Not all music that comes from South Korea is “K-Pop”

A new way of undermining and minimizing the diverse music coming from South Korea has been accepted as the norm – and it doesn’t seem like it’s going to change any time soon.

The impact of Korean music in today’s music scene is undeniable. This may be the reason why it doesn’t sound shocking that there has been a shift in the way it is perceived, especially by the ones that work behind the scenes (who witnessed the change in the public’s perspectives and music choices).

In the past few years, we have seen a growing number of Korean groups performing outside of their home country, and it is not uncommon to see their names on the Billboard Charts. Yet, with the number of songs and groups increasing and taking over the charts (that were previously occupied by the same number of artists), this increase also led to changes being made within the industry. Instead of seeing these Korean acts next to other big American names, there has been a deliberate decision to group all artists from South Korea in this K-Pop category.

The choice to separate these artists from others (that have always taken the spotlight) is obvious: by not considering certain Korean acts as pop artists, they are allowed to put them aside in a new category that doesn’t affect what has always been the norm. Having this in mind, it would sound strange to group English artists in a category called E-Pop, so believing that Korean acts (that write pop songs) should be put aside in a different category only proves that there is a deeper problem tangled within. If genres such as pop, rap, hip hop, and rock undeniably exist, the same should be applied to Korean music. However, the issue doesn’t stop simply with the music itself – it also implies other aspects such as promotions, award shows, and most noticeably, lack of recognition and respect given to these artists.

An important factor that needs to be addressed is the way Korean acts are perceived by the media. When it comes to articles, the most noticeable aspect is the tone that puts forward a biased opinion and prejudice. Over the years, many articles have tried to explain certain achievements (almost as if the artists in question got lucky or achieved something they didn’t deserve), which shows that they were simply intented to diminish the importance of what is a clear career achievement. Album reviews also start to lose credibility when the writer admits no translations of the lyrics were used, making it feel even more unreliable. How can we trust an album review if there was no effort to listen attentively to the meaning behind the songs?

One of the arguments often mentioned is the language of the song. If we removed this factor, would the situation be different? According to Billboard, the supposed “trusted source for the music industry”, nothing would have changed. Many still use the Korean language as an argument to explain the reactions towards the music (even though it implies the existence of prejudice and xenophobia). However, an article written by Billboard serves as the perfect example to highlight the blatant split between what is considered Pop and K-Pop. The title of the article “How to write a K-Pop hit in English” immediately sounds inconsistent. In what is supposed to be an analysis of the hit song “Dynamite” by BTS (entirely sang in English), the writer chose to directly call it a K-Pop song even though it was created as a Pop song, sang in English.

The songwriters, Jessica Agombar and David Stewart, quickly shared their opinions on the article:

  • “I don’t consider Dynamite a Kpop song at all, we wrote a pop song and that’s how it should be celebrated” – Jessica Agombar
  • “This is a pop song, sang by the biggest band in the world. Simple.” – David Stewart

The impact of Korean music also led to changes within award shows and nominations. In 2019. when fans found out about the possible nominations of certain Korean groups in the VMAs, many assumed that a nomination in a main category was unlikely despite the criteria allowing them to be included. This proved to be true when the VMA’s created a new K-Pop category, therefore gatekeeping these artists from being on the same “level” as other artists who made songs in the same Pop genre. The obvious outrage, negative reactions, and backlash caused by this decision were impossible to be dismissed by the ones who approved it, but nothing was done.

Many people have expressed their opinion regarding this issue, and the principal response is that xenophobia continues to play a major role behind the scenes. What can be done when those in power allow these situations to become constant?

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