K-Pop’s EXO: Can Music End the War Between the South & North?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9bZkp7q19f0

 

Oh, does this song ring a bell? Welcome to K-Pop Music and it’s global takeover.

 

Did you know that Korean Artists are hand-picked by entertainment companies and created into full-time, untouchable, superstars? No other country in the world takes their pop music more seriously than South Korea, sorry USA. According to VOX.com, South Korea’s music industry is a $5 billion industry, and is one of the most significant exports from the country. SM is the largest entertainment company in South Korea, and is responsible for growth of some of the most famous K-Pop superstar music acts in the world.

 

In the United States, and everywhere else in the world, an artist needs to work their way up to proving themselves worthy of the attention of either a record label or their own fanbase. Although this happens in South Korea as well, it does not stop there. South Korea has institutions that train the artists to perfect their performances, essentially grooming them to be performing machines. This business model is not utilized anywhere else by any other entertainment industry.

 

Picture of EXO

 

Just to begin, one major artist group from South Korea is EXO, which is a Korean-Chinese boy band. The band 2018 Winter Olympics was the first time that North Korea opened its doors to influence from entertainers outside of their country. EXO was chosen to perform for the 2018 Winter Olympics. How is this significant? Some may argue that having a South Korean band performing in North Korea allows the two nations to relieve a bit of tension. The band is essentially in a position of sociopolitical influence to an extent.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UKCKn5RhbAw

 

This leaves me to ask the question: can music heal the tension between two nations at war with one another?

 

After reading up on our history of war, I am left with the impression that it is impossible for music to end war. However, music has played a huge role in empowering people and regenerating cultures of unity in a time of segregation. An example of music uniting a culture amongst the horrors of war was during the Vietnam era. Artists such as Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs helped to develop morality for Americans. Moreover, this particular generation of artists was unique in that they did not aspire to unite American against their wartime rivals, rather to establish harmony and a peace of mind in the midst of confusion, disappointment, and devastation. Music alleviated a culture of people who needed answers.

 

Here is a picture of EXO taken with North Korean dictator: Kim Jong Un

 

Now that South Korean artists EXO, have expelled some of their influence in the Communist North Korea, the culture of entertainment has planted a seed for acceptance of change. EXO has new fans in North Korea. However, will things truly change simply because of a boy band’s historic performance in a Communist country that’s blocked all forms of outside entertainment for over 20 years?

 

Sources:

Officialpsy. “PSY – GANGNAM STYLE(강남스타일) M/V.” YouTube. July 15, 2012. Accessed April 17, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9bZkp7q19f0.

 

Olympic. “EXO at the Winter Olympics – FULL Performance – PyeongChang 2018 Closing Ceremony | Music Monday.” YouTube. March 13, 2018. Accessed April 17, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UKCKn5RhbAw.

 

Romano, Aja. “How K-pop Became a Global Phenomenon.” Vox. February 16, 2018. Accessed April 17, 2018. https://www.vox.com/culture/2018/2/16/16915672/what-is-kpop-history-explained.

 

Sklaroff, Lauren Rebecca. “During Vietnam War, Music Spoke to Both Sides of a Divided Nation.” The Conversation. September 13, 2017. Accessed April 17, 2018. http://theconversation.com/during-vietnam-war-music-spoke-to-both-sides-of-a-divided-nation-83702.

 

Crazy Markets for Crazy Blues

Mamie Smith

Mamie Smith wasn’t a blues singer. Today, however, we know her as one of the most influential figures in the creation of the blues music industry. So what exactly happened?

Smith began as a cabaret singer, but one fateful day in 1920, Sophie Tucker, another singer, coudln’t make it into Okeh Record’s recording studio. Smith was givena chance to ake her first recording, That Thing Called Love, and after that was recruited to make an another recording of a song called Crazy Blues. Though Smith was not by trade a blues singer, she made the record anyway. After it was released, the record sold over 75 000 copies in just a few months. This success is especially notable, as this record was the first recording of a blues song by a black singer.

In addition to being widely commercially successful, Crazy Blues has greater economic and social implications. This recording  heralds the beginning of an entirely new music market. The popularity ofthe song caused the Okeh Records and several other labels to sign more black female blues singers to produce “race records”. Intially, these “race records” were sung by black musicians and were intended for black listeners, but soon the form of classic blues represented by these records became popular across racial lines. Mamie Smith’s record paved the way for countless black musicians to break into the blues market.  Take five minutes and listen to noted activist Angela Davis talk about Mamie Smith’s significant contribution to the music industry in this interview with NPR’s “All Things Considered”.

Article from Front Page of Washington Bee, December 18th, 1920

Further evidence of the new blues craze can be found in this article from the December 18th, 1920 issue of he Washington Bee, an African American historical newspaper based in Washington D.C.. Situated neatly on the front page, this small notice of an upcoming performance at the Howard Theater exemplifies the excitement stirring around the new musical possibilities illuminated by Smith and her record. The author of the article heralds Smith as “one of the most-talked-of women who ever parter her lips to pour forth melodies…”. Not only does this article encapsulate Smith’s increasing fanbase, but also the uniqueness of her position in society. Smith, as a woman of color, was the highest paid among Okeh Records singers. This newfound ability to turn blues into money and record sales was profitable not only for musicians, but also for record companies and theaters. Companies began to find out that if they could contract a blues singer they could make a quick buck . This recording, and the subsequent boom in “race records” ushered in a entirely new and relatively untapped musical market. Before this record, music wasn’t being marketed toward black audiences. Rather, black folk music was idealized to fit white musical standards. While this recording and these newspaper articles may still reflect the capitalist pandering that musicians are so often wont to do, they also reflect a change in the way the msuci industry looked at its consumers. Mamie Smith and her record Crazy Blues opened up an entirely new market to the music industry while simultaneously creating a pop-culture phenomenon. And I think that’s worth noting.

Works Cited

“At the Howard Theater.” Washington Bee (Washington D.C.), December 18, 1920. Accessed October 10, 2017. African American Historical Newspapers,.

Crawford, Richard. America’s Musical Life: A History. New York: W.W. Norton, 2005.

Oliver, Paul. “Smith, Mamie.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed October 10, 2017, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/41390.

“Mamie Smith and the Birth of the Blues Market.” NPR. November 11, 2006. Accessed October 10, 2017. http://www.npr.org/2006/11/11/6473116/mamie-smith-and-the-birth-of-the-blues-market.

Sultry Divas. Recorded September 30, 2008. Columbia River Entertainment, 2008, Streaming Audio. Accessed October 10, 2017. http://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/be%7Crecorded_cd%7Cli_upc_723723519221.