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[CRITICALLY SPEAKING: K-POP] Critic Lim Jin-mo says BTS did great, but could do better

lim jin-mo

k-pop critic


IZM magazine



BTS hiatus

k-pop fandom

线上实盘 北京股票配资个股查询,国内配资专业股票| 北京股票配资K线图官网网址Music critic Lim Jin-mo, whose career spans over three decades, sat down for an interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily at his home office in Seoul on June 7. [PARK SANG-MOON] K-pop continues to grow across the globe and it’s not just boy band BTS making it big — other groups are landing higher and higher on international music charts. With a unique set of rules that sets it apart from other industries, K-pop is becoming not only a driving force for pop culture, but opening up a new chapter in Korean history. In the following interview series, the Korea JoongAng Daily will sit down with Korean music critics who have been following the growth of this unique industry and ask, “How did it happen and will it last?”   Lim Jin-mo is one of the oldest and most well-renowned music critics in Korea, with a career spanning over three decades, long before the advent of K-pop in the 1990s.   And to Lim, who has witnessed all the ups and downs of Korean pop music, the biggest and most shocking chapter throughout all the years, in his eyes, is “undoubtedly BTS.”   “K-pop has become so big that it’s come to represent the whole of Korea, and that’s thanks to BTS,” Lim said.   Born in 1959, Lim started music critiquing in the 1980s as a journalist at the Kyunghyang Shinmun. He has been a regular panel member on the long-running radio program “Bae Cheol-soo’s Music Camp” since 1993 and founded the music critique web magazine IZM in 2001, for which many prominent Korean music critics write.   While Lim applauded BTS’s accomplishment of having reached heights never imagined before, he also noted that the band has lost its competitive edge in music and was in need of some time off — making the group’s recent announcement to halt their activities a very timely one, in Lim’s eyes.   In a YouTube video uploaded on June 14, BTS said that the seven members will start pursuing solo ventures while putting a pause on group activities. [SCREEN CAPTURE]   “But the way they did it could have been better,” he said.   The veteran critic sat down for an interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily at his home office in Seoul on June 7 and again for a follow-up phone interview on June 19. The following are edited excerpts.     Q. Why do you believe the members of BTS needed a break?   A. Music-wise, BTS has lost what I call the “tip and blade” of music, which is my style of saying that special edge in music that sends shivers down people’s spines. Music must have that something that captivates people, that touches their heart like the tip of a pen or a blade piercing it.   I emphasize that calling dance music intrinsically low in musical quality is really a prejudice. That being said, the problem with BTS and K-pop in general is not that the singers dance — it’s that their music doesn’t have the tip and blade.   A scene from the music video for BTS’s 2017 song “DNA” [BIGHIT MUSIC]   BTS has released incredibly captivating songs like “Fire” (2016), “Blood Sweat & Tears” (2016), “Spring Day“ (2017), “DNA” (2017) and “Go Go” (2017). “Boy With Luv” (2019) was also decent. It has always had a visual tip and blade, especially in its dance performances.   But at one point, BTS’s music started falling apart, and I think “Idol” (2018) was where it all began. Although “Idol” is the point where BTS’s career took off globally, that’s also when its songs started losing their tip and blade.     Will each member be as powerful as BTS as a whole?   Yes. Regardless of what Koreans think, the international media has their eyes on them, and each of the members is a star.   They will receive above a certain level of attention, and when they come back as a complete team of seven after this [break], they will have the power to annihilate, so to speak. Military service will be a year and a half, and they really needed to take some rest anyway.   Singer BoA was one of the first K-pop stars that saw success in foreign markets. [SM ENTERTAINMENT]   After artists like BoA, TVXQ and Big Bang planted the seeds of today’s K-pop and PSY broke through the global market, BTS served as the driving force to solidify K-pop as a global sensation. They brought K-pop up to the level of Anglo-American pop and Latin pop.   We may not be able to say that K-pop has reached the same musical height as the latter two, but its market height has definitely been secured. I want to acknowledge that BTS succeed through pure hard work and led K-pop to stand tall around the world.   But since BTS is such an exceptional case of a global superstar, I doubt its hiatus announcement will influence others artists in K-pop much. I do think it could be an opportunity for other K-pop acts to grow while BTS is away.     Some fans have expressed disappointment in the announcement. Why do you think that is?   It’s not because of what they said, but the way they said it and the timing.   What should have come at the forefront of their announcement was a thank you, not an “I’m too tired.” What they said makes sense at first, like the fact that the K-pop system wears artists down and stunts their growth. But having enjoyed all the privileges of their worldwide stardom like they have, they should have thanked everyone that made it possible — not suddenly blame everything on K-pop.   Music critic Lim [PARK SANG-MOON]   They must go serve in the military in any case. So it would’ve been better if they said, “We’re going to serve, and we’ve been active all these years without taking time off, so we’ll use this time to take a break and refocus on making good music.”   Instead, they suddenly brought up a discussion about the K-pop system in a broader context — that it has an intense workload and uses up the artist’s potential.   Saying “We’re all tired and K-pop has these problems” does have a point, and it would be ideal to move toward solving those problems, but that was not a good approach and the timing was off. There are countless K-pop acts that would gladly go through such intense schedules for a fraction of BTS’s stardom. As individuals, BTS showed no humility.   BTS has had its own difficulties, but truthfully speaking, it also received a lot of support, even from the government. Dismissing all that and bringing the whole system down as a top-tier star seems discouraging for the rest of the people in the industry.     The band’s announcement was for ARMY, its fans. Why are the fans so powerful in K-pop?   Today, the way to reach stardom is through securing a fandom. Fandoms are necessary for celebrities to expand their careers. Fan culture is a key factor behind the rise of K-pop, but it’s a double-edged sword. The downside is that fandoms can suppress artistic value and personal tastes.   Even if a singer’s new music is honestly not good, loyal fans will like it unconditionally. Deep down inside, some might think, “I preferred their previous music,” but fans can’t dwell on that thought or express that opinion because they’re part of the fandom.   Fans cheer during a BTS concert held in April in Las Vegas. [YONHAP]   The biggest problem with fandoms is that it can also kill the artist’s career in no time. If the fans leave, the singer’s career is over and virtually cannot recover.   In the past, when signers sought success with their music, if they didn’t make good music, their release would flop. But if they came back the next time with a good song, their career got right back on track. However, if a singer’s winning move relies on having a fandom, once the fandom pulls back, it’s unlikely that a new fandom will form to revive their career.     What should the K-pop scene do to overcome these current weaknesses?   One of thing is that the media, and most of all the general public, need to give attention to more diverse genres. They need to go beyond simply consuming music, and actively seek what kind of music is out there. Otherwise, small and medium-sized agencies cannot survive.   Music critic Lim [PARK SANG-MOON]   People need to look at the non-mainstream to reach musical diversity, which Korea currently lacks. Diversity and a wide array of non-mainstream styles is how we get more people to become interested in music, so that the music industry can expand.   As I’ve been saying since a decade ago: I’m not criticizing Girls’ Generation, I’m criticizing the fact that there is only Girls’ Generation. Right now, it’s as if Korea is only going to have BTS.     Then could other groups use the absence of BTS to their advantage?   Yes. This could allow other groups to grow and show themselves.   It’s true that K-pop doesn’t allow time for a good song to come out. Ideally when a group drops a hit song, they need ample preparation to roll out another good song. But K-pop agencies, especially the smaller ones, just don’t have the time and resources to spare. And because performance is often deemed a much more important factor in securing an audience for K-pop, time and resources often end up going toward dance more than music.   BTS arrives at the 64th Annual Grammy Awards in Las Vegas on April 3. [AP/YONHAP]   That’s why we need to put our focus back on the musicality in K-pop. K-pop music is still very immature. Just compare it with the decades of pop music and all the experiments that it has gone through over the years.   But this also means that we’ve got so much room for improvement. K-pop is growing, and it will keep on growing. BY HALEY YANG [yang.hyunjoo@joongang.co.kr],BY YOON SO-YEON [yoon.soyeon@joongang.co.kr]