Hurdles Ahead for Kpop
There are complaints that, in spite of the internet, the K-pop music scene as a whole is running dry. Perhaps one reason is a problem that does not only affect Korea: the quickening pace of modern life. Insooni, considered Korea’s most respected songstress due to both her vocal strength and rare career longevity, says listeners no longer have the patience to let artists grow and experiment. Songs have to be of the moment, which often garner the tunes an immediate but fleeting popularity:
“The songs we sang back in the day are still sung today. But music these days – people perform for three months than stop. Fans have lost a sense of responsibility. Fans no longer feel a responsibility to take care of their singers. It is this responsibility that makes them remember the artist and get interested in them. But that’s gone.”
Russell finds that the biggest problem in the Korean music scene comes from the lack of a live music scene. As he writes on his blog (www.koreapopwars.com), “In most countries, live music is the core, the heart. Young people pick up instruments and play in their parents’ garages or wherever.” However, he notes that after the coming of Seo Taiji a generation of young people in Korea had interest in playing an instrument or learning the craft of songwriting. Instead, they believe that, “being a ‘star’ has meant being a dancer first, a pretty face and perhaps a singer… few harbor serious dreams of using the guitar (or whatever) to become rock stars.”
If you think that this is just another diss against Seo Taiji, think again. As Russell sees it, it’s not Seo Taiji’s fault that people don’t see the live music scene as a way towards musical success. The problem is that Seo Taiji’s influence, particularly his work in dance music, has been so strong that no one has been able to top him,
“We’re still waiting for the next Seo Taiji,” Russell told me as we drank coffee in Hongdae, a college neighborhood known for its independent music scene. “We’re waiting for someone outside the industry who breaks big. It’s just like the U.S. was before Nirvana. You know, Nirvana didn’t create grunge or alt rock but they tipped the system over. They made the chemical reaction occur. They’ve been replicating the Seo Taiji formula for fifteen years, and right now, there’s so many people the music industry does not serve, that you’re kind of waiting for that bigger than life performer, that zeitgeist, that thing…”
While repackaging Seo Taiji has worked for many Korean music producers and artists, it is also clear that some artists have tried to take a separate route, a few with great success. But what will the next big thing be; not only to break the Seo Taiji mold but, perhaps, the American market as well? Only time will tell.