|A boy band strikes a typical post. (Photo: onekpop.com)|
With that being said, there are some good things about K-pop. I'll be the first to admit that I do have a nice little selection of K-pop songs on my iPod and I'm not ashamed to say it. Contrary to popular belief, not all of it is mangy, mass produced pop. There are many singers in the genre who are actually very talented and would do well even without the hype of K-pop to hold them up. Members of the the boyband 2AM are known for their melodious ballads and have distinctive voices that mesh well together to produce noteworthy music. Lee Hi, a newcomer on the scene, has been compared to Adele, and can hit notes very few others her age (16) are capable of. FT Island excels in playing guitars and drums and Epik High challenges the very meaning of K-pop with their funky styles and hip-hop roots.
Whether K-pop's popularity is related to talent or other reasons (err...six packs), the industry is boosting the Korean economy in more ways than one. K-pop is quickly becoming one of the county's biggest exports; in 2011, exports equaled $18 million, up 112% from the previous year. Last year, popular groups held world tours spanning from Indonesia to Chile to France. And lest we forget about that famous horse dance. Since Psy's "Gangnam Style" went viral, there has been a massive influx of tourists to Korea as well as an increase in interest of Korean products and cuisine.
|K-pop fans cheer on their favorite acts at a concert in France. (Photo: hancinema.net)|
The plummeting of the stocks in these circumstances is no coincidence; everyone from the companies to the consumers know that K-pop performers have the unique ability to influence an ever-expanding audience unlike any other media figure. Some entertainment companies have seen the advantages of this power and have used it in a positive way to to address many of the country's social problems that have been swept under the rug for so many years.
As I mentioned previously, K-pop has received a lot of heat for objectifying women; female idols are often dressed in hoo-ha-length mini skirts, shoot sexy, come-hither looks into the cameras, and booty pop their way through televised performances, leaving ajusshis (middle aged men) drooling at the mouth and young girls with unrealistic images of what they should be. Somehow, these acts are still masked with innocence, as sex remains to be very hush-hush in Korea.
Another taboo being addressed by K-pop is homosexuality. Older generations of Koreans actually believe that homosexuality does not exist in their country and because of this, human rights for gay individuals are virtually non-existent. It's a subject that is simply not talked about... until now, that is. The music videos for K. Will's "Please Don't", Nell's "The Day Before", and Baby Soul and Yoo Jia's "She's a Flirt" all address the subject of homosexuality beautifully and in a way that viewers can be empathetic with the characters portrayed. Although it will take some time for the gay and lesbian community to be fully accepted here in Korea, these videos are a step in the right direction.
But, it's not just the videos that are sending messages.
|K. Will's "Please Don't" portrays the story of a young gay man upset over the marriage of his love interest. (Photo: kpop911.com)|
|2NE1, the ultimate girl power group. (Photo: Mashable.com)|
Miss A is another great act who has no problem embracing their "I Don't Need a Man" independence in a couple-obsessed society: "I want to take care of myself. The other girls may have rich parents or a rich boyfriend and live comfortably but I’m not interested in that. That is why I am proud of myself." These ladies are great role models for the younger girls and will hopefully inspire them to be individuals and independent in a society where such characteristics don't have much value.
It's easy to ignore the fact that there's a bigger picture to K-pop when silly costumes and screaming fangirls are involved. So, the next time you hear the familiar sound of sugary K-pop sounding from the speakers at a cafe, don't roll your eyes. Appreciate it for what it is and keep in mind that that very song might just be influencing the future of Korea.
Words by Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching. Content may not be reproduced unless authorized.