. No can buy.

Why? Why cut yourself off from all possibility that someone outside the country might want to buy your music or watch your videos? We’re not talking about having to ship CDs and DVDs all over the damned place–we’re talking about taking the extra minute to upload your digital media someplace where people from other countries can get it. (I do it with my e-books–it’s not hard!) At the most, doing that costs you a bit of time and maybe a slightly larger cut of sales–sales that you will never see if you don’t bother….

ETA: And before you say, “Oh, well, Japan is a big music market”–well, the U.S. is, too. Guess what percentage of Rihanna’s fans are in the United States? 17%. Eminem? 25%.

Even if, say, three-quarters of your fanbase doesn’t live in other countries, why would you say no to the percentage that does?