Perhaps those unaware of Korea’s history will listen to K-Pop and bob along to the exciting beats or find intrigue in the foreign language lyrics or highly stylized clothing and choreography, but the music is not to be mistaken for an imitation or spin-off of American pop music. The light, playful, and youth-driven music is more than the glitz and glam of a multi-billion-dollar industry and is more than a genre that has gained international fame and hyperactive fan bases.
Some people are still arguing over whether “indie” constitutes a real genre on its own, but for the sake of clarity, K-indie can be understood as an umbrella term for certain subculture music genres of South Korea—whether hip-hop, R&B, alternative rock, or another genre in nature. K-indie music is produced by artists who work independent of the major producers and entertainment corporations on the scene in Seoul, such as the “Big 3” companies: SM, YG, and JYP Entertainment.
The confusing and at times contradictory portrayals of males in K-pop are all part of a greater multi-layered, culturally mixed, and strategically manufactured marketing ploy, but also extremely fitting to the greater social changes witnessed in the nation of South Korea.
In her recent open letter to Miley Cyrus, Sinead O’Connor warns of the consequences of letting the music industry “pimp” singers. She claims: “It is absolutely NOT in ANY way an empowerment of yourself or any other young women, for you to send across the message that you are to be valued (even by you) more for your sexual appeal than your obvious talent.”
“People, the revolution will not be televised / the revolution is in your mind / the revolution is here / this is my coup d’état,” raps hip-hop artist G-Dragon in the title track of his sophomore album, “Coup D’état.” A collaborative effort with famed producers Diplo and Baauer, the eerie, thumping song takes listeners by surprise, devoid of the frenetic beats fans have come to associate with these producers.
While there are numerous sub-genres under the greater umbrella of “popular Korean music” (such as talented ballad singer K. Will, indie-folk group Busker Busker, or rock band CN BLUE), here are a few groups worth watching for a potential breakthrough in the U.S. mainstream market.
Imagine it’s the morning of your birthday, or the afternoon you’re headed to the airport, or the evening when your new relationship status (#taken) was unveiled. You turn to your cell phone to share this news with your Twitter fam and discover that the top trending topics in the Twitterverse are actually already about you. Sound exciting? Frightening? Bizarre? Welcome to the social media world of K-pop.
The U.S. has witnessed its share of fans-gone-obsessive, including occasional celebrity stalking cases. However, in the U.S., even the most devoted fans don’t physically interfere with artists’ lives (except for the occasional crazy fan who might make a tabloid headline for trying to steal Britney Spears’ wig). In contrast, there is an entire breed of K-pop fans who have taken fandom to an alarming level.
Just as American blues evolved into modern day mainstream pop, rock, and hip-hop music, “pansori”—or Korean opera sung along to a drum—was the cornerstone for what developed into K-pop.
On a sweltering August evening in 2012, a plump, 34-year-old hip-hop artist, father of twins, college dropout, and self-proclaimed “B-list star” dropped his sixth album. Within hours, he became the world’s most sought-after musician. Twelve years into his career, Psy (Park Jae-sang) witnessed his fame skyrocket overnight. A few short months later, the music video for his song “Gangnam Style” hit a record-breaking one billion views, becoming the most watched video in YouTube history.
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