Korean Pop (also famously known as K-Pop) has become one of the biggest genres in the world. Within the 4.7 billion dollar industry, popular boy and girl bands like BTS, BIGBANG and BLACKPINK are not only adored in South Korea. Their music videos gain critical acclaim and millions of eyes watching them repeatedly around the world. BTS is the latest Korean group to try (and greatly succeed) in breaking into the U.S music space, winning the Top Social Artist Award at the 2017 Billboard Music Awards after receiving over 300 million votes.
Whenever the musical heartthrobs post a music video on YouTube, they quickly gain millions of views and their latest video for the single “Fake Love” has 245 million views. Plus I can’t forget about the budgets for these music videos! K-Pop artists are known for their high quality music videos and rigorous years of training before they touch a stage and impact the world. There’s a process to joining the elite world of K-Pop and the genre’s cultural influence is undeniable.
BBC World noted “the Modern Language Association found students taking Korean classes in U.S. universities rose by 14% between 2013 and 2016. While overall language enrollment was in decline.” Music can be felt even if you don’t know the words but it’s dope that fans are trying to embrace Korean culture and understand what their favorite artists are saying over irresistible production and catchy hooks. K-Pop is very similar to its American Pop counterpart when it comes to lifting the urban aesthetic and sound from hip-hop without putting the black artist center stage. Hip Hop originated in New York City in the 1970s and has gone on to become more inclusive and highlight a diverse range of rappers that impact people regardless of race, age, gender and sexuality but K-Pop hasn’t reached that point yet. Or they haven’t had to reach that point until now.
Vice profiled the world’s first non-Korean K-Pop group EXP Edition and the foursome has faced heavy criticism over appropriating Korean culture. There’s a very fine line between appropriation and appreciation and the New York based band definitely falls in the appropriation spectrum. The American band can’t speak Korean and they’re learning the language and culture as they create their debut album and they’re getting mixed reviews. On one hand I could argue that when someone is influenced by an artist or a genre and they want to tell their own story through music, their artist expression shouldn’t be stifled because they weren’t born within the culture. The beauty of this internet era is that we’re constantly inspiring and influencing each other and we’re getting to the point where there isn’t a limit on what you can reference or be inspired by to create your own work. But Korean Pop is based on Korean culture at the end of the day. If you take away the hip hop beats, trendy clothes and twerk filled choreography, you’re left with Korean artists expressing themselves in their language and influencing listeners around the world to get out of their bubble and experience new types of music.
Future iterations of EXP Edition need to ask themselves why does their story need to have a backdrop that’s foreign from their identity. In America white artists like Eminem, Mac Miller and The Beastie Boys had to prove they deserved to be taken serious in the hip hop world and that they were here for the music, not just the millions of dollars that can be found in black culture. I don’t expect a surge of non-Korean K-Pop groups but it’s good that we have moments like this to think about the freedom of artistic expression and how culture isn’t a fad. It’s not a pair of Air Force Ones that were hot in the hood in the early 2000s and now can be seen on any hipster’s feet in Brooklyn. Some artists need to watch, listen and understand the culture they’re trying to be apart of before they earn their seat at the table.
Article By Marcel Jeremiah