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Saturday
Mar162019

NPR Music 2019 SXSW South By Southwest : Big Phony

The All Songs Considered SXSW Preview, 2019

The annual South by Southwest music festival is our personal endurance challenge to discover as many great unknown and often unsigned bands as possible in just one week. To train for the event, Bob Boilen, Stephen Thompson and I listen to more than a thousand songs by bands playing the festival, from all over the world, and try to map out a calendar to see our favorites.

On this edition of All Songs Considered we play some of the standout songs ahead of the 2019 festival, including the Ghanian artist Jojo Abot, garage rock from Blushh, the Japanese pop group CHAI, music made by robots (I'm not making that up) and much, much more.

Big Phony 'Hanging On A Thread'

Raised in New York City and now living in Seoul, South Korea, Bobby Choy channels delicate folk-pop into Big Phony, with a voice reminiscent of Elliott Smith.

 

The Austin 100 : Big Phony

Hometown:
Seoul, South Korea

Genre: Rock

Why We're Excited: Bobby Choy, who records under the self-deprecating moniker Big Phony, was born and raised in New York City. But these days, he makes his way in his parents' hometown of Seoul, where his sad, plaintively lovely folk sound might seem like an odd fit — imagine Elliott Smith if he were trying to compete for attention with K-pop bands. Later this year, a feature film called Fiction and Other Realities will tell Choy's story; the singer wrote it, co-directed it and stars as... well, himself, naturally.



The All Songs Considered's 'Wow' Moments From SXSW 2019

Each year, the buzz in Austin, Texas, at the South By Southwest music festival can reach a deafening pitch. Our NPR Music team is here to help you cut through the noise. Every evening, we'll gather to roundup and recap the best discoveries of the day.

Keep up with our coverage of SXSW 2019 by subscribing to All Songs Considered. We'll be sharing 'Wow' moments every morning and updating our SXSW 2019 playlist with the best-of-the-fest tunes from the bands that we couldn't get enough of.

FRIDAY, MARCH 15

All Songs Considered has been soaking up SXSW all week, so you'll have to forgive the gang for forgetting just how many days it's been. But recommendations and giddiness abound in their latest late-night dispatch, with Bob Boilen, Robin Hilton and Stephen Thompson singing the praises of artists from all over the world.

For Bob, that meant raves for Combo Chimbita, Borzoi and Seán Barna, while Robin loved Cherry Glazerr, Nanook of the North, Tamino and Big Phony. For his part, Stephen saw musicians from six continents — and came away with a long list of recommendations, including Pipo Romero, Stefan Wesolowski, 47SOUL, Jojo Abot, yahyel, Sonambulo Psicotropical and The Comet Is Coming.

International Digital Distribution : DFSB Kollective

Friday
Mar082019

Asia Times : BTS spearheads K-pop’s conquest of the West

Members of South Korean boy band BTS, also known as the Bangtan Boys, perform during the 2018 MBC Plus X Genie Music Awards in Seoul on November 6, 2018. Photo: AFPOnce restricted largely to Asia, K-pop has finally gone West. But BTS is not a typical K-pop act

Asia Times’ Managing Editor Patrick Dunne thought he had escaped the continent when he flew to Calgary, Canada, on a family visit last week – only to find his eight-year-old daughter Amara singing in a language he did not recognize.

“I thought she was speaking in tongues,” Dunne recalled. “Then I realized she was repeating lyrics from the K-pop song ‘Likey’ by Twice.” His daughter told him that at school, she and her friends occupy much of their free time doing K-pop dance moves.

“Yes,” Dunne mused. “K-pop has made it to Canada.”

Indeed. For decades, K-pop and its wider trend, hallyu (“The Korean Wave” –  comprising music, TV dramas and film) flooded across Southeast Asia, East Asia and parts of the Middle East and Latin American.

However, the saccharine charms of perfectly choreographed pretty-boy and pretty-girl bands were largely resisted by Western audiences, even though the phenomenon was widely reported.

Artists with apparent breakthrough potential, such as Rain (“Bi”), Girls Generation and the Wonder Girls never quite made it in London or New York, while quirky ironist Psy – who was, anyway, a virtual anti-K-pop artist – proved to be a one-hit wonder overseas with the now-immortal “Gangnam Style.”

Now, however, the K-wave has – finally – crashed upon Western shores. With a vengeance.

Eastern Beatles head west


Spearheading the tsunami is BTS – the boy band whose collective faces are almost as globally recognizable as Kim Jong Un’s. According to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, the organization which represents the recording sector worldwide, BTS was the number-two global artist in 2018 behind Drake.

Ticketmaster voted their four-continent world tour – which sold out both London’s Wembley and California’s Rose Ball – the hottest concert ticket of the year, while Spotify named them 2018’s second-most streamed artists.  They even addressed the United Nations.

“2018 was the breakout year that BTS became the Asian-version of Beatlemania,” said Bernie Cho, president of Korean music artist and label services agency DFSB Kollective. “It’s been a bit surreal to see a K-Pop band like BTS neck-and-neck on international music charts with the likes of Drake, Lady Gaga and Queen. It’s hard to believe that BTS concert tickets are now more expensive than Elton John, Taylor Swift, and The Eagles.”

How did BTS do it? Everyone has an opinion.

Mark Russell, the author of “K-Pop Now,” suggests BTS arrived in a market that was just maturing. “Any time a new genre is rising, it is a series of steps to grow the fanbase and develop the connections,’ he said. “A lot of people nibbled at it – you had the Wonder Girls and Girls Generation – it is a whole process of growing any market.”

Others cite musicality and the heartfelt messaging behind BTS’s songs.

“I am 63 and I am a fan – I am going to their concert because I really sympathize with what they are saying when they are singing,” gushed Choi Jungwha, head of the Corea Image Communication Institute, or CICI. “Their songs are what I feel – their sincerity!”

While all K-pop acts have leveraged social media – most notably by using YouTube as a distribution mechanism to cross borders while building a visual as well as aural brand – BTS have deployed weapons-grade social media skills to connect with their millions of fans, the BTS “Army.”

“They show their daily lives on vlog so there is no barrier – it is as if we are friends or family,” Choi said. “BTS have all these ‘Army’ members who translate into many languages every aspect of their daily lives, which is shared on social media. Other bands did not do that.”

Production values are stratospheric. “When you see their vlog – aesthetically it is so well done, so beautiful, it is almost perfection,” Choi said.

Where K-pop failed


But why did other K-idol bands not break through before? After all, multiple BTS selling points – pinpoint dance choreography, hyper stylish threads, flawless complexions and cutesy good looks – were typical of their predecessors.

One commentator, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of his comments, suggested that the K-poppers who came prior were too carefully curated by the Seoul-based entertainment agencies that incubate talent using a factory-style training process, and usually supply groups with songs and music.

“The Wonder Girls and Rain did not write their own music and their life experiences were all about being trainees [in the hands of the management companies which mold the stars], so though they made great music, when they were thrust into an interview situation, they had nothing to talk about,” the source said.

“Fans actually want humans: K-pop acts came across as too robotic and over rehearsed … they are so trained, it is hard for them to be natural and normal.”

BTS, however, are actual singer-songwriters. “Maybe people were waiting for someone like The Beatles who wrote their own songs and built their own brand,” said Park Ye-seul, who operated Seoul’s K-Pop Academy, an experience center, in 2018.

“The runaway success of BTS is in many ways, a rebellious proof of concept that K-Pop needs to evolve beyond the ‘pretty boy-band’ stereotype,” said Cho. “BTS Army fans around the world are very loud and very proud of the fact the band members are not management manufactured idols but actually socially aware, outspoken artists.”

That presents a challenge to other K-popsters. “Just looking good is not good enough, fans and critics want more,” Cho added. “Idols, for better and not for worse, now have to be ‘artists.’”

K-pop, with its multiple cultural influences and high-tech distribution and marketing, may be poised as a global cultural norm for the 21st century.

“K-pop is a global cultural appropriation machine that takes in other cultures’ systems and turns them into new things, with no allegiance to the original,” said Michael Hurt, a visual sociologist and research professor at the University of Seoul. “It if sounds good, who the hell cares where it came from? If you want to mix rap, jazz, RnB and rock it does not matter – it is a hyper-modernity kind of thing.”

Bands and brands


The combination of BTS’ staggering success and the maturing market for K-pop means that other Korean acts are also capturing bridgeheads in Western markets. Just days after BTS announced their sell-out world tour, the debut mini-album by fellow label members TXT (“Tomorrow by Together”) topped the iTunes Top Album charts in 49 countries, including Australia, Norway, Russia, Spain, Sweden and the US.

This year, one of the biggest music festivals in the world, California’s Coachella, will be headlined by Korean girl group Blackpink. And K-music extends beyond idols; Blackpink will be joined at Coachella by two other Korean acts. One is Jamba Nai – an experimental, punky-looking alternative rock band that wields Korean traditional instruments. The other is Hyukoh – an indie rock band that sings in Korean, English and Chinese.

According to Cho, Korea is the world’s biggest market for “indie music” – not a genre, but a descriptor of artists not represented by the big three global labels, Sony, Universal and Warner. The market is pioneering creative new sales concepts. For example, Korea, once known as a market where digital music had killed physical sales, has now reverted.

In 2018, BTS were the first Korean act ever nominated for a Grammy in the “Best Recording Package” category. Their fanatical Army don’t just buy digital music, but CDs too – which are so well designed, they become collectors’ items.

“Although the CD packaging design was impressive, CD sales were even more impressive,” said Cho. “Last year, BTS collectively sold over 600,000 CDs in the US – second only to Eminem, who amassed over 750,000 CD sales. What’s more impressive is that BTS sold over 1.4 million CDs in Korea in just one week – nearly the same amount the best-selling CD in the USA sold in an entire year.”

And there are other revenue streams. For decades Korean products, from smartphones to cosmetics, have been promoted across Asia by K-pop idols in commercial endorsements. The emergence of K-pop stars in Western markets suggests lucrative new brand-to-band commercial ties. Kia Motors is sponsoring Blackpink, Hyundai Motor are in bed with BTS.

And of course, Brand Korea scores collateral benefits. “K-pop is a gateway drug to Koreana in general,” said Hurt. K-drama and K-pop music videos “are very influential in introducing people to other layers of the K-cake,” he added. Thanks to K-pop, the K-fashion, K-cosmetics, K-cuisine and K-tourism sectors have all benefited.

But not every fan is ultra-engaged. Back in snowy Calgary, Amara Dunne has not analyzed K-pop too heavily. ”I saw some friends working on dance moves and wanted to try it too,” the eight-year-old said of the lure of K-pop. “It’s cool!”

Reporter : Andrew Salmon
Featured Commentator : Bernie Cho [DFSB Kollective]

Thursday
Jan172019

Music Press Asia : Inconsistency In Korea’s Music Chart Systems 

What is Korea’s current issues in the music industry affecting artists?

Music Press Asia interviews Bernie Cho, Presideent of DFSB Kollective at Music MattersPart 2.

What happens when there’s 3 separate music charts nationwide?

Korea has seen some of Asia’s largest musical export in 2018 and it doesn’t seem to be showing and signs of slowing down. With Blackpink signed to Interscope Records in a deal to promote the K-pop girl group outside of Asia, it also marks the beginning of, a shift, for potential possibilities for other artists to follow suit. Korea, like many leading markets in the music industry, are suddenly seeing a surge of artists’ music exports due to a demand never seen before in music history in the region. And music charts naturally became a nationwide concern stipulated heavily especially from the indie artists and labels.

In a brief chat with DFSB Kollective – a Seoul-based artist and label services agency that specializes in providing international digital media, marketing, and distribution solutions to over 480 Korean pop music artists – President, Bernie Cho expresses the inconsistency of Korea’s music chart systems and calling for a more unified chart systems equivalent to Album Equivalent Unit (AEU), a system established in the United States.


Featured Commentator : Bernie Cho [DFSB Kollective]

Thursday
Dec272018

Music Press Asia : How Is Korea’s Music Export Going To Look Like in 2019

The surge in export of K-pop music is dominating the music market worldwide. What are the effects of this popularity for the last decade?

Korean music is just about to see the fruit of a government funded entertainment initiative to launch the Korean music pop culture out of Korea.Part 1.

Perhaps, one of the latest news surrounding the K-pop world is YG Entertainment’s deal with Interscope Records. The deal is some of the most telling of what’s happening to the demand for Asian artists, K-pop artists in particular – YG has signed a deal with Interscope to cover promotion and distribution outside of Asia. This marked a significant power shift in what Korean artist can now demand and YG is keeping the most exciting pie to itself, if not, for just a little longer.

Catch our interview with Bernie Cho, founder  of DFSB Kollective on his opinion for streaming, K-pop’s demand and the confusingly outstanding demand for girl and boy groups more instantly famous for their fashion and dance rather than its music. While we at Music Press Asia are still confused that how artists on our music charts no longer play an instrument or write their music, but rather, still  demand such worldly idolization.  We salute to their youth and vitality for some of the largest population – youth –  crazy for Asia’s “pop culture” in today’s entertainment world.


Featured Commentator : Bernie Cho [DFSB Kollective]

Saturday
Sep222018

CNN : Can K-Pop stars have personal lives? Their labels aren't so sure


K-Pop band Triple H. There was controversy after it was revealed members Hyuna (middle) and E'Dawn (right) were dating.

If Taylor Swift was a South Korean artist, she would be in deep trouble.

At the height of her fame, the American singer's dating life was a key element of her music, with the smash success of hits like "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" driven in part by the real-life relationship drama that helped inspired them.

Unlike their western counterparts, for whom making their romantic lives public can be a key part of promotional activities (including allegedly staged relationships), K-Pop stars are often forbidden from disclosing personal details, with some even having a "no dating" clause in their contracts.

When it was revealed artists Hyuna and E-Dawn were a couple last month, there was an angry backlash from some apparently heartbroken fans, and the pair were subsequently suspended by their record label, Cube Entertainment, under whom they had been performing together as part of the outfit Triple H.


This was the case for Cube, which saw its stock drop several points on the back of the news that made headlines both in South Korea and around the world.

"When we manage artists, we consider mutual trust and faith our top priority," Cube said in a statement published by Korean media. "We decided the trust is broken beyond repair, so we are expelling the two from our company."

Cube did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

While Hyuna and E'Dawn did suffer for coming forward about their relationship, they also saw a wave of support from a section of their fan base, which experts said is evidence of a gradual shift in attitudes, driven in part by a series of revelations about the tight controls and grueling work schedules K-Pop stars are subjected to.

Fan Controlled

According to Jenna Gibson, a Korea specialist at the University of Chicago, much of the backlash against stars' dating is rooted in one of the characteristics that has made K-Pop such a huge international success.

"The K-Pop industry has very smartly built itself around creating incredibly dedicated fanbases. Fans with enough time on their hands could see their favorite idol on a music show on Monday, a fan sign event on Tuesday, a radio show recording on Wednesday, and on and on," she said. "Fan communities also take more personal responsibility for promoting their favorite group and keeping the group's public image clean."

This can include fan groups making charitable donations in celebrities names to help boost their public image, or paying for independent advertisements promoting tours or new albums.

"In a perverse way, because fans put in so much effort to promote and publicize a good image of their idol, some of them get the idea that they should have some say over the idol's actions and personal life," Gibson said.

But extreme loyalty can engender some pretty extreme reactions. During a 2008 performance by Girls' Generation at a huge annual K-Pop show in Seoul, the crowd created a "black ocean," refusing to wave lights and cellphones and staying silent throughout the band's entire 10-minute performance, reportedly to protest how close the group had become to the members of boyband Super Junior.

Fear of fan opprobrium goes beyond just relationship drama: when Big Bang member T.O.P. was cited for alleged marijuana use, he issued a heartfelt public apology "for causing great disappointment and disturbance with a huge wrongdoing."

Some stars respond to this intense scrutiny by tightly guarding their privacy, such as T.O.P.'s bandmate Taeyang, who was dating actress Min Hyo-rin for almost two years before they went public about their relationship in 2015. The pair married in February this year.

No Dating

While the industry is changing and the boundaries of what constitutes K-Pop being forever expanded, the genre has long been associated with the intensely manufactured idol groups.
Members of those groups often sign with labels in their late teens, living together with other artists and taking part in intense training, performance and promotional regimens that can leave stars burned out and isolated from friends and family at a young age.

Last year, South Korea's Fair Trade Commission ordered labels to stop pushing so-called "slave contracts" on artists, which imposed onerous financial penalties on idols if they attempted to quit groups or otherwise breached agreements such as "no dating" clauses.

Even for those artists permitted to date by their employers, fan backlash could prevent them from having much of a love life.

Block B's Zico and AOA's Seolhyun broke up after six months, citing "immense public pressure," after fans of of the male rapper turned against Seolhyun, while last year, some fan groups threatened to boycott Super Junior -- one of the country's most successful boy bands -- if member Sungmin was included in a comeback tour, due to lingering anger about his marriage to actress Kim Sa Eun.

Lindsay Roberts, outreach coordinator for Korean entertainment site Seoulbeats, said fans often feel there is an unspoken understanding between them and the idols, "that in return for their investment of money and time the fans expect a certain amount of 'monogamous' dedication back from the idols."

"It may seem unrealistic, but the expectation of the role as an idol includes an understanding that your fans and your group come first over your personal desires," she added.

James Turnbull
, a Busan-based writer on sexuality and feminism in Korea, said female idols often bear the brunt of fan and label anger.

"As a broad rule, virginal personas are overwhelmingly preferred for unmarried female K-Pop stars," he said.

"Precious few songwriters and (music video) directors are prepared to present them as grown women with sexual experience, agency, and desire."

This apparently chaste ideal is often in stark contrast to the hypersexualized stylings of those same women, he said, who are frequently "presented as scantily-clad, passive objects for the male gaze, regardless of the actual make-up of a girl-group's fandom."

Simply being open about being in a relationship can challenge this passivity, and spark a major backlash.

"Negative reactions have overwhelmingly been directed at the women in those relationships, who simultaneously get slut-shamed by both their entitled male fans and the female fans of their partners," Turnbull said.

This type of male policing of female celebrity behavior can reach extreme levels. In March, APink's Naeun had to delete a photo on Instagram showing her phone case reading "Girls Can Do Anything," after the innocuous phrase sparked an intense backlash for supposedly being political by promoting feminism.

Other female stars have been criticized for merely admitting to having read a feminist novel, part of a wider backlash by men's rights groups against gradual progress made by the country's women's movement.

Cultural Shift

While the furore around Hyuna and E'Dawn fit the pattern of what happened to previous K-Pop couples, there were signs that attitudes are starting to shift. In particular, many fans outside Korea stuck up for the pair, and criticized Cube for being so quick to censure them.

"The situation is definitely a lot better than even five or so years ago. This is mostly because there have now been so many dating 'scandals,' that the idea of idols dating and even getting married is a lot more normalized," said Gibson, the academic.

She blamed Cube for mishandling the incident and blowing it up into a bigger issue -- especially outside of Korea -- than it would have been otherwise.

"I think the big difference in fan reaction is how the stars and their management companies share the news -- if they're open and honest about it, and present the relationship as if it's no big deal, generally the news is received positively," she said. "Even if there is some outcry among hardcore fans, that usually dies down over time."

The changing demographics of K-Pop listeners is also having an effect, as the once uniquely Korean genre becomes more and more a global obsession, with fans, and markets around the world.

"K-pop has become much more international and Western fans react quite negatively to situations like this because they are entirely unlike Western pop culture," Seoulbeats' Roberts said.

"In other words, as the world becomes globalized it is inevitable that the industry must change or there will be negative consequences."

A petition in support of E'Dawn and Hyuna started by international fans has attracted more than 90,000 signatures, and large amounts of abuse for Cube's decision to censure them.

"If E'Dawn is happy with Hyuna, then we should all be happy for them," the petition's creator wrote.