K-pop (Korean: 케이팝; RR: keipap), short for Korean popular music, is a genre of music originating in South Korea as part of South Korean culture. It is influenced by styles and genres from around the world, such as pop, experimental, rock, jazz, gospel, hip hop, R&B, reggae, electronic dance, folk, country, and classical on top of its traditional Korean music roots. The more modern form of the genre emerged with the formation of one of the earliest K-pop groups, the boy band Seo Taiji and Boys, in 1992. Their experimentation with different styles and genres of music and integration of foreign musical elements helped reshape and modernize South Korea's contemporary music scene.
Modern K-pop "idol" culture began in the 1990s, as K-pop idol music grew into a subculture that amassed enormous fandoms of teenagers and young adults. After a slump in early idol music, from 2003, TVXQ and BoA started a new generation of K-pop idols that broke the music genre into the neighboring Japanese market and continue to popularize K-pop internationally today. With the advent of online social networking services and South Korean TV shows, the current spread of K-pop and South Korean entertainment, known as the Korean Wave, is seen not only in East Asia and Southeast Asia, but also in Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Latin America, North Africa, Southern Africa and East Africa, the Middle East and throughout the Western world, gaining an international audience.
The term "K-pop" became popular in the 2000s. Previously, South Korean pop music was called gayo (Korean: 가요; Hanja: 歌謠). While "K-pop" is a general term for popular music in South Korea, it is often used in a narrower sense for the genre described here. In 2018, K-pop experienced significant growth and became a 'power player,' marking a 17.9% increase in revenue growth. As of 2019, K-pop is ranked at number six among the top ten music markets worldwide according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry's "Global Music Report 2019," with BTS and Blackpink cited as artists leading the market growth. In 2020, K-pop experienced a record-breaking year when it experienced a 44.8% growth and positioned itself as the fastest-growing major market of the year.
Hybrid genre and transnational values
K-pop is a cultural product that features "values, identity and meanings that go beyond their strictly commercial value." It is characterized by a mixture of modern Western sounds and African-American influences (including sounds from Hip-hop, R&B, Jazz, black pop, soul, funk, techno, disco, house, and Afrobeats) with a Korean aspect of performance (including synchronized dance moves, formation changes and the so-called "point choreography" consisting of hooking and repetitive key movements). It has been remarked that there is a "vision of modernization" inherent in Korean pop culture. For some, the transnational values of K-pop are responsible for its success. A commentator at the University of California, San Diego has said that "contemporary Korean pop culture is built on ... transnational flows ... taking place across, beyond, and outside national and institutional boundaries."Some examples of the transnational values inherent in K-pop that may appeal to those from different ethnic, national, and religious backgrounds include a dedication to high-quality output and presentation of idols, as well as their work ethic and polite social demeanor, made possible by the training period.
Use of English phrases
Modern K-pop is marked by its use of English phrases. Jin Dal Yong of Popular Music and Society wrote that the usage may be influenced by "Korean-Americans and/or Koreans who studied in the U.S. [who] take full advantage of their English fluency and cultural resources that are not found commonly among those who were raised and educated in Korea." Korean pop music from singers or groups who are Korean-American such as Fly to the Sky, g.o.d, Rich, Yoo Seung-jun, and Drunken Tiger has both American style and English lyrics. These Korean-American singers' music has a different style from common Korean music, which attracts the interest of young people. Increasingly, foreign songwriters and producers are employed to work on songs for K-pop idols, such as will.i.am and Sean Garrett. Foreign musicians, including rappers such as Akon, Kanye West, Ludacris, and Snoop Dogg, have also featured on K-pop songs.
Entertainment companies help to expand K-pop to other parts of the world through a number of different methods. Singers need to use English since the companies want to occupy markets in the other parts of Asia, which enables them to open the Western market in the end. Most K-pop singers learn English because it is a common language in the world of music, but some singers also learn other foreign languages such as Japanese to approach the Japanese market. Similarly, increasing numbers of K-pop bands use English names rather than Korean ones. This allows songs and artists to be marketed to a wider audience around the world.
However, the use of English has not guaranteed the popularity of K-pop in the North American market. For some commentators, the reason for this is because the genre can be seen as a distilled version of Western music, making it difficult for K-pop to find acceptance in these markets. Furthermore, Western audiences tend to place emphasis on authenticity and individual expression in music, which the idol system can be seen as suppressing.
Dance is an integral part of K-pop. When combining multiple singers, the singers often switch their positions while singing and dancing by making prompt movements in synchrony, a strategy called "formation changing" (Korean: 자리바꿈; RR: jaribakkum). The K-pop choreography (Korean: 안무; Hanja: 按舞; RR: anmu) often includes the so-called "point dance" (Korean: 포인트 안무; RR: pointeu anmu), referring to a dance made up of hooking and repetitive movements within the choreography that matches the characteristics of the lyrics of the song. "Sorry Sorry" and Brown Eyed Girls"Abracadabra" are examples of songs with notable "point" choreography. To choreograph a dance for a song requires the writers to take the tempo into account. According to Ellen Kim, a Los Angeles dancer and choreographer, a fan's ability to do the same steps must also be considered. Consequently, K-pop choreographers have to simplify movements.
The training and preparation necessary for K-pop idols to succeed in the industry and dance successfully are intense. Training centers like Seoul's Def Dance Skool develop the dance skills of youth in order to give them a shot at becoming an idol. Physical training is one of the largest focuses at the school, as much of a student's schedule is based around dance and exercise. The entertainment labels are highly selective, so few make it to fame. Students at the school must dedicate their lives to the mastery of dance in order to prepare for the vigorous routines performed by K-pop groups. This, of course, means that the training must continue if they are signed. Companies house much larger training centers for those who are chosen.
K-pop has spawned an entire industry encompassing music production houses, event management companies, music distributors, and other merchandise and service providers. The three biggest companies in terms of sales and revenue are SM Entertainment, YG Entertainment and JYP Entertainment, often referred to as the 'Big Three.' These record labels also function as representative agencies for their artists. They are responsible for recruiting, financing, training, and marketing new artists as well as managing their musical activities and public relations. Currently, the agency with the greatest market share is S.M. Entertainment. In 2011, together with Star J Entertainment, AM Entertainment, and Key East, the Big Three companies founded the joint management company United Asia Management.
By convention in modern K-pop, trainees go through a rigorous training system for an undetermined amount of time before debut. This method was popularised by Lee Soo-man, founder of S.M. Entertainment, as part of a concept labelled "cultural technology". The Verge described this as an "extreme" system of artist management. According to the CEO of Universal Music's Southeast Asian branch, the Korean idol trainee system is unique in the world.
Because of the training period, which can last for many years, and the significant amount of investment agencies put towards their trainees, the industry is very serious about launching new artists. Trainees may enter an agency through auditions or be scouted, and once recruited are given accommodation and classes (commonly singing, dancing, rapping, and foreign languages such as Mandarin, English and Japanese) while they prepare for debut. Young trainees sometimes attend school at the same time. There is no age limit to become a trainee and no limit to the duration one can spend as a trainee.
For example: Bang Chan from stray kids was been a trainee nears 10 years.
In 2002, Time magazine reported that Korean television producers such as Hwang Yong-woo and Kim Jong-jin had been arrested for "accepting under-the-table payments guaranteeing TV appearances to aspiring singers and musicians" in a bid to tackle "systemic corruption in South Korea's music business." Companies investigated included SidusHQ and S.M. Entertainment.
Exploitation and poor living conditions
K-pop management companies have also been criticized for exploitation of idols through overwork and restrictive contracts, described as "slave contracts". According to The Hollywood Reporter, "Korea's entertainment business is notoriously improvisational and unregulated. In-demand K-pop stars – many of whom are teenage 'idols' – have been known to rehearse and perform without sleep."
In July 2009, S.M. Entertainment was taken to court by TVXQ and a Super Junior member, who alleged that their working conditions had led to adverse health effects. The court decision in the TVXQ lawsuit determined their contract with S.M. Entertainment void, and resultantly the Fair Trade Commission released contract templates to regulate industry conditions.
In 2014, South Korea passed a law to regulate its music industry, protecting idols aged under 19 from unhealthy labor practices and overtly sexualized performances and guaranteeing them "the basic rights to learn, rest and sleep." Failure to comply with these regulations may lead to the equivalent of a US$10,000 fine.
Industry professionals such as SM Entertainment's CEO Kim Young-min have defended the system, arguing that individuals trained within the system are "no different than typical middle or high school kids, who go to after-school programs to cram for college entrance exams." Kim has also argued that there is a need to consider the expenses incurred by the company during the trainee period, including "facilities, equipment, costumes, and virtually everything the trainees need".
On March 7, 2017, the South Korea Fair Trade Commission (KFTC) passed new regulations in order to protect trainee idols from unfair terms and working conditions. Prior to these regulations, trainee idols at eight idol agencies were not permitted to seek contracts at any other agency while at training. Moreover, agencies were able to terminate a trainee contract at any time for any reason. The Fair Trade Commission states that they believe these changes will "result in a more just contract culture within the entertainment industry between trainee and agency." For now, these regulations only apply to eight major idol agencies but the Ministry of Culture intends to apply these regulations to all existing agencies throughout 2018.
Some of the concerns raised by the idol agencies over these regulations include the risk of a trainee at one agency going undercover at another agency to receive training with the other agency. This introduces the further risk that the idol agencies must take in training new idols. Trainees train for 3 years on average and the agencies support these trainees with various training programs during this duration, resulting in each trainee being a very large investment for the agency.
Sexualization and sexual exploitation
The industry has been criticized for the sexualization of both male and female idols, with the sexualization of minors in particular being of concern. Critics such as James Turnbull of the Korean Pop Culture blog The Grand Narrative have argued young female idols are especially susceptible to pressures to wear revealing clothing or dance provocatively. However, compared to western popular music, K-pop has little sex, drugs, or aggressive behavior and has a much more parent-friendly branding.
Some K-pop artists have suggested that the uncertainty and pressures of their jobs as entertainers may be detrimental to their mental health. According to musician Park Kyung of Block B, "There are many people who debuted with no sense of self yet, and they come to realize later that every move and every word they say is being observed so they become cautious and lose their freedom." In an interview with Yonhap, Suga of BTS talked about his own mental health, and said, "Anxiety and loneliness seem to be with me for life…Emotions are so different in every situation and every moment, so I think to agonise every moment is what life is." The suicides of prominent K-pop musicians have drawn attention to industry pressures. In 1996, singer Charles Park, also known as Seo Ji-won [ko], died by suicide at the age of 19, before the release of his second album. Kim Jonghyun, who had previously been open about his history of depression, also died by suicide in December 2017. In the spring of 2018, a number of prominent Korean musicians participated in a free concert series to raise awareness of suicide prevention. In 2019, the death of Sulli of an apparent suicide, followed by the death of Goo Hara, both who were subjected to cyberbullying, added to calls for reform.
Sum up, K-pop is different. It`s not only a dance and singing. It`s a hard work all day.