K-pop: You can thank Google for your new obsession
Girls' Generation performs at the K-Collection In Seoul on March 11.
May 14th, 2012
01:14 PM ET

K-pop: You can thank Google for your new obsession

Google announced last week that it would host a free concert May 21 at its Mountain View headquarters featuring a host of Korean pop music acts such as SNSD (also known as Girls' Generation), DBSK (also known as TVXQ), Super Junior, The Wonder Girls, KARA and more.

You may not know these names, but to a devoted K-pop fan, seeing even one of those bands is a seriously squeeworthy event.

Fans like me would easily pay a great deal to see a show like this. And in many ways, it is fan devotion that is responsible for such an event appearing in the States. A representative for the concert said in a statement, "I think that previous performances by Korean artists were targeted towards Korean-Americans or the Koreans living abroad, but this time its appeal will spread to all fans of pop music in the US."

There's only one message to get out of this: Google believes K-pop has universal appeal. It's been on the rise for a while, though. Last year, a similar variety show sold out Madison Square Garden and sent fans across America into a total frenzy. Girls' Generation was also featured on David Letterman in early February and performed the English-language version of their hit song "The Boys." My friends and I gathered around the television, waiting to see how it would all turn out. And we were overjroyed when the performance met with resounding applause.

My own discovery of K-pop was a slow one. I've been a J-pop fan for more than a decade, but K-pop was a foreign world that I had no idea how to get into. That is, until I saw my first TVXQ video.

If there's anything I fell in love with about K-pop, it's the appeal of the total package. From the razor-sharp choreography to the catchy songs, K-pop screams of polished perfection. It mesmerized me from the word go, and it seems to have worked the same magic on millions of other fans.

K-pop has been around since the '60s, but the debut and rising popularity of South Korean group Seo Taiji & Boys (Korean website) defined K-pop in the '90s. A few years later, Korean entrepreneur Lee Soo Man founded S.M. Entertainment, which would grow to become South Korea's biggest talent agency and turn out some of the most popular groups today.

By 2000, countries such as Indonesia, Japan, Thailand, China and more had caught the K-pop bug. Recognizing these different groups of fans, bands such as SNSD and TVXQ chose to put out Japanese-language albums in addition to their Korean albums. The two bands also have alternate names: SNSD is known as Girls' Generation outside Korea, and DBSK is called Tohoshinki in Japan.

And there's a noticeable amount of English in K-pop music. According to Bianca Gomez, who runs a Korean news and discussion blog called Angry K-Pop Fan, English is highly prioritized in Korea as a way to appeal to a foreign audience.

"Though K-pop has been using English in their songs even before its boom abroad (a possible suggestion that English is a part of Korean society as a whole, and not just an element that came about with the rise of K-pop), now that its international appeal is more evident than ever, it won’t come as a surprise to learn that English is being used as a subtle promotional technique (to a greater extent) in today’s hits," Gomez said.

Much like their Japanese counterparts, Korean stars spend a great deal of energy on variety show appearances, developing their personalities so fans can get to know them better. "It’s not only about the music but also about the celebrities themselves, and it is exactly this sense of attachment that the industry thrives off," Gomez said.

So K-pop is catchy, fun and entertaining. But plenty of music is, and yet it doesn't captivate the globe in quite the same way. There's something unique about K-pop's colorful outfits and carefree approach that tugs at fans. It's something I can't get out of my mind.

"There’s a reason they’re so popular, and that’s because they’re so personable, " said Patricia Hernandez, editor-in-chief of Nightmare Mode and high-level K-pop addict. "Typically, you might look at a group of girls that big and think, oh, the company is trying to sell you a harem fantasy or something, but it’s not like that at all."

"Sure, they sexualize their acts," she said, "but it’s very different from how an American might sexualize an act. It’s not as overt, and ultimately, yes, the K-Pop stars are all very attractive. That definitely helped; K-pop is less a music genre than it is image and marketing. I can’t say I mind ogling all the folk. Who can complain about that?"

As a fan, I agree there is something at the heart of K-pop's take on sexuality that differs greatly from the way we approach it in the United States. Gomez said fans are attracted to the presentation.

"Many have gone as far as saying that its images are way more ‘innocent’ than the highly sexualized and mature content we see in American pop media. Many turn to SNSD when Christina Aguilera became ‘too sexy,’ and many listen to BEAST and Super Junior to neutralize the drugs and sex of Rihanna and Eminem," Gomez said.

"This becomes especially evident when criticism erupts about (Korean) idols like HyunA for her ‘booty-shaking,’ those of which make clear that for many, such impressions are blurring the lines between what is supposedly the appeal of K-pop and what needs to stay in American pop.

"K-pop is popular because it is the fans who recognized the entertainment and genius that exists within the realm, and they’re the ones who pushed (and continue to push) for its prominence on the global stage," she said. "This encouraged involvement of fans is another element that many international consumers are attracted to."

K-pop acts benefit from the history of American pop acts, Hernandez said. "Which is to say, they have a good backdrop of what good pop music sounds like, and so they’re building off that and they’ve found ways of going beyond it."

"To me, what they provide is better than anything our boy/girl bands ever produced in their hey-day. There’s something about how K-pop captures happiness," she said.

I couldn't agree more.

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Filed under: Otaku
soundoff (43 Responses)
  1. Gonzalo Dudenbostel

    Asian ladies also desire to be with white males due to the results of their children. Offspring from Caucasian males and Asian women is a good mix and are most of the time beautiful and will grow up to be beautiful. Asian women are well-liked for that strong ties they have with their children and being with white men will give them the assurance that their children will look great along with a bright future.`

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    http://www.caramoan.ph/caramoan-islands/

    April 20, 2013 at 6:24 am |
  2. yeny

    Is there gonna be another concert in 2013?

    April 9, 2013 at 6:36 pm |
  3. Tamiris

    Hi. I'm Korean girl First, I'm not good at English but I really watend to say this.Have you ever seen Pasta?' It's was so famous in Korea.and there were many handsome guys in it. It's sooo fun.If you didn't watch this, I recommend you this drama.

    August 5, 2012 at 2:09 am |
  4. olreport2011

    Hi! KPOP Ranking http://kpop.korea.tc

    July 18, 2012 at 12:42 am |
  5. FatChics

    South Korean chics are smoking hot

    May 29, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
  6. Suz

    white people take credit for EVERYTHING. OMG.

    May 21, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
  7. Jenn

    Thank Google for my new obsession? Hardly! Anyone who has a K-Pop obsession had it long before the Google concert.

    May 21, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
  8. alice

    I love JYJ/TVXQ.
    They're great singers and dancers.
    I love their performance & their activities in life too.
    Hope someday I can watch their perform as 5 members ^^

    May 20, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
  9. DianD

    Not unlike any other pop music from around the world. Catchy and most of all very image-driven. But way too over-polished and plastic for the American musical taste. There is a reason Kelly Clarkson and Adele are so successful here.

    May 20, 2012 at 12:46 am |
    • kpop

      I partly agree with you but things that you said only goes to Kpop "Idol". There's singers like Adele in Korea too.

      August 6, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
  10. ann west

    🔴 There's a reason why Asian people are NOT known for singing or dancing

    May 19, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
    • Zoe

      F off you racist. How ignorant is your preconceived perception? Go check out a show called "Immortal Song" on youtube and humble yourself.

      May 21, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
  11. ann west

    🔴 Asian women singing , worst voices in the world.

    May 19, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
  12. Jon

    some of them are entertaining and talented and others are not. it is different than american pop. however the author failed to mention that most if not all of them are JAIL BAIT! under 18 LOL

    May 18, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
    • Brooke

      What "most?" 0__o Yes, many of the rookie groups who have come out in the last year or so have members who are underage. However, of the very popular groups, I can think of >5 people who are underage (and none of them are from the groups who performed at the Google concert). There are members of Super Junior (who performed at the concert) who are almost 30.

      But yes, on average, K-pop idols are significantly younger than many American artists (for example, I haven't heard of any groups with members Madonna's age). But I think this may have to do with maximizing the groups' potential BEFORE they have to do their mandated military service.

      May 23, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
    • J

      No, most of them are 18-25 (in Western years) and only a few are underage.

      July 5, 2012 at 7:13 am |
  13. tHE cUTtHrOaTs 9

    I hope their hairy down there. That turns me on.

    May 18, 2012 at 10:02 am |
  14. tHE cUTtHrOaTs 9

    thx

    May 18, 2012 at 9:51 am |
  15. Dild0 Baggins

    SOOOOOOO HAWT all of them, yummy!

    May 18, 2012 at 9:49 am |
  16. dsa0224

    my best friend is korean and i started to listent to girls generation. it may be weird for a guy like me to do that. at least those chicks are hot and their music isnt played out. its seems more natural to me their music than the crap i hear on the radio.

    May 17, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
  17. FTAddict

    I flew from ATL to LAX one weekend to see FT Island and CN Blue in concert. Best concert ever, it was great even if they didn't speak tons of english, sure there were mostly teen Korean girls there but I also saw families and older (read: white hair) people, kpop appeals to a wide range of ppl

    May 16, 2012 at 8:35 am |
  18. 2NE1 Rules

    K-pop is appealing because it has a more uplifting beat and the lyrics innocent compared to the profanity of the popular rap style gang music of the US. The K-Pop & J-Pop performers, both male and female, are a lot more attractive and clean cut compared to the stringy haired, tattoo covered American stars dressed like slobs. Its great music to listen to at the gym. I love 2NE1, 2PM, SNSD, G-Dragon, Rain and Wonder Girls!

    May 16, 2012 at 12:29 am |
  19. kpopfan

    I wish k-pop bands would tour the US more often ^_^ I know I will never make it to SK. Love Bi Rain~ I will await his return! I would love to see TXXQ and MBLAQ someday.

    May 15, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • visualkeipanda

      I would also love to see MBLAQ. I wish I didn't have to work on the 21st! I would like to see TVXQ. I saw JYJ November 14, 2010 at Planet Hollywood in Vegas... so it would be pretty fitting to see Yunho and Changmin to have the full experience. ^_^

      May 18, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
  20. simplyme

    @griggs It's "a big deal" because K-Pop artists don't come here very often, so to a fan that loves K-Pop (not a random person reading a blog and deciding to put their two cents in to put down someone else's excitement) it's a big deal. No need to be so cynical.

    May 14, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
  21. griggs

    I'm sure various acts perform at Mountain View, why is this a big deal? Because some PR person told you so? or is it a fetish?
    "There's something unique about K-pop's colorful outfits and carefree approach that tugs at fans" Could this be said for a lot of pop acts? How is this unique to Kpop?

    May 14, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
    • Maty

      Check it out and see!

      May 15, 2012 at 10:29 pm |
    • lcdd

      youtube 'gee'

      May 20, 2012 at 12:45 pm |