We’re all intrigued by the new wave of K-Pop groups and their popularity, but there’s a lot more that goes into it than we realise.
Maite Pérez – Edo. Mex, Mexico
In the past decade, the world was introduced to a new genre of music called K-Pop. To the average Joe, it may look like just another girl or boyband, but there are a lot more things going on in the background than we realise. Hours of singing and dancing lessons, strict diets, and PR training are normal to idols.
K -Pop is a Korean music genre that includes pop, rock, and hip hop. The type of style that it’s known for today began in the 90s, but it’s origins go back to the 1950s. According to this article by 90 Day Korean, the first K-Pop group ever created led to the formation of one of the most important K-entertainment companies, SM Entertainment. SM is considered one of the “Big Three” along side JYP and YG. All three companies manage some of the biggest K-Pop idols in the industry. Because of this, it means that they have more money than the rest and that lets them have larger budgets.
The genre’s breakthrough came with the release of PSY’s “Gangnam Style” back in 2012. It dominated western charts with its repetitive lyrics and dance. It was impossible to escape the song. Stores and radio stations would play it multiple times a day. Other groups have followed this success and have even made bigger names for themselves. Some of these groups are BTS, Blackpink, EXO, and Red Velvet.
When they dance, they are all so in-sync with each other that it’s hard to believe that they are human. This is due to the vigorous training they receive at a young age to prepare for their debut and career. A successful music video can be a make or break in this industry and that’s why entertainment companies are meticulous with every aspect. They aren’t only trying to appeal to Korean audiences, but international ones as well. K-Pop has become a melting pot of Korean and western elements. This includes music, hair, video concepts, and fashion.
In K-Pop, fashion is an extremely important element. It sets the tone of the music video and helps groups transmit the right feelings to their audience. Since the music they produce is constantly evolving, their fashion has to change with them. Natalia Sanchez, a K-Pop fan who we interviewed said that styles change quite often and that they change their styles with every comeback. The change depends on the album concept.
There are a variety of concepts and styles available to idols, but like their music, trends in fashion change and a concept that was once cool will no longer be worn by them. These factors make it hard to pinpoint specific items since its constantly changing. There are a couple of styles that evolve, but the image they wish to portray is still the same one. “Definitely bad boys in boy groups and girl crush in girl groups. Both are this sexy and badass styles,” said Daniela Cano, another K-Pop fan who was interviewed for this article.
Hair is also an important part of the overall look because it’s like an accessory that adds another layer of darkness or cuteness. Depending on the concept they have agreed on, idols may dye it a bright colour for a cute or laid-back look. On the other side, you might see idols dying it darker when their concept is more badass or savage.
When we look at colour theory and how colours influence feelings, we can understand why Korean entertainment companies pay attention to these details. It’s a way of getting closer to their audiences by invoking emotions. It’s all part of the experience. For example, when music videos have tones of red, orange, yellow, it can invoke warm feelings or fear. It depends on the music video’s storyline, makeup, setting, and fashion. Even though it’s a small element, it can change viewers’ feelings towards the song and even album.
If a song is happy and energetic, then the colours used will be bright and joyful. On the contrary, if a song is sad then they will use darker tones and everything looks a little washed out.
In the BTS video below, we can see the use of pastels in their clothes to invoke a peaceful feeling and the use of yellow in the set to create a happy setting. In the end, they have an explosion of colours in the background to reflect the upbeat nature of the song.
In a similar way to colour and feelings, the clothes people wear also influence the way they behave. This article by Scientific American Mind, says that the clothes we wear affect our performances and our mood. When artists are performing a specific dance that is considered dark, it’s helpful for them to wear outfits that match the concept so they can get into character easily. In a way, when idols perform on stage, they are playing a character and if the character is off, the crowd won’t be too happy.
The speed of these transitions depends on individual groups. Sometimes it can take up to a year. “These changes can happen fast. Sometimes it can be from one day to another or overnight,” said Fátima Trueba, a K-Pop fan living in Mexico City. An example of this is the group called Stray Kids. They have released 3 albums in a year, but all of these have different concepts. Other groups can take a couple of years. It depends on their labels as well.
Style changes have been an important subject in this article, but for the genre, that wasn’t always the case. K-Pop can be divided into four different generations. Concepts were first introduced during the second generation of idols and artists. During this time South Korea was going through economic turmoil. Even though the country was in crisis, the business was booming. Because business was doing so well, they decided to treat their artists like products. This made companies want to evolve so they could compete with the rest and be at the top. This business model is still used today and has been subject to criticism for its violations of human rights and child entertainment laws.
These changes can completely transform the way a group looks. If they don’t feel like it, they won’t have a transition. It could be completely different from their previous concept because the music is different and the current style no longer represents their sound.
Cultural appropriation within K-Pop artists has become a big issue. There is a lot more diversity within the community, but stylists and entertainment companies have failed to understand the seriousness of the situation. Black people often feel like they are not treated with dignity and respect by others, but when it comes to using their hairstyles, K-Pop artists fail to investigate their meanings and simply say that they wear it because it’s cool. A lot of the hairstyles they use have historical meaning and their hair is part of their identity.
Visuals are one of the most important factors in the music industry. Doesn’t matter what part of the world you’re in. If something isn’t pleasing to look at, then people won’t buy it. The same goes for the appearance of the artists. If people do not like the style or the hair then they won’t support them.
On the other hand, if these groups are successful then fans will support them. When bands have new styles, it usually means that they also have new merchandise that fans have never seen before. Because of this, they would like to spend all their money on these new products.
There isn’t really a correlation between aesthetics and groups. In reality it depends on the different groups and their personalities. For example, Blackpink depends on their aesthetic because it helps them sell. On the other hand groups like BTS don’t have a specific aesthetic so that’s not an issue for them and they can change it often.
Some idols have rebelled against their management and people’s expectations. Some of the things they do are going against South Korean expectations and beauty standards. Whether it’s refusing to lose unhealthy amounts of weight or wearing whatever they want, they are not afraid to express themselves. By being honest, they show a less fabricated and more honest side to viewers. Other K-pop stars aren’t as worried about changing their personal styles because everything gets picked out for them by their management.
In a conservative society such as Korea’s, female idols are often criticized for the way they dress. It’s okay to show some leg, but idols cannot show a lot of chest. Not only that, but when female idols have a sexy look, they are not allowed to act like western singers and artists because it is not proper.
The concept is a type of uniform for the group, but everyone has their own versions that fit their styles. If a member isn’t comfortable wearing something, then they won’t be forced to wear it. Instead, stylists will give them an outfit that fits with the rest of the designs and members, but without making them uncomfortable.
Thanks to social media platforms, like Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, and We Heart It, people can look up outfits worn by their favourite K-Pop idols and replicate them. In a way, they are trendsetters because they present these designs to people without access to stylists. They also take inspiration from other people and have evolved street style into a concert style. This way they can show people outfits they can relate to a lot more.
A lot of the time they also follow trends because they don’t want their style to be too unknown that it is uncomfortable for people. It’s also natural for humans to follow these trends. For example, mullets. Normally mullets were a thing people made fun of Americans for, but we’ve been seeing a lot more members within a single group get them.
In conclusion, K-Pop is a force to be reckoned with. Social media and music have brought us closer together. People listen to music without understanding the words because music is a universal language. Fashion plays a really big part in it because in a way it controls the way people and the audience think or act. Fashion facilitates the way the message is received. If you would like to listen to the complete interview with Fátima Trueba, click on the SoundCloud play button below.