K-pop Takes Over the World
From bright monochromatic looks and synchronized dance routines to the most addictive beats and Gen Z icons with a million fan pages, K-pop is a phenomenon that’s on its way to world domination. With bands like BTS, BLACKPINK and EXO that break music industry records and place themselves on the Billboard every week without any hesitation, there’s no second guessing that this genre has made its mark and is here to stay. But what sets the Korean artists apart to an extent that they consistently shake global charts? Well, it’s a mix of some outstanding characteristics, subtle elements, determination, timing, social media influence, their idols, and so much more that we will decode together!
Where It All Began…
Even though K-pop now has over millions of people following one of the most influential cultures of the decade, it didn’t really gain traction until the 2000s despite starting years before it. The term "K-pop" as well became popular in the twenty-first century, before that South Korean pop music was called gayo.
The journey of Korean pop music traces back to when an American missionary began teaching American and British folk songs called changga in Korean at a school. Their popularity rose as Koreans expressed their feelings against Japanese oppression through music, however eventually these were banned. Post the partition of North and South Korea, Western culture was introduced into South Korea on a small scale, with a few Western-styled bars and clubs playing Western music. People even began singing for American troops in large numbers as it was a good way to earn money at the time post the Korean War. Thus, mid- twentieth century began the boom- with radio, clubs, cinema all adopting American music. Over the years, this also gave rise to many local bands. Korean artists now started moving around the world and gaining international popularity.
At the end of the 1960s, folk-influenced pop grew popular among the youth as they were more influenced by the West and were keen on making more relaxed and cheerful melodies unlike their predecessors, who were influenced by war and oppression. Dj’s and ballad singers started gaining prominence and Korean singers began representing the country at global events. In the late twentieth century, began the revolution of what we consider today as the Modern K-pop. With the entry and popularity of Seo Taiji & Boys, the Korean music industry shifted focus to teen-centred pop music with new and innovative lyrics, memorable choruses, and idol bands of young boys or girls like H.O.T., Diva, Baby Vox that polished themselves beyond music.
However, what paved the way for a global cultural revolution was the 2012, ground-breaking Psy’s ‘Gangnam Style’ that got an entire generation hooked to its hook-step! Psy’s track surpassed the teen sensation Justin Bieber’s ‘Baby’ and at that time and became the most-watched video on YouTube when almost no one grooving to it understood every word, but it transcended the need to know the language because everyone enjoyed the gimmicky video and peppy beats. But what it also did was presented Korean culture to the world in such a way that people, especially the West perceived Korean music as comical and over the top. This perception began to shift when we were introduced to upcoming bands that redefined what K-pop meant, and we can thus say that we widely underestimated the capabilities this style had as it now not only competes but also beats weekly Hollywood hits! The twenty-first century has also witnessed the ‘Hallyu’ in its full form. You ask what that is? Let’s find out!
Hallyu – The South Korean Wave
Short for Korean pop, K-pop represents South Korea’s popular musical landscape and has made its own identity- a distinctive sound that blends together genres of music from all over the world. It is influenced by pop, experimental, rock, jazz, hip-hop, R&B and every other possible genre. K-pop is a part of the Korean cultural wave that has made everything belonging only to Korea-globalized and widely recognizable. Beyond just music, their influence extends to art, dance, fashion and beauty. The Koreans have left no stones unturned to ensure you forget any cultural barriers and in no time, find yourself immersed in their pop culture, making it your own.
‘Hallyu’ - the Korean Wave is the idea that South Korea has grown in prominence to become a major driver of global culture, seen in everything from the overly loved and recently popularised Ramen, to famous Korean skin-care that every influencer swears by and not to forget the unrealistic standards set by the beyond beautiful and dreamy K-Dramas that make you fall in love a little more each episode.
From our local fashion stores and eateries to featuring on Netflix and collaborations with Louis Vuitton, there is no denying that the Korean influence now is more than ever, and at the heart of Hallyu is the ever-growing popularity of K-pop.
To know more in depth about the wave Hallyu, you can catch the documentary here:
Decoding Characteristics – What sets them apart?
K-pop is a whole new world that once entered, there’s simply no going out of and the credit for this goes to a number of elements that function together so smoothly that they transform any viewer experience. Whenever listening to any track, you can identify so many subtle nuances that are intentionally put together to blend in all genres possible. Whether you understand the language, are a die-hard fan that knows each member’s zodiac sign, have not missed a performance or Instagram Live or whether your knowledge of K-Pop is as limited as only knowing the word ‘K-pop’ in itself, one thing everyone will irrespectively agree on if shown even a small clip is that, the experience is extraordinary. The world it takes you into is something solely created and curated with keeping in mind minute details that is literally mind-blowing.
It’s as creative as it gets as they incorporate every genre from Western music- such as pop, electronic and punk and African American folk, jazz, hip-hop (it’s common to have one member who is primarily a rapper), R&B and disco, the K-pop sound is nothing but a mixture of most genres that you’ve ever heard of. Not only genre but also the languages used are a combination of Chinese, Japanese, English and even Spanish while maintaining Korean as the most prominent one. This widens the reach in terms of choice and language as there is something in these tunes for everyone! Be it the native local fans or people from any corner of the world, they ensure they cater to a large market. To make their global reach stronger, they even collaborate with the most popular artists from the west like Lady Gaga, Halsey, Kanye West, Dua Lipa, Selena Gomez and many more. For instance, take Super Junior, one of the oldest and most respected K-pop groups. Their last album, Repackage, is full of acoustics and displays the influences of Latin pop, featuring Dominican-American singer Leslie Grace inviting a whole new audience base.
The fact that K-pop music videos get even more views than the audio speaks a lot about how integral dance is for the success of this genre. When combining multiple singers, the singers often switch their positions while singing and dancing by making prompt movements in synchrony, perfectly in-time with one another. The choreography of K-pop members is certainly their edge and is done keeping in mind that their fans can also recreate it. The routines are intense and require rigorous practice. Even schools teaching dance to young people in order for them to be idols, are super selective and involve months of training. So, the next time you watch a K-pop performance and find the sync too ‘effortless’ remember the hours of practice each member has put into training to able to perform as gracefully and confidently as that and how each movement is carefully choreographed to enhance and bring out the meaning of the song!
Let’s be honest here, whether you follow K-pop or no, you are indirectly or directly influenced by its fashion, as most leading fast fashion brands incorporate Korean trends more than you know. Be it the streetwear that has now grown popular more than ever made famous by Seo Taiji & Boys, or BLACKPINK’s iconic serves with their miniskirts and hotpants that are the weekly trend for every teenage girl – their fashion has influenced the world.
Their monochromatic looks, cut-edge strong dressing with a mix of experimental truly stands out in every piece. People enjoy visually looking at the sequences, and look forward to fresher looks that they bring to the table! This has also drawn a lot of attention towards luxury brands, as when fans see their idols effortlessly pull off a luxury item, it generates a certain want and connection. Across social media, one can also find pages that help you locate and purchase these items.
But I mean when we’re talking oversized fits, colourful jewellery, make-up on men, bucket hats and sharp dressing? We really aren’t complaining!
It would be unfair to credit an empire built as huge as this to sheer timing, but yes time did play an important role in bringing this genre to attention. How you ask? Let’s see. K-pop existed since a while, but it really started gaining attention because of on torch-bearer band – BTS. When the group of 5 extremely talented and attractive men that every girl grew up with a poster of – yes, I mean One Direction began to decrease in popularity, that’s when BTS flourished and that too in its full glory filled the desire for the next generation’s biggest boy band. It didn’t matter so much that they were a K-pop group, they came in at the right place and right time and thus began the journey of one of the most wildly popular bands of K-pop.
This then made it easier for BLACKPINK to break ground, the first K-pop female force in seven years out of the same label that housed Psy, that matched BTS in aesthetics and popularity. However, timing worked in their favour but the talent and hard work that each of them exhibit is what makes up the heart of K-pop. No wonder BTS’s current single their YouTube music video for their album’s single, “Boy with Luv,” currently stands at 121 million views and counting. Their effort is truly what justifies the fandom they have and the buzz they have generated – which has led to the formation of K-pop idols.
The K-pop Idols
I’m sure all of us know at least one person that is obsessed- to say the least with some member of a K-pop band. I’ve witnessed people cry at concerts, pay anything for a workshop ticket, spam their Instagram with cute band members and hoard every merchandise that they can get their hands on! At first glance, a K-pop idol may not seem different from Western pop stars but in reality, a lot sets them apart from the rest as it’s not just for any reason that that K-pop artists are so loved by people around the world.
A K-pop idol is a celebrity working in the field of K-pop, either as a member of a group or as a solo act who represent a hybridized convergence of visuals, music, fashion, and dance. K-pop idols polish themselves beyond music, they also go through training encompassing not only singing and dancing skills but also, etiquette, attitude, language and the ability to deal with the media. They have a certain image, a persona created around them usually by the agency they are attached to that makes them too hard to not like. Apart from social media interactions, supporting good causes, possessing ethical qualities, they also are determined to excel in every aspect of K-pop from fashion to singing to dance to public speaking and never disappoint their fan base. No wonder the hype that surrounds them is beyond crazy!
An Ever-growing Fan Base
If you’ve ever met a K-pop fan, I’m sure you’ll agree when I say the fandom it’s at a whole new level. K-pop fans and idols don’t just have a star-supporter rapport, they have a ‘parasocial kin’ kind of a relationship where fans create a familial connection with their idols rather than just being a "look-from-afar" or third party fan. Not only with the idols but fans also create familial connections with other fans through similar interests and the bond they share is really strong as it’s formed by sharing an extreme likeability and thus they’re groups like the BTS armies or K-pop Stans are a family within themselves. What helps them come together in the most convenient way possible is the presence of Social Media.
K-pop groups are encouraged to use social media to interact with their fans and spread their reach, with no platform being off limits. With live videos, funny behind-the-scenes shots, practice dance routines, selfies and model-esque fashion shoots, following a K-pop idol on social media is a hobby of its own. Not to mention their use of YouTube with teaser videos, beautiful music videos and remixes and alternate videos of multiple songs. Twitter is another popular platform where these fans come together and socialise usually spreading news and sharing everything they love about their idols. Fans also often protect their idols via social media outrage from any mistreatment by agencies as they have a familial connection built between both sides. To give you an insight to their stardom, BTS has 45 million followers on Instagram, and BLACKPINK is a close next with around 40 million followers yep that’s like a pretty huge fan base to say the least!
It’s honestly pretty amazing to see K-pop manage to make it so big that they compete with the West and influence so many of our lives at a global level. From learning Korean to setting timers for their next releases and making the most beautiful fan pages possible, there’s nothing a K-pop stan wouldn’t do for their idols, and to hold that kind of power is beyond cool. Many elements make K-pop stand out but what makes it the most popular is its intrigue. People await with all their heart from their music to drop and with the belief that they would never be disappointed. We can credit k-pop for many different things, but most importantly it’s changing the way we listen to music. It transcends the need of language, familiarity and culture and binds us all together to simply feel the music with all our hearts.