A while back I did a post about the differences between k-pop and western pop. For those of you too lazy to read it, the conclusion is that there really aren’t any. Many of you reading this post found that post to be educational but quite a few of you also wondered why the fuck anyone would even listen to k-pop if it’s identical to western pop. To answer this question, let’s welcome back the return of the…
Never one to leave his readers high and dry, Kpopalypse is now here to explain the benefits of k-pop for international music fans! Read on for the trufax!
We’ve all been there before – you tell your friends that you like k-pop, and they instantly recoil in disgust. “Why do you like that shit, you fucking gaybo”, “why don’t you listen to normal music”, “are you obsessed with Korea or something?” etc. How to shut up these fuckwits? Well, it might help to consider the following three benefits of k-pop from an international fans’ perspective to use in your pro k-pop arguments:
Benefit #1 – you (probably) can’t understand most of the lyrics in k-pop
It might seem like an obvious point, but there’s an implication here that most people don’t think about. If you ask the average non k-pop fan why they don’t listen to music from Korea, they’ll inevitably bring up the issue of “I can’t get into it because I can’t understand the words”. Fools. Not understanding the words is a massive benefit for the enjoyment of any popular music. Trust me, you’d be better off not knowing about the insipid garbage that any popular music singers from any country sing about. Imagine how much more you would enjoy Tyga’s “Rack City” if you couldn’t understand the words… well okay, maybe that’s a bad example, nobody intelligent would enjoy that song even if it had the best lyrics in the world. Perhaps let’s look at this trash instead:
Above are the lyrics for the climactic part of Led Zeppelin’s epic (as in epically overplayed) eight-minute classic rock radio dirge “Stairway To Heaven” that all classic rock fans love (and I’ll admit that I liked it too, the first 572 times I heard it when I was 12 years old – after that it got a bit boring). This is a screencap of an official Led Zeppelin poster which shows that these fucking terrible lyrics are considered so profound by one-eyed Led Zeppelin fans that they are deemed worthy enough by the company to make it onto the band’s official promotional material (and who says only k-pop fans are irrational). Of course anyone objective will look at those words and instantly think “what the fuck is this gibberish, what is this song even about?”. They’re not alone, even the lyricist himself freely admitted “depending on what day it is, I still interpret the song a different way” – now that’s fine for a listener, but coming from the guy who wrote it, it probably really means: “I had no fucking idea what I was writing about at the time as I was probably high as shit so I just wrote the first thing that came into my head, please don’t make me tell you what it means because then I’ll be open to criticism for foisting my stream-of-consciousness drug-induced drool onto the public.” And “Stairway” is supposedly considered to be a high water mark of classic rock, a work of lyrical genius, one of the best pieces of lyricism that western music has to offer… so you can only just imagine how shitty most of the other fucking crap is.
Most popular music falls into a few basic lyrical categories:
- I love you, please fuck me
- I am sexually frustrated, please fuck me
- Please fuck me because I have all this money and fame
- I care about the world’s problems because I’m such a nice person, please fuck me
- I am so hardcore and edgy, please fuck me
- I did love you but now I don’t, somebody please fuck me but not YOU because you’re an asshole
You’re generally not missing much. Trust me, your enjoyment of all popular music everywhere will improve drastically when you can’t understand the words.
“But I like signing along to the chorus!” people will say. Well, that’s why the choruses for k-pop are usually in English. English is just a better language for pop choruses than Korean for the same reason that Italian is a better language for opera than German – the inflections of the language fit better with that style of music. With k-pop, you get to have English choruses you can sing along to and you get shielded from the worst of the lyrical crimes in the rest of the song because it’s all in Korean. You get to have your cake and eat it too. Pop music with most of the lyrics unintelligble has to be just about the most perfect thing going in the universe. Just don’t learn how to understand Korean fluently and you’ll be fine.
Right now you might be thinking this:
…and this brings us to our second point:
Benefit #2 – k-pop is accessible, because it isn’t really k-pop
When I talk about k-pop’s accessibility, I’m not just talking about how Japan mostly won’t put up songs on YouTube and charges outrageously for content while Korea makes the effort to flood every corner of everywhere with their pop music even if it means they make no money out of it (yes Japan’s cock-licking attitude is definitely helping make Japan a pop-cultural backwater but it’s not the main issue). I’m talking about sounding accessible, and how Korea’s pop industry makes an effort to create something that someone from another country might actually like musically.
When k-pop in its current form started, k-pop producers trekked overseas to learn production tricks from America and Europe. The early results sucked dick, but eventually the Korean producers got the hang of how to write a western-style hit and k-pop as a copyist form was cemented. Then a funny thing gradually happened – the bigger k-pop labels started using more overseas producers, who would occasionally farm out their most avant-garde and forward-thinking pop creations to k-pop agencies instead of the western pop groups that they would normally use. K-pop never gained any real traction outside of Asia as a pop commodity beyond cult value as far as music consumers are concerned, but where it did gain a foothold is as a place for freelance pop songwriters from around the world to shop product and try mixing new ideas and sounds. This hasn’t happened to the same degree in any other country in the world, where the ultra-commercial pop markets are much more insular (Japan being a classic example, but there are many others). You also won’t find much that sounds like f(x)’s “Red Light” or Red Velvet’s “Ice Cream Cake” outside Korea, but that’s got nothing to do with Korea as a country, just where songwriters are farming a lot of songs to. If you personally find the better k-pop songs to be preferable to pop from elsewhere on a purely musical level, this is probably the reason why – Korean pop interests international audiences musically precisely because once you take away the words it isn’t very Korean at all.
So how did international songwriters get drawn to k-pop like moths to a flame?
Benefit #3 – the k-pop industry is highly active, which means fun times
Here’s a chart I made a while back that shows the number of k-pop idol group debuts per year for the last few years according to kpoplists.com (excluding 2014 because they don’t have data for 2014 debuts at the time of writing):
The k-pop industry has been on the upsurge in terms of activity for the last few years, in the same way that the doo-wop scene surged in the 1950s, the Merseybeat scene in the early 60s, progressive rock, disco and punk in the 70s, rap and metal in the 80s, grunge and techno in the 90s etc. The quality of k-pop songs on average isn’t really any better than songs from the US or Europe, but since there are simply more songs by more groups coming out more of the time, mathematically there’s just going to be more songs that are great (as well as more songs that are shit – but that’s okay, nobody’s forcing you to listen to the shit ones). More songs means more better songs, and such a hive of activity doesn’t go unnoticed by songwriters shopping their potential hits.
Whenever a music scene explodes in activity, only a tiny fraction make it to the very top. (Who can name five Merseybeat groups off the top of their head who had great success besides The Beatles?) There aren’t many places at the top because the music market isn’t big enough to sustain a large number of super-hit artists. With so many participants, competition between groups becomes very intense, and this increase in competitiveness has quite a few flow-on effects:
- Companies start looking for conceptual points to set their groups apart from the others. See: Red Velvet’s dual “Red” and “Velvet” concept, f(x) positioned as a left-field pop group, T-ara’s disco/EDM queen sound, B.A.P’s focus on rock riffs in their better songs, Block B and BTS bridging the gap between k-pop and hip-hop to varying degrees, YG’s ultra-modern yoloswag productions, AOA’s band concept, 2AM, Zan Zan and SoReal branding as “ballad groups”, Year 7 Class 1 borrowing from j-pop, Orange Caramel reinventing Stock Aitken and Waterman, Crayon Pop’s cartoony nerd culture concepts etc etc. Anything that can set a group apart conceptually in a crowded genre gives them a reason for someone to like them specifically. The result – a wide variety of different groups all aimed conceptually slightly differently, for your pleasure. A far cry from most other countries who have so far only figured out one way to present an idol girl group and one way to present an idol boy group.
- More fap material. Sex sells, and more sex sells for more. Lots and lots of sex might generate a negative reaction but it will still sell lots and lots (ask your favourite JAV starlet). The power of biology is stronger than the power of fake-ass moralising by fuckheads on a superiority trip and this is a truism that the music industry has observed ever since Bessie Smith sung about wanting some sugar in her bowl. The relatively high quantity of k-pop debuts therefore leads to a high quantity of fap (for both genders) as labels compete fiercely to be remembered for delivering the maximum hotness directly to your genitals.
- High production out the ass. In the quest to be remembered and to uniquely brand their groups with something that will foster your emotional attachment to a bunch of people that you don’t even know and shouldn’t rationally give the slightest of shits about, k-pop agencies are not adverse to spending a dickload of money. The average k-pop music video costs over twice the cost of the average music video in any other country and even the shittier ones look fucking amazing. Physical packaging from about 2011 onward has generally been as ostentatious as possible for all agencies, even the total nugus. K-pop companies won’t even let their groups put on a full concert unless they can do it with enough video screens, lights and OH&S-flaunting fireworks to kill a small country worth of insects. The high-budget k-pop experience makes western efforts look cheap in comparison… because they are cheap in comparison. No wonder so many k-pop fans are reluctant to go back to western pop – it’s like being kicked out of first class in the plane and being sent back to the economy section.
- That special connection. How can a k-pop agency lock down their audience hard and fast to make sure fans don’t desert their idol group in favour of the competition? By making you fall in love with their performers, that’s how. The US and UK have mastered this ever since the days of Elvis and The Beatles, but k-pop takes it to the next level with all sorts of bullshit designed to make you suspend the rational part of your brain and start dreaming up marriage plans with your fave, stringing you along with the power of lovelorn angst to buy more and more shit you don’t need. If you’re a reasonably sensible person of course you’ll see through this, which suddenly makes it all very entertaining as you laugh while your idols endorse random crap and jump through a thousand different hoops every day, providing you with extra media content to enjoy.
- Mega-insane fan communities full of shambling, drooling nutbags. Because there is so much activity all the time, there is a massive microcosm of forums, news sites and blogs for you to explore. Most of it is comparable to the mad scratchings that insane asylum detainees draw on the walls of their cells, which only makes it more fun! If you get really into it, you may even start a snarky rude blogsite like this one just to take the piss out of it all!
Well, there you have it – three things that you probably knew already, but now Kpopalypse has pointed them out for you in a snarky blog post which you can use to annoy others! My work defending k-pop from the legions of haters is complete… for now!