Category Archives: media

P.O + W!

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P.O is in W Magazine! And now he’s saying he’ll be coming out with a solo album later this year–cool!

It’s funny because, since they’re covering Seoul Fashion Week, yesterday they did B-Free in an article where Block B came up. I was surprised by that article because 1. they actually seemed to know something about Block B, instead of assuming all idol groups are in the exact same situation, and 2. they linked to Anti-K Pop Fangirl, which was…an interesting choice. I wonder how much of that blog they’ve actually read.

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BigHit and big hype

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When I first read that BigHit had had a real gangbusters 2017, my thoughts were, “Good for them! It’s no surprise considering how well BTS has been doing! Awesome!”

But then I started coming across a lot of very enthusiastic (and occasionally financially illiterate) fan translations, and I started to think, Whoa, I’d better do a post about all this.

Here’s the thing: BigHit is planning on becoming a public company, with an initial public offering (IPO) planned for next year. (If you don’t know the difference between a private company and a public company, look here. If you don’t know the difference between revenues and profits, coughcoughPannChoacoughcough, look here.) I was a business reporter during the dot-com boom–believe me, I have seen many IPOs get hyped to fucking moon, and that’s what’s happening here.

Why is it happening? Given the Korean media‘s penchant for printing anything that gets it clicks, it could be pumping up BigHit for that reason alone. But the important thing to remember about IPOs is that they are often an exit strategy for the original investors in the company, and that the original investors plus the banks that handle the IPO want to sell all the shares they have for offer at a good price. That means that right now, we are in the middle of a marketing campaign to sell shares of BigHit to a larger circle of investors.

That’s just how IPOs operate, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with it. What troubles me is the combination of IPO hype and K-Pop fans who are younger and obviously very inexperienced as investors. Remember, good investors have 1. clear financial goals, 2. realistic strategies to meet those goals, and 3. the discipline to stick to those strategies and work the plan.

Not a reason to invest. I’m sad about that, too.

The good news is, there’s actually quite a bit of financial information out there about BigHit, because shares are being traded over the counter. The bad news is…how accurate is this information? In the United States, being an unlisted security means that you don’t have to comply with all those pesky SEC regulations–you know, the ones that protect investors from fraud.

Now, as BigHit nears its IPO date, it is going to have to dot its Is and cross its Ts and get in compliance with stricter accounting standards. But we’re not there yet, which is why breathlessly comparing its results to those of actual public companies is a little naive. BigHit doesn’t have to play by the same rules as a public company, and if reporters are currently getting information about BigHit from anyone with an interest in seeing the IPO go well…you start to see the conflict of interest there. (And don’t get all excited because the people hyping the company are being called economists. The kind of economists who hype companies are the kind of economists who work for the banks that handle IPOs.)

Where does this get especially naive?

Yeah. That 35% (!!!) profit margin sure is impressive, isn’t it?

Of course, BigHit does not yet have to comply with the costs of being a public company (which are considerable), but the main thing there is that seven-year contract timeline: BTS debuted in 2013. BigHit will go public in 2019.

One year after the company goes public, BTS’ contract will be up for renewal.

You want to know a secret about BigHit’s $23 million net profit? It is coming out of the pockets of the members of BTS. They are the ones earning that money, and under their current contracts, they are just letting it go again. They may well decide not to do that any more when their contracts come up for renewal. A six figure salary may seem like a lot–until you realize that your company is running a fucking eight-figure profit off your labor!

The downside of a company hyping a profit margin is that, generally speaking, the talent can read (and hire lawyers) just as well as the investing public. Of course, thanks to this IPO, by 2020 the members’ contract demands will no longer be the problem of BigHit’s original investors–a very fortuitous bit of timing there.

But of course there’s always Option B: Hold a firm line against those BTS punks, so that various members or even the entire group walks!

Ah-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! Oh my God, can you even imagine! HA! HA! HA!

Yeah, this is the long-term problem with BigHit: They are not diversified. Like, at all.

This graphic made me cackle:

Gee, why did YG have such a slump in its operating income last year? Because BigBang didn’t release a new album in 2017. Investors have long complained about YG’s reliance on BigBang to make money, and the company’s stock reliably takes a beating whenever investors worry about BigBang’s members going into the military or a member has a scandal.

And YG is about a thousand times more diversified than BigHit. Jesus.

Does this mean that BTS and/or BigHit don’t have a bright future? Not at all! But it does means that you might want to hold off on sinking your retirement savings into BigHit’s IPO, even if you really love Suga a whole, whole bunch.

Just a reminder

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I know I’ve said this before, but I often see people trying to divvy up the various English language K-Pop sites into good sites and bad sites, and I want to emphasize again: They are all bad.

This is why I don’t get all up in arms over Netizenbuzz–yeah, it’s not a reliable news source. It doesn’t pretend to be. PannChoa isn’t either. Neither is K-Pop, K-Fans. Neither is any other site that translates on-line comments. Think about what you see in comment sections in English–do you honestly think Koreans are so different?

I think maybe as a Block B fan you get more of a look at the dark side of these things, because the people who are very, very into fangirling and hang out on sites like Pann all the time (and generally have no lives) don’t like the fact that the group doesn’t take fan service seriously. If your only actual goal in life is to marry some idol, and you have gone so far down that rabbit hole that you pretty much interact only with other people who think the exact same way, then when a bunch of other idols (idols, even!) come along and continuously mock that notion, you are not going to respond well.

So I for one have never gotten the impression that many other people seem to have that PannChoa is all! about! positivity! and not just because of their recent coverage of U-Kwon. Just one example off the top of my head: Netizenbuzz was one English-language source of the false claim that Zico’s label denied he was in a relationship with Seolhyun, but K-Pop, K-Fans published that too, and PannChoa was the English-language source of the false claim that Zico never picked her up in his car.

That’s the problem with translations: It’s garbage in, garbage out. If the Korean source material is crap (and it often is, even when it’s written by Korean “journalists” and not just Korean on-line randos), then the English-language result will be just as shitty.

* * *

Anyway, I feel like the upside to all this is that this crazy person flamed out quickly, as opposed to when Zico’s dating became public, and it was this slow cancer of “fan”-organized boycott after “fan”-organized boycott.

Bust a move!

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This has been getting some attention because of the skipping at the 4:55 mark, but the whole thing is a bit of a dork-dance sensation.

But the audio quality–alas. This is always an issue with fan cams: Dinky phone mics don’t handle the bass-heavy songs very well.

Anyway, this is from the festival Migos was at, and yeah, it appears that once again people were getting their panties in a twist over something that wasn’t actually happening–it was just reported in a misleading way that got compounded in translation. K-Pop media!

Oh, boy

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It’s been, well, interesting to watch people flip out about the news that Zico will be appearing at a Korean hip-hop festival with Migos.

Part of what’s interesting is that this just isn’t big news in the Korea media. It’s a hip-hop festival. Zico is a hip-hop artist. No one is shocked that he’s going to be there. Even the fact that he’s replacing Yuk Ji Dam after her mess wasn’t actually a big story.

But this got reported as a collaboration, which…might be kind of a stretch. As far as I can see (granted, it’s not like I’m fluent in Korean, so I could be missing something), Zico and Migos are just appearing at the same festival, and some of the Korean outlets are hyping it up. Even if Zico and Migos are actually collaborating, there’s nothing to indicate that it would be anything more than this one festival.

But lo! English-speaking K-Pop fans must! make! this! about! who! deserves! it! which is so fucking bizarre–I’d assume that any popular hip-hop artist deserves to perform at a hip-hop festival, but I am kind of simple that way. It’s especially weird in this case, because you would think that any SJW worth their salt would just throw up their hands at this one–has Zico been more offensive to Black people than Migos has to Asians? Is one somehow more homophobic than the other?

Your move, Offset!

But, of course, that assumes that SJWs are actually interested in, you know, social justice, which is rarely the case. This seems a lot more like people trying to prevent Zico from getting anything that remotely appears to be prestige in the U.S. market. That prestige apparently is reserved for one and only one K-Pop group. Even if they use the N word and make colorist jokes. The magic of problematic!

Could this get dumber?

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I mean, it’s K-Pop, so of course the answer is yes, but apparently the justification for BTS fans being totally shitty to people who could help the group actually succeed in North America is that BTS is “not K-Pop.”

Right. You know you’re dealing with a bunch of not-terribly bright 12-year-olds when they think they can make something be or not be something by simple declaration. (And is there anything more stereotypically K-Popian than fans fucking up an artist’s career because they think the artist is too good for whatever is actually helpful? Or launching into a long “explanation” that includes an entire history of some fanwar that nobody who actually matters gives a fuck about?)

Anyway, the rationale the dimmer international fans are using for classifying BTS as “not K-Pop” is this post, which was written by someone who at least claims to be Korean about how the group is not K-Pop.

Except that these international fans are ignoring some very important context.

The poster’s argument is that BTS is not K-Pop because K-Pop is “B-grade Western pop songs”–in other words, because K-Pop isn’t really Korean. They like BTS because BTS is, in their opinion, “extremely Korean.” In particular, songs like “Spring Day” contain han. You can read a lot about han here, here, here, and here, but basically it’s a Korean term about suffering under injustice and having to persevere anyway.

As you might guess even if you aren’t extremely Korean, a preference for han typically also means “a strong preference for sad love songs and sad love stories.”

Now, if you want to argue that “Spring Day” was written very much to appeal to Korean audiences, I would agree with you–especially when you’re talking about the older generation. There’s a lot of sad ballad music in Korea–you can point to han and the country’s sad history, or you can more cynically point to the fact that ballads were one of the few forms of music allowed to be played publicly under the country’s military dictatorships (also part of the country’s sad history) and argue that the older generation simply likes what they grew up with.

In any case, according to the poster, BTS Is Not K-Pop or More Than K-Pop or Better Than K-Pop because BTS is authentically Korean, and K-Pop is not.

I’ll be honest: I really don’t like this kind of essentialist argument. I don’t think a Korean who likes sad music is somehow more Korean than a Korean who likes upbeat music. (Where would that leave many trot songs?) I feel like this poster is equating their own personal musical preferences with Koreanness to conjure up a nationalist version of talent-dol branding.

However, I think it’s important to pay attention to the fact that the “BTS is not K-Pop” argument as it is presented in that post is an essentialist and nationalist one—this is a Korean person grading BTS (and K-Pop) on their Koreanness. What makes BTS better than all those crummy K-Pop idols who are only of interest to hormonal schoolgirls? KOREANNESS!

From a practical point of view, the problem with international BTS fans picking up this “BTS is not K-Pop” mantra–and using it to justify damaging K-Pop’s prospects in a foreign market–is that international BTS fans are not Korean.

I think “BTS is not K-Pop” is unhelpful to BTS’ ambitions in the United States as well: After all, Psy was presented to American audiences as The Big Exception to K-Pop’s Enslaved Robots, and look where that got him. Compare his career in the United States to that of, say, Daddy Yankee, who is seen here as the founding father of reggaeton.

But where the whole “BTS is not K-Pop” thing could potentially kill BTS is in Korea. Foreigners saying “BTS is not K-Pop” is never going to come across to Koreans as “BTS is EVEN MORE Korean than K-Pop!” Especially when those foreigners are, again, attempting to damage a Korean export market.

And this matters because BTS sells and has always sold much more in Korea than in places like the United States. Success abroad gets hyped in Korea, for sure–the original poster acknowledges as much. What they don’t mention is that the main reason the hype happens is because these kinds of K-Pop groups are seen as representing Korea abroad.

The notion that K-Pop groups represent Korea abroad is something that’s just everywhere in the Korean media–even the interview with Seven Seasons’ CEO ended with this coda about K-Pop helping Korea abroad. A big part of why Block B’s Thailand scandal was so bad was because the group was seen as not representing Korea well abroad, and their other big scandal in Korea came from not appearing to be adequately patriotic. When CL was seen as being something of an Uncle Tom abroad, it was also not helpful to her in Korea.

There is no way “BTS is not K-Pop!” flies in Korea coming from a bunch of foreigners, and it has the potential to cause BTS some real hassles in their home market. Like most K-Pop groups, BTS has to kind of thread the needle between their domestic and overseas market–and in general they’ve done that quite well. I think it’s ridiculous for fans to risk blowing it up for them because they’re, I dunno, afraid that Americans will hear Exo and decide they don’t have much use for a hip-hop sound after all. You have to know your market, and above, all have faith in your product.

Also, you know, have some respect for your own work. I keep seeing this argument that BTS fans have worked so hard, yadda yadda yadda we can do whatever we want now! as though they can’t understand that you can always undo the good that you have done if you’re stupid enough.

Dirty Korean!

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This is funny–some Korean journalist wrote about a book that was published in 2010. Cutting-edge news! And if you look at the article, the source is some random on-line comment plus an Amazon search, and they’re characterizing the book as a textbook, which it’s not.

I actually have that book–my sister got it for me as a joke when I started learning Korean. It’s…dirty (and not as funny as I was expecting). The examples they give here aren’t nearly as ribald as it gets. Let’s just say that, if you want to visit Korea, but you’re worried that once you get there the language barrier will prevent you from requesting a number of specific sex acts, this is the book for you.