Monday, October 25, 2010

Superstar K: Korea Needs 장재인 and 김지수

So "Superstar K" is the Korean counterpart to "American Idol"

Wifeoseyo has been totally enrapt in this show: she had her favorites, and rooted for them, and the final was this weekend.

There's more on the finalists at ALLKPOP

The two finalists were John Park - known by some as the Korean-American American Idol contestant from a previous season, and Huh-Gak, a shorter, less handsome guy, but all-Korean.

Here's Huh-Gak, in one of the performances that hasn't been taken down from Youtube because of copyright violations.

Here's John Park, singing "Man in the Mirror" from a previous episode: his English is stronger than his Korean, and Wifeoseyo says this was the best song of the "Michael Jackson Tribute" episode.

As much as Wifeoseyo liked him, the last thing Korean pop needed was for John Park to win, and reinforce the feeling that, in the same way John Park lost in American Idol, but won Superstar K, that Korean music is a similar but inferior version of western music.

And the two finalists were both good singers and performers.  Heo Gak, the winner, had a touching story and everything, he'll made a decent balladeer once he's plugged into the star machine... but this Korea Times article touches on the best thing about this tv show: The really exciting Superstar Contestants were two other members of the top 5.

You see, two other contestants in the top five were actual musicians, they were something different.  We've gotten used to the superstar idol factory, and the Kpop machine: kids pass an audition, train for seven years in foreign languages, sexy dances, and how to dance in unison and be charming in front of a camera - (echoes of Geisha training, if you ask me)... and a lot of unhealthy stuff seems to be just taken for granted during their training and rise to stardom - as reported by the Human Rights Commission.  And let's not forget Jang Ja-yeon - they never caught/stuck it on whomever she was, um, "servicing"...

Instead, I want to tell you about Jang Jae-in and Kim Ji-su: these two also made the top five, before they got cut.  Jang Jae-in doesn't have a great S-line.  Kim Ji-su doesn't have great abs.  But they play their own instruments.  And whatever song they had to sing, they made it their own.  They were even considerate enough to do a duo for one show, and totally reinvented the song "Cinderella" by Seo In-young (one of my least favorite Kpop stars) - I won't even put her song on my blog... but you can watch it here.

Their rendition is AMAZING.

now, my friend, who knows a lot, reminded me on Saturday that there are lots of Korean popstars that play their own instruments and write their own music: she mentioned Crying Nut, No Brain and Cherry Filter.

That's true.  On the other hand, I don't know if any of them ever hit as broad a demographic as Jang Jae-in appealed to, by getting on this show: Wifeoseyo AND her mother watched this show, and rooted for Jae-in.

So yeah, Crying Nut and Cherry Filter have had their success.  But I think Jae-in has a shot at actually becoming a significant cultural force - she might have the best shot an actual musician has had at contending with Miss-A and SNSD and SuperJunior, in a long time, and the Korean music scene needs a new model for success.  Badly.  My favorite Korean musician/songwriter is Kim Kwang Seok, and everyone of a certain age in Korea makes the same wistful, nostalgic face when you say his name.  I don't know if any singer/songwriter in Korea has had that kind of impact since, but I think Jae-in is young enough, fresh enough, and talented enough, to do that, and to introduce a different model (um, talent) to Korean popular music.

Fact: she's the first young Korean female artist in years where I'd rather buy the CD than watch the video.  Who actually listens to the music for most of these bands, anyway?  You can't see Rain's sixpack when you're listening on your Mp3 player, so what's the point?  Nine Muses isn't even pretending: they're being openly presented as model-idols.

I'm holding my breath.  I'm excited.  Jae-in has the potential to become more than just the Queen of Hongdae, and I hope to all the gods of aesthetics that she does, and that the next time I walk down Jongno street, I hear her coming out of cosmetics shops, instead of another Kpop dance band or gooey ballad.  Kim Jisu?  Same: I'd buy his CD.  I wouldn't just watch his video, and silently seethe when Wifeoseyo watches it.

That's right.  The same way Korean girls need Kim Yu-na to be successful, because she's talented and excellent and she achieved her goal, so that they can have an awesome hero other than "good mother, good wife", K-pop needs Jae-in to introduce a different model for success, so that when kids watch Korean music shows on TV, maybe they decide to pick up an instrument, instead of just practicing their aegyo, doing situps, and taking dance lessons.

That'd be nice.


David tz said...

plenty of Korean "superstars" know HOW to play music, but rarely do in front of a Korean audience-- Lee Hyo-ri was at Dolce Vita for an open mic a couple of Thursdays ago (the proof is on Facebook)... She played 2 songs on an electric acoustic, accompanied by her sax player (and every other musician with an instrument). No chance of lip-syncing to a back-up tape in that situation.

kissmykimchi said...

I think I'm with David. Even if these pop princes and princesses have hidden musical talents that would set them apart from their peers the powers that be probably wouldn't like that so much.

It just gives them more leverage to break away, right? I still would love to see an insider's view of the industry.

Do they make their money with performances like artists back home or is it, like I fear, that the companies control every aspect of their career?

3gyupsal said...

Even if Jang Jae In, and that other guy won, Kpop would still be K-pop. Jang Jae In, came in third and got a lot of exposure for her and her band.

Winning a talent show competition rarely means that a person is going to be famous. In a lot of cases, winners of American idol were eclipsed by the second and third place contestants, remember Rubin Stodard*? Also, how famous is the winner of last year's superstar K?

I think Jang Jae-In will be alright, she can probably use her notoriety to land a job as a producer, or do a lot of work as a studio musician, those types of people make a lot more money anyway.

Hannah said...

Loved Jae-in! I thought she seemed so sweet, talented and hardworking on the show.
And totes agree with your bit about how you don't want Korean music seen as an inferior version of its US counterpart.

This Is Me Posting said...

Calling Korean music a "similar but inferior version of Western music" is a ridiculous insult to Western music.

You're comparing amateurs with a culture that defined popular music in pretty much every single iteration that popular music encompassed.

You're comparing KPop - overly synthetic, unoriginal, mass produced tripe - with a culture that gave us The Blues, Motown, Rock and Roll, Swing, Jazz, The Seattle Sound, Heavy Metal, Emo, Hardcore Punk and many many others. We've even HAD the synth pop that KPop has embraced and (for the most part) rejected it.

Hell, the West had the self-monikered King of Pop whom those contestants were trying to emulate and failed at! (What on Earth were those dancers doing and why were they butchering MJ's image?)

Korea is so behind when it comes to music that when you present them with bands or musicians with talent, they don't even know what to do with it. They're so completely untrained at recognizing what's good and what isn't.

Case in point: These two contestants playing actual guitars on Superstar K. It actually surprised me to see REAL TALENT on the show and I'm not at all surprised they didn't win. Of course they didn't. Why would they? They're in Korea. I hope, I hope, I hope those judges were trying to figure out how to give them bonus points for being, you know, wicked talented, but there's a part of me that's sure they were trying to find a loophole in their presentation to crush their performance and spirits.

Exhibit 2: People who make mention that there are KPop stars who can do more than sing and shake their asses yet don't: Thanks for proving my point. They crush any semblance of talent because they don't know what to do with it; they can't market it.

It frustrates me when I hear people praising KPop, saying that it's good or even better than Western music. That's like telling me your swimming doggy paddle in a kid's pool makes you a better swimmer than Michael Phelps.

As for Kim Yuna: Don't forget that not having an opinion of one's own and stabbing people in the back are also good lessons for little girls to learn!