K-Pop Genre Demonstrates Problem with 21st Century “Fans”

I am normally pretty laid back when it comes to music. I’ve been known to go from ABBA to Johnny Cash to Mozart to Slipknot, sometimes within a five-minute time span. I have always prided myself on this ability to appreciate all forms of music, but there is just something about one particular genre that has come out only very recently – or, perhaps more correctly, maybe it is the fandom of the genre that has turned me against it. It is that fandom that perhaps grates my nerves more than the music itself.

Korean pop, or “K-pop” as it has become known, is not a new phenomenon, although those who consider themselves fans today think they originated the genre. It actually goes back to the 1940s and 50s, following the end of World War II and the actions in the Korean War, when U. S. and European musical stylings first came to the peninsula. There was an original rush of interlopers who took on the stylings of 40s big band music to entertain U. S. troops.

As rock and roll began to take over, these same South Koreans (by this time the Korean peninsula was divided) simply migrated over to the rock sounds, singing Beatles songs and even coming up with their own “rock” bands such as Add4 and The Key Boys. Balladeers and folk ruled from the late 60s through the 90s, leading to the changeover to today’s “K-pop” sound that has become prevalent.

Perhaps because of the 90s “boy band” acts, K-pop has been pretty much dominated by male artists and bands. Psy was one of the first to strike with this new, danceable “K-pop” sound with “Gangnam Style,” but it really seemed to take off when the “boy bands” took up the mantle. Many of those failed in capturing the attention of Europe and the U. S….that is, until BTS came along.

BTS is a SEVEN-MAN group that follows the playbook of the 90s U. S. “boy bands” like NSYNC or New Kids on the Block. They harmonize, dance and put on a show with pop pablum that is rather unremarkable in its blandness. But, if you listen to their “A.R.M.Y” (yes, stripping that title from the hard rock band KISS), they are the greatest thing to hit music since the introduction of amplification.

Now, a little disclaimer…

Today’s pop music is not supposed to cater to the taste of people over the age of 18, maybe 25 years of age tops. Pop music has always been the arena of the young and it can simultaneously be mindless drivel and serious socio-political commentary. You just have to find those tracks that do it for you, is what I am saying. Still, there is not much that happens in the pop music arena that I say “WOW!” about.

BTS is one of those things that definitely doesn’t even register on the “WOW” scale. The band has been able to make a breakthrough in the U. S. and Europe over the past few years, however. They won a Billboard Music Award in 2017 as Top Social Media Artist (a fan-based award) and became the first Korean act to score a #1 hit on the Top 200 album chart in 2018 with Love Yourself: Tear.

The band has not slowed down since then. “Dynamite” became a #1 song on the Hot 100 (and finished 2020 as the #38 song for the year) and BTS has earned acclaim by performing during this year’s Grammys program, where they were nominated for an award in Best Pop Duo or Group Performance. It was this incident that perhaps set me against the band – and their fans – permanently.

That Grammy category was arguably one of the toughest lineups for a newcomer to break through in the 2021 awards. BTS went up against J Balvin, Dua Lipa and Bad Bunny, Justin Bieber and Quavo, Taylor Swift and Bon Iver, and the eventual winners Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande. For pop music, that is a hell of a list to even be considered with…but many in the “A.R.M.Y” felt that the award had been “stolen” from the group.

Allegations of racism, anti-Korean sentiments, and other -isms flowed from the “A.R.M.Y,” despite the fact that there were only two dozen or so Grammys won by the competitors they were up against. In other words, come with quality work. “K-pop,” and especially the 21st century version of it, has not come up to speed with the quality of efforts from many other artists.

There are other things that you can ding BTS for. First off, I could not tell you who is who in the band. None of them have stepped out, such as Justin Timberlake from NSYNC or Harry Styles from One Direction, to demonstrate that they have talents as a solo artist. You can do a lot with studio stunts and sweeteners, and that is what BTS has depended on – none of their membership has shown any solo talent.

Second, when you have seven people in the group, there is an issue that something is being hidden somewhere. Maybe someone isn’t as good a singer; that can be hidden. Not a good dancer? They can be on the side singing while the rest of the group grooves. The band is just too large to take seriously.

Finally, the history of “boy bands” is not a lengthy one. The aforementioned NSYNC lasted for all of seven years. England’s “boy band” export, One Direction, made it to eight. BTS is now into their eighth year, about the time that these “boy bands” can’t survive any longer on the “pop music” dime, one of the members decides that they do not need the others, or basic internal strife takes over and detonates the group.

It is the “A.R.M.Y” and their perception of privilege that gets me more than anything else, however. All pop bands have their “fan units.” Taylor Swift has her “Swifties,” Beyonce has the “BeyHive,” even Ed Sheeran has his “Sheerios.” Even the most ardent fans of those and many other acts, however, have not demonstrated the sense of entitlement that the BTS fans have shown, and often shown in ugly ways.

There is no grand scheme against BTS in the western world, A.R.M.Y. As I stated before, do better quality work and you will be recognized for it. Trying to bring the nationality of the members of the band into the argument is a disingenuous argument when you are competing against the world. There is also not a ruthless group of record label honchos and music experts sitting in a stunning executive suite somewhere trying to keep BTS down.

For BTS to take the next step, they need to chill out their fandom. “Fan” is the shortened version of “fanatic,” and the A.R.M.Y. takes their support too far with some of their accusations. Folks may look better on BTS if their fans were not such children, for lack of a better explanation. But alas…we are talking about pop music, not the bastion of adults with critical thinking skills.

The Best and the Worst of the 2021 GRAMMY Awards

It is arguably the biggest night for music during the year. The 2021 GRAMMY Awards were held for the 63rd time on Sunday night in Los Angeles. The awards look to honor the best that is in the music industry over a wide array of genres – rock, pop, rap, Americana, even classical – and offer a view as to what was the best of the year. In the very-COVID inspired show – the nominees were arranged in very spaced out (physically) tables while the performers were sequestered on a special five stage circle for performances – the Recording Academy arguably came out and put on one of the best shows of the past decade or so.

But that doesn’t mean that there weren’t downsides.

I’ve remarked on this before, but there certainly wasn’t enough “rock” oriented acts that performed during the program. But that is to be expected; rock music does not drive the needle (no pun intended) for music in the 21st century. It has become very much a pop and rap dominated show because that is what the people want to see (AKA those that have the disposable income to spend on streams, streaming services and the occasional CD). This does not mean that the GRAMMY Awards show is “trash” because these are the predominance of the acts that perform – it just means that is what is driving the industry nowadays.

Furthermore, if people did not watch the program, then they shouldn’t have a view on the show itself. You usually have to see something before you make any commentary on it – not five minutes, not a half-hour, WATCHED THE ENTIRE SHOW. It went slightly over three and a half hours (think it was closer to 3:45, if my memory is correct) and there were some moments that were exceptionally good…and very bad.

Without further ado, here’s The Best and The Worst of the 2021 GRAMMY Awards!

BEST

HAIM absolutely came out in the first half-hour of the program and blew away the competition. The sisters were nominated for Album of the Year for their work Women in Music, Pt. III and, with a very subdued set, proceeded to NAIL their tune “The Steps.” When the musicians and singers that were gathered on the stage are watching your performance and jamming just as hard as the band is, you have done your job. HAIM certainly carried the banner well for rock-oriented music and it was great to have them as the representative for the genre – there were not many more that graced the stage on Sunday night.

BEST

The partnership between Anderson .Paak and Bruno Mars bears watching. They came out with a very 70s R&B style (including matching leisure suits!) under the moniker “Silk Sonic.” It was good to see Mars back on stage again; it had been quite some time since he had been on the musical scene and he seemed to be in impeccable form. The duo also came out later in the show and delivered a scorching tribute to Little Richard during the “In Memoriam” segment that was outstanding.

BEST

It has been getting trashed elsewhere, but I thought that the “In Memoriam” tribute to the late Eddie Van Halen was perfect. There were many directions that they could have gone with this, but the GRAMMY producers decided that a minimalistic approach was the best one. Thus, we got a sweeping shot of Van Halen’s “Frankenhalen” guitar, on a perch in a spotlight by itself, while a video played Eddie utilizing his finger-tapping technique on a video screen behind it. It was a perfect tribute to someone who made his complicated work look oh, so simple…and it was a hell of a lot better than having Machine Gun Kelly butcher “Eruption” onstage.

BEST

I would listen to Brittany Howard, the bombastic vocalist/guitarist of Alabama Shakes, sing the damn phone book. Her take on “You’ll Never Walk Alone” during the “In Memoriam” was a soul-stirring performance. Chris Martin of Coldplay provided accompaniment on piano for the segment and the two absolutely made the song their own – exceedingly difficult to do for a song that has been made famous by a British soccer team (Liverpool FC) and as the closing song to comedian Jerry Lewis’ Labor Day Muscular Dystrophy telethon for decades.

WORST

I usually like Trevor Noah, the host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show. He is extremely funny, has a great pulse on pop culture and, hey, let’s be honest…he is young, energetic and handsome. But he, on a couple of occasions, fawned a bit too much over the winners. He was nearly orgasmic when Beyonce won her first Grammy of the night, which tied her with Alison Krauss for the most Grammys won in a career. He was nearly beside himself when she broke the record later in the night.

Look, I am all for fandom. But, when you are hired to do the emcee job for a major awards show, you are supposed to put that fandom to the side and do the job. Noah failed on this account on a couple of occasions. If he hosts again next year, I certainly hope he tempers the “enthusiasm” and shows an equal appreciation to all the award winners.

WORST

While I did like the stage arrangement for the performances – five stages were arranged in a circle, with cameras in the center of that circle that could be directed at any stage chosen – you could still note the lack of audience excitement. Sure, watching Harry Styles jam to HAIM was cool, but the fans are a part of the experience. Seeing them enjoy it is more important than the artists themselves tapping their feet.

WORST

I am all for artistic expression. Having said that, I normally don’t like to see a reenactment of Thee Dollhouse in Tampa when I watch an awards show. Thus, Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B’s performance of “WAP” wasn’t exactly a highlight of the show for me. I understand that the song was a MONSTER hit for the duo, but their interpretation of the song for the GRAMMY stage was a bit over the top. Like I said, if I wanted to go to Tattletales in Atlanta, I’ll go to Tattletales in Atlanta.

WORST

In a stark contrast with 2020, it seemed that the GRAMMY voters were not quite sure who to get behind this year. The four major awards were won by four different artists – Megan Thee Stallion for Best New Artist, Taylor Swift for Album of the Year, H.E.R. for Song of the Year and Billie Eilish for Record of the Year for “everything i wanted” – and it really did not seem that the voters had a clear favorite in mind. It was also painfully apparent that the best record didn’t receive any attention from the Academy at all – The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights” and album After Hours would have dominated the show.

Overall, when the good outweigh the bad, you’ve done rather good. There was much more about the 2021 GRAMMY Awards show that was enjoyable than was not. Still, would like to see a rock award actually given out during the three-plus hours of programming – maybe that’s something they will get to in 2022!