Much of 2008 was an uneventful year in music. Making good use of the recent nostalgic craze, boy bands were excavated from the rubble of the 90s, Mariah Carey scored her 18th number one hit, Guns N’ Roses’ “Chinese Democracy,” finally hit retailers after 17 years, and rapper Lil’ Wayne sold a million records in a single week.
On the home front, the Incheon Pentaport Rock Festival last July was a very British and very muddy affair. Six bands from the U.K. performed under heavy rain that turned the venue into a gigantic mud puddle, harkening back to the days of Woodstock. Domestic bands like Jaurim and Crying Nut played second fiddle to headliners Travis and Ellegarden.
The year also saw Korean music demigod Seo Taiji come out of retirement to present “Moai,” the first single from his three-part “mystery project.” The reclusive rocker used his regained popularity to kick start an ambitious concert that united him with renowned orchestra conductor Tolga Kashif, called “The Great Seo Taiji Symphony.”
Kashif, who gained wide acclaim for his classical interpretation and arrangement of the music of Queen, presented new takes on Seo’s past hits.
So popular was the concert, the promoters re-organized an encore performance later this December that was considered a success but didn’t see the same attendance figures.
There were three major international artists who held concerts in Korea for the first time as well. Following “The Great Seo Taiji Symphony,” the year’s other high profile music event was legendary piano-rock singer-songwriter Billy Joel’s first concert in Seoul at the Olympic Gymnastics Gymnasium. The Bronx singer was host to 17,000 fans – made up of two generations of the young and the old, revealing the broad age range of devoted Korean followers.
On the other end of the spectrum, legendary metal band Judas Priest held their first concert in Seoul in September. Korean fans well into their 40s relived their salad days as wild, head-banging metal heads. However, fans were critical of domestic promoters for organizing a heavy metal performance in a seated venue as opposed to a standing one.
English acid-jazz pioneers Jamiroquai also held their first ever concert in Korea at the Olympic Hall last November. Front-man Jay Kay performed mostly the band’s mainstream hits of recent years, which disappointed many fans of their earlier, jazzier and funkier work from the early 90s.
As far as content of music in 2008 goes, there was an ugly trend the music industry rushed in – digitally enhanced vocals. Particularly in the case of several high-profile rap artists who embraced and in many cases abused the hack studio tool known as Auto-Tune. Hip-hop has moved away from the concept of two turntables and a microphone, and closer to relying heavily on ProTools and a laptop.
Though this sort of implementation of high-tech armchair production tools in music is nothing new, the likes of Kanye West and Lil’ Wayne took it to new heights with their Auto-Tune dominated releases this year. What kind of trends the music industry will adopt next year, be it on the business side or the creative side, it will surely be more of the same.
This year also saw a lot of changes in the way consumers purchased music. While the use of the internet to obtain music is nothing new, it gained a stronger foothold this year with more consumers turning to online services such as iTunes.
Making these online options more attractive were special releases, bonus tracks and other extras to lure music lovers. The industry also saw a continuing decline of CD sales both domestically and internationally. But even as CD sales floundered, some labels and major acts made the head-scratching choice of releasing their albums through an exclusive retailer.
AC/DC, the aging hard rockers who emerged from an 8-year sabbatical, chose to release their much anticipated album “Black Ice” solely through Wal-Mart.
The superstore followed this up with an exclusive 3-disc summer release from arena-rockers Journey entitled “Revelation.” While Wal-Mart targeted the classic rock market for the most part, reigning consumer electronics behemoth Best Buy lassoed the chance to be the exclusive retail distributor of Guns N’ Roses’ “Chinese Democracy.”
While classic rock legends embraced such establishment-friendly outlets like Wal-Mart and Best Buy, other artists continued to explore the financial viability of internet distribution. Nine Inch Nails’ front-man Trent Reznor pulled a Radiohead and released his band’s latest album, “The Slip,” online, while artists like Metallica, who fostered what many believed to be an anti-internet stance after the band had fought against Napster many years ago, heartily embraced the Web with their latest release, “Death Magnetic.”
Deviating from the doom and gloom of the music industry, all music lovers can look forward to the next month of the new year when Korea host a slew of exciting concerts. Upcoming events include the Swell Season, formed by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova who garnered an Academy Award for best song for the feature film “Once,” and the R&B sensation, Ne-Yo. (Song Woong-ki, Korean Herald)