By Theodore Gim
I’m sure you’ve heard of K-pop; a global cultural phenomenon and gateway to Korean culture as a whole. However, it becomes easy to forget that just like in the US, music in Korea is not characterized exclusively by a single genre. Although pop is certainly popular as its name suggests, both American and Korean hip-hop and R&B regularly top charts with occasional pieces from lesser-known genres like rock and indie reaching great heights as well.
Unlike in the US, things like television shows, popular comics and even Korean dramas strongly influence the popularity of the music being streamed. Webtoons, a popular online comic format, regularly see songs from their soundtracks topping reliable charts like Melon and Gaon. Through television and other streaming platforms, music is introduced to a much wider audience. In this manner, shows about making music or survival/competition shows raise lesser-known music to the tops of streaming charts and introduce the country to upcoming artists.
A show called Show Me The Money is a hip-hop survival show where contestants go through a series of challenges and join teams led by well-respected rappers, producers and singers in the genre. Its last season which ended on Dec 18, 2020, was the ninth season in the series and placed only 8 songs that peaked below 100 on charts (still within the top 200) and 6 songs in the top ten. The songs VVS and Achoo even placed first and second above longtime chart-toppers like BTS and IU who often sit at the top of popular music charts for weeks. Nearly a whole year after its release, the song sits in the top 100. Regardless of whether they win or lose, contestants earn the opportunity to become famous based on their performance. Although more popular artists typically dominate these competitions, many people were brought into the limelight by the competition. Rappers like Bewhy grow to become among the most popular from anonymity, and rappers like Lil Boi and BOBBY improve their reputation and change public perception.
Another popular music show with a similar effect of introducing the world to new artists is High School Rapper. The fourth season ended April of 2021, working with a similar system to Show Me the Money but geared towards helping artists grow to their full potential. Although not entirely focused on finding the most skilled artists, High School Rapper pairs high school students with teams of “mentors” who are similarly well-respected artists in the world of Korean Hip-hop. While songs do reach high peaks on charts for short periods of time, more impressive than any chart ranking is the show’s ability to push new, young artists into the spotlight. Artists like Kim Haon and Lee Young-ji started out as students who make music for fun before rising to become more popular than some of their own “mentors”.
Other shows with similar goals despite a potentially lower level of notoriety also do a great job of bringing music to popularity. For example, one show called Hyena on the Keyboard followed popular artists along the course of making a song. From calling artists to feature, making a beat, writing lyrics and everything in between, the show had artists make new songs from scratch while being recorded for the series. Songs hailing from the show that had mass success include “I’m Fine”, by Hoody, Loco, Gray and Sleepy from the show’s pilot; and “Don’t Give it to Me”, by Loco and Hwasa from the show’s final episode. Both songs peaked in the top 20 of popular charts with “Don’t Give it to Me” reaching first on Billboard Korea and Melon Music Chart. Although less popular, a game show called “The Call” similarly followed artists making music together. The premise of “The Call” is to give artists that normally would not interact with each other the opportunity to make music together.
Music is an extremely important cultural outlet in Korea: Music blasts from every store and in the background of every show on television. Although some shows like the Masked Singer have made the trip across to the US, more shows focusing on making popular music or raising artists to notoriety have yet to come to mainstream American media. In Korea, new artists come into the limelight every week and good music is filtered through the system nearly instantly. Although the filters still don’t catch an inkling of the music/artists that belong in the spotlight, they do a far better job bringing notable artists the recognition they deserve.
FEATURED IMAGE (at the top of this post): Show Me the Money Season 10 Youtube Intro/Logo [PHOTO CREDIT: Mnet TV YouTube Channel]
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