K-Pop has taken the world by storm since it gained popularity all over the world. With bands like BTS, Blackpink, and Big Bang, K-Pop has expanded its outreach from Korea to all over the world. If you want to understand K-Pop, it is a planned fusion of different genres from all over the world with the Korean musical culture. This has morphed itself into a glamorized, glittering, artificial reality.

K-Pop is unique but is not a separate genre. It takes its form by taking a little of everything and making a new form of music by infusing it with Korean culture. K-Pop has passed through many stages since its inception in 1992, and today it is a global phenomenon. In this article, we will discuss how this unusual genre got so successful in today’s world.

The Beginning

Beginning
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Korean pop music is unique and unusual in the way that it has a date from where it started which is April 11, 1992. K-Pop is a result of an audition that failed at a reality show. K-Pop finds its roots in the famous band, Seo Taiji and the boys. Seo Taiji was a member of the metal band Sinawe which was an inspiration to Korea’s rock music in the 80s.

Seo Taiji broke up from the group and turned to Hip Hop. He hired two dancers: Yang Hyun-suk (currently known as YG) and Lee Juno who are now known as “The Boys”. Together they were known as Taiji and the Boys. The group performed its “Nan Arayo” which wasn’t received well by the judges. Also, the song got the lowest score of the day.

It seemed that Korea was not yet ready for such music. The only music that was considered music at all was the trot music which was an amalgamation of Korean, Japanese, and American music sung in a ballad style.

The group was criticized by the judges. But outside the stadium was a completely different story. The Song Nan Arayo fared number 17 on the Korean music list within a few days and was a national phenomenon. This showed that people wanted to shun the old traditional music and wanted something new for a change. The song became the very first of its kind as it showed a fusion between American and Korean culture.

Every society has a set of practices and norms. They are the yardsticks through which people gauge what is acceptable and what is not. If you are not a sociological alien, then going with society might be just your thing. Seo Taiji was, however, able to challenge the musical norms of society and was able to establish himself as a pioneer of a new musical genre. He broke out from the structured environment and created his own path.

The group was dismembered in 1996. At that time, the entertainment industry was aiming at creating the next big K-Pop group after Seo Taiji and the Boys. The competition was fierce and three popular entertainment agencies were able to make their way through:

  • SM Entertainment established in 1995
  • JYP Entertainment industry established in 1997
  • YG Entertainment that was created by no other than Yang Hyun-suk of Seo Taijiand Boys.

Modernization

Modernization
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The modern pop culture began right after Seo Taiji and the Boys broke up in 1996 with the rise of the boy band H.O.T. Owing to their success, a lot of other groups got their inspiration for new startups. Also, in 1997, Asia was going through a financial crisis. Entertainment industries needed a new audience and more importantly a new market to survive. Thereby, just like Japan, they made the move to modernize K-Pop.

The Modern K-Pop

Modern K Pop
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The modern K-Pop is bizarre in its operation and the way it is structured. The groups did not come to the front because they met in school and went for a startup that somehow became successful. K-Pop groups are pre-planned and tailor-made to fulfill the audience base.

Each of the members is selected owing to very specific traits. Most of these are physical, like facial features, feminine appearance, tall height, slim body, and the likes of it. After putting together the group, they undergo extensive linguistic and physical training which is often deemed abusive.

Lee Soo-Man of the SM Entertainment Industry was the pioneer who created this training method for K-Pop stars. As such, they have to go through rigorous training which is almost as planned as army training.

The Neo K-Pop

Neo K-Pop
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The Neo K-Pop was the era that skyrocketed in the mid-2017 and is known as the Korean Wave or Hallyu. The advancement of social media also played a vital role in spreading the onslaught of K-Pop to other countries. Different artists made vibrant and colorful, attention-grabbing videos with modern music and attractive dance moves.

The start of the 21st century marked the decline of the 90’s K-Pop. By 2003 entertainment industries were already on the verge of seeking new and innovative ideas to present modern music to the audience. Thus, the second generation of K-Pop music came to be.

Bands like Wonder Girls, Super Junior, and Generation made their successful debuts which skyrocketed K-Pop’s popularity as a unique genre in the outside world. In 2012, we saw “Gangnam Style” by Psy’s electro-pop. The Song Gangnam Style which was named after the Gangnam district in Seoul became a global hit. Everyone, from politicians to businessmen to singers, was imitating the Gangnam dance. Gangnam Style was the first-ever video to receive a billion views.

The American market, however, was not ready to accept holistically such a unique form of music. Many agencies tried to make songs that cater to the needs of the international market. Bands like Wonder Girls tried to collaborate with the Jonas brothers but people were not accustomed to such music and it proved a futile effort.

Luckily, BTS was awarded as the top Social Artists of 2017 in the Billboard Musical Awards. They were the first group ever to win the prestigious award at the BBMA show. Their song went off the charts on Billboard and within a month BTS became number 1 on the Hot 200 chart.

The BTS win for the Top Social Artist in 2017 Billboard kick-started Korean music in taking over not only America but the whole world. This popularity has gained more audience for Korean conventions that are held worldwide. Kcon was created by the DG media company Koreaboo in 2012 to gather a fan base outside of Korea to promulgate Korean culture.

Conventions

Conventions
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KCon organized several events in which fans were able to meet their favorite artists. They made four Idol groups appear in Irvine California for the very first time and around 20,000 people gathered to see them. These numbers kept on growing as Kcon expanded to other states. They made their success in New Jersey, Japan, France, Australia, Thailand, and Mexico.

Through these conventions, many famous groups such as BTS, Monsta X, and Got7 were able to expand their reach around the world.

The Idol Culture

The Idol Culture
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K-Pop is dominated by what is known as Idols. American singers and artists are known and forgotten based on their efforts and people’s liking for them. Korean bands are, however, planned and structured through a very careful process of selection and scrutiny. Unlike the American industry, Korean agencies look for artists who will benefit them in the long run and will establish the face of their brand.

Training

The Idols are selected by auditioning and then they are subjected to intensive training which is brutal and almost insane. It is almost like getting recruited for the army. They start preparing the children at the age of 10 to enter the auditions and after selection, they start training them. Training is hectic and energy-draining, and it is partly the reason why they recruit at such a young age.

They are trained by professionals under very strict supervision. The Idols are expected to train and sing at night; then go to school in the morning. The training offers very little time for anything else and even getting enough sleep is difficult. They live in a college hostel-type setting where they are put together to understand each other and make necessary bonds.

Apart from the regular singing and dancing training, they are also trained in several languages like English, Japanese, Chinese, etc as they are expected to perform abroad. If the Idol can keep up, there are prospects for them in making a successful debut. If not, then they are just left behind.

An artist is expected to look good in just about every way. Many youngsters aiming to become Idols are forced to go through strict diet plans and rigorous workouts. Like most of Koreans, plastic surgery is the first option to maintain looks. Even after going through all this, they are not guaranteed to make an official debut. You can compare Kyuhyun who just trained for 3 months and made his debut with EXO who had to train for seven years.

Just like that, some leave owing to extreme pressure and rigorous routine. Some just do not find that they can match the group.

Idol Setup

As mentioned before that K-Pop artists are better known as Idols or Idol groups. In an idol group, there are several pre-designated positions for every member which are used for their marketing.

  • The first one is the “Leader” who is often the eldest and the most experienced of all. He is the mouth of the group and has to do most of the talking to the public. You can also call him the group’s spokesperson.
  • The Rapper is evident from the name, raps, and projects of the western part of the group.
  • Then comes the vocalist who does all types of vocals including the lead and sub vocals.
  • The Face or the Visual of the group is the eye candy of the group. He is often the most attractive looking and appeals to the eyes of the public. He is usually the most popular member of the group and appears mostly in TV shows, ads, and concerts.
  • The Center is the member who often appears in the advertisements and in photoshoots in the magazines. He is often the face of the group and his position can change based on his popularity and talent.
  • The last is Maknae which means “the young”. This is the youngest member of the group who is a representation of the childish innocence of the group.

Conclusion

The Korean music industry has increasingly morphed into a reality-style survival competition in which newly emerging groups keep on spawning new idols. K-Pop is a unique blend of music from many genres with a western touch and a hint of Korean culture. Many people find it unusual as it is literally music institutionalized owing to the way the Idol culture operates. Nevertheless, it doesn’t cease to amaze and gather more and more audiences.