And no, not these expectations:
Expectations play such a large role in our daily lives that it’s hard to imagine our lives without them. Every time you are about to experience something, there are a bunch of little thoughts, prejudices, and expectations wrapped up in your mind that it often paints the experience in a completely different light. These feelings are subconscious, and most of the time, we don’t even realize that they exist. Expectations in the K-pop world can make an average song sound amazing or sound terrible, and I’d like to explore that today. I will be talking about several different ways our expectations are altered, and how those expectations shape how we perceive the K-pop world.
There’s several different types of expectations. One of the most common types is hype. Hype is a very powerful tool because it can make it seem like the item being hyped is worth checking out, even if it actually isn’t. Virtually all companies in K-pop today use hype. It can go from the mundane, like concept teasers or music video trailers, to the most innovative (such as Infinite’s new 360 degree VR teaser), clever (such as rookie group Gfriend’s social media campaign making them one of the top rookie groups), or exhausting (such as EXO’s endless number of predebut teasers). It’s clear that most K-pop companies today know how to use hype.
Sometimes, it’s not the companies that use hype, but the fans. This can backfire: after all of the hype from fans, top groups may not live up to expectations. This can be seen through non-fans’ views of BIG BANG’s “BANG BANG BANG” and SNSD’s “Party”. Many non-fans were unimpressed by those songs, especially considering how hard VIPs and SONEs hyped them up. Hype is the most commonly used strategies involving expectations, but it is certainly not the only one, nor is it necessarily the most effective one.
A more interesting strategy involving playing off people’s expectations is downplaying: getting people’s expectations so low, that even an average song will surpass them. The prime example of this strategy is EXO’s Wolf and Growl era. SM knew coming off of MAMA era that EXO had a lot of fans, but not as much public recognition. So what they did was brilliant: they released an almost universally terrible and ridiculous song, “Wolf”, knowing that their massive fanbase would be enough to score them at least one win. This prompted a lot of controversy amongst netizens who hadn’t even heard the song (it wasn’t even close to charting well digitally) or who had heard the song and thought it was terrible. Everyone dubbed EXO “SM’s first flop group.” Then, a few months later, SM gave EXO “Growl” as a repackage track. Expectations were so low that many people listened to it thinking it was going to be bad, but because of SM’s clever marketing, people’s expectations were automatically surpassed. Personally, I don’t think “Growl” is that great of a song: it’s extremely repetitive and boring, with the motive being repeated on a loop by the bass and the vocals over and over again. Quite frankly, if it were released today by EXO, I don’t think it would have charted as well as it did in 2013, nor do I think it would be universally lauded the way it is. It’s just that the expectations after “Wolf” colored people’s visions of “Growl.”
Another example of expectations being downplayed and then exceeded is EXID’s rise to fame. As most people know, pharkil’s fancam of Hani is what brought EXID to fame. But a lot of people don’t realize that it took a lot more than a fancam of a girl for people to make “Up & Down” chart on MelOn months later; the song actually had to be pretty good. I think a lot of people were expecting the song to just be average: they watched for Hani, not for the song. People had low expectations because people subconsciously perceive the quality of lesser-known groups to be less than more well-known groups. This has to do with the availability heuristic, which suggests that the more you hear about something, the better you judge it to be. All nugu groups are subject to this cognitive bias, EXID included. This led to people’s lower expectations, which were then exceeded by the quality and catchiness of the song. Although this wasn’t necessarily an intentional strategy planned by EXID’s company, it is a great example of how expectations can be used to create success.
Clearly, expectations can completely change people’s opinions of the songs they hear. Sometimes, these cognitive tricks our minds play on us can be concerting. A lot of people may wonder what they can do to stop their expectations and biases from making them deaf to some really great music. I think the key is to stop trying to hear music as being beautiful, or terrible, or whatever your gut feeling is telling you. The key is simply to hear it, as it is. Try and forget about what group is releasing the song, or what the music video looks like, or what that group has released in the past. It might be hard, but hey, if you can put aside the fact that they are singing in a completely different language, you can put all that other stuff aside too.