Image provided by BLACKPINK. Top: K-pop group BLACKPINK.
K-pop is popular music from South Korea, an umbrella term for a wide range of genres, from hip-hop to slow ballad. The Korean, or Hallyu, wave is the rapid expansion of South Korean culture around the world, from mukbangs (eating shows) on YouTube, to K-dramas on Netflix like the famous Squid Game. K-pop has led this wave, with some of the biggest groups like BTS and BLACKPINK smashing and setting records internationally. K-pop ironically draws heavily from Western sounds, but still creates a unique listening experience. Nowadays, American pop artists lean more heavily into hip-hop and R&B, but most K-pop is still traditionally “pop”: loud, exciting, and colorful, with only small rap and R&B sections. Visuals are more important, too, with expensive music videos in crystal-clear 4k quality. But some cracks in this seemingly flawless formula are visible.
Not unlike the Western music industry, K-pop is a cut-throat market difficult to succeed in. In Korea, K-pop groups train for years to debut, then compete on music shows to promote their songs. The winners of these shows are largely chosen through fan voting, streaming, and lastly a panel of judges. The success of a group is dependent on how hardworking their fandom is, creating a competitive environment for fans to stream and promote their “faves’” music as much as possible. This sometimes produces “fan wars” between the fans of rival groups on social media. The idols themselves face other difficulties, as Korean beauty standards demand specific weights and body types. Some of the largest companies that manage idol groups, such as SM and JYP Entertainment, have been exposed by fans for monitoring the eating habits of their artists. Is this competitive market that demands perfection a good influence on young fans? K-pop club advisor, Athena Chew, provides her opinions on the influence of K-pop here at Washington.
What got you into K-pop?
My friend’s sister liked BTS for some time and just got me into it. Some of my favorite groups are BTS, SEVENTEEN, Ciipher, and tons of other groups. I like these groups because I see how hardworking they all are to be able to perform for all their fans.
Why do you want to start a K-pop club?
I remember in freshman year I was trying to figure out if there was a K-pop club and there wasn’t. I felt like it would be cool to have a club, so that all of the people that like K-pop can come and have fun together.
Do you believe K-pop is a good influence on teens here at Washington?
Yes I do, because like I said before they are really hardworking. Even though K-pop gets lots of hate, they push through all those hardships and are able to still perform.
The hard work that K-pop idols put into debuting and competing on music shows may inspire Washington teens to pursue their dreams, too. By observing the difficulties that their favorite idols go through, K-pop fans hold their companies accountable and do what they can to make change. What sets K-pop apart from other industries is how success is entirely fan-led; if the fans don’t like what a company is doing, they rally on social media to protest, boycott, and email the company about their concerns. Athena Chew’s K-pop club may give our students the opportunity to share common interests, goals, and have fun. And if problems arise, they can work together to find solutions.