Promotion cycles. Most idol groups engage in them, performing on a multitude of shows per week, showing off their skills in live performance. These days, the number of shows idols perform on can go as high as six, with Mnet M! Countdown, KBS Music Bank, MBC Music Core, SBS Inkigayo, MBC Music Show! Champion, and even SBS MTV The Show 2. And that’s not including side performances such as those of the Korean Music Wave or open concerts held by media stations. Clearly, the stress on idols is large, to be able to perform daily at a high level despite having little sleep due to too many schedules and too little time. And to add onto all of this, rookie groups must think about their next move as a group, even when they’re still promoting their first or second track.

More established groups–Super Junior, Big Bang, and SHINee, among others–can have breaks that even exceed a year between their album releases. Whether due to scandal or concert performances, these groups continue in the eyes of their fans because of concern or those numerous fancams of special performances. Since they have a dedicated fan base and have put out significant amounts of music, these groups come in once a year, promote for a month and a half, and then leave for more work outside of Korea. But rookie groups don’t have that option.

Newer groups need to keep in the public’s eye continuously in order to gain enough interest to generate a loyal fan base. They need to promote more regularly on music shows to prove their live performance mettle and stay known to an audience. After their goodbye stage, they need to return more quickly than veteran groups need to because having little notice, such as Dalmatian after their “That Man Opposed” promotions but before “E.R” promotions, can cause a group to slowly fade into the background.

But is performing on each of these shows each week worth it? On top of performances on music shows, rookies often have side gigs to balance, such as filming for “reality” shows that open up a new side of the group for an audience. And within music shows, there’s the time required to be prepared to perform, get to the location, rehearse multiple times if necessary, record multiple times if necessary, and then maybe perform live if that’s what you’re slated to do. To do this for five or six shows weekly, not counting occasional performances on other shows such as Yoo Hee-yeol‘s Sketchbook or Beautiful Concert, is incredibly tiring to the point where an audience can’t possibly expect these artists to perform well. And if they can’t perform at their best, there isn’t really a point to their performance. As opposed to being at every music show, it would make more sense to pick and choose the shows to perform at, reducing the number to maybe three or four as opposed to five or six. YG Entertainment has the right idea with Big Bang and 2NE1 performing generally on one or two shows, if they do show up that week, though a little higher frequency would most likely be optimal for their fans.

If more groups choose to perform on less shows, then we’d see maybe a reduction in music shows. We’ve already seen jTBC‘s Music on Top and Channel A‘s K-pop Con fail to accrue a reasonable amount of artists and viewers per week, leading to their demises. But it’s fair to say that it would be much harder for any of the current music shows to falter as all of them are associated with large media companies–Mnet, SBS, KBS, and MBC–, and four of them provide opportunities for artists to “win” based on different formulas. In addition, with the influx of rookie groups all vying for spots on these shows, if more prominent groups do choose to promote less frequently or artists in general choose to pick and choose their music shows, then there would be more opportunities for rookie groups to get more time on these shows, potentially being able to promote with more than one song on their debut or comeback stage like older artists.

In addition to the difficulty of the frequency of music shows, there is always the issue of sound. As groups are singing while vigorously dancing, there is always the opportunity for microphones to slip out of the place or be dropped accidentally. Sound quality is rarely consistently high. The issue here is that the point of a music program is to see artists perform live, as in with good sound. But this isn’t always possible as audio systems aren’t infallible. But if sound systems don’t work, then what any viewer is left with is simply a dance performance that could be seen in a music video. Or even worse: the audience could attribute poor sound quality to the idols themselves, believing that they are unable to sing and dance at the same time or even lip-synching when it’s actually the mechanical system at fault. Unless this issue is solved on all music programs, it’s difficult to see how each performance can bring anything to the table. Just dancing to choreography, while impressive in its own way, is not what the audience is looking for.

Clearly an inspiration for groups to promote on music shows is the devotion of fans that travel to see them perform or watch them through the television or Internet. But how many times can any fan watch a performance until their get sick of it? In other words, how long is an appropriate promotion cycle for one song? To take examples from recent promotions, EXO-K has been promoting their (technically) debut track, “MAMA,” since the eighth of April. Their performance on SBS Inkigayo the 17th of June was their last goodbye stage. That means they were promoting their track for over two months, which seems like overkill for any song. Even Inkigayo thought so–their last performance was given less than the traditional three minutes for rookie groups, which meant that only half the group really got to sing anything. In contrast, both SHINee and CN Blue promoted for only a month on music shows back in March and April, stirring protests from fans who wanted to see and hear them more. The ideal amount of time for promotions is most likely around six weeks, though it would vary depending on exactly how many of these shows a group promotes and how popular the song remains if the group is well-known.

The final question under all of this is should more popular groups be worried about younger groups usurping their popularity? An obvious answer would be no since most popular groups have incredibly loyal fan bases that would be willing to go to great extents to keep their favorite artist on top. But I think otherwise. For K-pop fans that give rookie groups a shot, rookie groups are becoming staples in their music collection, working up fan bases that may just find themselves conflicted if their favorites were to ever be in opposition to one other. Since these rookie groups keep showing up on music shows, audiences find more reason to watch these groups, especially if they continue to grow and become more comfortable on stage letting loose, such as JJ Project, most recently. I find myself comparing live stages to B.A.P‘s ever since their debut as it’s rare to see such a good balance of energy, performance, and skill translate well to the audience. Other debuts of 2012, such as EXO-K and NU’EST, have also been racking up the fans through consistent performances–let’s forget about EXO-K’s first live stage–and participation in other forms of media to translate to fans. As Dana discussed in a previous article, fans play a large part in determining success for any group. And if they start to prefer rookie groups because they are working much harder to develop their fan base, then perhaps it could be motivation for more popular groups to get into action, producing some of the high quality music that made them popular in the first place.

If anything, it’s important to remember that many groups are primarily music groups. If they want to gain more fans, they should put out quality music and perform it well, which requires great thought into when they can perform and how long to perform. The music show system seems to be too extensive now, with every major network just wanting their own show to use for competition. Music shows are necessary to demonstrate musical prowess, but their number and quality are questionable, especially when taking into account the strain on artists.

What do you think, Seoulmates? Are music show programs getting out of hand or unnecessary? Do you have any favorites?

(MBC, MBC Music, KBS, Mnet, SBS, Osen, TS Entertainment, SM Entertainment, Nate)