So I’ve been wanting to do this post for a while now and just overall explain the questions I get from people who don’t understand: “How did you get in Korean music??” and “Why listen to something you can’t even understand?”
For those who don’t know, I’m a HUGE music lover. I grew up around it thanks to my Dad and his massive collection of any genre you could think of–R&B, Rock, Country, Jazz–I pretty much heard it all. I remember even having my own boombox and taking any old cassettes my Dad no longer wanted and made my own mixtapes filled with my favorite songs on the radio almost every night (I wish I still had them…so much nostalgia). I was quick to realize how versatile music could be—listening to older artists like The Temptations, Earth, Wind, & Fire, and Todd Rundgren and fast forwarding to todays artist like Rihanna, Beyonce, Chris Brown, and even more “underground” artists such as Kehlani, Bryson Tiller, The Internet, SZA and Jhene Aiko who’ve been finally hitting the surface over the past couple of years.
However it was Summer 2016 when I discovered music on an even broader scale–on the other side of the world. K-Pop, short for Korean Pop out of South Korea (because North Korea doesn’t play that) began in the late 80’s but really formed as a culture and incorporated other genres in the late 90’s with popular groups such as Seo Taiji and Boys (Hip Hop) and H.O.T (Pop) and later took off tremendously with veteran K-Pop groups like TVXQ and female vets like BoA which in turn caused an expansion to Japanese markets and beyond.
(from top left: Seo Taiji and Boys, TVXQ, H.O.T, and BoA)
So how on Earth did I get here?? My first encounter was actually with K-R&B/Hip-Hop with K-Pop to follow later. I was at work at my desk listening to music to make the time go by as always when I logged into my Soundcloud account (if you want to listen to extremely talented unknown artists as well as mainstream, this is a great source). I pulled up a familiar song and let the shuffle play at random when a mix of songs that someone put together started to play. In the mix I started to hear –what I later looked up– a song called “2nd Thots” (a play on the word “thought”) by an artist named Jay Park. This song was in English, but it got my attention and I wanted to hear more. So I ended up finding Jay’s official Soundcloud page (AOMG Official) , the song in it’s entirety…annnnd his whole life story because I’m nosey like that. Long story short: Jay (a former B-Boy dancer) is an Asian-American from Seattle, WA but went to South Korea to pursue music, became part of a K-Pop group by the name 2PM (which is still doing well), however due to some frowned upon actions of Jay Park speaking his mind about the system of SK, he eventually left the group and had to start back at square one. But now he’s founder and CEO of TWO labels (AOMG & H1GHR Music) out of South Korea with plenty of solo hits & albums in tow (and did I mention that the man is GORGEOUS?)
(Jay “Forever My Husband” Park)
Although Jay is American, he was technically the first artist I heard sing and rap in Korean as I began to pull up almost every single and album I could find (my commitment to music is untouchable). The way his mix of Korean and English lines flowed together was so amazing to me and I can assume it wasn’t the easiest considering Korean was not Jay’s first language. Eventually, I went down the line and listened to other artists from his AOMG label (Hoody Kim, LOCO, Elo, Hep, & Ugly Duck) as well as his producers (Cha Cha Malone & Grey), DJs (DJ Wegun & DJ Pumkin), and his Co-CEO Simon Dominic who’s like an ‘OG’ of Korean Hip Hop.
(AOMG) From the left: (sitting) LOCO, Grey, Simon Dominic, Hoody Kim, Jay Park, DJ Pumkin, & DJ Wegun|(standing in back) Ugly Duck & Elo
So this was the beginning and as I pulled AOMG up on YouTube for more, the suggested videos got me and before I knew it I ended up visiting the K-Pop side of things. I could definitely go in depth about these groups, but I don’t want to keep you long so I’ll keep it short and sweet like me (heh, heh).
Starting with GOT7:
(GOT7) From the left: Yugeyom, JB, Jackson, Jinyoung, Mark, Bambam, & Youngjae
I keep GOT7 close to my heart being that they’re the first K-Pop group I’ve listened to. The picture above describes them perfectly because they are the silliest and most random group I’ve ever seen yet full of talent. Formed in 2014, the group has 7 members (hence the name) as has a mix of genre influences such as R&B and Pop (Their latest album ‘Flight Log: Arrival’ has been on REPLAY). They’ve also come to America several times, visiting the South frequently…*patiently waits on a Nashville announcement*. (Quick Fact: Jackson and Bambam are the only non-asian members of the group, Jackson is Chinese and Bambam is Thai. Also, Mark is the only Asian member from America while the others are from Korea).
- My bias: Jackson
- A few favorite songs: ‘I Like You’, ‘Angel’, ‘Just Right’, ‘Prove It’, ‘Sign’
(Shinee) From far back: Onew, Taemin, Jonghyun, Minho, & Key
One of the veteran K-Pop groups (formed in 2008), these five guys have an endless track list of music and a fan base consisting of MILLIONS internationally and none of them are even 30 yet (Onew, the oldest, is actually 27). What drew me to them was their completely opposing personalities (from competitive Minho to high maintenance Key) and how close they remain. Remaining a group for this long in today’s time isn’t easy if you ask me. Their music is a mix of R&B, Pop, and Electro with Taemin and Jonghyun having solo albums of their own. Their music is EVERYTHING.
- My bias: Taemin
- A few favorite songs: ‘Love Sick’, ‘Romance’, ‘Chocolate’, ‘Odd Eye’, ‘Don’t Let Me Go’, ‘Get The Treasure’
(EXO) From the left: Chanyeol, Chen, Xiumin, Kai, Sehun, Suho, D.O., Lay, & Baekhyun
Don’t even ask me how I remember all these names! EXO formed in 2011 with originally 12 (yes 12) members that were split into two sub groups– Exo-K for Korean performances and Exo-M for Mandarin performances. Eventually, the group dropped down to 9 due to the 3 former members wanting out of their frustrating contracts. Although the group has been through a lot they still seem very passionate about their music which is incredible. I have so many favorites from them but they arguably have the best slow songs ever (‘What If’, ‘Moonlight’, ‘She’s Dreaming’, and recently ‘Walking On Memories’ to name a few). They consist of a mix of R&B, Rap, and Pop influences. They literally dropped their new album ‘THE WAR-The 4th Album’ yesterday. Have a listen, you’ll thank me later.
- My bias: Lay
- A few favorite songs: ‘Growl’, ‘Heart Attack’, ‘Overdose’, ‘Monster’, ‘They Never Know’, ‘Chill’
And finally, BTS:
(BTS) In back from the left: Jimin, J-Hope, V, Jin/In front from the left: Jungkook, Suga, Rap Monster
Let me just say I was rocking with BTS way before they won their first ever Billboard award a couple months ago and they truly did deserve it. BTS (consisting of 7 members, various talent, personalities, and inside jokes) formed in 2013 and are a true meaning of a big success. From what I’ve learned, these guys went from being so low on money as a group that they had to ration and share food and clothes to making over $40 million last year in merchandise, endorsements, and a sold out worldwide tour. What drew me to them was, for one, their cuteness (aren’t they adorable?) and their endless creativity in production and messages (from love and positivity to daily struggles of being a youth). They are very relatable and even share plenty of personal moments with fans to keep them close. Awww, how sweet!
- My bias: Jimin
- A few favorite songs: ‘Coffee’, ‘War of Hormone’, ‘Outro: Do You Think It Makes Sense?’, ‘Fire’, ‘House of Cards, ‘Not Today’
Now there are a few girl groups I listen to from time to time like Blackpink and Twice, but I admit I’m still learning their music along with other guy groups. There’s so many and I know I can’t get to them all!
As a music lover, I believe that music is universal no matter the language. Just like some of our biggest American artists attract people from all over the world, K-Pop has attracted me. I don’t knock anything down just because it’s different, but to each is their own *shrugs*.
So what types are music are you into? Are you familiar with K-Pop? Feel free to let me know!