Korean pop music (known colloquially as K-pop) is an industry that’s been growing immensely in South Korea over the last few years. Despite its overwhelming popularity in its home country, the genre has yet to gain mainstream popularity in the U.S. In 2012, PSY made a splash with his hit song Gangnam Style, embraced for its novelty, as well as the iconic dance routine that took the internet by storm. So, we’re asking—is it time to jump on the k-pop bandwagon?
The k-pop genre is full of catchy tunes and danceable beats. With roots in American hip hop and R&B, the tracks often share qualities with major dance hits in the U.S., and artists frequently add lines in English alongside the Korean language lyrics. Most artists are groups of singers, including acts like Girls’ Generation and EXO, a two-part boy band collective that combines for major tracks.
The primary medium the genre occupies in the mainstream is through its music videos, which often contain compelling choreography and dazzling sets. PSY’s fame certainly originated from his music videos, and many tend to resemble old-school Backstreet Boys, N-SYNC, or even more recent Justin Timberlake videos. The EXO-K video below is fairly standard for the genre, featuring each singer in a separate shot in addition to the spectacular group dance scenes.
For all of its positives, k-pop definitely has a darker side. The industry is notorious for being difficult to enter, with intense training required for idol hopefuls. Stars are often trained from a young age, and need the assistance of an entertainment agency to even think of entering the field. These trainees undergo hours of rigorous training in singing and dancing every day, as well as being held to incredibly strict beauty standards. The agencies consider individuals expendable, and young stars often deal with health issues such as eating disorders.
Despite the rightful controversy surrounding the industry, there are small signs of change. Korean-American singer Marshall Bang (a.k.a. MRSHLL) has managed to break into the largely conservative industry despite being openly gay. Same-sex marriage remains banned in South Korea, but the younger generation is far more open to embracing Bang’s music and star status. Though the beauty standards remain slow to change, the ability for a star to make a social splash in a highly restrictive industry signals that there is room for cultural change on a larger scale.
Overall, k-pop may have too much commercialization for many die-hard EDM fans who remain attached to the genre’s DIY roots. There’s no denying that the music is catchy and well-produced, and the music videos can catch the eye. There is still plenty of room for new U.S. fans to embrace the k-pop phenomenon and jump on the bandwagon.
What’s your experience with k-pop? Are you ready to jump on the bandwagon? Let us know in the comments!