How Obscure Singer Soared to the Top of the Charts

      January 23, 2016 08:18

      Kim Na-young

      A quiet explosion shook Korea's heavily corporatized music industry on New Year's Eve, when the obscure name of Kim Na-young and her single "What Would Have Been" topped the MelOn charts.

      On MelOn, Korea's biggest music streaming site, it held the top place for five days, and on other streaming sites it was well into the top spot.

      Yet there was no big marketing machine behind Kim, and on the big TV entertainment shows she was notable only by her absence. What on earth had happened?

      The answer, it seems, is social media. Kim Hong-ki who runs a start-up for contents-creating services said, "Mobile oriented social networks are changing the traditional routes to success for singers."

      He said word-of-mouth multiplied by social media makes for an unbeatable combination. The mainstream media might not have heard of Kim, but in fact she already had some clout among young people who come to their music through video clips.

      After a lackluster debut in 2012, she took the unusual step of going out into the streets, busking in the trendy Hongik University area until a video clip of her singing her heart out on a cold winter night went viral. It attracted over 1 million hits and was shared 3,500 times.

      Although she had had some TV exposure, it was hardly more promising. A contestant on Mnet's "Superstar K" reality show in 2013, she was booted off before the final.

      Still, her singing skills in the early rounds caught the eye of some people in the K-pop industry, and in 2014 she sang a song on the original soundtrack for a soap on cable channel targeting young people.

      And then, until the end of last year, that was it.

      The clincher proved to be a teaser video optimized for mobile devices. Hers got over one million views in just two days. And now her patiently built reputation caused the video to spread like wildfire among young trendsetters.

      When the song was eventually released, it took just a couple of hours to climb to the top of major online charts.

      Music critic Kim Jak-ga explains, "In a media environment where more and more people 'watch' music on social media, a well-made video can be the key to great success. Kim's case is an evidence of that."

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