Nowadays, a huge part of my personality revolves around K-Pop. In a random conversation, I always find myself sneaking in bits and pieces that refer to the industry.
“Are we going to a café? K-Pop idols love iced Americano.” “Did you adopt a new dog? BTS’s Jungkook has a Doberman and brought it on the set of In The Soop.” I’ve even gotten to the point where I know Seventeen’s MBTI personalities. It makes me think: I wasn’t this whipped for K-Pop last year. What happened?
Just a few years ago, I would secretly cringe every time my classmates would gush about different K-Pop groups. They would dance in the classroom and throw out Korean phrases every chance they’d get. Internally, I’d mutter, “Ugh, these K-Poppers are at it again.”
Back then, I viewed K-Pop idols as robots manufactured by entertainment labels. They would take young hopefuls and mold them into perfect artists through intense and unforgiving training until every flick of their wrist and body roll was synchronized with their other 10 or so members.
I respected the hustle; I just wasn’t interested in music and lyrics I couldn’t understand. How can I get into the song when I don’t even know what I’m singing about? I’m into lyrical storytelling. In my mind, when I listen to a song, I try to visualize the lyrics in my head — whether it’s a break-up scene or a song about peaches.
With K-Pop, you’ll only understand parts of the chorus because that’s where the chunk of English lyrics are usually inserted. From that, sometimes I get the gist of what the song’s about, but it isn’t enough for me to get invested.
For example, with Blackpink’s DDU-DU DDU-DU, the most prominent English lyrics are, “Hit you with that ddu-du ddu-du du, Ah yeah, ah yeah” If I just take these lyrics, I can’t visualize anything because there isn’t much context.
The song isn’t actually just a bunch of catchy words put together to accompany a dance move, which debunks some of my K-Pop myths. With artists brought up in the Western industry, groups usually sing about love and other light topics during the early days of their careers, but not Blackpink. When you do a little more research and translate the song, it’s actually about female idols being more assertive despite the media being harsh whenever they make mistakes.
That’s the thing with K-Pop. All it needs is for you to be curious to be able to lure you in and appreciate the industry.
When Netflix dropped Blackpink’s documentary Light Up the Sky, I just wanted to know what all the fuss was about with these four girls. Unlike my then-musical tastes, I was adventurous when it came to films, so even if I knew it wasn’t my cup of tea, I gave the movie a try.
Surprisingly, I wasn’t cringing when I watched the documentary. The film not only focused on the members as a group, but also as individuals. Each member got to tell their story about their journey until debut, from auditions to trainee days.
It gave me insight into what the K-Pop industry was like: the training process, the debuts, and their current setup. The documentary served as my gateway into the culture.
Not long after that, I branched out to other groups like Red Velvet, Itzy, Mamamoo, BTS, and Seventeen. I started watching interviews, music videos, performances, livestreams and show guestings. I was invested in their chemistry as a group, the choreography, collaborations and fashion.
Everything about K-Pop was different from how Western labels honed their talents. Imagine One Direction’s X-Factor boot camp where they have to practice dances and vocals. It’s that, times 10. The choreography isn’t like your tita’s Zumba class, it can have a lot of jumps, acting, and other complex movements. Simultaneously, members have to maintain stable vocals.
No wonder training can take up to seven years. Idols need to condition their bodies for what’s ahead of them. One song can already be physically demanding. If you’re shooting performances, you’ll have to redo the whole song several times. If you’re doing a concert, you’ll have to perform around 15 songs in one night.
I’ve seen some groups require medical attention during a concert because they’ve pushed their body’s limits. It makes you realize that they aren’t robots, after all. They’re humans and are prone to vulnerabilities. Despite these circumstances, they’ll still push to get back onstage so they won’t disappoint their fans.
Since my interest in K-Pop has become wider and deeper, I can now understand why people get into it.
Take the music. You’ll notice there are similarities to the usual Billboard hits: Seventeen’s vocal unit can belt it out like Lewis Capaldi, Itzy’s self-love songs have the same message as Hailee Steinfeld’s, and BTS’s lyrics are Ed Sheeran-level.
K-Pop takes some elements of American music, elevates it, and makes it their own. According to Rolling Stone magazine, average American songs revolve around four to five melodies. Meanwhile, K-Pop will insert eight to 10, leading the song to go through multiple sections and changes. For me, that makes K-Pop a refreshing genre when all my life I’ve mostly listened to Western pop.
The closest fandom intensity I can compare with my K-Pop obsession is being a Directioner. As a veteran fangirl, I can attest that K-Pop is really special. The fan service the idols provide their audience is next level, such as releasing Japanese and English versions of their songs. They have created this community that feels somewhat exclusive, like everything the group does is for their fans.
With everything that K-Pop has to offer, I still wonder why do some people still look down on it? My main guess is that the language barrier continues to hinder people in embracing K-Pop. Most of us, including me, will find it hard to accept something we don’t literally understand.
It may take a few more Netflix documentaries and YouTube recommendations, but now that music is much more accessible globally, we should be more open to music from different cultures.
Like, apart from K-Pop, I also listen to Swedish R&B. Of course, at first, I didn’t understand a word they were singing. But, as I’ve learned from my journey of being a K-Pop stan, interest starts with curiosity.