When I tell people I’m a kpop fan, or that I write a blog on Hallyu the most common and first response I receive is “Korean music…how did you get into that!?!”
At first, this type of question bothered me and internally, I’d think to myself “because it’s freaking awesome and super cool.” Which by the way is 100% true, but that reaction is a reaction to 90% of the time a seemingly judgmental question.
It’s been six years and then some since I’ve been riding the Hallyu wave and that’s a good chunk of my life, one sixth to be exact (although, between you and me, I’m still celebrating my 21st birthday every year!) and lately that’s not a question that bothers me so much anymore. Hallyu is a huge part of my life in all of its aspects. I first and foremost love kpop in all it’s iterations and Korean Dramas make up the bulk of my television viewing habits. Hallyu is so much more than just these two aspects, but let’s be honest it’s the music that’s fed my hunger for many years.
Someone asked me recently why I like Korean music so much and for the first time in a long time I felt it was a genuine question. I honestly had to stop and think about it. Kpop has been such a huge part of my life that I think I nearly forgot why I prefer Korean pop exclusively over any other genre of music. It’s not about a comparison to other forms of music. It’s about Kpop being something special.
I went to YouTube and checked out the very first kpop song I ever saw… SS501’s De Javu (I’ll get back to that a bit later, give it a listen while you read, it’s a classic). Until late April or early May of 2008 I didn’t even know Korea had pop music. I was a student of Asian art at the time and however limited, knew that Korea historically had made some of the most pristine and refined works of art in all of Asia, personal opinion but that sentence ends in a emphatic period. Whether ink wash or ceramic, Korea as early as the Shilla dynasty peeked my interest. There was something special in 600 C.E. and I vaguely recall wanting to know what was happening in the pop culture there today. In my studies, Korea was taught and considered to be the “red headed step child” of Asian art for a number of reasons. I think this is one of the primary reasons why I went out on my own to discover Hallyu, no one else, at the time was talking about it much less coining the term. In 2008, videos like the one above would garner a few thousand views outside Korea and not much more. Six years ago, no one would have thought PSY, or anyone else would have over 2 billionviews on a single video. There was not a community for Kpop lovers to meet and connect, at least not one I could find. Kpop was my own little obsession and it’s one where I really really liked what I found.
What I found was a highly refined, excellently produced, and pristine Korean adaptation of Western pop music. I’m confident in saying that Kpop as an art form is just as polished as any work of art created in Korea’s history. I should say that I consider Kpop an adaptation of Western pop music because Korea has it’s own natively created pop music…it’s called trot and is also a lot of fun. Kpop, however, is a completely different beast that takes it’s queues from Western pop like 1980’s Madonna, The New Kids on the Block, and in some respects the horrible (doesn’t stand the test of time) boy band acts of the 1990’s. When groups like N’sync and the Backstreet Boys were no longer en vogue in the States those same types of boy and girl groups were going strong in South Korea. That flavor of pop music never died out and over the last six or seven years has hit a new plateau of success year after year in international exposure. Kpop has grown into a cultural phenomenon not only in Korea, Asia, but now globally and shows no signs of slowing down. I’ve compared Hallyu to Japanese Anime quite often in explaining how culturally relevant Hallyu as a whole is. In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s Japanese produced animation, Anime, reached its peak and was a major cultural export for Japan. A lot of money was made licensing out Japanese titles for Stateside consumption and was largely -the- cultural import from Asia to the United States at that time. So much so that Anime is considered to be a part of U.S. pop culture in the same vein as comic books and other geeky cultural mediums. If I’m correct in asserting that Anime was the cultural import of yesterday, Kpop is the cultural import of today and what a product it’s become.
When I discovered Kpop and that’s the whole point of this post I saw five guys in a dark stage dancing with intense energy draped in stylish clothing that was wardrobed to perfection. Their hair styles were like nothing I had seen before…their hair framed their faces and each strand was flawlessly placed. I was in awe at how their dancing was choreographed to match each verse and beat. The melody of the song was so in touch with the sound of 2008’s pop music (think Lady Gaga’s Just Dance and Timberland’s The Way I Are) I was instantly hooked. Then I got to their voices, oh their voices. They had voices of angels to my Kpop virgin ears even though I didn’t have a clue what they were saying. It didn’t matter, it sounded incredible. Many Kpop fans today probably don’t even I know who SS501 are. They’ve been working solo for a number of years, but back in the day they were the hottest group in Kpop. If DBSK was the EX-O of the time, SS501 was the VIXX of the time, but on a much more successful level. Between 2006 and 2008 DBSK and SS501 traded years as the Kpop Artist of the year at the M-Net Asian Music Awards (M-Net Korean Music Festival at the time) which was the biggest and most important awards show in the Kpop-verse. It was a time when the industry was much smaller and JYPE wasn’t even considered a major force in the industry. No, in 2006-2008 the Big Three were YG Entertainment, SM Entertainement, and DSP Entertainment (home of SS501 and Kara). JYP was just about to hit a home run with the Wonder Girls’ Nobody and in my opinion change the industry forever later that year with the debut of 2PM.
For a few months in 2008 and previously in Kpop there was an innocence to the music. You did not see scantily clad women and you never saw a male singers abs. It just didn’t happen, unless you’re name was 미 or Rain. Abs were always Rain’s thing and he owned them until 2008’s release of 2PM which would give birth to the Beastly Idol’s we see saturating the market today. It’s not about the abs though or sexy concepts. It’s about the highly stylized and perfect visuals we see in Kpop. There are positive and negative aspects to an industry that has consistently produced perfect visuals, but that’s a subject for another day. Kpop as a product may be music, but that product is so much more than just music. Kpop is the total package of auditory eargasms and visual eyegasms. Yeah, I went there. So why do I love Kpop?
That’s not a simple question to answer, it seems, but if I had to make a list…
1. The music. It’s got great beats, great vocals, and always has a hook that keeps you coming back for more.
2. The visuals. You will never see a Kpop idol not in the best fashions, makeup, and hairstyles. Guyliner? Yeah, we’re down.
3. Seductive hands. When’s the last time you saw a Kpop performance that didn’t have crazy seductive hand movements?
4. The dancing. These idols spend years learning how to dance. I respect their determination and the effort they put into their work.
5. Fangirling! Kpop is fun and there’s something special about an industry with perennial comebacks and constant debuts. The x-factor that makes Kpop so great are the fans.
Whoa, been a while since I’ve written a post and I think this might be my longest post to date. So tell me, why do you love Kpop?