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Quezon City, Philippines
Universal Records is the NUMBER ONE independent record label in the Philippines. Bringing you quality music for the past 30 years, we are home to artists like: Jose Mari Chan, Gary Valenciano, Ogie Alcasid, Regine Velasquez, Lani Misalucha, Jed Madela, Christian Bautista, Jay R, Billy Crawford, Kris Aquino, Edu Manzano, Marian Rivera, Mark Herras, Nina, Ronnie Liang, Gail Blanco, Sam Concepcion. Our band roster includes: Parokya Ni Edgar, Kamikazee, Sponge Cola, Imago, Silent Sanctuary, Kenyo, Paraluman. We are equally committed to bring you exciting international releases covering various genres like pop, jazz, new age, classical, alternative, indie pop, rock, electronica, dance, r&b, and hip-hop. Name it, we definitely have it!

August 8, 2010

Phil. Daily Inquirer | Ka-ching! K-Pop Rules the Local (Air) Waves

Written by Eric Caruncho
Philippine Daily Inquirer

First Posted 12:45:00 07/31/2010

While the rest of the world was queueing up for the new iPhone, hordes of young Filipinos were queueing up for something else entirely.

Last July 3, security guards at a mall in Quezon City were dumbfounded to find hundreds of kids lining up at the gate, hours before the mall was scheduled to open.

Another Neil Gaiman book signing?

The Super Lotto grand draw?

Chinese knock-offs of the iPhone4?

The reason became clear once the gates were finally opened and everyone made a beeline for the record store.

It was the launch of “Bonamana,” Korean boy band Super Junior’s fourth album, and it was accompanied by fan frenzy not seen locally since the Beatles played at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in 1966. And Super Junior was not even there – just standees of the members that fans happily posed with for photos.

“Within four hours, we hit the one million peso mark,” says Peter Chan, operations manager and international label director of Universal Records Philippines, Super Junior’s local record label. “It debuted at No. 1, and outsold everything – Charice, Usher, Glee. In 10 days the album went gold!”

Ever since the Wonder Girls’ “Nobody” became a monster hit last year, the local record industry, languishing under the twin onslaughts of CD piracy and unpaid downloads, has received a much-needed shot in the arm, thanks to the chart muscle of Korean pop acts such as the aforementioned Wonder Girls and Super Junior, 2NE1 (featuring Dara – a.k.a. Sandara Park), Girls’ Generation, SHINee, Big Bang, Se7en, and scores of others.

“K-pop has brought kids back to the record stores,” says Chan. “They already have the songs on their iPods, but they also want the physical CDs. It’s a way for them to show their devotion to their idols. They say ‘please tell us when you’re going to release such-and-such an album so we can start saving up for it.’”

In turn, says Chan, they try to come up with events such as album launch parties, and collaterals such as posters, standees and special limited editions of albums and DVDs, for the fans to enjoy. In fact, Universal Records organized the “Bonamana” album launch together with Super Junior United Philippines, the band’s local fan club.

“It’s amazing,” he adds. “When I go to these events, they sing in Korean and even have placards written in Korean. They not only know the lyrics, they also know the choreography. They know everything there is to know about each and every member of their favorite group.”

The explosion of Korean pop on local radio, television and the internet is the second wave of hanryu, the so-called “Korean wave” that started seven or eight years ago with the popularity of Korean soap operas on local TV. Since then, Korean companies have been exporting Korean pop culture even more aggressively (and with more marketing savvy) to Asia and beyond: movies, TV programs, music videos, recordings and live concerts. We used to buy their cars and home appliances, now we also buy their entertainment.

Despite the language barrier – or maybe because of it – Korean pop has won a large and devoted following among Filipinos, thanks largely to the Internet. Every Korean pop act has one or more local fan clubs, with active websites, blogs and e-groups. And it is this fan base, rather than the local record companies and music stations, that is driving the current K-pop trend.

“You have to understand what the fans need, not what you want them to want,” says Universal Records’ Chan. “K-pop fans are incredibly proactive. They want to participate in making their idols successful in the country. They come to the office and suggest things. They want to put their idols on the map, locally.”

Fans were largely responsible for pushing K-pop into the mainstream, he adds. Even before the local record companies thought of releasing Korean acts, radio stations and music cable channels were deluged with requests and burned CDs from fans, telling them what and who to play. So numerous were the fan requests that radio stations played songs that didn’t even have a local release – something that hasn’t been done since the hoary days of album-oriented radio.

Once “Nobody” hit, however, the floodgates were opened and K-pop has since become increasingly mainstream. Now Korean music videos even come with subtitles in romanized Korean –so the fans can sing along.

“It’s bringing some excitement into the local music industry,” says Chan. “It’s something new. The passion and dedication of the fans is inspiring.”

It’s not hard to see the appeal of Korean pop, especially to young Asians. The boys and girls are young and beautiful. The music is sugary pop laden with hooks. The dance choreography is precise. The music videos are slick. It’s ear and eye candy par excellence.

Sure, it’s manufactured bubblegum music, but what popular entertainment these days isn’t manufactured and marketed to death? Just like a Hyundai SUV or a Samsung big screen LCD TV, a lot of research and development, design, manufacturing and quality control, and sales promotion goes into a Korean pop group.

When Joni Mitchell sang about the “star maker machinery behind a popular song,” she might have been envisioning Korean “idol” pop.

In most countries, stardom is usually controlled by media conglomerates who also try to monopolize the talent pool. But they do things a little differently in Korea. Korean pop is ruled by the so-called “Big 3” talent management agencies: SM Entertainment, YG Entertainment, and JYP Entertainment.

These companies literally mold undiscovered young boys and girls into teen idols, putting them through a gruelling three- or four-year training period – a sort of teen idol boot camp – in which they learn how to sing, dance, act and be stars. Grooming and dressing well are emphasized, and it’s not unusual for the idols-in-training to undergo some cosmetic surgery to attain the desired look. Once the trainees graduate, a team of songwriters, producers, choreographers and filmmakers works on them to produce their output, in the form of songs, music videos and albums. The talent agencies also act as their own record labels, thus consolidating their control over their “product.” Bound by long-term iron-clad management contracts, talents are then put on the road to sell, sell, sell.

We used to joke that Sandara Park became popular locally despite having no discernible singing, dancing or acting talent. Well, guess who’s laughing now? When she returned to Korea, she was snagged by YG Entertainment despite her advanced age, trained and groomed, and relaunched as Dara, a member of the hugely successful girl group 2NE1.

The talent agencies are also masters of target marketing. It is not unusual for a popular group to spawn not only solo acts but sub-groups as well, targeting specific audience segments. The boy band Super Junior, for instance, has 13 members in all. Five of those members, plus two Chinese talents, form Super Junior M, a sub-group aimed at the Chinese market. Pop idols also branch out into TV and film, and are a goldmine of advertising endorsements. These gimmicks help maximize the return on the talent agencies’ investment. Their annual earnings run into the tens of millions, in US dollars.

The K-pop phenomenon is further proof of the increasing globalization of pop culture in the current media-driven world of hyper-consumption.

“Because of technology, the world is getting smaller,” says Chan. “Before, you had to wait for months for an imported magazine to come out so you could learn what was new about your favorite bands. Now, with one click of a mouse, you can find out the latest.”

Local K-pop fans are not only full-time fans, they’re real-time fans, staying current by staying glued to their idols’ Facebook, Twitter and other social networking accounts.

“One week after a new group comes out in Korea, they have their own fans’ club in the Philippines,” he adds. He says Universal Records Philippines will be launching more K-pop acts. Already in the pipeline is the hip-hop/R & B-influenced group One Way, a departure from the usual “idol” boy or girl band. Other local record companies will also be launching their own K-pop titles.

“Our goal, as a record label, is for K-pop to become more than just a fad. We want it to become a regular music genre that’s represented in a music store. Just as Pinoys like Charisse are given a break abroad, we should be open to all kinds of music as well.” •

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