Like most of the world, the majority of my quarantine revolved around trying to keep myself entertained in hopes of making the never-ending days go by quicker, which usually ended up with me online. Staring at my computer screen for hours on end, scrolling through YouTube, and deep-diving into new channels and content that I’d passed on before became my new norm. As a fan of James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke videos, I decided to watch BTS’ feature because it had popped up in my recommendations. And then I watched it again. Soon, I had watched most of their interviews and music videos and could officially say I was completely sucked into their content. Though I had heard of BTS before this and could recognize a few of their songs, I had never been interested in K-pop as a serious genre, mostly since my first introduction to it was PSY’s Gangnam Style. While it has been around since the early 90s, K-Pop has only recently gained recognition in Western Media over the past few years. But just as I was blissfully unaware of this genre only a few months ago, I thought it necessary to shed some light on why it’s time to stop sleeping on K-Pop, as it continues to climb in popularity and influence much-needed change in the music industry.
“Korean Pop (K-Pop) is taking over and for a good reason.”
Though Korea’s music industry is small compared to the US, this distinguished genre is paving the way for producing some of the most talented artists in the world. From stage performances to music videos, each is filled with elaborate choreography and cinematography that draw audiences worldwide because of each one’s movie-like magnitude. It is easy to appreciate the effort put into everything these artists do and get excited, anticipating what they will do next. A big part of K-Pop is the positive messages that the songs represent and that the idols display to their fans. Thus, it can often be confused that K-Pop is for a younger audience when, in reality, it is not pushed towards one specific age group. Especially during quarantine, with the cloud of fear, many of us are experiencing right now, listening to music that can be so upbeat and optimistic has never felt more valuable.
Over the short time I’ve been learning about K-Pop, one thing that has maintained clarity is the deep appreciation and respect these artists or ‘idols’ as they are known, have for their fans. For most K-Pop singers and groups, connecting with their fans through frequent live streams, social media updates, and variety shows is part of the norm. Not only that, it is something they enjoy doing. The devotion to K-Pop goes both ways between idols and fans. This idea can seem foreign with western artists who can often get caught up in their success and lose the connection they had with their fans before their popularity grew. Seeing these massive celebrities continuously remain humble makes it hard not to see why they have garnered such large followings.
Unfortunately, a lot of my reason for not getting into K-Pop sooner stems from how it is portrayed in the media, especially regarding fans. “Fangirls” generally receive a lot of stereotyping and misjudgment because people have a hard time understanding the devotion that some fans feel towards celebrities. On twitter, massive fanbases such as the ones K-Pop idols have, hold a lot of power. For me, and I think many people who have heard about K-Pop but have stayed away from it, because the enormity of what these fans can do can seem daunting. The misunderstanding is that this doesn’t represent all of their fans and especially isn’t representative of the genre.
Coincidently, during the height of the BlackLivesMatter movement this summer, K-Pop fans illustrated the good they can do. They matched BTS’ $1 million donations within 24 hours and flooded the controversial #AllLivesMatter and #WhiteLivesMatter hashtag on twitter with random gifs of their favourite idols to hide any real tweets under the hashtag from gaining recognition or power. Seeing the good that most of these fans perpetuate and the contrast from their media portrayal helps to understand why these artists have so much love for their fans and the kind of influence they have on them.
“Thanks to western interest in K-Pop, the cultural diversity within the music industry is expanding.”
It’s no surprise that the Music Industry lacks representation of race and ethnicity and is specifically promotional towards white artists over any other race. But the achievements that are constantly being reached by K-Pop artists worldwide, shows how artists outside of western cultural norms are just as talented and deserve the same recognition as any other artist. Take BTS’ #1 song on the Billboard top 100 charts and BLACKPINK’s historical Coachella performance as an example. For Asian representation and other minority groups, K-Pop is taking strides to show the quality and success of artists worldwide and providing young fans with people they can look up to that reflect themselves more accurately.
While English is featured in many K-Pop songs since it is a Korean-based genre, most of the lyrics are in Korean. Fortunately, these artists’ talent means the lyrics don’t necessarily need to be understood to be appreciated. Their platforms become a place for people who are unfamiliar with Korean culture to learn about it and find value in it. Even still, because of the interest in K-Pop from around the globe, it’s not uncommon for idols to produce songs completely in English. While this allows them to cater to a wider audience, it highlights how impressive these artists are when most are not fluent in English. Just last month, BTS drew a lot of attention after producing their first completely English song, Dynamite. This garnered wider recognition from the music industry for BTS and K-Pop in general and introduced a whole new audience to their music. Through K-Pop idols’ music and social media presence, people unfamiliar with their culture can learn about it and develop an appreciation and respect for it they didn’t have before.
Within the genre, idols vary in their sound and style and often adapt to new ones throughout their career. Even though it is called K-Pop, this music is not limited to just pop and often incorporates hip-hop, jazz, and R&B within the genre. For this reason, it is easy to find something within K-Pop that you enjoy. It was a lucky stumble that allowed me to be exposed to this genre and find enjoyment in it in my own life. Pushing judgment aside about any music genre helps us discover new sounds that we like and artists to support. So, whether you plan on exploring this genre for yourself (be prepared! You’ll get sucked in quick) or now just better understand K-Pop, the impact this global phenomenon is having on the music industry, and the way it will continue to affect it in the future is one to watch out for, so stay tuned.
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