God I hate Busker Busker. Average bland music that could excite or offend absolutely nobody, it’s easy to see why a conservative country like Korea loves them so much. They’re like the Korean Nickelback, except at least Nickelback gets rocks thrown at them every now and then for their crimes against popular music which is kind of funny.
On the other hand Koreans can’t stop sucking Busker Busker’s dicks and polluting their brains with their ultra Joe-average trash like “Cherry Blossom Ending“, a song so ordinary and dull that it’d get rejected from a latter-day Weezer album for being too bland. Korea loves this shit. Even publicly using words from Ilbe, Korea’s funtastic equivalent of 4chan with extra added batty ultra-conservatism and usually a cardinal sin for pop stars didn’t earn Busker Busker that much negativity. One of these guys needs to pull out all the stops and date a T-ara member or something, it’s probably the only thing that will get them any hate because sucky written-while-taking-a-shit music sure won’t.
I hasten to add that it’s their music that I hate, not the guys themselves. Unlike 99% of k-pop fans, I’m not one of these irrational crazies who thinks they can cast judgement on a person’s actual character and personality just by looking at their public persona and their SNS activity. I didn’t actually give a flying fuck about the guys in Busker Busker either way until when that great interview with Brad came out the other day and everyone lost their shit. I liked it that he dished the dirt on the Korean music scene and spilled the beans about forced Botox injections, coercion into shit contracts, crazy working conditions etc… but nobody else seemed to care about that. All people wanted to talk about was OH NOES THE MUSIC COMPETITION IS RIGGED EVERYTHING IS FAKE!!!!!!1!1!
So, since that’s all you people seem to be interested in, that’s what this blog is going to talk about. Because I’m all about giving the people what they want, that’s me.
Music competitions being rigged might seem like a shocking revelation to Korean netizens who probably don’t acquire a lot of playtime or sun in their lifetime let alone the social skills required to form a musical group and start playing venues, but it should be no great surprise to anybody who has ever been involved in music competitions of any kind. Here’s some scenarios taken from my real life experiences, that I’ve broken down in “Entertainment Radar” style format, because I either am or know all of these people in some capacity and can’t be tellin’ you no names, professional ethics yo:
1. A very big music competition happens, where bands compete for a record deal by K (a large multinational major record label and household name that all of you reading this have heard of). The prize is publicised as determined by crowd response plus a majority vote of three judges, one of whom is a representative of label K who will be provisioning the recording contract and releasing a mini-album of the winning group, with more to come if the first album promotions go well. The winner even gets complete creative control over the songs and the artwork for the mini-album – what a great prize, right? After a few heats, the final competition is run with each group playing a 45-minute set to try and wow the judges and audience. The crowd favourite turns out to be group A, an eclectic mixed-gender group with an unusual musical hybrid and an enigmatic stage presence that absolutely brings the house down. Their competition is B, a hair-metal style group who competently play standard 80s hair-metal and are received politely but the overall impact is kind of… meh. The judges convene, two of them say “group A wins, there’s no doubt about it, they are clearly the better group musically – in fact I haven’t even heard anything quite like that before, plus the audience went absolutely nuts!“. The third judge, the representative for K, says “but group A’s sound is too unusual, the prize is our record label deal, but my record label won’t dare touch something like that, we don’t know how to market that – hell, I probably won’t even have a job left if I throw what group A does at my boss”. Because the entire event plus the prize is being bankrolled by record label K, majority vote and audience response be damned – group B wins and gets the record deal, and that’s the end of that. Group B are understandably rapt, sign on the dotted line, release a bland 80s-style hair metal mini-album on label K that nobody buys and then promptly break up. The juvenile art that the group chose for the cover – a crude picture of some winged devil-girl or whatever with her tits out that was probably drawn by one of the band’s friends – probably didn’t help!
2. A medium-sized music competition happens, run by a Christian music company. The prize is a fuckload of money and some nice instruments, and the winner is determined by audience response. Several groups and solo artists perform and play two songs each. The clear winner seems to be G – a female solo performer and multi-instrumentalist with outstanding vocals plus a great stage presence and sense of humour that really engages with the audience. Nobody else is even close in terms of musical quality or audience reaction, but H doesn’t do badly – their rock sound is pretty sloppy but goes over well enough and gets a good reaction. Every other group is bland as fucking shit – boring Christian pop-rock with sappy devotional “I love you Jesus / Jesus you’re the one for me” lyrics (not even exaggerating), all sung and played by clean-cut boys seemingly scared to sing too loud or strum their guitars too hard lest it might wake the Lord’s peaceful slumber, and that nobody in the audience cares about – the queue for the bar and the toilets is bigger than the crowd at the stage for all of these acts. You know where this one is going already just from the first sentence, right? Of course you do – the results come in: H is 3rd, G is 2nd and 1st is one of the Christian groups that nobody except their mothers cared about or even watched. When reading these prizes out, the MC has an apologetic tone and the winning group look almost too embarrassed to take the prize, seemingly knowing that it rightfully belonged to G.
3. A small music competition happens in a bad part of town. It’s a heat – the prize is simply to move onto the next round and is determined by the event organiser, and nobody else. He says before the event starts that he might factor the audience response in a bit, but ultimately, it’s up to him. Two groups compete and play a 30-minute set each. Group A is a blues-rock band who are complete noobs that turn up with inadequate amplification and have to run half of the instruments straight through the venue’s PA system, but once they get going, their unpolished sound suits the equally unpolished punters who are basically happy that at least the band isn’t interfering too heavily with the pool game. Group B are a lot more professional and have better equipment and stage presence, but their softer rock music isn’t received that well by the crowd who start shouting “get off!”… that is, until the female singer starts removing some clothing and then the chants start changing to “get your tits out!”. After the show is over, the event organiser grabs the microphone and says “The winner is group B… and no, it’s not for the reason you think!” The audience laughs and jeers “yeah, right, whatever! Do we get to see her tits now or what?”. Later on, the event organiser privately levels with group A: “look, you guys were honestly the better group, but I can’t have you guys back for another heat, your equipment isn’t good enough. I can’t have you risking blowing up my PA by putting all your equipment through it. You’re lucky I even let you play at all.”
The reason why I share with you these examples is not to criticise the events or the people running them – in each case, the decisions that were made, while arguably unfair, were certainly understandable from the point of view of the people making them. The reason why I bring this stuff up is to demonstrate that whether large or small, there’s a multitude of extra factors that always come into play whenever a music competition is held, and most of those factors don’t actually have anything to do with the quality of the music, or even the audience’s perceived enjoyment of the event. So you can pretty much write off every single music competition held anywhere by anybody ever as being riddled with bias and bullshit, because they all are. I used just three examples but I could have easily used 30.
As for Busker Busker, and Superstar K, so Ulala Session was scripted to win, big deal, so what. It’s fucking television AND it’s a music competition, of course it’s not real, of course there’s behind-the-scenes bullshit and ultra fake-ass generation of a narrative involved, what did you expect? They’ve got to fill up all that airtime when the groups aren’t actually playing somehow. Next you’ll be telling me that reality TV shows are fake and scripted too. Don’t break my heart, now.
Music quality doesn’t really have an objective standard by which it can be truly measured anyway – for all my ragging on Busker Busker, if someone turns around and says “but… I like Cherry Blossom Ending”, then they like it, and that’s that. Sure Lindt make better chocolate than Cadburys… but what if I prefer the taste of Cadburys? That’s why the extra factors creep in – if there’s no truly objective standard for measuring music quality as a judge OR and audience then, how the fuck DO you judge it with any fairness?
The most sensible answer to this question is “you don’t”. Sure, watch your favourite music shows, but watch them to hear the music, not for who wins. Fuck who wins. Music is not sport, here endeth the lesson.