Editorial

K-Pop Love, Lost And Found: Navigating The Chaos

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In the whirlwind of K-pop, it’s not uncommon to become lost in the shuffle. To find yourself so immersed one minute only to then find yourself standing on the outside looking in, the next.

For some, the chaos of K-pop’s ever-changing, ever-churning, waters are as calm as a summer day drifting lazily upon a silently-still lake. But for others, for  veteran fans, like me and many more; who have been following the maelstrom that is K-pop for a decade or more; this feeling of being more outside than in -marooned on a deserted island without any chance of rescue-  is more often true than not.

Each year, dozens of new groups debut, a few more break up, trends change; and then change again; and artists who were once the “be all and end all” of the genre have been suddenly cast overboard for something exciting and new.

While, all the while, that something “new” of K-pop takes the world by storm far faster, and with more intensity than any that has come before. A cyclone of new faces, new sounds, new talents, and new experiences. All while we stand there, looking far more confused and lost than we have ever been as the whole world spins before our eyes into a unrecognizable blur.

Just like a “Hurricane”, musically:

This confusion, this feeling of being so lost among the hurricane-like force of today’s K-pop industry, leaves most veteran fans in a conundrum of epic proportions.

Should they try to stay with the times? Go with the flow and follow the slew of trends washing upon their shore? Or, should they hide away in the calm seas of what they already know?

These questions spin endlessly. And are unrelenting for most.

Each fan, no matter who they are, where they come from, or what their outlook on life may be, has that one “go to” group/artist that will forever be in their hearts. That artist, not unlike the ever-constant ray of a lighthouse beaming through the darkness on a foggy night, will always be their center. Their safe-haven. Their guiding star through anything which the ocean that is K-pop can; and will; throw at them.

And, no matter how their boat sways, and dips, and tousles, as the storm rages on, they know that they will always be safe. That they will always have that one thing that still connects them to K-pop no matter what.

Never truly realizing that “that one thing” is merely, nothing more, than the eye of the storm.

So what can we do?

How do we navigate the chaos that is K-pop? Without getting so lost in the shuffle that we feel our only recourse is to abandon ship and move on with our lives?

Take your time.

It sounds like an overly-used cliche. But in truth, time management can be a integral part in helping you deal with the chaos that is K-pop and related.

Some tend to try and take in everything the K-pop world has to offer in one, huge bite. Consuming everything, as quickly as they can, like a cast away having their first real meal after five years of being lost at the rowdy sea. This over-consumption, this over-saturation of your senses without restraint and meticulousness, however, is more a detriment than a boon.

Fans, often times, feel that for them to stay “in the know” or relevant, they must know everything about what’s really going on in K-pop. They must be able to name every member of the most popular groups, and be able to pick them out in the group without hesitation, they must be able to immediately recognize a song simply by a few notes, or a few lyrics -with bonus points if they know them all. They must know everything there is to know about that new boy group debuting in July, six months in advance, and already love them to pieces. And they must know every bit of the latest gossip, no matter how steamy, controversial, scandalous, or even boring it may be.

This desire and compulsion to be so knowledgeable when it comes to K-pop, is not necessarily a bad thing however. Wanting to learn more about things that you are passionate about is a natural part of human existence. We want to learn. We want to know. And we want to be able to prove that we are as passionate about K-pop as any other fan. Even more so, than other fans – in some cases. But it’s how you become so knowledgeable that can determine whether or not you will sink or swim.

This is where time management becomes a key. And where, in which, a fan must choose – but choose wisely. Learn to “pick your battles”, and make sure you focus on what you really want, what you really like about K-pop, and make that your main focus.

Don’t just follow your favorite group, your North Star, and ignore the storm churning all around you. And don’t just follow every band that exists; diving head first into the maelstrom; without giving each their due respect, either.

Find that happy middle.

If you like a new group’s debut album, you can still like it without needing to know every little secret the group possibly has. Without stalking them on every social media platform. And being so singularly focused, that you don’t see, learn, or experience anything more than them.

Conversely, if you like dozens; or in some extremes, even hundreds; of different groups, you are inadvertently belittling said groups without even realizing it.

Music is an artist’s passion. Their life and their livelihood. But, even more so, it is the voice of their hearts. Artists pour every bit of themselves into their work. Sacrificing even the smallest joys in life, the little bits of happiness that we all take for granted, all in hopes that they will be able to convey to the fans everything they wish for, hope for, and dream of. So that fans will know their true hearts. Their real selves. And find happiness, even if only for a moment, because of it.

And we love that about them.

So much so that we cannot seem to stop ourselves from going to any extreme imaginable to connect on a deeper level with every step we take. Some fans get so caught up in the glitz and glamour that is K-pop that we; so singularly focused on the smallest details; miss the bigger the picture – that huge tidal wave heading right for us.

That’s where finding the happy middle is, another, key. We can like tons of groups but we must also find that one place for us where the sea, that is K-pop, is as calm as an untouched ocean. Be true to ourselves and realize that the K-pop world is enormous. That there is no way for any one person to know everything there is to know about every group/artist out there. And learn to accept that fact.

Only when we do, can we truly enjoy K-pop as it was meant to be enjoyed.

Serenely. Happily. Contentedly.

Be Loyal. 

“(Insert Group Name Here) is so underappreciated.”

“They’re amazing, so why is no one buying their albums?”

“Why won’t (so and so) do a world tour?”

“Are they ever going to have a comeback?”

“OMG Why did they break up?!”

Above are phrases spoken more times than not, and even more and more these days as K-pop evolves. Fans wonder why said group isn’t doing live performances on the regular. Why there’s no music video for such and such song, why they don’t see them doing cameos on TV, and even why they haven’t put out an album in three years. Falling off the nautical map of K-pop; almost like they were suddenly washed out to sea; never to return.

All the while, never realizing, that it’s because of them that nothing is happening. That’s right. It’s the fans’ fault. Or, to put it more specifically, it’s their over consumption of K-pop that is the root cause.

Over-consumption is one of the biggest detriments to K-pop, even more so than the overtly-saturated market. Although they are both intertwined. The more groups that debut, the more fans have to learn and experience. To which ultimately stretches everyone involved far too thin than they should be.

While all the groups that truly deserve attention fall to the wayside and become lost in the storm, leaving them left underappreciated, and in the end, abandoned and/or forgotten.

Some suggested examples can be – Spica, Phantom, Madtown, History, LC9, and  M.Pire. Or even veterans like Sistar, 2NE1, Wonder Girls, and Miss A.

Time and time again, artists lose traction in the industry simply because there is far too much competition for the fan’s attention and lose (or fail to gain) popularity. Hundreds upon hundreds of groups have debuted in the span of K-pop’s reign since the late 90’s. But of those, even hundreds more disband or dissolve, and disappear in the blink of an eye. Simply because they’ve been drowned out by the rest.

In 2015 we lost fifteen groups, in 2016 we lost 16 groups, in 2017 we lost THIRTY SEVEN groups, and in 2018, so far, we have already lost five like Stellar, Secret, and Fiestar. While all the while, the great K-pop maelstrom has churned out thirty-two debuts in 2015. Twenty-nine in 2016. Thirty-seven in 2017. And ten for 2018; all in less that six months.

Now, to be realistic, some groups are lost for understandable reasons. They retire, they marry, have kids, their careers evolve; switching from, say, music to acting; or they suffer from health issues that make idol life too strenuous. That is normal. It happens often enough. And we can neither fault ourselves, or the artists themselves for such an outcome. However, though artists can leave the business for such reason or reasons, it has been/will be more likely that they will walk away from the business, not because they want to, but because there is no longer any choice in the matter.

And why do they leave? Why do they disband?

There are many factors that can attribute to the loss of an artist, but the biggest reason why artists disappear from the K-pop scene is simply due to money -and the lack there of.  Artists are artist, yes, and they are people. But they are also (kind of) commodities. When they make money, they have more money to do more; more albums, more tours, more cameos; their popularity grows, they collect more and more fans, and they make even more money.

A prime (and best) example of this, according to the current industry, is Big Hit Entertainment’s own BTS.

When Big Hit opened its doors for business in 2005, most fans knew nothing about them. And expected even less. Eight years later, when BTS released their first track No More Dream in June of that year, and made their presence known, no one could have predicted how far they would go. Yes, they picked up a couple of awards that year. Yes, they managed to place well on music charts. But, relatively speaking, they were still an unknown. And yet, they worked hard, gained more awards, more fans, and more money. Gaining ground so fast that before you knew it, all the world knew who BTS were. And all in the world were cheering for them in one, strong, determined and loyal voice called ARMY. Shouting back the storm of K-pop’s ever churning waters. And declaring proudly that BTS are the new kings of K-pop.

What’s more, at the Billboard Music Awards – two years in a row.

Unlike BTS, and countless other successes in the K-Pop, however, there are a lot of groups that fall to the wayside simply because they don’t take in enough revenue to cover what they’ve already spent; to songwriters, musicians, mixers, manufacturers, managerial and support staff, promoters, etc; to create their latest track or album, and they go in the red.

In some cases, money can be found through investors, or from a shifting of profits from another act, to cover the loss. But when it comes to groups signed to smaller labels, that monetary life raft is not there to reach for. And so they drown. Unable to pull themselves out of that swirling vortex of debt. And in the end, disband.

This is where loyalty is the most needed. The most wanted. The most desired. If you love a group or an artist, sing their praises on the daily, and then; in the words of my grandfather; “Put your money where your mouth is.”

If you want to see a group release a new album, buy their other albums or digital content. Don’t illegally download it. If you want to see them hold a world tour, buy their merchandise. Don’t buy/make counterfeits.

Spread their music far and wide. Utilize everything that is at your disposal to get their names out there, their music out there. Hype them up. Tell your friends and your family. Plaster them all over your social media. Have their back. And show them, with not only your devotion, but with your wallet – how much you love them and want them to stay forever.

Do that as often as you can, and show your loyalty in more ways than one. The result? The greater their chance of disbandment washes away.

 

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