OP-ED: Standing on the shoulders of giants


This post has been in my head for while, and I realized that unless I get it out, I’m never going to be at peace. So despite all the toes I’m gonna step on and flames I’ll probably get, here it is.

YG Entertainment’s new boy group iKON just debuted last week. It’s a debut that’s been two years in the make. Which also means it’s a debut with two years worth of expectation.

I’m just going to be frank here and say that it did not live up to expectations.

It was a disappointing debut.

Now, I’ll make it very clear here that I am a fan of iKON, I have been a supported since their WIN days and I think they’re a seriously talented group.

They just, for some fucking reason did not do well in their debut.

For a while I was grappling with this sense of disappointment because I couldn’t understand WHY their debut didn’t live up to expectations. I know for a fact that they’re better than this, so what the hell is going on?

However, after several news at YG Entertainment came to light, I finally have the answers that I was seeking and I’m finally able to be at peace with this debut.

I suppose I should start with why the debut was disappointing. Song wise, I’ll just let the songs slide cause I did like My Type and if they’re coming out with more songs in November, I suppose it’d make sense to have a less impactful song now and make up for it later. (But really, the whole album was a half hit and half miss for me, the title songs were good, the rest were….what the fuck was YG thinking?) The music videos weren’t bad? Except it felt like YG expanded all their budget with Airplane and My Type and couldn’t afford to produce Rhythm Ta to the same level of quality we’ve come to expect.

The biggest disappointment for me were the live performances, both their concert debut and Inkigayo performance. The songs definitely sounded nice but it wasn’t amazing. It didn’t blow my socks off. It was just lacking in some way, and after re-watching Big Bang and 2NE1’s debut performances and concert videos, I realized why.

They weren’t having fun.

A huge reason why I really loved iKON was that they had fun on stage and always gave their 200% when performing. Yet their performances on Inkigayo and at their concert, while professional wasn’t fun and lacked the same spark it used to have.

I went and looked for their guest performances at YG family concert and Big Bang concert while they were still called Team B, heck I was AT the YG family concert in Japan when they performed, they weren’t like this.

So we must ask ourselves, what happened? They were supposed to be the next Big Bang.

And that’s when I had my answer.

CEO YG himself said that we shouldn’t compare iKON to Big Bang, of course it was incredibly hypocritical of him to say this since HE was the one building iKON up to be the next Big Bang.

But hypocrisy aside, he’s right. How can we possibly expect iKON to be comparable to a group with a decade of experience on them?

It’s hard not to though, BI is like a mini GD, Bobby sounds like TOP, Jinhwan is like Tae Yang (right down to the height) AND they’re a hip-hop group. I’m definitely not the only person to think like this, hell basically everyone who’s remotely watching Kpop probably thinks the same way I do.

Imagine being a rookie singer, finally debuting and being expected to live up to Kpop’s biggest star right now.

The insane level of stress one must feel when put in that position.

We can argue that iKON has been through a shit ton of stressful situations thanks to WIN and Mix and Match, but that’s a different kind of stress. While their future was at stake, there was no expectation to live up to. They were simply expected to do their best and they did. Now though they’re expected to live up to Big Bang’s standards, to BE the next Big Bang.

We all know no one can be the next Big Bang.

Their pre-stage jitters must be like earthquakes. I don’t think performing is going to be enjoyable if one is under that sort of stress. And mind you, so far, no other group in Kpop has been expected to live up to the same impossible expectations has iKON has. You may argue that EXO had to live up to Super Junior’s name, which although in a sense is true, but no one expected them to immediately come out and be as good as Super Junior. Everyone knew that they’d be monster rookies but that they too would need time to grow into themselves.

So with that sort of stress in mind, I think iKON performed admirably. Perhaps in an ideal world they’d magically overcome this stress, but the world isn’t ideal, so honestly, we should just be amazed that they didn’t cave under all this pressure.

Quite a few fans on the web blame YG for building them up so much, causing huge disappointments….and though I’d like to jump onto this bandwagon, rationally, YG didn’t have a choice.

And here we finally touch the heart of the matter.

YG Entertainment is a business. All businesses need to make money and feed their employees. Now, as profitable as YG Entertainment is right NOW, their good fortune isn’t going to last forever. In fact, the end may well be in sight.

Unlike SM or even JYP, YG is held up by one giant and one giant only, Big Bang. 2NE1 is a close second, but both groups are currently in a precarious position right now.

Big Bang’s contract ends next year, YG doesn’t know what’s going to happen and even if they DO renew their contract, they need to perform military service soon.

2NE1 is still recovering from Park Bom’s scandal and although they are one of the best girl groups out there, statistically, boy bands are just wayy more profitable than girl bands.

Any smart company would do two things in this situation. Rake in as much cash as they can with their cash cows right now and diversify their portfolio.

And it’s happening right now. Record labels earn the most money from concerts, in fact these days, that’s the most realistic revenue model because in the digital age, album sales are just for show. That’s why YG has been sending everyone on concert tours. 2NE1, Big Bang, YG family, Winner etc. Hell even Akdong Musicians got their own concert.

The diversification is even more obvious. First he recruits non-hip hop artists like Lee Hi and Akdong Musicians, then he styles Winner as a more chic boy band. They open a fashion label. Following that he supports Tablo and Teddy to open their own labels. Now they’re doing this YG Stage thing and recruiting actors and comedians.

YG Entertainment isn’t doing this to show off how rich they are or to take over the entertainment industry, they’re doing this so that if and when Big Bang is gone, they’d have enough eggs in other baskets to cover their losses.

That being said, none of these diversifications are going to make them as much money or be as sustainable without another group to shoulder the company.

As obnoxious as it might sound, that group is going to be iKON. YG said so himself. It’s not that Winner isn’t talented, but they target a more niche market, they’re part of the diversification plan. Same with Akdong Musician. And as amazing as Lee Hi’s vocals are, she isn’t going to become the next Boa (while Boa was in her prime). Financially, not even Epik High or Psy will be able to replace Big Bang as the main bread winner for YG Entertainment.

YG’s only option is to produce the next Big Bang, or a group capable of succeeding them. That’s why he put Team B through such grueling experiences.

It’s a good plan, except perhaps he started it too late.

Big Bang’s contract ends next year. Next year is literally 2 months away.

I’m not sure if you guys remember but, Big Bang only made it big with Lie and Haru haru, that’s 7 years ago, aka 3 years after Big Bang debuted. Big Bang had TEN years to become what they are now.

iKON is expected to achieve that in the next few months. Actually, iKON HAS to achieve that in the next few months.

And YG’s going to make damn sure it happens whether or not iKON is actually ready.

They don’t have a choice.

I’m sure all your fans have felt it. iKON’s debut is currently at the standard that it is at, not because of the group itself but because of the sheer amount of production value YG has poured into them. To be blunt,they have yet to live up to the production value spent on them yet. As the saying goes, fake it till you make it, and that’s what YG is doing, he’s going to fake it until iKON makes it as the next Big Bang.

(on a side note, with 5 MVs to film, budget wise, I’m not surprised the production value of iKON’s debut music videos are lower than what we’re used to)

At this point, as a fan, I have more pity in my heart for iKON than anything else.

A fast-track route to stardom is a painful one. iKON’s just spent the past year preparing for their debut, writing songs, filming MVs, and immediately as those are done, they had to prepare for their debut concert. They had to film their inkigayo debut and then rush off to do their concert, and not a few days after that, their on a plane to USA to prepare for the second half of their album which is basically in due in 3 weeks. Which means they need to film another 2 more MVs and memorize+practice the performances for said song during that time. Then comes the end of year awards which means MORE special performances and preparations. After which, because YG really needs money and needs to rocket the band into superstar status, the boys are going to do a Japan debut (read: re-record songs in Japanese, memorize THOSE lyrics and perhaps film Japanese versions of the MV) and a concert tour immediately after that in February. Lets not forget the lovely V app and other endorsements and publicity events the company is going to have them on to maintain their status.

If I was under that much stress, I’d cry, except they’d be so fucking busy they don’t even have the god damn time to cry.

Everyone says that they’re achieving great success thanks to their company, while that’s not untrue, no one sees how standing on the shoulders of giants can be a monumental task in itself.

But you know what?

If anyone can do this, it’s them.

So yes, despite having said all that, I AM still disappointed in iKON’s debut, and that’s alright. Being a fan doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to be disappointed, in fact it’s our JOB to have expectations. We only have expectations because we believe in them. I know that iKON can do better, so until they live up to their true potential, I’m going to keep being an (understanding) critic.

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OP-ED: Standing on the shoulders of giants

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