“BTS just landed an unprecedented spot on the Hot 100”, read the headlines of news and learning website Vox. You have to be living under a rock to have not heard of BTS, but we’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and introduce them. BTS stands for Bangtan Sonyeondan which is Korean for Bulletproof Boy Scouts, and it’s the name of only the most popular Korean pop (K-pop) band on the planet. That brings us to the huge phenomenon called K-Pop: how exactly is a Korean song trending on the Billboard Hot 100 in a world where the majority don’t speak the language?
Understanding K-Pop’s mass appeal is an interesting combination of several elements. Where the once-trending Gangnam Style created a ripple, BTS’s new single ‘On’ is creating waves, and none of this was an accident. What the K-Pop industry did, was position their bands (read brands), in just the right way to gain global recognition.
How did the rest of the world hear about K-Pop?
As you can well imagine, it is the whole K-Pop package that made this genre so entertaining. These bands were on a mission to grab attention and they went all out doing that. Here’s what they did:
Catchy tunes: What K-Pop got right straight off the bat was the music itself. Sticking to catchy tunes and groovy beats had a big impact on the songs being enjoyable. The word pop itself is derived from popular, i.e., what is trending at that time. To appeal to a global audience K-Pop borrowed a music style from international hits and added its own twist to it. While the majority of the lyrics are in Korean, many songs give way to segments of English. A mix of English and Korean rap midway through a song is a common occurrence. It is quite possible that once you’ve heard one K-Pop song, you’re curious to hear more.
Flamboyant costumes: When it comes to their clothes, hairstyles and makeup, Korean bands go all out. Not shying away from the outrageous, their colourful hair and clothes guarantee more than a passing glance of a video thumbnail on YouTube. This particular style of dressing and glam makeup is especially alluring to younger generations.
High on entertainment value: Another big plus for K-Pop is the entertainment value. The dance choreography is executed to perfection and is completely in tune with Gen Z preferences. Eclectic and electric, every dance sequence is high on professionalism and a delight to behold. There is hardly a teenager out there who can resist the heady combination of dope dance moves and a lit beat.
Meaningful lyrics: It was never going to be long before international fans started googling the meaning of the lyrics of their favourite songs. The K-Pop industry came prepared. Songs were written to have meaning, and tell a story, and when the fans dug deeper, they were not disappointed. Mamamoo’s song, ‘Yes I Am’ for example, talks about being different but loving yourself anyway. Some of the lyrics read:
It’s strange, I’m a bit unique
I don’t like ordinary things
I thank my parents for this side of me
Captivating image: If you’ve ever listened to an interview of a K-Pop band, you’ll notice that there’s something very endearing about the members. Their sheepish charm, their amazement at their own success, and the sense of wonder they express for being invited to an international event, all add to their amicability. Have they been coached to act this way? We can’t say for sure. What we do know is that they appear genuine and that captivates their audience.
K-Pop’s international fan following is mostly in the Gen Z – younger millennial demographic. Truth be told, this is probably the best age-group to have as fans. They still exert considerable influence over their parents, and many are already old enough to earn for themselves. K-Pop bands have been quick to jump onto the merchandise wagon and their products are flying off the shelves. But this is only a side-effect of their success. Their ability to entertain, be liked and drive Gen Z crazy has made these bands a powerful force in the music industry.