Daily Archives: June 18, 2011

[WS] The dark side of South Korean pop music

By Lucy Williamson
BBC News, Seoul

Photo Credit: muzik4me.wordpress.com

South Korea’s pop industry is big business in Asia. As K-Pop sets its sights on Europe and the US, will this force a change in the way it treats its artists?

Selling singles is no way for a pop star to make money these days. Most artists find that touring and merchandise sales are more lucrative. So when it comes to concerts, size matters.

This is why the biggest date in the Korean pop calendar – the Dream Concert, at which up to 20 bands perform – is held in Seoul’s 66,800-seat World Cup Stadium.

Teenage crushes come here for a once-a-year date in a national love story, where commitment is measured in coloured balloons, and devotion is knowing all the words.

Most of the bands, like Super Junior andWonder Girls, are household names; highly produced, sugary boy- and girl-bands with slick dance routines and catchy tunes.

But the industry also has a less glamorous side: a history of controversy and legal disputes over the way it treats its young artists, which it is still struggling to shake.

K-Pop is a massive industry: global sales were worth over $30m (£18m) in 2009, and that figure is likely to have doubled last year, according to a government website.

Industry leaders are also ambitious – Korean stars are beating a path to Japan, America and Europe. This month, South Korea’s biggest production company, SM Entertainment, held its first European concert in Paris, part of a year-long world tour.

In April, Korea’s king of pop, Rain, was voted the most influential person of the year by readers of Time magazine. And earlier this year, boy band Big Bang reached the top 10 album chart on US iTunes.

Follow the moneyKorea is excited by what this new musical export could do for its image – and its economy.

But some of K-Pop’s biggest success stories were built on the back of so-called slave contracts, which tied its trainee-stars into long exclusive deals, with little control or financial reward.

Two years ago, one of its most successful groups, Dong Bang Shin Ki, took its management company to court, on the grounds that their 13-year-contract was too long, too restrictive, and gave them almost none of the profits from their success.

The court came down on their side, and the ruling prompted the Fair Trade Commission to issue a “model contract” to try to improve the deal artists got from their management companies.

Industry insiders say the rising success of K-Pop abroad, and experience with foreign music companies, has also helped push for change.

“Until now, there hasn’t been much of a culture of hard negotiation in Asia, especially if you’re new to the industry,” says Sang-hyuk Im, an entertainment lawyer who represents both music companies and artists.

Attitudes are changing, he says, but there are some things that even new contracts and new attitudes cannot fix.

Rainbow is a seven-member girl-band, each singer named after a different colour. If any group could lead to a pot of gold, you would think they would.

But Rainbow – currently in a seven-year contract with their management company, DSP – say that, despite working long hours for almost two years, their parents were “heartbroken” at how little they were getting paid.

A director for DSP says they do share profits with the group, but admits that after the company recoups its costs, there is sometimes little left for the performers.

K-Pop is expensive to produce. The groups are highly manufactured, and can require a team of managers, choreographers and wardrobe assistants, as well as years of singing lessons, dance training, accommodation and living expenses.

The bill can add up to several hundred thousand dollars. Depending on the group, some estimates say it is more like a million.

Musical exportsBut music sales in South Korea alone do not recoup that investment. For all their passion, home-grown fans are not paying enough for K-Pop.

The CD industry is stagnant, and digital music sites are seen as vastly underpriced, with some charging just a few cents a song.

Bernie Cho, head of music distribution label DFSB Kollective, says online music sellers have dropped their prices too low in a bid to compete with pirated music sites.

“But how do you slice a fraction of a penny, and give that to the artist? You can’t do it,” he says.

With downward pressure on music prices at home, “many top artists make more money from one week in Japan than they do in one year in Korea”, Mr Cho says.

Company representatives say concerts and advertising bring in far more than music sales. “Overseas markets have been good to us,” says one spokesman. South Korean musicians need to perform on home turf, but “Japan is where all the money is”.

As acts start to make money overseas, he says this “broken business model” – underpricing – is creeping into their activities abroad.

A former policy director at South Korea’s main artists’ union, Moon Jae-gap, believes the industry will go through a major upheaval. “Because at the moment, it’s not sustainable,” he says.

Until that happens, he says, artists will continue to have difficulty making a living.

South Korea’s government is keen to promote its new international identity, one many hope could rival Japan’s cool cultural image.

The only question is whether the industry ends up more famous for its music, or for its problems.

 Source: BBC News
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[WS] KTO Poll Finds K-pop As Main Cultural Draw

K-pop drives hallyu craze: survey

English speakers favor Super Junior, French and Spanish are Big Bang fans

By Kim Yoon-mi (yoonmi@heraldm.com), 2011-06-13 18:31

Korean pop, or K-pop, is driving the Korean Wave abroad and Asian women in their 20s make up the majority of overseas hallyu fans, a survey found on Monday.

The Korea Tourism Organization conducted the online hallyu survey on 12,085 non-Korean visitors from 102 countries to its website (www.visitkorea.or.kr) from May 11 to May 31, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the website. The survey asked seven questions related to the Korean Wave in eight languages ― English, Japanese, traditional Chinese, simplified Chinese, German, French, Spanish and Russian ― on the site, via e-mail and on social networking services such as Twitter and Facebook.


Asked to select a category of hallyu that interests them, 55 percent of respondents, 6,447 people, picked K-pop. This was followed by TV drama with 33 percent, film with 6 percent and others with 7 percent. Others included TV variety shows such as KBS’ “2 Days & 1 Night,” Korean food, shopping and cosmetics.

Out of the 12,085 respondents, 9,253 were from Asia, 2,158 from Europe, 502 from the Americas, 112 from Africa and 60 from Oceania.

By age group, 49 percent of the respondents were in their twenties, followed by those in their thirties at 18 percent, teenagers at 17 percent and those in their forties at 8 percent.

By gender, 90 percent or 10,826 respondents were female.

Asked which hallyu celebrity they wish to travel with in Korea among 30 stars or groups recommended by the KTO, the highest proportion of 13 percent chose the 13-member boyband Super Junior. Five-member band Big Bang came second with 9 percent, followed by JYJ with 7 percent, TVXQ with 5 percent and Girls’ Generation with 4 percent.

The interest in hallyu celebrity differed from language to language. English speakers favored Super Junior, while French and Spanish users preferred Big Bang. German speakers favored actress Kim Tae-hee and Japanese, actor Bae Yong-joon.

Japanese users showed more interest in TV drama than in K-pop and more than 50 percent of Japanese respondents were women in their 40s and 50s. Japanese in their 20s and 30s showed the strongest interest in K-pop.

Among the French speaking respondents, K-pop fans were mostly teenagers or in their 20s, and preferred going to amusement parks or karaoke to experiencing Korea’s traditional culture and history, the KTO said.

Foreign respondents overseas picked Seoul and Jeju Island as the travel destination in Korea that they would like to visit with their hallyu star.

Source: Korea Herald online

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