Many people are surprised to learn that one of my favorite music genres is Korean Pop. No, before you ask, my love isn’t meant to be ironic. I genuinely enjoy listening to catchy, manufactured, almost certainly autotuned K-Pop. And there’s a really simple reason for this: it’s fun.
It’s true major Korean pop groups are trained for years in shady facilities sponsored by large, corporate production companies. Their music is engineered to please the widest possible audience, and to make millions for their respective entertainment companies. And yet despite all this, I just can’t get enough of it.
A lot of my enthusiasm has to do not with the music itself–which is captivating if not exceedingly shallow–but with the culture. K-Pop integrates all of media–music, videos, live programs, television shows, etc.–in a fascinatingly comprehensive way, merging every form into a cohesive, satisfying whole. When a group has a comeback–a term given to every new single regardless of how long it’s been since the last–they’re everywhere in the media. And the production value on the music videos is outstanding; it’s obvious that massive crews collaborated to create, choreograph, and execute these dynamic spectacles.
Moreover, the stars are talented. K-Pop is an intrinsically competitive system: recruits are picked relatively often, but only the best make it into the groups. K-Pop group members can sing and dance in perfect unison, and many can even act. Most speak at least 3 languages (almost always Korean and English, and then a peripheral language like Chinese, Japanese, Tagalog, or French) and many speak more. Combined with a requirement to be exceptionally good-looking to Korean audiences, you have yourself a tour-de-force.
K-Pop is exciting. It’s flashy. It’s unapologetic about being artificial, but can sometimes show real depth. And, when it works, all you want to do is sing along…at least, to the parts you can understand.
Here are some groups you should definitely check out:
This is my favorite group by far. They are one of the least “conventional” K-Pop groups, synthesizing Rap, R&B, Rock and other genres with pop. As 2NE1 is the only K-Pop group I’ve seen live, I can safely say they live up to the hype professed by MTV and Will.i.am, their American producer. Check out the video for Lonely.
With 13 members, this is one of the biggest K-Pop groups out there. Their choreography is outstanding, and all the more dynamic because of the number of bodies onstage. Their debut was an instant hit in Korea, and they’ve shot off from there. Check out Mr. Simple.
Brown Eyed Girls
Brown Eyed Girls are easily one of the most controversial groups in mainstream Korean music. Though their videos are beautiful and deep, they have been banned in the past due to controversial themes. The Abracadabra video contains lesbian groping and kissing, as well as some BDSM. Still, they aren’t a group to be missed, and I highly recommend them. Check out Abracadabra.
Also check out: Big Bang, Girls Generation, Miss A, 4Minute, and Shinee, just to get you started.
-Thomas Welch, Blog Writer