Psy still stands out among the crowd in 2023

Some brief thoughts following the Immortal Songs concert at the Prudential Center

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If you have been paying attention to any K-pop drama lately, there’s a good chance you’ve heard about how the October 26 Immortal Songs concert at the Prudential Center was a disaster.

Featuring Psy, Ateez, Patti Kim, Lena Park, Jannabi, Young Tak, Kim Taewoo, and a short set from Immortal Songs host Lee Chan-won, it was definitely a long night. It was also not well done, with technical errors and production delays abounding, and it not being made clear to anyone prior to the fact that it would have upwards of a 5 hour runtime on a weeknight.

Things were already wonky regarding management before the event, which became clear when they changed the event from Metlife Stadium to Prudential Center because of poor ticket sales, and NewJeans dropped out, allegedly because of that downgrading.

But I’ve seen some people claim it was a terrible, absolutely horrific event, and honestly… The show was fun. Maybe because I actually know how Immortal Songs shows and concerts work, or, more likely, because I actually am invested in the wide array of artist. I didn’t know every song, but I knew enough about each of the artists that I enjoyed what they were there for. When delays happened because Patti Kim was hoping for perfection during her first performance in over a decade, I found it charming as hell, and was very happy to see that nobody rushed a legend like her off the stage.

I could, and maybe should, write a whole post about what happened that night, but instead I’m going to do something I didn’t really expect: I’m going to praise Psy for once again understanding the audience he is performing for in a way nobody else that night, or really in the industry, is doing right now.

Why do I say this? Because Psy, of horse dancing fame, is actually a consummate showman who has spent his entire career ensuring that his perspectives are shared with listeners, and throwing a good time all the while. So, of course, I should have expected that if anyone in the Korean music industry would recognize the importance of live music audiences understanding the songs, it would be Psy.

All of this is to say, kudos to Psy for providing English-language translation of his Korean-language songs for a largely English-speaking audience.

Last week, I published a newsletter about the increase of English-language usage in K-pop music. What I didn’t do was share judgement, although many people did, re why or why not it’s a good or bad thing that Korea-based artists are singing more in English. I, as a human does, do have thoughts on the matter, but they don’t impact my reporting on the matter either way. Good or bad, this is where we are.

But once place where we are not, which has rankled me for years, is a state where concerts are utilizing subtitles. Obviously, fans have surpassed the one-inch barrier by far and do not need the translations when they’re enjoying a concert, but there’s something really great about being able to not only sing along with but also understand the meaning of songs.

Parasite's Bong Joon Ho: get over subtitles, watch foreign language films |  Dazed

I first began feeling this way when I first saw the Taiwanese band Mayday perform in 2017. To ensure everyone in the crowd, both those who spoke Chinese and didn’t, would enjoy the meaning behind their songs, they included Chinese and English lyrics on screen for every song. After having spent many nights at K-pop concerts, it was a shock to my system, and something I was immensely impressed with. I then saw that Mayday also provided the lyrics on-screen at concerts in Taiwan, no English this time.

Not every single song ever written by Psy or Mayday, or really any artist ever, needs subtitles, in the original language or otherwise, to get the point across. Many songs, even transcribed on screens, don’t lend themselves to a lot of meaning. And that’s fine: music is about feeling first, meaning second, in my opinion.

But it’s a nice touch, and it was nice “ah-ha” moment when Psy got on stage (well after 11pm…) and brought the entire crowd into his performance this way. It was small, subtle, and I don’t know if anyone else cared, but I appreciate the nod.

I’ve never attended any of Psy’s shows in Korea (not for lack of trying!!!), so I don’t know if he usually does this with his Korean lyrics, and it felt natural to provide the English. But it was something that I was grateful for in the moment. It was late, we were all tired, and it was a nice nod to the fact that we are here for a words-based art form, and it’s important to know what those words are.

Addendum 11/7: A friend pointed out that there’s obviously translation limitations involved, which is definitely correct, but I wanted to clarify it doesn’t matter to me necessarily what language the lyrics are in. It’s the importance placed on the lyricism that I appreciate, not just necessarily the sounds. Though the translations are appreciated when/if necessary.

And, of course, Psy put on a hella good show, even if it was late and only a handful of songs.

I’m not sure if Immortal Songs would ever try this again, but honestly… Bring it on.

What I’m working on

There should be a Notes on K-pop interview coming out this week, so please stay tuned!

What I’m listening to

Jungkook’s Golden, Weeekly’s ColoRise, and WayV’s On My Youth are all albums I’m enjoying at the moment. I’m currently in the middle of going back and listening to every release I can from 2023 as we approach the end of year list season, so I’ve only digested them a tiny bit, but really enjoying them all.

That said, if any editors are reading this, I’d love to be considered to participate in any best of year lists you’re writing!

What I’m reading

So last week, unknown to me before I hit publish on my own newsletter about it,  the Circle Chart (formerly Gaon Chart) shared some data on the rise of English-language usage in songs by K-pop girl groups. And guess what? Yea, there’s more! It’s funny because one critic (“The young generation in Korea has no resistance against English lyrics so the language in which K-pop lyrics are written is no longer limited to Korean,” said local music critic Kang Tae-gyu.) suggests that a lot of this is because not of the fans but perhaps the lack of localization needed regarding younger generation of Korean listeners. I actually had written a paragraph or two about this in my newsletter based on how much it seems people in Korea love Charlie Puth, but deleted it. So now I’m feeling Very Validated!!!!

Kakao is in big trouble amid the SM Entertainment stock manipulation allegattions.

I’m a big fan of , and they covered why certain genres, including K-pop, are rising on Spotify since 2016.

@miriam_tinnyWhats your fave niche Spotify genre? #data #music #spotify #charts #language #thepudding #culture

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I’ve had over 150 tabs open on my phone since April, and finally decided I should go through them, which is only why I’m now seeing the report Global K-pop Events Market Report 2023: Sector is Projected Reach $20 Billion by 2031. I don’t know if I agree with that, but I’m terrible at money so good luck to everyone making that money. Please share it around to those of us who actually love K-pop and are in it for the long run, rather than gutting it for all it has and leaving a dry husk while you take that money elsewhere.

Not K-pop, but a good piece on the fall of Johnny’s in Japan, and how fans are facing the longtime sexual abuses towards artists.

Earlier tonight I also started reading Nerd: Adventures in Fandom from This Universe to the Multiverse by Maya Phillips. I’ve been reading a lot of books lately about music fandoms, and this one is about my other life, sci-fi and fantasy nerdiness, so I’m excited to keep reading and hearing what Phillips has to say.

What I’m watching

Behind Your Touch, a show I thought was about a veterinarian harassing people because she has ESP when she touches people’s butts. It is indeed about that. But it’s also one of the best shows I’ve seen this year, with a cast that really makes me root for them and the wittiest writing in a K-drama I’ve seen in ages. I’m behind because I’m watching like 1 episode a week with two friends, so please don’t share spoilers!