My musical interests have spanned quite a range of genres over my listening history thus far. I have probably enjoyed music from almost every one that I could think of. For my personal listening, I’ve gone from “light rock, less talk” (adult contemporary), to pop (as vague and broad as that is), to rock/heavy metal, to funk/disco, to rap, to hip-hop, to alternative, to “the quiet storm” (R&B), to classical/instrumental, to J-pop, and finally to J-Rock. I was stuck on the J-Rock phase for quite a while and that would be the only thing coming out of my car speakers and headphones. My hobby of anime watching continued to feed me in that area as I’d discover newer songs from the shows I’d watch. I also began to follow a few artists as a result (ecosystem, 9mm, and Prague). I do still listen to it on occasion, but there’s a new sound emanating from these cans of mine. I must confess that this latest one definitely caught me off guard and I wasn’t expecting to get into it as much as I did. What genre is that?
Yes, you read that right. K-POP. Depending on your extent of knowledge in the genre, it’s not quite the K-POP you might be more familiar with (*cough* PSY). In particular, I’ve been listening to the multitude of male groups and yes… there certainly are a ton of them out there.
For the popularity of the genre as a whole, I’d say it’s pretty apparent how large of an impact K-POP has had when taking songs like “Gangnam Style” and “Gentleman” into consideration. However, both male and female groups have had their share of the spotlight as well. Girls’ Generation song “Gee” hit ~119 million views on YouTube. Additionally, Girls’ Generation won an award for video of the year at the YouTube’s Music Awards in 2013 for their song “I GOT A BOY” (at ~93 million views). As you can see on the list on the wiki article (linked above, impact), male groups have had their share of this popularity as well, with BIGBANG’s “Fantastic Baby” hitting about ~104 million views along with a ton of other groups with views well in the tens of millions.
(Just as a warning, I’m by no means a music scholar, so my input for the rest of this post is all relative to my listening and personal perspectives.)
If I were to define the sound, I’d say it’s quite similar to the popular music we have locally here in the states, and yet… different at the same time. It’s probably like what it would be here if “pop” continued to evolve from what it was during the “boy band” boom. For similarities, a lot of the sounds and styles you would hear in pop stateside are present. From the electronic noise that make up dubstep, to the hard hitting beats and rapping that would make up hip-hop, as well the usual uptempo high energy rhythms you would find in your typical dance music. I’d say as a whole and in general, the music for most of the male K-pop groups would land in the dance category and are meant to get your feet moving.
As for the differences, just like their dramas, I’d say for the most part the lyrical content is relatively a lot cleaner than the music here. Most of the lyrics I’ve seen translated are tame in comparison to the stuff you hear on the local radio stations. I suppose I can’t make any sweeping generalizations though, since I don’t speak the language. Additionally, as I’ve said for J-rock, the language barrier has no bearing when it comes to good music. They have several great songwriters, composers, and producers in Korea, and I think that’s obvious when you listen to their stuff. I’ve even heard of several Korean artists actually collaborating with producers from the states.
The first song that caught my attention was actually “This Love” by Shinhwa. Amusing was the fact that I discovered the song due to a fan-made video that references the song using characters from the show Attack on Titan. The story of the group also caught my attention as it lands close to home with my history and former ties with Legaci. In particular, the aspects of their older age compared to the more popular groups and having to make a comeback after a time away from the scene.
Now initially, I actually didn’t listen to much K-pop after hearing that song. Even though I had that particular song in rotation for a while, I went back to J-rock regularly since that was the only K-pop song in my library. I wasn’t really adventurous enough to explore other artists back then and the other songs available for Shinhwa on iTunes didn’t really grab me at the time.
That was soon to change.
My sister’s family had recently began hanging around us more often and along with them came their influences. My daughter who was pretty much an anime nerd (like me) was slowly indoctrinated to the ways of Korea and K-pop. Her video browsing moved on from watching anime clips to watching various K-pop M/Vs, variety shows with K-pop stars, and the occasional K-drama. The event that took me over the edge along with her was the LA KPOP/ Korea Festival back in April. After buying up a few albums for her to listen to during the road trip (SHINee and EXO), it all went down from there.
The concert as a whole was quite entertaining (though the camera work was poorly produced… and I better stop there before I go off on a rant about that). After discovering the artists that performed there along with hearing various groups in the car during the trip, I decided to pick up a few albums. Though we did stop by a Korean music store in Koreatown on the way back, I didn’t have enough information and research under my belt to make a decision on a purchase back then (though that didn’t stop my daughter from picking a few things). Thankfully we have an outlet to purchase K-pop digitally here through iTunes. They actually have a pretty large selection of K-pop readily available to purchase from the U.S. storefront. In contrast, my passion for J-rock is quite hard to feed as I have to resort to importing or using the Japanese iTunes (which requires the purchase of iTunes cards in their currency).
The first group I purchased as a result of the concert was the rock band CNBLUE, which entertained me with their live performance aspect and for their great songs. “Can’t Stop” is just a great piece of music. It has such an interesting flow to the structure, quite a combination of sounds with the blend of symphony and rock, and such volatility with its emotions with the ballad-like verses and uptempo chorus. “I’m Sorry” is also just another catchy upbeat song that I enjoyed. I picked up the EP for both songs and they have me pondering a potential cover as I find some free time. Similar to my J-rock interest, I enjoy it when a rock group has a great vocalist.
After that, I picked up my favorite songs from each of the male groups there. I enjoyed raising my hands up at the concert for 2PM’s “Hand’s Up” and “10 Out of 10.” Infinite’s “Destiny” and “Be Mine” also made the cut. I indulged in the “Delicious” collaboration of the duo ToHeart. As for SHINee, I already owned a few of their albums thanks to the earlier purchases for my daughter, so I didn’t need to bother for them… though I didn’t seem to stop there. As my curiosity continued and one M/V lead to another, I eventually picked up more songs from SHINee, as well as other artists I heard in passing like VIXX, B.A.P, Taeyang, and EXO.
I think what has mostly intrigued and attracted me to K-pop is that it gives me a similar vibe to the music that had my attention as a member of a “boy band” back in my college years. I would say I wasn’t really a great dancer or anything as I kind of had a self-placed limiter on myself back then. I felt a bit embarrassed and shy about dancing while performing, but I truthfully did enjoy performing in the end and enjoyed watching others do the same. The dance routines featured in the music videos back then from artists like ‘N Sync, Backstreet Boys, Usher, Dru Hill, Ginuwine, Aaliyah, Missy Elliot, along with some others, were all great influences and inspirations for our performances at the time.
I see a lot of similarities as I watch the dance routines for these various K-pop groups. Their videos are just chock-full of sassy dance routines and sensational visuals. I’d definitely say that the ability to dance and well choreographed routines carry a lot of weight with regards to performances in K-pop. Sure, the recorded music that they perform to is great and I think they all have pretty good voices for the most part (albeit some heavily produced in the studio), but from what I’ve seen in performances on various Korean variety shows where they mostly lip sync, they definitely seem to emphasize and put more weight on the dance aspect. They are definitely performers more than they are singers. I highly doubt many of these groups would be able to perform these songs live. Watching the dance moves for these K-pop groups brings back that feeling that I had as a performer back then. I have to say the routines from groups such as EXO, SHINee, BTS, B.A.P, and Infinite just to name a few, are all quite impressive and makes me miss those days.
Out of the boy band groups we have now (not that I follow the scene now, but who’s out there other than 1D?), I can’t really say I’d point out anyone in particular for their dance abilities. Even the R&B singing groups from the 2000’s didn’t really seem to work on choreography as much as I’d like, though the soloists with backing dancers did capture that aspect pretty well. Of course the pop groups were the exception, but outside of admitting to watching some ‘N Sync for their routines, I didn’t really follow any of the other players in that area. It kinda makes me wonder… if a group were to rise up on the scene right now and they were of similar caliber to these K-pop ones, would it catch on?
As for the musical aspect, I’d say that K-pop is basically continuing to evolve and innovate on what we have for the most part abandoned locally. The songs in general have great beats, catchy hooks, and melodious harmonies. Their vocalists all pretty much land in my vocal range as well, so it makes singing along (and botching Korean while I’m at it) quite enjoyable. Though most of it is dance music, they do have their fair share of ballads and slow jams that are similar to what you would hear on the radio here. The vocal aspects of their songs as a whole are relatively impressive and entertaining both in solo and harmony. One song in particular I’ve enjoyed quite bit was SHINee’s “One Minute Back,” which I almost would say kinda reminds me of something up MJ’s alley with regards to the flow and harmonies. Of course, there’s quite a few other cuts I enjoy a ton, like “Lucifer” (embedded above) by SHINee, “Voodoo Doll” and “Hyde (embedded above)” by VIXX, “Punch” and “No Mercy” by B.A.P, and pretty much anything by EXO (see earlier referenced “Mama” and later linked video “History”).
So again yes, I admit that I listen to K-pop. I suppose you could blame my singing group background on this interest. So who’s on my playlist right now? SHINee, VIXX, B.A.P, 2PM, Infinite, EXO, CNBLUE, Taeyang, Teen Top, Younique Unit, and the list is steadily growing as I discover more and more groups. I’m actually even importing a few albums from VIXX and EXO as I type this. I don’t think this will be stopping anytime soon either.
As for my favorite right now? Based on my listening patterns, VIXX and B.A.P are in higher rotation at the moment, but I’d probably say EXO is my favorite at this point with SHINee a close second. Of course, this is subject to change as I hear more and more songs. If you’re curious, I’d definitely check out any of the videos I linked throughout this article.
UPDATE: I take that back… SHINee takes the lead for the music aspect. As for performances, I gotta say I like the M/Vs for EXO so far for their choreography, though I like VIXX’s videos.
So… are you ready to “let out the beast” and take the plunge with me? “Just follow.”
(Okay, I think that’s enough references that nobody will catch…)