Catch the K-pop wave

With the boy band BTS making it big again at this year’s Billboard Music Awards, K-pop is here to stay

May 09, 2019 06:18 pm | Updated 06:18 pm IST

The boy band BTS performing at the 2019 Billboard Music Awards

The boy band BTS performing at the 2019 Billboard Music Awards

At this year’s Billboard Music Awards held last week in Las Vegas, history was made once again in the K-pop world when the seven-member boy group BTS became the first ever K-pop group to win the award for Best Duo/Group at the event, alongside winning Top Social Artist for the third time in a row despite fierce competition from other K-Pop groups EXO and GOT7.

They also tied with The Beatles for the most No:1 albums on the Billboard 200 chart in a year, when their latest album ‘Map Of the Soul: Persona’, which featured artistes like Halsey and Ed Sheeran, became their third album to top the chart last month. Back in February, they also became the first K-pop group to present an award at the Grammys. While no one, including the members themselves, expected this level of success, the U.S. is not the only place they’ve made their mark. India has also experienced this explosion of the music genre that is native to South Korea.

No one can argue with the fact that BTS brought K-pop to a wider audience on a global platform, but they are not the only artistes that make up this genre.

K-pop first came on the international scene when PSY’s Gangnam Style became a viral sensation in 2012, but before that girl group Wonder Girls hit the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 2009 with their single ‘Nobody’. Four-member girl group BLACKPINK performed at Coachella this year — one of music’s biggest festivals, which has seen stars like Beyonce and Ariana Grande also perform on the stage. They also had a collaboration with Dua Lipa and released the song ‘Kiss and Make Up’. Boy group EXO performed at the closing ceremony of the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

“K-pop plays a huge role in my life. Sometimes it feels like it’s my only escape. How these idols started their trainee life and what they went throughinspires me to work hard. From the songs they write and the messages they give their fans, I would say it has changed my perspective. Their songs deal with mental health issues, pressure on the youth, women empowerment and more. Even though I don’t know what my dream or future is, I do things that make me happy,” says Smruti Siva, a diehard K-pop fan, who is doing her bachelors in Psychology and has taken part in many K-Pop contests.

K-pop, which stands for Korean Pop, widely categorises all forms of Korean music, including trot and folk, but it is a term more popularly used when talking about idols. It is a complex genre, made up of a variety of concepts — dance, music, fashion and audio-visual elements — that come together to form a complete package. In a country like India, which is known for its own booming entertainment industry, it did come as a surprise to see the public slowly accepting this genre that is so different from not only their own, but also the Western music industry.

K-pop fans also organise fan projects to raise funds for social causes. When it comes to events there are a number of random dance play competitions and quizzes that are organised at public places across the country. K-pop groups such as Snuper, Lucente, Royal KD and Chloris have all performed in the K-Pop World Contest held every year in India . There are regional rounds followed by the final round and the winner gets to be a part of the Korea World Music Festival held in Korea, where contestants from across the globe perform along with top groups from Korea. Starting out with barely 40 participants, it now has almost 900.

“The contest gave me a chance to experience what idols do in terms of performing, daily practice, and dealing with the team. After winning the Chennai round, we went to Delhi for the India Grand Finale. There we met the First Lady of Korea, Kim Jung-Sook, who was very warm and friendly. We even took selfies with her. It was amazing,” says Rhea Rajkumar of the group LDC.

K-pop band LDC

K-pop band LDC

Today, K-pop has grown to such an extent that even the general public has have heard of it, at least in passing. With Vh1 playing this genre a lot, and not sticking to just the popular artistes, in K-Pop there has been a lot of exposure. On November 25, 2018, BTS: Burn the Stage – the backstage documentary of BTS at their tour was screened at Inox cinemas across India as a one-day show. Worldwide, the film broke the previously held record for tour documentary held by British group One Direction. February 2 saw the screening of BTS: Love Yourself in Seoul , the concert movie, in PVR and SPI cinemas in across the country. While this was also initially a one-day event, it was brought back to theatres on February 10 on demand. because it was that much in demand.

“The crazy following augurs well for the genre but fans are reluctant to look beyond BTS. They don’t know about Super Junior, Girls’ Generation or about the different generations of K-pop,” says Sanjay Ramjhi, founder and president of the K-Wave Group, the official club in Chennai.

The K-Wave group

The K-Wave group

K-pop pioneers Seo Taiji and the Boys started this sensation in 1992. Some of the biggest names in the industry are Super Junior, Girls’ Generation, SHINee, BIGBANG, T-ARA and EXO among the older groups and Red Velvet, NCT and TWICE are some of the newer ones that are now gaining international recognition .

“The love for this music extends to food, language and culture too. The BTS keeps talking about Korean culture at its gigs. So much that South Korean President Moon Jae-in complimented the group for spreading joy across Korea and the world. Their melody and lyrics, he said, transcend regional borders, language, culture, and institutions. Their popularity is said to have boosted the country’s GDP and has been bringing in visitors to korea,” says Ramjhi, who has also visited Korea many times.

In 2017, BTS collaborated with UNICEF on Love Myself, a campaign to stop violence against children and raised more than $1.4 million. While the Korean Committee for UNICEF appointed Girls’ Generation’s Yoona and SHINee’s Minho as honorary ambassadors of the Uni Heroes Campaign.

In September 2018 BTS became the first K-pop band to deliver a speech at the UN General Assembly to mark the launch of ‘Generation Unlimited’, a youth empowerment. During his address, Kim Nam joon, leader of the boy band said, “We have learned to love ourselves, so now I urge you to ‘speak yourself’. No matter who you are, where you’re from, your skin colour, gender identity: speak yourself.”

Chennai grooved to K-pop

“Till about 2012, K-Pop wasn’t popular in Chennai. From 2013 we started having meets at Inko Centre,” says Sanjay Ramjhi who is the President of K-Wave, an official club backed by the Korean Consulate for the promotion of Korean Culture in the city through meets that not only focus on K-pop, but also K-dramas as well as Korean history. The city recently saw performances by Korean acts ‘Nanta’ and ‘Se:um’.

In a survey I conducted with a sample size of 150 44.8 per cent of the respondents listened to K-pop more than three hours every day and, 23.6 per cent listened to at least two hours every day. The rest of the people listened between 10 minutes to an hour per day.

“We used to have meets every six months and each time the number of members would keep increasing. I’d say that from 2015 to 2017, we have grown from 200 members to 1,500 members, which indicated the growing popularity of K-pop,” says Ramjhi.

During the survey, when asked about the factors that influenced K-pop’s increasing appeal, most people thought because it was trendy worldwide, while some others attributed it to the Internet and the nature of the music.

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