There’s no denying that K-Pop is taking the world by storm. It’s impossible to go on social media without seeing “stan Loona” tweets or viral articles about BTS breaking chart records. But what exactly is K-Pop all about, and what has led it to become one of the most popular sub-genres in pop music today? Today we’ll be dissecting the South Korean approach to pop music and the main catalysts that have led to its immense global popularity.
What exactly is k-POP?
K-Pop is essentially South Korean pop music that combines global music trends with eye-catching styles of performance. The biggest K-Pop hits to date often combine elements of EDM, Hip-Hop, and R&B. This unique blend of genres combine to create the signature fun and infectious K-Pop sound. Popularized by groups like Big Bang and Girls’ Generation, this style is still used today in many K-Pop hits like NCT’s “Super Human” and Blackpink’s “Kill This Love.” To pair with the music, K-Pop groups often perform intensive choreography that take weeks to perfect and release high-budget music videos to keep fans engaged.
(Blackpink, “Kill This Love”)
Visuals are half the genre.
In today’s music culture, YouTube and other video media streaming services are common ways to discover new music and keep up with your favorite artists. This is exactly where K-Pop excels. Groups like BTS and Blackpink have been known for releasing music videos that garner hundreds of millions of views in a short period of time. Like when Blackpink broke Ariana Grande’s “Thank U, Next” 24-hour YouTube view record with “Kill This Love,” or when BTS became the first K-Pop group to surpass 500 million YouTube views with “DNA.” This is thanks to pioneer music video directors in the K-Pop industry such as Seo Hyun-Seung and Choi Yong-Seok who have been known for directing music videos with maximalism and shock-factor in mind. Reminiscent of the 20th century Pop Art movement in the west, K-Pop music videos are most often bold, colorful, and memorable. This over-the-top approach to music videos causes stans to not help but want to watch them over and over again.
(BTS, “Idol” feat. Nicki Minaj)
Since the late 90s, K-Pop has been the most popular genre of music in South Korea, however, it began picking up popularity in the west with the release of PSY’s Gangnam Style in 2012. The explosive and quirky synth pop anthem instantly became a global hit due to its comedic music video and catchy chorus. The success of the song caught the eyes of American music executives. Soon after his viral global success, PSY was able to collaborate with western artists such as Snoop Dogg on the song “Hangover” in 2014, thus paving the way for future K-Pop acts to find success outside of Asia as well.
In Spring 2017, the K-Pop industry was able to make yet another leap into the American music market when BTS won the “Top Social Artist” award at the 2017 Billboard Music Awards. This monumental moment in K-Pop opened many doors for other K-Pop artists, and it was a huge win for Asian representation in western pop culture. Since then, BTS has collaborated with numerous western artists such as Nicki Minaj and Halsey further expanding K-Pop’s range. Along with BTS, other K-Pop groups have entered the American music market such as Blackpink, NCT, and others. Blackpink is best known for second-lining Coachella this past April and NCT has recently signed with Capitol Music Group to expand their fanbase in North America.
(BTS at the 2017 Billboard Music Awards)
The future of K-Pop seems bright and it doesn’t seem that it will be going away anytime soon. The genre’s combination of dazzling visuals and modern themes refreshingly goes against the generally rigid genre of mainstream pop. With fans that span across every continent, K-Pop is an international sensation which will continue to infiltrate the international music scene, east and west.