I discovered Korean pop when I was twelve years old. Before that, I grew up listening to what was around me, what my parents and friends listened to, from pop in Spanish like Julieta Venegas or Lila Downs to classical music that my dad played while he worked. Finding this genre on my own was really exciting, different: the first time I listened to music that felt completely mine. I stumbled across something I’d been looking for for a long time: ethereal-looking guys and girls singing catchy tunes, accompanied by elaborate and flashy choreography, something genuinely refreshing. That artistic expression, that exaggerated mix of pop music and experimental touches, the idyllic costumes and the perfect balance between my taste for familiar art and a foreign nature,
Very soon I showed a music video to my parents, who were surprised by the peculiar style that was reflected in the combination of dancing and singing, and especially in the number of members that were in that band (the idols,as they are known with an almost religious meaning). It was about the now famous BTS (Bangtan Sonyeondan), who in that 2017 had won the award for “social artist” at the Billboard Music Awards. I met them when they seemed to be at the height of their careers, for I certainly did not know that their rise to international fame was just beginning. I was there to see how they flourished, while I grew up with them. For me, Korean pop was a key part of the transition from childhood to adolescence. Over time, it became natural to see it as a before and after in my life, a radical change in my, shall we say, worldview and identity.
My family and friends believed that it would be a small phase, solely driven by attractive singers without much else to offer; perhaps they reduced my interest to a simple and embarrassing adolescent fever. But here I am, five years later, still immersed and enchanted by the unstoppable evolution of Korean pop. Why wasn’t it just a passing phase? And how is it that so many young people, all over the world, have found a warm refuge in these melodies?
Readers may have already heard something about hallyu, the “Korean wave”, and the forceful impact that East Asian cultures in general are having on the West, primarily among the youth. The striking aesthetic that has been formed through a juxtaposition of traditional art and the influences of the present connects with people from all corners of the world. Since I was little I loved dance, singing and visual arts, and suddenly I found myself immersed in hundreds of videos that brought all this together, that caught my attention in the best possible way. It stirred up interests that had been cultivated in me from a very young age.
The visual load of k-pop is undeniable. With the public’s expectations getting higher and higher, the quality of photography and production only improves, attracting more and more people’s attention. It is an accessible invitation for those who wish to enjoy contemporary art. My friend Sarah, from Venezuela, told me about it: “The conceptual variety in k-pop is rarely seen. I believe that performance is a visual art that allows the artist to shine.
On the other hand, I find the musical quality of K-pop difficult to explain. It’s something that I myself only managed to understand by listening to the songs over and over again, giving my time to the groups that interested me, to see what they could offer. The combinations and planes of sounds generate such a full experience that it is impossible not to listen to each piece more than once; the depth of the songs grows on you and it is very rewarding to understand all its layers. For example, girl group Red Velvet recently released an album with a title track, “Feel My Rhythm,” which incorporates samplesfrom a Bach aria and adapts it to a lively dance-pop song with a trap rhythm, unavoidably striking for an audience that wants to know all the limits that can be broken in this genre. Another friend of mine, Yumi from Turkey, accurately describes the musicality of the genre:
Many people find inspiration in the artistic expressions that k-pop exhibits. Millions of people can watch the audiovisual content of hundreds of groups, become interested in singing, dancing or design, and perform them themselves. In this regard, Sarah says: “Seeing the content produced by the fans is fascinating. So much art is generated from the passion for K-pop!” Not only is it fun to learn, but it has also inspired my way of dancing. I made the decision to upload my choreographies to the internet and since then I have managed to form a community of thousands of people who see this content and interact with me thanks to their taste for the same styles that I use; It is very comforting and has taught me a lot over the years.
Fashion is another area that has been impacted by K-pop. Many current collections and trends in the West are influenced by K-fashion (Korean fashion) and delicately reflected in the styles worn by teenagers. Whether it’s pleated skirts, oversized casual wear, or accessories like harnesses or simple corsets, stylists in the K-pop industry have incorporated this kind of clothing to experiment and create more eye-catching outfits.