An Open Letter To Michael Jackson and The Beatles

Dear Mr. Jackson and Messrs. McCartney, Lennon, Starr and Harrison,

It’s impressive that through countless other videos and performances like the ones above, all of you have influenced K-Pop at its very core today. I highly doubt that any of you anticipated that your legacy would be permutated as such. Yet, Michael, many K-Pop stars owe their entire aesthetic to your influence and pioneering style of performing, as do many American artists. And, Beatles, that K-Pop companies owe their fervor to put out identical looking sets of performers to the havoc you wreaked in the 60s through Beatlemania.

I think it’s prudent to start with a paper that I read regarding first Messrs. Beatles and their legacy. Written by web-user virdant, his paper Now Twirl: A not-very-brief discussion on similarities and differences between boybands in Japan, Korea, Taiwan and The West opens up by discussing the Beatles and their primary influence on the Asiatic boyband scene. Although it discusses how you, The Beatles, revolutionized and repopularized the concept of original music (something rather far removed from K-Pop), as opposed to being manufactured, the key influences are still there. Four similarly good looking and talented individuals sell. However, there’s a bit more than that, I think.

During your Hamburg years, which Malcolm Gladwell cites in his book Outliers as being an outlandishly rigorous period of time essential to the perfection of your craft, you pushed your physical boundaries maybe not necessarily with a goal in mind, but because the music drove you and because it was work. I think that’s a sentiment many K-Pop stars share today, whether they’re in-training or in the twilight of their careers. Though certainly it didn’t originate solely with you, The Beatles, the fact that played a key role in your success cannot be overlooked.

In fact, John Seabrook wrote an excellent piece for the New Yorker about the entire K-Pop system as he encountered it, describing Tiffany and Jessica of SNSD in particular, the long hours and insane schedule they put themselves through to achieve stardom. While it perhaps cannot compare to the insane hours of actual performance and use of drugs to stay active and performing, one can’t help but identify the similarities in work ethic required to go to such extreme measures. Again, while morally questionable, there is in fact, no question that to reach stardom, one must work to extremes, and this is something that Messrs. McCartney, Lennon, Starr and Harrison have passed on in spades.

Next, Michael, your influence is undeniably widespread among K-Pop. Countless stars talk about your overwhelming influence on their careers and their work. And there’s no need to mention how revolutionary your popularizing of choreography + flawless singing is to pop music in general, let alone K-Pop. You’re the reason why such stars as SHINee’s Taemin, in your tradition of pursuing a solo career after the Jackson 5, created this:

Taemin’s “Ace”, which came out in mid 2014, even features the same kinds of cloning techniques as demonstrated in Jackson’s seminal hit, “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough”

Much of the choreography in this video is inspired by your popping and locking, blended with a prolific use of crotch grabs, pelvic thrusts and other such bursts of energy in subtle and concentrated places. In fact, Lee Taemin says in an interview reposted by WordPress user Minewi Shinee, that he used to watch and attempt to follow along with you, Michael, in your music videos.

Taemin isn’t the only star you have a hold over. Scores of other stars attribute their work to your influence, such as BoA, in this piece from a press conference, and Taeyang, who quotes listening to Xscape as “[reminding] me once again that he is my greatest inspiration.” In fact, Seoulbeats featured a piece by user Laura where not only are you called the biggest idol amongst K-Pop stars, but you are linked to such successes as the inaugural Seo Taiji & Boys, Taemin’s “Danger”, and the choreographer who was responsible for hits like SHINee’s “Replay” and SNSD’s “Genie”.

It may seem, however, that your influence as the king of pop is only limited to dance and choreography, but so often is your performance caliber mistaken as a footnote to your dancing abilities, so too does your performance acumen come as a footnote to the dancing that makes K-Pop so appealing to the general public. Efforts like this:

result in K-Pop’s efforts like this:

where even just at the solo level, we can expect a high level caliber of performance. Michael, you’ve set that bar, and you’ve inspired so many stars in your wake that your influence is undeniable. And, definitely not to slight Messrs. Beatles, the audience’s openness to scream while the star is performing must be attributed properly to Beatlemania.

In fact, Michael, your influence is so intricate and convoluted, that you’ve influenced pop stars that have in turn influenced K-Pop, and themselves in turn have been influenced by K-Pop to some degree. Take Bruno Mars for example. The chain begins where you, Michael, put out the video “Rock With You”

No one would argue that the disco-transitional, Motown-to-80s-pop sound from this video is iconic. Though this aesthetic is spread in copious amounts through this song’s album, “Off The Wall”, it is still a hugely captivating sound, and as such, has influenced such acts as Bruno Mars to create steadily more and more Michael-esque, and then late Motown/Soul Train inspired hits, as “Treasure”:

Treasure, as a hit, is a sure sign that the active basslines and steady grooves of 70s and 80s American music are still very, very catchy today, and play a vital role in catapaulting contemporary acts. Everything about this video is inspired by you, Michael, from the gratuitously acid-trip-inspired slide transitions to groove to performance style of Bruno Mars. The whole thing reeks of 70s funk, despite the video coming out in 2013.

In turn, the solo debut of SHINee’s Kim Jonghyun featured the massive all-kill hit “Deja-Boo”, which despite its occasional K-Pop trope, is largely inspired by Bruno Mars’ performance of Treasure, or at the very least, shares similarities with it. The red jackets, the backup dancers, the active bassline and groove. All of this come from just that one innocent “Rock With You” video, and the entire “Motown transitional” sound of “Off The Wall”. Michael, your influence is felt even 2 or 3 degrees outward, something few other artists can safely claim.

Jonghyun’s solo debut was met with massive acclaim, even more than the aforementioned Lee Taemin’s debut was met with, purely out of the strength of Jonghyun’s songwriting, artistic confidence, and performance acumen put together. All of these attributes are influenced, both technically and artistically, by you, Michael, and that influence is inescapable. This level of artistic conviction and excellence is perhaps the reason why “Deja-Boo” is consistently on repeat wherever I go, from my iPhone.

It’s safe to say, Michael and Messrs. Beatles, that your influence is felt and reverberated throughout K-Pop today. If it wasn’t for your revolutionary successes, we wouldn’t have K-Pop in the way we know and love it, and for that reason alone, this project would not exist, where a 21 year old would want to dissect even the most obscure K-Pop groups for every last detail of influence from home.

Yours truly,

A fan who wants to know more.


SPOTLIGHT: Seminal Influence

Thriller (Michael Jackson) – Gikwang, Taemin, Wooyoung, Chansung, Minzy

Though the choreography is short in this video, and heavy artistic liberties were taken with the sampling of this song, there is no doubt about the power of Michael Jackson in the lives of these young performers, especially whatever motivated them to perform one of Michael’s greatest hits in the best selling album of all time, Thriller.

While this is not a traditional Spotlight feature, which I feel usually involves a music video released by any one of the groups owned by any one of the entertainment companies in South Korea, I feel it is necessary to use this video to represent just the artistic power that Michael Jackson has on today’s K-Pop stars. In fact, there was a forum on Soompi.com, all the way back in 2009, dedicated to K-Pop’s mourning of Michael Jackson’s death. The fact that this existed in 2009, barely after or before K-Pop’s huge boom worldwide, is a testament to how impacting Jackson’s work is in the K-Pop universe.

Without Jackson, we would have no choreography matched with singing. Without Jackson, the standard is much lower or at least much different from what we expect stage presence to mean. Even Moonrok’s history of K-Pop has mentioned that SM executive Lee Soo-man’s experience in America with the Michael Jackson era influences how he operates his company, and how he produces new groups.

It is due in large part to Lee Soo-man that K-Pop survives and uses western influence the way it does, but it is primarily because of Michael Jackson’s performing prowess that has led him to be one of K-Pop’s legendary influences that shapes the K-Pop we know and love today.

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