This whole week I told myself to NOT write this out. Do Not Even in big, block capital letters is what I keep telling myself but it’s now Friday and this… is still on my mind, so I’m just going to come out here and express them. I don’t know if this counts as unpopular opinion, but then again I don’t really care. Plus, this is KPop-related – to all of us who are listeners to whatever large or small degree, there’s definitely the love/hate outlook, myself included, that surely we can civilly come to terms.
When it comes to KPop, to be completely honest I really don’t know where I stand. In general, I enjoy watching live performances and keeping up with updates and new songs etc but that’s also because I’m an Asianphile and a gossip junkie. I tend to just lump everything Korean music under the umbrella of KPop in my mind (and iTunes) so while I’m aware that real and/or uber-talented musicians in the Korean entertainment such as Epik High, Lee Seung Gi and 10 cm do not fall under this category, I admit that there are enough diamonds in the artificial rough within the idol-group pool of KPop that still does the landscape justice.
Which brings me to the biggest thing in KPop since… I don’t know, 2006 i.e. the year they debuted? 2011 i.e. the year they hit massive sensation both domestically and internationally? Or could it be 2012 when they toured worldwide, cementing their name the world over? I did catch them in their North America stop, namely when they stopped by the east coast. I know the concert in itself was a big deal and I’m glad I went but if I’m being completely honest – I can’t remember much about it now. Which perhaps just goes to show the kind of fan I am – I suppose the most proper term is casual; I like them, but I’m not fanatic about them.
Why am I bringing this up? Last week when their Japan Dome tour kicked off at Seibu Dome in Saitama, a recently formed, soon-to-debut boy band group from their same entertainment powerhouse company opened for them. This amazing opportunity will repeat in all (or almost all) of their dome tour stops, happening now until mid-January of next year. As is the usual case these days, social network flooded with reactions, and official goods like photos were quickly made available to Korean and international fans. On the group’s Facebook page where photos from the sold-out two nights were uploaded, photos of the boys from the rookie group were also uploaded.
Apparently, all hell then broke loose.
The rookie group was ridiculed, slandered and mocked. Although there were those who were indifferent about them, furor and ire were still directed towards them for taking away their sunbaes‘ limelight. There were also a handful who kept bringing up unnecessary comparisons, belittling one while pretty much worshiping the other. A dome-tour is no laughing joke in Japan – I used to be head-over-heels for JPop so I know my J-facts quite well and I’m with them on the significance of dome tours – but to make such a commotion over an opening act? To slew hate and the like towards a set of photos? Really, of all things to get upset and angry over?
The outcome? Not even two hours later, the admins deleted photos of the rookie group boys. The two group photos stayed and last I checked, they’re indeed still there.
On one hand, I understand where these staunch, obviously dedicated VIPs are coming from. On the other hand though, I really, really wish people would quit trying to compare WINNER with BIGBANG or saying the former doesn’t deserve to be the opening act in such a large-scaled concert tour of the latter because they’ve got to crawl and climb their way up to earn this opportunity as their seniors did. To that here’s my short response: fuck that. Don’t attempt to compare hardships experienced by different individuals or groups, putting them on scales that’s as subjective as they come.
Here’s my long response to that: the times are now different, get on with the program. Hate it or love it, we’re now in the extremely technologically-savvy era with an exhaustive social media platform to choose from – Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr just to name a few. Examples of the pros are 1) the real-time updates and 2) direct communications between artists and their fans are no longer impossible. Provided the media play is done right, the exposure, interest, emotional and financial investments are now more easily achieved. In other words, creating a fan base in this time and age is much easier thanks to the wide network made available by the great Internet.
WINNER lucked out in this sense. For one, the survival-program show WIN: Who Is Next which featured them was conveniently made available on YouTube, catering to not only their domestic audience but also international viewers through the English subtitle option. KPop itself has grown expansively in the past few years and homegrown YG artists like BIGBANG namely their leader, G-DRAGON and fellow member Taeyang are also actively on their respective Twitter and Instragram accounts, sometimes even tweeting and writing in English. Kids these days are the Facebook/Twitter/Instragram whatever-else-have-yous generation. In urban settings, who isn’t without a smart phone, tablet, PC or laptop these days? I’ve seen so many kids as young as ten have their own mobile phones, even if those are the kid-versions. The Internet is not a fascination to this new generation; it’s a necessity. Among the users and tech-savvy community, crazy fangirls in their teens and tweens are undoubtedly part of the movement – they’re the ones who make sure their oppas stay relevant, protecting their biases like it’s true love. In short, social media and the tech-savvy world today has made exposure easy – put it out on the web, and the world will respond.
What I mean to say is, it is thus unfair to draw comparisons on the kinds of hardships BIGBANG went through in their road to international stardom with the kinds of challenges WINNER is and will face. The era and times are different – BIGBANG had to work harder and did so, no doubt, to put themselves out there to the mass because none of their sunbaes were on the megadom scale they’re at. Plus, social media in the form of Facebook, Twitter etc didn’t exist or if they did, weren’t as widely used and as huge as they are now – awareness and exposure had to be done the hard way through physical posters, small-gigs and the like.
WINNER is definitely at an advantage when it comes to riding on BIGBANG‘s fame – whether this is intentional or not is besides the point because YG gets the last say and it’s obvious he’s milking the latter’s popularity for the company and rookie group’s benefits – but of course they will face hardships, as their seniors did. The difference is the kinds of challenges that’ll come their way.
Keeping up with the times, it’s very likely their challenges are more top-down, as opposed to the bottom-up path their senior took. WINNER has to pavé their way from the top (so much stress!) because they are the next boy band to début under the powerhouse company who gave the world BIGBANG. Questions include: how will and can they stay relevant in the saturated KPop arena? The cons of social media where too much exposure and opinions floating around aren’t always a good thing, will they inevitably suffer from backlash and hidden skeletons in closets from the past? The over-expectations which are already running high, the nonstop comparison to their seniors, the ridicule and slander – will they come out of them unscathed? The fact that if the début isn’t managed and done right, they’ll possibly forever be defined by the survival program they came from, which pitted an equal contender?
They’re different hardships, so I’ll be damned if someone says they have it easier. Don’t – don’t belittle another’s hardship, because someone else went through something deemed unthinkable to you.
Then there’s the comparisons with BIGBANG in terms of music, style and showmanship. I will say this right off the bat: WINNER is mediocre compared to BIGBANG. There’s no skirting or denying that, and I really thought so myself, when I watched fancams of the two groups in the recently concluded Seibu Dome tour. WINNER was a bundle of nerves, off-key at certain points and even on the second night when they did better, they weren’t memorable. Plus, the ease of being onstage and commanding were still absent in the five of them.
On the other hand, even through shitty fancam videos BIGBANG were commanding – their stage presence as five individuals and as a group is no joke, period. The way they’re so natural onstage is also obvious and telling of themselves as seasoned, skilled performers. The question that one should ask isn’t “When will WINNER ever be like BIGBANG?” rather, “How long did it take BIGBANG to hone their crafts, skills and flatten those nerves to have such strong presence and charisma onstage, each time they’re out there performing for thousands of fans?” There are many things which can only be learned through experience and time – there are simply no shortcuts, no matter how talented one is. Such is the case for WINNER, because it’s not about pointing out, “Look at all the mistakes they did! Pfft, and they’re coined the next BIGBANG.” Rather it’s reflecting, “How many mistakes did BIGBANG members do in the past seven years to be where and who they are now?” Adversity builds character; similarly, mistakes shape identities. In short, WINNER boys must rise and fall on their own, by their own, in due time …. just as BIGBANG did.
Another comparison that bugs that hell out of me is the music direction and style. I get it that YG Entertainment has a type and preference in general, plus they did start out as a hip-hop/R&B-oriented company that it’s inevitable WINNER is predicted or expected to debut with a similar style. In addition, it doesn’t really help that BIGBANG and G-DRAGON‘s recent musical tastes lean heavily on the electronic, auto-tune etc style – I don’t know what to lump these under except to coin ’em swag-heavy – which pretty much redefined the KPop landscape. In fact, they did it so damn effectively that WINNER is anticipated to head in the same direction … even if that’s not the case.
Judging from the original compositions the group has showcased to us in WIN: Who Is Next, they seem to be more of the alternative pop rock style. Someone on Tumblr said it so well – in the beginning they kept losing and said to lack stage presence and originality because it was as though they were trying too hard to fit into images expected of them, but are not them. Like trying to be swag and bad ass when they’re not, or trying to be BIGBANG when their niche is clearly not the same genre. The reason the fandom exploded when Officially Missing You and Smile Again graced our ears and screens were because they finally came into their own – no longer trying to be cookie-cutter molds of established artists within their company. In short, their musical directions – at least in these formative few years – seem to vary greatly from the stuff BIGBANG does that I fail to understand why this comparison is still talked about.
I get it that the two groups are fundamentally similar – they’re both from the same entertainment company; they’re both the products of survival reality shows; they’re both composed of five talented boys split exactly the same namely two rappers and three vocalists; they’re relevant and shine not just as a group, but also individually. However, I wish people would quit trying to fit WINNER into BIGBANG‘s molds, like trying to pinpoint the GD, TOP etc in WINNER. All ten guys from both groups are so hugely talented, but if it isn’t obvious to people by now, while they do have some overlapping qualities here and there, in general everyone’s really distinct. There’s no out-there, radical GD in WINNER as far as I can tell right now (unless Nam Tae Hyun ups and surprises us as he tends to keep doing) and similarly, there’s none of the mature, introspective and woeful perspectives of Kang Seung Yoon in BIGBANG. Why are we even attempting to define them within each other’s spectrum? Just as we are unique as our own persons, they are too.
My last counter-argument is the comparison made between the two groups in terms of popularity and redefining the landscape. BIGBANG did the latter with KPop and early KPop legends like Rain paved the way but the former pretty much opened the floodgates with their own hands. Their popularity is as much a testament of the strong reception received worldwide, as it is their musical strengths. Did they ever see this coming when they first debuted? I think they dreamed of it, but honestly things worked out as they ought did based upon so many factors like the right decisions, the right attitude, the skills and talents possessed and more. On that basis, it’s unfair to subject WINNER to expectations as large as the kind BIGBANG made because things like these, one can plan and hope and dream all one wants, but so many factors come into play to make or break that. Like with all things in this life, time will tell.
So in the meantime, why don’t we just rejoice and bask in happiness and with full hearts for WINNER‘s upcoming début? Rather than making a mountain out of a mole or making unjustified comparisons, why don’t we channel those emotions into something more positive where everyone gains? At the height of their popularity now, BIGBANG seriously no longer needs the publicity and hype – these things now follow them and not the other way around – so while the dome tours are huge deals for them, at the scale they’re on, not even the biggest act of the moment can steal their limelight, what more a rookie group. WINNER acting as the former’s opening act neither mars nor discredits their shining crown lights because they don’t even come close to overtaking them. For this reason, why don’t we view this exactly for what it is – an opportunity?
Plus, the best of any legend are the ones who realize that although this is their time, it is finite and will inevitably be taken over. Acknowledging and realizing this fact doesn’t mean one discredits one’s talents or past successes, not at all. Instead, this is the humility and grace which keeps one grounded and explains why legendary artists and success stories are respected long after they’re gone.
BIGBANG is nowhere near to exiting but in the saturated KPop landscape which they’ve redefined and taken over, surely there’s room for one more rookie group to enter, creating small ripples of their own.
Remember their name and feel their presence because they’re here to stay: WINNER.