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K-pop not just about pretty idols, says Billboard Korea chief

Gangnam Style has helped open doors in North America for the South Korean music industry
The Straits Times - April 26, 2013
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K-pop not just about pretty idols, says Billboard Korea chief

By Boon Chan, Media Correspondent

Gangnam Style has helped open doors in North America for the South Korean music industry - people there have "less fear of giving Korean music a try".

This is the opinion of Billboard Korea's chief executive Clayton Jin. One of his aims is to spread the word that there is more to Korean pop than nubile girls and pretty boys dishing out beat-heavy dance-friendly singles.

While he acknowledges that Gangnam Style singer Psy's phenomenal success "was an exception to most rules of the music industry, not just pertaining to Korea", he says: "Psy proves that the form of Korean music to cross over may not be idol music.

"For example, Psy was able to do so because he's very approachable and his main weapon is humour."

In fact, Mr Jin points out that chart-toppers in South Korea have included balladeers and reality stars from audition programmes such as Akdong Musician.

He says: "A lot of the idols such as Bigbang and S.M. Entertainment artists do hit No. 1 but the mainstayers are actually non-idol artists." S.M.'s roster of stars include Super Junior, Girls' Generation and Shinee.

No wonder Mr Jin, 31, says that the chart rankings in South Korea are "very different" from what the international community might think.

He spoke to Life! recently while he was in town to explore collaboration opportunities.

The Billboard Korea charts are important because "they allow an international audience to reference it" whereas previously, there was no one single, authoritative consolidated chart.

Instead, music distributors would create their own charts, meaning it was in their interests to promote their own artists.

The Billboard Korea K-Pop Hot 100 chart was launched on Aug 25, 2011. Chart-toppers have included acts such as R&B and soul singer Kim Bum Soo and pop and ballad singer Baek Ji Young.

Introducing new facets of K-pop to an international audience would also help to keep Hallyu, the Korean wave, rolling along.

The term was first coined by the Beijing media in 1999 and early examples of Korean pop culture success include television romantic drama Winter Sonata (2002) and historical epic Jewel In The Palace (2003).

Mr Jin notes that from drama, interest spread to music, which develops at a much snappier pace. He says: "Korean music pumps out a lot of stars every year. Their style and image change very regularly.

"It's one of the trendiest forms of Korean culture."

One of K-pop's brightest stars has to be rapper Psy, whose music video for Gangnam Style has garnered more than 1.5 billion hits on YouTube. The song also made it to No. 2 on the American Billboard Hot 100 chart for seven weeks, denied pole position only by pop-rock group Maroon 5's One More Night.

Psy's new single Gentleman is doing well too. It is sitting at the top of the K-Pop Hot 100 chart and has already racked up over 200 million views on YouTube.

While K-pop is still making inroads in North America and Europe, it has firmly staked out a large slice of the entertainment pie in Asia.

Even then, Asia is not a single, homogenous market. Mr Jin ticks off Japan, Thailand and Singapore as countries where K-pop has made a "firm landing".

But there are also major markets such as China, Indonesia and Malaysia where K-pop "is still not a popular form of music".

He notes that Singapore is a small but key market. It is one of the first stops Korean artists make in the region and it serves as an indicator of the popularity they will enjoy elsewhere in South-east Asia.

Singapore is a "bellwether" locale as it is "very sensitive to the latest cultural trends".

It helps that acts from all over the world perform here and hence fans have very high standards when it comes to live acts.

"If we're able to match those standards, then we're doing a good job," he adds.

The challenge that K-pop faces in places where it has a strong presence is slightly different.

As Mr Jin puts it: "For those regions where Korean music is already a part of everyday life, Korean artists need to continue to evolve, they need to show people a side of them they haven't shown before, whether it's in live events or their music."


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