How a Post-Produce 101 Industry is Stifling K-pop’s Creativity

I’ll begin this latest Bias List screed by stating that I’m an avid watcher of K-pop’s survival series. From juggernauts like Produce 101 to barely-remembered blips like Under Nineteen, I love a good competition. And yet, I fear that the proliferation of these series is killing K-pop’s creativity.

An Old-Fashioned Approach

Back in the day (cue sad violin soundtrack), it used to be that K-pop fans were drawn in by a group’s sound or concept. You’d hear a song — perhaps through youtube, maybe through music shows — and if it resonated with you, you’d work backwards and get to know the groups’ members by watching variety shows and interviews. An appreciation of their endearing personalities or killer talent helped sustain interest, but the very existence of a certain member or two wasn’t usually the jumping-on point for a fan. A group had to wow you with their sound first.

Over-Saturation leads to Risk Aversion…

This scenario has flipped 180 degrees over the past few years. As the industry started to clog with more and more competition, agencies realized that — apart from the rare success story here or there — the only acts that were breaking out were those who had prior recognition via TV series or competition show. This started innocently enough, with groups like Winner and iKON gaining pre-debut hype via YG competition shows.

But, as the years passed, it became necessary to bolster the popularity of individual trainees before even determining what their eventual music would sound like. I mean, can you think of any other music industry where fans actively follow and promote pre-debut trainees without even knowing what their voice sounds like?

… and Risk Aversion leads to Stagnation

Here’s the problem, though. Idols are known to be jacks or jills of all trades, but at their core they are (or at least should be) conduits for music. Concept, choreography and personality are obviously important factors in any K-pop release, but they shouldn’t be the overriding factor. Yet, if you’ve got a debuting group filled with members who already have an established, eager fan base, there’s no need to put much effort into crafting a distinguishable sound. It’s much easier to play it safe and cater to whatever the trend may be at the moment. Fans will support the artist either way. Why push boundaries and potentially alienate the general public?

Well, pushing boundaries and going big is kind of what K-pop used to be about. But in a post-Produce industry, those qualities are becoming more and more of a rarity. This is, in part, why I think we’ve seen K-pop’s current trends hang around much longer than normal. Case in point: I’ve been complaining about tropical sounds since 2016. Years ago, this musical influence might have only been a brief blip in the industry’s continual evolution. These days, it’s a proven formula for an easy hit, not to be tampered with.

This approach filters down to K-pop’s behind-the-scenes creators as well. Largely absent today are those idiosyncratic composers of the past — your Sweetunes, Brave Brothers, Duble Sidekicks, Yoo Young-Jins. In their place is a host of new creators (or worse yet… song camps) who can reliably churn out solid re-creations of current trends, but have little discernible style of their own.

Because again, why create something that will be embraced by some and ignored by others, when you can forge a product that will be tolerated by all but inspire no one? It’s an exercise in market expansion rather than market penetration. And, if nothing else, K-pop is very much in a current frame of mind that’s obsessed with expansion.

The Current K-pop Landscape

Putting this into immediate context, each project from former Wanna One members (whether solo or group) has been nearly indistinguishable from the next, neatly slotting into some pre-defined mix of overused styles. None of these releases have emerged with much of a concept beyond vague descriptors like “moody,” or “chill.” Not all of the music has been bad, but I don’t think a passive fan would be able to easily tell the difference between a CIX or AB6IX, for example.

Second (and early third) generation K-pop had its little niches it could cater to, offering a variety of styles for a variety of tastes. The groups that continue this approach today tend to be ones that debuted without the aid of a survival series, and I don’t think this is a coincidence. They’re still operating under those old rules: build an identifiable sound and like-minded fans will eagerly fall into the group’s charms. Craft a catchy, memorable song and you might just gain attention without having a beloved trainee within your ranks. But in an industry ruled by MNET and the like, this is proving difficult for many. Most of these left-of-center acts struggle to make consistent comebacks — the very ingredient necessary for cultivating their fan base.

The Way Forward

There are exceptions, of course. Rookie group ATEEZ seem poised for superstardom without the benefit of pre-debut hype. It’s their sound and style that’s done it, bolstered by a consistency in producers and a lot of good old fashioned hard work. This burgeoning sensation feels similar to BTS back in 2015, and seems to point towards longevity. I don’t think we’re ever going to get a BTS-style success from a corporation-fueled survival series approach. Groups formed via television just don’t have the same arc as those who slowly work themselves up in rank through the strength of their discography.

So, how does K-pop get back to a more musically-focused place? It won’t be easy. It requires a certain level of discernment among the music-listening public. It requires fans to admit when their bias’s comeback isn’t up to par — and to realize that you can still be a fan and be critical at the same time. This is counter to the industry’s (successful) fostering of an idol worship culture. After all, why would you be critical of a group’s music if the music wasn’t what you fell in love with in the first place? This is the sneaky brilliance of these survival series. They know that the set-up can be so much more important than the delivery, and have found a way to inoculate future artists from the need to stand out musically.

For as passionate as K-pop fans are, it’s almost as if these large conglomerates have dulled our ability to demand diversity in what the industry offers. I am certainly complicit in this, slavishly following each new pre-debut reality series and following the resulting group through a manipulated sense of loyalty. I purchase albums from groups I like, even when the music is just so-so. In a lot of ways, K-pop’s more maddening techniques have sunk their teeth into my listening habits.

And yet, I urge us all not to be lemmings. Find the music you genuinely like and support it wholeheartedly. Critique when necessary, with the understanding that constructive criticism is healthy. Enjoy the over-the-top survival series for what they are, but demand that the resulting groups’ music feels necessary on its own, and not just a means to an end.

RELATED READING (if you like to hear me complain): Is Blind Fandom Support Killing K-pop?

58 thoughts on “How a Post-Produce 101 Industry is Stifling K-pop’s Creativity

  1. Survival show stardom can have another name: “Manufactured uprising story”. In a post BTS world where uprising is crucial to stardom the survival show winner just doesn’t have to care about the music quality.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m not sure how long you’ve been working on this piece but I feel like you just sat down and pounded it out on the keyboard immediately after writing about Rocket Punch’s debut, haha.

    Seriously though, I think everything you wrote here is right on the money. I remember back a couple of years ago when the survival show boom was just beginning and the saturation of groups in the industry started building higher than ever, I was actually *excited* because I thought along with it would come a wider variety and diversity of styles and sounds. I was really thinking “more groups = more different kinds of great music! I can’t wait!!” But that anticipation dissipated pretty fast when I realized that the opposite was happening and all these new groups blended together into a generic mush of low-effort sounds with only a few standouts here and there. I feel like if it weren’t for the phenomena you’ve underlined here, we certainly *would’ve* gotten a more exciting spectrum of groups each offering something in their own niche. Sure, the rise of Western-appealing trends would’ve affected things just the same, but there’d probably be more effort going into crafting something that actually grabs attention.

    I don’t know. I feel like we’re headed towards a “bursting of the bubble” in the near future where saturation reaches a point so extreme that companies/groups have no choice but to buck trends and carve their own distinct path again or risk being completely ignored, and this is even WITH post-survival show dynamics factored in (which also will decline in their overall impact, and indeed already are). I think it HAS to happen, and not just because I’m wishing for it. Something’s gotta give.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You’re theory about this piece is pretty much spot on! I assume I’ve been mentally “working on it” for weeks, but the actual post is pretty much as stream-of-consciousness as you’re gonna get. Thoughts I had about Rocket Punch’s debut certainly provided the spark to actually sit down and write it, but they’re by no means the most egregious example of my criticisms.

      And I really, really hope you’re “bursting of the bubble” prediction comes true. I fear it won’t, but maybe this latest controversy of “fixed” Produce X 101 votes will have some impact.


  3. I feel this stifling of creative music plagues boy groups and male solo so much worse and for far longer. (Maybe because boy group fans coddle their artist more?) But recently, some girls that had a ‘sound’, seems to be dumbing itself down as well. Its so frustrating.


    • (Cough Oh My Girl) Yeah I am also gonna bring that up about male survival show winners can suck pretty hard but like boy group member turned soloists isn’t that much better. Compare the solo projects from Wonder Girls, SNSD and f(x) to EXO…


      • You’re right, but keep in mind that all of those solo efforts came from artists that have already made bank for their companies. They each have large followings that will embrace those efforts. Sunmi, Yeeun, Taeyeon, Tiffany, Sulli, Amber, Luna all come from top agencies that made a lot of money off of them and are willing to indulge their creativity for a chance to make a little more. Also, they are all “graduated” from the groups that made them stars so they can take risks and buck trends without fear of capsizing their groups/careers.


    • I sadly agree, and being someone who largely prefers boy group material makes this all the more frustrating.

      Now don’t get me wrong… there are plenty of girl group tropes I wish would make a quick exit, but I don’t think they’re as related to the Produce-esque phenomena I wrote about here.


  4. ATEEZ actually had a predebut reality called KQ FELLAZ and made various dance covers too. The series showed them training in L.A. dance studios and they also gifted fans with a self-produced song at the end of the show so in a way ATEEZ is a product of a reality. But yeah I get what you mean. Although I met them through their show, what really kept me interested and made me a fan was their music. Their songs have maintained the same quality and signature sound that makes ATEEZ unique.

    Most groups that caught my attention through realities or any season of produce lost it after I heard their songs. For example, I followed Produce48 religiously when it aired and, even though my pick debut, I got bored of La Vie On Rose after 5 listens. I don’t consider myself an active fan or listener of any of the debuting produce groups, and do not get me started on the mess Wanna One’s Boomerang was…

    I don’t completely agree that MNET and their overused Produce formula are the only ones to be blamed for this wave of “trendy” songs. With Kpop spreading further West the last two years, rookie groups’ primary dream is to make it big in America. Even Produce X’s goal is to “make it to Billboard”.

    The biggest issue with the industry nowadays which you quickly mentioned is that companies and groups are trying to reproduce or copy BTS’s success in America. Even BigHit is trying to use the same formula that made BTS big with TXT, which obviously isn’t working.

    The industry is overpopulated, too many groups exists and more will keep debuting, especially after every Produce season. One twitter user joked that in 10 years the population of South Korea will consist of just kpop idols and I don’t think they’re that far off. There’s too many idols and obviously only very few will standout and succeed.

    Liked by 1 person

    • P.S. The word I was looking for is saturated, the industry is saturated.

      Also, I would like to point out that I believe BTS gained popularity and devoted fans thanks to their reality show. The fact that they were so “open and sincere” (to a degree) in their BTS Bomb attracted and maintained a lot of fans, who felt close with them, who felt they made a connection with them. In my eyes, their reality served as a marketing strategy of some kind.

      It also helped them a lot that One Direction’s disbandment left a big hole in the Western industry. The West longed for a boy group and BTS gained attention at the right time.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Yep, ATEEZ did have pre-debut material, as many groups do nowadays. And being completely beholden to K-pop’s iron grip, I of course watched it!

      Their series wasn’t the kind of thing I was referencing, though. It was of a much smaller scale and did emphasize them as musicians rather than just pit them against each other in a survival format. I’m all about idol variety that helps to distinguish what makes an act special, especially if it actually focuses on their craft.

      And yes, there are many more components to K-pop’s current state than what I outlined above. International expansion is a HUGE one, and I could probably write a post twice as long as this one about it. I’m sure I will someday.

      Another factor is fandom culture and the way idol groups’ success is measured online. I wrote about that last year, and it’s just as relevant today:

      Liked by 1 person

    • I think Westernization is causing a shift in the Kpop industry towards concepts that are more palatable to Western audiences. “Badass” and “moody” concepts sell better in the US so we’re seeing fewer (prominent) cute concepts. This is entirely an anecdotal theory based on my own experiences but LGBT+ fans are really helping to push Kpop into the US via the Internet and historically we’re a group that responds well to a certain kind of visuals and dance music.

      It’s like a weird osmosis kind of thing. Kpop stan twitter picks up on a group, and then it filters its way over to regular stan twitter, and from there it leaks into the mainstream. I saw “Ddu-du Ddu-du” in Rupaul’s Drag Race fan videos before it was charting on Billboard. These are the kind of songs that are setting the tone.


      • I’ve also seen recent analysis of how former fans of emo rock have now flocked to K-pop. Idol merch in Hot Topic stores certainly supports this theory, and that would be another possible reason that darker, moodier concepts have struck a chord with international audiences.

        To be fair, I really don’t have anything against darker concepts. They used to be my preferred style back in K-pop’s second-gen days. When it comes to boy groups, I’ve steered heavily toward bright concepts over the past few years simply because they tend to utilize a more diverse musical palette and high energy that appeals to me. Nowadays, dark boy group concepts are largely interchangeable and cater to genre tropes I just don’t like (trap, future bass, etc).

        There are exceptions, of course. Stray Kids’ music is often darker/moodier, and I think they’ve released some of the best stuff this year. It all depends on how a group tackles things, and how daring they’re willing to be with their music.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I don’t follow the reality TV show aspect of kpop, I have zero interest in that. I enjoy kpop for one thing only, the music. I’ve been listening to kpop for over a decade, since Wonder Girls and Super Junior. For a long time it seemed kpop was just getting better and better with every new release until about a 12~18 months ago when it flat-lined, and (with just a few exceptions) nothing ground breaking has been released since. Today’s hit kpop acts are literally nothing more than dance squads, featuring either generic or bombastic music backing tracks. I don’t care about dancing. I don’t care about visuals. It’s all about the music – for me at least. I still eagerly await new releases hoping for something exciting, but as I write this, I’m not sure how much longer I can retain my enthusiasm. Are the days gone where someone like JYP can pen a #1 smash hit all by himself? I’m a songwriter who declined an opportunity to join a kpop song camp because I firmly believe in the artistic process, not the methodical process, of creating music. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that song camps have ruined kpop, but rather, they are a symptom of kpop’s current status, which now seems to be more closely mirroring the path of western pop.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, intricate choreography has definitely become more of a focus these past few years, resulting in so many songs with shifting tempos, instrumental breakdowns and drop choruses. It’s a doubled-edged sword, that one…

      I have to hear your story about song camps! I’m fascinated with how agencies go about recruiting behind-the-scenes talent.


    • These days, the new debuts, it is visuals > dancing > popular appeal > singing ability. (I wrote “popular appeal” rather than charisma deliberately.)

      And I also believe that song camps are killing mainstream pop all over the world. I don’t mind at all that some performers don’t write their own songs (Celine Dion, Three Dog Night, the Monkees come to mind). But more than about 3 writers, and any chance of a memorable song with unique hook is gone. Rock Me Amadeus did not come out of a song camp.


      • Yeah, I’ve got no problem with artists not writing their own material. I’d prefer that idol groups turn to a good composer rather than release sub-par material just because it seems “credible” to write your own stuff.

        Song camps, on the other hand, feel like little more than an exercise in consensus-building. It’s rare that anything truly impactful comes out of consensus, since the very process necessitates compromise.


  6. Nick,

    It’s no surprise (at least, to your diligent readers) that you’re going through a slump with K-Pop. I understand your sentiments; in fact, I share them. The K-Pop-sphere has recently become.. ..homogenized. I read your entire post and I find your worries legitimate, but let me play “devil’s advocate” for a bit.

    On talent shows..

    The flood of talent shows is not surprising to me. The same thing happened in the US/UK, then world-side. What surprised me was the format. South Korea doesn’t look for artists among the general population because it would take too long to polish a diamond in the rough to meet the “K-pop standard”. Instead, they harvest crops that have already been cultivated. They want contestants that can quickly be slotted into the final group. Name one other country that has used this formula? It’s actually kind of brilliant.

    Think about it. Most of the contestants have already been groomed for the rigors of the industry. They expect the harsh regiment of the work. They’re physically and behaviorally pre-molded. They are all easy on the eyes, endearing to the soul, and all possess some form of charm, talent and/or “identity”. It’s this.. ..the identity.. ..that everyone wins with. The agencies win with massive public exposure. The show producers win with ratings. The artists win with building a following.

    On trends..

    Incorporating a trendy “thing” into a song is fine, but flooding virtually every groups’ discographies with tropical tracks is not because it’s no longer about trends, it’s now an issue of over-saturation; which is a separate problem. If I only heard a handful of tropical releases, I’d be fine; but that’s not what has happened. In short, trends are good, but too much of anything is bad. Additionally, when has K-Pop “not” been about trends? Boys are sweg dancing machines. Girls are (paradoxical) sexy “girls next door”.

    On vanilla.. ..EVERYTHING..

    It’s hard to supply a counter-point to your issues with how stagnant everything has become because it also frustrates me. But..* ..unlike the music industries in most other countries, K-Pop is a little more “make or break”. A lot of agencies spend a sampan-load of money trying to create and introduce a group. There’s a tremendous amount of investment that is all banking on the success of a single group. That success is crucial to the survival of the agency. It really is a Wonka lottery in South Korea. Most agencies can’t afford to take risks, or be experimental, or chance success on an artists desire for creative freedom. They need “tried and true”. Some agencies can. SM has enough in the coffers to allow for some experimentation. Some of it pays off, some doesn’t. They still make money either way. Other companies.. ..just want to survive; even if that means cookie-cutter production with boiler-plate content.

    However, let’s also look at how the pioneers of “let’s try something different” fair in their efforts. Most artists don’t get this freedom until they’re either well established and/or are in the twilight of their careers. Sulli, HyunA, Sunmi, Yeean (HA:TFELT), Hyori, and even IU have had the luxury of creative control. However, the success of these efforts has mostly relied on stan/cult followings. Name one experimental release (other than the glorious fluke that is: Psy’s “Gangnam Style”) that became a universal hit? Most agencies can’t afford that dice toss.

    Does that mean we’re forever doomed to vanilla offerings? God, I hope not. There is some hope. Offerings such as Everglow’s “Bon Bon Chocolat”, LOOΠΔ’s “Butterfly”. ANDA’s “Touch”, several releases by Red Velvet, and (more recently) PinkFantasy “Fantasy” give me hope that we’re not locked in downward spiral where twerk has replaced quirk.

    Time will tell. If it’s any consolation, I feel your pain.

    * PeeWee Herman: “Why does everyone always have a big “but”? Let’s talk about your big “but”, Simone.


    • No problem with a little Devil’s Advocate!

      I totally agree with the brilliance of talent shows, at least from a marketing perspective. That brilliance has sucked me in all the way back to American Idol and X-Factor. Korea’s rendition of this format is certainly a win-win for all involved. Unfortunately, most of the groups I tend to fall for *aren’t* involved, and its industry-conquering presence isn’t a win for them. It feels like talent show groups are pushing everyone else out, or at least making it very difficult for them to compete. It’s the same situation that happened to the Western pop scene years ago, and I hate to see the story play out once again.

      I also agree that trends are fine. They’ve been a part of modern K-pop since its inception. But the trends we’re dealing with now? They’ve stuck around so long that they’re not even trends anymore. They’ve become the establishment. The way things are currently structured, I’m not sure there’s any incentive to do things differently. This needs to change. A trend is only trendy if it’s fleeting.

      I can’t argue at all with your point involving idol group investment. This is a uniquely K-pop system, and I don’t think it’s necessarily bad. That’s where us fans come in. If we show interest in supporting new sounds and ideas, the risk for agencies will lessen. This involves all sorts of support from listeners, including monetarily supporting the acts that really speak to you. I don’t see any of this changing anytime soon, because I think mainstream pop music just serves a different purpose today than it once did. With so many other things to distract consumers, music has become more of a “background” form of entertainment than ever before, if that makes any sense.

      Anyway, we can be frustrated together. I have to keep reminding myself that everything is cyclical in music. These gripes will eventually fade and I’ll have new gripes to take their place!


  7. I really agree with this. I think the unique fandom driven aspects of Kpop are really cool because they push artists/companies to create fully fleshed out content in ways that non-Kpop artists don’t usually do, but this is part of the ugly side of it. Post-Produce groups are the epitome of brand superseding product. The plastic nature of the industry is showing through here in ways that usually we do better to ignore.

    It’s weird because it feels like we’re seen sort of a reverse arms race where instead of seeing groups grabbing attention by innovating instead we’re seeing them competing to be the most generic option and cater to the broadest possible audience. And it’s frustrating because it works and people buy into it because it’s so easy to stan a group these days that really they just need to give us the bare minimum and there go people’s wigs.

    I think a lot of these groups don’t feel fully formed because Produce groups are sort of on a timer; the company has to assemble them and get them out there to capitalize on the buzz before it fades. I’m more excited for comebacks than I am for debuts because I feel like once the groups have solidified their Produce hype into distinct fandoms then that’s when we’ll start really seeing the speciation and can start reaping the crops of this boom.

    But also I don’t know if I want to wait for them to get their business together, I’ve already lost interest in a lot of them based off of weak debuts. If anything this wave of underwhelming debuts has made me reevaluate how I engage with Kpop and I’m finding that I don’t /need/ to stan every rookie girl group and check out every B-side.


    • But I will say that I get the appeal of supporting a safe, stable group because I’ve found too many smaller groups/artists that have released one or two amazing songs and then unceremoniously faded away. Good music doesn’t guarantee longevity, and I can understand why some people would go for security over excitement.


    • I don’t listen to almost any b-sides unless it was pointed out here or in credible comments in other forums that the b-side is or could be better. There is just not enough time and plenty of ordinary a-side releases to sift through. The only exception is the handful of groups I do truly stan from whom I buy the full album.


      • I love a good b-side, and devour pretty much every mini/full album that K-pop offers. There’s nothing better than a solid album, supporting a killer title track.

        Weirdly, though, this summer has been really short on actual albums — at least from acts that I like. Following the Western music industry’s lead, there have been so many more digital singles and 2-3 track single albums.

        Being an avid album listener, this has really upended the way I listen to music and I don’t think I like it. I love the context that an album provides. It makes singles feel less disposable somehow.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I think the power of playlists in the streaming age is disincentivizing artists from producing full albums since the song is likely going to be heard out of context anyways. Sometimes it goes the other way and artists make really long albums to try and inflate their streaming numbers, but that’s bad too.


        • .

          In other words,
          We all here listen very intently to B-sides of the D-list fringe, and in a foreign language.

          What a hobby!
          heh heh heh heh


  8. I apologize for the length in advance. This may even be longer than Nick’s original posting.

    I think the survival show trend is the current trend for the 3rd and 4th tier idols, groups, and agencies to attempt to pull themselves up into at least the 2nd tier. As with most industries, sometimes it works (for a while perhaps), and sometimes it doesn’t.

    1st Tier = one dozen or so groups doing very well such as the BTS EXO Twice’s of kpop.

    2nd tier = two dozen or so groups representing the vanguard, also very popular, and earning a living making music. The Mamamoo Zico/BlockB VIXX Gfriend OhMyGirl LovelyzSeventeen. Most ordinary people on the street know a few songs, at least a few of the member by name, they are in the top ten Gaon regularly. Also 2nd tier are the legacy groups TVXQ Suju Shinee who are still earning a very tidy living through music in concerts and such, but not quite Gaon top 10 or even top 20 charting anymore. Kcon headliners are pulled from here, 1 or 2 per year.

    3rd tier = three dozen or so groups. They have a hit or two, still have some money to produce a fine product while still eating. Tend to be younger, still live in dorms out of necessity, less than 2-3 years since debut. The Ateez ACE Momoland Dreamcatcher Golden Child Gugudan N.Flying Pentagon etc. The rest of the Kcon line-up is from here.

    4th tier = four dozen or so groups, hanging in there but need to make very careful choices between video quality and eating. They truly may not exist in 12 months. This where the In2its and Tracing’s are, to name recent examples. The songs may never even make it up on itunes. Pink Fantasy, and the group who put out Tu Eres (whatever their name is or was) are not on iTunes.

    (5th tier = very vast in kpop, doesn’t really have any impact or chance really.)

    From what I have seen, the reality shows produced by the tv producers feed on some key members from the 3rd and filled out with 4th tier. On rare occasion those reality groups break out and for a short while are 1st tier (Wanna One), but usually they still reside in 3rd tier from whence they came. Those agencies are trying to find a way up, somehow, somewhere, sometime. Sometimes it is through a really clever song that finally hits. On the other hand, popularity could bring a single CF which could mean a person in that group gets a paycheck for the first or only time. If the reality show was sponsored by a 1st or 2nd tier agency, there is more of a chance of being 1st or 2nd tier – the Winner’s and ikons of kpop.

    It is this third tier that also brings us variety and color and HOPE in the industry. Mostly by the numbers and frequency, since the 3rd tier has the same volume per group output as the 1st and 2nd combined, so the 1st tier need one out of the dozen to make us all happy, but the 3rd tier need 1 hit out of 36 to make us happy (bigger pond). Alas, the 4th tier if they register at all on our radar brings us amusement and something to toy with, for a while. Sorry for my English. But it is also that third tier that is bringing out the most volume of these basic generic sounding songs. So we are drowning in those releases. We may have a half dozen boring tropical trends from top tiers, but many many dozen tropical trap drop choruses from lower tiers.

    Now, I have no idea what the 3rd tier was doing 5 or 10 years ago. I don’t know the quality or even who they are or were. They don’t exist anymore. They may not even be on youtube. When we get nostalgic, and Nick hits the Shuffle button, it usually is for a 1st or 2nd tier from days gone by. When I trawl through back catalog from 5 or 10 years ago, it is usually for a 1st or 2nd tier.

    Final note: I think people often forget that the Big Hit founder guy was a hitmaker from JYP. Money-wise, BTS might have started very low down, but they had a former 1st tier guy leading it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great analysis of the industry’s current hierarchy!

      This brings to mind another frustration I’ve been feeling lately. Over the past couple of months, most of my favorite songs have come from acts that fall squarely within the 4th tier.

      While I’ll never say no to good music from any tier, it’s frustrating when the songs you like can’t be promoted well enough to click with the general public. Agencies don’t have the funds to forge a mini or full album around these tracks, nor do the singles themselves make any real inroads beyond those of us who diligently seek out each and every idol release. Comments and reactions on forums/reddit/twitter are very limited because most people just don’t bother to check out the songs at all.

      I miss the days where the songs that really clicked with me were also the ones that became mega-hits, talked about and enjoyed by everyone. There’s a certain level of excitement that comes with ubiquity, and it can make an already great track feel like an absolute classic. Many of my top ten songs at the end of the past few years have been under-the-radar, at best. Again, this is fine. Ubiquity can also breed exhaustion. But, it does take some of the fun away from being part of the K-pop community. More and more, I feel at odds with what the majority of fans seem to flock to.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Five or ten years ago there were plenty of generic girl groups coming out of the third/fourth tier but the sound that was “in” was different (more bubblegum and electronic), so the resulting music sounded better. These trendy tropical/future bass sounds just aren’t as versatile and all of the songs kind of have to sound similar due to the constraints of the sound palate, whereas interesting things can happen when you throw a bunch of bubblegum songs at the wall.

      It feels like things have reversed from five or ten years ago. Groups used to have to be interesting in the hopes of one day being popular, but now they have to be popular if they want to survive long enough to be interesting.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. When Cix debuted I genuinely said there was nothing about them to differentiate between them and Ab6ix. The same time of music, style, post wannaone group. Movie Star and Breathe are so similar to me. It’s going to be a weird few years.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Their names are even similar!

      To be fair, though, AB6IX’s music has grown on me a lot over the past few months. I still abhor Hollywood, but their general sound has a bit more character to it than I had first thought. It probably has to do with the members’ involvement in composing.

      CIX on the other hand… it all just feels so needlessly glum.


  10. Great article and I agree with it. It’s also interesting that from all of the post PD101 group, WJSN is the one who manage to break out and become semi successful. Even though they have Yeonjung, they don’t really capitalize her and pushing other members on the front too, while crafting a signature WJSN sound unlike their other peers (even Boogie Up feels very WJSN with the heavy synth approach).

    Post-Broduce101 activities in the other hand, are very non-events. The more publicly successful one are actually members who go solo like Seongwoo (actually more in acting lane) and Daniel (which is interesting bc he is insanely popular in public but his music is flopping).

    Hopefully these companies need to understand that a popular member from this survival shows doesn’t guarantee long-term profits and start to create a more solid groups.

    (Sorry for my terrible English)

    Liked by 1 person

  11. As much as I do like to discover new Kpop songs, I have to confess that I have never been a true Kpop fan. So why am I even here ? Mainly because I enjoy reading Nick’s reviews and his readers’ equally intelligent analysis/comments.

    My younger sister is the sole reason why I started to listen to Kpop. Had I not force myself to listen to Kpop or keep up with Korean acts, I couldn’t possibly understand what she’s into. So for 7 years, I have tried my best to know what she likes in order to ease our conversations (it certainly helps since we have such an age gap).

    Not sure if I could articulate my thoughts as well as Nick or some of the readers here, but I never actually *feel* that Kpop itself is a music genre. What I mean is sure, some of the songs sound great to my ears, and that’s it. Those songs do not necessarily reach to my heart.

    I don’t care about: fandom names, fandom colors, fandom lightsticks, fandom merchandise, debut dates/anniversaries, endless reality/variety/survival shows that revolve around the either would-be or debuted idols 24/7 – watching them eating, crying, stressing, doing make-ups. Those things serve me no purpose – they are telling me as much as cow’s milk is good for our health or bacon and eggs have always been ‘The American Breakfast’. I am a music lover who just wants to get moved by a voice.

    And then we have that particular label that’s trying ‘assassinate’ itself by becoming Kpop’s Disney/Marvel (Super M this October !?!). Frankly, I don’t know which is worse: upcoming debut of (another) manufactured super group I do not care for, or re-arrangement of the label’s finest talents that I do somewhat appreciate. When SM sounds this desperate, we ought to realize how much ‘profit’ is needed for them (and their investors) ‘to survive’ in US. Music in this century has sadly become the least important factor to attract new listeners.

    At this point in time, Kpop songs on my playlist have also becoming less important to my ears. So I replace them with another genre (opera arias !). Nonetheless I will never stop to visit this blog every once in a while.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am in a wait and see mode for Super M. Among supergroups, for every Travelling Wilbury’s (which worked) there is a Velvet Revolver (notsomuch).

      There are more than a few people asleep at the wheel at SM this year, as the release track record YTD shows. And they have completely strategically and tactically goofed on the military service hiati – the age start time change didn’t help at all.

      In the meantime Vincerooooooh! VinCEEEEeeeeeeeeeh-roooooooh!


      • Why are you so cute, Mymagoogle !?!

        Your “Vincerooooooooh ! VinCEEEEEEeeeeeeh-roooooooooooh !” really make my day ! Coincidentally, it was one of my most-listened songs of July/August. XD


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