Lalalalalala~ ♪ Korean TV music shows

Written by on September 14, 2011 in Arts, Lifestyle

If you’ve lived in Korea for a while, you’ve probably noticed that Koreans are always singing. I mean, always. And not only will we sing, we will make you sing, too, even in the most cringeworthy public spaces (actually, the more public, the better). Anyhow, with such a love of singing, it’s not surprising that TV music programs are abundant, and thanks to K-pop inching its way into the world, it’s great that international viewers are also tuning in to share Korean music via satellite or live online streaming, which the broadcasting company websites all offer. Here’s a summary of the most popular music programs:


Music Bank
Music Bank is a K-pop ranking show. Based on a week-to-week basis, and for individual songs (not albums), the K-Chart is comprised of digital sales (60%), CD sales (10%), broadcast frequency (20%), and viewers’ choice (10%). The viewers are chosen by a survey company in advance. Because the show is broadcast live and not taped, the studio audience’s loud screams and fan chants can be heard very clearly, and adds to the lively and fun atmosphere. The show is hosted by singer/actor Hyunwoo and actress Kim Minji.

Friday 18:05 KBS2

Inki Gayo
The music program which still refers to pop songs as gayo (가요), the proper Korean word. Inki (인기) literally means “popularity” so the name of the show itself is just a straightforward explanation. The show has been around with the same name since 2002, which in Korean broadcasting is a pretty long time.
The program showcases the Top 7 popular songs of the week called Take 7 based on digital sales (60%), album sales (5%), online votes on the official website (5%), survey results (20%) and broadcast frequency (10%). The top song is dubbed the “Mutizen Song” and is awarded a trophy. Unsurprisingly, the idol groups tend to dominate. Hosted by K-pop idols Kikwang (BEAST), IU, Sully (fx), and Jo Kwon (2AM).
Sunday 15:50 SBS

Music Core
A K-pop show that doesn’t include ranking, Music Core features four segments: New Song (new releases and newcomers), Love is (notable ballads), Hot Stage (the current “it” songs), and Comeback Stage (for the singers coming back with a new release after a long hiatus). The program mostly showcases idol groups, although the random solo singers show up to balance things out. Hosted by K-pop idols Suzy (Miss A) and Jiyeon (T-ara).
Saturday 16:10 MBC

It seems like the “now” thing on TV worldwide is reality audition programs, whether it be about singing, dancing, sports, or other talents. Korea is no exception.

Superstar K
Although being broadcast on cable, the pioneer of Korean singing audition programs Superstar K reached incredible ratings in its second season last year, winning its time slot and creating a wave of similar audition programs from the major broadcasting companies.
The finalists go through serious and rigorous training – singing, dancing, health and body, acting, and styling – for all the viewers to witness. Not overplaying the “drama”, truly professional judges, clever editing and storytelling pulls the viewers in, create compassion for the contestants with viewers rooting and voting for their favorites until the very end. The winner is voted entirely by the public. Now in its third season, it is still winning its time slot with steady ratings.
Friday 23:00 Mnet

I am a Singer
A survival music program. Nothing new there, is there? But what if the contestants aren’t ordinary people/amateurs, but professionals? Not only professionals, but singers who have had enormous success in the entertainment industry? Singers who will probably go down in Korean popular music history? Yes, everyone thought it was a crazy idea. Everyone said no singer in their right mind would participate. And yes, everyone was wrong.
Not everyone was enamored by the idol heavy K-pop programs, and the need and want for some serious “real” singing from talented singers who weren’t teens or 20-somethings filled in a much needed gap in primetime. The singers face two challenges of remaking songs, and a voting public panel of 500 people place their votes and the singer with the lowest scores gets replaced with another singer. The thrill lies in watching the singers remake famous songs in a completely different light; hearing a rock star singing a folk ballad, a ballad singer trying out his rocker side. You discover the amazing talent of singers with whom you weren’t familiar. The competitive streak in the singers make them put more than their all into the performances and you feel like you’re watching the most awesome concert possible.
Singers who have managed to last through seven series of challenges “graduate” with a honors trophy; there have been only two so far. The show also features noted comedians as the singers’ managers to add a light comic touch and balance out the serious atmosphere.
Sunday 17:20 MBC (sometimes broadcast in the second half of the program)

Immortal Song 2
When “I am a Singer” blasted onto the scene and enjoyed immense success, people casually started to mention that there were many good singers among K-pop idols as well, those young ‘uns who still lacked the experience to try out for “I am a Singer” but whose singing skills were such a waste to be confined to a just a couple of lines in a song shared by their group members, and in the case of solo singers, to be limited to singing songs targeted mainly for the younger audience.
The resulting TV show was “Immortal Song 2.” The second series of the program “Immortal Song,” whose original format introduced “immortal songs” of legendary and famous singers, this time around the competition aspect was introduced, with young singers battling each other tournament style via voting by a studio audience.
Like “I am a Singer,” one of the most interesting things about the show is discovering the amazing singing capabilities of the young singers who can be easily dismissed as “just a K-pop idol”. With this kind of talent, the future of Korean pop music looks bright.
Saturday 17:50 KBS2

Star Audition
They’re not judges, they’re mentors. That was the basic premise upon which this audition program started, to differentiate itself from other similar programs. The final contestants are mentored by a panel of well-known music industry professionals – singers, composers, producers – while their survival depends on the public’s votes. The judging panel changes by season so there’s no tendency of choosing finalists according to the same judges’ preferences. A bit like the mentoring system of the international TV show franchise X-Factor, but without the bickering and competition between the judges.
Friday 21:00 MBC

And of course, there’s the most anticipated “K-pop Star” which is scheduled to be broadcast in December of this year on SBS. Headed by the top Korean entertainment companies – SM, YG, JYP – and going for a global scale, this show promises to be the biggest audition program yet.

Late night music shows, unlike the K-pop ranking programs, work like visual radio music programs – the singers will actually sit down and talk with the host between performances. Usually taped before a studio audience (who aren’t screaming and yelling out fan chants), the atmosphere is like being at an intimate concert.

Yoo Heeyeol’s Sketchbook
Yoo Heeyeol is a singer/composer whose main activities are with the project group TOY, who flourished in the 90s. He has a sense of dry wit and self-deprecating humor, and is capable of thinking quickly on his feet, all the while making his guests feel comfortable while interviewing them. Being a talented composer himself, his knowledge of music allows him to be more than a simple MC parroting words jotted down by the show writers. The musical guests are high caliber, not only performing their own songs but showing off their musical skills by spontaneous jamming.
Friday 24:15 KBS2

Beautiful Concert
Singer Hong Kyungmin may probably be famous not only for his singing, but also for being a member of the “Dragon Club” (the group of celebrity best friends born in the year of the dragon 1976) which includes singer Kim Jongkook and actors Cha Taehyun and Jang Hyuk. As you can guess by the friends, all have the gift of jab and know how to entertain. Hong Kyungmin brings his easygoing personality and unrelenting persistence while dealing with his guests, bringing thought-provoking moments along with those of high hilarity. The music guests never disappoint.
Sunday 24:40 MBC

Rocker Yoon Dohyun, who just completed his stint on “I am a Singer” heads this show with an interesting concept. The show decides on a theme every week such as “My first album,” “Best love confession songs,” “Winter songs to listen to in the summer,” and after a survey, the top 100 songs are selected. The music guest sings their own songs and also the songs resulting from the survey. The show looks like a standing concert with a live audience and it’s exactly the ambience the show wants to convey – free and fun.
Tuesday 23:00 Mnet

Lee Sora’s Second Propose
Another “I am a Singer” alumni, Lee Sora hosted the show “Propose” from 1999 to 2002. This is her second time hosting the late night music show, thus the “Second.” Lee Sora is noted for singing with her emotions on her sleeve; raw, true, her soul completely bare, and she brings the same kind of honesty to her interviews with her guests. Her guests also allow themselves to match the sincerity of their host while singing their hearts out. The show is noted for inviting guests whom you wouldn’t ordinarily see on national TV.
Tuesday 24:10 KBS Joy

Of course, there are other types of music shows to enjoy.

Clockwise from top left:

Gayo Stage has been around since 1985 and can be called “Oldies but Goodies”, full of nostalgic charm and memories. It’s mostly targeted for the elderly and those who are interested in old style K-pop.
Monday 22:00 KBS

Nationwide Norae Jarang, “Korea Sings” is a karaoke-style singing contest. Started in 1980, the show tours the country and sets up an outdoor stage upon which the citizens and villagers come to compete. Whether you pass or not is decided by the melodic sound or hard clang of the xylophone. The first place winners compete in a special episode at the end of the year.
Sunday 12:10 KBS

Challenge 1000 songs is another karaoke-type show but this time it’s celebrities who participate. Set up tournament style, an opponent calls out a number between 1 and 1000 which corresponds with a song in the karaoke machine, and the other opponent must sing that song correctly. As there are 1000 songs, it truly becomes a challenge.
Sunday 8:10 SBS

Open Concert is a mélange of popular music and classical, taped in front of a live audience on an actual concert stage. A family-oriented program, the invited guests are from various backgrounds and age ranges and makes for a very diverse show.
Sunday 18:00 KBS


About the Author

Suzy Chung

Multilingual editor, writer, and translator. Coffee addict, bookworm, art junkie, foodie, oenophile, and a billion other things. I tend to talk a lot. @suzyinseoul