KPOPPYINFO

YOUR RESOURCE FOR EVERYTHING KPOP

INFO : Introduction

KPOP101 for newbies…

Maybe you saw Gangnam Style and wanted to dig a little deeper. Maybe you found yourself singing along to the background music on Starcraft gameplay videos. Or DOTA! Or LoL! Maybe you have a friend who is crazy for Kpop and trying to convert you.

I designed this site for the outsider, the newbie and the simply curious, as a jumping off point. It's valuable to expose yourself to all kinds of culture, whether popular or not, whether you end up liking them or not. Ideally, KPOPPY serves to inform you and little else, so that your own opinion may develop organically as you dive in.

…and for the fans!

For the fans who are already on board—you want the MUSIC and MEDIA pages. For you, this site is the quickest access to as much material as possible and will give you a chance to discover new or less popular artists you haven't heard of yet.

This INFO page is an easily-digestible guide towards understanding what Kpop is about. It provides a broad view of the industry, and of course, the music. The MUSIC page is if you want music and only music. The MEDIA page is helpful in finding social media, news sites, TV shows, online shops, and all kinds of other Kpop related resources.

The Basics

South Korea

South KoreaSouth Korea is one of a gazillion Asian countries. First, let's make an important distinction.

South Korea is not North Korea.

North Korea is the temperamental dictatorship that believes it is still at war with the world. Its leaders care more about their missiles and egos than taking care of their own starving people. They have shared history/culture if you go back in time far enough, but they are two wildly different countries at present.

(I am now banned from Pyongyang)

South Korea is fairly small and could roughly fit inside Arizona. There are a few large cities, but the capital Seoul, is the beating heart of the country. It looks like any other dense International metropolitan city busy with life. The government is a constitutional republic led by a president and prime minister.

Koreans speak Korean; their written language is called Hangul. They eat kimchi, drink soju, sing at noraebang, and boast some of the fastest internet in the world. South Korea is a big exporter of electronics, robotics, and machinery. Brands like Samsung, LG, Hyundai, and Kia Motors are probably recognizable to you. Won (KRW) is their currency. Summers are hot, humid, and rainy. Winters are freezing and snowy. Education is taken extremely seriously. Students often spend all day at school and exams are intense.Television and mainstream media are packed with Kpop music programs, dramas, and variety shows, which provide relief from the daily grind of working or studying. And gaming tournaments, because… why not?!

What is Kpop?

Kpop (or K-pop) is technically an all-encompassing term for anything in Korean popular culture or media. Anything like food or film, fashion or literature could qualify. But the primary usage of Kpop is in regard to music. Specifically, it's the trend of highly infectious, polished, finely choreographed Idol pop, which has developed over roughly the last 15 years. This is the focus of KPOPPY, but there is a growing cache of non-Idol links over on the MUSIC page if you're on the hunt for more variety in what Korean music has to offer. Take the dive and enjoy!

Prologue

Is Kpop for you?

Let's get a few things out of the way. I, and many Kpop fans, encounter these three sentiments over and over and over again from friends and family. These are not unique reactions. If you can't get past these ideas and hang-ups, maybe Kpop is not for you. That's okay. If that's the case, please don't mock people who do enjoy it. As a life rule, when you mock and dismiss harmless things that people enjoy, it says nothing about the person you're mocking. It simply lets everyone know that you are an asshat. So it goes.

"All pop music is vapid, manufactured, and worthless. Kpop is no exception."

Catchy, over-produced, shiny, popular music is no threat to Queen, Sinatra, or Beethoven. Listen to some Kpop, be open-minded, and if none of it appeals to you… move on. Enjoy what you enjoy.

A point to consider: Think of all the cooks in the kitchen. The concept of manufactured pop music is looked down upon hugely by the public by many cultures. Korea and Japan included. I, too, can see the factory-style of the pop industry in a negative light. But I remind myself that this stuff doesn't just zap itself into existence.

Songwriters and producers (who have no desire to perform what they make), stylists, costume-designers, hair-dressers and make-up artists are all contributing. Think of the set-designers and builders, lightshow and camera-operators, CGI teams that work on videos… dozens and dozens of individuals, passionate about what they do, are represented by the pretty faces and disciplined training of idol groups. I see this as an achievement of cooperation and collaboration and Kpop has wholly mastered it—for good or bad.

"I don't understand what they're saying."

Is this really important to you? Have you never enjoyed listening to a song in a different language? Is instrumental music inherently less valuable with no lyrics to understand? Can Italian opera not be appreciated by someone who doesn't know Italian?

I'll inject a personal opinion here. For me, not understanding the language is a strength instead of a weakness.

  1. Kpop is perfect for studying, reading, and writing. I'm less likely to get my brain 'stuck' on listening to the words since I don't understand them, and the music is upbeat and energizing.
  2. Sappy, ridiculous, over-dramatic, and nonsense lyrics bother me in American music, but with Kpop I can be blissfully ignorant of these things and just enjoy the voices. If I find that I really really like a particular track I'll look up the lyrics, which are readily available these days.
  3. Korean. Obviously, this is subjective, but some languages just sound better when sung. I hear lots of soft consonants, interesting vowel-sound combinations, and a rise and fall of tone that is not unfamiliar to a native English-speaker. Lovely.

"They look gay."

This matters?
If you believe that the way someone looks indicates their sexuality, especially in the entertainment industry… yikes.
I don't know how to help you. Educate yourself or kindly GTFO the planet. Cheers!

In the mainstream Kpop industry, image is EVERYTHING. Female idols are expected to look flawless, thin, glamorous, cute, and sexy, with perfect make-up, hairstyles, and eye-catching outfits. Though it is a strange notion to much of the West, Male idols are held to a similar standard. They are expected to look flawless, thin or muscular, charming, and smoldering, with perfect skin, hairstyles, and eye-catching outfits. The scruffy, macho, just-fell-out-of-bed, unkempt look, is not the ideal in Kpop.

Keep in mind that it is fantasy. Maybe not YOUR fantasy, but a fantasy nonetheless. It's an escape from reality. The idols are regarded as larger-than-life, enmeshed in a world that is visually stimulating to an extreme and un-real… both the ladies AND the gentlemen.

Beauty is not exclusive to one gender. Equal-opportunity eye-candy. And that is NO indication of sexuality.

History

1990—2000

1st Generation

Seo Taiji, H.O.T., Shinhwa, Finkl, Sechs Kies, S.E.S…

STYLE: Long hair, hairsprayed huge, or left flat with a middle-part. Baggy, over-sized clothes for boys. Baggy or feminine/sweet clothes for girls. Simple choreography with big arm/leg movements. Focus on youth, school life, real-world sets for MVs.

2001—2007

2nd Generation

BoA, Rain, TVXQ, BIGBANG, Wonder Girls, Super Junior, KARA, Girl's Generation, Brown Eyed Girls…

STYLE: Big hair (anime-style), lots of bleaching. Mix of baggy/tight clothes, heavily embellished/accessorized. Huge leap in dance skill. Box-sets, mini-dramas for MVs. Cosmetic surgeries becoming commonplace.

2008—Present

3rd Generation

SHINee, 2NE1, 2PM, SISTAR, Infinite, Secret, 4Minute, miss A, IU, T-ara, f(x), Beast, B.A.P., Mblaq, BlockB, Girl's Day, Teen Top, A Pink, Fiestar, B1A4, TINY-G, BTS, SPICA, EXO, MAMAMOO…

STYLE: Chic, avante-garde, stylized fashion. Brightly dyed, short hair, intense makeup. Colorful, LED, box-sets. EDM/hip-hop sound.

Timeline

Of course, Korea has a long history of its own music—traditional folk music in various forms. But Kpop, as we know it today, got its start as a result of the Korean War. Rock, Pop, and folk music from the West spread in the new 'South' Korea through the alliance of military servicemen. Koreans took the influence of this music and integrated it into their own. Many musical trends over the decades in the West were reflected in South Korea in their own way.

The 90s brought similar reflections of boy/girl-band pop along with hip-hop and techno. Singing and dancing in formation with elaborate choreography got it's start at the time. This is what I call the '1st Generation'. The Big Three companies were established and beginning to structure their training systems. Economically, a financial crisis in Asia affected South Korea in the late 90s. The first iconic idol groups surged in popularity for the escapism and fantasy they provided from the daily drudgery of school and work. They were a symbol of youth, wealth, and fame, which was a powerful motivator to the kids watching their TV sets at home. Many of those young fans would grow up to become the '2nd Generation' of idols.

The 2nd Generation made a huge leap in quality. They were selected for better looks, better voices, trained with better choreography, and many of the trainees worked for long years raising those standards for themselves. Costumes got flashier. Hair got bigger. The groups that debuted during this era gained rapid popularity and huge fanclubs built themselves into the culture in a big way. This is when companies were able to see the true potential of Kpop as a 'thing'—as a real power in South Korea. In early 2008, a big push could be seen. Branding of groups became paramount and the music industry was treated to a makeover in sound and style. The '3rd Generation' was born as the shiny, sleek, colorful, surreal, iconic explosion of groups and music videos we see today. Stylistically, there is a plateau currently. The 'look' of Kpop has become consistent in it's production value at the highest level. Trends shift in a more subtle way, usually pertaining to popularity of a certain sound (ie. jazz/brass/dubstep) or fashion concepts (ie. street-wear/overtly sexy/hyper cute).

On the current generation:

One could suggest that we are now in a 4th Generation. Characteristics might include the sheer massive volume of yearly debuts and global recognition beyond the fans that already exist. Many Kpop tours now include venues outside of Asia, including special festivals, concerts, and presence at pop-culture conventions. Whether Kpop will dramatically evolve again in the near future or fade into obscurity remains to be seen!

KPOPALYPSE 2014

A bubble burst in 2014. Likely due to increasing competition and companies pushing their artists beyond their limits. There was a deluge of disbandments, group membership overhauls, and lawsuits. The rather trivial scandals of the past (ie. idols dating) have been replaced with rebellion, serious criminal charges of abuse, exploitation, blackmail, and generally a year where many Kpop fans learned no one was safe.

The Old Hollywood and Motown systems are providing food for thought. Are we careening headlong towards the end of an era?

System

The Industry

The entertainment industry in South Korea is a big deal. The government invested in the idea of its pop-culture as a 'soft power' on the World stage and over the last 15 years has become a well-oiled machine. The music part of the industry is dominant with large corporations running the show. It's all wrapped up in the branding of big business and kids trained to be idols are the perfect renewable source of revenue.

While a number of smaller companies have found success recently, we still refer to the most successful that started it all as The Big Three. The Big Three are:

SM Entertainment:

Founded by Lee Soo-Man in 1995.
SM is the leader of the Korean Wave.

YG Entertainment:

Founded by Yang Hyun-Suk in March 1996.

JYP Entertainment:

Founded by Park Jin Young in April 1996.

How to build an Idol

  • Talent-scouting and auditions: held domestically and internationally
  • Find kids with good looks OR vocals OR dance skills and hire them as trainees
  • Training: singing, dancing, and acting lessons—practice for interviews
  • Study languages: English, Japanese, and/or Mandarin Chinese
  • Forming groups: identity, image/concept, potential stage/band names
  • Long-term contracts, dorm arrangements, allowance distribution
  • Album recording, music video shooting, photo shooting
  • Debut—managers earn broadcast spots on music TV programs
  • Performances: TV, radio, and appearing on variety shows

A Deeper Look

On talent:

In the US, the amount of talent is huge because the population is so large. Unfortunately, many talented individuals are only ever known to family, friends, and maybe their local school or church. The country is too big and it takes a really over-the-top personality to hit it big. But South Korea is quite small. This means that the entertainment industry is able to streamline, organize itself, and tap into all the available talent in the country. While companies often look for attractive kids, or kids that will look amazing with a new nose, they also look for genuinely excellent singers and dancers. It's not all just pretty faces. There is real talent in the mainstream, because it's out there and it's accessible.

On companies:

Not all entertainment companies function equally. Some companies are structured to maintain the system and keep revenue pouring in. Some focus more on building and encouraging the artists themselves. Idols from different companies might have more freedom than others, privately or professionally, and some get to write and perform their own music. YG is a good example of a company that seems to encourage a more hands-on approach from their idols. It's also not unusual for artists to leave a company, whether due to conflict or the end of contract, and sign with a new company or work outside of the traditional system. This kind of transition can bring success or quickly end a career.

On the dark side:

The entertainment industry is often cutthroat and South Korea's is no exception. Idol pop has branded itself with the high-polish shine of perfection. As a result, the trainees at the bottom of the pecking order will do whatever it takes to rise to the top. Plastic surgery, heavy makeup, extreme diet and exercise, and sacrifice of personal privacy are all common facets of Idol-life. These kids often turn over their bodies and minds to the will of the company. In some cases, the demands are brutal and shady, and only a fraction of trainees ever see success as an Idol. I wouldn't be the first person to compare it to a kind of indentured servitude. In a culture where suicide is too frequently chosen as the only way out, the effects of such stresses on young people can be devastating. While standards and expectations are higher than ever, the system is slowly changing. Some idols, artists in the broader entertainment industry, and whistleblowers have brought these problems to light in the hopes of improving conditions for themselves, their peers, and generations to come.

Glossary

aegyo
Displaying, through facial expressions and/or body language, cuteness, childishness, or innocence. This could range from adopting an infantile voice to blushing modestly about something crass.
bias
Specifically in Kpop culture, a bias refers to an artist/celebrity who you are most attracted or attached to. In a sense, the person you are biased to can do no wrong. You like everything they do. A Kpop fan might have an ultimate bias, someone who they like above anyone else in the industry. They may also have group-based biases that are specifically their favorite from the bands they follow.
comeback
A comeback does not refer to an artist that is coming back after being inactive for a long time. An artist/group has a comeback for every promotional cycle. Essentially, anytime a single, mini-album, or album is released and the artist does TV broadcasts/performances to promote them. It is used to simply mean 'coming back' rather than a special circumstance.
debut
A debut is the first performance (usually on TV broadcast). It could refer to the first performance of a brand new artist, or to the first performance of a certain song, or to either of these done on each of the major TV channels.
fandom
'fan domain'. Fandom encapsulates everything going on in a fan community (TV, movies, literature, comic books, music). This could include conversation, fanfiction, fanart, blogs/vlogs, fansites, audience support, conventions, fanclubs, etc. Some examples of really huge fandoms are Harry Potter, Star Trek, and Lady Gaga.
fighting (Hwaiting!)
Sounds more like figh-ting or high-ting. This is chanted or shouted as an encouragement for someone who is about to do something challenging—similar to 'break a leg!'.
Or it is said as a personal statement expressing 'I'll do my best!'.
Hallyu
The Korean Wave. Hallyu is a term used to describe the surge of culture and entertainment from South Korea to the overseas and International community (originally to China and Japan, but now, everywhere).
Hanbok
Hanbok
Traditional Korean clothing. Hanbok literally means 'Korean clothing', but now that it isn't worn commonly, it refers to the specific traditional garb. These days it is typically worn for special occasions and formal ceremonies.
konglish
Konglish is a combination of Korean and English in some form. Korean words might be inserted into an otherwise English sentence… or vice-versa. There can also be some confusion with 'borrowed' English words that are used in Korean, which are not used the same way in English.
handu-pone=cell phone, pocketball=billiards, gagman=comedian
maknae/magnae
The youngest person in a group or family is the maknae. Age is a significant factor in the Korean social hierarchy. The maknae is expected to obey, submit to their elders, and not rock the boat. Conceptually, they are allowed to be more childish, cutesy, and display 'aegyo'.
MV/PV
Shorthand for Music Video. I've been interested in Kpop so long I'm genuinely out of touch for whether this is used in the West. I don't think it is. MV is the equivalent to PV, which is used in Japan for the same thing (Promotional Video). This is helpful in differentiating Korean/Japanese versions of music videos in reference/search engines. Girls' Generation has both a Genie MV and Genie PV, because there is a Korean and Japanese version of the same song.
netizen
'Internet Citizen'. Netizen broadly refers to a large, faceless, population of Korean internet-users. Typically, netizens pop up when there is a hot topic to weigh in on.
noraebang
Karaoke is Japanese. Noraebang is Korean. Same thing. The translation is 'singing room'. It's a common social activity to go to noraebang with friends or family and sing along to a track with the vocals taken out while following the lyrics on a video screen. Alcohol is usually involved.
nugu
Nugu (누구) means 'who' in Korean. English-speaking Kpop fandom has adopted the word as an equivalent to 'nobodies'. Often used for brand new groups or for groups that debuted and failed to gain any recognition.
"No one cares about those nugus."
sasaeng
Sasaengs are 'stalker fans'. These are individuals who will do virtually anything to follow or get close to their favorite idol. The stalker culture among these 'fans' would make the worst paparazzi look like kittens. Sasaengs steal personal information, invade private property, and hire taxis to follow celebrities all day… every day. It's a serious issue that has led to idols being assaulted, groped, threatened, poisoned, and forced into traffic accidents.
selca
'Self Camera'. Eqivalent to 'selfie'. When anyone takes a picture of themselves it's a selca.
skinship
Skin + relationship. Skinship is engaging in physical affection with another person. In Korean culture, public displays of affection between people of the opposite sex (ie. kissing/hugging) are considered rather impolite and should be kept private. However, it is considered normal, healthy, and 'safe' to have skinship with members of the same gender. It's very common to see hugging, hand-holding, and close physical contact (male/male or female/female) within Idol groups. Note: male/female skinship can spark scandals and wreck careers.
s-line
S-line is just one of many 'insert letter'-lines to describe aspects of body shapes. An s-line is typically the way the body curves down the spine and buttocks, but may include the breasts on a female body. Another common 'line' is a v-line, which is apparently the ideal shape of the face, a slim jaw and pointy chin. For the curious, JYJ's Junsu has a famous s-line.
ulzzang
'Best face'. An ulzzang is a person whose fame is founded purely on their looks. This is more specifically used for internet 'celebrities'.

Other fan dictionaries: kpopdictionary.tumblr.com and kpopkrunch.wordpress.com