There are only two genres in K-pop. It’s either music for the eyes or for the ears. Although it may seem like an over generalization, it’s the unfortunate truth in the world of Korean Entertainment.
The stars who make music for the eyes are your everyday bubble gum pop groups, such as SNSD, Kara, SS501, BEAST, or basically any K-pop group that appeals to the highly emotional and loyal teenage girls and boys. These groups are in the business of turning a profit by satisfying your sense of sight. They appeal to their set target demographic though the use of smokes and mirrors, or as they call it in Korean showbiz, photoshop and cosmetic surgery. The concepts, the looks, the personalities are all fabricated to make them desirable yet approachable. Common marketing jargon that doesn’t make sense, but that’s the basic thinking behind these groups’ formation and existence.
Then, there are artists who make music for the ears. These are the talented artists, such as Gummy, Big Mama, Park Hyo Shin, etc, whose sole purpose in life is to make great music. They don’t have a predefined target market that they want to appeal to. These artists are just passionate individuals who focus on satisfying the sense of hearing by producing solid tracks, what I would like to define as music. Because these true artists are behind the scenes creating music, they hardly make it to the press with their nonsensical Tweets or self-indulging sel-ca pictures like the stars mentioned above.
And it’s no surprise that artists for the eyes are driven by profits while artists for the ears are driven by passion. Two very different outcomes, as the result of two very different approaches to what people loosely refer to as music. Unfortunately, because individuals and companies cannot live off of passion alone, we are seeing many talented artists slowly changing their focus to appeal to the eyes. One latest example of this trend is Brown Eyed Girls.
Since their last album, Brown Eyed Girls are slowly re-positioning themselves to fall into the former category: music for the eyes. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that they already possess musical talents and can sing, but with the change in focus, one cannot help but to notice in the decline in their music. Abracadabra was that pivotal (and pitiful) song which allowed the ladies to completely re-market themselves. The hit song was OK but I’m willing to duke it out with anybody who argues that Abracadabra has high musical value.
And fast forward to September of 2011, the ladies are back with an album titled “Sixth Sense” and although the majority of folks are praising their album, in my mind, the track doesn’t take advantage of their vocals. In fact, it does a better job of making us focus on the visuals, their sexy/mature/oppressed look. Great. Another artist lost to the music for the eyes. Perhaps that’s the reality of this show business. When media coverage and CF deals dictate your next move, one can make a case that Brown Eyed Girls’s management made the right business decision.
As a fan of music for the ears and as a former fan of Brown Eyed Girls (and still heart the track, Da Ga Wa Suh), sitting through Sixth Sense music video was an excruciating experience. I’m not questioning their talents, but due to this album’s strong focus on the imagery and concept, the weak song didn’t do justice to their voices.
Maybe Brown Eyed Girls are just ahead of the curve and will become the norm. True artists will eventually reshuffle their priorities, from music to appearance, to sustain their living. But isn’t it ironic that even with the expansion of the Korean music industry, it’s the only music for the eyes that are benefiting. Will artists for the ears survive this tough market?
Conversely, there are some K-pop acts who used to make “music for the eyes”, slowly re-positioning themselves to make “music for the ears”. The latest example of this trend is JYJ. The trio was part of DBSK, one of K-pop’s biggest and greatest music for the eyes group of the last decade. The five pretty boys dressed up in funky animal customs, to well, please Cassie’s eyes, despite their great voice. After parting ways with SM and weathering legal battles, JYJ released their latest album, which as Patricia noted bid farewell to mainstream K-pop.
Although there are some trying to redefine themselves or refine their skills to produce music for the ears, one cannot deny that current landscape of K-pop is predominately populated by music for the eyes. And sadly, the music for the eyes make up majority of the music export.