Just a few years ago, K-Pop – or Korean Pop music – started blowing up on global music charts, including the United States.
However, the Hallyu wave, or the Korean wave, which refers to the increasing global popularity of Korean culture, started in the 1990’s with the popularity of Korean entertainment spreading to other parts of Asia.
This impact has grown exponentially since then, experiencing another boost with the popularity of K-Pop groups.
The group BTS, for instance, now contributes over $3.5 billion to the South Korean economy every year, and the popularity of the genre overall has contributed to a rise in tourism and the popularity of Korean products.
But, K-Pop hasn’t reached Vermont in the same way it has other parts of the world, and it might be a genre you have never heard.
Castleton University professor Dave Blow had never heard a K-Pop song before he agreed to take part in this story. He, and the other individuals interviewed, were shown videos of male groups and female groups, ranging from a pure pop sound to rap.
“I only know that it’s Korean pop music, I guess. I have no idea what it sounds like,” said Blow, before the listening session began.
After hearing a selection of bands, Blow likened the female groups to Tiffany and Debbie Gibson of the 1980’s, and compared the boy groups to Boyz II Men, the Backstreet Boys, and even elements of Poison, adding that he’s “envious of their dance moves.”
“Honestly, everything you played there’s an equivalent here, it seems like, or very similar,” he said.
The K-Pop industry, though it may produce music that has Western influences, functions very differently from the Western music industry. Companies hold auditions to pick a group of trainees, who will often train in singing, rapping, dancing, and promoting skills for years before they are able to debut.
In K-Pop, stars are referred to not as just celebrities, but as idols. They are upheld to high standards when it comes to performance, looks, and personality.
One major difference between K-Pop and Western pop is the element of choreography. Being able to dance is incredibly important in the K-Pop industry, whereas it is certainly not a requirement for pop stars in the United States.
K-Pop artists ensure that the music is enjoyable but the overall performance – which includes intricate choreography and thought-out, coordinated outfits – is enjoyable as well.
“I feel like anyone can become an artist [in the United States], like, even I’m on Garageband … I can easily publish that to iTunes and not have to be an amazing dancer or anything like that,” said Mason Svayg, a second-year graphic design major at Castleton University.
However, artists who release music in that way do exist in South Korea. K-Pop is only one genre, and the way K-Pop idols are trained is not the way every musical artist is trained.
To label all Korean music as K-Pop erases the existence of many amazing Korean artists outside the industry, who are not necessarily subjected to the same level of expectations as K-Pop idols are.
While K-Pop itself is a genre, it encompasses many genres. Many K-Pop songs take influence not only from pure pop, but also from EDM, hip-hop/rap, rock, and R&B.
Almost anyone can find a K-Pop song that they would enjoy listening to.
Myla Jacobs, a second-year art history major, went from saying that one K-Pop music video was, “definitely not my kind of music,” complimenting the visuals, to saying about another “that was so good, I actually really liked that song.”
She added that it was “super refreshing because it’s nice to kind of see what music is like in different parts of the world and I think it’s really cool that K-Pop is coming into the U.S.”
The success of K-Pop in the United States is impossible to deny, with BTS’s English single “Dynamite” off their newly released album “BE” hitting 101 million views in just 24 hours, breaking the previous record by over 15 million views.
BTS is also the first all-South Korean act to top the Billboard Hot 100 chart with “Dynamite,” keeping the number one spot for two weeks in a row, dropping to number two for the third and fourth, and rising again to number one for the fifth week.
The title track of their newest album, “Life Goes On” was the first Korean language song to get the number one spot.
The popularity of K-Pop speaks to the way music can transcend language. But the success that BTS and other K-Pop groups have seen in the United States is not without effort. Korean music does not get the same amount of radio play, which contributes to music charts.
Fans take on the responsibility of streaming albums and music videos as soon as they drop to get their idols a place on the chart, hopefully leading to more respect from the music industry and the general public.
When asked if he would be adding any K-Pop to his playlist, Svayg answered with “definitely” saying that “everyone should check out every kind of music,” and adding “just go to YouTube and put on the subtitles, I totally understood what they were talking about.”