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Title [CCF] [INTERVIEW] Billboard columnist says BTS, the Beatles comparable [The Korea Times 2019-07-05]
Posted by webmaster Hit 236 Date 2019.07.11

Music journalist Jeff Benjamin at the Grand Hyatt Seoul. Korea Times photo by Kim Kang-min

The Beatles. AP

By Dong Sun-hwa

Anyone interested in K-pop should be familiar with the name "Jeff Benjamin." Benjamin, a New York-based music journalist, has been writing about K-pop for America's music media outlet Billboard since 2013. CNN once dubbed him "the perfect person to talk about K-pop." 

He also boasts a special bond with K-pop phenomenon BTS. The journalist has been keeping his eyes on the seven-piece band long before it rose to meteoric stardom. During a recent interview with The Korea Times and the other media outlets at the Grand Hyatt Seoul, Benjamin revealed he has been wowed by the septet's musical feats, but said he wanted something more. 

"I want to see more interviews where BTS get more credits as the artists," he said. "Maybe this could help them in something like the Grammy. These days, I think I have not seen many juicy interviews in which BTS talk about their artistic inspirations and influences." 

The remark came as he answered a question about BTS' chances of winning a Grammy ― one of the world's most prestigious music awards in the world. 

"Billboard Music Awards is based solely on numbers, statistics and charts, so BTS could have solidified their place in 2018 as the top group on the U.S. charts," he said. "But the Grammy is a bit different as it is about artistic integrity, critical responses and the way the academy votes."

Benjamin also mentioned Puerto Rican singer Luis Fonsi's smash-hit Latin pop song "Despacito" released in 2017. The number won four Latin Grammy Awards, seven Billboard Latin Music Awards, five Billboard Music Awards and received three Grammy Awards nominations. 

"BTS have not had a crossover song like 'Despacito.' Although I think BTS are Grammy-worthy, more can be done for sure," he said.

Nevertheless, the columnist has been impressed by the K-pop sensation for bringing about meaningful changes around the world.

"BTS have changed the perception in a way that people love these boys who change their hair colors all the times and wear makeup," he said. "I think this is awesome because people respond to them not only for their music and visuals, but also find them attractive and beautiful. It seems they are changing some stereotypes about Korean males and the idea of what an attractive man is." 

Benjamin also compared the group to the Beatles, the iconic English band from the 1960s.

"The Beatles were not a trend in America when they first came over," he said. "Back then, people were into the Beach Boys, very clean-cut surfer boys from California. But the English band had long hair, wore long coats and boots. They were not the boys you would bring home to your dad."

But he said the Beatles changed the perception of the British pop music as well as the definition of attractiveness, and he believed BTS had done the same. 

"There is still more work to be done, but these changes are definitely happening and for the better," he said. 

Benjamin also said BTS had gradually been growing up and had learned many things ― such as what is working and how they can improve ― along the way. In particular, with the band's latest release "Boy with Luv," it could be seen they had realized radio was the last piece of the puzzle in the U.S.

Although they had good album and digital sales and engaged well on social media, they were not getting the radio play, according to Benjamin. But he said they made a smart choice this time by bringing in someone like Halsey, who has had a lot of radio play, and doing more interviews with radio stations. 

"They have been very analytical about what to do next," he said. 

After sharing his thoughts on the seven K-pop superstars, Benjamin moved on to the broader topic, K-pop. He began with its charms and potential. 

"K-pop is not just about music. It has entertaining music videos, choreography and the artists perform on music programs almost every day," he said. "There is a lot of additional content and elements to get people excited about the music, and this has led them to overcome the language barrier."

Benjamin said language was not as important as the song itself. 

"Music is the universal language itself," he said. "When analyzing K-pop songs, I visit multiple websites for the official translations of the lyrics, but lyrics are just one part of the song for me. I believe music is more about feeling and energy." 

He also had some thoughts about what should be done to enhance K-pop. 

"Artists do not need to be perfect idols all the time," he said. "Let them be human and show their personalities." 

He added, "I think K-pop stars try to be seen very formal and perfect, but fans do not seem to appreciate this much. It is frustrating for the writer as well." 

"We become fans not only for music but for personality, too. So I hope the record labels will just let the artists have some more fun. This seems significant in terms of a larger international connection. The industry as a whole should be less rigid." 

He ended the interview by offering some tips on targeting the global market, especially the U.S.

"Korean media and Western media work very differently and the artists need to learn how to make both sides happy," he said. "Being rigid and not changing their ways will not help anyone. I do not think people want to see their artists being so uptight and giving only formal answers. They want to see something beyond. It would be significant for K-pop stars to share more about themselves as creative artists."

He also advised them not to be scared of such a challenge. 

"Groups like BTS and NCT127 went through many awkward interviews and sometime even faced mild racism from the interviewers or media (as they newly entered the market)," he said. "But the world is going to change. So K-pop singers still have to work hard to spread their names, experience different kinds of interviews and give diverse answers to reveal themselves. All these will pay off in the end. Please be bold."

The columnist also delivered his thoughts on K-pop at the 2019 Culture Communication Forum (CCF) at the Grand Hyatt Seoul on Tuesday. He was one of 11 content creator delegates to the event, organized by the Corea Image Communication Institute (CICI). 

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