Wednesday, 30 March 2011

I Am A Singer 나는 가수다... A Ghastly Spectacle, or Survival in a Cutthroat Industry?

So with the success of "Superstar K" (which I wrote about) and the ridiculous glut of Kpop bands that, as their numbers (and surgeries) increase, are becoming more and more indistinguishable (if you can explain to me how Sistar is different from Dal Shabet, such that you couldn't switch out their music, costumes, and choreography, and have pretty much the same product, I'll be impressed.  Name for me all the members of Sistar, Dal Shabet, AND Rainbow, without searching, and you win a waffle iron). A few are popular enough that I can recognize them one from another, and a few have made some pretty good songs (and especially videos), and even carved out something of a personality...

But while these starlets are dominating the airwaves with dances and images that more mature and adult-oriented singers couldn't compete with if they wanted to...


You've got to wonder... what happened to the singers and vocalists who actually sing their songs, who made a living on having great voices rather than yummy bitty bits and chocolate sixpacks.

And sadly, I have your answer:
"I am a singer" or "나는 가수다"
is a program on MBC which takes some of the most successful singers of the 1990s and early 2000s, and puts them up against each other in an audience voting, elimination-style revolving door showcase, where the singer with the fewest votes each episode is eliminated from the roster of (seven?) singers, and some other former luminary replaces them in the next episode.

I have really mixed feelings about this one, folks.

On the one hand... it's nice to see their faces and hear their voices on TV again, throwbacks to a time when singers in Korea could generally carry a tune, and some even wrote their own music.  Wifeoseyo remembers them well, and it's a small nostalgia kick to see them on TV...

but when these people, who have paid their dues and then some, are in some trashy fan-voting spectacle, just to compete for ratings...

it comes across as tawdry to me.  And when a controversy springs up about not voting off the oldest (and male) singer, after what Wifeoseyo reported was a half-hearted performance... I wonder if the controversy was engineered to kick up ratings and help these artists cover their tabs or something.  And I don't like having to have cynical thoughts like that when some of these singers are onstage.

So I don't begrudge them the paycheck, but I guess it just saddens me that these people, who should be enjoying some kind of living legend status, who should be doing duets with younger artists at music award shows, are instead doing the Korean equivalent of "Dancing With The Stars."

Lee Sora (whom I first heard about from The Korean), contributing. (the AAK link)  I can't imagine what's going through these singers' heads, but I sure wish there were something better for them than this, at the ends of their long careers.

So... some good voices and stuff.  Enjoy it.  If you can.


[Update]
For the record...
Wifeoseyo disagrees with me that this show is trotting Korea's dignified old legends out for display.  She says, first of all, that the show treats its singers with respect, and secondly, that the singers themselves have shown a great deal of pride in their craft, and lived up to their status, while sometimes expanding their range.  She said the singers are approaching the show as if it's their duty to reintroduce real songcraft in a landscape of manufactured plastic bands with interchangeable members, dances, and so-so singing talents overshadowed by sexydance.

(And The Korean is right in the comments: there's pretty much no chance many of Korea's living legends would put themselves through this elimination challenge: I doubt we'll be seeing demigods 이문세 [song by him, another - MAN he's good - and true proof he's a legend: a cover by Big Bang] or 신중현, who had a tribute guitar made for him by Fender [song by him] or 조용필 [song] on the show.)

Wifeoseyo also said Kim Geon Mo's performance on the latest show was really impressive, that he was nervous (for the first time in a long time I'm sure) after all the controversy about him being on the show, and you can see his hand fidgeting on the microphone: out of character for him, who's usually a very confident singer.

(more on Kim Geon Mo leaving the show from the K-gossip blogs)

Wifeoseyo also says his hand was shaking during this performance... out of character for him.
He certainly sings the lights out, though.  Attaboy, Kim Gun Mo.

15 comments:

The Student's Guide To Nail Polish said...

Eh. I'm not really interested in the older singers, idols are fun and cute :P There'll always be a place for actual musicians, but idols dominate because that's what appeals, I guess.

refresh_daemon said...

But the thing about these performers is that I don't really think that they're at the end of their career. They are not just legends, they are living legends and if this format gives them the kind of spotlight that they deserve, I have to say that I'm in favor of it. It adds a little drama to what would otherwise just be a revolving door showcase of long-lived popular musical acts and I do think it might be a touch sad that these respected singers have to compete to stay on the show, but I also like that they can't skate by on their status as legendary performers anymore either--in just a couple episodes, we've seen these singers pushed to expand their boundaries as performers and that itself might be a good jolt of each of their careers.

The Korean said...

Agreed 100% with refresh_daemon said, and to add a bit more color --

Kim Gun-Mo went so far as to say that this show (and specifically failing at this show) was a turning point of his life. Otherwise, he would have been content to coast on his laurels. And Kim Gun-Mo (and maybe possibly Lee Sora) are the only two singers who even approach the "legend" status in K-pop history. There are less than 10, possibly less than 5, who deserve the sacred legend status (that is, those whose achievements will be degraded if they appeared on the show,) and they pretty safely will not come on the show.

chiam said...

You watch too much TV. Korea is so much better when you don't own a TV. In fact, everywhere is better when you don't own a TV!

Stew said...

Caught up in the buzz that was building before the show debuted, I was skeptical and critical of the show and its format as well. The thought of vocal legends such as Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Celine Dion, etc competing on an American-Idol style format? Blasphemous!

But having watched all the episodes since the show's launching, I can say without hesitation this is a top-notch quality show, aside from the "second chance" controversy that it has, unfortunately, been mired in, and is, in no way, some cheap, trashy competition show.

Aside from concerts, the only real avenues that have existed in the Korean music industry for these legends to really showcase their talents have been the special music programs such as Yoo Hee Yeol's Sketchbook and (the recently canned) Kim Jung Eun's Chocolate. But even these shows were still prettily-packaged, heavily-edited avenues, since the artist choose the songs of their own liking, package it however they want, and when they perform (I know because I've been to the tapings) they can stop in the middle of their song and do as many takeovers as they want until they're satisfied.

On the other hand, the competition aspect that "I am a singer" has brought in has truly jump-started these artists to strive and reach for their best. I have been life-long fans of these singers and I have NEVER seen folks like Park Jung Hyun and Kim Bum Soo putting in everything they have quite like this. 20+ year veteran Kim Gun Mo was even literally shaking like a newbie in his most recent (and excellent) performance!

And while the competition aspect has brought in so much passion and energy to these songs, you can tell the artists are also pushing themselves while enjoying what they have been blessed, and love, to do. The jam session with Kim Gun Mo, Park Jung Hyun, Jung Yeob, and Kim Bum Soo on a previous episode reflects this. The show hasn't cheapened the stage for these legends, but it's truly brought the stage they deserve.

In the end, I've been convinced and won over. I would love to see this brought to the American stage (though I don't believe it'll be realistic anytime soon) and beyond.

Rob-o-SE-yo said...

I'd be interested to know who you'd consider the shortlist of true living legends who'd never appear on a show like this...

I'm thinking of Lee Mun-seh, Cho Yong-pil and Shim Joong-hyun, whom I've added to an updated post.

Darryl said...

"Legends"? Are you serious? Pop music singers, horrible ones at that, that are incapable of writing their own music or playing instruments have now achieved legendary status? Might be time for you to start appreciating proper music, or refrain from making posts like this.

The Korean said...

You and a thousand other people Robo :) Those people will grace the top tier of the 50 most influential K-pop artists.

Rob-o-SE-yo said...

Darryl: might be time for you to learn about the Korean music that predated the Kpop you seem to think I'm talking about.

And also read blog posts more carefully.

Rob-o-SE-yo said...

Stew: thanks for your comment:

You mentioned "The jam session with Kim Gun Mo, Park Jung Hyun, Jung Yeob, and Kim Bum Soo on a previous episode reflects this."
do you have a link to video of that session?

Nude said...

I love night living.

David tz said...

The vids have been removed due to copyright claims. I find it ironic that with the blatant piracy here, videos posted by others are almost immediately removed when a Korean company complains about them and the user gets banned, yet they go and do the same thing on countless game shows.

CedarBough said...

I watched Kim Geunmo live in the early 2000s and it was electrifying. So sad that someone of his caliber is reduced to this tawdry format (despite Wife-o-seyo's opinion I just hate the whole voting + TV thing).

3gyupsal said...

I think it kind of begs the question of whether or not the artists voluntarily joined the show or were just kind of herded there from their record labels. It is a good way for them to get some publicity and it could help them launch comebacks, but on the other hand I have to wonder if these people were influenced too much by their record labels when they were younger.

By that I'm talking about how people from English speaking countries tend to respect "self made" artists more than acts that were put together by record labels. People would say that kind of thing about Brittany Spears an Christina Aguilera all the time. People would ask if they wrote their own lyrics or if they know how to play any instruments. Many of the kids in the Korean music biz are put through a kind of boot camp where they learn all of that kind of thing. The kids from Big Bang are actually very talented, they produce their own songs (They have been known to plagiarize too)

That said, there are a few musicians in Korea who make ass loads of money by both creating their own music and being entrepreneurial the way that people from western countries would respect. Jang Yoon Jung, for example, has been known to tour Korea excessively giving concerts at tiny mom and pop night club venues and charging 10,000,000 won per hour. Seo Tae Ji does all of his own stuff, and can pretty much walk into any television station and get air time. So I wonder if a lot of these people on "I am a singer," are just doing what they think is their only option for promoting themselves.

dokebi said...

I share a similar sentiment with Darryl and a lot of other people about Kpop, but I was impressed with Korean music from 1970s and 80s that my mom occasionally listen to