BH Discuss: Do idols help or hurt Korea’s independent directors, artists and musicians?

During the recent Busan International Film Festival there were many complaints that in the past couple of years the focus of the festival has shifted from the films being shown at the festival to the various idols and celebrity actors who walk the red carpet at the events and premieres. Netizens complained that while idols like EXO and Big Bang’s TOP drew the big crowds, the veteran actors who were there to promote the films they starred in did not get the attention they deserved.

Last week I attended an event which was part of a film festival which highlighted the work of some of Busan’s up and coming independent and experimental film directors. One of the directors did a presentation about the various film festivals which take place in Busan every year and afterwards I had the chance to ask him how he felt about the growing idol presence at BIFF. He was strongly of the opinion that the shifting focus onto idols and celebrities could be doing serious harm to the independent cinema shown at Busan as the big mainstream independent companies get more and more involved. He felt this was exacerbated by the fact that as idols and celebrities became more important the large entertainment companies like CJ E&M which make the kind of mainstream content they are associated with would be able to push the festival in a direction which favours them over independent filmmakers.

But the idol effect is not just felt by filmmakers. As more money is poured into Hallyu by the Korean government in order to advance Korea’s economy and cultural soft power, this puts independent musicians at a disadvantage.

However in some ways it could also be helpful to these artists as international K-pop fans become more aware of Korean hip hop, indie and rock music. As singer/songwriter Hugh Keice put it in an interview with us:

‘I am actually rather grateful for the interest in K-pop as more people are now becoming interested in other Korean music and musicians due to this. Although I am different from the idols, as I am no longer young, still it is nice to be noticed by people because I am Korean and making music. So people will initially start with K-pop music and end up at mine.’

Rapper B-Free, on the other had, was more concerned that the corporate style of idol culture makes it difficult for artists and musicians to express themselves and attract attention:

‘I think the important thing is how we are shown by the media. Do we come on like idol groups with dyed hair and make-up and say what they want us to say or do we come on as artists saying and doing whatever we want? In Korea in order to be on TV the company has to pay the networks or have a special connection but I think in due time, if we just work hard enough, they will have to have us on.’

Related links from Beyond Hallyu and around the internet:


Korean Hip Hop Interview: B Free

An interview with singer-songwriter, Hugh Keice

Inside Korean Hip Hop: Interview with Dynasty Muzik founder and artists

Culture Wars: Can “Cool Japan” compete with the Korean Wave?


Bad idols, bad! – Netizen Buzz

Naughty red carpet dresses – Netizen Buzz

 MCST advocates ‘Hallyu 3.0′

So what do you think? Do idols attract more attention to independent artists from outside of Korea or do they reduce the number of platforms they can use to promote their work?

Let us know your thoughts!

  • Orion

    I think that, like many things, it is a double-edged sword. One one hand, it gives Hallyu a boost and it’s the reason why it exists. Popular content. Masses do not go for quality. Masses go for shallow pleasures. Pretty people, catchy tunes, generic films. It’s sad that some go only for that, but it’s how it goes. Those things reach and please wider audiences. So in that sense, they are needed to keep the wave going.

    But their profitability unfortunately means that they become the sole interest of the ones that benefit from the Hallyu. Artists need backing to reach audiences. Companies offer that backing. But why would an organization which only cares about making money help someone who will not make the best money possible for them?

    As a result, kpop and dramas (the sillier and more effortless the better) get all the support while other, potentially better and more valuable due to artistic and cultural significance works get no help at all. There is no balance there, because businesses don’t want balance. They want money. And the government wants something which will support the economy, therefore something which makes good money.

    The sad thing is, their lust for quick money means the Hallyu will eventually become boring, repetitive and stale. Masses like their shallow entertainment, but they also get bored faster with it, since they do not form anything but a superficial bond to it. And when that happens, the country will not have an alternative to fall back to, since it is not helping its less popular industries get the best exposure possible alongside pop entertainment. I understand why they aid the things that bring them money and fame, but they should also consider sustaining that, rather than wanting to gobble up as much as possible until it burns out. And sustaining it will bring much bigger gain in the long-run. Why make a lot now when you can make less, but for a considerably longer time = make more.

  • kpopalypse

    It’s a myth that idols are stealing the audience of independent artists because in reality it’s two different audiences. It’s a common fallback argument for independent artists who are secretly just jealous of mainstream success that idol success is a problem for them – but you can’t have your cake and eat it too. You have to make your decision “how much am I willing to dance with the devil for the chance to increase my reach”.

    Independent artists who consistently make good music and make an effort to promote themselves can still get attention, and they do. Their plight isn’t really any different to independent artists in the west vs something like X Factor or Hollywood movies. If I talk to any independent artist in my country in cinema or music who actually has a brain and isn’t blinded by greed and idiocy, their reaction to what’s on TV is “I don’t give a shit, that’s another world, and that audience wouldn’t care about me anyway – the people who like what I do don’t give a fuck about some guy on TV singing commercial pop”.

    • Orion

      I agree that there are many bigots who are just looking for someone to blame over their own failure, but I don’t think that paints the whole picture or changes reality.

      It does not matter if they have different audiences when the budgets and support lean unfairly towards the more popular entertainment. To me, that artist you describe at the end is the one with the problem. He is masking his lack of resources as his artistic decision. Or maybe it is his own decision, but it’s not everyone’s. A lot of independent artists aren’t as blinded by pride and having “approved viewers/listeners” and they actually need the money and want to reach out to wider audiences. But if there is no money made available and no help to spread their work, of course they will be angry at the lack of support in favor of more commercial projects and people.

      Yes, many indie artists manage to get attention and budgets, but they have to work way harder for it, for way better quality work and for much less of a share in profits and popularity than mainstream entertainment.

      Idols are not stealing audiences, but they are being given most of the support and money which could be channeled towards more forms of art and entertainment and towards encouraging diversity. The Hallyu and government have budgets for many things. To promote the food, culture, independent scene, movies, dramas, music etc. But there is no endless money and resources. If most of that is dumped to one place, it means it is being limited in another.

      The point is, one shouldn’t have to dance with the devil and give up on their vision and art just to have support. That support should not only be given to whoever makes the most money, throwing variety and anything not within that limited category out the window.

      That would make a perfect world and we’re far from living in one, yes, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it, deny it or excuse it.

      • kpopalypse

        What you have to keep in mind is that all the big idol labels in k-pop
        started small – they grew because people liked what they were doing, so they did more of it, and more people liked it… so where’s the government going to put their money? On these reliable guys who have routinely given the people what they want and who are exploding in popularity, or on some other people they haven’t even heard of, running a much smaller operation, who might represent a financial risk? Of course the independent label has to work harder for attention and budgets – they have to prove themselves as a reliable investment. If they can show that they’ve got the ability to bring home the bacon, then people will invest. And of course, then people will consider them not independent anymore and say “why are you giving money and time to THESE MAINSTREAM PEOPLE when there are other smaller artists who are struggling” and we go around in circles hahahaha.

        • Orion

          As I said in my own comment here, it makes sense for them to put money where money comes from. As you say, the more you can bring, the more you will get, but I simply think that is unfair and also not the best way to go for anything other than economic growth.

          And as you also say, it’s a global thing. Money has become the most important thing, putting other, equally or more valuable to the human mind, spirit and body things in the garbage pile. And I think this has to change. Not just in Korea, everywhere, not just in entertainment, but most industries.

          It’s a chicken and egg thing. People like effortless things because that is what is being pushed to them, but maybe it is being pushed to them because they like it. I just feel art and entertainment should be about broadening a person’s horizons and personal growth, along with offering fun.

          I think fun and profit are being placed at a pedestal so high, that choice, quality and diversity take the back seat. And I think the world can benefit from both and should have access and support for both equally.

          I also agree that indie audiences are as messed up as mainstream ones, though. It’s like the indie aspect is the most important thing about the person/work/group. Like the minute you get some backing you’re suddenly not cool enough. Damn hipsters. 😛 I think this has to do with people’s mindsets. We are too used to liking the coating or idea of things, we often ignore the core.

          And I think this difference in support for the indie/mainstream scene partially causes it. Each side thinks their own is better, because they are so stubborn about being above the other. I think indie/mainstream should co-exist and I think supporting both equally (creating a new, diverse mainstream) would offer people the best of both worlds and stop a lot of the bitching. Pop entertainment fans wouldn’t treat indie as cheap and indie ones wouldn’t treat mainstream as “cheap”. Ahaha.

          • kpopalypse

            I see what you’re saying, definitely. I guess I’m probably just less idealistic than that, probably comes from being in the business. And yeah indie audiences are just as ridiculous as mainstream ones!

  • Erisa Desu

    So this guy who came to Thessaloniki international film festival said that he doesn’t want to use idols cause he doesn’t agree with the image of the idols and the general philosophy and he said that he wanted to make a nice funny movie cause the western world is always thinking that korean films are about revenge and violence