K-pop as a Popular Culture

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Living in a period characterized by a diverse, addictive, and ever-evolving change in culture and entertainment, America is a country formed by the sphere of popular culture. The term “”popular culture”” was coined in the 19th century and represents a blend of ideas, images, attitudes, and perspectives that characterize a given culture. The categories of popular culture can range from the mass media to technology, music, fashion, and entertainment (such as music, movies, video games).

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As music and people’s taste change every year, pop culture is continuously evolving. In recent years, a type of pop culture that has began to influence the western world and America is Korean music, shorten as K-pop. This rise of K-pop music and korean dramas is currently the trend that is followed by the mainstream population.

Music, movies, and news in the mass media plays an important role in American social life. In recent years, Kpop is continually dominating social media, influencing people’s lives for the better. In an article written by Joanna Chen, tittled, “How K-pop has changed lives for the better”, it states, “Not all K-pop songs follow the typical ‘love song’ format, there are a fair share of uplifting and motivational tracks with important messages, and for some, these messages provide a great deal of comfort during difficult times” (Sbs). Despite the language barrier, Kpop is a genre of music that provides hopeful and uplifting messages, allowing individuals to escape from stress experienced in the daily life. In addition, it provides a platform that allows individuals to build a sense of community and common interest. While there are hundreds of groups produced yearly, BTS was the first K-Pop group to ever perform on a major American award show (AMA). Being the first to break a cultural barriers, social stereotypes and obstacles for Asians in the American industry, BTS not only made another historical moment in Hallyu–the Korean cultural, but they further used their platform to spread powerful messages through their songs.

In their songs such as “DNA”, “No More Dream”, “RUN”, and “Spring day”, it delivers powerful messages portrayed by the themes of hope, youth, falling in love to darker topics such as social injustice, mental health, and hardships which are unusual themes in conservative cultures such as South Korea. In their song “Baepsae / Silver Spoon”, BTS calls out the social division and hierarchical conflict in Korea. In an article titled, “How BTS Changed The World For The Better” by Sunwoo Park, it analyzes the meaning of the term when it states, “The spoon class theory ranks people into four groups of “spoons” — gold, silver, bronze, dirt — according to their financial status” (Snackfever). By using lyrics such as, “”What ‘spoon’ are you, to say that? Why do you label me, ‘this spoon, that spoon’? I’m a human” in their song, BTS criticizes the spoon class theory prevalent in Korea. The lyrics expresses the social immobility and obstacles that financially disadvantaged people face in trying to reach a higher class. It depicts that society is a social class and those who are working to achieve a higher status is tied down by the labels and the ranks of society. It is a continuous battle of the disadvantage versus those who are born rich as “silver spoon”. These types of messages makes the song relatable to listeners as they as sympathize with the social inequality, the wealth gap, and hardship occuring in society.

Another aspect that makes Kpop appealing is its message of empowerment. With its titled as the beauty capital of the world, South Korea is known for its endless cosmetic shops, beauty products, and skin-care routines, a dark side that has been cast away by the world. In South Korean, women are geared towards meeting the beauty standards set by society. Those who fall outside the expectants are often discriminated or judged based only on their physical appearance. With this, Korea ranks first for the country with the highest cosmetic rate which allows people to get double eyelids, smaller faces, larger eyes and simply a close-to-perfect face. Low esteem caused by the ideal body image in addition with society’s standards of beauty, it’s said that korean parents would go as far as giving their children plastic surgeries as graduation gifts. However, groups such as BTS spreads a message of female empowerment through the song “21st-century girls” with lyrics such as “”If someone keeps cursing at you. Tell ’em you’re my lady, go tell them. Whatever anyone else says, whatever this world says you are my best, just as you are,” (Spinditty). BTS encourages their female audience to love themselves instead of listening to the criticisms the world has to offer. The song’s chorus repeats in the song, ensuring that every girl is perfect and worth so much: “”You worth it, you perfect. Deserve it, just work it”” (Spinditty). Utilizing the pop music to combat the injustices of the society, the messages deliver by these boy bands and music truly proves why Kpop is inspiring and taken over America’s pop culture.

In addition to the messages convey to its audience, the factors that makes Kpop visible and a unique contributor to the realm of pop music is its exceptionally high-quality performance (especially dancing), polished aesthetic and diverse method of production. These elaborative music videos, which are full of plots including based off of concepts such as murder, betrayal, falling in love, dream sequences, heartbreak and time travel. With the power of visuals, cool effects, and themes, these music videos grasped the attention of audiences by creating a sensory experience through the bold fashion and music videos with elaborate story lines. This is attractive because a lot of this cannot be in Western music. An example of this is Blackpink “DDU-DU-DDU-DU”, a song that currently holds over 603 million views on Youtube. According to an article titled, “Chic And Confident: Why BLACKPINK’s “DDU-DU DDU-DU” MV Has Us Shook” by Daniel Kim, the song plays to the attitude of an unapologetic “bad girl,” someone who’s rich, glamorous, empowered, and is admittedly not just your ordinary “nice girl ” (Soompi). The catchy choreography, along with the concept of a girl crush becomes fun, infectious, and memorable for audiences to follow along and dance to. With pop culture taking over the screen, merchandise based on these fandoms has experienced climatic growth in sales as well. Through pop-stores created by the companies, fans can buy their favorite band t-shirts, merchandise and albums. This type of commodities allows fans to connect to artists and support the growth of the fandom. Overall, due to the hype of Kpop and the incorporation of different genres and cultures, is no wonder that K-pop is on the rise, influencing the western world culture day by day.

Aside from the high quality performance, aesthetic pleasing videos and hype, there is a darker side to the industry that is often hidden away. With hundreds of groups being produced yearly, as well as, the massive support of the government to promote the Hallyu wave and K-pop, the industry has revolutionized a perception that anyone can become famous and K-pop idols themselves. In doing so, it fuel the aspirations of young Koreans and people worldwide to become the next K-pop idols themselves. With that, it creates the risk of individuals falling into a trap of exploitation, abuse and neglect by false companies. In order to attract fans, companies would recruit a wide range of individuals who can dance, sing and most importantly, look visually appealing. These recruiters would then become trainees and undergo years of training and debut with a concept or image assigned to them. According to an article titled, “Why aren’t there many mixed gender groups in Kpop?”, written by Shami Sivasubramanian, it states, “Each one had their own concept – you have the sporty one, the posh one, the scary one. But with K-pop the idols are relatively similar” (Sbs). Through this, companies create a concept that is portrayed by the group– whether it’s a school concept, a bad boy concept, or something else. In doing so, they promote a certain image. This is why female groups are often depicted as traditional versions of femininity and manifests images such as adorable, girl crush, schoolgirls, or strong women. Despite the image they followed, these female idols have to always be perfect in eyes of the public even when they are face with unfair scandals or criticism. In doing so, the actions, personalities, voice of females in K-pop are manipulated and it molds them as female figures who are weak. In addition to their image, female idols can also be seen being sexualized and objectified in music videos and lyrics. For example, in Psy’s “Gangnam Style” M/V, there is a scene where ladies can be seen doing yoga in public and the camera zooms in at Psy observing their hips. In contrasts, male groups can explore broader concepts such as youth, the boyfriend material, mysterious or the typical boy next door. Even when male singers take off their shirts on stage, it’s considered manly, aggressive, sexy but when females expose their skin it’s considered seductive, sexualizing, and dirty. This shows that culture will always be tied to gender role, creating a perception of how one is expected to act in society.

As pop culture evolved into a tool and bring light to various social issues around the world, these these trends not only influences individuals to be more attentive to issues occurring but it furthers serve as a form of entertainment that allows one to escape the stress and reality in life as well. Even though it is said that these fads and trends are more directed at the youth, they are rife with social and moral messages that aim at a broad audience. With pop culture such as K-pop taken over the world and western societies, it attributes to a generation of individuals becoming more accepting and aware of the injustice and issues that plague society today. With that, popular culture is a great tool for commercialization, creating mainstreams and unity of people in the world.

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