Thursday, January 3, 2019

BLACKPINK | Lefsetz Letter

Musical Power Rangers.

In case you missed the memo, BLACKPINK is the buzz of Coachella. That’s right, people are more interested in a K-Pop band that’s never played in America than the ubiquitous headliners.

Then again, the audience owns BLACKPINK, whereas the rest of the acts are playing to the media.

I know, it makes no sense, girls singing in Korean enticing a country.

But this is the Lou Pearlman paradigm all over again. Innovation always comes from outside, disruption always comes from outside, while major American labels were busy finding rappers with a long history of legal entanglements and features on hit performers’ tracks, YG Entertainment went the other way, it asked what the AUDIENCE wanted!

You can start with the music, not that that’s the hook, but the tracks are an amalgamation of electronics and rap and they’re bouncy and you can dance to them and they’d fit right in at a Bar Mitzvah or Sweet Sixteen. That’s right, half of what’s popular, if not more, is not ready for prime time consumption. The lyrics have to be bleeped, everybody’s trying to appear trashier and more dangerous than their competitors, both black and white, it’s like the WWE, and that cartoon has an audience, but it doesn’t reach everybody.

And neither does BLACKPINK. But if you go down the rabbit hole with them…

The videos are flashy and rewatchable. You can see that the girls are directed and have little input, but they’re so cute you watch them anyway, both boys and girls, boys for the crush, girls for instruction, BLACKPINK is a fantasy.

And since the act lives on YouTube, you can click “Closed Caption” and see what they’re really singing about, but does it really matter? Girls picked from obscurity to live a fabulous life.

Kinda like 1D.

Then again, that musical paradigm also wasn’t generated by the majors. Sure, the two Simons were not total left-fielders, but Fuller created the singing competition show and Cowell put together five good-looking guys who triumphed, sold out stadiums, not because of radio but because of fanaticism online.

Used to be you got on radio, did TV, got the media involved, now that’s all irrelevant. Assuming you’ve got traction, and that’s not easy to get, word of mouth builds you online. You live on YouTube and social media. Maybe Spotify. It’s a club the rest of the world is clueless as to, and the fans like this.

And on one hand, it’s juvenile.

On the other, juvenile has been triumphing in American music for a decade. Smart is out, stupid and lawbreaking is in. It’s all lowest common denominator, made by people who are escaping minimum wage jobs. And, the audience is following them. That’s America, hedonistic and ignorant, as they feel the brunt of the policies of the man. Ever notice that the educated don’t go into music? Why? There’s no place for them!

But the game is fascinating because of the holes, the blind spots of the titans who think they know.

It’s not only BLACKPINK, but BTS. We heard about K-Pop for years and did nothing, kinda like people denying the future of electric cars. It’s coming, boy.

Because the Koreans built a better mousetrap. They realized it was pure entertainment, there were no big statements involved, although the girls do take a stand now and again.

You can invest in the personalities. It’s like a board game come to life.

But it’s not pushing the envelope of music.

Yet, the tunes are much more listenable than most of the Spotify Top 50 tripe.

So, Lou Pearlman revolutionized music two decades ago with his boy bands. But what made Pearlman’s impact so great was Max Martin, who was more talented than the so-called heroes of the hit parade, he knew what a hit song was. And I won’t say that K-Pop has found its Martin, but it is distilling today’s sounds in a more palatable way than the Americans.

Like every disruption, this was hiding in plain sight. It wasn’t like we were unaware of K-Pop, we just didn’t believe it could happen here.

But it did, because of insight and preparation and experience and practice. It’s the outgrowth of PSY. It’s clever. It’s going to change the business. There is money in K-Pop and opportunity in playing to everybody as opposed to the niche. Nobody hates K-Pop other than the most dyed-in-the-wool rockers, who’ve been irrelevant since the turn of the century, thinking that their judgment still applies.

But it doesn’t.

Once again, isn’t it interesting that a promoter is leading the way, as opposed to radio and labels. This is a good thing, evidence of health and growth, but when these fans grow up, what will they want to listen to?



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