For someone as passionate about Korea as I am, it’s somewhat controversial to even muse such a thing, but I’m stuck on this one- do I actually like K-pop?
When I first heard it, I simply dismissed it as “not my thing”, and accepted that it would never be something I’m into. It’s not that I’m picky about music or into something cooler, more that I’m somewhat behind the times, and am more in tune with popular music from the 1960s than that of today! I mean, I don’t really listen to modern British or American pop music, so why would K-pop ever appeal?
It’s not like I don’t like cutsie stuff. I love bubblegum pop, and twee modern bands like She & Him and The Chalets, but K-pop is worlds apart from all this. To me, it is in the same musical realms that the X Factor winners operate in, and I have no interest in that whatsoever.
When I moved to Korea, I stumbled upon a little problem with the ‘ignoring K-pop’ hypothesis: it was inescapable. It was absolutely everywhere, infiltrating by every means just as, say, Adele does over here at the moment. I couldn’t help but compare the Korean music that surrounded me to what I was actually choosing to put through my headphones at the time, and hit a stark comparison:
K-pop -> Britpop
Popular now -> Popular in 1994
Autotune -> Reverb
High on life -> Fed up with life
Hunks -> Drunks
Pretty-> Pretty vacant
Dressed in bright colours -> Dressed in black
Sweet as sugar-> Bitter like a lemon
Easy listening -> Heartbreaking
Ballads -> Power chords
Cutie style -> Kinderwhore style
Sexy girlies ->Riot grrrls
Squeaky clean -> Dirty
It was a real culture shock for me, yet (maybe somewhat surprisingly), K-pop was nowhere near as annoying as Adele is here and now. Yes, the tunes were kitsch, crazy and catchy, but it was somehow easy to fall for them.
This may have partly been down to the novelty of music from a different culture and an association with the Korea that I so loved, but it was more than that. Korean people loved this music so much. They really believed in it and lived it. And I’m not just talking the teenagers. Even the youngest children I taught knew the lyrics to Big Bang tunes at the age of four. And my adult students loved Wondergirls.
It dawned on me that this wasn’t anything like growing up in England, when you more or less had to state whether you were a Britpop, grunge, garage or R ‘n’ B kid, and let that dictate the clothes you wore and circles you moved in. No, in Korea, pop means POP, and everyone proudly supports the bands that dominate their music scene.
Although this touched me, K-pop just wasn’t rock ‘n’ roll, and despite learning quite a lot about who was who in the scene, I still wasn’t really into it.
When I came back to England, I started to watch a few K-pop videos for nostalgia’s sake, and it struck me that there was a lot more to this than just campy pop. These guys and gals oozed glamour, style and charisma, and were deeply talented. Nearly every star could sing, dance and rap really well, and they all looked amazing. I became impressed, but still doubted that K-pop would ever fit into my music repertoire.
Until now. My K-pop flame has been sparked through the Korean language lessons that I take. K-pop-addicted classmates have amazing vocabularies, recognising words from songs they have listened to. Their accents and fluidity are great, and they do better in ‘listening’ exercises, for obvious reasons.
Frankly, I’m jealous, and have decided enough is enough. I am trying to make myself like K-pop, as listening to it regularly will inevitably improve my Korean skills significantly. My teacher highly recommends it and is a fan himself. He pointed out that the rapping is relatively slow and annunciation relatively clear, making these songs the perfect learning tool.
So now, whenever I’m doing household chores or eating my lunch, I watch some youtube footage, or listen to SeoulFM (which plays a real variety of nonstop K-pop). I’m getting used to it, but am still adjusting to a style of music very alien to me.
What’s becoming apparent, though, is that K-pop doesn’t take itself too seriously, so there’s no need for me to. It’s fun, funny and full of life, and that can’t all be bad.
I’m not in love with K-pop yet, but all things considered, I think I may actually like it. What do you reckon?