K Pop Mania Spreads

By Shanese Mullins

Korean pop music is a mix of fashion, colors, dance and music. It is influenced by different music styles from around the world, including by not limited to, hip hop, R&B, reggae, EDM, jazz and more. K-pop used to something for only Korean-speaking audiences but that has changed. It has exploded into an international phenomenon.

Fans are not just crazed teenage girls. It has grown in popularity with people of all walks of life. Dennis Nanton,73, from the Bronx found out about K-pop from his granddaughter who is in her late 20’s. “She played me some of the music she listens to and I really liked it,” he said. “I play K-pop in the car all the time. I liked it so much that I play it when she isn’t around, and I look it up on my own.”

K-pop is mainly performed by groups, a large number of them have more than five members. They sing almost entirely in Korean, with some English words and phrases sprinkled throughout. Why are Americans taking an interest in music they don’t understand? Kayla Harris, 29, a K-pop fan since 2008, says aside from passion, and the hard work of the artists, 90s nostalgic plays a role.

“Many of the elements from popular culture of the 90s are directly infused into K-pop,” said Harris. “The dancing, the groups, the crazy clothes, the crazy hairstyles, the artists appearing on TV shows, and many other things that sets K-Pop apart from mainstream American music and popular culture today make K-pop stand out. It’s basically as if South Korea took all the best parts of the 1990s and figured out how to turn that into a business.”

Korean artist Psy released his song Gangnam Style in 2012. The song was just a one off of his album, never meant for U.S. promotion, but that is exactly what happened. The song was played on the radio daily across the country, reaching a following that surprised many. Gangnam Style was the most watched music video on YouTube from November of 2012 until July of 2017. It was even the first video to reach one billion views and as of today has 3.3 billion views.

K-pop fans often talk about being called weird or a nerd for liking the music. Nela Diaz, 35, says the music isn’t as different as people think.

“I get a lot of guff from people who say that but really, music is just music,” said Diaz. “Of course, there are ways in which it is different on a more specific level.The production values on their videos and performances are insane, not to mention how elaborate and complex their dances typically are.”

Being a K-pop fan is no different than being passionate about other things such as football, she said.

“You have your great fans, who really make you proud to be a part of the fandom and then you have your fans that make you cringe and just wish they weren’t making a mockery of something you love,” said Diaz.

Korean artists like seven-member group BTS have broken many records in the United States, changing the way the genre is viewed. A study done by Hyundai Research Institute found that one in every 13 foreign tourists visited South Korea because of BTS. K-pop has been the reason many people visit the country or learn the language.

“I studied Korean, Japanese, and Chinese in school,” said Harris. “Now I speak, read and write Korean very well. I’m not fluent, but when I visit Korea, I get around the country just fine on my own. I also studied abroad in Korea, vacationed in Korea, met many lifelong friends at K-pop events, and simply traveled and did many things that I might not have done had I not became interested in K-pop 10 years ago.”

More study abroad programs are giving students the opportunity to travel to South Korea. Shannon Doolan, 23, has been a K-pop fan for about nine years, and even before had an interest in Asian cultures. Doolan went to South Korea for a student exchange, studying at Yonsei University, one of Korea’s top schools. K-pop was one of the reasons that she wanted to learn about Korean culture and learn the language. “The genre helped me open up and learn about another language and culture,” she says. “I loved the things I learned, the uniqueness of the culture, the delicious food, how modern things were, and the people that I met throughout my time there. I will truly cherish those memories and will make new ones there in the near future.”

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