The World of K-Pop
October 3, 2018
Currently, the biggest K-pop sensation to dominate the American charts are known as BTS. Many may wonder, why are they appearing everywhere? From social media to online articles, the excitement along with millions of wildly passionate K-Pop fans does not seem to be diminishing any- time soon. So one might ask, what does BTS even mean? Does it stand for ‘behind the scenes’? No, not a chance. But perhaps it might be time to delve into behind the scenes of K-pop.
Over the past several years, K-pop has been a growing phenomenon spreading around the globe. K-pop refers to South Korean pop music. It is a music genre that is distinguished by a large variety of musical and visual elements. This genre incorporates elements of western pop, disco R&B, Hip Hop, and many other genres. K-pop is adequately similar to American pop, but there are many cultural differences. One of the main differences is the intense systematic training process that all K-pop trainees have to go through in order to debut. It puts a strong emphasis on the visual components such as dance. Sophomore Stephanie Wessels explained, “[K-pop is] different because I feel like they try harder… they have to work so hard and actually have talent to make it big.” Aspiring artists from different ages and from around the world audition for an entertainment company. If they are lucky to be chosen by the agency, they enter the vigorous training process.
Life of K-pop artists can get chaotic with their busy schedules. After training, K-pop idols continue to practice several hours day and night to maintain and improve their performance skills. K-pop is used as a great marketing tool to build recognition for South Korea and their products. Throughout the years, the Korean economy has boosted up remarkably due to K-pop. The Huffington Post stated, “K-pop is quickly becoming one of the country’s biggest exports; in 2011, exports equaled $180 million, up 112 percent from the previous year.”
Since the beginning, the international market has always been the goal. Entertainment companies strategically plan out how they would promote the group, using social media as the main portal to reach out to international audiences. Entertainment companies also often hire foreign choreographers, composers and designers to come over. Forming partnerships with local agencies and record companies is important as well.
Even in K-pop songs, the lyrics are not limited to just Korean, they often include English phrases and produce songs in other languages, like Chinese, to attract international fans. Korean groups typically have vocalists, lead dancers, rappers, and a leader, who may represent the group and speak for them in interviews. With a combination of vocalists and rappers in the group, songs offer a mix of vocals and rap verses in various songs. Some songs showcase heavily on rap, and some heavily on vocals to attract different kinds of listeners who enjoy a certain type of music. Musicians such as Steve Aoki, Skrillex and Diplo along with rappers such as Kanye West, Nicki Minaj and Snoop Dogg have teamed up with K-pop groups in previous and current albums.
K-pop agencies project a certain impression of idols to the public by their variety, talk shows and reality shows that can even showcase particular aspects of their personal lives which helps the audience relate with them on a more profound level. The K-pop fandom is known to be passionate about supporting their idols, always promoting their favorite groups and artists on social media and buying merchandise.
Many K-pop groups have their own official light sticks which serves as a lightsource for fans attending the concerts as well as a souvenir. K-pop concerts sell out insanely quick, some selling out within minutes, only to be resold on alternate websites for hundreds of more dollars. The official light sticks can be seen throughout the entire arena of a concert, and all of the light sticks simultaneously change colors, creating a vibrant view for not only the audience, but the performers, as well.
There are many ways K-pop fans show their support for their favorite groups. During live performances, especially for popular groups there will often be fanchants. Fanchants vary from group to group, but mainly consists of the member’s names or the group name both in a rhythmic chant, before and during a performance. Many groups have numerous members, ranging from four to even eighteen members, which is a reason why fanchants are special to the fandom; it shows the dedication to a group. Some fans even find inspiration from the music and apply it to their own lifestyle. “I like the beat and the style of music they make, and the energy they have, so it motivates me to create music as well,” said junior Jahaira Avila.
Many fans commit themselves to learning choreography and posting K-pop dance covers online. There are many ways fans show their support, but for some it can simply just be watching music videos and listening to the music. For each new album release, there is a new concept that come with different visuals. For example, BTS’s concepts have drastically changed throughout the years. They debuted with the genre of Hip Hop, with their first album called, Dark and Wild, with an edgy and dark tone, in 2014. Today, their newest album, Love Yourself 結 ‘Answer’, brings out bright and colorful tones.
One thing that stands out about Korean pop music are their music videos. They often have high production value and focus heavily on visuals and concepts that match throughout the album and merchandise they are promoting. One of their ways of making profit is through their physical K-pop albums. The albums do not just contain basic CDs, but it also comes along with a photo booklet, photo cards and a poster of the group. This increases the likelihood of a fan to buy an album.
The market for K-pop has grown tremendously in the past year, and will continue to grow as the years go on. Furthermore, count- less K-pop groups, such as, EXO, BLACKPINK, and Girls’ Generation will continue their rigorous training to improve their choreography and vocal skills for more performances to come. Junior Angee Wong stated, “One misconception right now is that us K-pop fans only listen to BTS, because it’s so popular right now, when there are other groups that we also love.”
Korean pop music has been dominating the charts this year, many fans just beginning their journey discovering the world of K-pop, and why it is becoming so popular. Wong concluded, “Even though [some fans] don’t understand the language, we still listen to it because music is a universal language.” The fandom’s complexity and language barrier may keep some non-listeners away from understanding the popularity for the genre, but simply the appreciation of the hard work towards choreography, vocals and music captivates anyone no matter if it is just enjoying one music video or being an avid concert-goer. Music is a universal language; it is what brings people together.
Mic Drop (Steve Aoki Remix) – BTS
Hann (Alone) – (G)-I-DLE
Starry Night – MAMAMOO
Last Dance – BIGBANG
Shine – PENTAGON
Forever Young – BLACKPINK
MONSTER – EXO
TAKE ME HIGHER – A.C.E.