“I’m not Pop, I’m not Rock, I’m not Funk, I’m not R&B or Hip Hop”RM, “Do You”
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
- Bubblegum Pop
- Pop Rock
- 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.
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.
“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.
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.