What is KPOP?

“I’m not Pop, I’m not Rock, I’m not Funk, I’m not R&B or Hip Hop”

RM, “Do You”
RM formerly Rap Monster “Do You” from MIXTAPE March 20, 2015 Its amazing…go listen!

KPOP IS NOT A MUSIC GENRE. Let’s just get that out of the way. This may come as quite a shock to civilians as well as some ARMY. It seems intuitive after all, “K” for “Korean,” “Pop” for “Pop music.” But this is a largely western misconception. It’s not difficult to make this mistake either, since people and places we go to normally to inform ourselves often are not current or correct. This includes news agencies, internet search engines, Google, Wikipedia, even fans. Two years ago, when I started trying to learn more about BTS, getting a reliable source of information was nearly impossible. KPOP is such a new phenomena that we can not rely on our usual resources for information to understand it.

Musically speaking, what is KPOP? I’m going to break this down for you as simply as possible using good, old fashioned logic and data collection. Haters can’t fight that. To begin with, KPOP is an umbrella term. Underneath this umbrella are collected a variety of preexisting genres that appear in music with the KPOP label. Here is a list of just some of the genres I have identified.

  • Hip Hop
  • R & B
  • Rap
  • Soul
  • Bubblegum Pop
  • EDM
  • TRAP
  • Pop
  • Folk
  • Rock
  • Neo-Soul
  • Jazz
  • Ballads
  • Pop Rock
  • Metal
  • Raggae
  • Funk
  • Space Disco
  • Cosmic House

And the list goes on. Really, there’s more. This list is just getting too long.

If you listen widely to music that is categorized as “KPOP,” you are going to hear very genre-diverse music. One of the things I find appealing about BTS is that they have experimented with so many different music genres. More on that later.

A Conversation with BTS at the Recording Academy/Grammy Museum L.A. Live September 11, 2018

In an excellent interview at the Grammy Museum, BTS was astutely asked: “Is KPOP a music genre?”

This was Suga/Yoongi’s response (it begins at the 21:08 marker)

“I’m a little careful to talk about Kpop as a genre because I don’t want to be defining Kpop as a genre, I’m a little bit wary of that.  But I think rather than approach Kpop as a genre, a better approach would be ‘integrated content.’  Kpop includes not just the music, but the clothes, the makeup, the choreography.  All these elements, I think, sort of amalgamate together in a visual and auditory content package.  That, I think, sets it apart from other music or maybe other genres.  So again, as I said, rather than approach K-Pop as its own genre, I think approaching it as this integration of different content would be a better approach.

Suga, “A Conversation with BTS,” Grammy Museum September 11, 2018

There are others who agree with him.

“People talk about K-Pop as a music genre. It’s not really a music genre, its a music idea.”

Tamar Herman
Contributor, Billboard Magazine
Netflix “Explained: K-Pop”  Season 1

KPOP tends to mix and match genres in a sort of genre mash-up, even within an individual song. Sometimes the choice of genres follows what is popular at the time; unconstrained by one type of music, experimenting freely. BTS’ extremely popular “Mic Drop” is one example.

Different genres that appear in BTS’ “Mic Drop” Netflix “Explained K-Pop” Season 1

RM/Namjoon explains:

“Well, putting Hip Hop as our base, we mix a lot of genres into our music, such as Rock and Electric Pop.  So, honestly, rather than wanting to limit (challenge) ourselves to a specific genre, I think it would be fun to create music that’s created from adding in various music genres, which can be seen as making fusion music.”

RM “Backstage Chat” (music show) 2014

This begs the question, are music genres/labels/segregations ultimately irrelevant? Is the end result no music genres. Is fusion music the future? Here are some closing thoughts from two BTS members in very different contexts with a similar message:

“In life, a genre is a trap, just like music. Because you become an idiot as soon as you’re tied down there”

RM, “Do You”

JK:  For myself, I try not to categorize the music that I listen to.  So I listen to a lot of KPOP, I listen to a lot of American Pop, or International Music.  I listen to the lyrics and I try not to set the genres apart…I’m trying to listen to as many genres of music as possible and as broadly as possible.

Jungkook, “A Conversation with BTS,” Grammy Museum September 11, 2018

I will tell you a secret. Something I know is true. Great song writers and musicians listen widely, across genres; they educate themselves in this way. I’ve seen BTS do this with my own eyes ever since they started posting candid content of themselves. It’s been an important part of their process all along.

This question, “what is KPOP,” is relevant right now; it’s become politically charged. It is denying KPOP artists a metaphorical seat at the table for recognition in the west, which they deserve (again, there are numbers). So defining KPOP, operationalizing our terms, is not just an academic exercise, it will help us to understand and stand up to the ignorance and exclusion KPOP artists and their fans are encountering. Use this, share this with people you encounter that need to understand. That is one of the purposes of this blog, to validate and empower you.

So, if KPOP isn’t a music genre but a genre-diverse musical category. What is KPOP? We’ll tackle that next time. Trust me, it’s getting fun.

So sorry that I went MIA for a bit. Drama over the holidays with my health, then my service dog’s health. I wanted so much to write to you but was a wreck and not able. Also, there might be errors in this post. I just wanted to get it to you at last.

My baby Inara, a true angel. Please send her some love and prayers. She’s such a good girl

I’m going to start working on that next entry though because its going to be fun. Remember I have a twitter if you would like to see alternate content or talk. @DrKBangtanism

Borahae, Dr. K.


“Let’s Get It”

Why are we here? More specifically, why am I, a former academic of the precious ivory tower variety, writing a blog about a KPOP boy band. Please allow me to introduce myself. I am a former university lecturer of Theory, Philosophy, History, and Socio-Cultural Contexts with an emphasis on Pacific Island Studies and Post Colonialism. That’s a lot, I know, but I’m not here to be an academic elitist. I am here because of a group of seven, wonderful, young men who literally saved my life.

From the very beginning I was aware that BTS was special. On a personal level, they shook the dust from my brain, which had been inactive for some time. But also, because of my work. I have a unique “lens” that I can use to look at and reflect on BTS and all the things happening around them. This lens I have is made up of my education (which covers a range of topics), my life experiences, and who I am as a person.

I am aware that there are other people writing and talking about BTS, but I feel that no one is getting down to the bone marrow, and I want to fill that void. One of my talents is my analytical ability. Many people view BTS’ success as something magical or the result of one or more isolated factors (like social media). I am able to break down this phenomenon, then describe the pieces, explain how it is put together, how it works, and paint a bigger picture. That’s what I do. In summary, I’m going to do a long term analysis of the diverse, global impacts of the BTS phenomenon.

Now for the why. As I said before, BTS saved me, and I found myself thinking a lot about that. I was fascinated by the typhoon of activity that surrounded their every move. Everything was provocative, everything was historic, everything was game changing, and that was a huge attraction for me. At the same time I found solace, peace, comfort, love and encouragement with them and that led to a desire to give something back.

The best way I think I can give back is to write, so I am writing to inform and enlighten people. People who are curious. Lost parents struggling to understand. People who “don’t get it.” Even “haters.” But for A.R.M.Y. most of all; to help them better understand how awesome this whole event is globally and historically. I want to capture their legacy in writing as it unfolds. Because by demystifying BTS’ rise and continuing impact, people will realize that it is bigger and more impressive than they realize. BTS is changing the world, and that’s no exaggeration

“Fetus” BTS at the time of their debut in 2013. They started from the bottom.

"I will prove it to you all." -RM

November 30, 2019: Congratulations BTS and A.R.M.Y. The MMAs (Melon Music Awards) 2019 was a historic night for the BTSxARMY family. Like so many others, I stayed up all night to livestream the show. When I started to write after it was finished, I was literally falling asleep and falling over. I’m still having a little “MMA hangover,” but I’ll try and get some quality sleep tonight.

December 4, 2019: Kim Seok Jin’s birthday. Congratulations BTS on making history for the second time this week. The MAMAs (Mnet Asian Music Awards) are still a blur for me. I stayed up to stream again, though my wifi connection was glitchy and seemed to want to freeze at all the key moments. I fell asleep in bed with my laptop on my chest, right in the middle of BTS’ performance. I drifted in and out for the rest of the show, only coherent enough to remember the next morning that BTS had won Artist of the Year. RM really kept his promise. They proved to everyone that they earned their elite status.

Just to let you in on my process a bit; when an event happens, whether it’s a concert, interview, comeback (new album release), or awards show, I usually try to stream the event live. Since BTS has a massive international fan base, that means that millions of people (those who have access to the technology) will be watching events unfold together in real time. The ability for people to experience an event together on this scale is unprecedented and profound. It can also lead to exhaustion and subsequent insomnia in my case.

Taehyung/V, Yoongi/Suga, and Jimin with Artist of the Year Daesang, MAMA 2019, Japan

Once a performance or event is over though, my real work begins. That is when I start monitoring and mining social network platforms for peoples’ responses and any issues that arise. It is impossible for me to adequately explain the massive amount of information produced even on a normal day, let alone a special one.

There are so many moments which I would qualify as ephemeral history (see previous post), that I am forced to pick and chose which ones to follow. So naturally, the discourse here on the blog is shaped by these choices. This week I was getting sidetracked by the negative, ugly, hateful events which resulted in a change in how I was “experiencing BTS”. I feel that this alone is a huge topic we should explore sometime, but for now, it is enough to say that I am turning things around and walking towards the light again.

Remember when I said in the introduction that BTS is changing the world? I’m an academic, so I don’t make claims without some kind of data to base them on. Here is proof of one way they are doing just that. This is a program, developed by a graduate student, which shows SNS (Social Networking Service) or social media traffic concerning BTS. This clip shows reactions to the MAMAs. Those purple lights are a visual representation of ARMYs global connectedness, a borderless world where race, gender, language, difference, is not a barrier. Awesome and Inspiring. Until next week.

Borahae, Dr. K.

If you want to see my take on one of the unpleasant incidents last week. I also have a new Twitter account. I post there more often and talk about things I don’t usually cover in the blog including the most ephemeral (blink and they’re gone) moments/controversies in BTSxARMY history. Find me on Twitter as: Dr. K. Bangtanism https://twitter.com/DrKBangtanism

“Open your eyes…now”

Fun fact: BTS has a Mission Statement, so this week I want to share my Mission Statement with you. It will be both a map of where we’ll go and a check list of things we’ll learn together. I told you last week we were getting into it this week, so here we go.

Create a Foundation In order to talk about all the crazy and amazing things that happen in the world of BTS we have to have a strong foundation in theory, philosophy, and a little bit of history. I hope I didn’t just lose you there. If the words theory, philosophy, and/or history make you shut down or break out in hives, on behalf of all teachers everywhere, I apologize. These topics are not boring in themselves, its the way they are taught that’s the problem. Together we’re going to build a strong foundation in a way that is as clear and enjoyable as I can make it.

Describe and Analyze Issues and Events Once we have a sturdy foundation to stand on, we can get into the good stuff, looking at what is happening and finding explanations why. Not the superficial why, but the deeply buried why we can dig up using the foundations we’ve built. I become overwhelmed when I see the diverse impacts BTS is having on all of us; phenomena affecting everything from the Korean economy to fabric softener. This will be our space for looking at and trying to understand deeply what it all means. We will of course be including offshoots associated with BTS. By offshoots I mean A.R.M.Y., charities, support groups, content creators, The United Nations, and more. These phenomena are just as important as the contributions of BTS itself.

One of the amazing things about writing (history, etc.) now is that we can discuss things as they’re happening. Because in the BTSxARMY world, things are happening every day, all day. Keeping up with events on social media is a full time job. In this case we have some record of BTS’ past history (its pretty short), but we also have an ephemeral (lasting for a very short time) history unfolding minute by minute. Some of this gets recorded, some of it just evaporates.

Do all of this is an accessible way

Who am I writing for? I am actually a very unconventional academic, and that is something special that I bring with me. I am not doing this project for other academics like me. This is not just an exercise in self-indulgent ego masturbation. All of my past work has been done to be useful and beneficial for the community. After all, if research isn’t making life better for people then what is the point? So this project, above all, does not exclude, it includes. Everyone is welcome. This is how I will do that.

I use plain language and avoid jargon. Let me know in the comments if you are ever confused by my word choices and I will take another crack at saying things better.

I try to find the simplest way to explain things. Part of this will include me using the right words, but I will also try to use examples that are familiar and easy to relate to.

I try very hard to make the ivory tower stuff relevant and fun and show how it works in daily life. Even though you may have had bad experiences in the past, I promise these topics really are very interesting, enlightening, mind-blowing.

I’m writing short entries so you can read them comfortably This will reduce the risk of us all giving up from exhaustion and boredom. That was a little sarcasm

Ultimately, I am hoping to contribute to a growing movement intended to recognize the amazing contributions of BTS. I’m doing this academically, through research and analysis. By doing my project in this way, it is my hope to bring legitimacy and the academy’s voice of authority. In other words, I want people to take the BTS phenomenon seriously. It’s not just music, it’s a movement.

This is a prayer circle for the MMA tomorrow, whatever faith you follow, cross your fingers, or just send the guys lots of love and light. As always, the comments section is open if you have any question. Until next week.

Borahae, Dr. K.

If you’re a reader and books with big words and big ideas are your thing, a lot of our analysis etc. will come from this work of genius. It absolutely changed my life and my career. Its very dense, but worth it.

“Is all of this a coincidence?”

There is a ritual in the BTS fandom. It takes place shortly after meeting another fan, a fellow A.R.M.Y. We share our story with each other, “How I Found BTS,” because A.R.M.Y.s often remember vividly the circumstances of this meeting. We’ll talk about this aspect of BTS fandom culture in more detail in future entries, but today, in keeping with A.R.M.Y. tradition, I’m going to share my story with you.

In November of 2017, the 15th to be exact, I was mourning the death of my beloved husband. We had both been sick for more than ten years, he with cancer and me with heart failure. We’d managed to fight off his cancer three times, but the fourth and final time it came back, there was nothing the doctors could do. He died young, and I think I would have soon followed him as I neglected to take care of my health; a sort of passive suicide. I had received a heart transplant, but I was still battling several chronic illnesses. My grief was compounded by loneliness, poverty and isolation. These were easily the darkest days of my life.

I live in Hollywood, California, tourist central to be exact. Grauman’s (aka TCL) historic Chinese Theatre, The Walk of Fame (with the stars), The Dolby Theatre where they hold the Oscars, these are all my front yard. Just one block down the street, across from Hollywood High School where my son attended, is the back lot of the Jimmy Kimmel Show where he holds outdoor concerts. He’s so close that I can usually hear the crowd and the music from my living room.

On this night in November the crowd was especially loud which made me curious. When my son came home I asked him who was performing. “Some KPOP band,” he said. Then he got on YouTube and played the first music video on the recommended list. The band was BTS, the video was “DNA.”

The first BTS video I watched. The first time I met bias. The production value is amazing. The mood is lively and fun.

I am a child of the MTV generation, I love music videos, and I was completely blown away. It was visually stunning, full of color, imagery, quality effects, high fashion, rapid-fire editing, beautiful boys, super catchy music and dancing. Oh the dancing! So I watched the next video in the queue, “Blood, Sweat and Tears.” It was beautiful, and completely different from “DNA” in every way. I was intrigued.

A complete departure from “DNA,” this video was darker, lush, sensual and a little dangerous. BTS are chameleons

At first, I just wanted to know the members individually. I started watching the YouTube videos A.R.M.Y.s had made introducing the band. There are a lot of videos. One video lead to another and another, and I fell down the proverbial rabbit hole. That’s just how it goes. Then something interesting happened, I started using all that BTS YouTube content as a coping strategy to deal with my grief and anxiety. I was still crying every day. Some days it was all I could do to drag myself out of bed to sit in front of the TV and watch YouTube. But it did make me feel better, BTS made me feel better. It wasn’t just their music, it was their sincerity, their humor, their honesty, their vulnerability, their dedication, their bravery, their love for and devotion to their fans and each other, and so much more. There was a lot to love.

It’s been two years now, I still love them. They are still companions in my healing process, and continue to inspire me. And now, they have me writing again after a very long and painful dry spell. Like so many others, I have come to see BTS as a part of my family. And now I finally know and feel that I am not alone.

Please feel free to share your story in the comment section below. I want this blog to be interactive, and relevant. I think including the voices of other A.R.M.Y.s will accomplish that.

Next week we’ll be diving into the heavy stuff, start building our foundation, so get ready to expand your mind.

Borahae fam, Dr. K.

This is a link to a YouTube video of part of the performance I heard from my Lazy Boy Recliner in the living room