Introduction To

Introduction To: Kpop

In 2020, it is almost inescapable to hear about Kpop: the new musical phenomenon from South Korea. In this article, Emily explores how the genre came to be, as well as the artists you should check out to expand your knowledge on this growing movement. 

Korean pop music, most commonly known as Kpop, has surged in popularity over the past few years, fostering legions of loyal fans worldwide. With elaborate dance routines and music videos, Kpop groups set the bar higher and higher for themselves every day. Yet, it can all seem quite overwhelming to the outsider looking in, so here is a quick guide to help you try and understand the glamourous and ever-growing world of Kpop!

First a quick glossary of words that are frequently used by the Kpop fandom:

  • Bias = Someone’s favourite member of a Kpop group. Some believe you can have more than one, but the second favourite idol could also be considered a…
  • Bias Wrecker = the idol who makes you rethink who your bias actually is.
  • Stan = A combination of stalker and fan, simply meaning a person who is overly obsessed with an idol or group, but not to the point of dangerous behaviour.

Kpop first appeared on the music scene way back in 1992 with the group Seo Taiji and Boys. The earliest hit that many of us probably remember, however, is ‘Gangnam Style’ by Psy, which spawned a viral internet dance craze in 2012. The next group to bring the genre to Western ears were Bangtan Sonyeondan, more commonly known as BTS, who are still one of the most popular groups in the genre today. 

I have always been a fan of bands that incorporate theatrics into their performance concepts, so when I discovered the group, I instantly fell in love with the music and videos of their 2016 album Wings.

Created by the South Korean entertainment company BigHit Entertainment, BTS is made up of seven members: RM, Jin, SUGA, JHope, Jimin, V, Junkook, and debuted in 2013 with their album 2 Cool 4 Skool. Their entrances into the Billboard Hot 200 helped cultivate their presence in the Western music-sphere, and in 2018, BTS topped the chart with their album Love Yourself: Tear. I have always been a fan of bands that incorporate theatrics into their performance concepts, so when I discovered the group, I instantly fell in love with the music and videos of their 2016 album Wings. In the project’s concept they repeatedly refer to the Greek legend of Icarus, as well as taking inspiration from Hermann Hesse’s coming of age novel Demian. Growth and togetherness are running themes throughout all their albums, and helped me build emotional connections with their work while experiencing the personal growth that comes with going to university. 

Made up of four powerful women: Solar, Moobyul, Hwasa and Wheein, the group debuted in 2014 and are best known for their fusion of jazz, R&B and retro aesthetics.

The next group that I would recommend as essential is Mamamoo, which was introduced to me by a housemate in second year, who surprised me with her love for Kpop when I revealed mine. Made up of four powerful women: Solar, Moobyul, Hwasa and Wheein, the group debuted in 2014 and are best known for their fusion of jazz, R&B and retro aesthetics. One of my favourite songs of theirs is ‘Piano Man’, an electronic dance and swing number that makes you want to strut your stuff, with a music video which is just as sexy and slick. ‘Decalcomanie’ is another highlight, featuring a more pop-like feel.  

NCT is not a single group but a collection of units. Founded by SM Entertainment, the group, whose name stands for Neo Culture Technology, consists of 21 members as of 2019. These members are then divided into smaller units, the first being NCT U, followed by NCT 127 (based in Seoul), NCT Dream. and finally WayV, which is based in China. To add to this confusing structure, one member can be part of multiple units, and there has been a lot roster-changing between the divisions. There are also collaboration tracks between units, an example being ‘Boss’, which features NCT U and a few members from NCT 127. If you get confused by this unit-based layout you are not alone. They are individual groups with their own styles but within the same company, and it is a unique yet dizzying approach to music marketing in the modern age. Regarding standout songs, I recommend ‘Shut Up and Dance’ by NCT 127, a collaboration with Jason Derulo, ‘Regular’, also by NCT 127, which has both an English and Korean version, and ‘Don’t Need Your Love’ by NCT Dream featuring HRVY, which is a lot more chill than the other two tracks.

There are so many other groups I would like to talk about in more detail but do not have the space in this article.

This is only a small taster of what the Kpop genre has to offer. BlackPink, is another girl group that has been rising in popularity recently, with their songs appearing on soundtracks including To All the Boys I Love: Ps I Still Love You and Justice League. Exo are a boy band that has been around since 2012 but has had more difficulties making it big with Western audiences. 2012 was an important year as it also saw the birth of KCon, which was designed to be an affordable opportunity for people to sample multiple groups from the Kpop world as well as meet their idols and fellow fans. There are so many other groups I would like to talk about in more detail but do not have the space in this article.

Needless to say, the Kpop genre is still ever-growing as a genre and has pretty much taken over from the American boyband fandom that has been with us for generations. As an Anglo-Asian, this feels like the musical cross-over between East and West that I have always been waiting for.

Emily Wong

Featured image courtesy of Peter Kaminski via Flickr. Article image courtesy of @bts.bighitofficial via Instagram. Image use licence here. 

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