MBC brings back college song contest

December 16, 2013

MBC brings back college song contest (Yonhap)

By Baek Byung-yeul

Just months after ending its longrunning college song contest, MBC television says it’s bringing it back.

The “MBC College Music Festival,” an annual music competition for college students the broadcaster first aired in 1977, has been credited for launching the careers of many influential musicians such as Sim Soo-bong, Shin Hae-chul and Kim Dong-ryul.

But the show’s ratings declined sharply in the 2000s as Korea’s pop music became more about manufactured, video-friendly dance tunes than discovering new songwriting talent. MBC didn’t renew the show for 2013, concluding it was no longer worthy of its budget.

MBC now admits that canceling the College Musicians Festival was a mistake as it has since failed to find a flagship music program to replace it.

The network has made the mistake of being late on reality singing competitions, which are now fading of audience magnets after years of oversupply. After three nondescript seasons, MBC canceled its American Idol-like singing contest “Great Birth” last year and hasn’t been able to get back into the game.

Its decision to bring back the college music show, which managed an audience rating of less than 2 percent in 2012, is a desperate move indicative of its dearth of ideas.

“The show is coming back next year,” an MBC official told The Korea Times on Monday.

“We believe we made a mistake canceling the show, downplaying its symbolic significance in Korean pop music. We are starting with a clean slate, planning to make the contest a pure competition for amateur college musicians.”

Next year’s competition will take place sometime between late September and early October, he said.

For some reason, MBC seems to be inspired by the renewed popularity of 1990s music, driven by the immensely-popular TVN drama “Answer: 1994,” a “How I Met Your Mother” clone set in mid-1990s Korea. In a recent episode, one of the characters enters the College Music Festival with high hopes, only to be ousted in embarrassment after his song was discovered to be plagiarized.

While MBC wants to share in the low-hanging fruits of commercial nostalgia, it’s hard to dismiss the fact that the show was irrelevant as recently in 2012.

The College Music Festival was influential until the ‘90s because that was the last time students had significant creative input in pop music. Entertainment agencies like SM, YG and JYP have since taken over the role of discovering talented new singers. Viewers may love old songs, but probably not the format that produced them, which is now all but dead.