[blog] J vs K: the battle of Japanese vs Korean music shows

[Many won’t like some of the things I’ll say here. Sorry not sorry.]

I watched MUSIC STATION SUPER LIVE SPECIAL 2014 (Japan-Asahi) and KBS GAYO DAEJUN (Korea-KBS) at the same time last Friday. Obviously, I was tuned in for Arashi and CNBLUE. And watching music shows simultaneously has never been that interesting because of the comparisons and the stark difference I saw.

Both shows were year-end specials. However, MUSIC STATION is a weekly music show, imo the top music show in Japan that gives you an idea on which artist is ruling the charts for the week, for instance, and where foreign artists make sure they appear on when they promote in Japan; on the other hand, the KBS one was an annual year-end special more like in the tradition of NHK KOHAKU.

Both shows featured what they deemed as the year’s achievers in the music industry, or so it seemed. But the similarities stop here.

Let’s look at the opening.


The number of groups/artists that perform at MSSL is just enormous with 20 to 40 participating every time (consider that Exile is like a batallion so just imagine the number of people onstage). Most groups had to stand in a single file (like Arashi; Neen, I could barely see you! but hey, they were placed beside the legendary X Japan).


For KBS, there were at least 20 artists/groups? There were several collaborations across groups too but I noticed an overdose (pun intended) on EXO collaborations though I can’t blame them, after all, there are 10 members of the group, might as well take advantage of their participation.

What is more interesting for me though when it comes to smorgasbord shows like this where the industry’s top stars are present is the politics involved. Who comes out first (for MSSL, it was B’z, this year’s album chart topper, followed by SMAP (an idol group legend), Mr Children and Arashi (Hamasaki Ayumi came after them, so Arashi was sandwiched between their senpais); X Japan was the last to be introduced though they were not the finale performer (that was Exile). Not all artists had airtime in the intro (much more in the extro); Tamori and Ayaka only had repartee with B’z, X Japan, SMAP, Arashi, Mr Children, Ayumi-chan and Exile in that order.

I can just imagine negotiations between the production and the managers/agencies. I wonder if there are riders, like, ‘fine our talents will appear but they should be introduced first or ahead of xxx group and should perform last’. I’m sure it’s no joke to mount an all-star show like this with the logistics involved though on the other hand, artists would also be eager to appear in these shows since they add to their industry cred.

According to @ArashiTsu, Arashi’s portion (short interview with Tamori and Ayaka before they went on stadby and the three-song medley) took 12 minutes of the 50 minutes for the 10 JE groups present (MSSL was four hours). They were third to the last performer. There was a time though that even in Johnny’s new year countdown, Arashi had the shortest airtime… but I digress.

What I’m saying is, everything we see onscreen from the opening to the ending has been polished but imagine the maneuverings behind the scene. The politics of entertainment would really make for an interesting thesis.

Let’s look at the hosts.

MSSL was hosted by Tamori and  Hironaka Ayaka (Asahi announcer) as usual. KBS was hosted by 2PM’s Taecyeon, SNSD’s Yoona and Lee Hwi Jae, two idols and a seasoned host.


The usual format of MSSL is a set with open benches where the hosts and performers sit together. This time though, Tamori and Ayaka did their brief interviews on a side stage while standing and right before the artists perform.

For KBS, the three hosts stayed behind a podium throughout the show (except for opening and ending), which kind of made it look like a school program.

Tamori may not be an idol (unless we mean ojisan idol in the same level as Takeshi Kitano) and while Ayaka can pass for an idol group member, they’re seasoned hosts and I like their no-frills hosting and small talk because sometimes it does offer interesting tidbits about the artists, even though it’s scripted. I can’t say the same for Taecyeon and Yoona (who spent most of her time nodding her head and smiling cutely as if she was in some idol audition). Thank god LHJ was there but he barely made waves.

Now let’s look at the content.

MSSL was like heaven for a music fan, regardless of genre. There were idols like Arashi and AKB48 and singers like Yuzu and Aiko alongside metal/rock bands like X Japan and L’Arc en Ciel. It’s common in Japanese music shows to see a merry mix of all types of genres from pop to rock to enka especially during specials like MSSL; we see that in full display during KOHAKU. And it’s a good education for people like me whose exposure is mainly pop and idols because it introduces me to other types of music and singers.

KBS, on the other hand, was a showcase of one idol group after the other. Sure, there were collaborations in between and there were tributes too. But the thing with K-pop, it is so hung up with “concepts” that was very evident with that red carpet wedding concept. Sometimes you wonder, is it about the music or is it about the concepts, and yes, the “visuals”? Of course, there’s nothing wrong with having a “theme” but it does give the impression that people are so obsessed with concepts they forget about talent and music.

MSSL proceeded smoothly like clockwork, it has mastered the art of music shows. You blink and you miss something interesting (I missed the performance of Yuzu because of streaming problems, no thanks to someone stupid enough to publicly share the link on arama).

I kept my TV on KBS World but most of my attention was on MSSL. I would check the screen every now and then and I see another idol onstage. Sorry not sorry but they all look the same to me so I couldn’t differentiate and the production numbers were mostly a duplication of the previous one I felt I wasn’t missing anything even if I took a nap.

It wasn’t all for naught though. Sometimes, watching music shows like this is like window-shopping. You never know if something interesting will get your attention. In this case, I discovered Kobukuro’s Ima, Sakihokoru Hanatachi Yo and Infinite’s Back. At least my playlist gets expanded occasionally and it’s not all Arashi and CNBLUE.

Speaking of which…


For MSSL, Arashi performed three songs from member dramas: GUTS! (Nino’s Yowakutemo), Meikyuu Love Song (Sho’s Nazotoki) and Daremo Shiranai (Ohno’s Shinigami-kun). Btw, Ohno’s was the only Asahi drama of the three. They rearranged some of their dance and moved from the main stage to the mid stage and the high stage to get closer to the audience. As someone on Twitter said, no matter how many times you watch Arashi perform, they always bring that happiness vibe.

On the other hand, I love the arrangement CNBLUE did for Can’t Stop in KBS. I liked their “stage” too because it gave a good view of all four members, and not Minhyuk always hidden at the back. If not for CNBLUE, the KBS show–and any other idol-riddled show for that matter–will look more of the same dish served course after course until you suffer indigestion. To put it bluntly, they don’t belong in an idol show but their fame is their curse so I guess we just have to suck it in and amuse ourselves with other things while waiting for their performance every single time.

Now looking forward to NHK KOHAKU, but not really MBC’s GAYO DAEJUN because I can already predict the same menu.

Between Japanese and Korean music shows? Japanese music shows win hands down for variety, content and production value, concepts and visuals aside.

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14 thoughts on “[blog] J vs K: the battle of Japanese vs Korean music shows

  1. I’ve watched Japanese music shows just a handful of times over the years and I’m not going to refute what you wrote. The sad truth is that the Korean ones are ever so boring and exactly because of what you stated – no real variety. They are predominantly idol-parades but that is what the audience wants, to see their favourites perform. Period. The whole system is very much biased towards the bigger ent. companies, good luck getting a slot in the shows if you are from one of the many smaller ones or your genre is something other that pop…ish. I generally just watch clips of the perfs of groups/artists I like @ YT. Saves me from having to ff through the stuff I’m not interested in. 🙂

    As for the year end shows. I haven’t watched any (except for some clips) this year but going by the comments around the internets, I didn’t miss much. Do the tv stations even try anymore? Seems like these shows get more bleh and badly arranged each year.

    Nope, CNB ain’t idols but as that’s how they are marketed in Korea… It was lovely to see them perform again, it’s been a while. That floating camera though – almost made me seasick.

    Infinite’s ‘Back’ was one of my favourte songs this year, the boys have improved so much vocally (the dancing has always been great). I loved the promo stages, especially the ones that also had ‘Diamond’ included. They also always put a lot of effort for these Gayo shows, doing slightly different remixes for each show.


    • Good point there on why Korean music shows give us an idol coma. I’m not really familiar with K-pop as I guess is obvious with this post LOL so this year has really been a learning experience to how it is like including how fandoms behave. And maybe TV networks do not bother to change or offer something new because it’s what works, as you said, it’s what fans want to see. You can’t argue with what the public wants, right? But sooner or later, it will all combust. What makes a TV idol-fest different from those K-pop festivals they mount overseas? Well yeah, you get to see your idols in the flesh but if it’s more of the same, then just watch clips and videos on YouTube. You don’t have to suffer through idols you don’t give an iota of care about hahahahaha


      • Korean networks are for the most part very conservative and set in their ways. Why put effort in changing anything if the same old, sameold still brings in the interest and moolah? No wonder everything is stagnating at alarming rate.

        I do sometimes ponder upon the future of Korean music scene. When will there be more general interest in other genres than idoly pop? Never? The mainstream has been so idol satured since forever and the way they debut more of the same each year… Finding even one or two acts that stick out of the mass is pretty hard. Most of the noobs are here today, gone tomorrow anyways. Seems like a big waste of time, energy and money.


  2. Very interesting, although I already kind of guessed the outcome. I’m not big on kpop, but I do follow the news and gossip somewhat. After the little that I saw, I feel like J-music shows also put a lot more effort in their stages. Even with kpop’s focus on concepts and visuals, somehow the bigger picture like the inclusion of the audience and the effect of the stage production work together with a performance doesn’t seem to be accounted for as much in kpop stages as in jpop.

    This year was the first year I sat through the four hours of MSSL. I’m only interested in Arashi and I have short attention span (that’s why I did something else while I watched too), but what’s important is that I was surprised that I was not bored throughout the entire four hours. That I will give credit to what you pointed out, that it was not essentially an idol parade. Thank goodness for the variety.

    J-ent have the same problem as K-ent in that they do pull in what’s mainstream and popular for the ratings, that’s why Kouhaku have a flood of more idols every year (and a bunch of acts that don’t have to wait 9+ years to appear anymore), but I’m glad there are still a little bit of resistance and reluctance to making these music shows idol fests. I don’t like the idol hate, but I welcome the inclusion of all different kinds of acts in the jpop scene (although like kpop the big dominating companies do have a lot of pull).

    I’m interested in the politics behind the scenes too. I find it fascinating, actually. It’s cool that someone else is as curious about it as me. I think about it all the time especially for music station. I mean, even during regular specials who gets to appear during mini suite or not I’m sure there are some battles.


  3. I agree with you..even with their music awards shows are only full of kpop idols..no variety..medyo kasawa lang 😦 well i guess, you cant really blame the producers since they are after the ratings and idols bring ratings..

    And ohh, i thought hamasaki ayuminis banned in Music Station..i really dont know if that was true but after her not attending the show a few years ago i thought the producers were mad at her 🙂


    • I didn’t know she was banned so I looked it up. Hmmm an interesting story ei


      Also, one of the alleged reasons cited why she cancelled at the last minute only shows politics in shows like this. Premium seats on Music Station? Lol though we do know that when Arashi is on the show, then are always made to sit behind Tamori if it’s not their turn for an interview. Keeps the audience glued to the program lol

      Yeah I do agree that idols pull in the ratings but it wouldn’t hurt to have variety. But who can argue with what the audience want?


      • At those years, she was realy behaving like ‘I’m a diva, I dont need such promo’.
        When’s the last time I saw her in MSte…ah the MSSL 2010?11, dont even remember her in every other music shows (not only end of year thing).
        I think she’s not rly that bother, but then her acts kinda counter-attack her, her sales flops hugely. So I think now she’s struggling to back to where her queen of pop arch.
        For female singers, she was hte one that make me baited to J-ent. The male was obviously KimuTaku. In which both are/were soooo…ugh.
        Glad my phase have gone down very low XDD


  4. It’s a very interesting article, esp for one who doesnt familiar w k-ent, but still wanna know (so not to make a blunder mistake when I’m too biased in boasting my idol/j-ent).

    Since you compare that KBS show with Kouhaku, I thought, ‘there’s no traditional music/song?’ Only Idol songs?…..

    I rly like the traditional (?) music I heard in k-drama/movie esp in historical genre like Jewel in the Palace. Are those orchestra music or traditional, I dont know. But pieces like that is the one I can listen in all my time. It wont get boring. Well, to me ‘niway 😛


    • They had some senior singers and a tribute to a late singer but since I’m not familiar with Korean music, I had no idea who. The tributes were okay though but the production lacks that touch with the audience.


      • With you being CNBLUE’s fan and watching many korean dramas, i think it’s fair to say that you know much about Kpop, you even know about EXO’s Overdose (bad example though, cause actually even i’m sick of that song, it’s too popular), cause to get to know Kpop, you will just have to know 3 or 4 groups, and that’s all. The rest are just about same face, almost same dance, and same music.
        Hey, if you’re interested in other genre of Korea music, try watching Immortal Song or Yesterday. Idols, actors, and even Tarot singers are there. But, be prepared, they have very boring stage decoration cause it’s all black, maybe because the concept is like tribute to a big senior songs.


  5. After watching few Korea music shows, even in big tv station like SBS or MBC, i’ve come to the conclusion that most of the cameramen are lack of skills, seriously, not to mention that sometimes the stage decoration hurted my eyes. LOL, I dont know how to say this, but everytime i watch Japanese music show like FNS (very luxurious if i may add), M-Sta, NHK Kouhaku, Hey Hey Hey, etc, i’ve never shouted “seriously, cameraman?”, because i always got to see what i wanted to see, they got what i call “comfortable angle”.


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