Confession. Despite being a rather ardent K-pop fan, giving rookies a chance and happily catching live performances weekly (or at least the ones that do matter), I must admit to not caring too much about the major year-end music shows, known as the Gayo Daejuns. A large part of my watching the Gayos has involved skipping the shows entirely, in pursuit of other interests, or skimming through the stages that matter or are deemed unique.
Here are some of the reasons why I’ve done so, and some suggestions on how things could change for the better.
1. Too Much Duplication
In some ways, this could not really be the fault of the big 3 broadcasters. Having music shows that broadcast K-pop hits weekly is indeed a double edged sword. On the one hand, it gives the genre seemingly broad reach and appeal, providing frequent access to one’s favourite acts, as well as above-average performances. In turn, one is given the impression that the K-pop machine is rather evolved.
The flipside is that it tends to make what could’ve been an interesting performance, a rather typical one around about the fourth week of promotions. By the time the year-end shows come around, listeners are hit with a strong sense of déjà vu, and that could be tiresome. Albeit little performance tweaks, finding the initial thrill in the song could prove difficult.
It doesn’t help that attempts to dress up and polish these songs often come across as haphazard, with either inept adding of dubstep (think f(x) or Brown Eyed Girls) or wanton throwing in of new dance breaks to disrupt the flow (remember in 2011 where T-ara did endless variations of “Cry Cry”?!)
Sure, there are some polished musical efforts like the house-inspired “Pandora” remix (though the dance still leaves something to be desired), but for the most part, every remix or dance break seems to take away a bit of what made the original great.
2. The Special Stages
If there remains a single reason for tuning in to the Gayos, it would have to be those one-off performances, affectionally termed “Special Stages”. On paper, they always seem like great ideas. A chance to see something different, revealing a different side of our idols’ talents. Unfortunately, there is always something iffy about the execution that leaves our fan-boy/girl wishes that much unsatisfied.
Firstly, there are those covers of English hit singles. Nice in theory, but too often, more than diction gets lost in translation. Anybody still remembers that ill-fated cover of Beyonce’s “Run The World” from last year’s SBS Gayo Daejun? English problems aside, the dancing and posturing made it too messy to be taken seriously.
Come to think of it, I took issue with this year’s themed girl group songs. While I liked the idea of an all star team of girls, with complementary characteristics from an array of girl groups (the possibilities if it were real), and also with a well-known producer thrown in, their finished product was under general expectations. Considering the free reign they had with choreography, couldn’t they have had more ground to experiment with, to produce something more out of the box? Perhaps the handful of personalities were much too much to handle?
My gripes also extend in the opposite direction. As much as the various programs try to reinvigorate and reinvent, we can always trust KBS to play within the box. Sexy dances featuring the best looking members? Stages that evoke nostalgic feelings towards hits of yesteryear? Sure, they please the fans of various demographics, and satisfy on the objective level, but come on it’s the year end, we deserve better! … maybe fancier stage decorations would’ve helped too.
3. There is always an uncomfortable mix of Hallyu and Nostalgic cool
Hasn’t this been a long-running issue of the year-end Gayos? Hasn’t this combination been done to death to appeal to Hallyu hipsters, or the legions of viewers who believe that all good K-pop comes from music in the 90s? For the past two years, MBC and SBS have catered to the former camp, with KBS satisfying the remaining traditionalists.
The problem is that both sides have never really had a compromise to please everybody. In the case of SBS, it would be overtly pandering to their audiences by heavily featuring a particular group (remember 2011’s “Sound of Hallyu”, which became an SM Entertainment Showcase), while MBC was a case of playing up all their pop culture references annually (that We Got Married segment). Sure, they make for great fun to watch if the viewers themselves are into that stuff, but they’re also less entertaining for those out of the loop, or worse, those who couldn’t be bothered with these segments.
Then on the other hand, while I appreciate KBS for taking efforts to remind us of the 90s, or Past Masters of K-pop, surely they’d be able to spice up their idol-infused performances of oldies and straight-up medleys, no? How about some SBS-style re-imagination there?
I could go on about some of the other more minor problems (logistical shortcomings) and other plainly infuriating ones (how YG acts are never seen on KBS ones), but the conclusion is this: the Gayos annually promise a fair amount to fans, but never really deliver on them, with MBC 2012 being the exception.
So, what are the improvements to be considered? Perhaps, as mentioned, there’ve been an abundance of weekly shows that lead to viewer overload. A radical solution would be to hold the Gayos the same way one would hold other award shows, to have the programme up for tender, and whichever station wins it gets assistance from competing stations. Like that, to play on each other’s strengths (and in turn minimising the flaws), a combined effort could possibly produce a gem of a show.
Well I could be dreaming, but like Gayos every year, dreaming of perfection never hurts.