We missed our last Sunday Music Day post (where we showcase some of our favorite tunes), so this week we are going all out, with a full-fledged article cross referencing popular music and tech trends!
Let us first start with a little bit of history. The era of Japan has passed for almost a decade now, Made in Japan products are still considered high quality, but they are not as demanded as before. Some argue that China is taking over, but not just yet. While China remains the world’s dedicated factory, going beyond OEM into ODM is still years and years behind the United States. At the present moment, America still holds the reign uncontested, not because of the size of its economy, but because of being a leader in setting trends via Hollywood and popular culture, thereby dictating what is cool, and what is to be desired. That’s on the pop culture side, on tech side, remember a decade ago Japanese phones were the coolest? Well, thanks to Steve Jobs single-handedly disrupting the entire dynamic and we saw a complete shift of tech trends once led by Japan back to the states again. But wait, is there a black horse fast approaching? For those of you who watched Jay-Z x Samsung’s Magna Carta Holy Grail Commercial you’d know that there’s a strong contender on the scene, not just in manufacturing, but in creating new trends.
So, we really want to dismiss the fluke that is Gangnan Style, but to be sure, 1.7 billion views on Youtube signifies a new rising star – Korea. There is a reason for it, though, and everybody’s involved. And perhaps by watching just these 3 music videos today, we can actually decipher how things are unfolding before our eyes?
The drive for Korea is of a reason so tenacious and deep in almost every Korean national’s blood, it is not to be ignored – the drive to beat Japan. Most of us know that Korea was colonized shortly after Meiji Restoration by an effective and ambitious Japanese imperial expansion. But even as early as the 16th century Japan had already invaded Korea twice under the Tokugawa shogunate. Even after WWII, when all the countries in the world went head-to-head in economic development, Japan was still way ahead than all of its Asian counterparts. Its neighbor Korea did fairly well themselves, but certainly was not on the radar as a serious challenger, just one of the “Four Asian Dragons” (along with Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore). It is easier now to understand then, why these two Asian brothers can never share a meal together peacefully without starring down the other (with one to the west doing way more intensely and full of vengeance). National pride is at stake, and the latent shame of being colonized, of being the underdog for centuries will always be Korea’s intrinsic fuel to compete.
Now you may ask, what does that have to do with Sunday Music Day, or tech culture for that matter? Allow me to elaborate further. Take a look at Korea’s 2NE1 (the MV above), their “I’m The Best” was released in June 2011. This song has accumulated over 74 million plays on Youtube. Japan’s super popular Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s “PonPonPon” was released shortly after in July 2011 (see below). Kyary’s song has accumulated over 53 million plays in 2 years. Both artists and these two songs are immensely popular in their respective country and just by looking at their directing and artistic designs we can see how the two countries are fairing. On the Korean front, 2NE1 attempts to take Gaga’s edginess (an original) to the next level, while still maintaining some of their own signature – sexy Asian girls with attitude + a latex version of the Korean barrel drums is seen at 2:40. Japan, on the other, is stuck in the late 90’s Harajuku, Shibuya-kei movement, but became almost so self-absorbed that most of the outsiders like us don’t (or want to) understand anymore. The candies and rainbows are so out of control at this point Kyary is almost like a hoarder of colors. The song itself is catchy, but in a pre-school way. We really want to like it too but it’s difficult for us to sing along or play in the background as we prepare for a night out. We just have to brush it off – “it’s a Japanese thing.”
Now take a breather, we can almost see a mirror effect with tech trend too. Jobs’ vision started a wildfire and Samsung caught on but further enhanced into their own, a slimmer, fancier concept of a machine in order to appeal to the masses. And they are doing a great job. Similar companies like LG are doing well too exporting to the world, not just their products, but the trends they create. Has anybody heard or thought about any cellphone or tech companies from Japan these days? Sony, Panasonic, Sharp all seem to stuck in their own bubble and legacy of the 80’s and 90’s, unable to break away, to innovate and seriously compete, not just for their domestic market but for the world market. It seems that because of the Great Recession, Japan has become a real otaku having a lot more fun watching AKB48 than to really connect with the outside world. Korea took this opportunity and marketed their brands to the everyone who wanted an alternative to iPhone and now most people mention “Samsung” much much more often than “Sony.”
Korea’s revenge is fierce and is coming on strong. They are adaptive and can capitalize quickly on concepts of massive proportions. Even their pop stars are ahead of their historic archenemy by a full mile in terms of appeal to the masses of the world. Can two popular music videos be indicative of pop culture trends of two nations? Absolutely – because by being popular they show us what a nation likes and how they think as a collective. And they tell much more. Companies have to make products that people want to buy and so the appeal element of a tech trend can be the derivative of popular culture, and the two evolve perpetually with each other. So for those of us watching as the trend unfolds, it’s interesting to see how everything actually does make a little sense – why they are doing it, and how they are doing it.