A genre of music that receives love and hate in equal measure.
A cursory mention of the phrase “K-Pop” is enough to fuel heated debate. The die-hard fans are attenuated by the haters, who find K-pop to be “overrated.” It is important to understand that K-pop deserves the same respect as any other genre. Its artists are equally if not more talented, facing the same tribulations as everyone else trying to make it in the music industry? Take BTS - Did you know that they debuted under a very small company, lived in one cramped dorm, just to get to their level? Perhaps the name ‘f(x)’ or ‘(G)I-DLE’ or ‘ATEEZ’ might mean nothing to you, but for thousands of global fans, they might just mean the whole world to them.
K-pop artists are often targets for a lot of internet flack; one has to remember, these are people you’re talking about. Jin, from BTS, was castigated because of his looks, meaning that he was written off and dismissed for superficial reasons even after devoting an admirable volume of time to improving his vocal skills. Another member, V, had to remain a hidden member because of his appearance, so he couldn’t be photographed with his fellow members or upload photos and videos to the internet. Jihyo, from TWICE, was called ugly and fat, just because she wasn’t as thin as her fellow members. Nancy, from MOMOLAND, was fat shamed because she gained weight and didn’t get as many lines as was usual as a result. The worst case of victimisation is perhaps Kyla from PRISTIN, who was the target of hate for a very long time. A twitter user once tweeted a picture of her, along with a caption of ‘Just had 2 packs of mi goreng’. In truth, she looked very healthy and was not overweight in any manner.
K-Pop amalgamates different sub-genres within itself, such as rap (an example would be ‘HOLUP!’ by Bobby of iKON), R&B (‘instagram’ by Dean) and rock (‘Shoot Me’ by Day6). If one doesn’t suit your taste, you can always go for another one. There are also different concepts that K-Pop groups are known for, like cutesy, retro, girl crush or badass. K-pop as a body of work is equally if not more nuanced and personal than conventional Western genres.
More importantly, K-Pop has beautiful and meaningful lyrics. Examples include ‘What Is Love?’ by TWICE:
‘I wanna know what love feels like?’
‘How does it keep you smiling all day? How does the whole world become beautiful?’
More poignant examples can be found in ‘Hellevator’ and ‘Side Effects’ by Stray Kids:
‘People tell me that if I want to succeed, I need to set up a trap called failure’
‘My life was rock bottom, an edge of a cliff’
‘I swallow pills called baseless confidence. Maybe I took so many, now I’m feeling worried, not confident.’
The irony is that if these lyrics were sung in English, they would receive world wide acclaim. But sing them in Korean and they are widely dismissed. The fear of trying something new stops people from experiencing the beauty and meaning of these lyrics, which is a tragedy. If you’ve ever asked an international K-Pop lover, “Why do you like them when you can’t even understand them?” Well, we have opened our minds to the fact that sometimes it’s not about the lyrics, but more about whether you like the tune and beat. If you still think that there is no point listening if you can’t understand, then some of the songs do have english subtitles so you can read them and watch!
We should note that not all fans are evil as everyone thinks! Yes, in every fandom there are people who hate and bash on other groups, but normally “stans” as they are colloquially known are very friendly and helpful. For example, ARMY (BTS’ fandom name) have donated countless times to charities, people and the environment. Fans of other fandoms have flocked together to support other groups as well. Unfortunately, the K-pop fandom has faced much rancour in recent years. If you’ve ever seen a wonderfully loyal K-Pop fan just bopping and dancing away, would you make a confused, weirded out face and walk away? What if you thought it was a ‘TikTok’ dance. Would you walk away then? K-Pop fans have every right to dance away, because they are simply appreciating the beauty of K-Pop. These double standards that discriminate against K-pop are fundamentally unfair. It is not as if K-pop required any less skill than dancing to Western music. Some of these dances actually require a lot of muscle and strength to bust out those moves, especially on live stages when they have to sing as well. Some idols have to be put in air masks and inhalers after each performance, due to the sheer amount of core strength and muscle it takes to pull off those sharp moves. There are also so many different styles of dancing each group has. For example, TWICE’s movements tend to be mainly hand focused whereas BTS’s dances have iconic leg movements.
It is good that there are certain individuals that are open to changing their mind about K-pop. Here’s a real life experience of hating to loving this genre from someone we know:
“Hi, I’m Nivee. I was a big hater of K-Pop until just recently. I couldn’t understand why people would enjoy listening to music in a language that they don’t even understand! And the music didn’t even seem that good! Until Divya (one of my friends) showed me her K-Pop playlist. Now I see why people like it. The songs are very catchy and there are many different styles. The songs can be quiet, loud, fast or slow but they are all really good. To be honest, it is the exact same as pop apart from the fact that it is in a different language. And that doesn’t change anything. Even though you can’t understand it, you find yourself humming along or dancing to the beat. I’m really glad that Divya introduced me to K-Pop and I encourage others to try listening to it.”
In spite of Kpop’s infamous reputation for being the cringey genre of music, there isn’t actually much wrong with it. So why don’t you find one of us or any other K-Pop fan to try to find a song in this amazing genre that clicks with you.