On June 8th, K-pop icon G-Dragon released EP Kwon Ji Yong, his first solo work in four years. Unfortunately, there’s a snag: it’s ineligible to chart as an album in his home country of South Korea.
South Korea’s Gaon Chart, operated by the Korean Music Content Industry Association (KMCIA) has two ways for artists to chart: the Gaon Album Chart, which ranks physical album releases, and the Gaon Digital Chart, which ranks singles based on an aggregate of downloads, streaming, and background music.
KMCIA says G-Dragon’s Kwon Ji Yong can only be considered for the Gaon Digital Chart because of its format — a USB drive that connects to YG Entertainment’s website (G-Dragon’s label), where people can download the EP and additional exclusive media after inserting a serial number. Because the USB drive itself contains no music, says KMCIA, it’s not an album.
The association defended its position based on South Korean copyright law, which states an album must be a physical object with music. Though considerable thought went into the design of each handmade USB, Kwon Ji Yong seems to exist in a gray area. The USB drive is a physical object, but is only a vehicle for people to download the album.
Last year, according to The Korea Times, the copyright law was revised to recognize any form of digital album as an official release, but KMCIA maintained that music must be on the hard copy sold in order to be considered an album, saying, "If we include digital albums in the same category with hard copy albums, it breaks the boundaries that segment the digital chart, the download chart, and the album chart."
Separately, Kwon Ji Yong’s songs are eligible for Gaon Digital Chart, where lead single “Untitled, 2014” is currently ranked at the top spot. But, album charts and sales are a major component of a record’s success. As Billboard notes, high physical album sales, especially within K-pop, indicate substantiative national popularity that helps propel an act forward.
Here in the US, all forms of albums are eligible for the Billboard charts, as long as sales are reported to Nielsen Music. This includes Kwon Ji Yong, which debuted at No. 192 on the Billboard 200.
KMCIA’s position is not unusual for Asia. Other charts (like Japan’s Oricon and Taiwan’s G-Music) also only consider hard copies for album ranking. It’s hard to imagine that things will stay this way for much longer. Though streaming in Asia accounts for 14 percent of global digital revenues, that number is only increasing, and companies like Spotify are finding creative ways to appeal to Asian markets.
“We think that the whole issue is a structural problem, those holding on to the old way of thinking and not being able to accept the changes that are happening right now,” a rep from YG Entertainment told Sports Dongha. “It very difficult to understand why some people would want to confine music storage devices to only CDs. Even those in their 70s and 80s don’t listen to music from CD players, and it’s hard to find places to buy them... Why does music have to be stored only in CDs? This doesn’t make sense.”