Friday, July 11, 2014

Stage presence - what it is, what it isn't, and why your bias doesn't have any

I dropped a comment a while back stating that CL was the only female k-pop idol who displayed anything resembling stage presence.  This horrified nearly everyone - fans of 2NE1 were concerned that this praise for CL was uncharacteristic of my normal online behaviour and perhaps indicative of massive hard drug use or mental breakdown, whereas everyone else was like "b-b-b-but, what about MY bias?  I think they're great!  Doesn't [insert bias here] have stage presence?"


Oh the wailing and gnashing of teeth when you tell a k-pop fan that their bias doesn't have stage presence.... but they really don't.  This post will explain why they don't have it, and also why you shouldn't care.

As it happens, most people who inhabit the k-pop online-o-sphere misunderstand stage presence simply because they have no real idea about what the term "stage presence" actually means.  Let's start off with a few things that stage presence is not.  Stage presence isn't:
  • being charming
  • being pretty
  • smiling and waving a lot
  • being a "good singer" (in technical vocalfag terms, ugh)
  • wearing a cool outfit
  • not wearing a cool outfit (i.e stripping)
  • doing little heart signs and aegyo and shit
  • crying or showing other emotion
  • stunning stage lighting
  • loud volume
  • great staging props
  • being above a certain height (you'd be amazed how short a lot of well-known western rock stars are)
Of course, stage presence doesn't exclude any of the above factors either.  You could have all of the above list working in your favour, or you could not have any of it, and you can still either have stage presence, or not have it.

So what is stage presence, then?  Well, as per usual all the people asking me about it could have just used Google:

stagep

However, your average one-eyed k-pop fan will look at this definition and go "b...b...b..but my bias is impressive!" - well yes, of course he/she is - to you.  You're so deeply in love with them that they could be in an office building downtown trimming their fingernails like Hwayoung and you could be watching them through the window using a telescope from Sasaeng HQ five miles away and you'd still be 'impressed' by their 'presence'.  The key words here to remember in the definition above are not "impressiveness" or "manner or appearance" but "theatre audience".  Ahhh.

Here's Bruce Dickinson, from well-known heavy metal group Iron Maiden, and probably one of the world's best practitioners of "stage presence", explaining perfectly how it works.  Relevant parts at 0:16 and 1:21, and also observe his stage manner, where he completely dominates the (huge) stage and audience.  Ignore the statement from the vocalfag in between who has been brought into the documentary purely for academic "metal should be taken as seriously as opera yes it should" brownie points and misses the point a little.


Contrast that to the following performance from k-pop nugus Bob Girls.  Look at the girls, from 8:45, carefully adjusting their costumes and making sure they're in the right spot to start the choreo.  Their strictly choreographed routine that they're not allowed to deviate from means that they have to play strictly by the stage's rules.  They don't own the stage, the stage owns them.  It's not their fault, nor does it reflect badly on them as performers - they simply have no choice in the matter.  The tight format of idol pop that most groups have to work with simply doesn't allow traditional stage presence to exist.


Speaking of vocalfags (and this is relevant), a while ago I wrote a post explaining how the vocalfaggotry that Korean fans as well as western vocal thread creators use is all just personal taste and obsessive-compulsive-disorder because the techniques singers use for projection simply aren't needed in the 21st century when you've got a microphone right up to your lips and a team of audio technicians armed with the latest toys in vocal tweaking at your beck and call.  Vocal techniques were developed in pre-modern days when getting that voice to the back of the hall without microphones was important, but nowadays it doesn't matter because the technology does it for you.  Yes, you can make a subjective determination "I like singer X because they're using techniques that singer Y doesn't have any idea about, and that sounds nicer to my ear" or you can say "because singer X is using better techniques they won't hurt their throat or lose their voice as much as singer Y, and gosh that would be a shame if Y had to quit singing for this reason" but there's no objective reason why X is better than Y sonically from a listener's point of view.  You could write a whole thesis about vocal techniques and how Mariah Carey has better technique than Bob Dylan and it'd all be correct but if the listener likes listening to Bob Dylan's voice more, why does it even matter?  In the 19th century yes it would have mattered because Bob wouldn't have been able to be heard beyond the first two rows of audience whereas Mariah could be heard to the back of the room, but in the 21st century where everyone's all amplified and shit, it does not matter a bit.  This is why I refuse to get drawn into arguments with vocalfags - the mere act of discussing these points is giving their perspective a relevance that it objectively doesn't have.  Nothing that they are saying is technically wrong or untrue by default, it just simply doesn't matter to the hyper-technology world of modern music in any way other than subjective taste.  That's why the new girl selected for KARA was the prettiest one, not the best singer... as if it was ever going to turn out any other way.

youngji cy

It's relevant to the stage presence discussion because there's a similar kind of analogy that can be made with stage presence.  In the old days of theatre performance, stage presence was a vital determining factor as to how effective a performance would be.  If you've ever seen anyone with "theatre makeup" in any other environment than on an actual stage, you'll know that theatre makeup often looks fucking disgusting up close, and that's because such makeup is meant to make an impression from far away.  Correspondingly, theatrical performers also tend to exaggerate their movements, speech and gestures, to make their stage presence as large as possible, so they can make an impact across the entire hall.  Just like there's no point in a 19th century opera singer affecting a fey, whispery vocal tone, there's no point in a theatrical performer making a small subtle movement that only the first two rows are close enough to see if they're performing in front of an audience of 500.

eunjungcin cy

Once again however, just like with vocal performance, modern technology changes everything.  Actors for TV don't ham it up as much as theatrical performers because cameras can zoom in and capture those small details that will be missed by a live audience, making the old exaggerated techniques for presence projection irrelevant (not to mention often silly-looking).  Makeup for televised performances is also more subtle than the old-style theatre makeup, and is designed to enhance and/or cover small details rather than make a bold impression at range.  Likewise, the k-pop performer doesn't actually need stage presence to reach the back of a room because there are a bunch of compensatory factors:
  • Performances for TV only really need to be played to the cameras, not the live audience
  • A large group of people dancing together in synchronised fashion makes a bigger impression and can be seen from further away, which is one reason for those big boy groups and also why even solo performers have backing dancers for upbeat songs
  • On live stages camera feeds can be shown to the audience on projected screens to make the idols' image more up close and personal
  • Modern arena concert stages often have gangways so the performers can walk out into the audience and get closer, reducing the need to project as far
  • Emotional attachment to the idols will make the idol seem larger than life in the eyes of the audience regardless
The last one is important in k-pop.  Watch a fancam for someone you really like, and then watch another similar fancam for some idol you really don't give a fuck about, and see if you can detect any difference in stage presence.  If you're as biased as the average one-eyed k-pop fan you'll probably detect a ton, but in reality there isn't any difference at all.  Both performers are working within the same kind of strictly regimented system and displaying equal stage presence (motherfuckin' zero), it's your aching libido and mental attachment to the idol fantasy that is doing the rest.

Companies know all this, so they don't bother to train idols in stage presence... instead they train them to interact with cameras, and only the first few rows of audience - that smiling-waving shit we all know about.  Companies know that the combination of their technology and your deludu brain will fill in the mental blanks required and you'll have the false impression that they have stage presence anyway (as well as moral virtue, riches, a clean-living lifestyle, intelligence, emotional maturity, etc).  CL probably has stage presence by accident by virtue of having a highly aggressive alpha personality that's usually whipped mercilessly out of idols long before they debut so they can be more "charming" (it's easily visible on their "Nolza" live DVD, she stands apart from the other members massively in this area whenever she gets the chance to break from the choreo) and she is the only idol who has it, and don't waste your time linking me examples of other idols who you think might have it because:
  • I'll tell you right now in advance that they don't and
  • If you're still even thinking that this question is even important, you've just missed the point of this entire post.
CL's stage presence, like Ailee's voice, while nice, doesn't really have any meaningful function - it's wasted in a genre which doesn't require it, it may as well be absent.  Other performers in Korea who occasionally exhibit stage presence (PSY and Tiger JK are good examples) are not part of the idol system.  No coincidence.

Glad that's settled, then.

stageee

49 comments:

  1. Just hope Youngji has more determination than Hwayoung.

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    1. Seems determined to give me a boner

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    2. @AKF and @Kpopalypse; Who's your new favorite(s) now that Nicole and Jiyoung left and Youngji has joined the group?

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    3. I like Seungyeon too :D. She reminds me of a hamster which is a compliment.

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    4. Those crosseyes make me hot. It's like she's trying to focus on my boner but she can't because it's too close to her face.

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    5. Seungyeon, as she was always my #2 in Kara. With Nicole gone, Seungyeon moves to #1 and Youngji moves to #2. Boss bitch Gyuri remains #3 and cutie patootie Hara is #4.

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    6. And yes, Youngji is determined to give out boners.

      https://50c8e8245e95ff22161025c8b8fe786592c48715.googledrive.com/host/0B4GHIiPqm7-AcFBoRm1IcHBqWWM/youngji2-9.gif
      https://50c8e8245e95ff22161025c8b8fe786592c48715.googledrive.com/host/0B4GHIiPqm7-AcFBoRm1IcHBqWWM/youngji2-7.gif

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    7. @AKF: I've always had a lady-boner for glitter pants. Mostly because I like glitter. Youngji is pretty. I'm sure she'll do fine.

      @Kpopalypse: I can now say that after seventeen years (that makes seventeen it today) I understand somewhat how men think. 1% down 99% to go!

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    8. Happy birthday, cha_cha. Those of us born in July are pretty jjangbak.

      http://media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/e0/a8/c4/e0a8c43adcec5f24f32101a34c25dfcf.jpg
      http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-Mcdfsrs9xio/Ut2ybmidRUI/AAAAAAAAyWw/SCFa1AilYuw/s1600/Seungyeon+KARA+-+The+Celebrity+Magazine+February+Issue+2014+(2).jpg
      http://37.media.tumblr.com/7c8d3a48e737fc531cfc8ddbbc0408b6/tumblr_mw8wz3T59O1sqpjvfo1_500.jpg

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    9. Thank you!!! Those presents are pretty jjangbak seeing as those are three of my major female biases of all time!!! Seriously 10/10 would let them turn me gay. I suppose you yourself have a July birthday AKF??? If so happy belated/early birthday :D.

      Here's some Soyeon * I know you liked the "Jessica Wonder Bra" on her* and I found these:

      http://31.media.tumblr.com/3bfb891be53ad27eb589965b0f5188e4/tumblr_myl8yk2o8E1r85bico2_r1_250.gif
      http://38.media.tumblr.com/7c5f7ae32f13edc96783e3b1fb959b88/tumblr_myl8yk2o8E1r85bico3_250.gif
      http://31.media.tumblr.com/e2b36a09b958710ca0a165a916761dc6/tumblr_myl8yk2o8E1r85bico6_250.gif
      http://37.media.tumblr.com/1d0e6789baa7d35fccd5cab5e5af7ae4/tumblr_myl8yk2o8E1r85bico1_250.gif
      http://25.media.tumblr.com/16a6a90e8972bdbe8202cb72a2825d0e/tumblr_mykrm8sIJ51qcam34o1_250.gif

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    10. To be honest, July is the best month to be born in! /highfive

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  2. Damn, of all my 128 biases, none of them has stage presence!.. I have te read the post again, because I still care a bit.

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  3. I never too much cared about stage presence too, however this is interesting information. I quite enjoyed this post.

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    1. I just posted this because I started getting asked about it a lot and I mean A LOT. Wouldn't have even occured to me to cover this topic otherwise.

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    2. It's stil a cool post. I don't mind learning new things like this because it is more interesting then 70% of what I'm going to learn in school this year.

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  4. Replies
    1. Stage presence <> having a nice body, looking sexy etc.

      Hyuna's sexiness only gets to the first few rows in a live show. I can attest to that having seen 4Minute live, as soon as I was more than 5 metres from the front of the stage she could have been anybody.

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  5. Woah. This article affirmed a lot of my theories on k-pop stage presence. People always bitched to me how GD has stage presence or that CL has stage presence, but I always felt that they only had stage presence because they were allowed it. Groups like Bob Girls sometimes make me cringe because they seem awkward performing so... perfectly.

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    1. Yeah but at the same time, the people that have stage presence in kpop need it. Yoona only needs to smile and wave at the camera and she has cf deals but people like GD and CL, they would sink if they didn't have stage presence. For what 2ne1 and Bigbang try to sell, it's needed. For what Snsd and Exo are trying to sell, it's not.

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    2. CL doesn't need it. She could get by without it.

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  6. Your posts are always so much fun. Personally as long as I find them endearing I don't really give a fuck if they can't sing or they have no stage presence. To me that's not their job, their job is to get me to waste time watching the shitty tv shows (that I sure as fuck wouldn't usually watch) just because their on it, get me to waste my money on catchy music that they provide vocals for (maybe) and just generally entertain me in a way that other music genres don't.

    It's sort of what I like about Nine Muses. Their management didn’t even try to hide the fact that all they are are hot girls “singing”, they don’t pretend to have amazing vocals, rapping ability or dancing ability (they have said they have great synchronisation but they also admitted that that’s only because they practiced their asses off) I appreciate the honesty of it all. Thus I will continue to stan those very aesthetically pleasing girls no matter how many of them leave the group.

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    1. K-pop as a whole I find to be quite candid about what it is and what it isn't. The face that people constantly expect things from it that don't really apply is endlessly bemusing.

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  7. "Some idol you don't give a fuck about" has to be Yoona no matter what haha. For K-pop it's not 'stage presence', but 'present on 12343273943th stage today'.

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  8. the part about making shit up about your biases really got to me; i've seen so many fucking exo edits on my tumblr dash recently (thank you suggested posts) and they're all these inane quotes that read like replies to loaded question and the tags are all #wise #my bias muah muah muah
    that's the cool part about kpop though; there are all these pretty people that are 100% blank and you get to fill in the personality

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  9. That moment when oppa says something good about CL.

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    1. I might even say more good things about CL in future if 2NE1 can manage to have a new song that doesn't sound like a turd from a monkey's ass anytime soon.

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    2. Dude your username is awesome. I thought I was the only thigh fag here!!!! :D

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    3. We're always here man. Many of us are leg fags in disguise tho.

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  10. It never occured to me that people actually talk about "stage presence" when it comes to K-Pop...
    It's all just varying degrees of smiling or trying to be cool with every single K-idol. As you said, stage presence is not something that's really happening in K-Pop at all. And while it's funny to see something like Tiffany being a bit more playful during the Lady Marmalade performances, that's pretty much the best glimpse of stage presence we get, which is nearly nothing.

    But now I'm wondering how a non-choreographed SNSD concert would look like.

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    1. I have an SNSD DVD and there are sections in it where the girls get to wander and break from the routine a little bit, but it's all still pretty highly regimented. Like those scenes where they groups stand in rows and talk to the audience one by one. In their nice neat little row, so polite, the stage so massive and they're scared to use more than 0.5% of it. They don't own the stage, the stage owns them, it's practically swallowing them whole.

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    2. Yeah, that's also why I never cared much for concerts of idols.
      At least the Japanese ones run around some more.

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  11. So, a perfect example of having stage presence would be Fred Astaire right?

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    1. I've only ever seen him in the movies which is a different kind of thing to live performance. Can't really say.

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    2. What about Lux Interior? That guy was really awesome, a true legend of the stage.

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    3. Most performers in his genre are very good at it.

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  12. I agree that stage presence in the traditional sense is pretty useless in a genre where most performances are highly scripted, but I'd argue that the idols/people who have somehow managed to get concerts (large ones I suppose) need it the most. You can't excite a stadium or arena on the back of a rigidly choreographed performance, can you??

    Oh and for the Psy examples, I really liked the video he posted of him electrifying the Seoul Expo with Gangnam Style (when it first came out and was just starting to get insane) as a better example of his stage presence. They don't call him the Concert King for no raisin.

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    1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=byUFg7pyBP4

      This one.

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    2. In that context they could use it, but it doesn't mean they have it.

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  13. TL;DR Can you sum up in a few sentences?

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    1. Any time anyone talks about stage presence and their bias just disregard them for the same reason you'd disregard someone talking about singing quality.

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  14. I'm really surprised you didn't even give your biases a pity nomination for stage presence

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    1. Saying that an idol does or does not have stage presence isn't a value judgement. Idols don't have it because they don't need it.

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  15. I know you probably don't want to torture yourself through footage of 2NE1's New Evolution tour (and the select performances we've gotten from their AON tour), but it's even more apparent that CL stands head and shoulder above the other girls since they don't follow their set choreo for most of the show.

    Anyway, thanks for the article!! I never really considered idols having stage presence (they look as though they aren't even paying any attention to the audience when performing), but nevertheless, this good fodder for shutting down people trying to hype their bias.

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    1. I'll stick to Nozla since that came out just before they started sucking. Glad I could help!

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  16. I love it when you include clips from metal music :)

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