Musicians win attention with unusual collaborations

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Musicians win attention with unusual collaborations

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From left: Singer-entertainer Kim Heung-guk collaborates on a new song, “Bottoms Up,” with K-pop R&B duo Vibe; veteran actress Moon Hee-kyung and rapper Song Min-ho perform “Don’t Call Me Mama” on the JTBC music show “Hip Hop Nation”; comedian-stage actor Lee Dong-woo and the Swedish jazz musician Orphée Noah sing “Definition of Love” on SM Station. [YOUTUBE, NAVER TV CAST SCREEN CAPTURES]

Kim Heung-guk is a singer-entertainer well-known for his whimsical sense of humor. Although Kim may be remembered as the singer of the popular upbeat track “Horangnabi,” released in 1989, these days he is more well-known as a middle-aged entertainer who has the special ability to make others laugh by unintentionally making verbal mistakes. Although he does not have many songs to his name, the 57-year-old has become a new icon in the entertainment industry for his sense of humor and his unique and infectious laugh.

Vibe, however, is a highly talented R&B duo, often recognized for their sorrowful voices. Since their debut in 2002, the group has been steadily earning recognition for their musical abilities with hit songs such as “That Man, That Woman” and “While Looking at the Picture.”

Kim and Vibe’s career backgrounds are very different, so when they announced their collaboration track, many suspected the quality of the work might not be that sharp, but their reactions changed after listening to “Bottoms Up,” released on June 22. One viewer even commented, “I was a little stunned because the song was too good” on the official YouTube video.

These days, seemingly incompatible collaborations have become a trend, and that was most notable on JTBC’s reality program “Hip Hop Nation,” which aired from early April throughout late May. The program featured younger and older generations connecting through hip-hop music. One of the participants included the 50-year-old veteran actress Moon Hee-kyung, who delivered a rap performance with 23-year-old rapper Song Min-ho. There was also the 59-year-old gugak (traditional Korean music) musician Kim Young-im, who partnered up with 24-year-old rapper DinDin.

“I did not expect much since [the older celebrities] are not professional hip-hop musicians, but my jaw dropped after seeing the performance of Moon and Song,” said 22-year-old Cho Su-rim.

Another unforeseen collaboration is the song “Definition of Love” by comedian-stage actor Lee Dong-woo and Swedish jazz musician Orphee Noah. The jazz track was released through SM Station, a digital music channel project run by SM Entertainment. Although Lee released his first mini album in 2013, he is more known as a comedian, and this led people to question his participation on the recent track.

There are two reasons behind this musical collaboration phenomenon, according to culture critic Lee Dong-yeon.

“Musicians’ attempts to appeal to niche market prove that the ‘long tail’ applies these days,” Lee said.

He explained that the ‘long tail’ theory states that 80 percent of minority markets create a greater value than the 20 percent of mainstream markets, which means that in industries such as music, as consumers seek greater diversity, a great number of niche markets are collectively replacing mainstream music.

“In the past, many people came to renowned musicians’ performances even if it was not properly marketed,” he said. “But these days, since there are so many concerts available, audiences no longer buy tickets unless it’s something special.”

Another reason for the trend, according to Lee, is that musicians want to provide the public with something shocking in order to garner attention.

He explained that musicians can grab the public’s interests by doing unexpected collaborations and thereby increase the chance that their song becomes a hit.

Lee Taek-gwang, a culture critic and professor of English literature at Kyung Hee University, said that many celebrities rely on collaboration music because it is a blue ocean.

“Musicians can no longer survive by selling off albums in the Korean pop music industry because the number of singers is overflowing,” explained Lee, “so song quality is not as important as it used to be. Consequently, many singers these days generate commercial songs to gain attention so they can be invited to entertainment programs and further publicize themselves, and one of the methods musicians use is to partner up with someone that the public could not even imagine them collaborating with.”

But Lee pointed out that the commercial trend is limiting the creativity of the Korean pop music industry.

“Korean music today is not original. Instead, songs are recreated based on existing music. It may sound refreshing at first, but the public’s attention does not last long.”


BY JIM MIN-JI [jin.minji@joongang.co.kr]

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