Posted : 2013-04-29 17:24
Updated : 2013-04-29 17:24

Cho, Psy clean out K-pop from charts

Cho Yong-pil
By Kim Tong-hyung

It wasn't long ago when the Korean music scene was practically breathing on sugary boy- and girl-bands with slick dance routines and bleached personalities.

Then 63-year-old Cho Yong-pil showed up with his first album in a decade last week, cleaned the house of highly-manufactured K-pop acts and left the industry pondering the question on whether there was still a customer demand for originality.

Cho's new album, "Hello," is dominating the country's major download sites thoroughly with the most popular single, "Bounce," maintaining the top spot in most of the charts.

His songs are also raising the compact disc (CD) from the dead.

According to Kyobo Hot Tracks, a national record store chain, Cho's album accounted for nearly 90 percent of all albums sold at its 13 outlets sold from Monday to Friday last week. Industry officials are predicting the sales of Hello to easily top 100,000 at a time when albums rarely hit the 10,000 mark.

With Cho dominating the market like a fat kid does a cookie jar, there isn't any room for K-pop acts like Girls Generation or Super Junior to continue running the teenybopper genre to the ground.

Heck, there is barely any room for Psy, Korea's first international rap sensation in search of his 16th minute of global fame, who now must accept he is not even the most popular singer in his own country.

Aside of Cho and Psy, Ackdong Musicians — the teenage sibling duo that recently won the SBS television singing contest K-pop Star — and R&B singer Roy Kim are the only other acts that are consistently visible in charts.

An objective listener would rate Hello as good but not great, based on the standards Cho set for himself in the past four decades while becoming the country's most influential pop musician ever.

But to a nation growing weary of insipid K-pop stars and manufactured singing show contestants, Hello is described as like manna from heaven.

"This is the first time since 2006, when the boy- and girl-bands began sweeping the charts, that these groups seem to be cleanly swept from the upper parts," said an official from Gaon Chart, a national record listing complied by the Korea Music Content Industry Association and backed by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.

"Even before Cho returned with Hello, boy- and girl-groups had been generating less excitement than in 2010 when their popularity elevated K-pop to new heights.

It remains to be seen whether these are signs of things to come. Cho's success could inspire other veteran artists to come back with their own stuff and it will be worth watching how the market responds to them."

The music industry, backed by bureaucrats attempting to extend the country's industrial myth to cultural products, has been scrambling to develop K-pop as an export model.

Ironically, Psy's phenomenal success with "Gangnam Style," a club anthem that included no English words aside of "hey, sexy lady," exposed K-pop as a flawed business model. Psy had been writing and singing the same kind of music for more than a decade without any regard to what's fashionable and somehow came up with the Internet's most popular dance.

On the other hand, major music companies like SM Entertainment, JYP and even Psy's own YG Entertainment have not much to show for their efforts to export their boy- and girl- acts to Europe and the United States.

Basking in their Asian success, these companies had been confident about finding a one-size-fits-all formula that could be universally applied to global customers.

And this is exactly why their artists have been rendered irrelevant: It's often a mistake to ask customers what they want when they could only reply what's already been thought of and done. As a result, K-pop acts have been becoming predictable, familiar and forgettable.

If a one-size-fits-all formula for global music success does exist, it's probably sex, and Psy has that covered.

After all the aggressive thrusting and invisible horse-riding in Gangnam Style ("horse" is used as a derogatory term for women in Korea), the ever-decorous rapper is taking things further in his new song, "Gentleman." The new video includes a part where Gain, a singer from the sexy girl group Brown Eyed Girls, lustily licks a fish stick drizzled with mayonnaise.

It was Billboard that decided to count YouTube views among the data used to determine the rankings on its song charts and Psy will exploit this model thoroughly and shamelessly.

If Psy's music is for the crotch, Cho's is for the ears. No wonder Koreans are grateful for the old man.

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