Thursday, June 7, 2012

What Makes Kpop Special

I Heart Kpop button

Today a friend in Korea asked, “What is it about Kpop, as opposed to American music, for example, that makes it special, and why do you like it?”

I felt that this was one of the easiest questions to answer, so I thought I’d post my response here.

Okay, for me, it’s like 70% about the music. To start with, even though I know only a handful of Korean words, I find the language absolutely beautiful. It lends itself to singing and rapping very well. In addition, the music in Kpop is often catchy as hell and bears re-listening. I am very impatient with American pop music at the moment. It’s…well, in general I find it very boring. And I’m beginning to think that it’s because the standards are so low, the messages are so horrible, and the English language doesn’t lend itself to fast, poppy, catchy things as well as other languages; it takes rather a lot of words to convey one message. With Korean songs, it just seems like you can communicate several rather profound messages in so little time, and usually those messages are at least…wholesome, if not completely admirable. (I could do with less conservatism in talking about gender roles, for example, and I do recognize that the wholesome messages are in part the result of censorship, which I will never condone. But still, to me it seems that Kpop tends to be more meaningful than American pop.)

I’m sick of having tons, if not the actual majority, of American pop songs be about meaningless sex/dancing/money/casual infidelity/drinking, topics that are often handled in silly and ultimately pointless ways. More often than not, American pop songs seem almost emotionless, verging on sociopathic, with their fixation on material goods, instant gratification, or how hot some random girl at a club looks, over deep and meaningful relationships. It’s true that in Kpop we’re starting to get more of the soulless club songs (though even in this case, I tend to find the Kpop ones catchier than their American counterparts). But the lyrics are often quite romantic or sweet or just fun—and some of them have very empowering messages, especially with groups like 2NE1 or (occasionally) 4minute. Also, excellent female rappers seem kind of rare in American pop, but in Kpop, I feel that everybody gets a chance to rap, which means there is a staggering selection of some really great female rappers (along with some not-so-great ones, but at least there’s variety!).

In addition to this, I feel that although the Kpop industry has some major issues, one thing it does very well is picking out talent and training kids to do some mind-boggling stuff at really young ages. (The issues arise when they think of the kids as sub-human, money-dispensing machines or mannequins to surgically fix.) But for all that, it must be said that these companies do a great job at taking raw talent and honing it into something marketable and awe-inspiring.

The level of skill in the dancing alone is shocking. I look at American pop icons and think, “My God, the worst Kpop dancer is better than our best guys.” I watch shows like American Idol and wince because there is no way that even some of the “best” talents showcased there would cut it in Korea. Even when Americans are great singers, in general, American stars will not put in the hard work needed to improve, so eventually they can be surpassed by Kpop stars, who will put in that work.

And then for the other 30%. On an aesthetic level, Kpop is just fun. The videos are creative and gorgeous. The people are gorgeous, some mind-bogglingly so. For fangirling purposes, there is a wide variety of men to choose from, a spectrum ranging from the extremely pretty boys who can be mistaken for girls to very manly and muscled men. The dances are a blast to watch and really damn impressive and amusing to try to emulate.

I’m a huge, huge fan of watching group dynamics and seeing how everyone interacts, and Kpop lends itself beautifully to that, as opposed to American pop, in which solo acts dominate. These little pseudo-families in Kpop all work together on their goals of improving their skills and status in the world, or giving back to their fans (whom most idols seem genuinely pleased and flattered to have), and each member has his or her special defined role in the group. I miss the boy-band/girl-band crazes in the 90s very much, and when I look at Kpop now, the Kpop groups have similarities to those Western groups of old, but honestly Kpop is just so much better than those groups could ever have been. For me, Kpop is superior to current American pop in almost every way, and my life would be so much emptier without it.


  1. Agreed! I find it very awkward to try to watch American music videos nowadays.

    I do disagree with you on the 2NE1 "empowerment" thing a bit - "Ugly" would be empowering if it had a message like "I may be 'ugly' outside, but I will forever be 'beautiful' inside" instead of "I'm so ugly! Nobody loves me, everybody hates me, I'm going to go eat wo~orms!" I've suffered from clinical depression, and if I'd listened to that song when I was ill... It wouldn't have been pleasant. 4Minute's (or Hyuna and the Hyunettes') "Volume Up" would also have been more empowering if it hadn't been "Stop thinking of us as sex symbols!" while they glared sullenly, writhed around in black leather and Hyuna had women grinding/fondling her.

  2. I'm so glad you brought up this point. I did try to qualify my "empowerment" message in this post as much as I could, but yes, you're absolutely right.

    Since the winter I've kind of had a rather baffled 2NE1 post in the works over their somewhat schizophrenic changes of message, particularly going from "I Am The Best" to "Ugly." Seriously, WTF is that? I'm a bit more willing to forgive it because the contradictory messages in "Ugly" are mostly in English, though--and somehow the girls' hearts don't really seem in it.And their actions in the MV kind of contradict their words. That is the one where they're going around graffiting things, though isn't it? So at least they're not crying alone in their room talking about how ugly they are.4minute frequently has the opposite problem: their videos are rather "look at us, we're sex symbols" while their lyrics are "don't treat us like sex symbols."So, yes, not all their videos are empowering. Still. Both groups are trying, at least. And their videos are not nearly as frequently degrading as ones in our supposedly enlightened American culture.

  3. omg that's totally what i would say!!!! I TOTALLY AGREE...KPOP IS THE BEST!!!! ^_^

  4. Thanks--glad you enjoyed. Kpop has a lot of issues but has brought me so much enjoyment that it deserves a little love back. :D