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August 20, 2015

A Korean Drama Wedding

Logos for viki and soompi enclosed in a heartBig news in kdramaland – mega-forum soompi and streaming service viki are getting hitched. Sure, they know a lot of the same people, and share a lot of the same interests, but will it last?

Only time can tell…

August 5, 2012

Immortal Songs 2 – Korean TV review

Immortal Songs is a KBS Saturday afternoon program (also aired on KBS World), which has existed in varying configurations with other Saturday programs for a number of years (according to Wikipedia). I don’t usually watch singing competitions, but this one has some features that strike me as distinctly Korean, and I find myself watching it most weekends.

The “Immortal” in Immortal Songs refers to a respected elder singer and/or songwriter who was widely known and dearly loved back in the day. A different senior guest is featured each week (“senior” in this context refers to professional status, not age). There is a rotating pool of current singing stars – each singer or group is featured on several consecutive shows. The singers/groups each select a song from the senior’s repertoire, and prepare their own interpretation of it, which may or may not include a change of genre, background singers and musicians, costumes, dancing, and/or dramatic staging effects.

Singer names are randomly drawn by an MC, who teases the live audience by describing the next performer before revealing who it is. After the performance, the next singer is selected – both singers receive feedback from the senior. Then the audience votes. They do not choose between singers – rather, they are asked to vote for each singer if the singer “moved” them, and the singer with the highest score proceeds to the next round. The prize is a trophy for the last singer left standing.

There are cameras in the back room where the singers await their turn. The camaraderie and interaction between the singers has been one of the most interesting features of Immortal Songs. Since they are on the program for several weeks at a time and are rotated out on individual cycles, they have multiple chances to go first or last, be matched against various other contestants, and receive a high or not so high score. Newer singers are advised by experienced veterans, singers who usually perform with a group get a chance to display other aspects of their talent, and everyone gets to experiment with new styles. Sometimes there are pre-performance interviews with individual singers, or pairs of competitors. The atmosphere is generally supportive despite the competition.

Identification with the group even in a competitive environment, and connection of current generation singers with their predecessors strike me as uniquely Korean twists on the singing contest format. Immortal Songs is also a painless education on Korean popular music over the past half century. Clips of the original interpretation of the song by the senior are shown before the performance for comparison. It’s fun to see what the younger singers come up with. As with many music programs, the lyrics (in Hangul) are flashed on a corner of the screen during the song, which is handy for students of Korean.

Some of the charm of Immortal Songs has been lost in the Immortal Songs 2 season that started in spring. It seems more staged in a number of ways. Entire singing groups are now participating, and an emcee and other guests have been added to the back room, creating quite a crowd. This renders the interaction a lot more superficial, and reduces the opportunity to get to know each participant. The sense of a bond building within the participant group over several programs has been lost. Also, the randomness of the selection process seems questionable (even the stars think so). I hope Korean viewers feel the same way, and will persuade KBS to return to the earlier, more intimate and more spontaneous format.

Guests singers on Immortal Songs 2 may be Kpop stars, or drama stars or emcees who also sing. As I’ve mentioned before, there’s a lot of crossover between performance genres in the Korean entertainment industry. Because of this, drama fans, Kpop fans, and students of Korean culture will all find something of interest in Immortal Songs 2. Check it out!