If you’re a fan of straight-ahead pop music, you’ve probably heard of K-pop (Korean
pop). For many people, K-pop reminds them of overzealous fans, people obsessed with Korean
culture, and people posting fancams on Twitter in replies to unrelated tweets. It takes the
“celebrity culture” aspect of American pop to a new level; to a culture where variety shows and
V-logs are blatantly done to cultivate the fans’ relationship to the idols (the actual term for a K-
pop artist). And if you listen to the music, there’s no question that the songs were manufactured
specifically to satisfy the public taste. The artists almost never have anything to do with the
songwriting. So if it’s all “fake”, how can you take it seriously?
Let’s look at it from a different standpoint. Say you’ve got millions of dollars, and your
sole goal is to make as much money as you can from financing music. In K-pop, this money goes
towards training aspiring idols (called “trainees”) in dancing, singing, and performing. Usually,
this training will last for years. The leader of the most popular active girl group (Twice’s Jihyo)
was trained by her company for 10 years. Many trainees and idols come from Japan, China, or
other countries, and many times the trainees don’t know how to speak Korean, all to train for an
Introduction to K-pop company where they might never get to debut at all. The idols that debut are ALWAYS world-class singers and dancers, and that’s the way the industry is wired.
A similar investment is put into the songwriting. This is mostly nothing new compared to
American pop, but in America the authenticity of an artist is at least partially based on the
assumption that they were the ones creating the actual songs. In fact, artists will actively hide or
downplay the role of ghostwriters on their songs.
In Korea, this illusion of authenticity does not exist and it makes the option of using
“outside songwriters” so much more appealing. The end result of this is that companies will pour
a large amount of money into making sure their performers are nothing but world-class, and they
will pour a large amount of money into making sure only the best songwriters and producers will
work on their music, which translates into extremely polished and well-done pop tracks.
I’ve made a short playlist as an introduction to the different concepts and sounds that you
can find in K-pop. In this playlist you’ll find “cute” concepts, “badass/girl crush” concepts,
“charismatic” concepts, and a few that are harder to pin down. Jump in and give it a shot!
Check it out here.