Crowds gather almost every night in front of a nondescript corner convenience store on an otherwise dark and unassuming side street in Hapjeong. On some nights, the crowd is sparse, only a few lost souls lurk in the shadows clinging to the hope of a chance encounter. Other nights the numbers swell as several dozen diehard fans gather to hold vigil, alert to even the subtlest hints they might glimpse one of their beloved Korean pop idols. Such is the scene outside of the YG Entertainment building.
The building itself is only slightly unique compared to those surrounding it, but aside from the Chinese tour buses that park nearby and the fan graffiti decorating the walls across the street, there is hardly any sign of a celebrity presence. The black Kias with tinted windows that populate the parking lot and the indiscrete surveillance of the security personnel do, however, offer a surrogate for the glamor that fans yearn for. The fans of pop music, or more specifically K-pop fans, are a devoted and diverse group full of such yearning.
Whatever one's opinion of pop music, or any musical style for that matter, is at least partially a matter of taste, but the world of K-pop certainly deserves scrutiny. Being one of the most popular and marketable aspects of the hallyu trend that Koreans envision launching their cultural brand to global success, K-pop presents highly polished audio packages that encapsulate a very specific worldview. And it is one that ought to be alarming.
Musical criticism aside, K-pop, like most popular music, inherently propagandizes the capitalist system in which it thrives. Musicians promote the labels they work for, and offer little more than excessive consumerism as the sole content of their art. Largely repackaging Western sounds to an Asian audience, K-pop guts the traditional roots of the populations they market to. And given the ubiquity of plastic surgery within the industry—it is so vast that one group is marketed on the basis that the members are uniquely banned from surgery—the overwhelming message is one of materialism and the normalization of a wholly unnatural reference for physical beauty. These performers present an aesthetic not found in nature. And perhaps the most alarming aspect of the K-pop phenomenon is that the fans shell out enormous sums that largely benefit no one but the corporations who sign, manage, and exploit the artists who get little for their efforts. Sadly, since it is well known that the contracts are unfair and the conditions under which these artists labor are often difficult, the fans are thus willfully perpetuating the system to the detriment of the very artists they love.
The music industry everywhere has been going through constant transformation for multiple decades now. Some famous artists, like the members of Metallica, have publicly and embarrassingly fought against change. Others, like Radiohead, have embraced it. Debates constantly arise as artists negotiate a fair relationship with digital distribution centers like iTunes and Spotify. New artists have adjusted their strategies in an attempt to game the system, some have simply enjoyed the ease with which the internet allows them to reach a larger audience. Fans have tested all the various routes to sound, but largely opted to smash the store windows and access music for free, whether through Youtube, Soundcloud, or Piratebay. Maybe it is time to say goodbye to the music industry as it has been known. Perhaps it is time those capitalists look for other cash cows to exploit.
And this brings us to The Post American #9--The Orchestras of Dachau. In this issue we ask you to listen and hear the sounds of the exploited as well as the sounds that aim to exploit all of us. At the very least just listen. You never know what you will hear. Just listen. Shh. You hear that? That's The Post American.
LISTEN TO THE POST AMERICAN
The Orchestras of Dachau AUDIO
Be Careful What You Wish For: A Final Note on Michael Jackson and his hologram.