The sound of K-pop

Why is K-pop so popular?

Within three days of the release of the trailer of their latest song, Love Yourself Answer Epiphany, they got more than 17 million views the world over. In fact, within the first hour of the release, they got more than a million views. And they are just five years old in the world of music. They are the seven-member boy band BTS from South Korea.

They aren’t the only musical band from the southern Korean peninsula in East Asia, who, in the last couple of years, have mercurial popularity on the international entertainment chart. There are many which are clubbed under the genre of K-pop music bands. There is an all-girls (four) band, the BlackPink, whose song DDU-DU DDU-DU released on June 15 this year and debuted at number 17 on the trending chart in the UK, and with 12.4 million US streams and 7,000 downloads in the first week of the release of that song, it was the most-watched music video of the year 2018. And they returned after a year-long hiatus after debuting in 2016.

Then there are others like EXO, GOT7, SHINee etc. The nine-member boy band of EXO, active since 2012, is ranked as one of the five most influential celebrities on the Forbes Korea Power celebrity list between 2014 and 2018, and the media named them as the biggest boy band in the world.

Popularity of the South Korean entertainment world doesn’t stop with their music videos. There are K-dramas or TV serials like Are You Human Too?, Evergreen (That man, Oh Soo) that have scored fans around the world, including young Indians. There are a few that aren’t permitted to air in India. But a couple of months ago, there were serials like Descendants of the Sun, Fight for My Way, Strong Girl Do Bong Soon that had a large fan base. Now, these serials have completed their run.   

And, the best part of the K-world is that they adhere to the language of their land. Here are the lyrics of one of the most popular songs, titled Fake Love from the album ‘Love yourself: Tear’ by BTS (Bangtan Boys): ‘Neol wihaeseoramyeon nan, Seulpeodo gippeun cheok hal suga isseosseo...Fake Love, fake love...’

Unless you are familiar with the language, these lyrics sound alien. But if one listens to them a couple of times, one will start humming the song and making up lyrics. The funniest part of these songs are the Korean lyrics flashed in English as subtitles.

So, without understanding the meaning, one starts humming the lyrics.

As we write this, the news has just come in that both BTS and GOT7 have won the 2018 Teen Choice Awards — BTS as the Choice International Artist award (second time in a row) and GOT7’s rapper Jackson Wang took home the Choice Next Big Thing award. Artistes who have won in the other categories are singers like Selena Gomez, Drake, Ed Sheeran, and Khalid & Normani.

This is a US-based award which allows anyone above the age of 13 to vote online. This isn’t the first international award the BTS have won. They won the prestigious Billboards Music award of 2018 and were pitted against big guns like Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Shawn Mendes et al.  

Looking at their popularity, one wonders how the K-pop caught the interest of the world’s young. Bands like BTS have a huge fan base the likes of which haven’t been seen for a long time. In fact, at the above-mentioned award ceremony, their fanbase group, ARMY, was awarded the Choice Fandom. 

The best example of K-pop popularity perhaps can be gauged from a funny experience involving Bollywood singers, the twin-sister duo Sukriti and Prakriti Kakkar, while performing live in Malaysia. They have sung in Hindi films like Golmaal Again, Dil Dhadakne Do, Kapoor & Sons etc. Laughing and acknowledging the popularity of K-pop, their spokesperson recalled how the sister duo got a request from the young audience to perform one of K-pop songs.

Flummoxed, they recalled one of the old songs by singer PSY, Gangnam Style. In fact, the worldwide popularity of K-pop in recent times may be attributed to this song. His dancing style and beats were performed on the Wimbledon Center Court by Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams. Even our own cricketers (including Virat Kohli) loved to perform this song.

Indian interpretations

Siddharth Shankar Mahadevan, another young Bollywood singer, smilingly admitted that though he has heard about them, he doesn’t know what to say about their songs or popularity. A classical violinist, Nandini Shankar says, “Most of these songs are party songs with good beats and rap, which our generation loves. And the production and sound quality, the mixing technique and the VFX used are of such high calibre that anyone would be attracted to it. Besides, they have a good marketing technique and a good amount of financial backing!”

One just has to watch their music videos to realise how aptly Nandini has explained it. For example, watch the DDU-DU DDU-DU by BlackPink. The girls not only look ethereally beautiful, but also rich by giving the music video an appearance of opulence. Even the boy bands look cute and the quality of VFX in their videos is amazing. They are all good dancers, adopting the present-day craze of hip-hop style that includes somersaults, flipping across the room, stretching and what not. So naturally, the young have completely flipped for these groups.

Many of them write their own lyrics, compose their own songs and choreograph their dance moves. Most of the band members are below 30 years, and with the right makeup, hair colour and attire, end up looking like teenagers.

No one knows if this popularity will be as long-lasting as that of music bands like ABBA, Beatles, or singers like Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney. But for the youth of today, K-pop is the best. 

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The sound of K-pop

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