Evolution of Korean Music Shows

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JTBC’s “Phantom Singer,” a music entertainment program featuring classical music, held a press preview on Monday. From left are a cut-out of Jun Hyun-moo, Kim Hee-chul, Sonn Hye-soo, Michael Lee, Kim Moon-jung, Yoon Jong-shin and Yoon Sang. [JTBC]
JTBC’s “Phantom Singer,” a music entertainment program featuring classical music, held a press preview on Monday. From left are a cut-out of Jun Hyun-moo, Kim Hee-chul, Sonn Hye-soo, Michael Lee, Kim Moon-jung, Yoon Jong-shin and Yoon Sang. [JTBC]
Viewers are getting tired of the music shows on television with similar formats. After programs like Mnet’s “Super Star K” and MBC’s “I Am a Singer” grew popular, copycat shows piled on, causing viewership of all the programs to plummet.

When Mnet’s “Super Star K,” the Korean version of “American Idol,” started attracting pop star wannabes in 2009, it was a sensation. Everyone was aware of its top contestants and how they were doing. The program’s popularity multiplied as the following seasons produced new potential stars and discovered truly talented singers. The music industry cashed in as these new artists took off singing in a range of genres.

After its first four successful seasons, introducing now well-known artists like Seo In-guk, Huh Gak, Busker Busker and Roy Kim, Super Star K hoped to carry on. But in 2013, the fifth season failed to create much buzz, and the program’s ongoing eighth season is earning a viewership rating of only 1.2 percent, according to Nielsen Korea.

Part of the reason for its slump is the introduction of similar programs, including SBS’ “K-pop Star,” Mnet’s “The Voice of Korea,” MBC’s “Star Audition: The Great Birth,” which all started between 2010 and 2012. The sixth season of “K-pop Star” will be its last. “Star Audition: The Great Birth” ended with its third season in 2013.

“The overabundance of similar music programs led to the fall of the genre itself,” said Jang Deok-hyeon, an expert on pop culture.

“I Am a Singer” was a sensation when it premiered in 2011. It ended up introducing such vocalists as Park Jung-hyun, Yoon Do-hyun and Yoon Min-soo. But soon copycats arose, once again leading to a fall in ratings for all the shows.

Left: tvN’s “Melody to Masterpiece” features a competition to rearrange existing songs. Right: Mnet’s “Pan Stealer” is focused on gugak, traditional Korean music. [SCREEN CAPTURE]
Left: tvN’s “Melody to Masterpiece” features a competition to rearrange existing songs. Right: Mnet’s “Pan Stealer” is focused on gugak, traditional Korean music. [SCREEN CAPTURE]
SBS ambitiously created a new program “Vocal War: The Voice of God,” featuring Park Jung-hyun, Yoon Do-hyun, Yoon Min-soo, and Choi Jung-in earlier this year. However, the show came to an end only four months after its first episode.

“Fantastic Duo,” a similar program by SBS featuring Yoon Sang, Kim Bum-soo and others, is also coming to an end this month. Its first show was in April. According to SBS officials, a second season of the show will be produced, although no specifics have been released on it.

Programs that have greater staying power are Mnet’s “Show Me the Money” and “Unpretty Rapstar,” which narrowed down their musical genres to hip-hop, and “Produce 101,” a survival program in which finalists get to form a girl group.

Now that viewers are demanding more unique elements in music programs beyond singing, new shows are trying to satisfy that demand.

“Melody to Masterpiece” on tvN is a competition between two teams consisting of producers, singers and session musicians who rearrange existing songs. The program is focussed on the process of completing a single song. JTBC’s “Sing For You” is also about creating new songs based on a given story.

Attempts to embrace unique genres are also a trend. JTBC’s “Phantom Singer” differentiates itself from other shows by focussing on classical music. The show gathers numerous vocalists and musical actors and chooses four to form a quartet. “Pan Stealer” from Mnet is focused on gugak, traditional Korean music, casting not only popular entertainers like KangNam but also gayageum (traditional zither) player Lee Ha-nui and daegeum (bamboo flute) player Jung Yo-han.

“Music is not only singing, but includes other various elements,” said Jang. “Many upcoming music programs will try to utilize and apply those elements.”

BY MIN KYUNG-WON [shon.jihye@joongang.co.kr]

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