[August 10-16, 2014] Gaon Chart Commentary

Now that I've settled into a routine and established what needs to be -- setting aside time to write them, being able to observe chart trends -- this week's chart commentary is more or less how I envision the series to be. Beyond my thoughts on the songs themselves, I want to really focus on chart trends and  K-Pop as an industry. These posts are an opportunity for me to learn and explore new approaches to K-Pop, so I hope that by sharing my experience you learn a thing or two as well!

Gaon Weekly Digital Chart Top 5 for the week of August 10 to August 16
There's a lot of movement in last week's chart -- with half of the top ten made up of new entries. Park Boram and YG/"Show Me The Money"'s B.I. both rise to the top ten after spending some time in the lower parts of the chart, which is the first time this has happened since I started writing these commentaries! Exciting stuff. San E, last week's #1, sinks seven places. YG rookies WINNER are this week's chart darlings, with three chart debuts -- including this week's #1.

#10 Davichi - "It's Okay, That's Love" (-3)
What I find really interesting about this track is that despite all the chart movement this week and competition from pretty big-name idol groups or agencies (Infinite and SM's Red Velvet, among others), it's one of the entries that stay within the top ten -- despite being in a very precarious place. If the last few #10 entries were anything to go by, this means that Davichi are on their way out of the top ten. But considering their chart run so far, I wouldn't be surprised if they manage to hold on.

#9 WINNER - "끼부리지마" (new)
The first of their three entries this week, "끼부리지마" is the non-single track, which probably explains why it's the lowest-ranking. One of the fundamental differences between western charts and Korean charts such as Gaon is that Gaon allows for non-singles to chart -- and I think that's a very important feature of consumer trends as well as the industry side of things. While these charts are still dominated by singles with strong promotional backings, cases such as this WINNER track means that Gaon allows for a slightly more accurate representation of consumer tastes and acknowledges the fact that singles and promoted packages are not the only things people listen to. So that an album track, one that is assumed to be promoted less, charts higher than most other singles is enough proof of WINNER's chart clout. What I'd like to see though is if they can sustain this exceptionally strong front (considering they're rookies) next week, and the weeks after.

#8 San E - "Body Language" (feat. Bumkey) (-7)
That "Body Language" dropped so much, so quickly means two things. First, that San E himself doesn't have a strong enough support base/marketing strategy to sustain the initial buzz of "Body Language" -- many people may have listened to the song when it first came out, but not many more continue to. And second, over the course of these three weeks I've observed how fickle the chart is, how easy it is for a song to hit #1 or completely disappear from the chart. This implies that audiences themselves are fickle, and possibly also that this is an industry that is more focused on marketing tactics -- once they run their course or show signs of weakness, the descent is rapid. Because the assumption is that good music can sell itself, right?

#7 B.I. - "Be I" (+17)
Considering B.I.'s background, it's hard to ignore the possibility that "Be I" rose so high as a result of WINNER's debut. Jumping up seventeen places is no joke -- it's the most I've seen over the course of these last few weeks -- which means that the combined clout of a show on Mnet ("Show Me The Money"), his YG affiliation, and his past stint on "WIN" came to a climax and prompted this ascent.

#6 Crush - "Sleepless Night" (-)

#5 SISTAR - "Touch My Body" (-3)
SISTAR have been on a downward trajectory since last week, but I'm interested to see what will happen once "I Swear" is released. Will "Touch My Body" stay on the chart long enough to give SISTAR two simultaneous top ten entries? Which track will rank higher? I mean there's the possibility of "Touch My Body" being the more appealing track. But considering how other idol entries fared on the Gaon top ten, "Touch My Body" has had a successful chart run.

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

#3 WINNER - "Color Ring" (new)
Just with "Color Ring"'s chart debut alone, WINNER have done better than most rookies, and even rookies from other big three agencies -- and this is just the tip of the iceberg for YG's first boy band in years. What I like about "Color Ring" was the very thing that put me off at first -- it's not just about the song, it's about the entire package. You need the music video, the performances, everything, in order to appreciate the song -- I said this previously, but this really is a very YG approach to releases. And it has been working for a long time now. In a sense it reflects how the industry is, how you need to juggle so many things in addition to the music because it's such a competitive game. Based on the success of "Color Ring" alone, clearly YG are masters at juggling and WINNER have been taught well.

#2 Park Bo Ram - "Beautiful" (feat. Zico of Block B) (+9)
Another big gainer this week is Superstar K's Park Boram, who displaces chart heavyweights like SISTAR, Block B, and basically everyone except WINNER, to rise to second place. "Beautiful" is a very female K-Pop idol track, and reminds me of the likes of Ladies' Code (with less fun) -- add in an appearance by Block B's Zico and it's easy why this is selling well. It's nice to see solo artists doing well on the chart (even if this particular track isn't my cup of tea) alongside idols and idol groups. Variety and diversity is always something to aim for in and industry, and this brings mainstream Kpop one step closer to that.

#1 Winner - "Empty" (new)
Personally, "Color Ring" is the track I prefer between the two lead singles, but I understand why it's not doing as well as "Empty" -- it doesn't have as much mass appeal. That's not to say that "Empty" is the sub-par song, but that it's the more ear-catching song. You don't really have to "dig deep" to appreciate it, and honestly I don't understand why that seems to have negative stigma. This is pop -- if you enjoy it, so be it. But I digress. Going back to the song, he structure is much more pronounced, the juxtapositions of dynamics, etc. much more striking, the hook a lot catchier. "Empty" is also the better-produced between the two -- richer instrumentation, tighter arrangement. It's really much more of a single than "Color Ring," and my preferences really are a matter of personal taste. And this #1 for WINNER is a combination of very good marketing, which at a certain point was frustrating because of the delay, and a genuinely single-material, easy-to-promote track.


  1. Nice commentary! One note about B.I's release jumping up charts--when it was first released for Show Me The Money, only his performance had aired. However, it was just the week after that he was eliminated, so there might be some sentiment that caused his single to rise. I think many expected another contestant to be eliminated, but due to the (questionable) format of the show he took the fall instead. I guess it's difficult to pinpoint these things about competition-related singles.

    I love this new series and the insight you have to offer, especially with respect to the relationship between marketing and a song's chart trajectory. Looking forward to future articles!


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