If you’re in Korea, asking whether you love or hate K-Pop is kind of futile. It’s not like you’re going to escape it, regardless. Could you “hate” the color yellow? Oxygen? Gravity? I suppose you could, but what’s the point? These things are just immutable parts of life, and it’s best to have a healthy, positive relationship towards them.
On arriving in Busan, I found it a little strange that Korean Pop has its own term. I mean, pop in Germany or Spain is just “pop”. You might talk about Swedish pop (when referencing, for example, how genius it is), but it’s not like Swede-Pop is a genre unto itself. But now that I’ve been here awhile, I can kind of understand why K-Pop deserves the distinction.
K-Pop is best understood as an industry, rather than a musical style. From a very young age, auspicious talents are brought to Seoul where they’ll dedicate their childhoods to the dream of becoming superstars with one of the Korean talent agencies — most hopefully S.M. Entertainment, which is the biggest. For the lucky few who get a spot in one of the pop groups, a life of unbelievable fame awaits. K-Pop stars don’t just rule the radio-waves here. They’re cast on TV shows, hired as models, and appear in basically every advertisement produced in Korea.
We tend to work in cafes a lot, in order to escape our tiny apartment, and a constant stream of K-Pop hits has dug its way into our brains where I fear they’ll be forever imprinted. The songs aren’t ever very good — this isn’t transcendent, boundary-pushing pop — but neither are they very terrible. The best word to describe the general K-Pop song is “fun”. Here are the songs which have provided the bouncy, danceable soundtrack to our time in Busan. These aren’t necessarily the best K-Pop songs, but they’re ours.
My earlier claim that K-Pop songs are never entirely terrible isn’t exactly true — I had forgotten about “Twinkle”, a song which sends me into fits of rage every time I hear it. On the other hand, I really love 4Minute’s “Volume Up”, SHINee’s “Sherlock” and especially “Like This” from the Wonder Girls which makes me want to jump up out of my chair whenever it comes on. If you want to learn more about K-Pop, check out the well-informed and frighteningly dedicated blog EatYourKimchi.com, run by a Canadian couple obsessed with the scene who have been in Korea for years and are obsessed with the scene.