(picture of K-Pop group 2NE1 from http://www.mcmbuzz.com)
Go ahead, try and move to Korea and remain completely untouched by K-Pop. Good luck.
K-Pop is an abbreviation for Korean pop or Korean popular music. It is a genre consisting of dance, electronic, electropop, hip hop and R&B (wikipedia.org) and unless you never leave your apartment you will experience K-Pop in Korea. K-Pop will become the soundtrack of your life, whether you like it or not. The K-Pop culture has expanded far beyond Ipods and music videos, the fans have created a culture of their own and it feeds daily into Korean fashion, advertisement and conversation. I have no intention of pronouncing myself a K-Pop fanatic or expert, but I feel I must admit I caught the K-Pop bug this past weekend. It wasn’t an all-consuming bite, but it’s there, I can feel it.
Jeff Benjamin wrote earlier this year in Rollingstone, “K-Pop is a mixture of trendy Western music and high-energy Japanese pop, which preys on listeners’ heads with repeated hooks, sometimes in English. It embraces genre fusion with both singing and rap, and emphasizes performance and strong visuals.” If you’re not in Korea at the moment do not panic. K-Pop has already gone global. I remember when I was busy packing for my year abroad and educating myself about Korea (basically Googling my heart out), my research was bombarded with K-Pop news of upcoming US tour dates. Benjamin’s Rollingstone pieces is appropriately titled ‘The 10 K-Pop Groups Most Likely To Break in America’ and Vampire Diaries stars Nina Dobrev and Kat Graham tweeted obsessively about their love for the K-Pop group 2NE1 back in 2011 (http://www.mcmbuzz.com).
I was invited by a fellow friend to ‘some sort of K-Pop show’ (that’s what I got from the conversation) in Seoul on Sunday. He possessed 5 exclusive tickets to the show and if I knew anything about K-Pop I would have realized just how amazing this invitation was. I did not have Sunday plans and was excited to spend time with my friends doing something ‘free’ in Seoul, so I accepted the offer and skipped my usual Sunday sleep-in session and opted instead for a day of K-Pop education.
As we made our way into Seoul I was briefed on the upcoming event. We were headed to a taping of the Korean show, Inkigayo, produced by the SBS network and broadcast in the SBS Open Hall in Seoul. The show airs live every Sunday and presents viewers with many of the most recent and popular artists making appearances and usually performing their newest singles. We arrived at the SBS building long after hundreds of K-Pop fans had set up camp in line hoping to gain access inside to watch the show. I felt like a celebrity pushing my way past the crowds up to the front where we were ushered inside. My mother never let me skip school to carpool with friends to NYC with glitter banners and homemade t-shirts to scream outside the MTV studios in hopes of being part of the taping of TRL (Total Request Live), but I can imagine it would be a similar experience.
(sorry, no photos were allowed inside, but this was outside in front of a truck advertising for the K-Pop group Super Junior)
The show started soon after we took our seats up front. The production team scrambled to make sure the stage, lighting and sound were set to go and they began the show with an introduction of the hosts, similar to TRL. The entertainment moved at a quick pace and I was impressed with how many live performances Inkigayo packed into the show. I was star-struck even though I really could not distinguish one group from another. I sensed from the crowd’s reaction how famous each group was. I did recognize many of the songs from my everyday life activities of grocery shopping, watching commercials and interacting with my students. The dance moves were impressive, the lyrics catchy and easy to remember, the fashion over-the-top and the fans endearingly loyal and on cue with their group chants and cheers. I left the SBS building feeling like I understood Korea a bit more, like I had been let in on some big secret. Later that night I went to dinner with a few friends back in Uijeongbu far away from the pop stars and cameras. At one point I found myself singing along to a song playing quietly in the corner of the restaurant. Yeah, I caught the bug, have you?