K-pop – an Asian music genre steeped in crazy fashion, bright colours and elaborate pyrotechnics – heralds from Korea and has become increasingly popular since about the 1990s. So, what makes K-pop so unique and why has it exploded the world over? According to Rolling Stone magazine, K-pop (an abbreviation of Korean pop) is a ‘mixture of trendy Western music and high-energy Japanese pop which mesmerises listeners’ with catchy repetitive hooks and loops. Throw in some singing and rap (some of which is in English), mix in some European and Western musical influence and flavour with Asian dance moves. Of course, nothing is that simple, nor happens overnight, and both social media (the internet) and modern technology have played an impressive part in taking K-pop from just another Asian music genre to the latest pop-culture rage and meme-inspiring Asian cultural scene (think ‘Gangnam Style’).
Characterised by integrating diverse musical elements and audio visual content, K-pop generally refers to South Korean pop music but has since morphed into a slick, infectious visual and musical assault on the senses. But, like too much of anything saccharine, the commercially-driven, perfectly choreographed and prettily primped girls and ‘boys’ (the term ‘androgynous’ springs to mind) would leave anyone with a toothache. I sat down to check out some of the latest K-pop offerings (there is a free-to-air television channel full of the stuff) and discovered that there is only so much repetition, so much colourful fashion, naff dance routines and synthesised bubblegum pop one can take. I must admit, at first I found the dance moves fun and the music catchy, if not energising, but after a few too many spoonfuls of sugar, I found myself hankering after a hamburger (perhaps some Bruce Springsteen).
Since 2012, the K-pop music market has grossed more than US$3.4 billion and has been acknowledged by Time Magazine as “South Korea’s Greatest Export”. In Australia there are radio stations and television channels dedicated to K-pop tunes and cheeky clips, clubs and K-pop karaoke and K-pop Facebook groups. You can sign up for K-pop dance lessons and ‘dang it’, you’ve just missed out on auditions for a new reality K-pop program to air here next year.
No doubt there’s a whole other side to K-pop that is obscured by sophisticated imaging and marketing such as the notorious working conditions – up to 18 hours a day (Source: seoulbeats.com). Then there the dating scandals and immense pressure to look a certain way – tiny with big, big brown eyes, glowing skin and shiny hair (girls and boys). At the end of the day every K-pop group is a meticulously formulated business entity yet strangely entertaining in a cutesy kind of way. It’s waxed and polished to perfection, and rather sexualised in a Lolita kind of way, making it an easy target for criticism, but the obvious fact is that it is very different to our American influenced persuasion towards Western pop, thus a quirky curiosity in a whole other way. K-pop is here to stay. Bring on the dancing ice creams and giant teddy bears.
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