K-Pop: What is it?

The K-Pop group B.A.P. Members from left to right: Daehyun, Jongup, Himchan, Yongguk, Youngjae, and Zelo.

December 7, 2017

A girl sat on her bed curled up looking at their phone with some earbuds plugged in. The light from the phone screen reflected onto her face. If anyone looked into the girl’s eyes, they would have seen a group of young adults dancing in scenes that speedily changed as they sung.

Around the room, there were posters of the group members, along with some other posters of other Korean groups. On one poster, there was the name, B.A.P. This was the group that the girl was listening to, which also happened to be one of her favorites.

The song playing on her phone was titled One Shot. Her eyes brightened every time her favorite guys in the group, Zelo and Daehyun, appeared. She held in her inner fangirl, and it seems that her inner fangirl won as she squealed with joy and admiration while chanting what seemed to be the names of her two favorite members from the group. The song that she was listening to fell into the genre of K-Pop, a musical genre that her friends and family weren’t all that familiar with.

K-Pop is the South Korean equivalent of the American music genre, Pop. The music is sung in Korean and usually includes certain English phrases, however, some artists may create multiple versions of a song in different languages, such as Japanese, Mandarin, or completely in English. The music videos tend to have subtitles in English or a variety of languages. There are many different artists within the genre, including groups, bands, and solo singers or rappers.

Groups and bands are usually all male or all female, with the exception of certain co-ed ones (such as K.A.R.D). They are composed of vocalists and rappers, which is different from most Western performers. Groups, such as BTS, EXO, Seventeen, NCT & many others, incorporate a lot of dancing into most of their music videos, and they practice for many hours in order to memorize their choreographies. While bands like Day6, CNBLUE, The Rose & N.Flying are less choreography focused, they play instruments in their videos and create music that has rock aspects to it while still maintaining a vibrant sound.

Within the K-Pop fandom, there are multiple terms used to refer to idols or certain actions. If you “stan” an artist, it means that you’re a part of their fanbase. Most K-Pop songs have fan chants. Fanchants are lyrics or phrases shouted out by fans during certain parts of songs that flow well with them. You can hear these chants if you watch idols performing live at concerts or on music shows.

The youngest member in a group is called the maknae. Your favorite member in a group or band is called your bias, and the member who makes you unfaithful to your bias (your second favorite) is known as a bias wrecker. K-Pop fans call their favorite idol out of all of the groups that they stan their ultimate bias. An ultimate bias is usually someone who you look up to, whether it be for the hardships that they’ve overcome, their musical skills, their personality, or all of the above.

Although there are many different types of pop, such as J-Pop, K-Pop has been the new talk in America, as a popular Korean group, BTS, also known as Beyond The Scene, or Bangtan Boys, will perform at the AMAs. The fanbase of this Korean group, is known as ARMY, which stands for Adorable Representative M.C for Youth. They are very proud about the fact that BTS is being recognized as a popular music group in America.

Some people, such as Nikole Rajgor, a freshman at the New York City iSchool, believe that K-Pop deserves all of the recognition that it’s been getting internationally. Many people have negative impressions or make false assumptions about K-Pop music, but she wants people to know that “the music is just as serious and amazing as Western music.”

Science teacher and film club moderator Ms. Behar is not that familiar with K-Pop music.  Whenever she hears “K-Pop” she says that she “thinks of groups.” Ms. Behar remembers a music video that she watched and took note that the members “had really cool costumes and the colors were really bright.”

There are many K-Pop artists that incorporate lively vocals and use bright and colorful themes to bring their music videos to life. This gives the impression that all music videos are this way. However, there are a lot of groups, bands and solo artists within the genre that use a powerful story or raw emotion to make songs more touching (even if people don’t necessarily understand the language of the lyrics).

“I think you can go one way, showing people singing and dancing or playing instruments and interacting with the music, or you could tell a story,” Ms. Behar continued.

There are some music videos that might be inspired from works of literature, such as the one for Blood, Sweat & Tears by BTS, which is based on the book Demian by Hermann Hesse. Others might show members together, creating music through interaction, like in the music video for How Can I Say by Day6.

There are also the long storylines that extend a video, making it memorable (Skydive by B.A.P and Beautiful by Wanna One are good examples of this) or the storylines that are continued in a series of music videos, like how the story in Monsta X’s All In is picked up from where it left off in their music video for Fighter.

Tales of love and loss are also represented in videos, such as the music video for Apology by iKon, which depicts members in distress after losing someone that they love. There are still music videos and songs that are more colorful and upbeat, like Twice’s Cheer Up, so there’s pretty much a song for everyone.

Chibuzo Ezekwenna, a freshman who goes by the nickname Chi-Chi, has been a fan of K-Pop music for 2 years, and originally she thought that the audience of the genre was Korean tweens and teenagers, but after getting to know about many idols and listening to all different artists, she believes that the target audience is very wide. “They are trying to make music and produce stages that everybody around the world would enjoy,” she said, keeping in mind the way idols treat all of their fans and the musical aspects of many songs.

Lots of K-Pop artists perform in Korea so that they build a large fanbase in their native country. However, international fans get lots of recognition, too. This year alone, there have been so many tours, with idols travelling outside of Asia, to places like Europe or North and South America.

Although many K-Pop artists are being recognized, such as BTS, there are definitely some that still aren’t as appreciated as they should be, such as Got7, SF9, Astro, Monsta X, K.A.R.D, and A.C.E. People should try listening to different K-Pop groups because like Ms. Behar stated, “We live in a global world,” so people should expand on their preferences for music.

Chi-Chi has stated that BTS are one of her biggest inspirations. She really looks up to them and as she got to know them through their music and personalities she began to “really take their advice and their success to heart.” Nikole has many K-Pop inspirations, which include Taehyung, Yoongi and Namjoon from BTS, Jennie from Blackpink, and CL (who was a member of the now disbanded group, 2NE1). These people are all very empowering, and make great role models in general.

The musical genre itself has inspired Nikole, Chi-Chi, and many others to follow their dreams and improve on their skills and hobbies, along with becoming more socially aware and open-minded. K-Pop has also caused people to learn more about different cultures. It has shown people Korean customs and important things to know, such as how elders are treated and traditional food and clothing, as well as terms to use when talking to someone in Korean.

Many groups and bands work extremely hard to debut together, and even when they do debut, they are stuck practicing choreography for over 10 hours straight, dieting during music video promotions, might face mistreatment from the entertainment companies that they’ve signed a contract with, and have very little time for any breaks, including ones for sleep. Some groups are formed on survival shows that give the viewer some insight on the pain that many K-Pop trainees go through while working towards their dreams.

Monsta X’s survival show, titled No Mercy, is a good example of this. It focuses on 12 trainees that all perform against each other to impress the judges. Their performances are evaluated quite harshly, and in each episode one or more of the trainees are eliminated in order to narrow the group down to 7 members.

One of the members in the final group, Changkyun (known by his stage name I.M), was introduced in the show at the last minute (in the 8th episode), making the other members upset. They weren’t happy with the fact that their friends who had gotten eliminated worked so hard, and that he was able to squeeze his way into the show without “putting in as much effort” as the others.

In the beginning, it pained the members of the final group to even look him in the eye, but then as they performed together and spent more time together, they all became great friends with each other, and they started treating him like a brother.

When talking about his bond with one of his fellow group members, Jooheon, Changkyun himself had stated “over the past 2 years, a lot of things had happened to us. I guess those things made us get close like best friends.” Originally, the two weren’t on such good terms due to tensions caused by the show, however, they both managed to work with each other, opening up about their feelings and weaknesses as time went on.

Shows like these have the potential to put idols on edge, but it makes watching them grow more personal. They show that the bonds between members are strong and real, and that over time they learn to trust and find comfort in each other (much like true friendships).

People all over the world should try listening to various music genres. K-pop has become really popular as people from different countries have come to like it for what it is. Mr. Paris, the music teacher, who is not very familiar with K-Pop, believes that “if more people listen to it, then it has more of a chance to become mainstream over here.” He continued, stating, “I think that we can listen to expand what we’re comfortable with and what we understand, or we can do some research before we listen to understand it more.”

All in all, K-Pop isn’t really a bad genre for music. The music is catchy, meaningful, and full of hard work done by the group members in the different K-Pop groups. The groups should be recognized as they all are very talented individuals who work hard to make music for their supporters. People should at least give it a try before immediately judging the music and videos that a lot of effort and hard work was put into.

A few of the music videos that were listed (you can check out the rest of them on YouTube or Vimeo):

If you’re interested, you can watch all 10 episodes of No Mercy on the YouTube channel 1theK (there are English subtitles).

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