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A Short Guide to K-Pop

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Once upon a time, a girl decided to go on a great adventure! She ventured in a hidden and mysterious territory. Right after she entered this territory, she found herself surrounded by music and dance and colours. She knew she wouldn’t be the same again after this experience. Her life was forever changed!

Oops, wrong introduction! Unfortunately, today we don’t have time for fairy tales. You might want to stay until the end though, because I think the topic I’m going to talk about is quite interesting. So, to clarify things, this ‘venturesome’ girl is me and the ‘adventure’ is not so much of an adventure. It should be described more like ‘wasting time on YouTube’.

I think we all found something abstract or something we had no idea that existed before, thanks to YouTube. For me, a discovery like that was the K-Pop genre. I don’t know how much information you have about this, but you most certainly belong to one of these categories I invented in relation to the knowledge that people have about K-Pop. Allow me to enumerate on them; people who have never heard about it before; people who are aware of the existence of this genre but don’t know much about it; people who know about it, but don’t like it; people who know this genre well and are surprised when they find somebody else who shares this interest; and lastly, people who are fangirling and won’t stop talking about it (and this is where I belong). So, now that you’ve been sorted and belong to a group, it is your choice whether you want to leave or you want to continue reading about the wonderful world of K-Pop.

If you watched and listened to one or two music videos, you wouldn’t have to be a Harvard student to notice some characteristics of this genre, because they are quite obvious. Many would agree that lyrics are one of the weakest points of K-Pop. They make no sense most of the time and I think it is mostly because English and Korean are combined excessively. For instance, a verse can be ‘Your touch makes me feel good’ in English and then, the next one ‘Pumpkins are orange’ in Korean and so on. Therefore, if you are into deep meaningful lyrics, I’m afraid K-Pop is not the genre for you. Moreover, in a K-Pop song the melodic line changes very fast and very often, which is unusual comparing to the mainstream songs we are used to. This fast-paced change is due to a mixture of popular genres like pop, rock, R&B, rap and so on, and also because most of the K-Pop groups are large (up to 13 members) and all of them have a part in the song. Another thing that is worth mentioning is that in K-Pop, women and men represent stereotypes. Women usually wear sexy clothes and their choreography is very provocative, they are fragile and need protection, whereas men are usually very badass, aggressive, violent sometimes and their dance moves are very animalistic in a way. Maybe this is not that important for most of us, but it has quite a big impact on Asian culture because many young people there look up to their K-Pop idols.

So, this is some of the criticism that K-Pop receives constantly which I pretty much agree with, but as every single thing in this world, it also has good parts. Taking all of the above into consideration, I wondered why I like K-Pop so much despite all of that. It took me a while to realise that I don’t listen to K-Pop the way I listen to any other genre. I think the music video in K-Pop is sometimes more important than the song itself. It is because K-Pop is not just a genre, it is a show. The insanely good choreographies that make you want to dance, the out-of-this-world fashion, makeup and hairstyles and the crazy concepts of the music videos play a huge part. Just because of that, if not for the music, I think you should experience K-Pop at least once in your life.

With all these facts in mind, the last thing I’d like to say before we move on to the second part of this article is that I strongly believe that everyone should know one or two things about this culture, as it is part of the world we are living in. And now, for those of you interested, I decided to put together a list of five songs from girl groups and five songs from boy groups. I think they represent perfectly today’s K-Pop genre. So, if you want to find out more about K-Pop and you don’t know where to start, or you just want to hang around till the end of the article – I give you The List!

Girl Groups

  • 4minute – ‘Hate’

It doesn’t usually happen in a K-Pop girl group music video to see girls in a badass posture. But this is what happens in this video and I love it. From their choreography to their clothes and attitude, these girls slay it. Additionally, I’m obsessed with how misleading the song builds up. The song starts really slow and you think it’s going to be a ballad, but then it builds up and when the beat drops and they all start to dance –  it’s insane. I used to listen to this song while driving and turning up the volume whenever the beat dropped.

  • Girls’ Generation – ‘Paparazzi’

Now, this group of girls have been around in the K-Pop world for a long time, that is why they are on this list. I admit that I’m not really into them and it’s because they represent femininity in every way possible. Don’t get me wrong, I like to be feminine, but I think there’s an exaggeration in this group. Despite that I like some of their songs, including this one – it’s very upbeat and also the video is nice. As a whole, the setting, the dancing and the girls’ costumes create a pleasant watching experience.

  • 2NE1 – ‘Crush’

This video, like the first one is different from the usual, because again, we have strong independent women in it. But if you listen to the song you’ll figure out why a girly attitude wouldn’t have been suitable in this video. Unfortunately, there isn’t a music video for the Korean version of this song, but I assure you, the Japanese version is very similar to the Korean one. I love these girls and their songs and this one is no exception. I think it’s so powerful and mysterious from the beginning till the end. And, if you ever want to make a big entrance in a club with your squad this song is so perfect for it.

  • Wonder Girls – ‘Like Money’

This song is on the list, mostly because it features Akon. Just kidding, it is a really good song, and Akon does make an appearance, even in the video. One of the strong things about it is that it’s only in English. It sounds very much like the songs we used to listen in a club a few years ago. I loved the girl’s costumes in this video. Also, the choreography is catchy and not too provocative. I think these girls managed to look sexy without being vulgar. The setting of this video reminded me of that movie – Tron – which I loved, so a plus for this video.

  • f(x) – ‘Electric Shock’

I don’t know much about f(x), but what I do know is how much I love this song. It is something ‘electric’ about it, as the title says (haha, nice pun). Although the video is not that exciting, I think the colourful setting and the choreography went really well with the song. If you’re getting ready for a party but you don’t feel really excited about it, listen to this song and it will get you right in the mood.

Boy Groups

  • Monsta X – ‘Stuck’

Monsta X is currently my favourite boy group, that is one of the reasons they are on the list – I think they are very talented. This song is pretty cool, although there’s nothing really special about it. The rap parts are my favourite. I know this video is not that special either, we are just watching the boys dancing, but it underlines very well the concept of a K-Pop group in general. All the boys are dressed in black and the clothes are similar, but not the same. That is something you will see almost every time at a K-Pop group and this is something I love –  you can identify them as part of the same group, you know they are a team, but you also know that even though they create a whole together they are different in their own way. I think the best part of this video is the beginning, when we see them standing, right before they start dancing, all in black and so cool. The first time I saw the video I was taken aback by how cool they looked.

  • B.A.P – ‘Warrior’

This song is one of the first K-Pop songs I listened to so it definitely had to be on this list, not to mention that B.A.P was my first favourite boy group. On to the song, I can’t express how much I love it – from the first few seconds it sent electricity through my veins. It transmits danger and power, but in an exciting way. I think this song should be featured in a fight scene in a movie. The rappers did an awesome job and the chorus is so powerful – it’s such a great combination. Now, the video is something you don’t see everywhere, but then again, this is K-Pop. I think it’s mesmerizing even though I don’t really understand what is going on there. The choreography is so damn good- I wish I knew how to dance like that. Also, the ending scene when one of the guys is surrounded by all the others and then ‘killed’ by them is so cool. I just love it.

  • BIGBANG – ‘Fantastic Baby’

This song is on this list because it is yet another great example of what K-Pop looks like in general, but in this one, it underlines the ‘crazy’ part of this genre. You know, with the costumes and makeup you realise how crazy these guys are. I like the song because it’s catchy and very danceable, but it would be nothing without the video. Something unusual about it is that we don’t get to see a choreography in this one. I bet you haven’t even noticed that, because you were too concentrated trying to understand what is going on in the video. It’s fine if you didn’t understand! I don’t understand either and I don’t think I will but this is an awesome part about K-Pop – you get to see these crazy abstract concepts. The best part of this video for me was the guy with long red hair that was sitting on the throne with the scepter in his hand. I don’t know why but I was so attracted to this image that when I first saw the video, I paused it to take a screenshot. I had that screenshot with the guy as a wallpaper for a while.

  • BTS – ‘Blood Sweat & Tears’

BTS are pretty famous these days and they have a lot of good songs. This one is their most recent release. One of the reasons I picked it is because it’s very catchy and sounds like a song you would listen to on the radio on a daily basis. I should mention, though, that it is very unlike these guys to sing such a soft song. They are usually more badass, so it’s interesting to see another side of them. The other reason I chose this song is because I think these guys nailed the choreography in this video. They are so convincing, their facial expressions while their dancing and their dance moves are so expressive that without even understanding the lyrics you know they transmit passion and desire. I also like the art gallery setting of the video!

  • BLOCK B – ‘Nillili Mambo’

These guys have been in the music industry for quite some time now and they are still one of my favourite K-Pop boy groups. I’d like to emphasize that they represent the exact stereotype I was talking about in one of the paragraphs above. They are badass, very cocky and arrogant boys (and that is something, I’m ashamed to say, I enjoy very much). This video is a bit different from the others that I showed you, because it doesn’t feature only dancing, it has something that is close to a storyline – well, sort of!  We have the guys from Block B that are running away from other guys and they’re trying to keep safe some jewels. No big deal, but I think the way in which the ‘story’ is presented is very funny. Besides, I think the video goes really well with this song, as it is so energetic and it gives me this funny vibe whenever I listen to it.