If Youre Not Paying Attention to Korean Pop Music You Should Be

first_imgStay on target If you’re like everyone else on earth, you’ve probably heard Psy’s “Gangnam Style” way too many times. It’s still the single most popular video ever put on YouTube, and it’s a bit odd in the sense that it’s one of the very few turbo-popular songs over the years that hasn’t been in English. For a lot of people, that’s a bit… well… odd… The US and England have largely been the twin fulcra of modern pop-culture, but we’re starting to see that balance of social power shift — to Asia.Korean Pop can be read as a sort of canary in the coal mine. Granted, nothing since Gangnam style has shared nearly the same ubiquity, but that doesn’t mean the Korean Pop Music industry isn’t growing.In the US, K-Pop has enjoyed some success, but it’s never really moved beyond a handful of mega-fans (like yours truly). Elsewhere in the world, though, it’s fighting and in many cases winning the battle for prominence. Africa, Asia, and most of Latin America harbor huge fanbases for Korea’s latest cultural export, and that’s not by accident.via kpop-all.comThe government of South Korean has been pushing their music as a roundabout means of bolstering their growing trade empire — and yeah, I’m serious. Government subsidies and extensive support at every level have more than quadrupled the total value of Korea’s exports. By whetting the appetite of other markets for Korean apparel, food, and culture in a broad sense, South Korea’s been able to secure a planet’s worth of fans. And in the era of globalization, that’s a huge boon for a small nation with no natural, friendly neighbors.In much the same way that American cinema has been guided heavily by foreign markets so has this phenomenon. If you’re curious, check this out which digs into the complex relationship between China and Hollywood. Many stateside producers and rappers like Kanye and Snoop Dogg have started making tracks for K-Pop stars. Snoop Dogg’s big contribution was “Hangover,” a collab with Psy. These partnerships help elevate Korean music in the eyes of global audiences. Most people have at least heard of Kanye and Snoop, so for Korean stars looking to legitimize themselves in the eyes of millions, collaborations are a boon.And that alone is interesting isn’t it? K-pop gets branded an emerging global market, Americans, eager to make a few more bucks invest in the market, and in so doing aid the growing dominance of Korean culture.All that said, K-pops real innovation is the fusion of disparate cultural elements. It’s a pastiche, pulling from, obviously, Korean culture, but also European dance, American rap and iconography, and complex dance choreography that channels mid-to-late 90s dance crazes. The effect is a cultural export that’s truly global. In some ways, Korean pop music belongs to people the world over. It focuses on simple, universal themes and infectiously catchy hooks that are easy to slip back into. Big Bang’s “Fantastic Baby” or 2NE1’s “I am the best” are testaments to this.The elements that helped make American bubblegum pop-appealing to the masses have been distilled to their essentials in Korea and reworked and adapted to fit with today’s internet-driven viral culture. In essence, the country’s weaponized its culture and has positioned itself as a new hub of global entertainment. And while that’s been a tremendous boost to Korea’s economy, it’s come with some disconcerting costs.You may have heard about the prevalence of plastic surgery in South Korea, and that’s in part because of their shocking, oppressive beauty standards. The US takes a lot of flak from the global community for its narrow fashion rules, but Korea, along with boiling down the driving beats and memorable hooks of Brittany Spears, concentrated toxic notions of ideal body size and shape.Korean pop stars will get lots of plastic surgery, whiten their skin, and even remove many stereotypically Asian features (namely the epicanthic eye folds). Perhaps worse is the brutal nature of the K-pop idol industry. Aspiring musicians and dancers have to train every day at special schools from a very early age. The training is not only brutal, but it often puts prospective stars into tremendous debt. Training just one pop idol can cost upwards of $3 million, and when you consider that most groups have at least four, often five or more, the problem becomes pretty clear. Not every idol makes it, and a good chunk doesn’t make their money back. Depending upon the contract the idol signed, failure to gain traction with audiences isn’t just a failed dream, it’s a life-ruiner.Despite that, there’s a shocking amount of depth to the genre. Groups like Big Bang have been massive influences on people and music and fashion the world over, and they often address problems endemic to Korean culture, like the country’s prodigious alcohol consumption. It’s hard to say if K-pop’s meteoric rise will continue, or if the industry’s problems will catch up to it. For now, though, we can all sit back and enjoy some of the most interesting pop music around. Even if it’s production is a bit problematic.Next week, we’ll highlight a dozen K-pop groups you should be following so you can get your feet wet. Scientists Discover Perfectly Preserved Dinosaur Skin in Korea11 Cool Korean Shows We Want Netflix to Bring Over last_img

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