As time goes on, Kpop becomes more and more popular around the world. Despite the language barrier millions of fans still flock to the internet to listen to their music and dance to their videos. In South Korea, Kpop is considered popular music and is sort of the equivalent to our Despacito. One difference though, is their extreme organization of their music. South Korea’s music industry is heavily manufactured and is treated as a commodity rather as an art form.
Before the start of modern Kpop, much of Korea’s music was government regulated and mainly patriotic. All of the songs permitted in South Korea were highly censored and mostly about how great their country was. In 1885, the start of de-censorship of their music was marked by Henry Appenzeller taught American songs to the Korean kids with Korean words. These songs became quite popular among the youth and seen as a trendy/rebellious fad. Along with bringing pop to South Korea, Appenzeller also brought Protestant Christianity to Korea. His small contribution helped form South Korea’s biggest entertainment industry in modern times.
Decades later, South Korea saw the rise of the popularity of ballads. These ballads were often on the theme of love and loss, and some of the most popular ballad singers include Lee Sun-Hee and Lee Moon-Se. The song “I Dont Know Yet” by Lee Moon-Se was one of the ballads responsible for popularizing the genre. Here is a sample of the song:
“혼자 걷다가 어두운 밤이 오면
그대 생각나 울며 걸어요
그대가 보내준 새하얀 꽃잎도
나의 눈물에 시들어 버려요”
(Alone walks and when the dark night comes
You to remember, cry and walks
You sends, also the petal which is pure–white
Withers to my tear,)
It is clear that the lyrics to this song are very poetic and descriptive. Many of the ballads were also following this style. Compared to now, the theme of descriptive lyrics stays true. Nowadays, many of the kpop songs popular all over the world are metaphor reliant and full of euphemisms. Take this example from Red Velvet’s Red Flavour:
“빨-빨-빨간 맛, 궁금해 honey
깨물면 점점 녹아든 strawberry 그 맛
Corner candy shop 찾아 봐 baby
내가 제일 좋아하는 건 여름 그 맛, yeah”
(Red flavor, I’m curious Honey
It tastes like slowly melting strawberry when I bite into it
Look for the corner candy shop Baby
What I like the most is the taste of summer)
This modern song is a catchy pop anthem about summer love, and has many words involving fruit flavours and candy. This follows the ballad pattern of using unrelated themes to convey the meaning of the song, instead of being blunt about the topic like western music. Some believe that these artistic lyrics are part of the modern appeal of Kpop as a global phenomenon, due to it’s stark difference to western pop.
So who was the first modern Kpop band? Many believe it to be Seo-Taiji and Boys. They premiered in 1992 and were believed to pioneer the South Korean music industry as we know it today by adding rap to their music. The band was formed by Seo Taiji after his heavy metal band Sinawe broke apart. After that, Seo-Taiji and Boys found immediate success and went on to create 4 of the most successful albums in South Korea. They were the first to use dance as a major part of their performances, often making elaborate breakdancing routines and starting major trends. But one of the most revolutionary things they did was choose not to focus their music on politics. Before this, most of the songs popular in South Korea focused around the country’s political struggles. Seo-Taiji and Boys’s lighthearted teen bops provided a fun relief to all the serious music. One of their former members, Yang Hyun-suk, went on to found the YG Entertainment company, which is a current-day major record label and talent agency for modern Kpop Stars, including Blackpink, and Big Bang.
What has Kpop become? Nowadays, Kpop groups (the most popular version of Kpop, compared to solo artists) are often formed by talent agencies who train potential singers from a young age. These training “camps” last for an unknown amount of time and involve training in dance and vocal training. This extreme cultivation of talent personalities leads to groups filled with highly skilled, well rounded performers that create exquisitely complicated and entertaining performances. These groups are often referred to overseize as “idol groups” and each member of the group is seen to have a different role, such as main rapper or dance lead. One could consider Kpop to be an entire subculture, rather than a genre of music due to its dedicated fanbase and plethora of genre-specific terms.
Kpop has left many legacies in its wake. Recently, “DDu-Du-DDu-Du” became the most viewed Youtube video in 24 hours, racking up 32.6 million views in that period. They were also the first Kpop girl group to make it to the Spotify top 50 playlist. BTS made news in 2017 when they made their American T.V debut. In 2006 a Kpop group (Rain) sold out a concert theater in America. BTS was the first Kpop group to win a Billboard award “Top Social Artist of 2017”
South Korea has gifted us with a beautiful addition to our music roster. Everyone wants to bop to the cheerful bubblegum anthems or the sexy rap pieces once in a while, and Kpop gives us many to choose from! Even though there is a language barrier, we can all come to understand the beautiful work and history that went into creating it!