Tablo tweeted yesterday:

I like Tablo a lot. I have unending admiration for his intelligence and brilliant way with words. He has a gift for expression and music creation. He’s funny, sarcastic, sharp and articulate, and his music is moving and creative. He’s a charismatic performer and an all-around interesting thinker.

He’s also becoming a flaming hypocrite.

Look, there’s nothing wrong with earning money, or even earning lots of it if you’re not hurting anyone in the process of doing so (hey, HSBC!). Being a starving artist is fine if you’re okay with it, but there’s also no shame in needing or wanting to live comfortably by means of your art.

What Tablo is doing, however is shooting down artists who don’t have the “fuck money” mentality. In this day and age, earning money and doing art are not mutually exclusive. It’s further complicated by the fact that there is more than one art/money group: there are artists who don’t have to “sell out” to become financially lucrative (Kanye West is not a sellout, and he’s always been well-rewarded for his efforts) and those who have ditched a more obscure form of art for a more mainstream one because there’s a financial reward to gain out of doing so (the same Nelly “I’m like a bird!” Furtado that brought you club banga “Promiscuous”).

In other words, good art doesn’t preclude the art that is met with financial success.

And the fact that he says this while sitting happily in the white tower of YG is what makes this off-putting. What YG has done or hasn’t done to Epik High’s sound is a longer discussion for another day, but what YG is not is a teeny establishment slavishly working to remain relevant in the musical mainstream and dying just to earn enough money to break even.

They are a behemoth of an institution that can command the attentions of millions and influence how they dream, and can make ugly problems disappear if need be.

For that, I see why Tablo felt safer to sign with them. They have the clout that can safely protect him from whatever terrors he felt his family was in danger of. He has a young child and his haters were harassing his family. I think those are reasons enough. YG Entertainment has the ability to control all of that through sheer force of wealth and industry power.

What I’m no longer so understanding of is Tablo’s arrogance in demanding he have the cake and eat it too. He’s allowed to be passionate about music and art, but has he forgotten his own journey? Epik High has never “sold out,” but let’s not pretend like they haven’t played by the same industry rules as the most mainstream of mainstreams in K-pop. What, were those “X-Man” appearances a hoax? “Star Golden Bell,” a figment of my imagination?

Epik High is as popular as they are now thanks in part to participating in mainstream activities. Happily, Mithra Jin, Tablo and DJ Tukutz are all huge talents and thus the mainstream label feels less gimmicky, but they built their careers off giving mainstream audiences what they want. Woollim Entertainment also afforded them the ability to make the music they wanted while still having enough sway in the industry to get them onto the programs that would give their music a wider audience.

When Epik High’s contract expired amidst Tablo’s academic scandal, Tablo felt that Woollim Entertainment didn’t do enough for him, so he didn’t renew his contract. He’s right, they didn’t do enough for him, they didn’t stand up for him and defend him. But is there an unspoken part to this complaint? Maybe: they didn’t do enough for him, despite the fact that Epik has earned a lot of money for them, brought them a certain prestige, which helped them earn even more money? We don’t know the personal relationship between Tablo and Woollim, so there’s a chance he felt betrayed as a friend. But let’s not be naive enough to discount the possibility that money probably had a lot to do with the fallout, even if it wasn’t a direct exchange of goods and capital, even if it was as simple as, “Epik High did a lot for your company monetarily that you did not reciprocate in due form.”

I point all of these things out not to say that Tablo or Epik are lesser artists or lesser people; it’s simply the way you survive in a small industry that faces problems with declining sales and increasing artist pools, and the things you come to expect when you participate in a capitalistic economy.

But for Tablo to say “fuck money, art is king” like he hasn’t benefited from being a financially successful artist — like he hasn’t sacrificed his artistic ideals to earn more money, like he hasn’t bowed to money and the comforts it provided him when he was at his most vulnerable — is hypocritical.

  • http://dvqd92.tumblr.com/ Elizabeth

    nice article Amy :)

  • http://twitter.com/mellowyel Mellowyel

    Great article, which I largely agree with. Only thing is, you’re operating from an initial assumption that his tweet means exactly what you think it means. I’m inclined to play devil’s advocate here and argue that that may not be the case.

    The phrase “f*ck money, art is king” could encompass a lot of mindsets about a lot of situations. Yes, it sounds hypocritical for the person who left the small, indie (at the time) label to join YG’s bigger, more established label to say something like this, but then it could mean something different depending on what made him tweet it in the first place. We don’t know the context.

    It could be that he was asked to make some changes to his music and his decision not to cost him album sales (Epik High probably got a hefty signing bonus, but there’s no way they’re making as much in royalties or appearance fees as Big Bang.) It could be that he’s more excited about the artistic opportunities he’s getting now that he’s signed to YG, than he is about the money he’s being paid for those opportunities. It could be that he shunned more profitable collaborations with big artists that to work with the lesser-known artists he formed relationships with while he was at Woolim. Those last two scenarios seem particularly likely because of what he said before “f*ck money, art is king” – which was, “I’m working with amazing artists every day”. With that phrase as context, I don’t think I can come down and say that he’s a hypocrite with as much conviction as you have.

    Another possible scenario, since you talked about variety: it could be that he decided not to do any variety appearances and would rather focus on making music instead. Granted, it’s because he left his indie label for a bigger company who would get him these opportunities that he has the privilege to shun such engagements, but variety show appearances are as much about connections and exposure as they are about money. It’s not like he was on variety shows just because he needed the money: he was offered those guest spots because the producers thought he would help them make money. And he took those spots to shore up his bank account and get his name out there. I can’t completely agree that him saying “f*ck money, art is king” now that he’s “made it” means that he’s somehow ignoring that fact.

    If of course, none of these hypotheticals are true and he’s thinking exactly the way you think he’s thinking, then yeah, I co-sign. But that’s the trouble with social media – the context of posts like this is largely absent and inscrutable.

    • http://evacuatewithstyle.org/blog Amy

      As usual, we mostly agree with each other on the larger context, but disagree on smaller nuances ;)

      I think those scenarios you mentioned are all possible. But the reason why I’m less inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt and why I point Tablo out specifically and not Epik — even though his entire career save for one solo album was with Epik — is that Tablo has always exhibited this “fuck the mainstream” attitude. He’s never said it outright, and he’d be stupid to do so because he makes money off the mainstream audience, but it’s always been implied. I don’t really dislike him for it, but I also think that he’s not as neutral to this phrase as you’d like him to be.

      “It could be that he’s more excited about the artistic opportunities he’s getting now that he’s signed to YG, than he is about the money he’s being paid for those opportunities. It could be that he shunned more profitable collaborations with big artists that to work with the lesser-known artists he formed relationships with while he was at Woolim.”

      Logically yes, but I’m not sure if I buy this. Epik High’s history with lesser known artists has always been there. They’re one of the few mainstream acts that consistently works with lesser known artists, bringing those lesser known artists to the spotlight in ways no other mainstream group or company was willing to. Hell, even Nell doesn’t do this as much as Epik and Nell is far more “indie” than Epik.

      I don’t believe that working with YG has suddenly afforded them this opportunity to do so that they haven’t already gotten with Woollim, simply because if YG was that kind of company, they would’ve done it themselves already, and they’re not going to change their in-house/out-house music creation process just because Epik has more musical cred than their other artists. (If anything, I think the signing of Epik has *influenced* YG to cast their net wider.) That and I think that Epik wasn’t ever a group that held back on working with great artists just because they couldn’t afford to, and being with YG doesn’t suddenly open a floodgate for them.

      If Tablo were a young idol who acts like any other young person on social media, then I’d be more inclined to agree with you on how social media lacks context. But Tablo has been very vocal about what he views as “art” and has never been subtle about idoldom, and by extension, the mainstream, so I can’t chalk it up to just a matter of social media being confusing.

      • blueraisins

        I agree with above poster! Interesting interpretation, but I think you’re reading way too much into his minuscule tweet and making it a bit sensationalist. Several of your points are more like broad sweeping generalizations based upon money to further your point of his supposed hypocrisy.

        “What Tablo is doing, however is shooting down artists who don’t have the “fuck money” mentality.” When did he ever state that? I feel like his tweet is more of an encouragement to other artists to keep on pushing because it is the art they are in love with—not the money. Everyone knows that being a musician does not ensure a steady income and by extension, for an artist to not have a “fuck money” mentality is bit delusional because they are banking their livelihoods on a 1% chance of becoming successful.

      • tiedshoelaces

        To me, it just sounds like he’s excited about making music. So I guess he’s saying that he’s enjoying being an artist without hyper focusing on the music.

        Think about any occupations…like doctors. Do you want a doctor who goes in trying to help people and likes his job? Or do you want a doctor who is only doing the job so he can get the pay check? Both are highly qualified. One is passionate. It just depends on how you approach your goals. A lot of people become disgruntled and unhappy because they work to earn money. That’s partly why volunteers are so happy even if it’s free labor; they do what they do because they like it (rationalization).

        I don’t think he dislike mainstream music. He even mentioned that he thinks some of it is good. He does, however, disagree with idoldom where…stars that we see…are manufactured. They are talented, yes, but lyrics are written for them; outfits are chosen for them; dances are made for them; songs are made for them. They perform those things given to them. They are more performers and less artists.

        He seems accepting of good music whether mainstream or indies. The problem with mainstream music…is that sometimes it’s the same thing over and over again. What’s popular is repeated.

  • yoora

    This article is amazing!

  • Alixana_Tigana

    Shit, you’re brilliant. I’m too tired to write a long, comprehensive, thought-provoking reply. I’ll just say – this is why I have your blog bookmarked.

  • Casual Reader

    Maybe he was just letting off some steam or excited that he was, at that particular moment, doing work that doesn’t make him question his artistic integrity and so decide to exclaim about it?… A lot of artist with much less success, financially or otherwise, struggle with the cliche of the starving artist and their own identity and success. I think it’s too much to call him a ‘flaming hypocrite.’ It’s not like he’s doing CFs for men’s makeup or ramyun. Lol.