An Introduction To K-Pop7 minute
About five odd years ago, if someone asked me about K-Pop, my knowledge of the industry would be restricted to a video of "Gangnam Style." But with social media holding an endless amount of art, expression, and culture, I think it's safe to say that Korean Pop has now made it to everyone's list of favorite music genres. How did the K-Pop craze begin?
Well, having its roots in South Korea, the term is mainly used to refer to modern popular genres covering pop ballad, rock, dance-pop, electronic, R&B, hip-hop, etc.
Almost everyone who develops an appreciation for K-pop initiated an interest because of K Drama. True story. *Insert scene from Crash Landing On You*. But while they intended to simply "give it a shot" because of this cute boy in a music video, they end up admiring all that makes up the Korean Pop culture. Why?
For starters, K-Pop is uniquely popular because of its creative music videos. You will rarely find a Kpop music video that is 'subtle' or 'imperfect' in any way. If you're new to the world of Korean Pop, here's a list of reasons you must lose your Kpop virginity ASAP:
The past five years in Western pop culture have been ruled by whisper-singing: an intentionally dry, almost ASMR-like singing style popularized by major "indie-pop" artists like Billie Eilish, Selena Gomez, and Lana Del Rey. The volume is serene and calming, a response to all the chaos in the world, the Gen Z's music equivalent to minimalistic design styles — why thump when you could soothe?
K-pop music, on the other hand, gained popularity in the U.S.A. around the same time and was the opposite: a maximalism dreamland full of vibrance, color, concept singing, and beautiful videos, a large group of artists, and unparalleled choreography. If Top 100 in America wanted solo performers with soft breaths caught on the mic over a mid-tempo chorus, K-pop offered an incomparable opposite: consistent stimulation, a euphoria that was delivered in 8 to 10 melodies, and fantastic harmonies in one single track.
K-pop is music that is stuffed but never swells; music that's fun and meant to bring about joy when heard and seen (since it is designed in a way to be enjoyed visually as much, if not more than it is meant to be listened to). And it is also music that is currently nearing universal prevalence. Boy band B.T.S. is one of the most popular groups on the planet, inviting billions to South Korea each year between No. 1 in albums, making history with late-night T.V. performances and music videos that also double as art films. K-pop fans themselves have henpecked headlines in-and-out of the pop culture area for their recent political broadcasts: by using their native digital understanding to overwhelm the white supremacist hashtags, crashing the attendance figures of President Trump's Tulsa rally and police apps that are meant to implore information about the 'Black Lives Matter' protesters, pressuring all their Idols to take a solid stance and donating millions. For all of you learning about K-pop for the very first time, the discovery of this particular music genre probably feels like missing the ship on a voyage you didn't even know was gradually taking off. How could the needle move so quickly and swiftly? K-pop is quite overwhelming.
And that is understandable. In the history of pop music, American audiences have been hesitant to embrace music recorded in different languages, except a few Spanish-singing superstars. (The likes of JLo, Shakira, Enrique, etc.) Artists hailing from various other cultures are expected to arch over - translate their work, white-wash (quite literally) themselves, as well as their performances to sell to the U.S.A., the largest music market in the world. For many people, a dominant form of pop that isn't in English is unimaginable. And yet, here is K-pop, music that's largely recorded in the Korean language, born in the early 1990s, now one of the most popular music forms on the planet, love and cherished by all generations of listeners.
The Best of Most Worlds
While international pop culture has been around for several decades, K-pop is a different kind of beast - and one that must be approached with slight caution. Think of 2000s pop music marrying Eurovision that's packed in a smooth yet detail-oriented wrap performed by pretty faces who by the way, also have brilliant dancing skills.
Something for Everyone
Because they pay that much attention to detail, K-pop groups offer all kinds of audiences something to fall in love with. If their story-telling video skills or bright, loud colors fail to impress you, the band member in these groups won't. In fact, some K-pop bands (including Super Junior) consist of up to 11 members! I mean, there's the pretty guy, the cute one, the emo boy, the charming one, the Bboy - each with their own fanbase - it's hard not to find a fanbase.
Get Your Cray-on!
There exists some really catchy, party K-pop music out there. Some songs like CRAYON by G-DRAGON will make you want to get off your seat and move to the beats or even get your "crazy on" with a few headbangs here and there. G-dragon, whose real name is Kwon Ji Yong, is a member of BIGBANG and is a deeply admired artist in Korea (second only to being a fashion icon, not unlike artists around the world). His music videos appear to be something Johnny Depp's Mad Hatter would produce if he were a musician.
As a newbie to the world of K-Pop, these are a few of my recommendations of songs that will make you want to shake a leg, part, and run a marathon, all at the same time:
- View by SHINee
- Up & Down by EXID
- Dumb Dumb by Red Velvet
- Fantastic Baby by BIGBANG
- Electric Shock by f(x)
With great beats, a catchy chorus, and gorgeous music videos, the visuals alone are enough to get you hooked on to the K-pop bandwagon!
Costumes and Colour
Something that K-Pop does magnificently well is use creative costumes and loud colors in their music videos. This is enough to get you hooked to watching and enjoying the music for hours together. Here's a fun fact: A Hundred years ago (when North America was barely industrialized), Asia was already burgeoning in the art and graphics space.
Hence, it doesn't come as a surprise that Asian pop culture itself, including music videos, is heavily refined and well planned. The ample usage of visual effects, make-up, multiple outfits, and everything else that makes up a music video always intend to serve a superior vision. TVXQ's Keep your head down, for starters, is less a music video, more a ramp walk cum dance face-off!
Some other popular K-Pop songs that set the bar too high and are most definitely not "your average Carly Rae Jepsen music video":
- Oh My God by (G)I-DLE.
- Palette by I.U.
- Honeymoon by B.A.P.
- Shangri La by VIXX.
- Fear by SEVENTEEN.
Watch out for BTS’s new single ‘Butter’, a dance-pop track that’s arriving later this month. Personally, I’m eager to spot the vibrant set of this one!
Walk the Talk, with Style
K-Pop is also well-known for its novel, flamboyant, and eye-catching personalities. K-Pop stars, or "idols" as they're usually referred to in Asia, have a way of truly standing out from a crowd and taking self-expression to a whole new level.
Likewise, K-pop idols give new meaning to fashion. Their everyday outfit styles often surpass western stars' in both intensity and originality. K-pop stars don't ever shy away from making an iconic appearance and have a unique way of adopting new trends.
G-Dragon, for one, is known for his superior musical talent and is also a trailblazer and a massive fashion icon for the youth.
Pro Dance Moves
Choreography is yet another space that K-pop artists rule entirely, and slay, might I add. Bands sing and dance, but they also perform such complex, challenging routines that make them seem like professional dancers. So in a way, all K-pop stars are supremely multi-talented.
Now obviously, this takes an insane amount of dedication, practice, and skill, but K-pop artists are known for performing their routines live – proving they are beyond skilled, not just perfectly edited in their music videos.
High Concept Groups
And lastly, the K-pop culture has the proclivity to bring forth highly talented groups of idols with original concepts. E.X.O., for example, is an immensely successful boy band in Asia.
The band consists of two groups – E.X.O. K and E.X.O. M. E.X.O. K performs and also promotes the band's music in Korean, while E.X.O. M does the same in Mandarin. By recording each and every song in 2 different languages, the boy band multiplies its potential audience massively. SO it doesn't come as a surprise that E.X.O. is the highest-charting Korean male band on the Billboard 200. This very ability to give a group's existence a much larger vision is what makes K-Pop stand out among other genres. Taking a unique approach to generic pop music, E.X.O. is the perfect example of the various concepts emerging out of K-Pop today.
Ready to step on the K-Pop train? You've got lots of catching up to do.