[August 3-9, 2014] Gaon Chart Commentary

Last week's Gaon Chart Commentary kicked things off pretty well -- thank you for reading and RT-ing on Twitter, and I'm excited to hear more of your thoughts as this column progresses! I'm tweaking the nature of these commentaries a bit though, to suit both my workload and the nature of the chart -- I won't be talking about all the songs in the top ten, only new entries or entries with especially interesting chart trajectories/behavior. Considering that 80% of what's on the chart this week was on last week's chart, talking about them again would make me sound like a broken record on these commentaries.

That said, let's get straight to business!

Gaon Weekly Digital Chart Top 5 for the week of August 3 to August 9
Three new tracks entered last week's Gaon digital chart, including the #1 entry -- San E's "Body Language." SM's new girl group Red Velvet enter the Top 10 at number nine and another track from the OST of "It's Okay, That's Love" debuts at number six. JYJ's "Back Seat" disappears from the top ten (despite "Just Us" topping the album chart), and so does Block B's "Jackpot." Infinite barely hold on to their place in the top ten, sinking to tenth place this week. Girls' Day are the only non-movers this week, with "Darling" firmly at number five.

#10 Infinite - "Back" (-6)
Because I only got around to "watching" charts recently, I don't really know how Infinite's previous singles have been doing in terms of chart longevity. But considering that this is only "Back"'s third week on the chart and they peaked at #2, they haven't stayed on for very long. Which reminds me of that possibility I mentioned in my intro to this column -- despite strong commercialization, is there a correlation between the quality of music and its performance on the chart? A quick check of Infinite's chart history debunked that theory though, because "Back" is Infinite's highest-charting single on Gaon, and despite being the superior track (in my opinion at least), "The Chaser" peaked lower than "Man In Love." So now I'm interested to see if Infinite can hold on to their place in the top ten over the next few weeks.

#9 Red Velvet - "Happiness" (new)
I'm still trying to get the feel of what chart success means in Korea, which is one of the reasons why I started writing this column. Number one is obviously ideal, but there has to be an allowable "threshold" or lower limit to success -- top three? Top five? It differs from chart-to-chart, usually depending on the size of the industry and buying power of the market. In the US for example a top ten single is considered a pretty big hit already, but in the UK a top five single means a similar level of success. It's difficult to size up the Korean market because while the industry is relatively small, consumers' buying power is strong and Gaon counts more than just sales. But what does this have to do with Red Velvet? Well, because they're from SM there are a set of expectations for their debut, and that includes commercial success. While I'd like to size up Red Velvet in terms of the Gaon chart itself, I don't have that kind of insight just yet. However, note that EXO's debut single "MAMA" only peaked at number 46 -- in terms of recent SM debuts, "Happiness" is doing extremely well.

#8 San E and Raina (After School) - "A Midsummer Night's Sweetness" (-1)
"A Midsummer Night's Sweetness" looks like it's on its way out of the Top 10, especially now that "Body Language" is taking over. (both San E and the Gaon chart as a whole!) It's a slow descent though, which is an indicator that it's still selling in relatively steady numbers. Summer is also almost over, so the need for seasonal singles is lessening to a certain extent.

#7 Davichi - "It's Okay, That's Love" (+1)

#6 Crush - "Sleepless Night" (new)
"Sleepless Night" is another entry from the OST of "It's Okay, That's Love," again emphasizing how popular culture, K-Pop in this case, has really become a package-based industry -- a hit drama can produce hit songs that do better than many other music-only packages. On one hand, reading this on the surface this means less of a focus on music, but if you know your art history you know that art has always been a "package" -- dominant motifs in music, visual arts, architecture even, are similar for specific time periods. And on the marketing side it's also effective -- by spanning two parts of the pop culture industry you reach wider audiences, people who watch the drama will hear the songs and vice versa. "Sleepless Night" is the "cooler" ballad with a hip-hop edge, complete with rap verses, especially next to Davichi's contribution. It's still very much the drama OST though because of the melodramatic melody and stereotypical cymbal crashes, piano line and cheesy synths.

#5 Girls' Day - "Darling(-)
Girls' Day are the only act on the chart to sustain their position, which also obviously reflects a neutrality in their sales/popularity. On one hand, staying at #5 as opposed to dropping several places (like most of the entries this week) to make room for newer, more popular singles, means that they have a steady flow of downloads, sales and streams. But on the other hand it also means that they're not gaining in leaps and bounds. For an act like Girls' Day though, who don't really have strong agency backing and bank more on themselves than their agency, sustaining the popularity they have is so much more important, rather than rapidly gaining and losing it all in one go. So while I'm not the biggest fan of "Darling," this is a good place for Girls' Day to be in at the moment.

#4 HyunA - "Red" (-1)

#3 Block B - "Her" (-1)

#2 SISTAR - "Touch My Body" (-1)
Block B, Hyun A and SISTAR all drop one place to make room for San E's new entry which can mean two things. First, that they're all at that point where they're beginning to sell less. But a second, more plausible explanation is that they're still actually keeping the same numbers as they did last week -- it's just that San E sold a lot more than them.

#1 San E - "Body Language" (feat. Bumkey) (new)
I realize now that my queries re: San E last week were misinformed -- "Body Language" hadn't been released yet during the charting period I was talking about. Sorry, I really need to triple-check next time! But anyway, "Body Language" is not only at number one this week, it also debuts on the top of the chart -- which is a feat in any chart around the world. I've always been more into the "K-Pop"/idol side of Korean music, and only recently have I started to explore the other sub-genres -- the acoustic wave led by the likes of Busker Busker, 10cm and more, and the very productive hip-hop side beyond collaborations with idols. I knew of San E before because he featured on Lim's solo track on "Wonder World," but this is probably the first time I've heard a song where he's the main act. While I don't love the track, I don't particularly dislike it either. "Body Language" definitely has that "potential jam" quality to it, the strong but simple and repetitive hook, the sway-worthy tempo, and even the rap verses. I guess I've been listening to more rap recently so I'm starting to develop a sense of what I like and what's good in rap, and as of now I like rap verses that play around with dynamics -- that don't just spit out words rapid-fire, but have a sense of thought put into them by making use of crescendos and decrescendos, staccatos, the works. I'm not completely sure if the rap on "Body Language" can be considered good, but I can identity San E's use of dynamics and I do appreciate it.


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