By Han Sang-hee
The format of music programs has come a long way in Korea, where the love of Korean pop music is quickly extending to an interest in television music programs. With more than five music shows airing each week on various channels, these shows are now becoming trademarks of local television.
It was back in 1981 when KBS started the first K-pop television show with a charting format, "Gayo Top 10". For the next 17 years, it saw tremendous success as the first program to have such a format based on viewers' and fans' votes.
"Unlike today, when the Internet plays a greater role in every aspect, we would receive post cards with people's vote for their favorite singer of the week written on it. We would combine all those votes, and carry out a survey among producers and music experts for a more professional perspective, and then air the final results", Jun Jin-suk, former producer of the program back in 1995 and now the executive director of KBS Changwon, told The Korea Times.
This was basically the start of music programs in Korea, and many other broadcasters started to create their own, with or without the charting system.
The competitive style was popular, but disappeared in the late 1990s when critics criticized the format for triggering album purchases during a recession; the overheated competitiveness among singers, agencies and fans; and questioned the transparency of the charts.
Amid the confusion, a new music program format appeared: music/talk shows. The hit came with singer Lee So-ra's "Propose" in 1996. The supposedly shy and quiet Lee surprised fans with her humor and honesty, and the format of singing and talking on the same stage still continues today.
's "Love Letter"
took the baton and discovered now-famous stars like Kim Jae-dong, while actress Lee Ha-na
's "Peppermint" continued the format for only a short period.
While KBS was looking for another host to move on with the already popular format, SBS and MBC geared up with similar programs _ Kim Jung-eun
's "Chocolate" and "Music Journey La La La", respectively in 2008.
KBS finally found a host, You Hee-yeol, for their program this April, and the three broadcasters have since been striving to attract fans with the right topics and melodies. Despite the popularity of these new formats, the hosts and producers did agree on the difficulty on finding the right identity for the programs.
"In music programs, you can simply watch the singers perform, but this kind of show offers conversations, and there is always the possibility of editing, so you really don't know what the final product will be until the actual airing. As the host, it's about balance. It's a popular, yet tricky, format, and I'm happy, and a bit pressured, to be a part of it", You told reporters after his show last month.
Meanwhile, music chart programs returned to the scene, upgraded with more professional tools.
SBS' "Live K-Pop Countdown" and KBS' "Music Bank" offers music charts calculated by percentages of various criteria, including album sales, surveys and on-line music source sales. MBC's "Music Core" dropped the chart format altogether in 2006.
"The reason we brought back the charting format was because of the sluggish K-pop industry. Everyone is having a hard time and we wanted to bring back the glory and become the motivation", said Lee Jae-woo, the producer of Music Bank, during a phone interview.
Lee added that one of the differences in producing such shows now is the budget.
"It's probably because of the idol groups coming out every season. Now it's more about `watching music' than just `listening to music'. We need more sets, lighting and much more. As a producer, I have to admit that it's quite difficult to bring out the gist of everything", he said, laughing.
For fans, however, the bigger the budget, the better the program.
"I switch channels if they can't bring out the best of some of my favorite singers. I understand the difficulties, but as a fan, I always want to watch their best performances and it's crucial for television shows to help them do that", 21-year-old Kim So-yeon, a big fan of music programs, told The Korea Times.
Whether it is the sets, lighting, or even the format, most producers added that the main priority of their work was to make the best program possible.
"It's been a long time since I worked on `Gayo Top 10', and I sometimes watch music programs that air these days. The hardware may have changed, from the colorful sets and powerful lighting, but the software hasn't. I can still feel the effort and time put into the programs, and as a music lover myself, I hope the audience appreciates what the makers have to offer", Jun said.