A myriad of music

Staff Reporter explores the world of Korean music, entertainment


Charlie Clark

LIghtsticks, a phenomenon unique to Asian music, are plastic cheering lights fans bring to concerts. The lights are unique to the band, and can range from $30 to $100. Some lightsticks even hook up to bluetooth and can create designs within the crowd.

The clock stares at me as I sit, phone in hand, waiting in anticipation for it to announce 4 a.m. I woke up 15 minutes ago to watch it drop. Scheduled for 6 p.m. Korean Standard Time, this video will be a turning point for me. This is the first group I get to watch debut, the first I get to grow up with and see their whole story. I watched the show, voted over and over on it, saw all the trailers and I am ready now. The screen changes and begins to count down, 5… 4… 3… 2… 1… I see a boy with big eyes and a bloody nose. The music begins.

I first began listening to Korean pop music, known colloquially as K-pop, in the summer of 2019. I had listened to the genre before, but that June I stumbled down a rabbit hole I soon found I quite enjoyed. Before I knew it, I was learning the names of BTS and slowly branching out to other artists such as EXO, NCT, Stray Kids and Seventeen. By Jan. 2020, I already had two CDs and one on the way. Once June came again, I was firmly a fan of 10 plus groups with nearly 20 CDs from the genre in my collection. I was indisputably a K-pop fan. 

Perhaps the most notable group I became interested in during that time was a band named Enhypen. The group was formed through a reality show where members were chosen through a mix of company evaluations and viewer voting. Debuting a group through a show is not uncommon within the genre. It gives the company insight into who the fans love and draws attention to a group before they start making music. I was one of the fans who watched and voted on Enhypen’s show as it came out. 

Not only is being a fan of a group from pre-debut an exciting prospect, I was also drawn in by the fact that all of the potential and later final members were quite close to my age. With the youngest, Ni-ki, only ten months younger than me, and the oldest, Heesung, just three years older, it was easy to relate to them. I was excited at the thought of growing up with these boys and watching them mature as a band.  There is also a certain weight to saying one has been a fan from the beginning, and it is nice to say one stayed up to physically watch their debut. 

Listening to a group from debut also makes being a fan easier. K-pop groups release so much content, and the later you become a fan, the more difficult it is to get caught up. Some groups like the ever-growing NCT, with five years of daily videos as well as 23 members and counting, have such an excess of content ,I may never catch up. Being a fan from the start also makes it extremely easy to collect merchandise such as CDs and posters, as those things tend to go up in value dramatically over time.  

Collecting albums within the K-pop community is much more than just wishing to have a physical copy of one’s favorite songs. It is an entire culture in and of itself.  The albums are always beautifully packaged with creative custom boxes, trading cards (also known as Photocards), posters and lyric and photo booklets with exclusive photos, all on top of a CD.  The albums usually come in several versions so fans can collect them as a set or simply pick their favorite. Some fans will buy albums over and over again until they get the photocard they want, or until they get lucky enough to win a signed copy or a video call with a member of the band. 

K-pop groups also come out with an astounding amount of music every year. The average group will have two or three releases, with the majority of them consisting of at least five songs. If one were to be a fan of more than two or three bands, that amount of new music adds up fast. Although the amount of time between releases is vastly different, some bands produce their own tracks and others sing songs written for them by their company, just like American music. 

Since companies usually train their musicians and then place them in groups, the agency the artist is under is often a deciding factor to whether a group does well. Groups debuting under bigger labels often have the advantage of money, time, and reputation. However, if the group is mismanaged, as is often the case with big companies, then the band falls apart or simply never releases any more music.

There is an unfortunate stereotype that K-pop is a genre for the unhinged, that all the fans are delusional and crazy. Before one can begin to talk about the excessive misogyny behind media mainly consumed by women being dismissed, or the amount of xenophobia behind the music in an Asian language being seen as lesser than, one must acknowledge that there are supposed “fans” who take it too far. Up until recently, Korea did not have very strict laws concerning stalking so it was easy for people with money and an unhealthy obsession to follow artists and invade their privacy. These stalkers are often known as “sasaengs”. These people are not considered real fans and are severely hated by the actual fans of the artists. 

What people from the outside often do not realize is that there is an increasing number of younger and younger k-pop fans circling the web. Kids as young as seven or eight who do not how to conduct themselves on the internet are diluting K-pop spaces and negatively affecting the way it is perceived.  These kids often have anonymous accounts, so it gives a false impression that K-pop fans have no sense of decency online. These are not the majority of fans by any means, and it is disappointing to see how stigmatized the genre has become as a result of their behavior.

There are countless ways to take a step into the world of K-pop. One can begin with a music video, a reality show or a playlist full of all the newbie essentials. K-pop has something for everyone. From rock and R&B to ballads and fast-paced rap, it is simply a matter of finding what fits. Maybe, like me, one will stumble down the rabbit hole and slowly become a fan. The genre is a new, exciting style of music that is not to be overlooked, one just needs to give it a try.