The Importance of a Sense of History in K-Pop

Shinhwa made their comeback last month, and while there were a good number of fans freaking out, me included, the other half of the K-Pop fandom was nonchalant, even negative towards them. I'd hear things like "why are they still around" or "who are those old guys" and honestly, if these fans had just bothered to do a simple google search, then maybe they'd know the significance of Shinhwa's comeback to K-Pop as a whole. I understand that newer K-Pop fans have no affinity to Shinhwa, that they weren't round during their golden days, but just a reminder, neither was I. Not having experienced a Shinhwa comeback is no excuse for not bothering to look up the very basic facts and figures. Just because they weren't around when you became a fan, doesn't mean they don't deserve the same treatment as other acts.

Sure, fine, living in the present is great and the past should stay in the past and all that, but you will only be able to understand the present if you know what happened in the past. "Write the present, master the past" -- that was what I always told the writers under me back when I was working in K-Pop news. Whether you like it or not, the past has affected the present, and as writers and fans who live in the present, it's only right that you understand what's happening. Of course, as a music writer I had to learn and listen to practically everything, and as casual fans who don't really plan on a career in this you don't need to be an expert, but what we're going for here is a sense of understanding.

It's a double-edged sword -- the biggest problems of K-Pop are that the industry has no sense of longevity when it comes to idols, and the fans don't have a sense of history. Now until one of those sides is fixed, the other will remain and of course as fans, the easiest way is to start with ourselves. I've tried breaking the importance of this historical mindset within the K-Pop news writers, and honestly, none of them want it to happen, because they think the fans won't understand it. If the news writers don't want to start it, then it has to come from the fans. I don't think anyone wants to be considered stupid by anyone.

Shinhwa lasting fourteen years together is huge and practically unheard of, but in other countries other bands have lasted for much longer. Of course when we talk of "idol" equivalents abroad the standard lifespan has always been five years, but you see, these foreign industries only built themselves around groups for a short period of time and showcase a very wide variety of chart-topping, mainstream acts, whereas idols and idol groups are K-Pop. And because idols are the majority of the industry, everyone has to invest as much as they can -- from the people on top, all the way to the fans.

Everything starts with a sense of history. If K-Pop wants to continue pushing idols as the majority of the industry, fans have to know why, and they have to at least be able to understand how everything works, and how things came to be.

I completely understand that a lot of people don't like the idea of "history", and as a kid I despised history class too. I didn't like memorizing names and dates and places and listening to lectures about wars and colonization, and I'm sure there are a lot of people who felt the same way. However, I realize now that I hated history because I didn't understand it, because I was just memorizing empty facts and not using it in everyday situations.

The history that K-Pop fans have to learn is very basic and extremely relevant. You don't have to religiously follow every single act that ever existed, you don't even have to go all the way back several decades and know everything about everything -- you just have to make an effort better understand your present.  This so-called "history" you need in K-Pop doesn't have to feel so much like history, because of modern technology. It's so easy to look up facts and events now, much easier than it was several years ago. Watch a few YouTube videos, look at a few pictures -- all of those are historic, and entertaining. They don't have to be boring news items or Wikipedia articles, because watching the actual videos is even better.

All you have to do is go back a little over a decade and start from there. Earlier idol groups like H.O.T., G.o.d., S.E.S., Fin.K.L. Shinhwa and of course Seo Taiji & Boys were massively successful with local consumers, and sold albums in the millions. Look up a video of an H.O.T. concert and you'll know why. Because of their success, newer generations of idols and idol groups were launched -- Rain, BoA, DBSK, CSJH, and later Super Junior, SS501 and Big Bang. DBSK's debut was significant because it was a time when solo artists ruled music shows -- watch even just one of their Mutizen song wins and observe the other contenders for the prize. BoA and DBSK worked for years in Japan before cementing themselves as the frontrunners of the Hallyu wave -- DBSK became the first Korean group to make it to the Kouhaku Uta Gassen in 2008, after three years, three albums, and over twenty singles.

In more "current" times we have fandom wars, never-ending plagiarism claims, acts suing their agencies, and countless member re-shuffles. Know that the KARA we know today isn't the KARA that debuted in 2007, and the same goes for the Wonder Girls, 2PM, and even DBSK, Super Junior and CSJH. People have come and gone, have moved groups and changed paths, and groups have built their names around very different things. Trace histories of groups you already know, and you'll be surprised at what you'll find out.

Knowing all this will help you understand why everyone's moving to Japan, why fans are up in arms over something, why this person said that, and basically everything that's happening in K-Pop these days. Honestly, don't you want that? A sense of history and understanding?


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