Category Archives: BTS

And this is why I don’t see the point of judging musicians on things other than music

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Asian Junkie did an article on the BTS remake of “Come Back Home” by Seo Taiji & The Boys, in which he states that he likes the remake better than the original…because he doesn’t like the way the members of Seo Taiji & The Boys have conducted their dating lives.

I’m an “old” K-pop fan, but the whole group is creepy as fuck. From YG grooming his wife to Lee Juno sexually assaulting women to Seo Taiji cutting (a teenaged) Lee Ji Ah off from the world and doing the same to Lee Eun Sung (her work before & after meeting him), getting defensive for them is pointless anyway.

In general I like Asian Junkie, because it tends to be relatively less delusional than most K-Pop sites, but COME ON.

What do we know about how the members of BTS treat the women they date? Absolutely NOTHING!!! I mean, there’s this rumor and that rumor that maybe someone dated someone at some point…but as for the details, it’s all pretty much cloaked in secrecy.

Why is it cloaked in secrecy? Why is this the norm for the industry? Precisely so that the public will have a nice, convenient blank slate on which to project their own desires.

Do you want the members of BTS to not date, because they just love their fans so much they couldn’t possibly? DONE.

Do you want the members of BTS to all be secretly engaged in massive gay orgies with each other? DONE.

Do you want the members of BTS to all be ultra-pure virgins, like the man your parents tell you you’re sure to marry one day, as long as you stay pure yourself? DONE.

Do you want the members of BTS to be automatically boning every attractive girl group or actress or groupie that passes them by, without any consequences? DONE.

Do you want the members of BTS to be noble and enlightened men, who would never abuse a woman, emotionally or otherwise? DONE.

Just like magic!!! Wow, it’s almost unbelievable how perfect they are, and that to every observer….

And just because it IS in English….

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Asian Junkie did a good piece that basically contrasts significant news about BTS (selling 200,000+ CDs in Japan) vs. what fans are getting their panties in a twist about (a Billboard award that fans vote for).

I’d like to extend that point by noting that BTS’ much-heralded popularity in the U.S. market resulted in them selling: 24,000 copies of Wings.

I’m not knocking that accomplishment–at the moment, BTS is doing far better than any other K-Pop group in the United States. (I also think it’s fine to hype this kind of thing up–nothing succeeds like success!)

But the important words there are “better than any other K-Pop group in the United States.”

K-Pop groups don’t do well here–that’s simply the fact of the matter. Twenty-odd thousand copies not only means that United States is not a big market for BTS, it also means that BTS is not a big group in the United States. They do fine, and compared to most other K-Pop groups, who sell only a few thousand copies at best, they’re doing really well. But nothing BTS has done has a been a bona-fide hit here the way, say, Psy’s “Gangnam Style” was.

Or even a minor hit. Let’s put it this way–just to get a gold record in the United States, you have to sell 500,000 copies. Not 24,000 copies; 500,000 copies.

This is why I’m always happy to see Block B get stories outside the K-Pop press. There’s a way bigger (like, waaaaaay bigger) Western market out there–and no K-Pop group has really plugged into it.

Grade A quality fan service

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So there’s this huge brouhaha over Seventeen supposedly treating fans badly–it’s REALLY dumb, because it’s obvious that 1% of it is crazy fans who are all upset to realize that the group members aren’t going to adopt them, and the other 99% is just the regular haters/asshole fans of other groups who are piling on because the only thing that makes them feel powerful is ruining other people’s lives.

I honestly don’t expect this to have much impact, plus I kind of kind of love the comments where the haters get all frustrated that Seventeen fans still like the group–it’s almost as much fun as when they get all angst-ridden because they’ve never been able to take down G Dragon or BigBang. And this kind of thing isn’t really new: For example, it didn’t hurt BTS any when netizens got all upset that V is . . .

. . . completely awesome.

As a result of Seventeen’s recent “controversy,” though, there has been some extra focus on the fan service offered by various K-Pop groups, including that offered by Block B. As a high-profile Block B fan who works hard for the group and has seen them multiple times, I of course have experienced exceptional fan service from them, including getting the stink eye from Zico, getting the stink eye from Park Kyung, and having P.O be super-happy to meet me one day and not recognize me the next.

But my experience is just the tip of the iceberg! I thought I’d share two of my very favorite bits of Block B fan service. For my money, these are even better than the familiar favorites, Get The Fuck Away From Our DormDon’t Touch Me There, and We’ll See You In Court, or even the recent insta-classic, Come And Say It To Me In Person.

#1. Explaining that a V App is boring because the fans are making it boring (bonus points to the manager/cameraman desperately making finger hearts there).

#2. Flipping the bird at a fan event.

The music really makes this work.

In all seriousness, I do think that Block B enjoys their fans most of the time, but I also think that they can do that precisely because they take such a hard line against the crazy people who think that spending some money on CDs or concert tickets entitles you to have complete control over another human being.

Mixtapes whats and whys

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It occurred to me that the sender of that bogus e-mail might not be an entirely malicious individual. Obviously, their methodology is vile, but they would not be the first person to have concerns about the mixtapes on BlockB.com. Indeed, in the past, when people have expressed these concerns in an honest and forthright manner, I’ve really appreciated it, because it’s an example of a fan being concerned about something that actually does matter to the artist, namely: Is the artist getting paid fairly?

So I thought I’d do a little primer for people explaining what mixtapes are, what they aren’t, what they’re intended to do, and why they’re on BlockB.com.

In hip-hop, a mixtape is music that is given away for free. This is quite distinct from a commercial release, where the music is sold.

It can be easy to confuse the two, because thanks to piracy, there are all kinds of free downloads of commercial releases. But commercial releases are intended to make money. Mixtapes are not–at least not directly.

Why give mixtapes away for free?

Common reasons are to thank fans and to get marketing exposure. But the original and probably still most-common reason is because the artist does not have the rights to sell the music.

Why’s that? Well, let’s backtrack a little and talk about hip-hop.

In hip-hop, there’s often kind of a division of labor between the guy who does the rapping (the MC) and the guy who does the music or beats (the DJ). Obviously some people do both, but not everyone.

Let’s say that you are an up-and-coming but extremely broke MC. You want to get your name out there, but 1. you don’t have any money, and 2. while you rap well, you don’t really write music much.

So you make a mixtape. You take the music from a song someone else did:

And you rap over it.

In the world of hip-hop, this is not usually considered some huge deal. In fact, DJs will post music files on-line with a note that they are free for MCs to use for mixtapes! But obviously, it’s dodgy legally–the MC doesn’t bother to secure licenses or anything; the DJ might not even know that the music was used. If P.O were ever to try to sell “Black Vans Authentic,” he’d be hearing from Zion T pretty quickly.

But in general, as long as the music is used only for a free mixtape, everything’s copacetic. Remember the “Control” feud? The one thing that wasn’t controversial about it was that the diss tracks all used music from the same Big Sean song. (Legal beefs around mixtapes sometimes do erupt, though, typically because the mixtape takes off in a big way and can be monetized. So, if Vans came a-knocking on P.O’s door, wanting to use his mixtape song in commercials, he’d need to sit down with Zion T and work something out.)

Why make a mixtape if you can’t sell it? Marketing. If you’re an extremely broke MC who makes a mixtape, you now have a whole bunch of songs to show people how well you rap.

Likewise if you’re a rapper in an idol group, a mixtape can show people that you’re not just a pretty boy who dances well.

As I’ve mentioned before, a lot of the credibility Zico has in the underground hip-hop scene is a result of his mixtapes; the same is true of Park Kyung and P.O.

The downside of mixtapes is, of course, that you don’t sell them. That not only means no money from the music itself; it means that retailers don’t carry it, which can make the music hard to find. This is why Zico started releasing his solo music commercially.

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I can attest to the fact that tracking down the mixtape songs that are currently on BlockB.com was an enormous pain in the ass. It took forever, it involved going into some pretty sketchy corners of the Internet, and it was difficult enough that I didn’t bother to get everything because it wasn’t worth it to go through all that (plus building the fucking pages) just for some song fragment or sketch.

But even if some day I do finally wind up handing the domain name over to Block B’s fancy new U.S. marketing firm–as is my dream!–I intend to keep those pages up. (In spite of the fact that, yes, it will cost me money. Just as BlockB.com costs me money. It’s not a hardship, but be aware that I am among the many people who do not make money from mixtapes.)

Why keep them up? Because I’ve seen how the mixtape pages can change people’s perception of Block B and its members. Yes, that Talent-dol branding is well worth having, and it’s hard for people to argue that the group’s members aren’t “real” artists who don’t “really” write music when they see those dozens upon dozens of mixtape songs.

In other words: If you really and truly care about Park Kyung and P.O, you’ll quit trying to fucking scam me into taking their mixtapes down. I should also point out that I’ve met both men, they both know I do BlockB.com, and they didn’t have one single negative thing to say about it.

I just really hate this shit

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OK,  I guess we’ll start with the neutral bit: Mwave reported that Wiz Khalifa will perform with Zico, Crush, and Dean at the MAMAs. You would think that that would be reliable, considering that Mwave and the MAMAs are both run by Mnet, but there doesn’t seem to be anything out there in the Korean news saying who, specifically, Khalifa will be performing with. So . . . maybe not.

Then we’ll jump to something unrelated but funny, because we’re all going to need a laugh in a minute here.

And then back to our depressing subject matter: So, the reason that the Khalifa story came up is that hip-hop and R&B has become more popular in Korea, and as a result, you’re seeing a bevy of Korean/American musical collaborations where many of the American musicians are African American. There’s Khalifa and Timbaland at the MAMAs, there’s Tablo and Eric Nam doing a song with Gallant, and there’s the potential collaboration between Rap Monster and Wale.

And, as night follows day, you’re seeing stuff like this:

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I have a very hard time reading this kind of thing and not feeling like it fits quite nicely into the “keep Black people out of K-Pop” category.

Before you ask, yes, I did see all the “Get that white bitch out of that Bastarz video!” bullshit (and of course a lot of nastiness gets aimed at non-Korean Asians as well). But to me, that kind of thing is sooo painfully transparent and pathetic (“I AM AN INSECURE ASSHOLE!!! WHY DO PEOPLE LIKE OTHER GIRLS AND NOT ME!?!”) that it’s not usually worth remarking on.

What bothers me about the “keep Blacks out!” crap is how much misdirection there is–it’s always about laying the racism on somebody else. I mean, if you can’t distinguish between Wale and the hundreds of millions of other Black people on this planet, and because of Wale’s race, you can’t understand why he might be well-placed to help BTS, then it’s not exactly the fans who are the racist ones, right?

But the hypocritical finger-pointing just goes on. Are you a Korean musician? Do you pay African Americans to be in your hip-hop video? You’re racist! Do you take photos with Black fans? You’re racist! Do you braid your hair? You’re racist! Do you admire certain musicians who happen to be African American? FETISHIST!!!

Of course, if you’re an African American musician, you’re also racist! You have no respect for Korean musicians! You’re just going to Korea for money and/or sex. Plus you take drugs. (People who aren’t Black, in contrast, are never motivated by money, sex, or controlled substances. Especially not if they are celebrities.)

Gee, wouldn’t there be so much less racism–wouldn’t it all just be so much less problematicif all those pesky Black people just . . . stayed out of K-Pop? Went away? Evaporated altogether?

Or you know, maybe you could get that stick out of your ass and try to enjoy the music? Just a thought. . . .

ETA: OK, given the botched collaboration between Taeyeon and Khalifa, and the appalling response of some Taeyeon fans, I have to point out how stupid and counterproductive the racist shit is. African Americans are a more than $1 trillion market, plus they are younger than the average American and therefore have a disproportionate impact on U.S. popular culture.

If you think you are doing a K-Pop idol a favor by locking them out of a $1 trillion market, plus making it far less likely that they will be able to access the even larger mass American market, please please PLEASE wake up.

On being a more-effective fandom

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If you’ve been hiding under a rock or something, BTS has been doing very well in the United States–not a huge surprise at this point, but good for them.

This has, of course, triggered some angst about why Block B isn’t doing as well as BTS outside of Asia. Of course I do feel that the horse-race mentality is not really worth adopting, but I also feel like, yes, the international Block B fandom could be considerably more effective than it is.

Let’s put it this way: The latest big campaign by international fans, which was supported by multiple fanbases speaking different languages, who worked very hard to get the story out, was intended to get people to NOT purchase Block B goods.

Do you honestly think international BTS fans have spent any time at all trying to get people to NOT buy BTS goods? If that’s the case, I couldn’t find any sign of it. This is not a fanbase known for its sanity, and still the only times I could find the words “BTS” and “boycott” together were when someone is saying something like, “The MAMAs treated BTS like shit! Let’s boycott!” (And for the slow, they mean boycott the MAMAs, not boycott BTS.)

Anyway, I was once part of highly effective fandom–the Firefly fandom! We took a show that was completely obscure and got it re-aired, released on DVD, and even got a feature film. (All without organizing a single boycott!)

Obviously we had some advantages: The average Firefly fan was probably twice the age of the average Block B fan, and we had some people who had had long careers in media and marketing, so it was not their first rodeo. Perhaps as a result, the Firefly fans were very much self-starters and easily one of the most enterprising group of people I have ever encountered: We discussed ideas, of course, but no one was waiting around for some Lord High King of All the Fans to grant permission before they took action.

We were also, in the beginning, a very small fandom. So there was a lot of emphasis placed on efficiency–there weren’t that many of us, so we didn’t want to waste our efforts! We had to be very pragmatic, and we had to prioritize.

So, how did we do this?

Basically, we ranked activities by two criteria: 1. How much work is this going to take? 2. How likely is it to expand interest in this property? If it was very likely to expand interest and didn’t take a lot of effort, we were sure to do it!

Here’s how I would rank things you could do for Block B.

Highly Effective Activities. These are the activities you never want to let pass you by, because the payoff is potentially very big. These efforts are not going to pan out every single time, but they are always worth making.

  • Planting positive stories in the news media. Any positive story is good, but some are better than others. “Park Kyung is in Mensa!” is nice, but what you really want is a story with what in marketing is called an action point–you make people feel good about the group, and then you give them something to do. This is why Elen’s tipoff to AllKPop had a measurable impact–the story was about an upcoming album, so people went looking for ways to buy it. The nice thing about action points is that they tend to coincide with what journalists call a “news hook”–something is happening  (like an upcoming concert) that makes the outlet want to cover the story now. The result is a win-win for the property and the outlet! So–keep your eyes peeled for these kinds of openings, and if you see one, pounce! (Just remember to be polite.)
  • Getting Block B featured on other popular media. Radio shows, successful YouTube channels–anything like this can have a big impact. I don’t care if you don’t particularly like the host or if they wind up not particularly liking the group or song: It’s worth it. Should you stick with K-Pop-oriented outlets or branch out (a question that also applies to news media)? Both are good: A request to a K-Pop oriented place is more likely to pay off in coverage, plus the audience is friendly. But it’s also worthwhile to take a shot at other outlets–remember, you want to expand the audience, so coverage from a place that doesn’t usually do K-Pop can pay off big time.
  • Rewarding coverage. If we get coverage of Block B, particularly from a place with a large mainstream audience, we want to reward that coverage. Online outlets are very aware of how much interest each story or video gets, so if we want more coverage of Block B in the future, we need to show a lot of interest in the coverage that comes out now. That means viewing the media on the outlet’s platform (even if someone has copied it someplace else), clicking the various “share” or “like” buttons, and liking, sharing, and positive comments on the outlet’s social media. If the coverage isn’t ideal, try not to nitpick, and keep the tone positive even if they really screwed up. (“Thanks for the awesome piece on Block B! I love that group–like you say, they are really exciting and fun! Although I have to point out that that was not, in fact, a photo of Block B. . . . “) If you asked for the coverage–and even if you didn’t–be sure to thank them for it.
  • Translations. Obviously no fan is going to be able to put out as many as quickly as V App, but every translation is helpful.
  • Social media. I’m not talking about spamming people and being obnoxious, but stuff like creating playlists on Spotify or YouTube, or making sure new Block B music appears on OneHallyu or Reddit, is always good.
  • Guerrilla marketing. Man, did we ever do so much of this for Firefly–flyers, online ads, posters, clothing, patches, bags, pins, decals, bumper stickers . . . everything you needed to be a walking advertisement for the property. People even made stamps and stamped marketing messages onto currency! Are you a student? Does your school have a free-speech area where you could put up a Block B-related poster or leave flyers? What about a coffee shop near you? A music club? You can make your own (simple designs reproduce easier)–just remember, while it’s OK just to do general brand awareness (“Block B is awesome!”), it’s better to have flyers that are about something specific, like a music release (think: action points). Also, you know, don’t break the law.

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Mildly Effective/Neutral Activities. These aren’t necessarily useless to the property, but they take a lot of effort and don’t pay off quite so well when it comes to expanding appeal. Many of these activities are standard in K-Pop, but that’s more because they keep existing fans engaged. If you enjoy doing them, by all means do them; if you don’t, don’t worry about it.

  • Internet polls. The vast majority of these have one purpose and one purpose only: To drive traffic to a Web site. People are sometimes convinced that these help raise the profile of a property, but my feeling is that they are more likely to result in negative stories about crazy fans (see below) than positive stories about the actual property (see above).
  • YouTube views. They don’t pay the group much, and the only benefit (other than giving fans something to do) is that if fans try really, really, really hard, they might get a story.
  • Actually winning awards. Appearing on awards shows or music shows that have a big audience is very helpful to a group, but actually winning doesn’t do much. Enjoy the wins, but don’t kill yourself trying to make them happen or because the group lost.
  • Fan fiction, fan art, etc. Unless you’re designing marketing materials. Which you then actually distribute. (See above.)

Harmful activities. These damage the property. If you think these activities are helpful, you are kidding yourself. Often the underlying goal of these activities is to hurt the property so that said “fan” can have it all to themselves.

  • Boycotts. JFC. This is like the nuclear option. You don’t do this over bullshit, you don’t do it because the other fanbases are doing it and you want to be cool, and you don’t do it to “rescue” people from a situation they don’t want to be rescued from.
  • Xenophobia. Here’s a shocker: “Block B should be only for Koreans!” is not a message that is going to help the group succeed internationally. Christ.
  • Planting negative stories in the news media. If the group is in some kind of horrible trouble, the sensible thing to do if you are a fan is to not tip off the media about it–come on. If the group is not actually in some kind of horrible trouble, planting negative stories that suggest that they are is even worse, and planting those kinds of negative stories along with an action point (boycott the group!) is, well, just about the worst thing you could do.
  • Becoming the story. Crazy fan stories alienate everyone–and reporters love to do them. As much as possible, you want the story to be about the property, not the fandom. If the story has to be about the fandom (and sometimes that is the only way to get coverage), it needs to be a very positive story about the fandom–not about fan wars, or stalking, or boycotts, or whatever other stupid nonsense delusional “fans” come up with. (I cannot emphasize this enough: Be nice to reporters. The decision about how to spin this kind of story depends a lot on how helpful and friendly the fans are.)
  • Attempting to damage professional relationships. This happens when fans decide that something or other isn’t “worthy” of their group. Alienating potential mentors, spiking lucrative endorsement deals, the ever-stupid fanwars, false accusations against concert organizers, attacking a label for invented reasons–all you’re doing is increasing the possibility that no one in the industry will want to work with the group because its fans are such a pain in the ass.

So, there you go: A handy-dandy guide to being a fan who is actually helpful. Again, this is all stuff you can do on your own–indeed, it’s actually easier to plant a story if the requests for one don’t all appear to be the result of an organized campaign. Go forth and be useful!

Nice story!

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So, KCon New York (where Block B is not) is taking place, like, a month before KCon LA (where Block B will be). Until today, the only impact of this on me has been my seeing things that say stuff like D5 to KCON and thinking, “Oh shit! Did I put the wrong fucking month on the schedule page!?!”

But something good actually came from it today, because USA Today did a big article on the KCon artists that mentions Block B and especially Zico rather a lot. That’s very nice, because this way we get this article now (in a national, mainstream U.S. publication, no less! Score!) and then hopefully more favorable coverage from the Los Angeles media a month from now. And notice that USA Today used a picture from KCon France–as these things build and get bigger, they get more and more coverage, and then media outlets start feeling compelled to cover them because they don’t want to be the only outlet not doing it.

I really liked the article, because instead of being all about how we should stay away from the evil factory music that is all Korean popular music, ever, or just being all, “Women! In panties!” it actually, you know, described the music and talked about why a reasonably intelligent person might want to check it out.

The other thing is that I appreciated is that the writer highlighted the groups that Americans will probably like. I know this can be frustrating to people who like a light pop sound, but in the United States, the R&B/funk/hip-hop sound is certainly as popular if not far more popular (and it’s waaaaaay more likely to be taken seriously). There’s good reason to focus attention on acts like BTS, Mamamoo, and Dean here, and I appreciated the fact that the writer didn’t just go with, I dunno, what group has been around the longest or won the most Korean music awards or whatever.

Anyway, please check it out–we want to encourage this sort of thing, and you do that by clicking on the story and not by fucking copy/pasting it all around so that it gets no views.