In the past two to three years, Korean Pop music (K-Pop) has become a very popular genre in the United States. You can find it almost everywhere, and you can run across a fan wearing merchandise from one of their favorite groups anywhere as well. How is it that a genre from the other side of the world has gotten so popular here in the U.S.? This has been a burning question for many people; many of whom do not understand the genre’s appeal.
Well for one, K-Pop music is catchy. It does the job of what a pop song does with thumping beats, pulsing synths and great vocals. There’s also the music videos which contain very bright and pastel colors. On top of that, when you watch the music videos, the dances are well-synchronized, very technical and well-produced.
According to Emily Figueroa, a sophomore majoring in Kinesiology, “If you watch [the music videos], you can tell there is a lot of effort put into it,” she said. This is noticeable among groups who have a large number of members. These aspects provide a stark contrast to American Pop music, which usually has smaller groups and resorts to including instruments rather than just dancing.
The fact there were once very few Asian pop stars that were known in the United States made the genre even more appealing. While there was an awareness for the genre, with artists like PSY and BIGBANG, it never reached major success until the rise of BTS’ popularity in 2016. Whether you are a student of Asian descent or not, the style and culture that is presented in K-Pop brought in something new to music in mainstream America.
While BTS is the group that spearheaded the popularity, there are other groups that extend beyond them: Seventeen, GOT7, NCT, EXO, BLACKPINK and Red Velvet. There’s also the underground Korean music scene that features the likes of Jay Park and DEAN. What’s notable about the underground is that they have started to gain attention as well and have been receiving praise from fans.
However, it doesn’t stop there. K-Pop also has the ability to connect with audiences who are non-Korean. BTS is the biggest example: They were able to collaborate with notable American artists such as Nicki Minaj, Chainsmokers and Fall Out Boy. There is also the fact that there are groups who can speak more than just one language. BTS, BLACKPINK, BIGBANG and GOT7 contain members who can speak English, Japanese, Thai or Chinese. This is further emphasized as some of the members of these groups aren’t even Koreans.
Many of our students, such as Tyler Ho, a junior in Computer Science, were introduced to the genre at least a couple of years before BTS’ popularity exploded. Many were at least in middle school or high school when they first heard about K-Pop music. Ho recalled how a few of his friends were playing it around him before he finally got into the genre himself. “I had one of those friends and all they listened to was K-Pop,” Ho said. “But I really got into K-Pop when I found BLACKPINK and explored from there on.” Some of Ho’s favorite groups are BLACKPINK, LOONA and EXID.
Darlene Ual, a sophomore also majoring in Computer Science, recalls her first encounter with K-Pop music through a friend from middle school. While she loved it, she didn’t get into the genre until later in life. “Once I got into high school, that’s when I started to get into Korean culture and music.” Some of her favorite groups are 2NE1, NCT and EXO.
Figueroa recalls her first memory after watching a Korean drama with her mother. The group SHINee were the ones who provided the soundtrack to the drama. Like Ual, Figueroa wouldn’t get into the genre until high school with her favorites being Seventeen, GOT7 and Twice.
You might be surprised how easy it is to find people who like K-Pop music on campus. Ual has often found classmates who are interested in the genre. “I’m like, ‘okay, this is one thing we can talk about for the rest of class,’ so I find it pretty easy [to find people who are into K-Pop],” she said.
However, the popularity of K-Pop has brought in the bandwagoners or people who only follow the genre by only listening to one extremely popular group. In this case: BTS. For a longtime fan like Figueroa, it was a strange turning point as more and more people got into the genre she once thought was niche. “Once it started getting popular, they started to jump on,” she said.
The fandom has even had cases of extreme fandom. Ho recalled one moment at the restaurant Let’s Meat, “There were these girls with their BTS shirts on and had like a blanket with [the members] faces on it,” Ho said. “It’s kind of weird if you bring a blanket of a dude’s face in a restaurant.”
Figueroa has noted how some fans glorify these groups as religious-like figures. “I can see why ’cause they look good and can sing well and dance, but it’s not for me,” she said.
Now more than ever, K-Pop is making their presence known in U.S. BTS has even shown up at the Grammys and BLACKPINK is currently on their American tour. This leads to the question: Will K-Pop become even more popular still? Or has the genre reached its peak? Many students believe it will get bigger over time, but some believe it will get bigger as long as there are newer groups to carry it on. “I think it’s not at its height yet, but like all good things it’s gonna end up mainstream,” Ual said.
On campus, there is a student organization called the Korean Dance and Culture Club. Led by Diamond Lawrence, the club meets biweekly on Tuesdays and/or Thursdays. “The sole purpose of this club is to explore and get to know about Korean culture, especially K-Pop dancing as it has become a big thing in media lately,” Lawerence said. “By getting into the dances, we hope to get people into the culture itself.” The club picks out the tracks they’ll dance along to through a group vote, with the difficulty of the song also considered for newcomers.
If you are going to start listening to K-Pop music, fans say that you should take into the account of what the listener is personally in to. Students would personally base their recommendations on that. While it is easy to simply go to BTS, BLACKPINK or BIGBANG, it’s best to search up the music at your own pace and pick out the ones you personally like.
But whatever you think about K-Pop music, you can’t deny that the success it has received here in the U.S. has brought in something for the American audience. Who knows whether this genre will blossom even more or fade away, but at least we’ll remember a time when it was the most popular of the genres to not come from American shores.