I’ve always loved listening to American pop music, but as time went by, I wanted to try out something different, and through that process, I came across K-Pop. So, you might wonder, what is K-Pop? It is a type of Korean pop music. There are various artists, usually referred to as “idols”, and groups, mostly from Korea, but some idols are non-Korean as well. They all sing in Korean with a mix of English words in their songs. On top of that, they choreograph their songs which they perform while singing or rapping.
Their dreams and passions are to sing and dance, but how do they make it a reality and debut? In order to have it as their career, they have to undergo a hard process in which they are all trainees before they debut. They train under a certain company and have to practice singing, rapping, and dancing everyday. After learning a certain performance, they have to perform it in front of the judges of the company they belong to, and their fate is out of their hands. The trainees who provided a satisfactory performance move on to the next stage of the process. The trainees who are left at the end of multiple rounds and who consistently provided the best performances debut in a group. A trainee who underperforms will eventually be eliminated from debuting in that group.
However, there have been quite a few times when eliminated trainees were brought back because the company had second thoughts on whether or not they had seen their full potential. For example, Momo, of the girl group “TWICE”, managed by JYP Entertainment, was brought back because JYP (Park Jinyoung) came to the conclusion that her dance skills would make the group complete. Felix and Lee Know of the boy group “Stray Kids” were also brought back for similar reasons.
After the company makes their final statements about the group and prepares them for debuting, they release their debut music video. A few hours later, they would perform it live on platforms such as “Music Bank'' and “SBS Inkigayo”. Most of the time, the lyrics to the song are written by their managers, but the idols also self-produce the songs and choreographies on their own.
Because of their constant hard work on creating music, K-Pop can be very addictive. Their ever-changing fashion trends, intense choreography, and the eye-catching music videos keep the fans stay invested. The idols also keep making great comebacks and creating storylines that appeal to the media. Fans not only recognize idols because of their talents, but because of their personalities and efforts as well. Fandoms are growing larger and larger everyday, and one of the countries that has the most fandoms would be the US.
K-Pop became known by many through various ways. Groups and artists do tours and concerts all around the world and go to America’s most popular cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, etc. Since fans eagerly want to attend the concerts and see their performances, venues sell out very quickly. These groups also hold global K-Pop conferences with multiple groups, which is known as KCON. Another way of recognizing K-Pop is through fashion. Idols have collaborated with different luxury brands, such as Chanel, Dior, Gucci, etc.
In 2012, PSY’s “Gangnam Style” blew up in the US. Western people became familiar with South Korean food and tradition, along with music styles due to the explosion of Korean music. It was the first ever Youtube video that has reached 1 billion views, and then 2 billion, and so on. It had gotten #2 on the Hot 200 Billboard, the highest place a South Korean artist had ever gotten.
BIGBANG, known for their use of lightsticks in concerts, and BTS are other K-Pop world phenomenons. BTS became known internationally in 2017, after their song “DNA” was released. Since then, they have been topping the Billboard charts on the Hot 100, with their songs “Dynamite”, “Butter”, and “Permission to Dance”, which all ranked #1. They have collaborated with western artists such as Halsey and Steve Aoki. Furthermore, BLACKPINK was the first K-Pop group to perform at Coachella, and the first to have 4 music videos with over 1 billion views. Additionally, TWICE and aespa are quickly gaining popularity.
As much as K-Pop has become popular nowadays, we must understand the hardships behind all the success and accomplishments, and we should be aware of the dark sides of K-Pop as well. Idols are often overworked by their companies, and they are pressured to make ‘comebacks' frequently with little to no break. They also have strict diets which they have to follow so that they can fit the K-Pop aesthetic, and if they gain weight, they would be widely criticized. Romantic relationships are also out of bounds. They are not allowed to date anyone, or have freedom to be with who they desire.
They also have almost no privacy. Artists always have to follow the rules of their companies, and cannot have space to themselves. Sometimes, the employees of the company sexualize them, particularly female idols. For live performances, they are often forced to wear very short skirts and shorts that they feel uncomfortable performing in. Violent fans called “saesangs” can sometimes stalk and try to harm them, so they have to worry about a lot of these factors while touring multiple countries.
SHINee’s Jonghyun took his own life in December of 2017. He had suffered severely from depression and wrote in his suicide letter that he couldn't handle the negativity and sorrow any longer. F(x)’s Sulli took her own life as well, since she had gotten a lot of backlash for being open about her opinions and for her decision to leave the group. She also said that she was having a hard time both physically and mentally because of the rumors that were spread about her. TWICE’s Jeongyeon had been away from the group since she was ill from neck pain. After her return, she was heavily criticized for gaining weight. Soloist HyunA and Pentagon’s E’dawn were forced out of their company, Cube Entertainment, because they had revealed to the public that they were dating. All of these incidents are only some of the tragic events, and it’s sad to say there are more stories such as these.
The more K-Pop is growing and becoming popular, the more violence and hate is occurring. We should be appreciative of how K-Pop artists try to give us their best in every performance. After all, they are the ones who have to go through hardships and mistreatments in order to meet our expectations, thus, a little show of gratitude can help brighten up their day.