Monday, October 7, 2019

Revisiting SuperM... oh yeah I'm Jopping

I thought it would be worth revisiting my (infamous) post comparing the images and audiences of SuperM and BTS in the American market in the wake of SuperM’s debut on October 4, 2019. The CD sales numbers for the mini-album have not yet been released but the newly announced American tour appears to have already sold out and the title of the lead single from the mini, the infectious “Jopping”, has already become something of a playful twitter meme (“If she’s your girl why is she out jopping at the club with me”). The SuperM hashtag on Twitter is packed with fans singing the praises of their favorite member. To me, that feels like a success.

Going back and re-reading my post, what I think I missed (or rather talked around) is something touched on in this excellent Baffler article from Kyle Paoletta:

No, there’s no single piece of intellectual property that constitutes the monoculture, but that was never really the case—at least, not since the heyday of Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In and Top 40 radio. Monoculture has more traditionally revolved around a set of self-similar properties (such as network sitcoms in the 1990s), and today’s iteration is no exception. Set aside the peculiarities of each franchise, and it’s obvious that today’s monoculture is beholden to the conditions of fandom.

What I mean is this-- when I said there is no more American music mainstream, I was referring that Top 40 radio everybody listened to. That obviously doesn’t exist anymore. But Paoletta’s piece really hit the nail on the head with his observation: the new American mainstream is these smaller fandom subcultures. When you look at it that way, what has happened with BTS and what Lee Soo Man is aiming at with SuperM suddenly falls completely into place.

BTS, as I’ve said a million times before, was adopted by the American boy band fandom. It’s a fairly big but ultimately rather shallow audience and moves on quickly when their favorites begin to curdle and collect scandals. (Now would be an excellent time for Hollywood and/or Simon Cowell to launch a new property featuring fresh-faced and vaguely homoerotic dreamboats, just saying…)

SuperM, on the other hand, is not aimed at the mainstream Top 40 crowd or the boy band crowd already claimed by BTS. SuperM is aimed squarely at the existing Kpop market who has been craving this kind of Powerful Epic Dancefloor Anthem since Big Bang vacated the marketplace after dropping “Bang Bang Bang” and entering military service.

Think about it.

There is a clear hole in the Export Kpop market for a group dropping EPIC ANTHEMS. The kind of songs that generate memes, become catchphrases, and stick in your ears for weeks.

And to be clear, I’m not downplaying the quality of any of the other groups in the Export Kpop market when I say this. Seventeen, I think, would be making Epic Anthems if they had a bigger budget to play with. “Hit” is a bop and a half but “Hit” doesn’t have Big Three fun money and knack for an over-the-top eye popping video and that is the point I want to land on.

Lee Soo Man clearly saw what I saw when I said: “K-pop has been able to gain a foothold in America/the West because we've gradually bled all glamor and aesthetic beauty from our own arts culture. Left with a crumbling husk of virtue signaling and personal redemption narrative, many just tuned out or turned elsewhere.”

SuperM will not appeal to the American general public but they will appeal to the existing, but balkanized, American audience for export Kpop. And, even removing BTS from the equation, that audience has become a fairly large one over the last decade. Here is a super group aiming to be so big and epic that it pulls curious fans not from the audiences of Taylor Swift or Lil Nas X but from the American audiences for all the SM boy groups, as well as boy groups like Seventeen and Monsta X, who both have significant but dispersed American fanbases.

Export Kpop audiences in America don’t want music that sounds like what’s on the charts here (feat. Halsey) we want music that sounds like Kpop and we want it performed by larger than life idols in outrageous outfits and multicolored hair.

The video for “Jopping” skips completely past “cool” and aims at being like awesome in the way that the Fast & Furious series is awesome. The video is just frame after frame of completely unselfconscious flexing of how awesome all the members are and it. Is. glorious. There’s no faffing about and “relatable” here. It’s just panty-wetting raps and dance moves. And yes, it is extremely masculine. And powerful. And beautiful.

“Jopping” is “Bang Bang Bang” done SM-style where instead of the vaguely grimy Mad Max action movie feel, you’ve got Michael Bay slickness. And I am here for it.

I honestly have no idea what to expect from SuperM moving forward but even assuming they don’t touch BTS sales for Persona (which it won’t) I really do think SuperM has already been a success for SM, if only for being able to get people like me who were only interested in one of the members curious about and excited about the others to the point that I’m now feeling compelled to go fill out my collection of EXO and NCT albums. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw back catalog sales for EXO, SHINee, and NCT spike along with SuperM. All part of the plan.

And now I need to get back to Jopping.

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