K-pop's busking move worries indie groups
A GROWING number of K-pop groups are straying from the confines of their scrupulously set stages to perform as buskers on the streets - an arena that used to be associated with struggling indie musicians.
Earlier this month, ballad duo Take was spotted belting out soulful tunes in Sinchon while girl group SUS4, which debuted last year, drew a crowd of some 300 in Hongdae, according to reports.
Such live outdoor performances are said to allow management-led singers to display a more carefree side, stripped of K-pop's notoriously choreographed stage sequences
With live streaming, busking performances are no longer limited to the audience present at a specific time and space.
This makes for affordable yet wide-reaching promotional clips, a major reason for busking quickly becoming a favourite for debuting K-pop artists.
Singer Song Yoo-bin, a contestant from singing competition programme Superstar K, has been putting on shows on the streets in Sinchon, singing both his own music and covers of popular K-pop tunes.
GH Entertainment, the agency of boy group B.I.G which showcased a dance routine near Sinchon Subway Station on June 5, said: "We wanted to present different charms and musical skills that haven't been seen on air."
According to entertainment agency Star Empire, home to girl group trainees Han Hye Ri, Kang Si Hyeon and Kim Yoon Ji, busking is "the easiest and quickest way to reach people directly".
The trio's performance on the streets of Hongdae on June 5 was watched by over 100,000 viewers on Naver's live-streaming app V.
However, some indie musicians worry that the streets, previously the exclusive territory of struggling artists looking for a big break, are turning into outlets for mass advertisement.
It is not helped by the advent of apps like Busking Play that provide busking schedules, the creation of busking zones in movie theatres like CGV and city government-led initiatives to foster street artists.
Some music fans fear that the days of the free-spirited troubadour are over.
"It seems more like a mini-concert," said a spectator surnamed Lee at a scheduled busking performancetwo weeks ago at CGV's Busking Zone, a miniature stage the cinema has set up for aspiring musicians.
"It's not like in the movies, where you see musicians in alleyways singing with an open guitar case in front of them," said Ms Lee, pointing to the professional music equipment provided by the cinema chain.
According to indie band Uhikooya vocalist Lee Ha Yoon, 24, there are many obstacles to becoming an independent busking musician in South Korea these days.
The app Busking Play, for example, requires a "really complicated process to register" before applicants can upload their busking schedules on the platform, she noted.
The city government is also jumping in. Seodaemun-gu Office, which oversees the Sinchon area, now conducts auditions for street artists that it supports by providing busking spaces and a 300,000 won (S$346) stipend.
In March, Seoul Metro gave permission to a select group of 45 artiste teams to perform on stages in subway stations.
Said Lee: "There have been times when our band was playing at a park and we were asked to leave as the space was reserved by a (Seodaemun-gu Office-registered) group."
THE KOREA HERALD/
ASIA NEWS NETWORK