Unless you’ve been living under a rock all this time, you must have heard of Kpop. Short for Korean popular music, Kpop is a very influential music genre of this decade.
Written in Hangul as 케이팝, and anglicized as Keipap, the Kpop genre of music was one the biggest driving factors of the Hallyu or Korean wave that swept through western pop culture.
Related: List of Korean Girl Groups
Related: List of Korean Rappers
Related: List of Korean Boy Groups
Today, many famous Kpop groups enjoy international acclaim. Some have collaborated with grammy-winning artists such as Justin Beiber and Selena Gomez.
Others have gone on to top international music charts with their albums and singles. There are also several Kpop apps where you can listen to these songs.
Statistics show that Kpop is one of the biggest and fastest-growing music genres today. In fact, the Kpop market grew by almost 44.8 percent during the year 2021.
What Is Kpop?
Kpop music is short for Korean popular music. Its roots began to develop in the early 1990s and it was also greatly influenced by American pop culture of the subsequent decades.
Kpop music is a mix of several genres such as Hip Hop, R&B, EDM, and others. The sound is very energetic and fresh. You can see the influence several western music artists and bands have had on Kpop.
History Of Kpop Music
Most people think that Kpop is a recent phenomenon, but this isn’t true. As early as 1991 there were bands like Seo Taiji and Boys that were making Korean popular music and performing it live on television too.
This particular group can also be credited with adding rap to Korean music and creating a new genre within.
They performed their single “I Know” on a Korean talent show in the 1990s. The Korean music industry up until this point had been mostly soulful ballads and classical songs.
So Seo Taji and group got the lowest score from the judges on the talent show. Surprisingly, their single “I Know” an energetic rejection of Korea’s strict culture and almost military-style education system topped the charts in a week.
This proved that Kpop music had a market and was very well received by Korean audiences.
Also, several of the top record labels in Korea that provide a platform for big Kpop names like BTS and Exo were founded in the 1990s.
SM Entertainment came into existence in 1995, JYP Entertainment was established in 1997, and YG Entertainment in 1998.
So the foundations for Kpop music were laid long before, Kpop even became a thing.
Some of the very first Kpop groups to exist were H.O.T whose debut single dropped as early as 1996. There were also bands like BoA and TVXQ that were popular in the early 2000s.
The costumes, sounds, choreography, basically the blueprint for a Kpop idol group come from these early bands.
Characteristics Of Kpop Music And Sound
The thing that makes Kpop music stand out from other genres, isn’t just the sound. Kpop isn’t just about using a different melody or tempo, it’s the whole package.
The sound, the costumes, the choreography…Kpop is about the performance!
Kpop music has a lot of western influences. So you’ll find elements like rap and English lyrics in the song. This makes Kpop music more accessible and palatable to a western audience
There are also certain features like repetitive choruses and bass drops that make Kpop music such an earworm.
Also, the colorful costumes and sweet innocent images of the Kpop stars sell the genre.
Another important characteristic of Kpop music is the choreography. These dance routines are specially choreographed according to the Kpop group’s persona.
These dance moves are called 자리바꿈 or Jaribaggum. In English, this can be translated as “formation dancing” that involves using specific repetitive movements.
There’s also 포인트 안무 or Pointeu anmu or “point dancing” in English which is the specific movement that is created for a particular song.
Just like the viral horse riding step from Psy’s Gangman Style!
Popular Kpop Artists And Groups
There are several popular Kpop boy groups and girl groups.
Here are some popular Kpop boy groups:
- BTS (방탄소년단)
- EXO (엑소)
- MONSTA X (몬스타엑스)
- iKon (아이콘)
- Super Junior (슈퍼주니어)
- Got7 (갓세븐)
- NCT (엔시티)
- Seventeen (세븐틴)
- Stray Kids (스트레이 키즈)
- 2PM (투피엠)
- Shinee (샤이니)
- TVXQ (동방신기)
- Big Bang (빅뱅)
Given below are the most famous Kpop girl groups of today:
- Blackpink (블랙핑크)
- Red Velvet (레드벨벳)
- Twice (트와이스)
- MAMAMOO (마마무)
- (G)I-DLE (아이들)
- Girls’ Generation (소녀시대)
- Momoland (모모랜드)
- T-ara (티아라)
- Wonder Girls (원더걸스)
- Kara (카라)
- 2NE1 (투애니원)
Dark Side Of Kpop Music Industry
While the Kpop music industry looks all colorful and fun on the outside the reality can be very different on the inside.
There are a lot of criticisms that the Kpop industry faces from both South Koreans and the rest of the world.
The first criticism is targeted towards the record labels and the slave-like contracts that they force upon their Kpop singers.
These contracts can go on for years and years and dictate even the most minor detail of the artist’s life.
Kpop entertainment companies dictate when the artist can marry, who they date, whether or not they get plastic surgery. Some are even accused of overworking their artists.
There have also been several accusations of abuse in these companies. Some Kpop artists have also alleged sexual harassment and blackmail from these firms.
In 2017, a Kpop artist called Kim Jong-hyun took her own life as she was not able to cope with her label’s interference in her life.
Despite this, thousands of parents audition their kids to be a part of these labels and become Kpop stars.
This is another controversy that the Kpop industry faces at the moment. They select children as young as 11 or 12 through auditions or talent shows and train them to become superstars.
These kids are sent to special schools to learn singing, dancing, and performing. They are groomed from a young age to learn how to live like a pop star.
Some critics feel this makes the Kpop industry very superficial and manufactured as there is no organic growth or discovery of new talent.
Another criticism that has surprisingly united feminists and Korea’s more conservative cultures is the sexual nature of some Kpop music.
While conservative Koreans argue that the depiction of such open sexuality is not in line with their values, feminists feel young girls are unfairly sexualized in Kpop music videos.
Yes, Kpop music videos often feature women in highly glamorous and revealing outfits. And while the lyrics and music are not outright sexual, they are often riddled with innuendo.
Although some of the lyrics seem to be empowering and promote “girl power”, there can be no doubt that the sexy personas of Kpop girl groups cater to the male gaze.
FAQs about Kpop
Why is Kpop so popular?
Kpop is popular simply because of the way it is packaged.
It’s easy to consume, eye-catching, the repetitive choruses get stuck in your head for a long time, and of course, the handsome boys and pretty girls dancing to flashy choreography doesn’t hurt!
If you look at several Kpop hits, you’ll notice a recurrent theme or “formula” that is used to create this kind of music.
You’ll see a flashy and colorful music video theme, a song with a repetitive and catchy chorus, and a “hook” dance move that’s performed to this song.
All of these ingredients cook up a delicious meal called a Kpop single!
Is BTS considered K-Pop?
Yes, BTS is one of the most popular Kpop groups in the world. In fact, it was, along with BlackPink, a pioneer that opened up western audiences to Kpop music.
BTS’s fame has now moved beyond your average Kpop group as they’re now considered international artists.
Who is the richest K-pop group?
BTS is the richest Kpop group today. As of 2021, the group is supposed to be worth about 150 million USD.
Is K-Pop good or bad?
Whether Kpop is good or bad is subjective. Kpop has its advantages as the music allows the South Korean language and culture to reach different audiences and countries.
A lot of Korean and western audiences have bonded over who their favorite idol is, and this presence of Kpop in the Hallyu wave has strengthened the western interest in Korean pop culture.
However, there can be negative aspects of Kpop. We’ve already spoken about the exploitation to which record labels can subject their Kpop artists.
There’s also the case of obsessive fans or “stans” who go to excessive lengths for their “idols”. The BTS fan base, who call themselves the army has often been criticized for their excessive passion for their idols.
Want to get into Kpop yourself? You can start by listening to the top artists like BTS and BlackPink and work your way from there.
Try playing their collaborations with western pop stars first, so you can get into the mood easily.
Kpop has a fun, energetic sound. I love playing it when I’m running or working out.
The bass drops and fast beats will get you hooked, even if you don’t understand the language.
After all, music transcends barriers like language anyway, right? The rise of the Kpop genre seems to confirm it.