K-pop Introduction for The Non-Kpop Fan

by - 2:00 pm

Ok, hopefully, 3rd time lucky for this post. I've rewritten it so many times because there's just so much to talk about. It's so hard to find where to start! So instead of one mammoth sized post, I'm going to make this into a mini-series. Today I'll just share some basics, then I'll do posts on specific groups later! 

So there's probably one of two reasons why you've clicked on this post: 
  1. You're interested in K-pop/have seen it in the news and you're wondering what the hype is all about. 
  2. You're a K-pop fan and you've just come to join in the fun! 
Hopefully, by the end of this post, you'll have an overview of the past 10+ years of the K-pop world and you can navigate your way through the chaos. I'm aiming to break down the Korean music industry into an easy to manage post, explain the genre and industry to an English speaking audience... and let's just see what happens! Let's go for it!

My Experiences

So you might be new to my blog or just need an overview... so! I started listening to K-pop back in 2005... I know. It's kind of scary how long ago that was... Super Junior had just debuted and I had fallen in love with DBSK, a 5-member k-pop group that sung a mixture of ballads and pop songs. They were the kings of acapella... and I might be a little biased towards them.

I found K-pop through J-pop. Being the noob I was - in all fairness... I was 8/9 years old at the time - I didn't know the difference between Japanese and Korean... I couldn't recognise the languages, it was just music I didn't understand. I found J-pop through looking for gaming and anime soundtracks.... and then fell into a deep dark hole of J-pop! I loved the music, the upbeat style. DBSK also sang in Japanese under the name Tohoshinki (it's just their name translated into Japanese, DBSK stands for Dong Bang Shin Ki - which means "Rising Gods of the East.... they just translate this into different languages!).
So I was listening to their Japanese releases, and then fell into their Korean ones without knowing! Discovered Super Junior and I was listening to both genres interchangeably to start with.

Fast forward a few years, and Big Bang release a song called "Haru Haru" (Day by Day).... and I love it. Big Bang had already been together for a few years, but I only found them at this song. At this point, I was pretty much listening exclusively to K-pop.
Thankfully you could buy it on iTunes and watch the music videos on YouTube so I managed to get hold of all the albums I wanted! I even bought physical albums and had them shipped to the UK.

I was deep into the K-pop fandom throughout high school and 6th form... I went to university and the work started to take over. I still listen to releases, but I don't follow the fandom like I used to... but that shouldn't affect this post!

But You Can't Understand Them!

The biggest "problem" for most people! This is the first thing people say when they find out I listen to k-pop. I do not speak Korean, my language skills suck... so in all honesty, I think it would take a long time for me to even get enough to manage a conversation! I can read hangul (the Korean alphabet) and have picked up the most useless collection of phrases and words from songs... in the same way a non-English speaker would with English music. 

I answer this question in two ways: 

  1. There's so much more to music than just the lyrics. You can look up the lyrics later if you want - YouTube is wonderful now.... so 9/10 you can actually just turn captions on and you've got an instant translation! 
  2. Non-English speakers listen to English music.... this is just the reverse! It's totally acceptable for other countries to listen to music in English.... but not really the other way around. Why should it be any different? If you love French, Russian, Chinese, Brazilian.... or whatever countries music, then that's cool!
Thankfully, after the whole Gangnam Style craze... most people seem to have moved past this now, but you still get a few people with these comments!

What do I need to know?

So here's the main part really, you might have heard of BTS? Here's their Billboard performance from this year.  

This is a performance by BTS - "Fake Love" (2018) from the American Billboard Music Awards. They've won best Social Artist 2 years in a row now. 

But there are so many other awesome groups to look out for. Unlike western performers and artists, K-pop can be categorised by companies. The companies are the record labels that train the performers (being a K-pop singer is a little like training to be a dancer or an actor. Most K-pop idols train for years to sing/dance/act etc.). Each company has a different feel to it, so if you like one group in the company... you'll probably like some of their other acts/groups! 

There are traditionally 3 main companies: 

SM Entertainment: They create kind of "bubblegum pop", they stay in the loop with the music trends, they make some great dance tracks... they have some awesome ballads as well! They've created some really awesome hit groups.

This is "I" by Taeyeon. Taeyeon is a member of Girls' Generation, a ridiculously popular girl group who debuted with 9 members. I love this song, it's so refreshing and calming!

YG Entertainment: The company with a bit of "swag". They have some awesome rappers, YG is known as a being a little more free and creative, their artists typically appeal to the western audience a little more! (Psy is also signed to YG)

This is "Bad Boy" by Big Bang (2012). It's a classic and was pretty important for K-pop, the music video was filmed in New York and was great for breaking into the American/western market.

JYP Entertainment: I'll be honest. I love JYP, they're a lovely company... they have some really talented artists. But they usually end up being a flop. Not because their artists aren't awesome, but because they don't always have the best marketing strategies! JYP makes some really fun hits and has a really diverse range of talent. 

The Wonder Girls are legends in the K-Pop world, they had some awesome hits. But this is one of their recent releases because I won't force you to watch music videos in 240p!

When I first started, those were the only ones worth worrying about. But there are a few great up and coming companies. I won't bother naming them all, because we'll be here all day... and so many aren't even worth worrying about. 

But keep an eye on Big Hit Entertainment, they have the current stars of K-pop - BTS. Woolim Entertainment has Infinite, another great boy group. And Pledis Entertainment always has a rolling selection of good artists to watch out for. 

We could be going all day with smaller companies that only have one or two artists/groups.... but let's try and keep it simple! I've popped a few videos in the blog post to just give you a few songs to listen to. 

Apple Music

If you'd like more listening, I create K-pop playlists on Apple Music (which you can check out here).

I hope you enjoyed this introduction to the K-pop world, this post was just an overview of how the system works and what K-pop is. 

What type of music do you like to listen to? Did you enjoy any of the songs, and have you heard any K-pop before?  

It goes without saying, but each of the companies owns the copyright to these videos. I've just embedded their YouTube videos into my post, please support the artists and check out their videos on their channels rather than reuploads as well!

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