Is the bubble beginning to burst?
That old chestnut, K-pop has been said to be growing each year. This year seemed to be a platitude of good and the oh so bad bands emerging into the market. But as the saying goes what goes up must come down, right?
You would be mistaken into thinking that K-pop was taking over the world judging by the media coverage that is fed to international audiences. Many international fans wrongly believe that every Korean person listens to Kpop and knows every group. Wrong.
Like the UK, the music we hear is 80% pop with the rest split between other genres. For the someone else looking into the UK scene they could be mistaken into thinking that One Direction is the nation’s best loved group and that every single British person knows and sings along to their songs.
Some analysts have deemed that the ‘idol’ bubble is just about to burst as more and more people require more from their music. Furthermore with the debut of more and more k-pop groups than you could count on your hands, the industry has become somewhat ludicrous.
When every week sees the debut of a new group the industry begins to become cluttered with acts that want to have a share of the limelight. How are the audiences meant to keep up if there is always a new band seeking their attention.
Then there is the notion that some fans are happy to get anything from their groups, even if it is remakes or re-releases featuring one new song. Granted the average teenage fangirl will do anything to covet something from her favourite group. Companies play to the naivety of fans and produce music that is half hearted and present weak concepts that they know that the die-hard fans will buy.
Then there is the long silence between new material, granted most k-pop acts are over worked and deserve a break but their ‘breaks’ are promoting in other countries.
Japan has always been somewhere K-pop acts wanted to conquer, many have tried and failed. Thinking about the wide variety prevalent in the Japanese market it is a wonder that acts such as Kara, TVXQ and SNSD have been successful. However their success is starting to pan out. Take the case in Kara and SNSD’s cases whose new material did not do as well as they would’ve done in the past. They were beaten by Japanese acts who coveted high spots in the charts. Granted TVXQ are the only K-pop group that has managed to sustain a strong fan base.
Some have argued that the loss of sales in Japan is linked with politics but I think that many Japanese fans are now feeling the loss of quality. When K-pop acts debut in Japan they just do Japanese remakes of their singles, you are lucky to find maybe one special song that has been designed for the Japanese market. Why would a fan listen to a remake of a Korean single when they can listen to new material from other Japanese artists?
Case in point the 63rd Kohaku Uta Gassen, an end of year Japanese musical show produced by Japanese broadcaster NHK. The line-up this year sees no K-pop acts included which is both surprising but not unexpected. The past shows have seen groups such as Kara performing alongside Japanese acts but this year sees a completely Japanese line up. Some have remarked this is politics at play but I beg to differ.
Of course politics is important but Japanese companies just like Korean companies are in the business of making money. Why would they leave out an opportunity to make even more money from Korean acts? What we forget is that these acts generate a lot of cash without the Japanese companies having to do the leg work. They get a large share of the profits whilst the Korean companies have to pay for the cost of bringing their acts and other expenses.
I could be wrong and this could just be a blip in the system but I will wait a couple of months before I note how Japan is reacting to K-pop.
The spread of K-pop internationally on the other hand is growing and the companies know that they can exploit this. However unlike Korean fans international rely entirely on the internet and exclusively to Youtube to catch their groups.
Of course the plethora of websites dedicated to bringing K-pop news has grown and this has helped to shape a new growth in Korean companies focusing their activities online.
But yet this does not translate to physical sales, rather it helps them to gain more coverage and also helps them to raise their profile (as a group that is internationally famous is seen as a positive thing). International fans get the product essentially for free via the internet, this makes more impact to the company who have to remember that their Korean fan base make the difference.
Some companies have gone silent, case in point JYP. When was the last time you heard a 2PM song? The ladies of Miss A have been steadily going along but the label has underperformed compared to YG. Even SM who are larger than YG, have become pretty much deadpan. Of course Super Junior released material and their fans went crazy but they offered nothing new.
Even the ladies of SNSD didn’t really offer much (apart from the side project of TatiSeo) and their Japanese single Flower was very disappointing. Their other girl group FX seemed to be put onto the side-lines following their album and it seems that things have seemed to pan out.
YG on the other has done the best but even they know that this ‘idol’ fad is dying and they are trying to diversify their product by producing new music and acts that are very different.
Of course Psy’s success cannot be ignored but he has and never will be considered k-pop and even the novelty of Gangnam style is fading away.
Of course as an outsider my interpretations are based on what I read and see and for me I get a feeling that this fad is going to go the same route that pop in the 90’s went.
K-pop’s glory days are gone and I feel the end is approaching. It may not be this year or the next but the end is coming for the ‘idol’ phase.