The Korean wave, or Hallyu, is most remarkably known by the popularity of K-pop and Korean dramas around the world. You might think that we’ve just passed 10 years of the K-wave hitting our shores, with early notable hits like ‘Nobody’ by Wondergirls and ‘Gee’ by Girls Generation being released in the year 2009. However, the roots of K-pop as we know it today has its makings more than 20 years ago in South Korea.
A revolutionary performance by pop group Seo Taiji and the Boys in 1992 is widely considered to be the advent of K-pop, and it bore the right ingredients for the future success of K-pop. These ingredients – an international appeal, impeccable production, and undeniable talent – are what continue to drive this $5 billion industry today. If we try to explain how K-pop found its way around the world, here are some of the main elements that contribute:
The miracle of K-pop is that worldwide fans love it even without understanding a word of the songs. This is helped by the irresistibly catchy tunes, written by master songwriters in the industry. Theoretically, the melodies are usually quite simple, but with countless repetitions and addictive hooks, these songs are bound to get stuck in your head for days.
Just think of the songs we mentioned – ‘Nobody’ and ‘Gee’. Immediately, you are sure to recall their infectious choruses, even if you don’t know anything about the rest of the song. With such a lasting impact, the viral nature of K-pop tunes is definitely a key ingredient of K-pop’s appeal.
Take a look at some of the music videos of popular K-pop songs and you will notice a trend. The bulk of them features some crazy flashy dance moves, from impressively clean popping to gravity-defying maneuvres. In fact, K-pop is responsible for the rise of interest in dance around the world, as it is almost recognizable as a genre in its own right.
On the other hand, sometimes the approach is for simplicity so that the audience can readily replicate the moves. A stellar example is the K-pop sensation ‘Gangnam Style’ by Psy – the iconic horse-riding move has been imitated by people all around the world, contributing to its spread and a record-breaking number of views on Youtube.
A unique aspect of K-pop is its love for wildly diverse concepts. These are themes for an artist’s song or album release that is also leveraged on for anything from performances, to costumes and album art. Only in the K-pop world will you have an artist singing about vampires in one album, only to shed off the Halloween-worthy costumes to do an upbeat bubblegum pop number in the next.
This obsession with concepts gives K-pop an added reason to be deserving of its fans’ fascination. Waiting for every ‘comeback’ (i.e. a new release and its promotional activities) will inadvertently inject a level of suspense, and fresh new concepts always become a strong talking point that helps to propel the popularity of the group and their songs.
While you can pick up the Korean language to further your appreciation of K-pop songs, many people equally love K-pop even without understanding the lyrics of the songs. The secret, it seems, is in the worldwide appeal of the whole production. Visuals-wise, the dance, flawless costumes, and general good-looks of K-pop are more than enough to capture the attention of eyes around the world.
In terms of music, K-pop is in fact heavily influenced by American pop music, R&B styles, and hip-hop. These musical genres are familiar and popular in the world, thus allowing the Korean perspective of these genres to transcend language and culture. Add to that the marketing effects of social media, and you have the worldwide success of K-pop.
The K-pop sensation looks to be going on stronger than ever even today. If you would like to gain a deeper understanding of your favourite Korean songs, or keep up to date with Korean shows and news updates in the Korean language, Korean lessons for beginners will be perfect for you. Discover K-pop like you’ve never done before when you join us at Sejong Korean Language School to learn Korean!