I know what you’re thinking. Who is this new Story Arc writer, and why are they writing an article about K-pop? I thought this blog was cool…
I was reluctant to kick off my Story Arc debut with this article for fear of my readers having this exact thought, as K-pop generally doesn’t have a good reputation around the Internet. Still, there isn’t anything else I want to talk more about right now than K-pop, since I recently got into it and still have quite a lot of energy left to talk about it in some way or form. And with BTS recently hitting #1 on the U.S. Billboard with their new single “Dynamite” (quite a peak for K-pop in general), I thought now would be as good a time as any to talk about this powerful music movement.
So basically, I got into K-pop this year. Crazy. Though come to think of it, it’s actually quite weird that I didn’t listen to K-pop until recently. After all, I have been a fan of J-pop, J-rock, and Vocaloid for about 5 years. Looking back, it’s a little odd to me that I didn’t step outside the realm of Japanese music and try something from a country very close to it, especially with how popular K-pop has gotten in the West in the past 10 years. Not that I was obligated to try K-pop because I liked music from another Asian country, I’m just a curious human who likes to experience new things, especially in music. Now that I am in the thick of the K-pop experience and rather enjoying it, I often think about what kept me from giving it a serious shot for so long. It was, again, probably fear of being judged, and that sucks a lot considering that K-pop is AWESOME, and I regret not getting into it sooner.
So I am here to tell you how and why I got dragged into being a K-pop stan, why I like K-pop, and why being a K-pop stan does not suck (except it kind of does, but not for reasons you’re thinking of, I’ll get to that later).
So this is what happened…
I wasn’t very active on public social media at all until I was about 18, so the first time I ever encountered K-pop in any form was when I went to this new local anime club. About halfway through the other girls there decided they had had enough of anime and put on some K-pop music videos. I was 16 years old and a noob, and I had no idea this sort of thing was this big or even that it existed. But there they were. 7 to 8 Korean boys dancing sexily on the screen and 4 girls around me freaking out about every little gesture they made. Frankly, I was weirded out and pushed pretty far away from the fandom.
That didn’t necessarily stop me from trying the music once or twice in the next 3 years, though. I recall offhandedly listening to a few BTS songs a few times, but it never went any deeper than that. I wouldn’t have been able to guess how far I would be into this one day.
Fast forward to the first months of 2020, which was the calm before the storm for me in more ways than just the oncoming COVID-19 pandemic. Three of my online friends had begun posting about, you guessed it, K-pop. I was honestly shocked at how quickly this came on, and never thought that my friends would be into something like K-pop. At this point, I had the deadly thought to give it a go, since my friends seem to like it so much and I was looking for more music recommendations. Thus, I searched a K-pop Spotify playlist and hit shuffle.
I liked a lot of what I heard, to my surprise, so I kept going. About a week later I was thrown for a loop when I encountered Big Bang. Big Bang were, in fact, the big boy group before BTS, having debuted in 2006. Their style of music hooked me almost immediately, and it wasn’t long before I watched just about all their music videos. I started to see why people were really into this sort of thing after being exposed to the handsome members’ visuals especially.
However, I still had more to experience within K-pop. Big Bang still exists nowadays, but one member left the group after a scandal in 2019, and they’re mostly inactive. They were supposed to have a comeback at Coachella, but as we all know, that couldn’t happen. The most action in the past year has come from lead rapper T.O.P, namely him posting pictures like these to his Instagram.
I was pretty concerned for T.O.P for a while, frankly. The lizard is a good boi, though.
As I would soon learn, much of the experience of being a K-pop stan comes from anticipating comebacks and freaking out with all your other stan friends about new content. Thus, though I was finally letting myself get consumed, I had experienced nothing yet. Big Bang merely served as a transition into the real K-pop hell that I was about to enter.
Eventually, my friend got me to watch the “Blood, Sweat and Tears” music video by BTS. I knew this song already, as mentioned earlier. When I started watching it, it seemed oddly familiar to me. Suddenly, I remembered: this was one of the videos that I had seen years ago, in that anime club with those hyper K-pop stan girls. What surprised me even more, though, was that as I watched this MV for the second time in my life, I thought it was absolutely incredible.
The video has a somewhat regal aesthetic, with fancy dinner tables, elegantly furnished rooms, and a sort of art gallery with paintings and marble statues. BTS themselves are dressed in silk shirts, embroidered jackets, and chokers. I could write a whole article on just this music video because I think it’s that good. I could still sense some of that “boyfriend” feel in the video and the choreo, as if they’re asking for a wild response from their fans, but most K-pop groups have some level of sex appeal, and I think it’s possible to look past that and see what more the MV contains. It was amazing that I didn’t see this video as anything before, because one watch a few years later and I thought it was a masterpiece. I suppose it’s funny what you can notice when you’re not surrounded by four screaming girls.
And so, this pretty much fully paved the way into K-pop for me. I soon listened to the BTS album that had just come out, Map of the Soul: 7, which absolutely blew me away. From there, I kept plowing through BTS’ discography. I was particularly grabbed by “I Need U” early on, and if you were to watch the music video (the original, not the censored version), you would know why. It’s an incredibly powerful MV with themes of friendship, youth, and hidden struggles, and the song itself is also very melancholic. It was definitely the first time in a while that a music video had made me shed some tears.
Soon, I expanded my reach to more groups, and now I regularly listen to music from several. Many of which are, admittedly, 4th generation groups such as Ateez, Itzy, and Stray Kids. I have been completely consumed and expect to have my body sink further and further into the bottomless quicksand of K-pop as I expand my reach to even more artists. Eventually I feel that I may become a K-pop god, at which point nothing will stop me. I’m that into this.
Why I Love It
So, what caused this for me? Why did I get so obsessed with K-pop? Why do I love it so much? Before I get into the reasons why I delved so far into this music phenomenon, keep in mind that I only got into this stuff a few months or so ago, so my knowledge is far less than someone who has been a K-pop fan for a few years. I definitely want to learn a lot more than I do at present, but I can only do so at a certain pace since there’s so much possible stuff to learn about so many groups and I’m less than a year into this, so I apologize if my knowledge feels limited at all.
Now that that’s all out of the way, time to explain what drew me into becoming *gasp* a K-pop stan.
So in my opinion, K-pop shouldn’t even be considered a “genre”. Although there is a certain feel to the music videos that you don’t see much anywhere else, the music itself is similar to pop from other parts of the world, the main difference being that it’s in Korean (most of the time anyway). In addition, it isn’t all pop, as the name may lead you to believe. Hip-hop and rap is extremely abundant in K-pop, whether the music is straight up in that genre or influenced by it. In fact, most groups have at least one rapper, so there is quite a bit of overlap between pop and hip-hop/rap in K-pop. EDM is also very common for composers to throw into their work. To a lesser degree, you can find rock, Latin, and even metal among everything that is considered K-pop if you look deep enough. I seriously believe there is something for everyone in K-pop, which is why I dislike this mentality of it being a genre. It gives the impression that if you listen to one group and don’t really vibe with it, you won’t like the rest of it. That is very untrue! I’m someone who’s music taste encompasses about 90% of genres out there, and I can say that K-pop alone could satisfy almost all my musical needs (which may be why most of my Spotify history is currently K-pop. Oops). So, you could probably find something you like in it, you just have to find it.
Oh yeah, and the music is no joke. From the classic bops like “Fantastic Baby” by Big Bang to the hard bangers like “God’s Menu” by Stray Kids, from the rebellious tone of “So What” by LOONA to the classy tone of “Piano Man” by MAMAMOO, from the sexy beat of “Love Shot” by EXO to the raw emotion of “Tear” by BTS, I’ve enjoyed nearly every bit of where K-pop extends its reach. I can’t think of much to say about the quality in general, since it’s all rather different from group to group, except that it’s just good music that either makes me feel happy, energetic, or emotional. There’s songs I don’t vibe with, sure, but it’s heavily outweighed by the good stuff.
The Visuals: Dancing and Fashion
As you are probably aware through the fancams spammed by stans everywhere on Twitter, the majority of K-pop groups and soloists dance. I had never thought of dancing as something I liked watching for entertainment, but now it’s one of the components that really make K-pop special for me. Not only does it add to the talent factor (have you tried singing and dancing vigorously at the same time? I have, I was out of breath in about 10 seconds), but it also just makes everything fun to look at, whether you’re watching a music video or a stage. It gets me so much more pumped, especially with the way the choreography flows so that the person singing at the time is in the center. It’s fascinating to me how just about every group who dances has such intricate choreo. Granted, not every K-pop group dances, some play instruments instead or straight up just sing, and it isn’t my intention to invalidate those groups because they don’t dance. It’s just that the choreography is often really, really cool.
It’s hard for me to explain exactly what makes it so fun for me to watch, perhaps because it’s satisfying how well it fits the music? Maybe I just like looking at pretty men and women dancing? I can’t say for sure. I can say, however, that the sheer amount of groups that can blow me away with their choreo is astounding. Especially my current favorite group, Ateez, in which every member is extremely good at dancing in my opinion, and the choreo is absolutely amazing for just about every song of theirs. I’m so proud of them and how talented they all are.
K-pop choreography may be impressive and pleasing to the eye, but the visuals don’t end there. As I watched more music videos and stages, I found myself thinking “Wow, I wish I looked this fly” far too much. I’m not the only one, some of these outfits that idols sport, even casually, pop off quite a bit.
I’m not even particularly into fashion, but if I said I wasn’t loving these fits, I would be lying. Fashion is integrated into the music industry in general, but K-pop sort of takes this to a different level. Since oftentimes the idols are objects of affection for the fans, they should look pretty cool, right? You can have anything from snazzy suits to school uniforms to street clothes, even outfits based on the traditional Korean hanbok. It definitely adds to the overall presence of the group. In addition, I can say that these clothes K-pop idols wear are a huge inspiration to us fanartists, because they’re extremely fun to draw and therefore give us a lot to work with to make a really, really pleasing piece of art. I really enjoy how stages often have all the members wearing coordinating outfits, too. It exemplifies their power to me in a sense. Almost like they’re saying “Hey, we perform together, we work together, we are epic”. Pretty neat, if you ask me.
This is something that is very hard for non-K-pop fans to understand, and it is often mistaken as blatant obsession (not that that isn’t out there among stans). But, as someone who observed the K-pop fandom for a few years before becoming a K-pop stan myself, I can say this with confidence: I understand almost everything now. I understand what makes K-pop so special to people, why they love their favorite idols so much, what causes them to exhibit strong emotion when they hear their favorite idol’s voice or see their face. In my experience, the feeling is not obsession, nor romantic love (obviously), but rather, comfort. Idols actually share a lot of their lives with their fans, whether it be through going live and talking with fans or having vlogs, showing you their interests through little segments they may have, etc. It’s important to recognize that idols have many flaws that, of course, would never be shown to the public on screen, but that doesn’t stop them from giving their fans hope. Just seeing the smiling face of an idol you really like helps you feel better.
I experience this feeling a lot. Probably because I’m…pretty lonely. Regardless of how healthy your social life is, though, there’s something about curling up at home under your blankets after you’ve had a long day and opening up your Twitter to see some new selfies that your favorite idol posted earlier. It seems silly, I know, but when it comes down to it, it’s just a little thing to help brighten your day. Watching some videos of your favorite group and seeing all their friend dynamics also has this effect; seeing how much they enjoy each other’s presence is enough to make you smile. Oftentimes your bias (or favorite member in a group) can help bring out extreme emotions you’ve been bottling up all day as well. I remember one night I couldn’t sleep, thoughts were racing through my brain, nothing seemed worth living for, the usual that comes with depression. That was also the night I decided to listen to mono for the first time, a melancholic hip-hop mixtape produced by my BTS bias, Kim Namjoon (or RM, his stage name). It hit me so deeply, not just because the tone of the album was touching and emotional, but also just because it was him. It’s hard to explain why that made so much of a difference. Regardless, I’m somehow reminded that I’m going to be okay by just looking at my favorite idols, which I would think is a very good thing, since my mental health isn’t the best. As long as you don’t become delusional and think you’re destined to date or marry your favorite idol (which some people unfortunately do), then these feelings are entirely valid in my opinion.
I should mention that not everyone who tries K-pop will experience this, especially if you just want to casually listen instead of actually learning about the members of groups, and that’s fine! I mostly wanted to talk about this just so you can at least see how someone can be extremely attached to a K-pop idol in a rational way. Again, it’s a hard feeling to convey to someone who hasn’t experienced it, at least for me.
Some Final Thoughts
So as we all know, K-pop has a very, very bad rap around the internet. It isn’t hard to see the reason why: some of the fans are insane. I want to keep this article fairly clean, so I won’t go into some of the extremely questionable things that fans have done to the idols, said about the idols, etc., but I’m sure you can imagine what goes on. Generally speaking, these things have happened with any famous person marketed to be attractive, as almost all K-pop groups/idols are, so this is nothing new. However, due to the large quantity of K-pop groups out there as well as the massive amount of active K-pop fans on social media, these incidents are most often seen in a K-pop context nowadays, creating a toxic aura around it for a lot of people.
But, and this is something that I somehow failed to see for years, K-pop is so much more than just a bunch of attractive Korean men and women doing sexy dances to bass heavy pop music, and fangirls screaming about how much they love their “oppa” and going ballistic. It’s a stupid thing to assume in the first place, but it’s unfortunately the impression I got before all of this happened, and I was also not as perceptive back then, admittedly. I was so wrong in so many ways, and K-pop is actually something that has been bringing me little bits of happiness through some rough times in my life. The joy I receive from the music and the idols, the excitement I get waiting for comebacks, it’s all very wonderful. In fact, I’m livid that I only just got into it early this year. Not only did I miss a lot of eras for several of my favorite groups, I won’t be going to any concerts for a while due to COVID-19.
My groaning aside, K-pop has been a great experience for me so far, and I’m glad I did eventually fall in love with the music movement, even if I won’t be able to escape. It isn’t for everyone, but I would encourage you to try it if you’re curious, if only just a little. Good luck not getting sucked into the bottomless pit if you do! Nah, but really, it’s worth checking out if you want something new to spice up your music playlist.
Thank you for reading my article! I plan to write more about K-pop, among some other things such as video games and anime in the future. For K-pop, I would like to get in depth about my favorite groups as well as talk about recent comebacks and other fun stuff. If you liked my writing this time around, stay tuned for more! Oh yeah, and if you would like to check out my art or have questions/recommendations for me, you can find me on Twitter @ChimieLynx.