“C’mon, Cap’, that’s ridiculous,” I said with a grunt as he turned the car’s radio back up to avoid further rebuttal.
He was trying to convince me that BLACKPINK was going to prevail over NewJeans and XG, and that revenue was the sole arbiter of success in this world — clearly a nonsensical argument.
“You don’t understand what you’re talking about. My ult biases are way more talented. They’re better singers, dancers; they have better producers. Everything. By every objective and meritocratic standard, they are simply superior.”
Rather than lower the volume, he instead raised his own:
“Bro, no offense, but when it comes to international pop and content-driven commerce, you’re out of your depth in a debate with me.”
The ruffage and rocks of upstate rushed by as we headed south back towards the city following our $2,000 meal at Blue Hill Farm. Beyond our windows the only sound the forest could hear was the Doppler-affected, honey-sweet harmony of “Coca-Cola Mashita”.
I reached over to lower the volume. I didn’t like that particular chorus much anyway. “Alright, explain it to me, smart guy.”
“It’s really quite simple,” he began. “Music today is an arms race. It’s all about distribution, and today, distribution costs are exponentially more complex than they previously were. While the physical act of pressing a record and shipping it is no longer relevant, the necessary expenditure to perfectly craft not just a one-off but repeated hits requires immense amounts of capital and quite frankly the use of creative talent as little more than human batteries to be exhausted and discarded as though of Matrix-like manufacture. That’s just the business of music, my dude.”
As though to celebrate, he chuckled, re-raised the volume, and lowered the gas pedal — the stream of music and scenery blurring into the background further.
“But no dude! That’s my whole point! I get it! This isn’t about the talent, even though XG and NewJeans are so obviously more talented. It’s also about the money. These are perfectly manufactured products!”
Cap smirked. “Oh?”, invited his pray tell.
“XG in particular represents a critical moment of East Asian unison. Think about it like this: why has America dominated for so long? Yes, there’s geography and the war and history as law being written by the winners, but there’s a bigger core reason why that power has remained. America’s biggest export, and in fact its biggest armament, actually isn’t weapons. Do you know what it is, smart guy?”
Cap’s smirk turned a full smile as the car’s speed further rose alongside the corners of his mouth.
“That’s fucking right dude. Culture! America is the greatest cultural appropriation, re-packaging, pricing, and distribution engine in the history of humanity. Christianity is straight shook for dropping to second place in driving worshipper acquisition at these conversion rates!”
Cap threw his head back as the car jerked forward suddenly, his uncontrolled body laugh extending straight down to his foot. My argument followed.
“You see, America is always at its best when it has an ‘Other’ to fight. It’s only when there’s no clear Other that threatens our way of life that we turn our fight inwards. So too is true for the big three East Asian dominants: Korea, Japan, and mainland China.”
I continued, breathless and unaware.
“People think America has divide and racism, but few of us have been truly exposed to the level of hate that exists between Korea, Japan, and China — and that hate has history. The idea of those cultures joining forces is almost unheard of. That is, until now.”
“All this talk of recession and the war in Ukraine and the energy and climate crises and the shifting of world currency away from the US dollar — all of that pails in comparison to what’s really going on, and bro, for real, XG is at the center of it all.”
I was lost in my ego, the car’s pace increasing to keep pace with the delivery of my argument.
“The only way that China is going to truly win the coming war for the east is not through hard power but soft, and with XG, you have the first time in history that a Japanese-born, Korean-bred and trained, and Chinese-funded girl group is being deliberately manufactured to deliver a globally-appealing product. And their distribution is using all of Reels, Shorts, and TikTok to generate a type of manufactured virality that would put even the tinfoiler’s whole Covid conspiracy to shame! It’s fucking genius, bro. You don’t understand.”
“You want to talk cultural content as commerce, distributed dominance, and soft politick genius? Well, XG isn’t just a girl group: they’re the inflection point, an international shift in the very geopolitical socioeconomic fabric of our fucking species. And it’s fucking genius! That’s why they’re going to win. The game is rigged, bro. Deadass!”
Capitalism turned to me and looked me dead in the eye with an even more voracious grin. His satisfied eyes were smug with the truth of my obsession, and his gaze remained unbroken as the broken bridge rail splintered and disappeared above and behind us.
Even in the dark of cold river water, his sneer was static as our car and my soul sank one last time in realization of my curse, before and beyond.