Timeout: A Case Against KVariety KPop Star Season 2 (well, sort of).

Late on the wagon – very late, in fact, to be honest considering not only have 2 seasons been produced, they’re both now finished! – but guess what show kept me occupied two nights in a row …which I totally did not see coming?

Let’s backtrack a little on how these all started…

Sometime last year not long after the end of KPop Star Season 1, I stumbled (literally) upon a video of Lee Ha Yi a.k.a Lee Hi singing her cover of Rolling In the Deep for the season 1 finale;  I was awestruck – so incredibly moved and no kidding, goosebumps all over. Since then, I have watched a steady stream of performance videos of both season 1 and 2 contestants, but never the full show. Then two nights ago, I stumbled upon the special episode, featuring epic collaborations such as…

Featuring who else? My girl Lee Hi and my up-and-coming favorite dynamic duo, 2000 Won.

Not just them, honestly I was totally blown away by all the collaborations; case-in-point, here’s another favorite that’s been on replay -:

But 2000 Won in particular, had me curious for some reason – why didn’t they make it as far as I would’ve assumed they would? What is all this about that supposed kid-extraordinaire, Bang Ye Dam that has JYP and YG looking like they’re eargasmic (seriously, I am not even joking) whenever he appears onstage? Wait, wasn’t Akdong Musician the clear winner all along throughout the show?

Finally curious, I scoured trusted English subtitled sources for KPop Star Season 2‘s episodes and jumped into the top 18 round. One video led to another and the next thing I know, two consecutive nights later – despite the use of the always-useful fast forward button – I found myself tearing up sometimes, applauding and at other times, bluntly annoyed and furious at particular judges or their feedback.

Last night – or rather, this morning considering I slept at 5 AM thanks to this show… – I’d completed the second episode of the first live show where all my favorites put on great performances and verdict? Now I understand what the hype about this show was all about, and why.

The thing that’s great about KPop Star – despite my feeling that most of these kids, contestants excuse me, are much too young to be swallowed into the mechanics and identity-less of the KPop manufacturing machines – is that it truly is a show about realizing one’s dreams. In a sense, it’s really Dream High except the Real Life version. On the surface, the show is pioneered by the Big 3 – the 3 major label companies, namely JYP, YG and SM – represented by the men themselves JYP and YG and BoA, representing the latter. In another attempt at analogy, conceptually it’s basically similar to American Idol. At heart though, this show really is pioneered by the contestants and their obvious desires and aspirations.

Perhaps I am feeling more for them right now in particular because I am myself, battling against inner demons and having to face reality – despite however much I want or hope to continue graduate school there is simply no way without funding which seems especially bleak right now. A number of the contestants, especially the older ones, said this and it really resonated, “I told myself – this is the last time. This is the make or break.”

For instance, one of the girls in the last-minute formed girl group YouU confessed, “Prior to this show I’d probably gone to more than 50 auditions. Whenever my friends see me, they’ll say that it sure looks to them that all I do is attend auditions. Honestly… this is the last. If we [the girl group] don’t make it to the top 10, this is the end [of my singing career].” In another instance, my heart especially felt for the boys of 2000 Won, who’s serious, passionate, obviously talented and have been trying to break the scene … but kept getting criticized and put down by the judges. The desperation in their performances, body language and near-tear instances really got to me; ugh gutted.

I’m not an arts-enthusiast, nor do I have the talent for performing arts – I’m honestly, a very straight-laced science student-type – so I don’t know and am not familiar with the harshness of the performing arts world as depicted in movies and such – my knowledge about this comes exactly from those sources. But despite our differences, these sentiments: passion, determination and resilience in trying to realize a dream – they’re similar and reverberate.

I’m not familiar with the judges’ previous judgments – in terms of style, technicalities and overall perspectives – having not watched the first season, but frankly I am feeling increasingly annoyed at their feedback. I’m sure they’re great persons in Real Life, plus talented and obviously mighty successful in their own rights and within their circles and spectrum, but this is the thing about adulthood sometimes – the older you are, the more insistent and stubborn you tend to be in thinking you Know It All.

I don’t dislike everything they say, but I take offense at 4 particular instances shown in the show – up until the first live show, at least. Cases in point are discussed below:

1) Their overly harsh “constructive criticisms” towards 2000 Won 

I get it that no one is perfect, I get it. Compared to their established powerhouses like say, BIGBANG, SUPER JUNIOR and 2PM – these contestants are rookies after all; raw at the edges and amateurish. But when I watched the qualifying rounds leading to the first live, as 2000 Won kept slumming further into themselves the more the judges kept going at them, I’m ugh – rattled. Is it just me or they clearly seem to Have A Case against these boys? Yes they’re a little bit desperate at one point, yes they keep falling short of bringing in their A-game, but can one really blame them at that point? I think they’re about my age and thus are not teenagers anymore, but these two clearly have been trying to Make It Big seriously and really, even the strongest person breaks at repeated put-downs. JYP especially – what is his deal against these boys? He keeps going all, “I’m not impressed,” over and over at whatever they do that please tell me how could they possibly not finally cave in and feel disheartened?

2) Their obvious bias towards Bang Ye Dam

DUDE. I thought judges are supposed to be neutral? Maybe the kid is a whiz-wonder – I don’t know and I’ll withheld judgment because I just don’t see whatever they see in him – but seriously, favoritism much? He’s talented yes, and definitely even more so for a kid his age, but that’s the thing – he’s still a kid! His voice will break and he’s still so, so young that though he’s got his A-games going on – one simply cannot ascertain right now I think, that he’ll be oh, the next Michael Jackson or something. Having musically-inclined parents don’t give you automatic entry, you know? It gives you an advantage, but not necessarily an edge. I think he’s a good kid, really cute too, don’t get me wrong – this isn’t a personal jab. But I have issues with this obvious favoritism because when last I checked, judges are supposed to be neutral. I get it that in the KPop idol-factory obsession, the younger you are, the more marketable you are and higher potential to be trained et cetera, but there must be a line to be drawn when comparing against a mosquito voice versus someone who harmonizes like the likes of Andrew Choi and even one-half of 2000 Won. You can’t put them on the same scales in comparing their natural talents! I don’t think so, at least.

3) The following sentence stated and agreed upon in the case of Kim Do Yun who withdrew,
“She chose to gave up on her dreams.” 

Wait a minute, hold up on that! You said she did what? Gave up on her dreams? Dude, I beg to differ. She didn’t give up on any dreams – she just realized that her aspirations lie elsewhere and thus, not only acted bravely, but also maturely and realistically. I get it that KPop is Big – the capital B is intentional – in their music scene and yes, internationally as well, and they’re the main 3 producers behind so many KPop wonders; I get it, I’ll give credit where it’s due. But I think they’re being a little too full of themselves, thinking everyone would want to be like them and in terms of making it in the music scene, that this KPop-manufactured sound and image are the only ways to go about it. I don’t believe so – rather, I don’t want to believe so. Clearly this thing called Identity still exists even in the most manufactured entertainment world.

Perhaps I’m making a mountain out of a mole – perhaps even, the translator had misinterpreted what they meant, but if the statement was indeed said and conveyed as is, ugh – that’s just annoying.

4) Their perception that Akdong Musician will not and or cannot make it big if they don’t stick to mainstream sounds and type

Excuse my language but the f*ck? I recall JYP and YG saying something along these lines at the top 10 qualifier and again following their first live performance. Say what? Say what? They’re not able to capture audiences if they don’t stick to more commonplace chords and stuff? Dude, Akdong Musician is so bloody talented and even more so because they’re just so unique; original. I’d commented and said this in response to an op-ed article in Seoulbeats, and I still think so: Akdong Musician just seems to me, personally, more suited to the indie genre and smaller label companies. I would hate hate hate to see them lose their flavor and originality at the expense of going mainstream and selling their souls and identities to the big leagues. I don’t believe that they won’t be successful if they don’t stick to more KPop-common trends and music because Akdong Musician‘s selling point in my opinion at least, is their music. It’s not all about the music, I agree, but I believe the basis of qualitative sticky factor in the end comes down to music after all. It’s the same concept in not flaunting one’s own traits – if you’re talented or good at whatever you do, your actions will speak for you.

(pause) 

Ah, okay. I’ve ranted all these out of my system – I feel so much better now, aha.

In hindsight, again I will attest that I don’t dislike the judges and especially, I’m definitely not attempting personal jabs – I don’t know anyone related to this show on a personal level! – but I just strongly feel that despite how high up there you may be, you musn’t forget that 1) you could be wrong in your talent-eye or assessment, 2) unconventional is not at all an automatic No-Go and 3) dreams are dynamic.

I’m aware I’m being especially critical, but no one is perfect after all – regardless how mainstream one is or how KPop-producin’ you’ve been and are. I’ll be watching this show following the release of the English subtitled episodes – here’s to hoping the later live shows are more enjoyable and give credit where effort, talent and sincerity are due!

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6 thoughts on “Timeout: A Case Against KVariety KPop Star Season 2 (well, sort of).

  1. My sister has been trying to get me to watch some of these shows.. maybe I will some day, but for now, reading your rants about it is enough to make me pause and remember, this is television after all, and everytime I allow myself to get sucked into really caring for competition-based programs like this, the judges never fail to completely piss me off. One of the reasons why I gave up on my alltime favorite show for years in a row So you think you can dance. I don’t think I’m ready to see the Big 3 here do the same things – but maybe I’ll just browse around YT one day and check it out.

    1. Rosie, I’d hate to put you off on this one because of this post! I wouldn’t say this show’s a gem per se but it did after all, gave (and introduced to) us Park Ji Min, Lee Hi and more. I’m kinda in a love/hate stance with the judges right now but looking at the show in it’s entirety, it’s really quite an enjoyable watch. I do agree that start by watching the performance videos, whether seasons 1 or 2 contestant – lots of really good talents, that’s for certain!

  2. I’ve been a silent reader of yours for about a year now and I follow your posts pretty closely but this post particularly resonated with me as I am so relieved to see that another person actually shares the same sentiments as I did so I decided to break the silence and speak up here. I apologize for the impending rant below.
    It’s about time someone voice their thoughts about the few aforementioned issues(as stated in this post) because for all i know,the judges seems to have a strong preference towards Bang Yedam and I for one,was pretty sick at it and at what point I was so tempted to drop this show. I started watching the second season and it just breaks my heart to see top notch acts like 2000 won and Andrew Choi being cast aside for say,the so called child prodigy BYD. It’s hard not to hold a grudge towards JYP with all his over-the-top expressions and favoritism in play,and although I don’t hate the kid,I eventually got so sick of the overrated comments I simply stopping caring about him. In fact,I had so much beef with some of the aforementioned issues with this show I actually told myself to swear off further seasons of this show. I did not watch the first season,I only watched videos of Lee Ha Yi and Su Pearls performing on YT. It saddens to to great grief to realise that Kpop Star merely serves as means to seek potential candidates for more manufacturing. I hate how contestants are molded into the idol-cut-out shape as opposed to just letting the main focus fall on the contestants’ actual raw talent. Yes,they do gain more publicity but personally I would very much prefer focusing on the music itself rather than the appearances of the contestants. I think that the over exposure really killed off lots of their potential,as you can see,some of the contestants even lose their groundedness and forgot about their roots and why they wanted to do music in the first place.

    Personally I feel that out of the 3 judges,SM’s BoA gives the most unbiased and constructive criticisms and advice to the contestants. In fact,she’s managed to impressed me with her eagle eye for talent and also her pretty legit ability as a producer. (This,coming from a person who’s usually skeptical about the actual calibre of most SM artists is quite a big deal for me.) Yes,Akdong Musicians won but I would very much prefer if they choose to go indie ’cause I’m pretty sure that they’ve established quite a strong fanbase through the competition but if they really HAD to pick one I hope that it’d be YG because the artists from the company are actually granted more creative control as opposed to the other two. Definitely,no JYP please. (I think this show kinda ruined whatever good sentiments that I’ve had for him.) I’m glad that this show came up since many unpolished gems were discovered but at the same time I just wish that the show can be less K-pop directed(which is pretty much impossible,I know.) And I don’t hate this show. I stuck through,but it might take a lot to convince me to watch season 3 now that I’ve somewhat gotten the hang of the mechanisms behind this show. Voice Korea 2 on the other hand is magical! I have never been so enamored with a Korean singing reality show before,it just gets me in the gut whenever I hear the phenomenal voices on the show. Do check the show out if you’re inclined to watch a feel good,honest singing programme. I LOVE THAT SHOW.
    Oh,by the way I’m a Malaysian as well! Apa khabar? *waves* :D

    1. Hey! Noticed you’d followed this blog recently, but had no idea you’ve been a constant reader – thanks very much! Don’t worry about ranting – hell, this entire post is a rant, aha. I’m always up for discussions, for or against, shows etc I’ve brought up in my space here.

      Regarding your thoughts about BYD and KPop Star in general, I hear ya. But about the latter – I’m a little bit mixed feelings, or rather can’t as easily agree though I totally get what you mean. It’s like on one hand I get it that this show IS titled KPop Star, ergo of course the KPop-cutout elements and manufacturing automatically come attached – which means that we’re bitching on a lost cause; it is what it is and we’re frustrated at something that’s blatant. But on the other hand, I am conflicted and frustrated, just like you are – these are some really raw, mad talents and wanting to place them in the molds and having them (my greatest grievance) give up their originality and identity in favor of popularity or mainstream acceptance – ugh. But then there’s the fact that honestly, it does come down to the contestants themselves – are they willing to give up a part of themselves (and even their musicality) for fame? Because you’re right that this show gives them that (over)exposure, that’s for sure. If they are, then despite how much we love the way they were pre-show – they’ve made their decision you know? As much as it is aggravating to accept, especially as a viewer and for myself, someone (a little) older than most of them that I’m just like, “No! You’re only 16! This is not the start-all, end-all!” .Within the same spectrum, it’s the same reason why I feel for those who’ve attempted and been attempting to break into the scene, like 2000 Won, Andrew Choi and that girl in YouU – they’ve a direction, or more certain of the sort of artists they want to be you know? But if they don’t play by the rules of this show and the Big 3, they’re less likely to meet with mainstream fame; tough dilemma.

      As for the judges – I agree as well that BoA is perhaps the most objective of the 3. She’s at least able to get over the BYD fascination and eargasms – she had her moments too, oh boy – to recognize the others and/or give suggestions for improvement. But there’s a certain kind of coldness, or pompousness, I feel that SM in general seems to exude so personally while I think she’s gorgeous and definitely a success in her own rights – I keep feeling like she’s looking at them not as young’uns or whatever, but KPop products. I don’t know, I guess I’m just not quite feeling the sincerity… But I’m going to keep tuning in – unless for shizzle, that eargasm looks by JYP and YG keep continuing – and trying to err on the side of hope right now.

      Haven’t watched Voice Korea (or even the American version ha, though Adam Levine is oh so fine) so I can’t comment and it’s been aeons since I last followed AI too, so I’m not entitled to compare KPop Star to other singing shows out there – though I am glad you did find another to be better than this one!

      PS Aha at the Malaysian tidbit – always welcome around here!

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