A Growing Worldwide Phenomenon: KPop

Asia has always been an interesting centre of culture and traditions far from the occidental ones, keeping some sort of fascination in it.

While Asian food and the study of languages like Japanese and Chinese are pretty popular all around the world since several years now, it’s just in the last few ones that another aspect of Asiatic culture have spread outside their boundaries to become a global phenomenon: KPop.

This genre of music was born in South Korea just at the beginning of the 90s (at least in its modern form), with the formation of the first groups, but now it’s a well-greased machine that it’s an important part of their culture and it’s becoming more popular every day in America and Europe.

But how KPop works? Being this industry there are various companies that every year holds audition and goes to schools (not only in Korea, for example Mark Tuan from the group Got7 was scouted in his high school in Los Angeles, where he used to live) to find new talents and making them enter in a training system, where they are exposed to back-breaking dance sessions, singing and rapping lessons and heavy diets, often while also studying.

Trainee periods are famous to be extremely tough (there are companies that force their trainees to exercise till late night, do competitions between them where the losers are sent out of the system and give them just one meal a day) and can last from some months to 12 years, till the agency doesn’t think the trainee is good enough to debut in a group made and totally handled by the company itself in every little details of their lives, from the non-dating rule to the living together one, at least for the first years.

There are three very important companies in this industry, SM Entertainment, YG Entertainment and JYP Entertainment, all agencies of both boys and girls groups and also some soloist, even though solo artists are not that popular and the majority of them are anyway members of former members of groups: for example for SM Entertainment debuted as soloist in the last two years two guys from the boyband SHINee, Lee Taemin and Kim Jonghyun, and three from the girl group Girls Generation (SNSD), Kim Taeyeon, Tiffany Hwang and Seohyun (real name Seo Juhyun).

Idols groups have also usually a strict structure with specific roles: there is a leader (sometimes chosen by the other members of the band but very rarely missing as a figure) that takes care of the others and represents all the group officially during awards speeches, there are vocalists, main, lead and sub depending on how many lines they gets in the songs and how strong their vocal abilities are, there are usually rappers since rap is a very important part of kpop songs especially for boy groups and, if there are more than one rapper in the band, divided as the vocalist, there is the visual, the one that is considered the most beautiful one and is the proponent in ads and commercials because of this, there is the face of the group (even though this role can be confused with the visual sometimes) that is kind of the centre of the band in the videos and that talks the most during interviews, there is the maknae, the youngest one that is pampered and cherished by the rest of the members and most of the time acts cute because of its position and there are the dancers, cause complex choreographies are one of the things that identify kpop the most and while usually all the group takes part of it there are some members particularly skilled that lead the choreography or have dance solos.

The number of members can vary between 3 to 9 usually but there are also larger groups like EXO back in his debut days (there used to 12 members) and Seventeen that, despite the name, has 13 members, and between them fans usually choose a bias (a favorite one) creating entire fan bases just dedicated to that one person, obviously adding to the ones for the groups themselves that have usually particular names (like for examples the AROHAs, fans of the group ASTRO, which name means love in Maori language) and sometimes even a specific color or symbol (Shawols’, SHINee’s fans, color is pearl aqua green and their symbol is a diamond).

This is obviously translated in the selling of a lot of groups merchandising, other than albums, and this popularity is also the reason why very often idols are chosen as models to promote various products (to fashion to make-up to chicken) and there are an incredible number of tvshows programs that exist just to star idols in them, from very popular music ones like Music Bank or M Countdown where idols can perform, especially after new comebacks, to ones where they have particular challenges to do, like for example Hello Baby, a show that was very popular some years ago and in which idols groups had to take care of kids improvising as parents, or We Got Married, in which Korean celebrities are paired up and has to acts and complete missions as a married couple.

But what makes Kpop groups also popular outside South Korea? The answer for the other Asiatic countries is quite obvious, since bands that are popular in Korea often debut also in Japan and sometimes in China with entire albums in the language of the country, but for the western world Internet is probably the true reason behind this success, together with a “Chinese whispers” game: people usually hears about Kpop from friends or find it casually on Youtube and now idols often performs or hold fan meetings all around the world because of the rising number of non-Korean fans, the singer CL even debuting in America as a soloist.

A clear sign of this growing popularity is the presence of Kpop in important charts like Billboards: male group BTS (Bangtan Sonyeondan) last year broke several records, his new albums “Wings” debuting in the Billboard 200 chart at the 26th place (the highest rank for a Kpop album ever) and being the only Kpop album to ever stayed in the chart for more than one week and also being placed at the first place on Billboard’s Social 50 chart.

So, this genre of music is slowly conquering the world, being extremely different from anything else both for the music videos (they have particular costumes, colors and aesthetics and often tell stories that are hard to understand sometimes) and, like mentioned before, the amazing choreographies, not forgetting also the idols’ talent in doing multiple things like singing, rapping, dancing, acting, modeling, hosting tv shows ecc and doing so in different languages or how catchy the songs are and how impressively build all the performances are.

A perfect example of addicting song, great dance moves and flawless aesthetic video is the single from the previously mentioned album “Wings” by BTS, “Blood, Sweat and Tears” that presents in it also an extract of Hermann Hesse’s “Demian”, who was an important inspiration for the concept of the whole album.

Federica Peltz

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