Jules Does

Jules Does K-Pop Academy Homework: What Makes K-Pop So Attractive?

Posted on: September 24, 2014

Below is my homework for Week One of the 6th K-Pop Academy: an op-ed piece on what makes K-Pop so attractive. Enjoy!

Seriously, what was it about him?

In 2010, a strange man wearing a suit and dancing like an equestrian caught the attention of the world. His instant (and ongoing) popularity led to many thinkpieces by the Western media – just what is this K-Pop thing anyway? And why do so many people inside and outside of Korea (‘Gangnam Style’ has over 2 billion views now) seem to love it? But while Psy’s video might be the first many think of when K-Pop is discussed and has grown into a representative of the K-Pop genre at large, I will demonstrate that K-Pop far and away exceeds the boundaries of what the uninitiated might expect from a genre that is as diverse as its fans. I will do this by examining what are, for me, the three key features of K-Pop: the language, the visuals and the fans. Prepare for pictures and gifs!

1. The Language

It goes without saying that K-Pop songs are sung in Korean. Bands such as Super Junior or Big Bang may record Japanese/Chinese/English versions of songs for outside markets (or even have offshoots of the group which sing in a non-Korean language), but far and away the majority of songs are almost entirely in Korean. So why do people who do not speak Korean take such obvious pleasure in listening to a language not their own?

There is a great wealth of information available to K-Pop fans who are actually interested in the meaning of the Korean words being sung, such as KPopLyrics.net, and the KPopSubs channel on YouTube, and they reveal the lighthearted, funny, deep and romantic meanings of many of the most famous and catchy songs in K-Pop land (here are some of my favourites). Again, I’m not suggesting that the lyrics of all K-Pop songs are deep and meaningful; Heaven knows, some of them are poorly crafted, vapid or nonsensical (I’m looking at you, EXO), but just because a song is in another language doesn’t mean we can discount its linguistic artistry. As a side note, K-Pop can also help you learn Korean in some cases!

Also, if I am being my worst and most honest self, I admit that listening to non-English music gives me a break from constant vigilance. So many times I’ve been enjoying an English-language song, only to hit an unpleasant lump of sexism or other undesirable content. It is so much easier to put on the soothing tones of Infinite’s ‘Last Romeo’  and not worry about it (they’ll give up everything for you! they’ll drink poison! they’re adorable!). This is not only because I cannot understand the majority of what’s being sung, but also because Korea is generally fairly conservative in terms of what they will allow to be broadcast, and K-Pop songs are, in my experience, generally less explicit and less aggressive. Yes, this assumption has backfired on me in the past (I mean, come on, GD, you let me down), but when I just want to unwind to some beautiful music, K-Pop is the place to go.

A great deal of my liking for K-Pop is wrapped up with my general dissatisfaction with a lot of English-language pop songs of today. I’m fairly conservative in some of my ways, and the current trend of butt-waggling, insulting your enemies and crooning insistence on having your way with a lady really rub me the wrong way. K-Pop lyrics, by contrast, are on the whole much gentler or abstract, even if many of them feature repeated gunshot noises.

Even the aggressive looking ‘No More Dream’ by BTS above, which on the surface appears to be another bling-laden hip-hop video like we have over here, is actually about dreaming big, exceeding expectations and working hard for what you want, all done in a way which I personally find more inspiring than Britney Spears’ one-note ‘Work Bitch’.  I appreciate that I don’t have a representative sample of all English-language pop, but given that two songs about having a bum were released within a month or two of each other, not to mention the massive and ongoing furore about a certain song, I think my point still stands. Call me sex-negative if you like.

Besides, we listen to lots of music in other languages – opera comes to mind. Why not pop music too?

2. The Visuals

K-Pop is treated like it’s some monolithic, homogenous thing, but in fact there is a great deal of variety among and within bands in terms of concepts, fashion and music styles. The clearest way that these differences can be seen is in the visual arena.  The first K-Pop video I ever watched was Big Bang’s ‘Fantastic Baby’; after that, I was hooked. Watch it below and tell me you don’t feel the same way:

Did you catch all of that? No? Well, there were owls, men chained to walls, a guy thawing, feather-covered lips, a man with blue hair wearing breeches, some Daft Punk-type helmets, crowns, rioters, lips covered in feathers, gauntlets (gauntlets!) tattoos, a great deal of hair dye… and that was all with the sound off!

What about ‘Hoot’ by Girls Generation (SNSD)?

Spies! Multi-coloured lifts! Aegyo! Dancing in perfect sync! Austin Powers costumes!

Or ‘Beatles’ by GI? The girls have a ‘boyish’ concept, so if SNSD wasn’t for you, this might appeal more. Perfect for Tim Burton Fans!

Want something a little more monochromatic? Try Super Junior’s massive hit ‘Sorry Sorry’.

Still visually stunning.

It’s not just the massive production values that make K-Pop videos so distinctive, nor is it the mind-blowing choreography that has all members of a group moving in sync. It’s also the blindingly obvious fact that K-Pop idols look indisputably incredible.

CL looking awesome in monochrome.



Objectively attractive person T.O.P.

Amber being wicked.

D.O. you stop it right now

No comment.

I feel I’ve made my point.

3. The Fans

Last week at the K-Pop Academy was wonderful for many of us there because we got the chance to meet our fellow fans and talk about (and squee over) our favourites. K-Pop fans also have a language specific to them – some Korean terms, certainly, such as aegyo and maknae, but also phrases like ‘my bias is…’ and so on, odd sounding pieces of information that can actually tell you quite a lot about a person and which can help build a community like our little group of 30. We share jokes (how perfect that our classes start at 2 P.M.!), obsessions, and points of reference (I was the second person that day to explain my age in relation to Kyuhyun of Super Junior). Fans also gain a massive sense of cohesion and unity from the names for them given by their idols – Casseopeia, Blackjacks, Strings, ELFs, SONES, VIPs, etc – not only because it gives us a name for ourselves, but because it gives us a connection to the bands that we love. This is especially important for those of us who live in places other than Eastern Asia and who therefore cannot go to (or understand) the many events where our favourites feature.

K-Pop fans are unabashedly intense and devoted, which can lead to some internet ugliness but, at its best, helps to support and promote the artists that we love so dearly. The best part is that this is not just its own reward – K-Pop idols and their management are also very devoted to their fans. There are frequent updates on social media, special photoshoots released, photobooks, DVD and TV specials… Recently, Super Junior released bonus behind-the-scenes features for each viewing milestone that their new video ‘Mamacita’ hit, including a drama-like explanation of the plot of the video and backstage interviews. Idols appear in K-Dramas and movies sometimes as well, or provide music for OSTs, so you can enjoy other forms of K-Media alongside your K-Pop. In some ways, its simultaneously easy and difficult to be a K-Pop fan because of the huge amount of new information being handed to you everyday.

I guess the real question, when you consider all of these factors – the beautiful language, the beautiful people and the beautiful fans – is actually: why wouldn’t you like K-Pop?

1 Response to "Jules Does K-Pop Academy Homework: What Makes K-Pop So Attractive?"

[…] to illustrate words or phrases I’ve picked up through K-Dramas and K-Pop. I mentioned in my earlier post that there are resources which can help fans to learn Korean through K-Pop songs, so this is a good […]

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