by Ho Wei Jian
On December 2017 a little-known K-pop group by the name of Beaunite debuted with a group of 13 girls. They quickly achieved fame in the following weeks, when they walked into the savage clutches of the internet. Two responses, an apology, a disbandment, a deletion of their social media accounts and a comeback video on National Day the following year, their humiliating endeavour to become the new BTS has been both whimsical and surreal.
This pandemonium, much to the delight of the voyeuristic trolls online, has been a fascinating tale to watch as an outsider. It is not only a tale of ambitious artists who took things too far, an ironic success story, as well as a representation of a country’s failing art culture.
While I have no prior knowledge to K-pop before the introduction of these lovely girls, nor have I developed a particular interest in the K-pop genre, I would be willing to put Beaunite on a pedestal of failing Singapore art culture. Beaunite does not just represent a tale of lofty ambitions from a group of adolescents, it represents a country’s failed endeavour to possess a pop culture of its own.
Much of the warranted criticism aimed at Beaunite is their lack of originality. Added to their fervent desire to call themselves a ‘K-pop’ group, it is no surprise that there is an angry sentiment among people who are fans of the K-pop genre.
Whether they do have the right to call themselves a K-pop group, it is up for debate. There are several wormholes I wouldn’t delve into, but what I will say is the matter of fact that ‘K-pop’ is an abbreviation for ‘Korean-pop’, not ‘Singaporean-pop’.
So fervent was their desire to emulate an overseas brand that they did not choose to create something original or local. Beaunite wanted to brand themselves as a K-pop band, rather than be a Singaporean band, even though they were based in Singapore. It leads me to believe that, either 1)They didn’t want to be part of the Singapore music scene, or 2)They preferred to be part of the K-pop scene. That is the problem of the Singapore’s art culture.
In fact, I would be willing to bet if you ask any 16-year-old on the street to name any musicians they enjoy, the names ‘One Direction’ or ‘TWICE’ would come before ‘Stephanie Sun’ or ‘53A’.
I do not blame Beaunite. However, I do attribute this problem – that when it comes to the arts, Singaporeans prefer overseas brands over local ones – to the influence of mass- and social media.
Because of the huge following that these international acts have on the rest of the world – from their criminally large followings on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and their influence on video platforms whether on television or Youtube – local acts often get washed away from all the noise. Foreign acts have large amounts of money to spend on never-ending marketing and doing outrageous things constantly to keep up with the trends, such that they stay relevant, while our local groups stay niche.
This phenomenon is not limited to K-pop; if we look at filmmaking for example last year, the highest grossing movie in Singapore was Avengers Infinity War, which grossed $16.22 million. The highest-grossing local film was Wonderful! Liang Xi Mei, at 29th on the list, which grossed just $1.76 million. There is a widening gap with more people favouring overseas artforms compared to our local arts scene.
The mass media is responsible for transforming the way we entertain ourselves. And as the influence of these media grows, so will the monopoly that these large foreign acts have on us, and so will it shape our preferences for them.
Beaunite is a shining example of our preference for foreign brands, and they have been mocked for it. But beyond all the mockery that this group has suffered, it paints a grim picture of our country’s dwindling arts and culture scene.