Why I don't believe in MR Removed videos

I admit that in recent years I haven't been as entrenched in K-Pop as I was during my peak as a fan and as a blogger, mainly because of school. But now that's out of the way (and I'm officially graduating!!!), I've slowly been trying to get up to speed with that's happening in K-pop now. To my surprise, MR Removed videos are still a regular practice, so much so that it's practically ingrained in K-pop fans' consciousnesses these days.

As a former performer myself, these "MR Removed" videos have always bothered me. The idea that any performer is judged based solely on their vocals that are literally extracted from all other factors that make a good performance basically invalidates the whole purpose of the event.

It's not that I don't look at vocal ability—I do, and it's the factor I care about the most as a music critic—but especially in an industry like K-pop there is so so much more to consider. I'm not apologizing for incompetent singers, of course not. But I think that a well-rounded performer should be outstanding in everything equally—singing, dancing, audience interaction, the works.

As a consumer and critic as well, the idea that you can isolate a single factor and judge a singer on that single aspect is so artificial. It's so scientific, and it leads people to forget that in art there is a limit to "objectivity" and "scientific inquiry." Of course in a world like ours now there is that need for objectivity, but only if we remember that art is not something you can just extract from its environment and examine under a microscope.

If you want to talk technical, we can do that. MR Removed videos attempt to extract a single sonic element from a homogenous track, which is extremely dangerous. It's like trying to take out the espresso from a latte after it's been mixed with milk. It's dangerous on a technical level because tinkering with a vocal track in any way, any more than it's already been by the broadcaster and post-production team takes you farther away from the intent of MR Removed tracks, which is to "purify" the vocals. Of course today there is nothing really that hasn't been subject to some kind of processing, but by making MR Removed videos you're adding even more to it. On an artistic level as well, to continue the latte analogy, you may think that the coffee is the "pure," "basic" element, but without the milk you can't consider it a latte. It's the same thing with MR Removed videos—yes, you have the vocal track, but is that a performance? No.

The bottom line is that music does not exist in a vacuumhumans do not exist in a vacuum. This is especially true in K-Pop.

Therefore, our methods of assessment cannot act as vacuums either.

So what do I believe in? I believe in determining a singer's "worth" (Though that in itself is fallacious—what is a "good singer" anyway? It's highly subjective, but that's for another piece) on how he or she responds to the environment of the performance. MR Removed videos place a single, unified, "robotic" standard on a phenomenon that is the complete opposite—performances are never static, they can never be repeated or replicated 100%, and no two performers are identical. Ever.

I repeat, this does not forgive incompetency—rather, it suggests that a good voice is no longer enough. Our standards are evolving and since there are thousands, maybe even millions, of good singers, artists continuously find new ways to set themselves apart.

Obviously the first step to take is to stop using MR Removed videos and start watching the actual performance videos. This, of course, also has limitations (which are also for another discussion) but it is a step forward. Performance videos make the attempt to capture as many factors possible—vocals, dance, stage mannerisms, the audience. 

What do we get from these full performance videos? We get the environment. The audience's responses (fanchants, when they scream and how), the performer's movements, the stage set-up, all of which contribute to the musical, and therefore vocal, aspects. This is how I tell whether a singer is lipsycing or not—if the phrasing of their vocals is consistent with their movements, their breathing patterns, and the levels/volume of the vocal track relative to the audience. If the vocal track drowns out the audience screams, or if they sound too "artificial" (i.e., too correctly timed, no stray screaming fangirls), then it's overdubbed and highly probably lip synched.

If you notice, good singers don't always stick to the recorded version when they perform songs live, and even their ad-libs aren't scripted. Their deviations from the "standard" recording are hardly ever the same, and sometimes they just come out naturally based on the environment and the specific performance.

For example, DBSK's Junsu in certain performances of "Mirotic" (Korea) or DBSK's Jaejoong in certain performances of "Summer Dream" (Japan) will sing their ad-libs differently. Yoochun as well is notorious for screaming out his lines on songs like "Somebody To Love" (Japan), especially when they're playing bigger venues like Tokyo Dome. Junsu at the line "I'm breaking my rules again" will instead sing the upper harmony and end with a high note instead of the mid-range part done in the recording. Like Yoochun, Junsu usually does this in bigger venues, such as their performance at the 2008 SBS Gayo Daejun, their only year-end festival appearance in Korea that year:

If you notice, when Junsu does this ad-lib the crowd's cheers increase—so we can speculate that he does this in order to fire up the crowd and get their attention, which makes him a singer who is able to use his vocal abilities to captivate an audience. This observation would not have been possible if we had looked at an MR Removed video of this performance. Junsu's vocal abilities do not exist in a vacuum—he is not just technically proficient, he uses his proficiency to perform. Another point of analysis that would not be open to proper examination is the fact that the SBS Gayo performance was a remix of the original instrumental track, and therefore we also have to consider that all five members will sing differently to better suit this specific track.

At the end of the day, "judging" performances should be natural, it should be reflex to us—if you think it sounds good, then chances are you're at least 90% right. If it's pleasing to the ears, even if you don't have any technical knowledge in music, it's most likely because the the technicals were, in fact, well-executed. The capacity to appreciate and "judge" music is a human experience. Tolstoy himself said that art is "one of the conditions of human life." It's inherent in all of us, so why do we need to use artificial methods such as MR Removed videos just to assess a work? We have ears and eyes of our own, don't we?


  1. Glad to see someone else besides me post about the moronic idiocy that is MR Removed videos. Good stuff.


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