Sunday, March 21, 2010

Used CDs and MP3s

So a random question that just came to my head - is it more ethical to buy used CDs or to download songs for free off the Internet? I used to be Limewire's biggest fan, until I switched to Ares, which is so much better for international music, and then stopped downloading from P2P altogether. I did it for a number of reasons (finding free songs on blogs and Mediafire, not wanting to go to jail) but mostly because a number of people guilt-tripped me into buying songs legally. One of them had a dad who was an intellectual copyright lawyer, and so he basically made a living off of what Limewire threatened to destroy. Another talked about how the artists work so hard and don't get paid all that much, why steal their music, which is effectually what I was doing (in their opinion).

Now, the basic argument was that artists don't get paid when people download music for free, thus it is stealing and it is morally wrong. But, as I began to spend money on iTunes, I realized that for my musical appetite, it was just way too expensive. I have an iTunes store wishlist worth $80, and I add songs to it every week, but I can only chip away at it slowly by buying a $15 gift card every few months. I feel BAD for spending so much money on music - computer files that are essentially a bunch of 1s and 0s. I know that value is not intrinsic in the file itself, but rather the information it holds, but still - when you think about it like that, you could feed a child with that kind of money.

So to avoid the pain of spending more money than I had, I moved to used CDs instead. Which most people seem to be okay with, but I'm not quite. It carries the same problems that downloading for free has: you get the music, but the artists don't get paid for your purchase, only the initial one. You deprive them of income they should have earned. Is there a way for you NOT to feel guilty about any of these things? The way people carry on about it, you CAN'T not feel guilty for wanting cheaper music, and finding ways to get it - either way it's illegal and immoral.

This annoys me. First of all, I hate people making me feel guilty - I have a conscience and it works well enough without you messing with it. Secondly, why is downloading an MP3 somehow worse than recording a tape or burning someone else's CD? I agree that the Internet provides so many more people access to the music and causes much more monetary loss, but it seems wrong to me that one is less moral than another, even though the exact same sin is being committed. Thirdly, I like the idea of used CDs, but who benefits? The artist? The resellers? The buyers? The store owners? Is the money going to whom it should? Is it ever possible that people will be paid in full for their hard work? And if it's not, should I, a consumer, feel guilty about that? Should I change my behavior to benefit the artist, despite the fact that it won't make a difference, and could have a negative impact on myself (i.e. I'll be broke and I'll feel guilty for indulging)?

*sigh. I understand that artists work hard. But music is expensive. I'd love to support all my favorite artists, and buy their albums, but frankly I can't afford it, and all of my favorite bands are international anyway, making it harder and more expensive to buy their music. When I start earning a decent income, I will buy music. But until then, and until the digital music stores start selling more international music, I will have to refrain from paying 99c a song. Digital music is never going to get cheaper, so I'll simply buy used. It doesn't help the artists, but it'll help the small record store in danger of closing, and that person saving for a car. Whatever.

Feel free to weigh in - I'm a little frustrated by this issue and needed to get that off my chest. I consider myself a moral person, so, again, I hate it when people guilt-trip me. It's manipulative. I was also thinking of maybe starting a used CD business, so I'll need to get over this issue if I decide to go through with it.

P.S. Reading over this it gets very philosophical at points. Sorry about that. Fun posts soon.

On Girl Power and Abs

Again, a late night/early morning blog post. I hate the way my mind works sometimes. It's always when I most need sleep that my mind just won't settle down. I look for something to distract me/put me to sleep and I inevitably find something interesting to mull over which only keeps me awake longer... ah, my life.

Anyway. Yeah. Girl power and Abs. I mainly thought about this because of the Girls' Generation (SNSD) song that came out last week, "Run Devil Run". I posted the song, but I did not post the music video. Here it is, courtesy of Soshified, complete with English subtitles.



For those of you who know K-pop, you know that this is not your typical SNSD. Usually they are cute and bubbly and professing their love for their oppas* - you'd never really describe them as girls with attitude. With the old SNSD, if a guy cheated on them, they'd curl up in a corner and cry and sing for him to come back or lament over lost love. Here, they've gone from cute to hot and dismiss that cheating bastard with "Half of the world are men, I won't notice that you're gone." This is a big shift. Especially when you consider East Asian culture, which generally requires women to be quiet and submissive and all that good stuff. But SNSD won't take it lying down anymore! You better move it to the left, to the left! Despite the fact that the "dark concept" SNSD was excessively hyped up (with an iPhone app to boot - I hate Steve Jobs), it IS a big change from their regular stuff in terms of look and lyrics. So I don't feel so bad liking the song even though it's unremarkable musically.

In related news, around the same time that this song came out, a documentary aired on the Discovery Channel called Hip Korea, which featured a segment on my favorite Korean girl group, 2NE1. The documentary presented them as a group who are changing the status quo in Korean society when it comes to women. They're presenting a different idea of womanhood - one that's sassy and in-your-face, and not about to cry over an unfaithful dude. I completely agree with this assessment, and this is probably why they are one of my favorite k-pop groups. Unlike a lot of the other female k-pop artists, they're not just "be pretty and sexy and you'll sell records". They push boundaries, in their fashion sense as well as in their music and lyrics. They sing songs with lyrics like, "You're just a pretty boy, you gotta be a real man if you wanna roll with me" and "I don't care if you don't call me, I got better things to do", while everyone else is like "Oppa, I love you! Don't ignore me!" So yeah, they're kinda awesome, totally raising the girl power fist and I love them. Check out the comparison below between 2NE1's typical style and SNSD's typical style:

SNSD = cute, 2NE1 = fierceness

Now, how does this relate to abs? Well, in the past month the internet has been flooded with pictures of Korean celebrities and their abs (as well as some other shots that are not entirely SFW - you're over 18 you can check them out here, and here). Our favorite controversial band 2PM just did an extensive photoshoot and were topless for most of it (parts 1, 2, 3, 4). Lee Joon of the new boy group MBLAQ flashes his abs a whole lot, because the king of ab-flashing, and Korean superstar extraordinaire, Rain, who happens to be his boss, tells him to because the fans like it, (yup, we sure do ;) and everyone wants to get pictures of them (exhibit A, B, C, among countless others). Then there's these guys, this guy and this guy, and like 50 others. And then countless polls as to whose abs are better.

So basically, I was like, "What is up with the excess of abs???" On this side of the pond you need an underwear ad before a male celebrity shows this much skin this often. The answer, interestingly enough, seems to be in the "noonas" - i.e. the older women who are fans of young boy bands. Indeed a lot of these groups have been nicknamed "noona killers" because of their high appeal to older women. I just hope they're not too much older - I'm fine with a little age difference, but cougarism is just plain wrong. Yes, I'm looking at you, Madonna - leave the young ones for us! The younger girls also appreciate the view, I'm sure, but considering the fact that Korean culture tries to keep their girls pure and innocent for as long as possible, I seriously think it's the older women with *ahem* more experience who are driving this trend.

James over at The Grand Narrative has this theory that Korean women were the main force behind the changing of Korean men's fashion sensibilities from kinda boring to what would be classified as "metrosexual" in the West. I think the excess of abs is in line with this theory - girls wanted muscles, and the men delivered. *sigh, why don't guys do that all the time? Deliver, I mean, not flash their abs. While I appreciate some skin every now and then, I've seen so many six-packs that I want to write an open letter to all these Korean celebs telling them to keep their bloody shirts on for a change! Geez. One can only wonder what's going through the minds of their young female fans, and hope that whatever their thoughts are, they're age-appropriate.

So yeah, women are taking over, and guys are taking off their shirts. The world is a better place already :) Alright, off to bed.

*"Oppa" literally means "older brother" in Korean, but its meaning is much more complex - to call someone "oppa" means that you respect and admire the person - kinda like you would a brother, but not really... it's complicated. Girls will call their guy friend/boyfriend/love interest "oppa".

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

thoughts on [k]pop vol 2: the plagiarism issue

Okay, so continuing on the K-pop thread. I'm going to keep this one short because I want to do less talking and hear from whoever reads this blog - I'm not vain enough to think I have hundreds of followers, but I do like to think people read this and have their own opinions about the stuff I say.
So, South Korea's favorite girlband Girl's Generation (So Nyu Shi Dae, or SNSD) just released a song called "Run Devil Run" which sees them leaving their cute image for a dark and sexy one. Check it out below:


MusicPlaylist

Music Playlist at MixPod.com

I like it. It's not particularly sing-along-able, but it's a fun song that you can't help but play over and over again. This is not surprising, since SNSD tends to only release songs that will be hits. They may not be musical masterpieces, but they're carefully crafted and succeed in capturing the ears of listeners. Then it's up to the music video and performance to catch the eyes and hearts of fans and shoot them to number one on the charts. (See my last k-pop post for more on this.) [UPDATE: MV's OUT! Watch it here - And it's pretty cool, if basic. They'll be number one though, for sure.]

The track was originally composed by American songwriters, and Kesha did a test run for them. That track leaked before SNSD's track came out, and now everyone's screaming plagiarism*. K-pop is notorious for plagiarism scandals: G-Dragon, Lee Hyori, CNBlue, Kim Jong Kook and now SNSD for the second time, have all been accused of copying someone else's work**. Though only a few of them were actually legal accusations, they still manage to stir up trouble among netizens. Then again, netizens can stir up trouble about almost anything (topic of a later post, for now read Eccentric's post on netizens in k-pop).

I think it's interesting that these issues come up at all: pop music isn't particularly concerned with making something that no-one has ever heard before. The imperative is to sell CDs/mp3s, and human nature makes it so that people will buy a song if it sounds like something they heard before and liked. Thus, they write songs that people can easily acquaint themselves with. (Case in point: one of the reasons I like this song is because it's very similar to Britney Spear's "Radar", which I really like) That being said, I still think writers of pop music succeed in keeping things original when they try hard enough.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this: Can pop music be original? Or is it full of copycats and plagiarizers? And is k-pop particularly susceptible to plagiarism or accusations of plagiarism because it's [allegedly] a manufactured genre?

I titled this post the Pop Chronicles because I think that the best way for me to write about pop music is to break it up into bits and pieces. So I'll write a couple more posts under this heading in the coming weeks.

* Check out the comments on this article on Allkpop.com to see how heated things can get.

** I have my own opinions on each of these plagiarism scandals, but in the interest of saving space I didn't put them here. Ask me if you're interested in my take on it.