Here I am, trying to start a music assignment for university. For one of the questions for this essay, I have to analyse the politics of a chosen subculture. I chose hallyu, or the Korean Wave. Why did I choose this? Firstly, I believe this ‘subculture’ is underrated and not analysed enough academically. Secondly…and I’ll admit this, I’ve been growing an interest in to K-pop. 😂
I have this love and hate affair with pop music in general. The music student in me abhors inauthentic and manufactured music made for the masses, and would often criticise it at any chance. However, regardless I indulge in it as my guilty pleasure. It’s like chocolate. You know it’s unhealthy for you but you eat it anyway because it’s so good! Pop music’s the same. It’s the lowest of the lowest in the musical food chain, akin to junk food, but the general public can’t stop listening to it. YEAH, I SAID IT. I’m going to get a barrage of tweets after making that statement. Well, not really. No-one reads my blog.
Anywho, back on topic! I’ll be honest, my first exposure to K-pop was PSY and Gangnam Style. I actually didn’t like it at first – a common theme for most of the music I listen to, but that’s for another blog post. However, but there’s something intriguing about PSY. He seems to be the anti-thesis to what K-pop was for me. Actually, to be honest I’ve grouped K-pop with every other East Asian pop music genre – in-your-face bubblegum with high pitched female singers. However, it wasn’t till I played DJMax Technika 3 in the arcade that I discovered that K-pop style is closer to Western pop music, but still had a distinct East Asian flavour. In addition, it seems the inauthenticity and manufactured-ness of pop music is embraced in K-pop, rather than scolded and criticised in Western pop. Loud and proud to be manufactured.
This is where I discovered KARA. My conception of K-pop slowly began to change. They had a dark and edgy image, akin to girl groups in Western pop culture today. It wasn’t too bubblegum. I thought yeah this could be a new guilty pleasure for me. The song that caught my attention? Step. The hard electronic synth and beats, and that dark and edgier pop music tone, appealed to me. Lyrics? Yeah, I had to get that translated. Surprisingly, it wasn’t about love or romance. In my interpretation, it was motivational – picking yourself up after a rough patch, you could say. I liked the song instantly, so much that it’s my #3 most played song in my iTunes collection. I did eventually listen to other KARA songs such as Lupin, Jumping! and Damaged Lady, but while I did liked those songs, it didn’t have the same effect like Step did on me. You K-pop fanatics (or my friends who could be potentially reading this) might want to ask me – who’s your favourite KARA member? 🤐 😜
The next group I came across was Girls Generation. Yes, I didn’t give that group the time of day until now. It was only when I came across their cover of Duffy’s Mercy while doing research for another music assignment. The song was an interesting pop adaptation, to say the least. While the original song by Duffy tried to stay true to the sound of soul music, Girls Generation’s version completely stripped it back. You hear hints of the ‘soul’ vibe in it, but the drum and bass instrumentation is akin to your typical K-pop sound. I dunno, I do like the song but it just has a different feel to it compared to the original. I’m yet to check the back catalogue of Girls Generation to see if there are songs that stand out.
Now, let’s visit the other end of the spectrum…
I haven’t tried exploring any K-pop boybands or solo artists yet so that’ll be for another blog post. This should be an interesting journey into the world of Korean pop music.