[July 27-August 2, 2014] Gaon Chart Commentary

The Gaon Digital chart aggregates weekly streaming, download and BGM (background music) data for songs. Singles and album tracks are eligible, but of course due to the nature of the industry -- i.e., songs that are pushed as singles get more promotion and therefore become more well-known -- most of the songs on the chart are singles. The shift in focus to digital may have broadened the available material, but it seems as if consumers/listeners are still dependent on promotional cycles and the concept of a "lead single." More people will go out of their way to listen to entire albums, but the ratio between those people and casual listeners is still in favor of lead singles. There are instances, however, where non-singles break into the top ten. Last week I think there was another Block B song in the top ten, but this week all the top entries are (lead) singles and/or have been given adequate promotional pushes.

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
Three new tracks enter the Gaon digital chart this week with HyunA's "Red" the highest, debuting at #3. Other new entries are Davichi's "It's Okay, That's Love," an OST for a drama of the same name, and JYJ's "Back Seat." SISTAR hold on to the #1 spot with "Touch My Body."

#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.


  1. Actually, Infinite's repackaged album has two new songs -- Back and Diamond (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yzeB4aIqJ58). Still, adding only two songs (no matter how great they are) is still a cheap shot, lol (still not forgiving Woollim for that stupid all-instrumentals album that was promoted as orchestral rearrangements ugh). Thank heavens I waited for the repackage -- it has all the songs plus better album art. Still need an Infinite live album, if only for the live instruments and the raw vocals.

    I love Sistar's summer songs, though the choreography for this one destroys it haha. Better off just listening to it, lol.

  2. Hello!

    I am a fan of your writing for more than a year now and I'm also the one who has recently commented on some of your latest posts. I would just like to ask, in your reviews, why do you not include the meaning of lyrics of each song (because most of it is in Korean) when reviewing? I mean, the lyrics is also an important part of the song, right? And songwriters/composers spend a lot of time and effort just to create lyrics that will fit into a song.

    Also, I'm sure you've also noticed it, but the number of your total blog posts is decreasing each year. I perfectly understand that it gets busier as you continue on college life (I'm also a graduating student in UP---just not in the same campus as you lol) but I'm just afraid that good Kpop blogs like this one will decrease as time goes by. I enjoy reading blogs like this one. So, I just hope this blog will continue for a long, long time D: hope you will answer my question above though. Thanks! ^_^

    1. Hi! Thank you for reading and commenting! Your comment made my day <3 I guess if you've been around this blog you know that I have every intention of making it last because this is really what I want to do for a living. But I know that there's a trade-off -- I have to focus on my studies (just for a bit more!) and get my degree before I can pursue this career. I can assure you though that I'm in this for the long-run, also because I think I have a lot to work on a improve on with my writing! :D

      As for not including lyrics in my discussions, I have two main reasons for it. First, because I want to publish analyses that are as well-versed and comprehensive as I can make them -- and without a mastery of Korean I can't do that. Especially in something like poetry, which song lyrics can be considered as, a lot of the original form, and even meaning, is lost when you analyze a text in translation. And second, because so many other people talk about lyrics -- as much as possible I try to introduce new ways of looking at pop music, new views and ideas that others may not tackle just yet. I focus on the music also because I believe that a music review should be grounded on musical elements, and that while lyrical elements affect rhythm, etc., it's difficult to strike that balance in my reviews because I'm not as capable as I would like to be.

      I've thought about it though, especially recently because I'm further into my literature studies, so maybe when I think I'm capable enough to write what I want to, and analyze the way I think I should, I'll give it a shot!

    2. Thanks for clarifying that up! :D (sorry it took days for me to reply D:) I think it's great that you're trying to find new ways of looking at pop music through this blog, but it will actually be really interesting to read your views about the lyrics because you're a literature student :) "Especially in something like poetry, which song lyrics can be considered as, a lot of the original form, and even meaning, is lost when you analyze a text in translation." -I definitely agree with this one. That's why when I read other blogs I just shake my head when critics just based their reviews on english translations. Good thing there are blogs out there whose authors are maybe korean, half-korean or fluent in korean. :))) looking forward to more development in your blog! It is definitely a pleasure reading your reviews.


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