Falling into K-Pop (part one)
Written by Kimberly Debnam on October 26, 2019
Unless you have been living under a rock, you have probably heard of Korean pop music or “K – Pop”. Maybe you can’t name any of the songs or artists, but you know it exists and that it’s an actual thing. The genre became popularized in the late ’90s with groups like H.O.T., S.E.S, and Shinhwa, which set the foundation of what K-pop has developed into today. At the time, however, the genre was most popular in South Korea until the mid-2000s, when the music industry began to pursue audiences.
The most significant jump in interest for K-pop came when a viral music video of Psy’s Gangnam style spread across the internet. Once the video caught people’s attention, their reactions were even stronger to find that this wasn’t just a single instance of individual creativity but was an entire genre, industry and would go on to be one of the biggest exports of the East Asian nation.
As K-pop has become increasingly familiar with broader audiences, more people are beginning to understand what makes this niche, a group of artists, and it’s fanbase so unique compared to others. If you hear a song that you like, you’ll likely find these common words and phrases flooding the comment section. If you want to have an easier time going into those conversations, this is a guide to help your transition into the wave of K-pop.
*For simplicity, I will be using the group MONSTA X as an example throughout this series.
Step 1 – The Song: Say you have a song that you heard, and you knew it wasn’t entirely in English. Fortunately, there’s usually at least a phrase in the chorus that is sung in English. If you can catch it, remember it, and type it on youtube later. Between Youtube and Google, they can figure out what song you’ve been trying to find. Or use a song identifying app like Shazam, which can recognize songs in all types of languages.
Step 2 – The MV: once you have the song name search it up on YouTube. What differentiates K-pop artist from others, are the music videos. When you search for a single song you can find numerous versions for a single song such as a day version, night version, dance version, dance covers, etc. Once you find the official, which is usually the one with the most views, give it until the chorus to determine if you’re on the right track.
Step 3 – I Just Wanna Sing: You’ve replayed the video several times, and everything is just so catchy that you can hum the song forwards and backward, but now you want to sing-a-long. Fear not! The Korean music industry knows that they have a large fan base outside of Korea, so the videos usually come with English subtitles. All you need to do is turn on CC (closed captioning) on your youtube settings, and they have the English translations below. These are usually inputted by the label and not auto-generated, so they tend to make more sense. If you want to sing along with the Korean words, there are videos made by fans that show which group member is singing which part, along with lyrics in English, hangul, and romanized.
Step 4 – I want to know everything about them!: After watching several videos and listening to a bunch of songs, your Youtube recommendations have probably changed a little bit. You’ll notice there are edited video clips of the group that usually have a title like this:
‘Chae Hyungwon: Comedic Genius’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OToOggE9x_A
‘Weekly Idol: MONSTA X’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5VIjxrokupc
‘MONSTA X speaking English’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AbS-K0YyG5U
…and so on. These types of videos each serve different purposes, but all together, they help you to get to know MONSTA X a bit better. Once you have watched these videos you probably have taken notice of one member of the group stands out. Well, if you’d like to learn more about them, you can find detailed profiles of each member on K-pop blog sites. Things such as their ideal type, blood type, weight, height, and more.
Through this point, hours have probably passed by, and it’s the late hours of the night. You have spiraled down the rabbit hole of Youtube suggested videos, and you are watching a video of your group-of-interest as they reveal how dorky, cheesy, and ordinary they are. Your ads are either in Korean or are encouraging you to visit South Korea, and you think you have fallen in love.
Congratulations, you are officially a stan! If you aren’t sure what that means, be sure to keep an eye out for part two where we talk terminology, genres within pop, and the industry rules that you didn’t know existed.