Because this is my first chart commentary there isn't much to talk about in terms of chart trends -- rising, falling, maintaining, staying for several weeks or erratic behavior like appearing one week and then dropping out the next, off-season entries, etc. etc. -- so this week I'll focus more on the songs themselves, why they're on the chart or why I think they're selling well.
Gaon Weekly Digital Chart Top 5 for the week of July 27 to August 2
#10 Park Myung Soo - "명수네 떡볶이" (Feat. Kim Ye Rim, UL) (-4)
One thing I think a lot of international K-Pop fans forget, me included, is that "K-Pop" is just one part of the Korean mainstream music industry. There are rappers, there are acoustic acts like Busker Busker or 10cm (who, as far as I know, have also seen chart success in the past), there are ballad and rock legends -- idol groups may dominate, as shown by the rest of this chart, but K-Pop is not the only kind of music Korea listens to. This reminds me of a problem I encountered when I was just beginning to learn about K-Pop -- the resources available to English-speaking listeners abroad are very limited. We only have what is supplied to us, and that's not the complete picture of the industry. So as much as I would've liked to have heard acts like 10cm back in 2010, it wasn't until after they achieved mainstream success that I came to know them. But anyway, Park Myung Soo represents another part of the Korean industry -- the novelty and comedic releases. This isn't surprising, it exists in most other industries and appeals to the mass market -- it's entertainment in every sense of the word, and it's even less surprising because it's by someone with as much industry clout as Park Myung Soo (remember also his duet with SNSD's Jessica).
#9 Block B - "Jackpot" (-4)
"Jackpot" promotions had to be stopped last April because of the Sewol tragedy, so it's understandable that it makes a reappearance now that "HER" is out. "Jackpot" is on this new EP and I assume that preparations for full-scale promotions were already made -- choreography, extra rehearsals, promotional materials -- so they might as well use them and push "Jackpot" alongside "HER" (which is doing very well!) for this round of promotions. I personally prefer "HER," but "Jackpot" is reminiscent of that whimsical "carnivalesque" (and I use that term loosely), in-your-face on purpose sound that "Very Good" had last year, but with a slicker, more boy band-like chorus. The juxtaposition of the verses and choruses make for a dynamic listen, and I think the transitions were well-executed enough that the contrast makes sense.
#8 Davichi - "It's Okay, That's Love" (new)
OSTs are always big money and are more or less guaranteed to succeed if they're done by a known act such as Davichi. Labels or agencies don't have to promote them as much because they get probably the best promotion -- being played during a primetime major-network drama. An OST will bring in listens/streams/downloads from fans of the artist and K-pop fans who follow everything religiously, yes, but they will also bring in a crucial third audience -- drama viewers. So even if "It's Okay, That's Love" is your stereotypical pretty female ballad, it will sell.
#7 San E and Raina (After School) - "A Midsummer Night's Sweetness" (+1)
What I find interesting about this track is that first -- it's still on the chart despite being released back in June, second -- why it's this San E track and not "Body Language," his newer release, that's on the chart, and third -- that it actually went up one spot from last week. I have two hypotheses though that I find equally interesting. First is obviously that it features Raina, who is one of the more popular members of an established, moderately popular girl group -- Bumkey may have a name in the industry as well, but to the mass market Raina is more likely to be well-known between the two. Another possibility is the nature of the song itself. "A Midsummer Night's Sweetness" sounds very on-season -- it's fresh enough to be summery, with the catchy hook and airy vocal treatment, but subdued enough to be appropriate all year-round because of the light arrangement and generic choice of instrumentation.
#6 JYJ - "Back Seat" (new)
I may be a JYJ "fan" and I may have liked "Just Us," but honestly I'm still slightly surprised that "Back Seat" is on the chart. I guess it's because I'm not used to JYJ being around, or being allowed to promote -- I remember a few years back when JYJ or a solo album from one of them was finally allowed to enter a major Korean chart and it was such a struggle to get to that point. I don't, for a second, doubt JYJ fans' buying and supporting power though -- two years of deprivation is enough to bring out everyone's rabid fangirl tendencies. And as much as it trivializes the whole "JYJ aren't allowed to go on broadcast" situation and shines an (unneeded) positive light on it, being barred from promotions can actually be a selling point. Since people can't hear JYJ's songs on broadcast they have to either download or stream them, things that actually count towards chart placement.
#5 Girls' Day - "Darling" (-1)
Girls' Day have been on a success streak lately and while I think their string of musically-strong singles ended with the release of "Darling," it seems like they're still selling, despite dropping one place from last week. Seasonal singles are always a good way to sell because they appeal to wider demographics who don't necessarily want K-Pop releases but want summer songs. I find it weird though that "Darling" is selling as a summer single, because it sounds more like a Christmas/winter release than it does beach theme song-material. But I guess that goes to show how important packaging and marketing is -- people trust agencies to tell them what kind of music this is, and even if the music is off a mass market will buy something that's well-packaged.
#4 Infinite - "Back" (-2)
Repackaged albums have always intrigued me because every time I try to see the sense in them, I'm always left with more questions. On one hand, repackaging is a cheap way of extending the shelf life of an LP -- add one or two songs (in Infinite's case just one) and hold another promotional cycle without the cost of recording another twelve tracks. But on the consumer's side it's pretty pointless. If you buy the first release, buying the repackage is a waste of money -- you're spending the price of a thirteen-track album for one new song. But if you're smart and you wait for the second release because there is going to be one, it's the loss of the label -- the initial success could've been much more significant if people didn't know there was going to be a repackaged edition. But it's good to see that Infinite are still doing well on the charts despite hitting a plateau music-wise until recently -- "Back" is the single that I think will push Infinite in a new direction, and hopefully if this does well commercially Woolim will continue this musical direction.
#3 HyunA - "Red" (new)
I may not like her material, but I can't deny that HyunA sells. She's one of those acts that prove how important packaging and image are, and how well Cube has handled them for her, especially compared to other Cube acts. "Red" isn't my favorite from her, but the melodic bridges are catchy enough to grab my attention before the nasal vocal treatment at the chorus can annoy me.
#2 Block B - "Her" (+1)
I like "HER" -- it was hard to choose between this and "Jackpot" at first because I love "Jackpot"'s chorus, but as all-around packages I think "HER" is the more well-put together single. It's also unashamedly Block B, which I was neutral about at first but I've grown to really appreciate and enjoy. I really like "빛이 되어줘," which is more my taste but I also like "Jackpot" and "HER" in a different way. This is a song that will allow Block B to command the audience, and you can tell even without watching the video or performances. You can feel the mischief oozing out of this song.
#1 SISTAR - "Touch My Body" (-)
As far as career successes go I was very surprised when SISTAR hit it big -- I honestly wasn't expecting it because they were from a little-known agency with a pretty dismal debut single, and for their first few singles seemed like your run-of-the-mill girl group. But well, what's K-Pop without some surprises and underdogs succeeding. I don't think "Touch My Body" is selling because of the song alone, but as far as SISTAR summer singles go it's lightyears better than "Loving U," and it's also better than Girls' Day's "Darling." Add SISTAR's industry clout and the seasonal nature of "Touch My Body," and you have a #1 single.