Your Crash Course in K-Pop

If you’re anything like me before I came to Korea, you figure that Korea probably makes its own music, but you know nothing about it. This is your crash course in Korean Pop music, or K-Pop. It’s weird, it’s wonderful, it’s sung in both English and Korean and it’s kind of a big deal. Dive in. Your life may never be the same.

Image is Everything

This isn’t surprising in Korea, where image is already important. In music videos, it’s ten times more important. Everything you can imagine is done to the maximum: hair, makeup, set and backgrounds and more than anything, fashion.Β  This is pretty similar to any culture, but this is Korean style. Dialed up, it can look crazy. Oh and most of the artists have huge budgets… so it just gets insane.

Example: Hyuna – Ice Cream

Coordinated Dancing Rules

Remember Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and Britney Spears’ “…Baby One More Time” and N*Sync’s “Bye Bye Bye”? How awesome were those dance moves? If you’re a fan of coordinated dance, then you’re already a fan of K-Pop and you don’t even know it yet. While the USA music video industry grew out of their coordinated dances phase, the K-Pop world just made them bigger and badder than ever.

Example: Girls’ Generation – I Got a Boy

Boy/Girl Bands

Did you notice how many girls were dancing in the last video? They weren’t all back up dancers… that was the actual group. Girls’ Generation is one of the most famous artists with a million people in it (okay, so there are nine) and the boy band EXO, between their Korean and Chinese members has 12 people. INSANE! Most groups are less, and the magic number seems to be about 6. And if you haven’t guessed this yet, yes, the Boy/Girl Bands and coordinated dancing pretty much go hand in hand.

Example: BEAST – Bad Girl

Single Girl Singers

The alternative to the groups, are the solo singers, which are almost entirely women, with few exceptions. They sing plenty of sad ballads about being heartbroken or lonely, but there’s always the occasional single girl mantra or happy song. These tend to come and go in fame, one hit wonder kind of artists, sadly. Some of them are extremely talented (even if their choice of ballad is not).

Example: Lee Hi – It’s Over

K-Pop Fans

I’m going to put this simply: K-Pop fans can be obsessed and insane. More than you’ve ever seen. Belieber fans on cocaine. It’s a little bit cult-like and people all over the world go crazy for K-pop. If you’re not 300% in love with an artist’s music, it may be more stressful than fun to go to a concert, since K-pop obsessed teenage girls are known to scream, push, kick and let nothing get in their way of a potential sighting of their idol. God help you if you’re accidentally in a public space when a K-Pop band shows up to do a signing and fan meet… you will not be able to move and your ears might break open.

Example: A news story about international K-Pop Fans, one of which shows off her tattoos of the group ‘Super Junior”

It’s a Machine

Here’s a fun fact: K-Pop celebrities are fully manufactured. Scouted out in elementary or middle school school, the label takes them under their wing and makes them “trainees”. For years. Rigorous singing, dancing, music, English, everything under the sun lessons and a full-time life dedication are required. For years. And then when the label decides you’re ready, you pop out into the popular music scene like an egg freshly hatched. Awww, so cute. Except kind of torturous…

Example: This guy that was a trainee explains his daily schedule (in English, don’t worry!).

G-Dragon

Yeah, you’ve heard of PSY and that’s great, but in order to know anything about K-Pop, you NEED to understand who G-Dragon is. He is the biggest deal, biggest name, most famous, most insane and most arrogant, with a lot of reason. He’s legend. In his earlier videos, he’s androgynous as all hell, why does he look like a woman now? A man? Who knows. He doesn’t care. Basically G-Dragon doesn’t care about anything, except for his music, which he makes incredible. I could keep explaining, or I could just make you watch this music video.

Example: G-Dragon – “미치Go” (or “Go Crazy”)

Because he’s G-Dragon, here’s a second video: G-Dragon – One of a Kind

Congratulations, you’ve just graduated from your crash course in Korean pop music! YouTube can provide all advanced lessons on the subject.

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What do you think of K-Pop, do you like it? Is it insane? Do you want to sign up to be a trainee and slave away for years, too?

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22 thoughts on “Your Crash Course in K-Pop”

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed the videos and crash course on K-pop. I admit I’ve never seen a K-pop video until now. It was fun to watch and wow..the talent on some of these groups. I’m gonna have to show this to my tween who I’m sure will start following K-Pop youtube channels πŸ™‚

    1. Oh boy, be prepared to hear k-pop hours on end if you introduce it to your kid. It’s so catchy!

      I’m so glad I was able to show you something really cool from Korea! And the talent is positively spectacular. The business may be a machine, but man does it churn out some superstars.

    1. That sounds really fun! Maybe they’ll start offering some in the USA… that sounds like a trend lots of USAers would jump right on.

  2. Oooh. Too much for me to handle. Yikes!! I do like the “Belieber fans on cocaine” though – hilarious and appears to be eerily accurate πŸ™‚

    1. Hehe some of these artists are a lot for anyone to handle haha. But hey, they always entertain, even if that’s putting your hand over your eyes as you cringe hahaha.

  3. Yeah. Totally insane. But there’s a reason it’s such a huge deal right? I actually watched all these videos. In one way or another, all of these performers are so so cute. But what I couldn’t get over was the baby bear and tiger in the G Dragon video. πŸ™ I hope they were treated well!!!

    1. I hope they were treated well, too, but who knows. :-/

      K-Pop is part of Korea’s pride and joy, they love to show off global trends. It ranks up there with Samsung! But even though it’s all so weird, I agree, they are still cute. Crazy Koreans!

  4. Thanks for the lesson! I have a lot of Korean students who are talking to me about K-Pop all the time, this will come in handy for me to be able to contribute something to the conversation.

  5. Thanks for the lesson! We deal with Korean students a lot at our school and they are always asking us about K-Pop. Now we will be able to contribute to the conversation.

  6. I started listening to Kpop over 10 years ago and it has not changed one bit! Music videos are still crazy and weird and don’t make any sense, Although it seems like they are more focused on looks the past few years than a decade ago. It’s not pop music but one of my favorite Korean songs ever – Because I’m a girl by Kiss. Still makes me cry today! Oldie but goodie!

    1. Haha well if the machine works, why change the formula? Just tweak it! πŸ™‚

      I’ve never heard that song, but it know what I’m doing at work tomorrow… hehe.

  7. Oh wow, I had never heard of K-pop, Sally! And I have a ton of married friends with tweener kids. I’m sending the link to this post to them so they can check it out! πŸ™‚

    1. Get ready for some epic dance parties and really, really weird experimental makeup sessions! Haha I’m glad you like it. The amount of k-pop videos out there are endless, those kids will be entertained for months.

      Also, I love your blog/dog photos with speech bubbles. I’m laughing so hard right now! πŸ™‚

  8. Loved this! Brought back so many memories. Do your students try to do the coordinated dance moves while watching the video. . .and then just stand awkwardly while the video cuts to a non-dancing scene?

    1. Haha actually my students, middle schoolers, are all so self-conscious that they’ll only practice in closed rooms, after school hours with their four closest friends/dance partners. If I even attempt to bring out a camera, it ends in screams, frozen dance moves and hands/arms covering every inch of face.

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