Kpop, or sometimes KPOP, is technically just a short abbreviation for Korean popular music, but in many ways it has come rather to denote the idol sub genre of Korean music in the minds of many foreign fans. So while Psy with his Gangnam Style MV, or Busker Busker with their Indie sound, are very much part of Korean popular music there are Kpop fans, particularly those overseas, who don’t see them as such; so there does seem to be somewhat of a disconnect between what Koreans and foreign fans mean by Kpop. At clubs in Seoul they play very little, if any Kpop music, as in some ways it is not as popular there. This idol style music, featuring attractive young performers with catchy tunes, quirky MVs, and amazing choreography along with excellent fanservice, has taken Asia and many other parts of the world by storm. Kpop idol groups have held concerts on all continents except Africa and Antarctica, and with its growing popularity in Africa I doubt it will be long before only Antarctica is Kpop free. (My daughter’s penpal in Ghana was thrilled to receive a Kpop care package from us as she is a huge fan.)
The appeal of Kpop seems to change with whomever is describing their reasons, but there are definitely reasons. The music is often fun and happy with bright tones and uplifting beat, other times it can be sad to suit those times when nothing seems to be going right. There’s songs to sing and dance along to and songs that tug at your heartstrings, there are songs suitable for the very young and some that are suitable more for adults. But for quite a few people it is the attractiveness of the idols themselves and the feeling that the idols actually care for their fans. There is a sense of belonging within the fandoms and many young people in particular find that welcoming.
Idols go through a training process that can last many years before their debuts, and they have to learn many things such as a second or third language, how to act in public and in front of cameras, how to do fanservice etc as well as continuing their education, if under age, as well as their music, singing, and choreography lessons. Idols appear on variety and music shows, they do charitable works and raise money for good causes, they act in Kdramas and perform in musical theatre. They are trained to appear well in the public eye all the while showing their good nature and character. Many of the idols have engaging smiles and do seem to be enjoying what they do even though it is hard work. Bad apples, or those that don’t conform often are let go. The Kpop industry does have a dark side and various management companies have been found guilty of overworking the idols within their companies, however laws are now in place and hopefully there will be more good management practices than bad in the future.
There’s a Kpop song for everyone. Even with the language barrier many emotions and ideas easily come through in the songs. If you want to learn the lyrics many of the MV’s have English subtitles and lyrics can be found online for audio listeners.
I tend to be fairly literal and use the label Kpop to mean a wide range of Korean music, but for most of this discussion the focus will be mostly on the idol groups. I see there having been three ‘generations’, or decades of idol groups as we would recognise them today. The first generation being those groups who debuted and were popular in the 1990’s. Groups such as HOT, god, Fin.K.L, 1TYM, and Shinwa are all considered the originators of the Kpop we know today. Remarkably Shinwa is still producing albums and MV’s. Most of the other groups have disbanded or are inactive, although individual member show up from time to time in Kvariety shows and Kdramas. Others have gone into the producing or management side of the industry.
The second generation in the 2,000’s saw the formation of such classic groups as TVXQ, Super Junior, Girls’ Generation, Brown Eyed Girls, BigBang, Shinee, and Beast. Solo artists such as Rain and BoA also were extremely popular. In fact the later part of the decade saw so many really good groups debut that that can be said to be the beginning of the expansion of Kpop out into the wider world. Groups began to travel to Japan and then China to hold concerts and fan meets and they also produced Japanese language versions of their songs. Japan has the 2nd largest music industry in the world, after the U.S. so success in Japan can really make a difference to a group’s success.
The 3rd generation of those debuting since 2,010 has seen an explosion of idol groups, unfortunately this has led to the oversaturation of the business and it seems that only those with the backing of the big management companies are likely to succeed long term no matter how talented they are. Some standout groups include Teen Top, Block B, Orange Caramel, EXO, Mamamoo, BTS, Got7, and quite a few more.
So many fans will eagerly tell you which group(s) they follow, the names of the group members, where each member is from, and who their bias is. They may have learned Korean, or at the very least the Korean alphabet which is called Hangul. They may have travelled to concerts and fanmeets far from home and in the process become more confident. Some young fans have even travelled to Korea or are planning to go and teach English to Koreans. (The Korean Government has a very good program for English speakers wishing to teach in Korea.) There are many good aspects to the Kpop world that have effects beyond just listening to music. Fans have learned about Korea and the world, they probably have tried Korean food, watched Korean movies, and maybe even played Korean games. By following Kpop they have become more culturally aware, which in these days and times is a good thing.
So if you’re already a fan let me know in the comments who is your favorite idol or group, and if you’ve never listened to anything other than Gangnam Style give Kpop a chance. You might be surprised.
Have a great day everyone.