Thursday, February 4, 2010


Korean pop, or the Korean Wave, as it is sometimes called, is not only popular in Korea, but has swept over much of Asia and even into America.  Korean pop singer Rain recently starred in the Korean film Ninja Assassin, which had a Hollywood release.

 To help understand the K-pop phenomenon, I've selected one music video from my students' favorite groups.  Be warned, the songs are pretty catchy, even if you only know the random English word or phrase that is thrown into every single song.

First, 2ne1.  They are a very popular girl group, who's hit "I Don't Care" was the number one song for Korean students back in the fall.  Saying the words I don't care in a classroom will always be followed by a round of giggles, then a rendition of the chorus by one or more students.

Next is a boy group that has torn the K-pop fans into bitter camps - those that like this group, 2PM, and those that like the other most popular boy group, Big Bang.  I'm putting this first because the song is decent, and the video is actually interesting.

The next group is huge right now, especially with the guys, as you'll see.  Girls Generation has 9 members, though apparently there are 5 that everyone likes the most, including their own publicists - an image search for the group will often show all 9 together, but occasionally you'll see shots of just 5 of them.  Sort of like with the Pussycat Dolls, the others just seem to be filler.  This video is full of choregraphed cute-ness, rapidly shifting scenes and lots of bright colors.  It's a really good indication of the M.O. for K-pop.

Up next is Big Bang, the other boy band competing for top spot on the charts and in girls' hearts.  They are led by the self-named G-dragon, who has also branched off to do some controversial solo work that shocked Seoul audiences a few weeks ago - it involved simulated sex on stage, which is an interesting choice considering most of the fans are girls ages 10-15.  Anyway, there are other Big Bang songs more popular than this one, especially a song called "Lollipop," but it is a duet with 2ne1, and I wanted to give BB their fair due on their own.

This next group, Wonder Girls, actually has seen some extra-Asian audiences, with a debut in the US recently.  This video is their music video debut in America, and probably their most popular song here in Korea.  It's an interesting video, pulling on motifs from the Jazz Age, from variety shows (which are huge in Korea), from Hollywood - from just about everywhere that has ever been successful in music.  It's a heavy handed attempt at pandering to the largest possible audience, but they actually pull it off quite well. 

SHINee is another boy band that is really popular with middle schools girls, and you'll see why below.  They use the same airbrushing, dyed hair, "arty" styles, and rapid camera movements/cuts to juxtapose with their very, very repetitive chorus and overdone choreography.  In short, they are the pinnacle of K-pop achievement.  After watching a lot of videos from a lot of bands, it becomes difficult to tell them apart - and no, I don't mean the actual performers.  The songs (lyrics and beats), the set designs, the cinematography, especially the choreography - it all is rehashed again and again, and eaten up by Korean teens.

One last group not to be forgotten: TVXQ!  They aren't as popular as other boy bands in terms of sales, but every middle school girl can tell you who they are, even who all the individual members are.  Their fan base may not be as astronomical as some others, but they are just as die-hard, if not more so. 

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