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The reason why Kpop idols are generally of “higher quality” than Jpop idols

Despite Japan being the birthplace for the idol industry, Korea seems to have overtaken the race

Blogger Choi Nak Sam, an expert on product planning, explains the differences between the Kpop and Jpop industries, as well as the reason behind Kpop’s exponential growth. Below are his conclusions 

In Japan, the word “artist” is used to define those who have attained a “professional level” of a certain art realm. Meanwhile, in Korea, “artist” is a title only limited to those who participated in the production of artworks, or have invented their own specific style. Therefore, when Kpop groups like SNSD took the stage in Japan back in 2010, Japanese media painted them as “almost artists”. 

This greatly confuses the Korean public, who believe that Japanese idols are far from actual artists. And they are not wrong.

1. The branched music market in Japan gave their idol industry the “unprofessional brand” 

In Japan, there are various dancers who can boast the most spectacular dancers, and singers who can blow people away with their impressive vocals. In addition, there are many professionals in the Japanese pop industry, who are even more active than those in Korea, as a result of the highly segregated Japanese entertainment market, which is divided into many small sectors. For example, dancers in Japan can form professional crews with their own grounds to compete. Professional singers have their own space to deliver outstanding vocal performances. Even the indie music market is highly developed, with a lot of space for growth and a huge number of interested audiences. 

In such an industry, “idol groups” must be founded and work in completely different conditions. Here, “idols” is a multi-faceted product, which tries to combine skills from different sectors, and does not necessarily specialize in any particular abilities. This leads to Japanese idols being a jack of all trades yet master of none, in no realms do they particularly stand out. These idols would be active in all sorts of expertises, which can range from modeling, variety shows, even to ramen-making. 

The consequence to this definition of idols, is that the Japanese public does not expect too much mastery in their idols. Instead, if they wanted to be a true professional, they’d go to a different market, seeking out professional singers and dancers instead of looking at Jpop idols. 

2. Kpop idols have to be “master of all” due to lack of market segregation 

Compared to Japan – the birthplace of the idol industry, Korea severely lacks segregation in its entertainment industry. Instead of having specific spaces for dancers, singers, and entertainers, for example, there is only one single space, where everyone competes together, regardless of their area of expertise. Korean indie music is still existing, though they lack in presence. Meanwhile, dancers have only recently gained their own, albeit tiny space. Even the model industry is not a specific place for models, as the need for them is just too small in Korea. 

The result is a Korean entertainment industry where Kpop triumphs over all – it consumes the elements, concepts, and trends of all similar sectors, and basically consumes them. 

Therefore, Kpop idols need to dance like professional dancers and know all sorts of skills, from singing, rapping, composing, producing, to even acting. Their visuals also have to be on par with top models, as they have to compete to gain ground in one single market. As a result, the public is demanding more and more from Kpop idols, creating all sorts of unrealistic requirements and impossible standards. 

After all, just one product called “idol” is enough to satisfy the requirements of many professions from many different industries (which does not exist a separate market that consumers can find).

This situation is not only happening in the idol industry in Korea. The film industry faces a similar situation. There is no single market for ‘art film’ in this country. Movies shown at Art Houses are based on foreign standards. There is no single market for subgenre films.

Similar to the idol industry, anything that is too “small” can’t be used in the movie industry. Commercial films for the masses have absorbed all sorts of subgenres, both characteristics, and trends.

3. In the midst of difficulties, create something special to conquer the international market

K-Pop is also not free from this situation. Even if it’s just an idol product, the quality is still too high. In addition to the quality of the music, the performance skills of the idols are on par with professional dancers. Korean idol products are on a different level when compared to Japan or America. Regardless, the Korean idol is still a unique product, easily recognizable based on its overarching purpose and inherent definition.

Because the product in the middle of the middle line (like the boy bands of other countries) does not exist in the market, so this “idol product” opens its own way, finding a way for its own market. It became a product that straddled the line between “professional” and “casual” – a one-of-a-kind product.

This market, which is for general-purpose, broad-spectrum products, perfectly encompasses other chaotic, fragmented, informal markets. And it does not require too much in terms of quality. Remember back in the mid-90s, the phenomenon of 4-year-old singer Jordi selling 2 million copies in France. Can it be judged as a quality product? It’s just a product that tries to bring a little “joy” to people, and this can be seen as an example of a normal pop culture market in many countries outside of Korea.

By comparison, it seems that the Korean market is unusual and is getting closer to a very specific type of market. And that speciality is the factor that helps the Korean cultural wave – Hallyu penetrate foreign markets and become popular.

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