Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Ask a Korean! News: Four-Second Singers

Translation of a hilarious article on Dong-A Ilbo. This is exactly why the Korean cannot take the k-pop boy/girl groups seriously.

Idol Groups Only Have a Few Words in Solo Parts as Number of Members, Chorus Increase

Seven groups' solo time measured
Even with just four seconds of singing, a singer nonetheless?
Average 16 seconds per person, less than one-tenth of a song.
Cases of no solo part, only repeating the refrain
Parading looks-stage presence, mass-producing "goldfish singers".

"The Beauty of Four Seconds."

This is the snarky label from the Internet for Heechul, member of an idol group Super Junior who only has four seconds of solo singing time in "Sorry Sorry," the title song for the group's third album. Together, there are 13 members of Super Junior who sang this song. Since all 13 divide up a single song, each member can call himself a "singer" after singing for only four seconds.

Lately there are increasing cases in which solo parts of a song last no more than a few seconds, as the number of members in the idol groups such as Super Junior, Girl's Generation and After School increase. This is contributing to the pop culture in which those who rely on looks or conversation skills are considered "singers" regardless of their singing abilities.

Idol Group Members Sing 16 Seconds on Average

According to Dong-A Ilbo's measurements of solo parts, seven idol groups (Girls' Generation, Super Junior, 4minute, After School, Infinite, mBlack, FX) appearing on MBC's "Show Music Center" (July 10), SBS's "Pop Songs" (July 11) and KBS's "Music Bank" (June 25), sang for 16 seconds per person on average. Because a song lasts around 3.5 minutes on average, each member of those group sang less than one-tenth of a song, excluding the chorus.

Among the groups, Girl's Generation (singing "Oh!") had the shortest solo parts, averaging 9.4 seconds per part. The main vocal Taeyeon sang for 22 seconds, while Seohyeon's solo parts -- two lines consisting of "oppa look at me, just look at me" and "listen, really" -- amounted to 5 seconds. When After School sang "Bang!", members Nana and Lizzy had no solo parts; instead, the two sang together for 8 seconds. Juyeon's solo part -- "The heart-thumping night, my heart is oh oh oh oh" -- lasted 4 seconds.

Infinite, singing "Come Back," had the greatest time differential among the members' solo parts. While the main vocal Kim Seong-Gyu sang for 29 seconds, Lee Seong-Jong, Lee Seong-Yeol and L sang for 1, 3 and 4 seconds respectively. The words that Lee Seong-Jong sang alone were four letters (다 거짓말 "all lies"). Lee Seong-Yeol only had the line, "Feels like I'm going to die, my head hurts." Lee Yeong-Joon, director of Infinite's management company, said: "It is not that the members have different singing abilities. It is more the case that the process of assigning the solo parts while taking the tone of this particular song into consideration made the parts of certain members relatively smaller."

As individual singing is increasingly obscured through the lengthened chorus and the shortened solo parts, certain bloggers have taken to uploading videos of live performances with pre-recorded background music edited out, then proceeding to evaluate the singers.

No Shame in No Singing

Yoona of Girls' Generation, in "The Family is Here 2" aired on SBS on June 27, said: "We can't go longer than ten seconds (on solo parts)," and that her part is five letters. (밀하고 싶어 "I want to say.")

Since his debut, Heechul cumulatively sang 39 seconds of all Super Junior title songs; Yoona of Girls' Generation, 42 seconds; and Nicole of Kara, 45 seconds. Instead of being embarrassed, they appear to treat this as a fodder for laughter. In MBC's "Radio Star" aired on June 30, Jung-ah, member of After School, was a recipient of a joke from MC Kim Guk-Jin that she was "amazingly, a main vocal." Jung-ah only responded by laughing and half-heartedly singing one line of a song. Gu Hara of Kara, whom music fans have pointed out for lacking singing ability, invited further criticism by only repeating the refrain "hallo hallo hallo" in Kara's new song "Lupin," released February of this year.

Music critic Im Jin-Mo said, "If there is only a few seconds of solo parts, a singer will naturally practice less singing -- which is what singers are supposed to do," and noted, "Another problem is that members with less solo parts will feel excluded, which hurts the teamwork of the group, shortening the group's lifecycle." Music critic Kim Jak-Ga said, "The more idol groups -- who do not put much emphasis on singing -- there are in the pop world, there is less room for singers with real talent."

아이돌그룹, 멤버수 - 중창 늘며 솔로 파트는 단 몇마디만  [Dong-A Ilbo]

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.


  1. Well, lets just call them entertainers. I don't really know why people are shocked when hearing this. If every member in SNSD would get 30s solos the songs would be extremely long.

    And lets face it some of the girls and guys in the groups aren't the best singers however they usually makes it up by being a great dancer or entertainer.

  2. I think 5 members is the maximum for any kind of idol group. Any more than that and they are just backup dancers that sometimes lipsync.

  3. I long for the day when truly talented Korean musicians can find their way into mainstream popularity but I'm afraid it may never happen. Acts who don't specialize in pop are relegated to Hongdae's underground music scene while talentless but long-legged entertainers whose music is as manufactured as their Apgujeong-purchased looks become the idols of a generation. If everyone grows up without listening to real musicians how will they know how to distinguish what makes good music? Is revolution at hand?

    Putting my headphones back on to listen music from elsewhere.

  4. In a band context, Keyboards bass and drums rarely get solos. That's because the musicians understand that the song itself is important. (Though a well placed guitar solo can be the saving grace of some terrible songs). Why should singers be any different?

  5. If you want to see this issue in extreme, go look at the Youtube and search for the Japanese group Berryz Koubou. Its a 7 girl girl group roughly equivalent to SNSD (at least in structure). They have a couple videos out which include sub videos for each individual member. The sub videos basically involve each girl bobbing her head around, smiling, doing some backup vocals and logging in 5-15 seconds of solo time. A good example is their song "Yuke Yuke Monkeydance".

    That all said, I view this from a market perspective. Obviously there are enough people out there interested in this sort of entertainment or such groups wouldnt exist. So be it!

  6. There is also the Japanese group AKB48... 48 members, three teams of 16. Its a theater based idol music group. Interesting concept. Not sure what they all do though.

  7. oh, FYI, Nicole's (KARA) solo parts definitely are more than 45 seconds. First of all, she didn't even sing her solo parts when Kara was composed of 4 members. That's around 2 songs. She also didn't count her rap in Honey. SJ's Heechul, i really don't know why he's even in Super Junior. All he does is make weird facial expressions while licking his fingers.

  8. Technically these solo parts are for singles only. It adds up to a lot more if you add in all the other songs they sing.

  9. Who says you must have a solo part to sing in EVERY song.

    What's wrong with 2 or 3 members singing the main verses for one song while everyone else sings the choruses (and acting as back dancers while they're at it), then for a different song, switch up the people who sing the solo verses?

    Everyone still gets their lengthy solo parts, but not every song.

  10. i'm not at all surprised by this issue. what surprised me from the start was the idea that a girl or boy group could have more than 7 members. Point is, even in a 5-member group, one member has to scrape off with only a line or two, how much more in a big group..

  11. I'm kinda curious about that After School video when they are all playing snare drums dressed as sexy drum majorettes. Are they really playing? Were there overdubs? I'd like to hear the isolated drum track, similar to when people would isolate Linda McCartney's track on the Wings' albums to show how completely untalented she was.
    But really, who cares? Sexy Korean drum majorettes. 'Nuff said.


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