Are popular idols killing Korea’s indie music industry?

Many people that are familiar with Asian pop culture, may know that the leading “musicians” in the Korean music industry are idols. From boy bands to girl groups, that’s all you see in the streets, television, movies, and magazines. And in 2010, the hallyu wave (or Korean wave) spread across Asia. Most notably in Japan where several Korean idol groups debuted.

Many indie fans worry that the Korean idol music is overshadowing the indie scene just too much. Which, sadly, it may be true. It was reported by indie musician Song Eun-jie, that she only makes about $520 USD a month. Which is not enough to make a living. Unfortunately most of the indie musicians in Korea have it that way.

However, there still may be hope. Record labels Pastel Music and Fluxus Music are two of the leading indie record labels in South Korea. Artists like Loveholic, Clazziquai Project, and Casker have made a name for themselves in the industry, despite the popularity of idols. A great example is Fluxus Music’s Clazziquai Project, which in the mid 2000s gained so much popularity across Asia. That it even made them hold several concerts in Japan as well as releasing their music in Japan and Taiwan. Last time Clazziquai Project was around was in late 2009, when they released their fourth full-length album “MUCHO PUNK“. Hopefully soon they’ll take our hearts once more with a new album.

Another example is Pastel Music’s Casker (image above), they released their fifth album titled “Tender” in October of last year. They are very well known for their sweet and soft electronic melodies. Which gained them a lot of attention for their new album. It comes to show that there is still hope left in the industry. While Pastel Music and Fluxus Music may be just the helping hand that indie musicians need.

Korean television dramas also take a huge part. As for their soundtracks most of the time use indie artists. Loveholic, Casker, and Clazziquai Project have taken part in several dramas. Those like “Coffee Prince“, “My Name is Kim Sam-Soon“, and “Boys Over Flowers” are examples, which are very popular across the world and feature music by these artists. Thanks to the dramas, several indie artists have gotten a large fanbase.

Although, not all succeed, several indie acts disband or become inactive after just one album. Due to the commercial failure of their albums, even if their music is purely gold and even after tie-ins with commercials and television dramas. While the problem may not only be the overshadowing of idols, but also that Korea’s music industry is just very unsustainable. Not even the big idols make as much money as idols in Japan or the United States. Thus making Korea’s top idols debut into other markets. Another problem being that Korea’s music industry is very high on illegal downloading. Which gives the artist no support to keep making music. Sadly, the ones affected the most by this are the indie musicians.

So in the end, while the pop idols may be overshadowing the indie musicians, and even if Korea’s industry won’t sustain them, they surely will never die. Check out Casker’s music video for “Kkog imankeumman” below!


About Pedro Diaz

Asian indie music enthusiast.
This entry was posted in -Country: South Korea, Casker, Clazziquai Project, Loveholic and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Are popular idols killing Korea’s indie music industry?

  1. Donovon says:

    This is a very sad topic… another Korean indie artist I want to make a comeback is Belle Époque, but who knows when they will?

    • antennapop says:

      Very indeed. Belle Époque are very very lovely. Sadly, most Korean indie acts release one album. And due to the commercial failure (even after the tie-ins with Korean dramas), never release albums again. It truly is very sad. 😦

      • Donovon says:

        For me, what makes it even worse is the fact that the popular girl groups and boy bands and such make such infectious music it’s hard to hate them. Which makes this bittersweet, because while I love the indie scene much more, I also can’t help but love overly popular stars like Girls’ Generation, SHINee, etc.

      • antennapop says:

        I know what you mean, I feel the same way!

  2. Oliver Mayor says:

    Man, this really stinks for indie artists.

    I get the feeling that success in a lot of things in Korea often has to do with being “discovered”, “selected”, or “accepted” into an organization with a lot of legitimacy and power. It makes sense that music would be the same way. I wish I knew more about Korean society to say for sure. I wonder if there’s a place for alternative business models in the indie scene over there, like the ones some artists are experimenting with in the US. I suppose these are issues all of us who are interested in creative endeavors want to be thinking about.

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