All the way to the (Music) Bank

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By Cecille Santillan-Visto

SEOUL — There are several music television shows in Korea that pit K-pop groups against each other. If a band’s new work is compelling enough, they may land on the charts and be featured in the weekly countdowns. These music chart programs give K-pop acts the chance to compete with their contemporaries, or, if they are lucky, face off against well-established veterans. They have ready venues to show their wares and this is probably among the reasons the so-called “idols” continue to thrive.

Music Bank is one such program that provides weekly K-pop fare to its worldwide audience. Produced by the Korean Broadcasting System (KBS), Music Bank is one of the biggest and most popular in its category. It is broadcast live every Friday at 5 p.m. from the KBS’s studio in Yeouido in Seoul.

As early as the morning of broadcast, fans line up at KBS for a chance to have access to the “pre-recording” of performers lined up for the week’s show. Advance recording of some of the performances is necessary to ensure seamless sequencing. In some instances, a group has two new songs to present — one is recorded and another performed live. For others, advance preparation is necessary as equipment and intricate stage backdrops cannot easily be set up in between commercial gaps.

THE DIRECTOR is busy behind the tech booth ensuring a seamless TV show.

Music Bank Chief Producer Han Kyeong Cheon permitted BusinessWorld to cover the April 22 show, even allowing photography of the performing artists, which is usually prohibited.

“Getting tickets to Music Bank is quite difficult. It is booked online but you have to wait for notification of approval. Some seats are allocated to fan clubs of the performing groups,” said KPOP Channel business director Peter Hong, who walked us through the show.

Tickets are free but seats are limited. Given the millions of followers of K-pop groups, the supply pales in comparison with the huge demand.

The moment of truth when this week’s winner is finally revealed

Be it in the pre-recording or in the live broadcast, getting that golden ticket to gain studio access may be compared to winning the lottery.

The sidelights in and around the KBS studios were as interesting to watch as the show itself. Outside, enthusiasts — mostly Korean fans and a good number of foreigners — were armed with high-tech cameras with super zoom features that could easily reveal even the slightest facial imperfection of the performers. Most are administrators of fansites, popularly known as “fansite noonas” (older sisters) who regularly update their Web pages with their stars’ latest activities.

Even in winter, fans are not deterred by the agonizing cold and line up to get a glimpse of their favorite K-pop groups.

Newbie Oh My Girl dances to “Liar, Liar”

Inside the premises, the musicians freely roam and casually greet each other. In Korean culture, youngsters normally bow to the seniors they come across. As we had the opportunity to roam around the studio before the show, a number of boy groups — including rookies Up10tion and NCT U, and the popular Got7 and BAP (both of which have performed in Manila) — bowed to us along the KBS corridors. We acknowledged by saying: “Sugo haesseo.” (Good work.)

The audience was allowed inside the studio a little before 4 p.m. The mid-sized theater can accommodate around 300 spectators. Security was very tight and taking of photos strictly prohibited. An enthusiastic male fan was escorted out of the venue when he was caught taking a quick snapshot during the show.

That day, several new groups were slated to perform including pop rock band, CNBLUE (See related story). Also included in the lineup were Super Junior’s Yesung, BtoB (Born to Beat), VIXX, History, Oh My Girl, and rapper Defconn. There were over a dozen performers to fill up the one-and-a-hour slot and it was easy to see why fans fight over access. Unless there’s a K-pop “dream” concert, one will never see all these groups performing on the same stage.

Block B tried, but failed, to snag the title from CNBLUE

For that week, based on album sales and public voting, CNBLUE’s “You’re So Fine” beat BtoB’s “Toy” to clinch the top spot. It was CNBLUE’s “goodbye stage” after having been No. 1 for the last four weeks of airing.

Music Bank has changed hosts regularly over the last few years. The show has helped solidify the careers of its emcees, including Descendants of the Sun’s Song Joongki, Park Seo Joon, and singer Haha. Park Po Gum and Irene of girl group, Red Velvet, have been Music Bank’s hosts since May 2015.

The live broadcast on April 22 went smoothly. The performers went on stage as their turn came up. The studio audience was surprisingly behaved, waiving their fan banners when their stars took the stage. Seeing a group of rabid Oh My Girl fans — all of them males — chanting as the group sang their “Liar, Liar” pushed the interest level several notches higher.

Music Bank hosts Park Bo Gum and Red Velvet’s Irene

Music Bank’s following is so wide that it has successfully held the Music Bank World Tour in different cities across Asia, Europe, and Latin America since 2011. It will continue to hold these stops thanks to the demand of K-pop fans worldwide.

But the weekly music show is a testament to how difficult it is to become a Korean music icon. Stardom is indeed a combination of blood, sweat, tears, and a bit of luck. Not everyone will get their five seconds of fame, more so laugh all the way to the bank.