Once upon a time in a far away land called Denial, I listened to Korean pop (or better known as Kpop).
Yep. Slap that judgement on me, I bloody well deserve it. To be fair, I went into it kicking and screaming, before my eyes turned glassy from the buffet of hot, chiseled men and ears turned deaf from auto-tune. I truly question myself nowadays when I accidentally come across a new boyband/girlband- what the heck was I thinking? (I’ve come to the conclusion that I wasn’t.)
Kpop is slowly (yet, disturbingly surely) taking over the world. Some of it has already seeped into non-Asian shores, what with Rain making various stops in the States for his comeback tour, Lee Byung Hun as the kick-ass ninja dude in G.I. Joe, Jeremy Scott practically salivating for 2NE1 and – right here in Ozzie land – the 2011 KPOP Music Fest in Sydney.
This, dear readers, is called the Hallyu Wave. And it’s gonna take over your iTunes by storm whether you like it or not.
To make things simpler, this post will come in 2 parts, in an attempt to make you understand a) why it’s becoming so popular b) why I don’t like it even after spending nearly a year obsessed with it and c) why I won’t judge you even if you start to find yourself liking it.
1. THE PEOPLE/CULTURE
This may not mean much to non-Asians, but the Korean culture is a friggin’ big deal in Kpop-land. Y’know what, I’m not even gonna call the country Korea anymore, it’s Kpop-land now. The Korean culture has a massive influence in Kpop-land and can arguably govern what the artists can and cannot do.
I’m gonna take a stab in the dark here and assume that the only things you know about Koreans are that they love plastic surgery, kimchi and bow a lot.
Well, you’d be right. They love/do all of that, but that’s not all there is to them.
The important thing in Korean culture has to do with relationships. They have different speech levels, that is to say, the way they talk to their grandparents, parents, older siblings, younger siblings, same-aged friends, different-aged friends are all different. They speak in honorifics to their elders, and various other versions of speech when it comes to others. Age is a big thing in Kpop-land and it also determines the kind of relationships you have with the person.
With these relationships, you’ve also got expectations. As soon as you’re a relatively well-known person in Kpop-land, you’re gonna have expectations from practically everyone around you and even beyond that. You’d expect the normal expectations in terms of music of doing/performing well from your bosses, peers and fans. In Kpop-land, you’d also have to face personal expectations. Fans expect you to respect them and respect the culture, to generally be a good person and if you’re not, you can bet they’re gonna call you out on it. This is what’s majorly different from English mainstream music, because if people tuning in don’t like what you’re doing, they’re gonna say something about it.
2. THE MUSIC
It’s pop. It’s alllllll pop. Okay, no, I’m lying – there are occasional gems like indie-pop band Clazziquai Project and rap groups like Clover but the rest of it is pop. Kpop-land is run by pretty-boy boybands and sexy-cute girlbands.
Here, have some SNSD:
Don’t feel bad if you thought they all looked like the same person. So did I, the first time.
And while you’re at it, here’s some Super Junior:
No, I don’t know why they need so many guys in one band either.
These two songs (and bands) are literally the epitome of Kpop-land. They are the embodiment of Kpop today – catchy, upbeat songs that have signature dance moves. Each band you’re gonna come across in Kpop-land has this all in check: SHINee, KARA, T-ara, 2PM, etc. Soon enough, you’ll find that there’s nothing significantly different about any of these bands and any of their music. It’s become so general that one song blends into another, and it won’t be long till you lose sight of all the music acts that exist (they keep popping up like pimples that never go away).
What bothers me the most though is how most of their music is manufactured. It’s seldom written and produced by the singers themselves, they usually have an “image” to go along with a song (see T-ara’s cute girl image for Bo Peep – a song that makes NO SENSE AT ALL), promote a maximum of two songs from their new album on music shows and then leave for 3 months, work on a new album, and then restart the entire process.
That’s not music; not to me. Their songs become a byproduct of who they are, a way to promote themselves and continue their stay in Kpop-land. It took me a while to realise that, but it’s obvious that the 84, 817, 886 people who viewed those two videos up there still haven’t.
So! Now that you’re more acquainted with Kpop-land :
i. It’s becoming popular because it’s different. You know what they say, change can be a good or bad thing and that’s up to the person listening to decide, but you can’t deny that this is a breath of fresh air from the repetitive mainstream music currently riding the airplays.
ii. I don’t like it because it’s too shallow. Girls feel this obligation to conform to fit the mold of the perfect Korean girl: fairskinned, slender, and long legs. Guys feel this obligation to always either be Mr.Nice Guy or Mr. Bad Boy; they’re never really portrayed as who they are as a person.These expectations that arise from the media and the public have no right being in a music industry, because they’re taking away the personalities of the very people in it. If one by one all of them start to conform, then wouldn’t we be figuratively listening to the same music over and over again?
iii. It’s easy to get caught in the Kpop-land web. It took me 2 days to give in, and the time I spent in it was undeniably fun. The thing about Kpop-land though, it’s not just about the music. It’s about the music and the people and the culture and the TV shows – it’s this one big ball of cohesion. Singers can be actors, actors can be hosts, hosts can be comedians, comedians can be announcers – it never ends. There is never just one job description for any of them in the industry – they’re all entertainers. And they do a damn good job of it.
So go ahead and venture into the world of Kpop-land. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.