I start out talking about a fun song, then this post gets dark.

For over a decade, I’ve been a person of good taste who didn’t fall for that Kpop crap. Yes, I may have stared at the Kpop music videos playing in the electronics stores a little long (this was in Taiwan, where all the electronics stores use Kpop music videos to show the quality of their screens), but I chose music based on what sounded good, and the local Taiwanese pop music sounded better.

In the past year, something in me snapped.

Here’s the evidence of my downfall:

That’s right, I watched a music video for a debut Kpop group as soon as it dropped.

That’s a screenshot of me watching “Shut Down” when it had only one official view on YouTube

If the person I was ten years ago saw that, she’d be ashamed of her future self.

I’ve even… horror of horrors… bought the album. But only one copy.

I like this group’s mix of voices. That’s how I justified the purchase. But I’ll be honest. There’s more.

Kpop has one of the best antipiracy hacks I’ve seen in the music industry: the music show awards.

South Korea has multiple music shows each week, and each one hands out awards. One of the key criteria is album sales. But only albums sold through official channels count. Thus, Kpop fans want to buy the official release to help their fav win music shows. And if they buy multiple copies… well, I draw the line there.

YouTube official music video views also count towards the music show awards. Now you know why Kpop fans organize YT streaming campaigns to build up a high view count in a short period (and why Kpop labels buy YouTube ads to push a music video while the song is eligible for awards).

One person can only stream a YT video so many times and buy so many albums. Thus, fans urge each other to build more ‘support’ for their favorites, that is, encourage others to become new fans. Perhaps that’s the subconscious reason I’m writing this post. But actually, I recommend avoiding the vortex of Kpop if you can. Notice that this post contains zero links. I’m just explaining this if you’re one of those people who wonders how Kpop became so popular.

This group, CLASS:y, debuted just a few days after Le Sserafim. Le Sserafim had a lot more buzz going into its debut. (Le Sserafim’s song “Fearless” is growing on me and all the members seem cool but I don’t want to buy the album). Another ‘big’ group, TXT, is promoting now too. Thus, CLASS:y’s odds of winning any music show award is low. It’s surprising that Class:y even reached 3rd place in a music award, especially with less than 2 million YT views on the official MV (as of May 12, 2022).

So why buy the album if CLASS:y can’t win an award? Some fans hope that CLASS:y will beat the odds and win an award during the debut anyway (and this is an incentive to buy the official album). The official album also comes with photocards which don’t particularly interest me but which interest many fans.

I want an offline version of the songs for my own listening pleasure. (I’m okay with streaming some music, but large tech companies having accurate statistics about all the music I listen to creeps me out, I want some replays to come from the privacy of my disk drives). Mostly, I want to show the record label that people are willing to buy the albums so they will continue to invest in this group instead of disbanding due to lack of interest. (Also, in the highly unlikely scenario that they win a music show award during their debut, it would feel good to be ‘part’ of that).

All of this is part of the drama of Kpop. CLASS:y’s record label didn’t buy any YouTube ads, and that’s part of why the YT view count is still under 2 million. Yet album sales are doing well for a new girl group from a smaller label. Some dedicated Kpop fans are shocked that they will probably sell 20,000 albums before they get 2 million views on the official music video on YouTube. (As of May 12, they’ve sold about 17,500 albums).

Why did the record label time the promotion to almost entirely overlap with Le Sserafim’s debut and TXT’s comeback, thus making a music show award win almost impossible? Some speculate this is a deliberate strategy—don’t push the YouTube views, get the eyeballs of all the people watching the music shows to see Le Sserafim and TXT, and tempt them to buy albums. Meanwhile, CLASS:y fans will become more attached as they tell themselves they support the talented underdogs. Then, when CLASS:y has its comeback…

With all the overwhelming problems menacing the world, it’s refreshing to worry about the rise and fall of pop music groups. Unlike the world’s great problems, anyone with an internet connection can affect the futures of Kpop idols just by streaming YouTube videos. And those with a little money to spare can buy albums. It’s so much easier than fixing a broken political system.

Months ago, I read an article about goshiwon. I stayed for a couple weeks in a goshiwon in South Korea. It was great low-cost temporary accommodation: a windowless room with barely enough room for a bed and all-you-can-eat white rice.

Some students and young people working their first jobs stay in goshiwons for months, or years. The writer of the article lived in a goshiwon for a summer because it was the only way she could avoid living with her family. Some middle-aged people have so little money they can’t afford to live anywhere more expensive.

Even as a tourist, I could tell that many South Koreans—perhaps most—have stressful lives. South Korea has one of the highest suicide rates in the world—and unlike Japanese culture, Korean culture doesn’t romanticize suicide. Kpop’s true purpose is to brighten the lives of many people whose lives otherwise feel bleak, whether they are stuck in competitive school environments or work long hours at dull jobs for long pay. If someone has little hope of improving their own life, they can at least stream some fun YouTube videos to help their favorite idols.

The writer who lived in a goshiwon for a summer often heard kpop songs come through the thin walls which separated the rooms.

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