Ballads find a place in a digital society

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Ballads find a place in a digital society

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top Lee Seung-chul, Park Hyo-shin , Sung Si-kyung [JoongAng Ilbo]

The current ballad trend in the Korean music industry is sizzling as the music charts, both on and offline, are flooded with songs that tell stories. Ballads have been on the rise for two or three years, but the trend has reached a new level. Medium tempo ballads are steadily becoming more popular, and stars from the genre’s past, as well as new balladeers, are gaining ground with a vengeance.
Ballads have always been a big part of the Korean music scene along with dance, hip-hop and rock, but now they are replacing all other genres on the charts. Seasonal drifts of the past, including dance music being popular during the summer, are fading.
Last year, only the Turtle’s dance number, “Airplane,” managed to stay in the No. 1 spot for five weeks beginning in late August. SG Wannabe’s “My Love,” Baek Ji-young’s “Will Not Love Again,” Lee Seung-chul’s “Calling,” Sung Si-kyung’s “On the Street” and “Black Glasses” by Eru were all super players in last year’s ballad craze.
Even singers who are labeled as dance music artists are joining in. The dance music group Typhoon released their ballad “I Will Wait” earlier this year. Former members of idol groups have also released ballad singles including Sohn Ho-young, a former member of the boy band god, and his single “Crying” and Gan Mi-yeon, a former member of the girl band BabyVox, who released “Old-Fashioned Woman.” Lee Jae-hoon, from the group Cool, also released the sentimental single “Illusion.”
The new wave of balladeers ― Park Hyo-shin, Lee Ki-chan and Tei ― have all taken advantage of this trend and released full-length albums “Memories Resemble Love,” “Beautiful Woman” and “The Same Pillow” respectively, which reviewers said have taken hip-hop and rock undertones and softened them to fit a mellower sound.
Many experts attribute this shift to the change in how people buy music ― from record stores to online. With a boom in producing digital single albums that feature one or two songs, there has been a tendency for music producers to concentrate on making mostly ballads because they are easier to sell.
“Ballads are the most accessible musical form for Koreans, as they like strong melody lines, accentuated choruses and sentimental lyrics,” said Kim Seung-hyeon, a manager in the marketing team at Bugs, an Internet music download service. “As the market for music is in decline, ballads, which are often seen as the most marketable genre in Korea, are chosen,” he added.
Another important reason for the trend is music being used as a sort of accessory for personal spaces online, such as in mini-homepages (in the Korean portal Cyworld) and on blogs.

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Baek Ji-young [JoongAng Ilbo]

Music is also used for ringtones and other mobile phone services. In this case, ballads are preferred as consumers want a comfortable, softer song that allows visitors (or callers) to concentrate on something besides the background music.
Suh Hae-sik, the director of Muz, another online music site, commented: “For background music on mini-homepages and for bell tones, soft ballads are favored, much more than other genres. Many music producers say that the ballad genre is the only money-making genre for this ‘music accessory trend.’”
It seems that digital technology has met its analog counterpart. According to a statistic by Muz, the top-10 background music singles for mini-homepages last year are almost all ballads, including Vibe’s “That Man That Woman,” “My Love” by SG Wannabe and HowL’s “Is This Love.” Among the top 100 songs, 70 percent were ballads.
This solitary long-running trend of ballad music is likely to continue as the music market moves online.
“Record producers are now asking songwriters to write more ballads,” said Lee Chang-hui of CJ Music.
A songwriter who wished to remain anonymous said, “A producer asked me to make the last part of a song last a specific time period to fit this trend so that it can gain popularity in the digital contents market.”
There are voices of concern regarding this shift, saying that quality does not meet the rise in quantity of ballad songs.
Music critic Kim Jakga (a pen name, jakga meaning author) said: “The music industry is targeting the online digital market. Songs are now made to have a strong impact in a short time. Therefore, ballad singers’ vocals are emphasized, oftentimes accompanied by melodramatic melodies and vocal techniques that seem to scream and cry rather than sing. This is not the way our industry should turn.”


By Jung Hyun-mok JoongAng Ilbo [jainnie@joongang.co.kr]
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