A new kind of Korean pop music has been taking over the American airwaves recently and it goes by the name of K-Pop. While on my recent stay in Asia I experienced this new wave of boy bands and pop music first hand. Not only are these groups huge in their own country, but they’re also turning their success into international fame. In Korea the term is “hallyu” which translates simply into Korean wave, or an influx of Korean culture into different foreign markets. It started in the 1990s with massively popular N*Sync and Spice Girls style boy bands and girl groups, and slowly over the years they’ve begun to expand their fanbase into different Asian markets and eventually into America. Everyone from The New York Times, to Gawker, and even The Guardian have written recent stories about the growing K-Pop phenomenon.
If you take a closer look, K-pop has actually been making huge strides in America over the last year or so. Girls’ Generation, one of the most popular K-Pop all girl groups, performed on the The David Letterman Show, and they also recently signed with Interscope Records to release their latest album in the US. Another girl group, Wonder Girls, even made a TV-movie for the TeenNick cable channel, which goes to show there’s definitely an expanding interest for K-Pop in tons of different American venues.
Last year one of the largest K-Pop production companies SM Entertainment hosted a sold out Madison Square Garden performance for their diverse roster of stars, some of which even covered American pop songs like Kesha’s “Tik Tok”, which is definitely an aesthetic parallel to the visual and musical component of the genre. Although K-Pop is popular in the US, it’s not as widely covered in the mainstream media, so the ardent fans are using Social Media and other platforms to really expand the fanbase and share in their adoration of this cult-like phenomenon. K-Pop music videos are some of the most widely watched clips on all of YouTube, with the recent Girls’ Generation #1 single “Hoot” racking up 2 million views on YouTube within 24 hours of it’s release.
Musically K-Pop shares tons of different similarities with Western Pop, Electronic Music and Hip Hop culture. A lot of the tracks are a perfect pastiche of over the top trance and electro with modern R&B and Hip Hop tropes thrown in for good measure. Famed East Coast Rap producer Swizz Beatz even recently partnered up with the Korean entertainment group O&Media to a create a cross-pollination of influences across the two diverse markets.
In a recent interview with MTV he talked about his admiration for the work ethic and marketing strategies within K-Pop culture, which is something he said was sorely lacking in American pop music: “They still do artist development [in Asia], where back here in the States, the labels and our culture lacks artist development,” he said. “Nowadays, an artist can go into the booth, put out a song the next day, and that person thinks that they’re a superstar. But within the K-Pop movement, artists actually go through artist development. They take music classes that allow them to be ready for when they do become that big star.”
Aesthetically K-Pop artists blend a huge mix of eclectic influences into their visual amalgam. Many of the K-Pop girl groups have styles reminiscent of the classic Fruits magazine candy colored Harajuku style with different contemporary stylistic changes and nuances, while the boy bands, especially the massively popular Big Bang, has a really diverse and far reaching palette that often times mimics and remixes popular western fashion trends.
At certain times they’re resembled classic but punky Ralph Lauren yuppies, to rocking old school Nike and Reebok sportswear, and recently they’re gone a little bit into the Lady Gaga route, with androgynous retro-cyberpunk costumes, mixed in with a little Harajuku avant garde street style and fully customized getups, awesomely displayed in their recent video for their single “Bad Boy” which oddly enough was filmed under the JMZ subway tracks in Williamsburg, Brooklyn (which is definitely another nod to their influence and appreciation of Western culture).
While I was in Asia I was so excited to see this K-Pop movement in all of it’s awesome poppy and eccentric glory from billboards to clothing stores, and even MTV Asia, and then coming back to the states it was interesting to see NYC and other markets really embrace this amazing new style of pop music. It’ll only be a matter of time before K-Pop has completely taken over the American charts.
New York Times: