I am a proud listener of Kpop. I must admit that I don’t listen to it as much as before, not because I started to dislike it or have an interest in another genre, but because my overall consumption of music has declined. As a non-Korean listener of Kpop, it was very difficult for others to understand why I like to listen to Kpop. It is an experience shared by many international Kpop fans. We often get comments like, “why listen to songs that you can’t even understand” and “you only like them because of their looks”.
What is Kpop? (Although the following definition is neither official nor academic, I think that it perfectly explains my understanding of Kpop.)
“K-pop is a music genre originating in South Korea that is characterized by a wide variety of audiovisual elements. Although it comprises all genres of “popular music” within South Korea, the term is more often used in a narrower sense to describe a modern form of South Korean pop music covering a range of styles and genres incorporated from the West such as Western pop music, rock, jazz, hip-hop, R&B, reggae, electronica, techno, rave, nu metal, folk, country and classical on top of its traditional Korean music roots. The more modern form of the genre emerged with one of the earliest K-pop groups, Seo Taiji and Boys, forming in 1992. Their experimentation with different styles of music “reshaped Korea’s music scene”. As a result, the integration of foreign musical elements has now become common practice with K-pop artists.”
I began listening to Kpop in 2009, the best year to join the Kpop fandom.
At the age of thirteen, I was extremely impressed a five-member boy band called SHINee after a friend showed me their music video for their song “Replay”, I fell in love. At the time, I thought that it was the best music video that I have ever seen and I thought that they looked so cool.
Then I began to find out everything about them, bought Kpop magazines, watched all the shows that were in, and joined an international fan forum online. As I learned more about Kpop, other popular groups at the time also captured my attention including TVXQ and Girls’ Generation. I spent the majority of my teenage years listening to Kpop, watching K-drama, and completely ignoring the English language “international hits”. Consequently, I have very little knowledge about the mainstream English language songs that the general international community listened to during those years. SHINee is still my favorite Kpop group of all time, I genuinely still love their music and they are my idols.
So, why do I like Kpop?
It’s fun. For me, Kpop is pure fun, the songs are extremely catchy and give you earworms. More importantly, the music videos are great fun to watch with the cool backgrounds and well-designed choreography. You don’t need to understand Korean to enjoy K-pop. Kpop music, like any other forms of expressions, the consumers have their own interpretation and understanding. So, you don’t need to know the language to appreciate it, you can just enjoy the beat and the dance.
It’s an escape. Kpop shows the viewers a perfect world of well-dress talented good-looking people having a great time. It provides an escape from the chaotic nature of the real world.
It’s easy to access. It is relatively easier to find websites to download Kpop albums for free than it is to find the mainstream pop albums. There are many popular websites for free Kpop song downloads that have been operating for many years without being subjected to closure for copyright violations. From what I have experienced, free Kpop music download has not stop dedicated fans from spending money on other related products. Allowing for free music download might have benefited the Kpop by increasing its exposure, consumption, and popularity which, in turn, increase the sales of physical CDs, official merchandises, and attending concerts.
Kpop is not just a genre of music but it is a community that has its own practices and language. The practices include tweeting and making their favorite group a trending topic, rewatching music videos on Youtube to reach a certain amount of views, learning concert chants, learning the choreography of songs, and buying merchandises to show your affection. The language or terms used in discussing Kpop can include, sasaeng (dangerously obsessive fan), netizen (citizen of the internet), skinship (touching, any physical contact), and bias (favorite member of the group). Moreover, some would say that Kpop is a way of life because the fans would have to take on the discussed practices and language. For the more obsessive fans, their lives revolve around Kpop. Being a part of the Kpop fandom is a very unique experience.
Kpop has become more popular around the world in recent years, it is great that the rest of the world can finally appreciate this genre and it is also great that it has become more popular and acceptable to listen to Kpop.