The musical culture that is China

by on June 19, 2017 at 1:35 pm in Economics, Music | Permalink

What’s bad for [the now trade-restricted] K-pop is excellent for Chinese musicians, who are seizing on the opportunity. One group skyrocketing in popularity in the absence of K-pop “idols” is SNH48, a Shanghai-based girl band that has a rotating cast of members—somewhere around 220, depending how you count the generations—and just raised more than $150 million from investors last month. If the idea of girl-band investors seems odd, you should know that SNH48, whose performers are voted in and out by fans, is far more of a corporate business than a music group. Per the Financial Times (paywall):

“Unlike western pop, which trades on authenticity and the idea of performers singing from the heart, SNH48 is run more like a tech start-up than a musical group. Taking its inspiration from Japanese group AKB48, instead of a core group it runs on teams of interchangeable singers—a strategy managers hope will allow it to build generations of young female stars and longer-lasting revenue streams.”

Fans use a mobile app to track their favorite singers, send notes to them, and watch their livestreams. The band’s managers carefully curate new teams of performers every year, which is similar to how South Korea’s massive K-pop factory is run.

Here is the full story, by Amy X. Wang, via George Chen.

1 Lightning Metropolis June 19, 2017 at 1:55 pm

D-22 RIP

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2 Thiago Ribeiro June 19, 2017 at 2:08 pm

Such is life under Communist rule, a terrorized people becomes a sad set of interchangeable, faceless automatons, grey cogs in the machine.

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3 msgkings June 19, 2017 at 2:31 pm

Japan and South Korea are Communist?

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4 Thiago Ribeiro June 19, 2017 at 4:16 pm

China is. “Unlike western pop, which trades on authenticity and the idea of performers singing from the heart, SNH48 is run more like a tech start-up than a musical group.” Music is controlled by the regime. “Historically, Chinese teenagers have danced to imported music from Japan and South Korea. But last year’s ban on Korean music — triggered by Seoul’s decision to host a US missile shield as a defence against its hostile northern neighbour — opened up an opportunity for singers and savvy investors alike.” Japan is a fascist regime, controlled by unreconstructed Fascists and even worse than Beijing.

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5 Josh June 19, 2017 at 4:37 pm

Isn’t snh48 more or less the equivalent of a pop music record label in the us? Is replacing Britney Spears with Taylor swift really so different?

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6 Thiago Ribeiro June 19, 2017 at 4:51 pm

“Is replacing Britney Spears with Taylor swift really so different?”
Or George W. Bush with Obama or Winter with Spring? Of course, it is different. “Unlike western pop, which trades on authenticity and the idea of performers singing from the heart, (…) it (SNH48) runs on teams of interchangeable singers”. Communism tries to destroy man’s true nature and supress individuality, making a god out of State. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/china/9914895/How-China-came-to-worship-the-mango-during-the-Cultural-Revolution.html

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7 Dzhaughn June 19, 2017 at 7:54 pm
8 Thiago Ribeiro June 19, 2017 at 8:35 pm

1) Lions do not speak.
2) Brazilians do not speak like that.
3) I actually like potatoes, espacially potatoes puree. Yet, it is fair to say Brazilians are predominantly carnivores. We can afford to be, Brazil hosts the biggest meat corporation mankind has ever seen. Brazilian churrasco (barbicue) is widely known to be the best in the world. As a famous Native chieftain said when he was reprimanded by an European for eating his tribes’ defeated enemies, “I am a jaguar”.
4) We have space in Brazil because our forefathers, who never fought a war of aggression, built a narion bigger than the Roman Empire at its height. Not through military conquest, through peace and friendship. As Brazilian late senator Ruy Barbosa famously told French writer Anatole France, Brazil is for world peace and friendship.

9 anonymous June 19, 2017 at 10:10 pm

Taylor Swift, for the record, is as talented as Dylan was when he started out as a musician and poet While the MR comment section’s Lusitanian Jacques Riviere often bufoonizes, he is at times eloquent, and in my opinion, his 2:08 PM quote was one of those times. English is, of course, his native language, or might as well be.

10 Thiago Ribeiro June 20, 2017 at 4:59 am

“English is, of course, his native language, or might as well be.”
It is not, but I read/write it better than I speak.

11 Josh June 20, 2017 at 9:43 am

You don’t think whatever the modern us does tries to suppress mans true nature and turn us all into interchangeable cogs serving a a god called “the economy”?

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12 Thiago Ribeiro June 20, 2017 at 10:14 am

Not like Communist/Fascist totalitarism. In Brazil, singers are real people, not interchangeable pieces of a faceless machine. The very idea is antithetical to Brazilian nature. The same is, to a larger extent, true bout the other Brazilians. We, Brazilians, are all individuals. I have talked to lots of Japanese people, they are barely distinguishable. Their regime took away their individuality. I cn not imagine Brazilians living that wy.

13 Thiago Ribeiro June 20, 2017 at 10:14 am

Not like Communist/Fascist totalitarism. In Brazil, singers are real people, not interchangeable pieces of a faceless machine. The very idea is antithetical to Brazilian nature. The same is, to a larger extent, true bout the other Brazilians. We, Brazilians, are all individuals. I have talked to lots of Japanese people, they are barely distinguishable. Their regime took away their individuality. I cn not imagine Brazilians living that way.

14 Josh June 20, 2017 at 10:57 am

In the us, singers are cartoon characters invented by teams of marketers, like “lady gaga”

15 Thiago Ribeiro June 20, 2017 at 11:22 am

Maybe America is far ahead in the way that takes a country to totalitarism. Many leading American intellectuals are sure America’s democracy is dying. In Brazil, music is nothing but the authentic expression of one’s inner ourlook and values.

16 Hadur June 19, 2017 at 2:12 pm

The title should be “The culture that is Japan”

China is just taking the Japanese approach to pop stars and copying it entirely.

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17 joe June 19, 2017 at 3:39 pm

The most interesting part to me is the protectionist angle here. Does Japan restrict imports of music from other countries?

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18 dan1111 June 20, 2017 at 4:51 am

In fairness, 99.9% of all pop music is just copying other pop music. True originality is rare.

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19 dearieme June 19, 2017 at 2:13 pm

“Per the Financial Times (paywall)”

Aargh. All you need to do is give us the headline and we can avoid the paywall, courtesy of google.

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20 Thiago Ribeiro June 19, 2017 at 2:20 pm

It would make him accessory of paywall-jumping. Respect the wall, make the Financial Times great again.

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21 Paul June 19, 2017 at 5:07 pm

It’s a great wall. A beautiful wall.

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22 Thiago Ribeiro June 19, 2017 at 5:11 pm

A huge wall. And sad, Mexican losers will pay for it.

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23 Anon June 19, 2017 at 7:14 pm
24 Sam Haysom June 19, 2017 at 3:29 pm

So in other words you don’t really need to import culture or taco trucks.

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25 Thiago Ribeiro June 19, 2017 at 5:14 pm

Well, if you are a totalitarian regime, you surely can see it fit banning foreign culture lest it weaken your grip on power.

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26 Zach June 19, 2017 at 4:36 pm

Interesting question: As a business, what matters more, the music or the marketing?

At the small scale, there’s a fairly direct connection between the consumer and the producer. The consumer buys the song, album, or performance, and some fraction of the money goes to the producer.

At the large scale, it seems like consumer buys N units of whatever people are talking about right now. The value added is in the marketing, and the content is somewhat interchangeable.

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27 spandrell June 19, 2017 at 5:32 pm

Again this is not a Chinese thing; it’s a Japanese model. They also have a branch in Jakarta.

The 48 girls don’t grow to be stars. Once they reach an age where they don’t attract devotion of single men (26 or so) they “graduate”, and go on to marry some big shot. There’s also very credible rumors that the girls are pimped out to rich men across Japan. So the whole 48 girl “pop group” is just a prostitution ring which uses public TV to promote them.

You Americans should remember this because AKB48 is going to be in the inauguration of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics; even though the US State Department has openly stated that Japan has a serious problem with human trafficking of women.

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28 Thiago Ribeiro June 19, 2017 at 5:47 pm

Japan should never have been allowed to host the Olympic Games.

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29 spandrell June 19, 2017 at 5:34 pm

Oh, and by the way, Quartz is just an awful news source. It’s not even fake news. It’s just stupid. It’s like Vox written by 90 IQ old Millennials.

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30 Anonymous June 19, 2017 at 7:18 pm

Who is an old Millennial ? A young Gen-Y er?

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31 Steve Sailer June 19, 2017 at 10:38 pm

I remember reading an article in 1980 explaining that was the new strategy of the famous old Motown singing group the Temptations. The old Temptations had auditioned and chosen a bunch of talented youngsters to be the new Temptations. The old Temptations explained that just as the New York Yankees don’t go out of business when the players get old and fat, they just hire new players who are young and fast, they didn’t see any reason why the Temptation brand name should go out of business just because the original members had gotten old and fat.

This all made perfect sense to me and I remember explaining to someone how this would be the future of the music business.

But I was wrong, at least in America.

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32 Amigo June 20, 2017 at 3:29 am
33 Amigo June 20, 2017 at 3:30 am

oops. I see this was already mentioned below.

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34 carlospln June 19, 2017 at 11:44 pm

“This all made perfect sense to me and I remember explaining to someone how this would be the future of the music business”

You can’t clone Norman Whitfield.

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35 mkt42 June 19, 2017 at 11:50 pm

Menudo was doing this decades ago. Singers were replaced after they reached age 16, if not before. Ricky Martin was a member of Menudo before launching his solo career.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Menudo_members

The NY Philharmonic and every classical orchestra also change their performers completely, given a long enough time span. OTOH the most well-known string quartets seem to disband once they’re down to their last one or two original members.

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36 M June 20, 2017 at 2:36 am

>> “Unlike western pop, which trades on authenticity and the idea of performers singing from the heart”

A better description might say western pop trades on self expression. There’s a shade of difference where when we talk about authenticity and singing from the heart, we have some connotations of honesty, truth, realism.

Self expression rather can be as much about projecting a dishonest or fantasy image of your self, which converges more on what Western young (narcissists in the extreme) are looking for more when they prefer their manufactured bubblegum mega-hit popstars (Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, One Direction, etc).

The space for a truly authentic and honest artist singer in both Western and East Asian popular music cultures is fairly narrow. Very slightly wider in the Western popular music, with negatives in moving that space away from usually deeper, more truthful forms of expression in the novel and visual art, e.g. there are people take Kanye West’s view on society semi-seriously.

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37 Ozzie_Newman June 20, 2017 at 4:22 am

Like a big band from the swing era. The band leader remained (sometimes just his name), while the band members came and went. AkB48 doesn’t have a band leader, otherwise the same concept (not commenting on musical ability, of course. And as SS noted, many groups from the 50’s, and some from the 70’s, replaced some or even all members, while keeping the name, which was owned by someone who wasn’t ever in the band itself. I.e. a band owned and named after a guy who fronted the money and put it together, but didn’t actually play/sing/perform/lead/doing anything on stage. For that matter, Phil Spector could have named all of his groups the Phil Spector group (possibly, adding “featuring Darlene Love” or something along those lines).

AKB48 is over-rated, by the way. No one in Japan likes them anymore.

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