By: Sophia McManus
In its most literal sense, kpop is Korean pop music, but even its most simple definition can be skewed and incorrect at times. Kpop is a music genre like no other in our world today, encompassing not only catchy pop music but also ballads, R & B, rap, hip hop and is not uncommonly sung in Japanese, Chinese and English as well as Korean. Its uniqueness comes not only from its sound, style and performance but also greatly due to its origins.
What your average person may know about the genre may be limited to Psy, or perhaps they’ve also heard of major bands like Girl’s Generation, BTS, or EXO. Right now, Kpop is undeniably a growing global phenomenon, that has picked up greatly in the last few years. Fanbases of the millions from every continent in the world are growing day by day and Brazil is no exception, the genre already hugely popular and hailing fans from all over the country.
But an outsider may wonder, what is it about this Korean music, of all things, that made it go Boom? Welcome to my summary of what you need to navigate the weird, colorful and competitive world of kpop.
To start us off, what most people don’t know about the kpop industry, is that it works very differently from the international music industry. An important difference between western music and kpop, is that kpop idols are trained. And this isn’t an American-idol-the-Voice type coaching, being an idol trainee means years of grueling dance, singing, acting and rapping lessons in the hopes of one day being pushed forward to debut. Youths, usually from the ages of 12 to 18, are contracted by entertainment companies to train for sometimes as long as 10 years and are expected to pay back their company after they, in theory, become successful and can then, finally, start to make a living for themselves. The trainee system is harsh, to say the least.
The training will be greatly influenced by the entertainment company in charge. There are the “Big 3” companies that stand out greatly from the others, almost always producing hit songs and successful idol groups over the years. These 3 are known as SM, JYP and YG entertainment, who each have their own distinguishable brand of music and idol groups, yet still dominate the kpop industry together. They manage numerous bands, most of which dominate the charts with each “comeback”, a term used to describe the promotion of a new album or single by a kpop act (be it a group or solo). It refers to an artist “coming back” to the music scene. Each company has their own policy, but, as a general rule idols are not allowed to date, go clubbing or eat certain types of food. In YG entertainment, idols are also not allowed to drive and have plastic surgery.
The period before promotion is also very taxing, as they are thrust into tight schedules, sometimes with back-to-back performances on different music shows such as Inkigayo, Mnet and Music Bank that air every week on their respective days. In these music shows, the current top-ranking artist on the charts will receive a “win” which generally symbolizes success for an artist (considering numbers such as album sales, digital ranking, etc.). Unfortunately, even if a kpop act may be popular internationally, what is taken into consideration is their national popularity. What is popular in Korea and what is popular internationally can be vastly different. K.A.R.D., for example, a co-ed group has already had a successful world tour before even debuting in Korea, where mixed groups are rare and even more scarcely successful.
Kpop is also characterized by knife-like, perfectly in sync and ultimately quite challenging choreography that can take a month or more to perfect. While most groups are dependent on their company to give them their songs and concepts, there are also some self-composing artists such as Block B, Big Bang and BTS who also take up roles of producers and song-writers.
This brings us to the different positions members take up in a band:
You have now a pretty solid understanding of kpop and how it works. Congratulations! Just to send you off, watch the video below to see bits and pieces of kpop, and what it has to offer, and some keywords that may come in handy!
Bias – your favorite member in a group
Sasaeng – extreme/stalkerish fans that openly harass artists
Dongsaeng- affectionate term to describe someone younger than you
Sunbae – a term used to refer to someone who is your senior (someone in a higher grade or someone who has been working in the music industry longer than you have)
Hoobae – the opposite of sunbae, your junior.
Hyung/Noona – terms males use to refer to those older them (male, female respectively)
Oppa/Unnies - terms males use to refer to those older them (male, female respectively)
Aegyo – a word used to describe actions that are purposefully cute
Daebak – expression that means awesome or unreal
Mianhae – I’m sorry
Jinja – really?
Saranghaeo – I love you
Omo – Oh my