by Kitkat Anderson
and Lucy Jordan
Last time I attempted to do a friend’s reaction to KPop, I got sidetracked by BTS… So we’re going to do it now instead.
This is Lucy.
Lucy is my friend and future TFC writer.
Lucy, you have never listened to a K-pop song or watched a music video or interview from a K-pop group before, correct?
That is very true, yes.
Had you heard of Kpop prior to my educating you?
I’ve heard of, yeah. But, I never warmed to the idea of it.
Now you will.
If you know me, you know about Kpop. It’s not like I never shut up about it, but I never shut up about it. The main thing that aggravates me about Western media’s outlook on Kpop is that it is a single genre; it’s just Korean popular music. You call both One Direction and Kanye West pop, and yet they are both completely different, though equally inadequate for my taste. My goal when introducing anyone to Kpop is to allow them to see the bigger picture and to let them know that no matter what music they are into, they will find something that they like in the gargantuan spectrum of Kpop music.
‘Boy With Luv’ – BTS feat. Halsey
I wanted to start with the most similar music to Western Pop. The title song of BTS’ latest album, Map Of The Soul: Persona, which even features Western artist Halsey, seemed the ideal starting point. It is catchy, upbeat, and positive; with perfectly synchronised choreography, set and costumes.
Is this similar to what you expected ‘Kpop’ would be?
Unfortunately, yes. I don’t really do cheesy pop, in general. I don’t know any of the chart hits, I never know what’s number one. I expected Kpop to be very flamboyant, cheesy, a different version of masculinity, and stuff. This seems to fit the bill.
What did you think of the lyrics?
To be honest, I was distracted from the lyrics. I wasn’t listening to them, as such, because I was reading the translation of them. There was this fucking weird dancing going on and the colours and the hair. I was definitely distracted by the hair. Initial thoughts of looking at the lyrics are that it was plain, cheesy, simple love-song lyrics. But, looking back I do see that there is more depth to them. It’s just hard to concentrate on that through all the flowery shit.
‘Come Back Home’ – Seo Taiji & Boys
Next, I thought I’d give some context, giving a rough explanation of the creation of Kpop. South Korea’s modernization and lightening of censorship in 1987 allowed music to gain more freedom, but it wasn’t until Seo Taiji turned to hip-hop, post-break-up of his heavy metal band Sinawe, and recruited dancers Yang Hyun-suk and Lee Juno, that Kpop truly began. They were the first to fuse Western-style Pop with South Korean culture and also began the typical Kpop idea of visuals being equally as important as audio in today’s music consumption, with showy choreography and various stunts performed on stage. This also helped the rise of Hallyu, the Korean Wave, which arguably saved South Korea’s economy.
How is this compared to your earlier expectations?
It’s completely different, to be fair. It’s not all coloured hair and flowery, it’s literally like hip-hop. It’s alright. I could get behind it if I tried.
What do you think of Seo Taiji & Boys’ music revolution?
They changed the stand of his entire country, I suppose. In the ’90s music was so segregated, there wasn’t much cross-over in-between, they kind of just took what was big everywhere and adapted it to fit their culture and, in turn, their country. There was a lot of difference between this and Korea’s music before it, I don’t think I heard much in there at all, other than a few countermelodies. The instrumentation and aesthetic, you could confuse to be from completely different countries.
Anything else you want to mention?
Other than their beautiful skiing outfits, glasses especially, that’s about it.
‘Ddu-du Ddu-du’ – BLACKPINK
So, what a prime example of over-sexualising women… Comments?
Half the time they were oversexualising themselves and the other half they were complaining about people sexualising them. If you want to be sexualised and present yourself that way, fine, but then don’t say you’re a “foxy, bad girl” and dance purely waist down, waving your booty (or lack thereof) as much as you can.
BLACKPINK have had a lot of controversy surrounding weight, and (their arguable lack of) feminism in general. YG, their entertainment company, and BLACKPINK both claim that they do not have extreme diet plans, but the weight loss these girls have continuously undergone contradicts this slightly. Many of their fans also talk about how they see these girls as the ideal body type and diet to become like their idols. Thoughts?
From everything I’ve seen and you’ve told me, Korea clearly has far too high expectations of beauty and body image. It’s kind of sickening to think of the young girls watching these videos and googling what their idols diets are so they can be the same way when they’re unhealthy. The more the media push stars to hit these standards, the more kids are going to be severely unwell. There’s only so far you can take it: you’re already unhealthy, you’re already underweight, you already don’t eat. What’s next?
Honestly, the thought of even giving BLACKPINK another view on YouTube made me squirm; trying to decide whether or not to put them in this article was hard. But, the release of a set of photo-cards depicting these girls having been abused made that decision for me.
There is a lot of dispute as to what these photo-cards are actually trying to say, but no one can deny that, deeper meaning or not, domestic violence or not, they are romanticising abuse. The cuts and bruises are specifically placed or coloured to appear pretty. That in itself is disgusting before you even begin to think of their predominantly female fanbase aged 10-25 who look up to these women as idols.
‘Catellena’ – Orange Caramel
Do you have any idea what was going on in that music video?
I have my own idea. So, they were mermaids. They’ve been captured, packaged, distributed, and used. I feel, their message was a lot clearer about where women stand in that culture. The whole video was obviously representing women and how they are treated by men. There were prices on them which kept going down when they went on the shelf and they were kind of forced to eat themselves and each other and cried having looked back at their lives before; they had to turn on each other for the pleasure of men.
Did you expect that kind of conversation in Kpop music?
No. I expected Kpop to be one of those cheesy pop things that people could just listen to, have a laugh about, share on social media and then it’s dead again within a week. I didn’t really expect any social commentary from something that looks and sounds like… Well, this. I get what they’re trying to do, but I don’t think their audience will completely understand it. I think later on younger people will look into it, but they’re not gonna be listening to it for its deeper meaning. So, it’s kind of… pointless?
Actually, I disagree. In a society in which women are really not given much say and often viewed as dispensable objects, commentary like this is incredibly important. It may not be inherently obvious, but something like ‘Catellena’ which sticks in a young people’s subconscious before they enter the ‘real’ professional world is, in my opinion, vital if we want to normalise women in important roles in any industry, let alone music.
‘Hellevator’ – Stray Kids
This group released their first music alongside a self-titled reality show which depicted the journey from pre-debut to debut. Their members’ age ranged from 16-20, which is relatively standard for a Kpop group, most averaging around 20 years of age. Stray Kids were determined to be themselves in their music and address real issues in today’s young people with songs such as ‘Hellevator’, a commentary on too high expectations; ‘School Life’, which speaks of the relentless time and effort young people must put toward their studies in order to achieve acceptable standards; and self-explanatory, and personal favourite, ‘Insomnia’.
What did you think of the way Stray Kids decided to approach the topic of depression in young people?
This was a lot more obvious. Even if I hadn’t known the lyrics, I still would have understood it. The rest we’ve seen, you wouldn’t know it had a deeper meaning unless you looked at the lyrics intently. Whether it was two different states of mind or one reality and the other a dream state, the contrasting ways of shooting the video made the message pretty clear.
Being very near the beginning of their career, you can see how young these boys are. What are your thoughts on 15/16 being an industry-standard age for Korean artists to debut?
It’s similar to artists coming from the Disney Channel, I guess. You learn to sing, dance, act, be interviewed, and all this stuff; then suddenly, bam, you’re in a group and you’re famous.
Why do you think it is so more common for those American artists to have public mental break-downs?
They all did it to change the perspective around themselves. You start off as a Disney star and you want to be seen as a serious artist. You’re gonna need to do something pretty big to deter those opinions away from you. These Kpop artists don’t have to prove themselves as anything different, I guess. They can just go behind the scenes, or whatever.
I somewhat agree, although I also think it has a lot to do with stage personas. Kpop artists are encouraged to create a distance between what they show to the public and how they are when the cameras are off. This distance, no matter how small, gives them some perspective from an early age, which I don’t think the Western version of Disney Channel stars ever has.
‘I’m Sorry’ – The Rose
Saving what I expected to be the most successful in terms of Lucy’s taste until last, a more Indie style of Kpop. The Rose all play instruments and have incorporated completely into their personality and brand, whereas many other Kpop artists who still have the ability, and often include this in recordings, do not make a big deal of it or give themselves the title of a band like The Rose do.
What do you think about The Rose branding themselves not only as a Kpop Group but also a band?
Having always been in bands myself, I prefer watching someone actually playing their instrument. It makes the music more real to me. From everything that you’ve shown me today, these are the only ones who’ve greatly differentiated themselves. They are my favourite so far because I found them more serious, there wasn’t all this strange, colourful, animated, weird stuff behind the song. It was just them playing. I like taking the emotion from the music; that can voice a feeling as much as singing it.
Hopefully, you have seen how Kpop is not a single genre. It is all of Korean popular music, just like Western music. Why do you think the Western media and audience perceive Kpop as a specific single genre?
Kpop is kind of like the hood for all of Korean popular music. I suppose it’s an easier way to categorize it. If you used the genre term of pop for all the pop music in the world, there would be so much that you’d be overwhelmed. I suppose you have to split it off to where the music has come from. Music gives each culture part of its identity, after all.
Personally, I would prefer if they ‘genred’, for example, rock, and then said what country it was from, for example, J-Rock, after that. It would make more sense in terms of the style rather than the language, especially as the majority of pop music from various countries contains some English in nowadays, albeit often only a few words. I frequently have Kpop that I see to be unpleasant and is not remotely similar to the Kpop I do listen to recommended on my Spotify account. And yet, even though I listen to Lizzo, I don’t get recommended Miley Cyrus. But they’re both Pop. So, they’re the same, right?
I agree. I think they should do it for all types of music! I love a lot of European Rock but it’s so hard to find for me! I guess it’s kind of the same issue.
‘Bang Bang Bang’ – BIGBANG
It’s not my style but… Who am I kidding, I hate this.
Me too, it’s like three horrifically bad songs in one.