The Confused Westerner’s Response to K-Pop

A google image search for K-pop
A google image search for K-pop

Have you read the Wikipedia article on K-pop? It’s really, really long. Seriously, I did not know most of that stuff. When you next have a sufficiently large mug of tea, I highly recommend giving it a read.

Changing tack, did you see the article on Yahoo about K-pop? It’s shorter, and chimes with a similar article posted by the Beeb some time ago on the ‘dark side’ of Korean pop music.

The title of the Yahoo article is “From Slave-Like Contracts To No Dating Clauses: The World Of K-Pop Is A Weird One”. Perhaps naturally, it focusses on the bizarre and concerning aspects of the K-pop world, like the long hours, sub-standard pay (for those not earning GBP 500k / week, which apparently is the case for some stars), and the murky underbelly of bribery and sleaze.

On the other hand, focussing on these aspects seems a bit strange.

If you had never heard of Hollywood, would you go straight from complete ignorance to concern over its ‘dark side’? Possibly you would, if your experience of US culture had been limited to bizarre and concerning  news items. This is of curse the common experience of most of us when it comes to Korea, a peninsula typified by the North, a country that is unquestioningly bizarre and concerning.

But it probably wouldn’t occur to you if you were familiar at all with even a sample of the greatest movies to come out of Hollywood, or with the history of Hollywood’s influence on 20th century popular culture.

Wikipedia goes into more detail over the startling reach of K-pop globally, but neither it nor Yahoo address the more puzzling question, ‘Why?’. It is the same oversight that the world media have made in focussing on the antics of the largely irrelevant dictatorship of Kim Jong-Un, whilst placing less emphasis on the genuinely significant developments in South Korea.

I am sure that if pressed, most people would find it hard to pinpoint how a country that barely figured on the world stage thirty or forty years ago now commands such zealous fans in France, Brasil, Iran, and India. I have merely dabbled in K-pop and can’t lay claim to any expertise. I don’t know why it’s so popular.

The closest I ever came to the answer was while interviewing members of the KCC’s first K-Pop Academy. I heard many responses to the question “Why do you like K-pop?”, and two things stand clear in my memory: 1) There was nothing bizarre or concerning about the people who attended the workshop. They were disconcertingly normal. 2) None of them gave the impression that they were drawn to K-pop because of its ‘dark side’. Rather, it was the positive and healthy aspects about its culture that attracted them. One of the participants said that she had become more diligent in doing homework as a result of the good example set by her idols. That sounds pretty noteworthy. Almost newsworthy.

How about this: until someone finally figures out how to eliminate all evil from human nature, I think we can make do with a ‘Hallyuwood’ that has good values, despite not living up to them in every respect at every moment. You never know, maybe there is something we can learn from these Eastern countries.

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