K-Pop is more ideologically empty than a Nirvana t-shirt

By Alex Mazey

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K-Pop is Ziggy Stardust for the young millennial. It’s the backstreet boys made bilingual with bigger production budgets than a Michael Bay film. Boasting catchy hooks and more international appeal than Coca-Cola, it’s the audiovisual of the 21st century. A blend of east meets west in an orgy of androgynous aesthetics and electro, soundscape breakdowns – the rare concoction of funky dance pop and sweeping, scene kid fringes.

I sat down last night with an iPad, a handful of K-Pop recommendations, and a deep sense of dread in my stomach. Tonight there wasn’t any authentic, scratching vinyl or Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison. This wouldn’t be my usual offering of ‘Musique de Film Imaginé.’ This was K-Pop, unadulterated music from the tinny sounds of an iPad; a post-modern experimentation in sound and genre, the pop lyrical Four Tet gone visual kei. The pop stylists of Lady Gaga let loose with more glitter than a primary school with an arts council fund.

Easier to decipher than Iggy Azalea; K-Pop lyrics are equally as transient – but then lyrics never mattered in pop music anyway – it was never about being Ars Poetica. It was about being a fashionista of the highest order, dressing like the playable characters from a Tekken Tag Tournament.

Watching the video for ‘CROOKED’, I noticed G-Dragon was a kind of Korean George Michael rendered ethereal and alternatively tattooed. Dressed in more feathers than a peacock, he was the commodification of anarchy made corporeal. It was John Lydon gone full circle, more ideologically empty than a Nirvana t-shirt, but perhaps twice as fun. G-Dragon was certainly more culturally impressionist, dare I say, interesting?

Same goes for Big Bang, a Korean super group finding more success than any 90’s boy band, with over four million YouTube subscriptions alone. The all-female groups, however, provide the real paradigm shift in the Korean music industry, culturally and musically, with idol groups like Girls’ Generation boasting nearly double the subscribers as of 2015, at nearly seven and a half million.

K-Pop is fast becoming a major globalized phenomenon, a South Korean export of the cultural kind. In 2012, TIME magazine described K-pop as “catchy melodies performed by polished dance groups,” with everybody “cashing in on the K-pop boom.” In the same year, Rolling Stone called K-Pop “a calculated, colorful, choreographed affair,” praising its “crossover potential” and ability to “break language barriers.”

Big Bang, Sistar, Girls’ Generation, G-Dragon – it’s easy to dismiss these guys as bubblegum pop, but this beloved Korean export is continuing to push the boundaries of musical genre and style. In the words of Big Bang, it’s “Fantastic Baby!”

These tongue and cheek observations might prove superfluous, but you can’t ignore the tuneful compositions of the K-Pop sound. These bands chart the correlation between success and a focus on melody and uncomplicated structure. After all, mainstream doesn’t equate to musically devoid, even if we assume it does.

Cover by LG전자