Some A good number Most of A lot Everybody knows that I am quite fond of Korean pop music or what most people who have heard it (and might have been baffled by it) may refer to as K-pop.
First things first though, I wholeheartedly believe that Korean pop music should not be identified as “K-pop” as a whole. K-pop or Hallyu goes beyond popular music – it encompasses a whole lot of other forms including movies, television, clothing, and even food. I do understand though that referring to it as K-pop is very convenient. Heck, even those Korean expats who come here to the country to study English are called K-pop!
For scholarly (lol) and non-generalizing purposes, I would like to reiterate that I am greatly fond of Korean pop music or K-pop music. However, even that term has a lot of other components under it and I’ll try to get into it later.
Okay, now that I’m done with a rather useless babble hahaha, the question still remains: Why do I like Korean pop music? (right now I’m so tempted to use K-pop, damn you don’t even know)
I have tried crafting a concise and logical explanation of why I have such strong feelings for the said musical genre but everytime I try doing so, I always end up with an answer that barely makes sense. It’s quite difficult to get your thoughts together on something that you really like, isn’t it?
Fortunately though, I came across an article from Billboard which could potentially explain my extreme indulgence with K-pop music. The excerpt is from a Billboard interview with The Underdogs, a American music production team who recently has started working with a lot of Korean pop music acts like Girls’ Generation (<3), TVXQ! and Exo, to name a few.
“We really enjoy working on the K-pop stuff because it allows you to be so creative,” Thomas reflects. “They are very open-minded about their music and it’s not as genre-specific as, a lot of times, American artists are. You can just really be creative, really try things and think outside the box musically. The sections in their songs can all be different, the lyrics can say unique things, it’s refreshing to work on artists like that.”
This is partially true, especially if you are looking at it from a producer’s perspective. However, there are facets to the Korean music industry that may also disprove what they just said.
For example, although it is true that these foreign producers are not confined to Top 40 fodder (that is prevalent in the West) when working with Korean artists, this “creative freedom” is still restrictive by default as the whole industry is a big business venture at the end of the day.
Korean pop music acts are controlled by corporations and literally everything that comes in and out of these idols fall under radar of business moguls who always have the final say on what or what should not be released. Although there are some acts that declare that they can produce their material on their own, the truth remains that you really can’t make it big into the K-pop industry if you are not backed by a company. You could either end up an indie sensation or a social media viral hit (if luck plays on your side and this does not happen all the time). Such may also be applicable in Western pop music, but the level of control and restraint is wayyyyy different on this side of the earth. This framework is draining to explain because of the many, interconnected aspects that are contained in it, but I hope you get my drift.
The Underdogs though are still correct when they mentioned that K-pop music is diverse. One may say that most K-pop songs are just derivations of past western musical trends but it’s not all that. A huge chunk of K-pop songs owe a lot of influence from their Eastern counterparts. An example of this would be the influx of bubblegum pop songs that clearly tips its hat to Japanese pop sensations. Think of those extremely sugary, cutesy, sunshine and butterflies songs – those that require the highest register of your voice. Songs like those will never hit the American airwaves not even during the 90s, but here in the East, it’s one of the best ways to get your name out there.
It may sound like a stretch but K-pop music has been very successful in merging both trends from the opposite sides of the planet and still make it sound like its their own. The urban, gritty sound of the west and the saccharine, innocent themes of the east are both present in the Korean music industry and both are able to shine on their own. I think that this is one of the factors that make the genre so global – there’s always something for everybody.
It’s only in K-pop music that I get to hear many songs tinged with hip-hop, electronica, folk, jazz, dance, RnB, soul, video game music, trot, rock, dubstep, and any possible genre that there could be. They even sometimes mix all of these into a track and create an explosion of melodies! Right at this very moment, I’m currently listening to a song that is straight off a Broadway musical.
The diversity of Korean pop songs may be credited to the producers behind them but the front runners of this music industry aka the idols are just as important.
Korean pop music requires an open mind because it is an immersive experience. Like what I said earlier, the term “Korean pop music” has a lot of things under its plate and each of them serve purpose that pulls you in aka becoming a fan.
Any K-pop song is built upon a visual concept. This does not entirely have a direct correlation to the song and the lyrics. Rather, it’s purpose is to draw you in or basically, tease you. That is why a huge part of idol music promotions are the teaser images. This is where it all starts.
For example, the image below is a teaser for Girls’ Generation’s 2009 smash hit “Genie”.
Image credits: Soshified
In a nutshell, the song is about the group telling their man that they can grant whatever wish that they have in mind being the genies that they are. So why go all marines? Aside from an explanation (from the company of course) that the marine/military concept mean that the girls will “lead the way” to the fulfillment of their fantasies, it is a visually titillating image by itself. Look at them serving all those hot pants and legs. This group has basically built their fanbase by pandering to the male demographic, so something of this level of teasing is will surely work. (It may sound a little twisted but it has truth in it)
But the fun does not stop there because we still haven’t watched their music videos!
You may like or dislike the teaser images or the song but the music videos may still pull you in. This is where another component comes into the picture – the dance. Some other songs may have catchy hooks or melodies but in K-pop music, the “hook” factor transcends further into choreography. You can hate the song but you will love dancing to it – that’s how they play it. As a result, they are still able to capture a portion of audiences that may not like the product that they are selling and it’s genius!
Kara’s Mister was a huge success thanks to its signature butt dance which got Koreans semi-twerking before it was relevant.
Korean pop music videos are also known for their budget and quality that can even rival some movies. The diversity of the genre is again apparent here. They even go as far as using insanely creative treatments for their music videos. Some are even critiques on the industry itself (which is amazing because the as a genre, they can get meta and still be commercially viable). An example would be T-ara’s dystopic sci-fi saga that serves as a backdrop for a simple song about missing your lover.
T-ara’s Day By Day music video can even stand on its own, with or without the song. The continuation of the video is paired with another song which talks about how sexy their lovers are lmao. I highly recommend watching the whole thing.
So why do I like Korean pop music again? Hahaha, I may have gone too far with a lengthy rant (that may require further research) but so far, I have two points in mind:
- It is a mixture of the creative and the manufactured, forming a unique kind of diversity;
- It is an immersive visual experience that can be translated in different facets.
I’m not expecting anyone who reads this to get into K-pop music as much as I do but I’d like it to be seen as a way of appreciating and understanding pop culture movements through the lens of a specific musical genre.
By the way, language is not an excuse to not get into K-pop music, I find that very shallow.
Well, here’s a bizarre and cute K-pop video to close this post because I can’t think of any other way to do so.
P.S: If you happen to stumble upon this post (which is unlikely) and you still don’t get it, well boohoo for you. Kidding! I’d love to start a discourse about this matter, so you can freely drop a comment here, ayt? I’m also planning to unleash all my K-pop music feels on a separate blog called The Bingsoo so be on the lookout for that. ^^