This piece from The Verge today is an excellent introduction to the rather odd world of K-Pop, which is as close to a music factory as you’re likely to find on the planet. Disappointingly for a tech site the didn’t cover what is, for me, the most interesting aspect of K-Pop, which is that many of the bands are used by big Korean corporations as adorable billboards for their products.
Chaebol (재벌) are large family-run Korean organisations that interweave themselves in Korean society in a number of ways. In the West Samsung and LG (two of the largest chaebol) are known for electronics – however in Korea they manufacture everything from mobile phones to industrial machinery to entire apartment blocks.
Their interests also extend to K-Pop, and although the labels that train artists and package then into groups are independent, the groups are often licensed as one would purchase a magazine advert.
For example, in 2009 LG launched a new handset in Korea called the LG Cooky. What better way to promote it than to get Girls Generation, one of the biggest Korean girl groups, to sing a song about it. This is the resulting music video / advert, that was played on Korean television in amongst the regular music videos –
In a way this is incredibly enterprising – sort of an evolution of the brand jingle. An entire song to promote your product that will get stuck in people’s heads, and a cutesy video with dancing girls waving said product around in consumers’ faces.
On the other hand though, it’s incredibly insulting to consumers and woefully demeaning to the artists themselves.
This relationship, where manufacturers purchase songs from popular bands to promote their products, is by far the most interesting and noteworthy aspect of the K-Pop industry to me.