At the latest with the success of the boy band „BTS“, K-Pop has also arrived for many listeners in the Western world. The music from South Korea has enjoyed popularity among fans for a while now as a niche in Europe and the USA. In Asia, however, K-Pop is the dominant music genre and offers a huge spectacle especially in countries like South Korea, Japan, China and Malaysia. But what actually makes K-Pop so popular and what is behind the phenomenon that we are reading more and more about and especially hearing about?
What exactly is K-Pop and where did it suddenly come from?
Especially in Japan and Korea, a lot has changed culturally in the past decades. While for many years there was a strong censorship in the countries, with the liberalization a pop culture of its own has developed. Although this was basically oriented toward the classic pop that was brought to the countries from the U.S., it quickly developed its own identity. Basically, a distinction can be made between J-pop and K-pop as the largest Asian pop schools – although in each case it is the music from the countries of South Korea or Japan.
K-pop is said to have started in the late 19th century. However, its own pop culture developed primarily through the influences of stationed U.S. soldiers and their music, which was carried to Korea. With the liberalization of the market and a reduction in censorship, as well as the appearance of its own social change, people began to develop their own style of music. In doing so, however, one relies on the most diverse idiosyncrasies, which are rarely or not at all to be found in this form in the West. However, it is precisely these peculiarities that ensure that more and more Western listeners are finding their way to this form of pop.
What are the peculiarities of South Korean pop music (K-pop)?
One of the most important peculiarities of K-pop can already be found in the artists. For example, solo male and female singers are a rarity. Instead, the popularity usually goes back to bands. These include up to 12 different members and are especially known for their intense live performances. In addition, these bands rarely develop from independent artists. Instead, they are the focus of an extensive and billion-dollar marketing machine, behind which stand three large and several small agencies.
The bands are therefore quasi casting bands, although these are very different from formats such as Deutschland sucht den Superstar or Popstars, as they are known in Germany. Instead, the bands are specifically selected and often train for months and years before they are actually allowed on the market. This is accompanied by massive marketing in social networks, appearances on television, in entertainment shows and the building of a fan base that from now on determines the business of these bands.
Another peculiarity is the mixing of the Korean language, the Japanese language, Chinese elements and the English language. Many songs have a clear Korean orientation, but are written in English in the chorus, for example, and therefore also offer an international audience the opportunity to get access to the songs very quickly. In addition, the lyrics are still quite harmless in comparison with Western pop – here the censorship in South Korea still takes effect, which can, for example, ensure that the major stations do not play certain songs or videos.
Why is K-Pop so popular in Europe, Germany and the USA? Explanation, reasons
The reasons for its popularity, especially in comparison with Western pop, are extensive and can be explained, among other things, but not solely, by the peculiarities of the structure behind K-pop:
Idols: The strong fixation on a clear market with rarely more than 20 dominating bands, which are omnipresent in the media for that, makes it easy to find favorite bands.
Community: As a rule, the bands have large followings, where one can become a member without major hurdles and which embody a large community.
Presence: Almost all bands are not only present through films, documentaries and music, but also let fans participate in their everyday life through very high activity in social networks and thus offer supposed closeness.
Exoticism: Asian culture has been of particular interest to many people for a long time. K-pop is just another element of how to immerse oneself in this world.
Lyrics: Last, the lyrics are often characterized by love stories, jealousy, longing or simply harmless fun. The music is diverse and offers exactly what the fans want.
All in all, K-pop is experiencing a new boom in the Western world, mainly due to social networks. The so-called idols – the bands and their members – appear to be approachable and at the same time offer music that, especially for a younger audience, contains exactly the topics that concern them. In addition, the players in this music are usually completely free of scandal – their image is of high importance and, accordingly, politics and other external influences hardly play a role. This distances them from the Western world, where social and political problems have long since become an elementary part of the music.
K-pop is likely to increase in popularity due to the success of bands like Blackpink and BTS. While it is understandable that this music and the bands enjoy great popularity, it should not be forgotten that the structure behind the music has its downsides. Often the bands are the property of their agencies, sexism and questionable beauty ideals still play a major role. Nevertheless, the music offers exactly what many listeners around the world want. Therefore, the development is not surprising.