The dictionary defines an artist as one who has shown mastery over a certain skill, mostly in the liberal arts. Yet something interesting arises, for the dictionary further extends this definition to “someone skilled at a particular task or occupation”. So theoretically, a person not only needs to practice a guild, but they must be particularly skilled at it to be considered an artist. To see just how this applies to K-idols, we need to look at K-pop as a whole.
K-pop has the unfortunate stigma of being ‘overproduced’, ‘robotic’ or ‘unoriginal’. Frankly, I can come up with dozens of adjectives that people have used to describe it over time. It doesn’t help that the system surrounding it further promoted this idea. Thousands of teens all over Korea go to auditions in hopes of pursuing a career in the music industry. For those who manage to make it into a well-known company (see the ‘Big 3’), moderate success is something to look forward to. Those who find themselves in smaller companies find themselves riddled with problems: debt, abuse and most unfortunately, an unspecified duration of time in ‘nugudom’. Even then, one thing both groups share is a long life as a trainee. K-pop’s structure, if we look at it this way, it is manufactured. It’s different from say an actor or actress who may not necessarily have to go through these steps (although there are some who do ‘train’ under certain companies).
With all this that goes into just letting an idol début, one must look at the end result. Sure kpop has some truly outstanding talent. Some of Korea’s best vocalists are under the idol umbrella (the likes of Kyuhyun, Ailee, Sonnet Son and many others). Idols like Yunho, Eunhyuk, Taemin, Luna, Hyoyeon and many others have a certain knack for dancing. Let us not talk about other idols who write and compose music and even play instruments. Going back to the definition of an artist, the people mentioned above more than meet the requirements for they show great skill in what they do. But what is stopping idols from being recognized as artists? Well for every immensely skilled idol, there are two or three who are not so skilled. Some groups are fortunate to have at least one good vocalist or one good dancer but most groups are just average in all areas. When you lump the great talents with their not so great peers, then the lines are blurred and those who stand out don’t anymore. People refuse to call them artists just because they are associated with people who, in rather harsh terms, are ‘useless’.
Another thing that goes against most idols is their inability to write music. Not that they can’t or refuse to, but because they are unable to due to special circumstances. This critique is mostly reserved for SM idols who rarely take part in music composition. However, we have seen over the recent years that SM’s idols do write and compose their own music, it’s just that the higher-ups do not let them release that material. For example, SNSD’s Seohyun has been writing songs for a while but she was not allowed to release this material at all. Amber from f(x), EXO’s Lay and Red Velvet’s Yeri are other idols who write their own material but we have seen almost none of it.
And even if someone has to write their own music, are they any good at it? Some people compose their own stuff but it is garbage (to put it bluntly). So should we extend the definition of artist to them too, even if they have no talent for it? Judging someone by whether they write their own music is unfair, honestly. Many idols want to write stuff but they aren’t allowed to and even those who do write their own music are not always good at it!
Truth be told, in idol can be an artist but an artist doesn’t have to be an idol. I would consider Super Junior’s Kyuhyun to be an artist due to his stellar vocal technique, same as EXO’s Lay due to his raw dancing ability. The same way Park Hyo Shin is an artist, then these two idols are as well. And even better for them since both Kyuhyun and Lay can write and compose their own music!
To cut my rambling short, how you define an artist is paramount. I consider one to be an artist if they are good at their craft. Red Velvet’s Wendy is an artist and so is former 2NE1 member Minzy; who are skilled in vocals and dancing respectively. Writing their own music is only a plus, an extra skill to add to their tool belt.
At a first glance this question seems like the elaborate beating of a horse that has already made its grave. However, in retrospect the word ‘artist’ brings to light many misconceptions and issues in not only the K-pop industry, but music industry in general.
So, are K-pop idols artists too? Let’s pretend this isn’t a rhetorical question used to provoke the inner workings of your minds till you reach epiphany, and is a simple yes or no answer. Many would argue that no, they’re not; idols are idols. This means they’re public figures, who gain traction in the industry through performing songs composed by other parties until they establish a brand and then branch off to invest in more money and fame from there through music and other fields of entertainment. This is a very two-dimensional take on the industry – though it may be accurate in some corporate aspect. This differs from the set definition of an artist many have ingrained in their heads; a group or solo musician who creates their own music old-school style: sitting with a pen in one hand, paper in the other and their feelings flowing through.
However, many idols do partake in this compositional side of the music they release. In fact, there are so many examples I can’t even choose a few to name. Do all of these compositional masterpieces get to see the light of day? Of course not. Many like to state that idols are not artists as they don’t compose their own music, and use it as an argument to discredit said idols. But, they don’t take into account the fact that idols may be unable to express their creativity to the world through lyrics and melody because of the consumerist culture established in these industries. Furthermore, when said idols do finally get the chance to release their own composed music, what does this make them? Only artists, or idols and artists?
In my opinion, idols are artists, if you consider the by-the-book definition of an artist; ‘a person skilled at a particular task and occupation’. Who said singing isn’t an art? Many of the idols in the industry are beautifully skilled in the art of singing, training their vocal chords to perfection and amazing many with a plethora of high notes, pitches and styles. The art of dance springs to mind also. Training your body until it can flow with fluid, flexible movements in time to a song you can lose yourself in is definitely an accomplishment – this coming from a resident of the two left feet club.
Overall, the term artist is really a spectrum that you can choose to perceive in any way you please. Are idols artists? Though I believe they are, the reality of the situation is we’ll never get to a conclusive decision on this topic, so choose to believe what you may.
My thoughts on this topic are pretty simple: that the definition of an artist is someone who is heavily involved in the production of their own music. They have some say in what the lyrics are, the sound of the music, and the way it is presented to the audience. By this definition idols always have the potential to be an artist but it’s at the discretion of the label as to when or if they have the ability. Idols are not artists simply by performing.
Idols are representatives of the artists. Their skills in dancing and singing (and even varieties) are to entertain the audience and draw them into the label’s identity, whilst the artists work behind the scenes to perfect the songs. I am not saying, however, that idols should not be appreciated. Without their charisma and talent the music would go nowhere as it’s likely the people behind the scenes lack in areas idols don’t.
There are cases where some idols are artists. Big Bang, Seventeen, Pristin, and Brown Eyed Girls have all had input into their music with varying levels of success. In times when their effort has gone unnoticed, it’s unfair to say that they’re simply not artists because they were – or still are – idols since the overall product was influenced by the group or soloist.
Often the idol world is a team collaboration of many people: the idols, the artists and the label. A success is dependent on all three areas bringing skill and effort to the table. In an area of the music industry where looks are a must it’s important to understand what goes behind the scenes and truly appreciate each and every person. No, idols aren’t artists, but without idols the artists would be unable to bring their creations into the world.
For me, I’ve always considered idols artists. Period. I’ve never quite understood the idea that you must actually produce/write the music in order to earn the title of “artist.”
The way I like to see it is this; do you consider an actor an artist? Generally speaking, people do without question. Actors are incredibly talented people who are able to transform themselves into a different person and immerse themselves in emulating a different persona. But in most cases, the actor isn’t the one writing the script, directing or doing anything involved with actually crafting the story. They’re just performing the character they’ve been chosen to play. But they get that coveted title of “artist.” So why don’t idols? They don’t make the music in most the time, but they perform it. They bring it to life. They spread it to the people and show it off to the world. Plus, if you consider the skills idols possess, is that really not enough to call them artists? All the singing and dancing that they’ve slaved over for years in a practice room doesn’t make them artists? Just because they didn’t produce a beat or write a hook?
At the end of the day, idols are artists, and acting like the two can’t be synonymous just doesn’t make sense in my eyes.
In my opinion, I feel that the difference between ‘idol’ and ‘artist’ should be made clear. A singer can be an idol and artist at the same time, for example, individuals who start off as an idol may be an artist later on. However, for those people who start off as an artist, there is little chance that they may be an idol afterwards.
Idols are often expected to hold a range of talents, from singing to variety skills while on the other hand, artists do not require to possess such qualities but rather to create music for the entertainment industry and are weaker in terms of performance aspects, such as dancing. Also, appearance and age is deemed to be less important for artists as well as they are less exposed to the public as compared to idols.
However, there have been a rise of aspiring artists out in the industry, writing their own music or producing their choreographies. Therefore, the K-Pop industry has benefitted greatly, as idols continue to be nurtured into proper artists.
Instead of reiterating what everyone else has said, I want to address the mentality that one creative pursuit is superior to another. Where does this idea come from? Ask anyone into music and you get the impression that songwriting is valued above anything else, while singing and dancing are just seen as secondary pursuits not worthy of the same amount of praise. Why is that when just as much time and effort goes into them?
But not everyone can be a great songwriter, and I would hazard a guess there are more mediocre songwriters in K-pop than there are mediocre singers or dancers because the latter is what they’re primarily geared for in their training. People who are really interested in the songwriting side of music are less likely to be idols, where their time will be refocused on other aspects of performance that may not be of interest to them. They are more likely to work behind the scenes or be involved in more independent forms of music that give them more freedom over their own work. Strangely, people seem to have less respect for professional songwriters than they do for idols who happen to occasionally write their own songs.
That is of course not to say that idols can’t be good songwriters, there are certainly some who have shown they have a consistent ability to produce great lyrics and music, and they deserve praise for it. But, like singing and dancing, you need to practice and gain experience in lyric and music writing, and it’s just as obvious when someone isn’t so great at it and perhaps is better off sticking to their day job.
Encouraging idols to create their own lyrics and arrangements is a good thing, but we need to accept that a given song written by its performer isn’t inherently “better” than a song created by someone who actively makes a living writing songs. The latter was still written by someone with a heart and mind, and deserves just as much respect and consideration as a song we can put a face to simply because it was written by a celebrity.