Top Band on KBS is a reality television music competition series that aired its first season in 2011. Top Band did not garner mass popularity but saw its viewership gradually increase. I found out about the show midway and became a regular watcher. Participating bands such as Toxic and Gate Flowers often made the headlines of news portals, and professional musicians like Chung Won-young and Song Hong-seop who functioned as coaches or judges also gained attention. In preparation for a second season that will launch on May 5, Top Band has already attracted many contestants. The preliminary round, which opened on February 20 and closes on March 18, has received over 400 applications and expects to receive about 100 more in the next two days. Bands that advance to the next round will be announced in late March, and the ones that survive will proceed to the final round, which I assume will be the focus of the actual television show.
That many of the bands who have signed up for the preliminary are professional musicians with a robust performance history and a dedicated body of followers is interesting. These bands include The Koxx, Monni, Wiretap in My Ear, Cheez Stereo, Actung, T.A-Copy, Daybreak, Ashgray, SuperKidd, Vanila City, Nemesis, Nevada51 and Siberian Husky. While participation of professional musicians is not new to Top Band, it also was not a major component of the show and did not generate the kind of media that the upcoming season has been receiving. Gate Flowers from season one was a professional band who had won awards in the prestigious Korean Music Awards with its record in 2011, but not many people knew about the band prior to the show. Many of the other bands, even though they might have been active in the indie scene, were virtually unknown to the larger public. These bands, however, came into national spotlight when they got the chance to woo the viewers and other musicians on television.
The brisk reaction from professional and renowned indie bands in anticipation of a new season tells about the potential of Top Band in boosting band publicity that can help these bands prolong or revitalize their career. It will be interesting to see how the creators of Top Band response. Will the show stay reality television, or will it become like I am a Singer? For instance, Wiretap in My Ear is an older band that ought to receive more notice, and Top Band may just be the impetus the band needs. Bands like Monni, Daybreak and The Koxx may bring more people to watch the show. These bands are frequent guests at major rock festivals that people pay to go. Why not catch the big-name bands on television? But because these bands have already achieved some level of success in that they have a solid fan base and a contract with a record label, their narrative may not sound as dramatic or forceful as that of the more obscure bands for whom Top Band may be the last chance.
Gate Flowers was desperate for listeners even though it had won the heart of music critics. S1 was a group of salary-earning men and women who took time out of their jobs to practice music. Blue Near Mother’s hilarious band leader was a full-time salesman and husband who simply could not let go of his guitar. Achieving the right mix of bands will be conducive to creating an engrossing narrative key to reality television. But remember that band music and collaboration with musician mentors were what had differentiated Top Band from other reality television shows. Music, not the narratives, played the primary role. People who were eager for innovative music created and performed by those with genuine passion tuned into Top Band. Who can forget the edgy sound of Toxic, the sensual charm of Latte Latte, the jumping energy of WMA, the unsettling cries of Gate Flowers, the sublime ambiance of Poe and the radiant harmony of J-Power? As long as Top Band maintains its music, it will continue to charm the viewers.