For the most part, the American music industry is composed of solo artists and small groups. Quick: think of a popular song right now. Is the singer of that song a solo act? Or is it by a band? If the song is performed by a band, can you name any band member other than the lead singer? Chances are, the song you’re thinking of is sung by one person or a band with maybe four or five members at the most.
For me personally, I can think of at least a dozen popular American solo singers off the top of my head. I can think of a few bands too, but they usually only have one or two vocals in the group. Boy bands and girl groups have been popular in America in the past, but not so much recently. These days, it’s all about the individual.
In contrast, the pop music industry of Japan and South Korea is based heavily on singing groups. Yes, there are solo artists but few dominate the charts on the level that these boy bands and girl groups do. Japan has successful groups like Exile (fourteen members), Kanjani8 (seven members), and AKB48 (more than eighty members). South Korea has Super Junior (currently twelve members), Girls Generation (nine members), and EXO (twelve members). These examples are just a few of the large pop groups that both countries have to offer.
What I’ve discovered through my time on the internet is that fans of Western music (I won’t say just Americans because that’s too specific of a description) are somewhat intimidated by the large amount of singers in just one group. It’s a bit disconcerting at first, isn’t it? Say that you’re a fan of Christina Aguilera. You put on one of her music videos or go to one of her concerts and all you focus on is her. Sure, there may be backup singers or backup dancers, but that’s just for decoration really. Christina is why you are watching. So when you watch a music video for Girls Generation and you are suddenly confronted with NINE different singers, you don’t quite know how to react. Who should you focus on?
I’ve seen a lot of hate on the internet for large pop groups. The more members they have, the more hate they seem to get. My favorite insult I’ve seen was someone snarkily commenting on a livejournal post to say that no one should listen to South Korean group Super Junior because they were the “musical equivalent of a Baker’s Dozen.” Nevermind the fact that a Baker’s Dozen is thirteen and Super Junior currently only has twelve members. (Some of whom are currently serving their mandatory military service and are not even active in the group.)
In response to this attitude, I’ve put together a simple little guide on how to become a fan of these large pop groups. Yes, it may be strange at first to have so many people running around together singing on stage, but if you don’t give them a chance, you could be missing out on some music you might enjoy. I guarantee, once you start, it’s not that hard to learn everyone’s names and faces.
So let’s get started:
Step One: pick a performance you like and watch it several times
Back in 2010, Japanese boy band Hey!Say!JUMP (currently nine members) released a single titled Arigatou. It’s a catchy song and the lyrics are full of puns, so I actually liked the song a lot, much to my surprise. A friend of mine had given me a copy of the group’s first album and upon listening to it, I realized that I also kinda liked it. Because of that, I decided I’d try to find out more about this group. But, at the time, there were ten members in the group and I had no idea where to begin. What were their names? Who was who?
So I found one video on youtube of the group performing on a TV show and I watched it over and over again. As I was learning the lyrics to the song, I was also learning the faces of each member.
Unless the group you’re interested in is a very new group, you shouldn’t have any problem finding a fun performance to watch through a few times. There are tons of choices!
Step Two: give everyone in the group a silly nickname
While step one, taught me the faces of Hey!Say!JUMP, I still didn’t know all their names. So as I was figuring it all out, I gave them all silly nicknames for fun.
The nicknames can be based on anything about the person. It could be based on appearances like “lanky” or based on any bit of knowledge you might have picked up like “Mr. Piano Man.” The names I picked for Hey!Say!JUMP probably mean nothing to you, but they make perfect sense to me. That’s what’s important.
Nicknames are fun, I think, and this makes the task of learning everyone’s names seem less like a chore you’ve got to get through.
Later on, when you see someone mentioning the name of someone in the band, you might say “Oh yeah? That’s Moonwalker!”
Step Three: check out everything your group has to offer
Unlike some American singers, Japanese and Korean pop singers are involved in a lot of other activities in the entertainment industry. They don’t just sing. They host TV shows, they act in movies, they work as newscasters, they host radio shows. It’s not hard to find something the group is involved in.
Japan’s most popular girl group, AKB48, markets themselves as “idols you can meet,” meaning that they have numerous opportunities for fans to get to know the members. The AKB in their name actually comes from Akihabara, the name of the part of Tokyo where their own performance theater is located.
If you don’t live in Japan though, there are other groups you can easily learn about. Many of the boy bands of the talent agency Johnny’s and Associates host a wide range of variety and talk shows. Arashi (five members) hosts several shows where they interview guests and play games. Kanjani8 (seven members) had a great informative show called Bouken Japan: Kanjani Map where two members each week would go check out a different place in Japan and locals would send in suggestions of things to see and do there. Sure, they usually ended up spending most of the episode eating food, but I still learned a lot. (Sadly, this show was cancelled but you can probably still find episodes somewhere online.)
I’m not as familiar with what Korean pop groups have to offer, but I do know that, just like the Japanese groups, several Kpop bands host talk shows, variety shows, and music shows. A friend of mine recommended that I check out Hello Baby, a show where the group is paired up with young children to see how good they would be at raising children. Guests on this show have included Girls Generation (nine members), Shinee (five members), and MBLAQ (five members).
As for me and my quest to get to know Hey!Say!JUMP, I was lucky that they released behind the scenes footage for all the music videos they’ve released. Watching those helped me learn their names and personalities and see how they interact with each other. I also began reading their magazine interviews. Now I can easily identify any of the people in the group and I even know who is singing what line in their songs. (That was probably the most difficult thing for me to do considering that there were nine different voices to distinguish.)
So now that you know what to do, you’re ready to tackle any group!
Questions to Consider:
Do you find large groups intimidating or do you love them?
Do you prefer solo artists or groups?
What’s the most ridiculous nickname you’ve made up for a singer?
Does anyone actually know the names of every single member of AKB48, former and current? And if yes, how did you do it? Did you do something similar to my suggestions?
What amount of people would you consider to be too many people in one group?
Let me know what you think in the comments. And if you try out my how-to guide, tell me how it worked for you!