Ever since becoming immersed in the popular culture of the “Far East” I have constantly asked myself, what defines an idol and what differentiates them from artists?
Let’s begin by defining an artist; take for example, Alicia Keys.
Alicia Keys is known for writing her own lyrics, playing many of the
instruments included on her tracks, having her image and persona belong
solely to herself, and being free to experiment musically because she
is not packaged as a certain “concept” with each new song or album.
Although many do go through rigorous vocal and dance training to
prepare for an album release or performance, artists are usually not
bred or molded in the way most idols are. As demonstrated with idol
groups like Big Bang and 2NE1, in order to blend with a certain concept idols are trained intensely, some for many years, previous
to their debuts. An artist typically has more creative independence
and less pressure on them to behave according to certain conceptual
guidelines on and off the stage.
According to Sakai Masayoshi, (Deputy- Director, Media and Content Industry Div., METI) in the short essay
“What the idol Industry will add to the integration of East Asia”-
“Idols are distinguished from typical
Hollywood stars by “lack”. Idols lack many things like beauty,
strength, beautiful singing voices, acting talent, etc. However, in
order to be the center of people’s attention, most idols must be good at least one of those things or possess extreme beauty.”
Taking both of these idols, Girl’s Generation and Lee Hyori,
into consideration what first attracted you or made you notice them?
For me it was SNSD’s large group number and their “innocence” concept
and Lee Hyori’s “sexy diva concept”. Both idols have non existent to
limited to slightly above average singing and dancing talent, but above
all they both have a “niche” that makes them stand out to any passing
Masayoshi describes, “the Idol- fan
relationship as the complete opposite of the Hollywood star- fan
relationship. Hollywood stars have some kind of charisma that draws
fans to them; while Idols are used as a type of icon for fans to
worship into super stardom. Instead of being viewed as a celebrity that
is separate from the common man, Idol worship creates a “we-feeling” or community among fans as they cooperate to make their Idols mega famous.
An idol is deeply tied to an image of something behind her/him, including his/her mother country.”
Could this describe Korea’s deep rooted support of their most cherished export, DBSK?
To give them credit, some of Dong Bang Shin Ki’s members possess
“slightly above average” singing voices/dancing skills. But I don’t
believe slightly above average talent is the only factor that has
contributed to the group’s massive popularity and success. Without the
hordes of screaming fan-girls fawning over every inch of their
“boyish” physiques along with the enormous amount of Korean Pride supporting them from afar, DBSK would not be “The Gods of the East“.
In my opinion, DBSK is the perfect embodiment of Mr. Masayoshi ideas.
DBSK was “worshiped” into super stardom. I’m not saying that they did
not work hard and sacrifice their blood, sweat, and tears for most of
their fame, but they would be just another boy idol group without the
immense backing of their Cassies and homeland.
worship is essentially about supporting the “potential” within your
favorite groups or stars. Idols are not produced in the hopes of
becoming the next Stevie Wonder, TLC, or Wu Tang Clan. Yes idol entertainment companies may take their inspiration from these sources; but that is where any connection with them ends.
As a Jpop
and now Kpop fan, I have come to accept the “idol standard”. The main
goal of the idol industry is to entertain. Sure most of it is lacking
the substance of the Western music industry, but if International Kpop
fans were only in search of “substance” don’t you believe they would
have left the idol scene a long time ago?