But WHAT is Kpop?

So far in these introductory pages you have seen literally almost no Kpop unless you were exiting and voyaged into the interactive tools and links. Yet worry no more, here you will view (because Kpop is much more of a visual than auditory experience) what is often described as a well oiled business machine. It is embraced through nationalism in Korea, and followed the huge surge of popularity of Korea dramas in South East and East Asia to develop huge audiences there. First we  will watch the essential products of Korean pop music, not the albums (although they do generate the profits) but the music videos and artists who dominate the scene.

Please use the Prezi presentation above to explore Kpop, but if you have issues all is listed below (including some extra videos). I encourage you to watch them all to get a feel for Kpop.

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You have seen Gangnam Style oh so many times, at least 3 or 4 on this site, but here it is again for your viewing pleasure.

But here are some essential groups and videos to know.

Super Junior, Agency SM: This is Super Junior, and their A Kpop classic. Arguably the biggest Kpop group, (in popularity and size with at times 13 members) this is for many the first encounter with Kpop. If you don’t catch yourself saying “Sorry Sorry Sorry” to someone after this there is no hope.

SNSD, Agency SM: This is the ‘sister’ group of Super Junior, SNSD or Girls Generation. Gee has 92 MILLION views and is the most viewed Korean music video ever. Not a personal favorite but a surefire Kpop hit It has the repetitive infectious lyrics and bubble gum sets of  ‘sweet’ Kpop. Check out Run Devil Run for a better song (and fabulous glittery wigs).

SHINee, Agency SM: SHINee is another widely popular group in Korea and Japan, well known for their two powerful vocalists and killer dancer. They are another SM group and Lucifer is their moodiest track and most popular MV.

Big Bang, Agency YG: You may have heard this song on Glee recently. Big Bang is a different kind of boy band. From YG they don’t dance and act cute like other boy groups,–they are high octane and their fan base is immense.

Brown Eyed Girls, Agency Nega Network: “Abracadrabra” must be included for its quintessential Kpop-ness; infectious lyrics, a memorable dance, and flashy video. But it is also much sexier and scandalous than your average kpop, the Brown Eyed Girls who are not on a major label often push the sexuality envelope.

Rain, Agency JYP to J Tune: Rain. You could know him from Speed Racer or Ninja Assassin, but most people in East and South East Asia know him as a mega Korean pop star. Think of him as the Usher of Korea. He is currently in the military, and he has not been as active in recent years, but his ‘rivalry’ with Stephen Colbert over being the Times Most Influential Person of the Year multiple times speaks volumes of his fan base. This is my personal favorite Rain video, yet I have also given his most notorious, performed and parodied video to date. The iconic costume dance move is the joy of many a Korean comedian.

2NE1, Agency YG: The major female group of YG, you may have heard “I AM THE BEST”since last summer. 2NE1 (to anyone or 21) are NOT sweet or innocent Kpop like Gee, but have a hip hop, high octane, sexy, and at times punk flavors that make them a unique sound and style within the scene. It also may contribute to their wild popularity.

JYP, Agency JYP: JYP or Park Jin Young, the popular soul of Korean Kpop. He produced the legendary group G.O.D., one of the first generation Kpop groups, and produced mega-star Rain. He currently heads the third largest Kpop company JYP Entertainment, but continues his solo activities. His sensuality, his funkiness, and his daring remind me of flashes of The Purple One.

(here he is in his live glory)

DBSK, Agency SM (have split into JYJ and TVXQ): DBSK. Dong Bang Shin Ki, or the Rising Gods of The East. They have the largest fan group in the world. The most popular Kpop group to come out of Korea, they split up 3 years ago and Kpop fans have never quite been the same. They exist in two entities now, one under SM entertainment, and one on a smaller label, but neither have had the same magic.

They were prolific in the amount of music and videos they produced and you’ll be hard pressed to attempt and find them all. With ‘Xiah’ Junsu Park, considered the most skilled singer in Kpop, and ‘UKnow’ Yunho, one of the best trained dancers in Kpop (and arguably handsomest man in Korea), the group seemed unstoppable. Better than any American Boy Band ever was, this is DBSK.

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If you were in investigate these lyrics you would see they contain few messages. The songs and groups are a political. They focus on the emotions and angst of young, affluent South Koreans and the rising affluence of young people across Asia. Kpop has also marked a major musical shift in Asia, from a pentatonic scale to a diatonic scale (diatonic in this context is considered Western). Dance was also traditionally distinct from singing in traditional Korean music, but as seen above Kpop has brought the two together, another western influence. As stated by John Lie,

“K-pop exemplifies middle-class, urban and suburban values that seek
to be acceptable at once to college-aspiring youths and their parents:
a world that suggests nothing of inner-city poverty and violence,
corporal or sexual radicalism, or social deviance and cultural alienation.
K-pop in this sense satisfied the emergent regional taste and sensibility,
though it would be remiss to stress the region as its appeal could
easily extend beyond it. The oft-repeated claims about K-pop singers’
politeness — their clean-cut features as well as their genteel demeanors
— is something of a nearly universal appeal, whether to Muslim
Indonesians or Catholic Peruvians.” – John Lie, What is the K in Kpop (Resources).

Kpop has little to do with traditional Korean culture and music, and is so denationalized that it is accessible to a wide variety of fans across the world. Lie in “What is the K in Kpop” argues Kpop is just another Brand such as Samsung or Hyundai, commercial, and un-Korean. In exploring Korean History, what could Kpop have informed you about any of that? What does it tell or reveal about a Confucian society? Kpop is made in Korea but it has little to do with Korea itself. The idols look and dress unlike most Korean people, the lives in their videos and shows are lavish and elite. In the end Kpop is harmless if not empty. Is does not weaken Korea, but it is merely a pull, for once you move beyond Kpop and explore Korean culture you find yourself in a new world.

WHERE IS THE CYNICAL?

Since Kpop is an industry, a brand as Lie would say, it has little room for being cynical. Often when we see a group saying something contrarian it is limited by the fact that they themselves in their sleek outfits, choreographed numbers and coiffed hair are conforming to a standard. The critique is not a critique but a light questioning, and falls under the weight of the dancing and lights. Psy opened a small door, but Psy also was not in the Kpop mold. The industry would need to make a fundamental shift from business, commercial, and export oriented to the production of music and creative work. A shift in mindset, goals, and values. If anything Cynical Kpop would mean it was no longer Kpop, and certainly now instead of being neutral was at odds with Korean culture and Confucianism. Political popular music, music that spoke of economic and political corruption, of social welfare malaise, and of issues in education and work conditions would be a shock to Korea and become a powerful moment of reckoning.

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