Welcome to another Comments of the Week!

This week in music and idol news, we talked about the best of last week’s music shows, Orange Caramel, FT Island, SNSD‘s Side B, an exchange on Secret as well as a look at their album, Rude Paper, SPICA‘s take on ‘cute’, solo compilation album speculations, the beginnings of Seo In-guk, Kim Wan-sun‘s beer, Huh-gak‘s never-ending world of hurt.

For film, fashion and tv, we took a look at Arang and the Magistrate, Victoria for Vogue Girl, stellar females in variety, 1TYM‘s Danny From L.A., and DBSK for Vogue Korea.

As for socio-cultural issues, we discussed points made against the “black hole” idol, how “idol” looks good on everyone, girl groups’ dances, whether Secret needs to change their choreography, whether IU will ever grow up, and the question of “soft power” in regards to the Korean Wave.

We also had a special edition of the SB Chat Box this week, in which we talked at length with Chad Future about his take on “AK-pop”.

With all that being said, here are five of my favorite comments from you, our readers, this week:

xNoirx on The Korean Wave and the Question of Soft Power:

There’s no re-election of president in SK (single term, 5 years).  But current election is closely contested by right-of-center and left-of-center party, and this recent flare up over islands is most likely to be wag-the-dog type of thing IMHO.  However, recently, a third party candidate, Ahn, ChulSoo, announced his candidacy.  This will probably split left-of-center votes.  Then all these political circus won’t be needed.

The islands under dispute are not worthless.  The seas around it is rich fishing ground and the fishing rights are worth at least 300 million USD.  If one government loses the dispute, it will have to pay the rights holder.  There is also potential for natural gas.

(If Park GeunHye, candidate from right-of-center SaeNuRi wins, she will be the first president from Far East. I find it ironic that conservative SaeNuRi party is first to nominate a foreign born candidate to national assembly, and also to nominate first woman candidate for presidency.

Also TaeWoong from Reply 1997 has too many resemblance to Ahn, Chulsoo. Both are running for president, teaching at college, and got rich by building up a software company, were born in Busan, and their wives are involved in medicine. )

CJux on Counterpoint: Arguing Against the Black Hole Idol:

I have to say, I really adore the way you write Maria. I love reading your articles. I do agree with a lot of the points you made. However, I’d like to present an alternative point of view, one that doesn’t resort to the overused “They’re entertainers, not just singers!” excuse (everyone in the music industry, from rock to hip-hop to pop artists, are entertainers – what do you think concerts are for? To hear a cassette playing?). Anyway.

1 – This is not unique to K-pop.

Remember the glorious 1990s, the time of BSB, Spice Girls and N’Sync? Even they had their least talented individuals, who barely every sang. Backstreet Boys’ Kevin and Howie had weak vocals and barely had any solos. Spice Girls’ Victoria Beckham is a terrible singer. And N’Sync was basically Justin, JC and their three backup members. Mind you, these were not Korean pop groups. They had no variety shows to show off their “other talents” just to prove the fans there was a reason they put in the group in the first place or something stupid like that. Moreover, nobody seemed to question the role of less talented members in the group, because it was basically understood each member had a huge fanbase and each fan had their own archetypal preferences.

Pop groups operate on a different level than solo singers;  they are not, and never were, defined by a group of talented singers put in together. They are not there sell themselves individually (at least not initially, otherwise they wouldn’t be in a group); they are there to sell the group, in which each member plays a role, a character, that will attract a share of the fan market that is seeking for specific characteristics. For instance, my little sister tends to favor maknaes that are rappers. She can’t even explain why. It’s not a measurable quality, it’s just an unexplainable archetype that seduces her in boys groups. So if anyone here was wondering what Chansung was doing in 2PM, well, here’s your answer.

2 – You can watch them grow. Hard-work against natural talent.

This is something you can practically only experience when you’re a fan of pop groups, because they always (well, 99% of them) have less talented members comparatively, and some even debut with totally talent-less ones.

Watching a less talented member suddenly shine, because he/she was given more lines or given a solo dance, or his/her vocals suddenly improved, makes you feel more connected with him/her on a human level. It strengths the fandom and makes the fans think all the time and money they spent on a group full of talent-less members was totally worth it, because they believed in them, and now they are even more proud to be a fan of the group. And that feeling reflects on sales. One of the reasons why BSB fans loved I Want It That Way so much (their biggest hit) was because of Kevin and Howie’s solos, who used to be relegated to background vocals and suddenly they started singing alone and fangirls wet their pants. I also wonder if that wasn’t always the goal with T-ara, when Kim Kwang Soo started adding seemingly talentless members. Hwayoung is possibly the best example or ‘hard-work against natural talent’.

I tell you one thing: if I was a CEO of a K-pop group, I would never let all the members shine at once even if they were all talented. Let the fans experience their growth, staged or not, it’s part of the magic.  “OMG MY BIAS GOT SOME MANY LINES IN THIS SONG! OMG I’M THE HAPPIEST FANGIRL IN THE WORLD I’LL BUY ALL THE COPIES OF THIS ALBUM!!” – This would be the kind of response I’d aim for :)

3 – It brings more fans to talented individuals.

I’d rather view pop groups – especially K-pop groups – as a bunch of individuals logically put together because they would have fewer chances of success if they went solo instead. And this goes for both talented and talentless individuals. Even Lee Hyori and Hyuna didn’t start off as solo artists, they are or were both once popular members of a popular group. Likewise, some talented singers and/or dancers would have a far more difficult time in selling themselves as solo artists, especially if they’re not particularly good-looking. Yes, it’s still a bit unfair that the best looking members generally gather the biggest fandoms, but if it weren’t for them, you talented bias probably wouldn’t have the amount of attention and support he/she currently has.

Not everyone can be like BoA or IU. Not everyone is born with great looks, sex appeal and is lucky enough to work with great composers/writers/choreographers. A lot of talented singers in Korea wouldn’t have the slightest chance in the market hadn’t been for their group members, who make up for everything they’re not.

4 – Music preferences are not always measurable by individuals’ natural talent. Shocking.

Regarding your point: “Taeyeon and Seohyun couldn’t achieve success without the help of a more charismatic person like Tiffany. But even in Tiffany’s case, a good voice and charisma aren’t incompatible. Hyorin brings more fans to the yard than Sistar united.”

There are tons of people in the world who can sing. Tons. There are probably more people who can sing in karaoke bars than in the entire music market. There aren’t, however, many people who can sell songs just by hitting the notes. Britney can barely hold a tune, but there’s something unique about her voice: you can always recognize her singing. And this is not just a condition of pop music; rock music industry is not always composed with the best singers or guitarists. They need to ‘fit’ in the concept/idea of the band, and specially, offer ‘something else’. Something you don’t hear in karaoke bars. One of my favorite rock bands of all time – Buck-Tick – is not exactly the most talented group of guitarists, drummers and singers in the world. (In fact, they even started the band without knowing how to play an instrument.) But I like their music better, and their performances better; they’re unique. And Atsushi’s voice, albeit very limited in vocal range, will always seduce me more than, say, anyone from 2AM.

And yes, I’d rather hear Tiffany singing and scratching notes than boring Seohyun, anytime. And between a Hyorin concert and Sistar concert, I’d still probably choose the first.

Waetoria on Beautiful Genes? But ‘Idol’ Looks Good On Everyone:

I would say idol looks are as manufactured as idol music. In both instances there is a base of potential layered on with professional work and constant tweaking and endless efforts to gloss over what doesn’t hold up to standards.

That is not to say that there isn’t raw musical talent nor good looks – but this is the exception to the rule. I would say that almost all idols are attractive in their own right but (and please note this is just my own opinion) very few are jaw-droppingly stunning. Add the fact that Korean plastic surgery for the most part doesn’t consist of total facial/body transformation but slight alterations to small parts (nose, eyes, etc) and lots of visits to dermatologists and you can see it’s quite easy to “manufacture” an idol. Not to mention the phalanx of nutritionists, stylists, hairdressers, coordinators, etc, etc, etc.

And they are indeed “conditioned” to look like idols. If you’re entire world consists of being an image, a perfected image of yourself, and any flaws are immediately and violently exposed, you will naturally be inclined to look perfect at all times. I think even the idols themselves realize the disconnect between the poster images and CFs and their own images in the mirror, and some are startled if not shocked. But that’s the price for being in the “image is everything” world of K-pop.

Side note: This is why I when asked the question, “would you rather have smart children or good-looking children,” I say smart. Cause you can adjust outer beauty with a few tweaks but can’t exactly buy brain power ;)

happy_slip on Holy Cow, Spica’s Cute?:

The song is pretty lackluster compared to their debut work, but I can’t really hold it against them.They’re rookies, still in the stage of looking what works and what doesn’t for them, in the grand scheme of things they really have yet to define their music, regardless of how solid their debut was. And anyway, can’t blame the company tbh. It’s pretty clear that the impact and  sales of SPICA didn’t match up to the amount of vocal fans praising them. Pretty sad truth, but at best their first work mostly pulled in ppl who would just openly commend them but would not go to the point of actually buying their songs.

I’m actually giving them a pass here and see this as them and their management experimenting with what can work for them best. I believe they’ll eventually be able to find their sound with the right balance of quality and appeal soon. Give them time.

Anyhow, the song wasn’t even sugary, frilly, annoyingly cute so I don’t get the fuss about them suddenly doing a “360”. I can still see the SPICA I got to know earlier this year.

Nate Broadus on Music & Lyrics: When Will IU Grow Up?:

In my opinion, IU will eventually move forward into mature themes and work — but I hope she doesn’t pull a “sexing it up = maturity” move when the time comes. Too many singers tend to think along those lines (or at least the people behind their concepts), and it really minimizes the true nature of growing when you equate one aspect of maturation to be the whole meaning.

Growing up isn’t just about discovering “Hey, some of these people are attractive; maybe I’ll start vamping up/getting my game together so I can appeal to, and perhaps, have sex with some of these people.” It is also about your mind evolving with your body. As you age, you open your mind up to all sorts of new concepts and possibilities. Every little thing that you discovered as a younger child is still there, but you see them in a completely different light — especially love. Everything takes on an entirely new dimension.

Sadly, pop music has never been great about transitioning young singers into adult work. There are two directions you can take a young, attractive female singer when you transition from young artist to adult artist: you can turn her into Fergie or Adele. You either sex up her image, or you allow her, and her voice, to explore themes with some complexity. IU has the voice to do much more than simplified sexually indulgent pop music. She had the voice back when she did Mia, and it has only gotten stronger.

When the time comes for IU to move forward into adult territory, I hope her creative team comes up with more interesting concepts than “Look, IU is wearing sexy clothes now! Doesn’t she look edgy and mature?!! Yeah, you like that shit we’re shoveling, don’t you bitches…?”

That last line would most likely be said internally by LOEN execs, but you get the idea.

Thanks for tuning in, and as always, feel free to leave additional comments below.

(Images via Elle Magazine, BNTNews, Elle Girl Magazine, Baila Magazine, CCM, Cube Entertainment, MBC, SM Entertainment, B2M Entertainment, SBS)