An Introduction to Kpop - What is Kpop?
So, you what to learn about Kpop? I can tell you from experience that it is not easy to describe. I can’t just tell you that Kpop stands for Korean Pop Music and have that be the end. It’s not that simple. I wrote a paper once where I compared Kpop to a video game addiction because at the time it was the easiest way to explain the type of music I like to my professor. That theory has grown a bit, but Kpop is not just a type of music. It cannot be explained in one way. There are many aspects of what Kpop really is and what it represents.
Kpop is . . . Culture
One of the more problematic cultural aspects of Kpop is perfection. It's like taking a mold and using it to shape young men and women into what they’re "supposed to look like." Plastic surgery is acceptable and in most cases, preferable. It’s not an idea exclusive to the music industry; it’s a lesson taught starting in the home. Image is everything. The rich working class lifestyle is a goal that needs to be achieved. The pressures of achieving perfection - working hard, studying endlessly, and deconstruction of the face and body - are an everyday thing and suicide is a common reaction. I hope this aspect of Kpop is getting better. Maybe. Maybe not. It's a process.
But Kpop also highlights everything that is amazing about Korean culture. There's a term called the Hallyu Wave, which represents all of Korean pop culture: the music, the dramas, the beauty/skincare, the food, the traditional clothing, the importance of family and respect, and the history behind this beautiful country. For fans like me, there is no better feeling in the world than to see these artists live out their lives as happily as they can. I love to feel the music lift me up from the day’s chaos and give me the strength to set one foot in front of the other. To see a smile on the stars' faces causes the rush to slow down. These artists must feel a sense of pride after enduring all the hardship to get to the point of success. I hope they do. Their success has reached the world.
Kpop is . . . Rewards and Consequences
Kpop has the ability to bring together people from different backgrounds and places, face-to-face or through the Internet. I remember one time when Kris, my favorite member of the group Exo, had just left the group out of the blue. He went to China to start his own solo career. I was heartbroken. My friends gave me support, but I needed to connect with someone who felt the same way I did about Kris. I chatted with this random person on the Internet for a few minutes. I knew I could still keep up with Kris's career in China. But Exo wouldn’t include Kris anymore and that was what hurt. I needed the closure to still enjoy Exo.
Kpop also promotes connection with the artists themselves. When they’re being professional, singing their hearts out, dancing with passion, and performing for others, they have this aura of idols. That stage is their pedestal. When you see them working hard to make sure they do their very best, there is this feeling in the pit of your stomach where you know that these idols are above you. They are fine art, not made to be touched. Suddenly, your life is not important; theirs are. You want to do everything in your power to make sure they are safe and secure, happy and healthy.
Even when the artists are off the stage, that idol status never disappears. But the air is different. A bond is created between the idol and the fan when the "real person" is revealed. That ‘perfection’ is gone when they get in front of that camera and do something silly. The idol status opens up to reveal the stresses they have to deal with on a day-to-day basis, even when they have a smile on their faces. You can see the burdens they have to carry, even when they try not to show that.
Consequences: Kpop is intense and fast paced. Try and take a breather from the Kpop life for a day and you’ll end up missing a lot.
Try and catch up on the idols you already love and adore and it seems like you’re missing out on the exciting new idols who could be your next favorites.
Kpop is . . . Trends and Evolution
Kpop, just like any music genre, has the ability to evolve. As a genre composed of Korean culture, image and traditions mixed with influences from the West, it has the ability to change and re-style trends that the West has moved on from. Before One Direction re-vamped America’s take on a boy group, the concept of a singing group has been dead for a couple of years. America doesn’t thrive on teamwork. It’s survival of the fittest, and those rules apply to the American music scene as well. One person has to take the spotlight. There is no sharing.
Kpop is the complete opposite. The more people in a group, the better it is. A couple of years back, there wasn’t that much room for individuality. But now, I'm seeing groups that have been together for a long time where the members can have solo careers and still come together as a group, no matter how long it's been.
Even many people who don’t like Kpop agree that it’s very catchy. Multiple melodies can appear in one song. Word repetition is used for stability in the chorus and random English words are added for flavor. The style is always funky and artists are not afraid to change up their sound every once in a while. The influence is mostly from the West. Idols are inspired by global artists such as Michael Jackson, Beyoncé, Chris Brown, Usher, Justin Beiber and John Legend. When the music scene changes, so does Kpop. It might take a minute to catch on to the newest trend, but Kpop holds onto it much longer than the West does. When a trend goes out of style in Korea, it usually comes back in a couple of years. Or if you're like BamBam, the trend never goes out of style.
Kpop means a lot of different things to different people. Kpop is important to fans the way the clothes on our backs are. It’s not a phase to outgrow. Once you’re in it, that’s it. Roots hold on tight. One way in, no way out.