Fairlane is a devout Asian entertainment fan. On the side, she is a professional screenwriter and author.
The practice of management companies getting people with good looks to sing songs written by other people and training them to move seductively traces its roots to the early years of prostitution, the practice of selling the looks, not the substance.
Idols are manufactured celebrities, trained and styled to fit a mould that the mainstream public will buy. That’s why many snob them.
That needs to be expounded of course. To do that, we need to go back to the beginnings of entertainment industry, music in particular. It will be long but understanding this will help us grasp not just KPop but the mainstream music industry in general.
In The Beginning, There Was Opera
The birth of Pop music was in 1679, when the first opera was penned by Alessandro Scarlatti. Since then until 1900s, the opera became the popular form of musical entertainment. See, that was fast.
However, somewhere between 1600s and 1900s, the young bourgeoisie got bored and used the faster beats during social gatherings. That gave some kid from a rich family in Germany the idea to open a dance hall, with waltz, mazurka, and polka as the dance beat. That was disco, beta version.
Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata
Show Me The Happy And The Money
These dances were couple oriented and put a man and woman close to each other, the church called it a pagan dance. By 1700s, Paris learned how to fuse opera, dance and comedy. That’s what we know as variety show today. Do keep in mind that this was the 1700s, no TV yet. Variety shows were done on stage with a live audience.
They were selling the show to the general public or the mainstream public as we know it today. They needed for the songs to be simple and catchy, something people can sing to and make people feel light and jolly, which opposes the discipline of the throat and ear shattering opera. Pop has changed. It also started a debate between classic and pop. The older market developed a lot of disdain towards young people who were developing tunes that would sell and not to express their artisty. Further, the composers of the music, unlike in an opera, are not seen. It’s the performers that became popular.
Sounds familiar? There’s more.
And Prostitution Ruled The World
Eventually, the cabaret was born in the streets of Paris. Cabaret then was for artists like writers, artists and musicians. There, their “weirdness” was tolerated. It naturally became a colourful place where different kinds of people converge. The artistry evolved and advanced. As more and more cabarets opened up, owners had to make their performances more complicated, more colourful, and it wasn’t long until circus-like performances became popular.
Quality of music became a secondary thing. They had to appeal to the eyes more than the ears. Visuals became the priority. When the Moulin Rouge opened in 1889, things became wild. Music became wild. Dances became wild. Performances became wild. More importantly, performances were like a play, it was written by someone and sang by someone else.
Owners of these dance halls looked for people with good singing voices and made them sing songs that someone else wrote. The main objective is to sell shows and not to uphold art or music. As performers started becoming prettier and prettier, the bourgeoisie men hanged out here to get “female entertainers”. It was colourful and exotic and it created a need for music that, errr, excites. Suddenly, the waltz looked like a religious interpretative dance. Cabaret was the new pop.
Meanwhile In The US
Thomas Edison built the first "phonograph" (a musical cylinder) in 1877. Opera singers started recording their songs and people started buying the phonograph and the record. Soon enough though, the prostitution in Paris reached the US. Singers started recording songs written by other people. Businessmen started establishing record companies with the sole purpose of selling records. No, there wasn’t an attempt to grow the art. New inventions were funded to make recording faster and easier. They commissioned composers left and right to write songs for popular singers.
Radio Corporation of America (RCA) and Electrical, Musical Industries (EMI), National Broadcasting Company (NBC), and United Independent Broadcasters (later renamed Columbia Broadcasting System, or CBS) were born. They took over phonograph and radio.
There were attempts to develop singer-songwriters but marketing efforts concentrated on white women singing melodic tunes written by other people. When the Great Depression hit the US, the music industry halted but picked up where it left off when the economy recovered.
As foreigners swarmed the US, music and culture from Europe also arrived, including cabaret and Moulin Rouge. Record label started developing dance groups to perform the fast songs dominating the cabarets. The performers were often white, beautiful, and sexy. It followed the same model as the cabarets. It invited the public to buy the product on the basis of the looks of the people performing it. Only two things were missing: the exotic costumes and exotic movements. The movements of these singers were demure and choreographed.
Enter Elvis… Followed By The Beatles
There was one person who entered the scene singing his own tunes and without the support of a major label. Elvis Presley. His songs were also “not melodic” (relative to the era). He was carrying a guitar and he was shaking his hips which prompted several countries to ban him and call him the “666”, demon, satan, and other words related to the first three.
There was one important thing though, he brought back the songwriter in the scene. He reintroduced them to the mainstream. Rock N Roll was the rebellion.
Meanwhile in London, a boy named John Lennon got so inspired by Elvis, he formed his owned band, later called The Beatles. Eventually, Brian Epstein discovered them and gave them a record deal and songs to sing. They stood their ground and told the studio they will sing their own songs. They recorded their first album all in one day for ten hours singing only one cover song.
These two paved the way to other singer songwriters to enter the mainstream. Take note, they weren’t the pioneers but they “reintroduced” singer-songwriters in the mainstream, something that has not been around since 1700s.
What does this got to do with KPop?
And 900 words into my article, we come to the very reason many people don’t consider singers who don’t write their own music an artist. It traces its roots to prostitution, the practice of selling the looks, not the product.
Yes, it can be argued that music should never be about who is singing them or who wrote them but about the song itself. Exactly, so why should it matter who is singing it? The music is the lead role, that’s a given but between the creator of the music and the hot guy/girl, who deserves to sing it more?
Some of them write their own songs
This is true. Some of these idols actually write their songs and produce their own albums. However, idols got through “training” before they are launched by their management company. Their training includes styling them and making them adapt a certain image even if that is not their real identity. The shy Sandara Park of 2NE1 is known as the crazy dresser in the group but is nowhere near that in real life.
They are trained to write songs that will bring in money to the company, it’s no different from what the Cabaret owners were doing in the 1800. It’s all for profit, never for the art. Idols need to be fit and they need to dress sexy and dance sexy.
Their dance steps are always seductive. They gyrate, swivel their hips and even re-enact sex moves on stage… in a stylized manner of course. Women are always wearing short clothes that cover only their vital parts.
They are all manufactured image. They were all styled and trained to fulfil the fantasies and whims of the public.
Most of these idols started training even before they learned to think for themselves. Some of them train for a decade before getting launched. For years they are immersed at Korean pop culture. By the time they mature, that is all they know.
However, it doesn’t change the fact that they are manufactured cleberities. Their management companies treat them like products. They are made to work like horses with contracts that tie them worse than dogs. They are machines under someone else’s control.
It is never right to judge someone based on their management company or genre, the clothes they wear or the genre of their music, of course. Everyone deserves to be heard, even Kpop and Jpop celebrities.
However, some people believe that supporting them is tantamount to supporting the big corporations that behind them and the stinking practice of selling the image, not the art.
Fairlane Raymundo (author) from Los Angeles, CA on December 29, 2014:
@D-unnie, nope there isn't anything wrong with wanting to be an idol. I am also a fan, that's why almost all my articles are about Jpop and Kpop. There are no artist that does not concern themselves with visuals. Even those who say they don't concern themselves with visuals are actually using the "no visual" visual. =)
D-unnie on December 29, 2014:
Hi ! I read your article and I totally agree with the description you gave of kpop an jpop. Yet I'm still a fan ^^ The thing is that those singers might be used but most of the time, they are willing to be. What I mean is that at a moment or an another , singing or dancing was everything to them. And supporting kpop does support those companies but it also fills those idols with joy because at least , they didn't sign for nothing. The fan-idol relationship is really tight , it's even worse for an idol to have some kind of privacy or to just screw up a bit than for other artists. It's just that the idol market is a well oiled machine , there are tons of fandoms and all ( look at me ^^) but their support is incredibly strong ! So when a person loves to just sing, entertain and have fans, is it that wrong ? If I were in Korea, I would have auditionned for a YG or JYP and i would feel wonderful about it since I know all there is to know about the idol industry ( good and bad sides ) .
Anyway, what artist doesn't work on visuals ? If not, promotional photoshoots and MV wouldn't exist ^^