I’m a K-Pop fan, so I’d heard Gangnam Style before the local radio stations picked it up. It was a novelty track even in its home country but something about it grabbed the world’s interest. I thought it was fun and could imagine hearing it at my favourite bar but I never thought I actually would. I even remember getting quite excited when I first heard it on Radio 1 hoping this could be the beginning of a K-Pop chart infiltration! But I was wrong and I’d seen this before. There have been many foreign language songs in the charts before and that didn’t result in other artists from their native country appearing alongside them in the official UK charts either. How naive I was! I know musical taste is subjective but I wonder what it is that allows a foreign language song to break that barrier?
K-Pop music is mostly sugar laden, production heavy and heavily manufactured. Something this country is very used to and usually eats right up. The music labels hold auditions every year to find new stars and if selected they are made to train for a number of years before being unleashed to the public. I imagine it to be like The X-Factor but instead of it lasting three months it lasts three or more years and isn’t televised. Interesting fact insert, Little Mix released a Korean version of Wings a few months back. Here, we often criticize manufactured groups or those that appear in reality TV talent shows but it’s the norm for South Korea. The finished product is of a quality that is nothing short of perfection, matching the best that you’d see from the likes of The Saturdays or One Direction.
So let me introduce to you some K-Pop acts that should tick all the right boxes. I’ll start with the music video that piqued my interest from The Wonder Girls. This, and many other Wonder Girls songs, have English versions too.
The group are quite popular in the US and they had an English language album ready to be released. They made several US TV appearances and even had a TV movie on Nickelodeon. At the start of the year the group leader, Sunye, decided to get married and they’re now “on a break”. Each K-Pop group has a leader member, like how Gary Barlow was the talented one in Take That, or how Mel B was the gobbiest one in Spice Girls. In K-Pop the leader is usually the oldest member.
I’ve talked about Gangnam Style already but what you may not know is that the dance to Psy’s follow-up song, Gentleman, took inspiration from the choreography in the video from girl group Brown Eyed Girls. Group member, Ga-In, even appeared in Psy’s music video.
When I first heard it I must have listened to it on repeat for weeks. I’ve even learned the translation of the song though you can’t really sing it in English as it doesn’t quite fit despite people trying. More often than not, you don’t need to understand all the lyrics as 95% of songs include English somewhere in the verses and chorus especially the up-tempo tracks. Heck, people are listening to Lady Gaga’s Venus and loving it and that’s in English and I don’t have a bloody clue what it’s going on about!
My K-Pop collection is quite girl group heavy but there’s always room to squeeze in a few boys! What makes a K-Pop boy group different to those from our own country is that like their girl group peers they are visually interesting. You still get the cheese fest love songs while they all wear sweaters next to a log fire but every now and then they come out with something that likely to induce a seizure. Yes, the outfits are totally questionable but that’s what I like about it. WIth their “butter wouldn’t melt” faces and porcelain (slightly androgynous?) complexions, they’re just as fierce and sassy as their female counterparts. Let’s take a look at SHINee:
K-Pop has been around for a long time but it’s only the last couple of years that it’s come to mainstream media attention. Most recently you are likely to have read that Girls’ Generation won Video of the Year at the first ever YouTube Music Awards beating Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, Lady Gaga and One Direction. That video was “I Got A Boy” which currently has 75 million views and received it’s first million within the hour of being uploaded. It’s easy to see why this song as become so popular. It’s not just one song, but four interwoven with so much attitude. At least I think it’s attitude, I don’t really understand it, but it’ll be etched into your brain forever
Girls’ Generation comprise of nine members. That might seem excessive by our standards but think about it; with nine members there’s got to be at least one you’ll pretend to be while strutting to work in the morning. This group have a bit of a reputation for taking tracks written for other people and reworking them. “I Got A Boy” was an English demo recorded by Katy Tiz. No, I’d not heard of her until I discovered this either. They recently released a version of Duffy’s “Mercy” and one of their biggest hits is an unreleased Ke$ha track. I think this shows the industry is looking out for music with that je ne sais quoi to break the elusive international hit barrier.
Sales are so good in countries like Japan that groups like Girls’ Generation release full albums in Japanese. I can only hope that one day, sales get so good in the US and UK that they release their long rumoured English language album at which point I will literally implode with excitement. With international revenue increasing year on year recognition from worldwide platforms such as YouTube it’s only a matter of time.