Question Of The Week: Can You Imagine A World Without Music Genres?
This isn’t a K-pop translation. It’s not even specifically K-pop. But I do feel it is incredibly relevant, especially given the number of times I’ve seen arguments between K-pop fans who view “pop” as a genre versus those who view it as a measurement of a musician’s, well… popularity.
I think one reason why so many K-pop fans are particularly concerned with this issue is because so many of our conversations with non-fans go a little something like this:
“What kind of music do you like?”
“Uh, I actually really like K-pop.”
“Oh, you mean like Psy!”
“Well, yeah, maybe, but I like a lot of different K-pop groups.”
“Oh wait, I know, I know! GIRLS’ GENERATION!!!”
The Korean music industry is so small compared to its Western counterpart and yet so many people with limited exposure to it feel comfortable making sweeping assumptions. This is something many K-pop fans struggle with when trying to explain their interest in Korean music to non-fans.
And yet, the K-pop industry isn’t too different from that of the West. Take a look at the top 40 chart; many artists incorporate different genres like rock, hip hop, country, rap, or even musical (Idina Menzel is justifiably rocking the charts with “Let it Go”). There are also groups that blur these genre distinctions, as the NPR article discusses. But still, all these styles of music fall as easily under the banner of “pop” as more squarely pop acts like Lady Gaga and Justin Timberlake.
Because typical K-pop groups tend to be highly exaggerated and dramatic, many Korean music fans often want to draw a line of distinction between stereotypical K-pop and other Korean music genres like K-rap, K-rock, K-ballad, etc. But various genres aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive with pop, and genre-bender artists like Zion.T don’t seem particularly inclined to play by the rules. In fact, K-pop is well-known for its extensive use of genres in creating catchy singles, with little regard for a genre’s authenticity; “whatever sells” seems to be the motto amongst K-pop songwriters.
Moreover, some fans, particularly those overseas, want to call certain artists “indie” without understanding or acknowledging the popularity of those artists among their target audience: Koreans. Speaking as a flagrant offender, some people choose to ignore reality in their race to become hipsters. Case in point: practically nobody in the West knows who Crying Nut are (except maybe CNBlue fans), but every single ajummah and her dog has sung “말 달리자” at the noraebang…
Basically, my point is that many fans find using the term “K-pop” to define their interest tends to be a particularly frustrating experience because K-pop extends so much further than the standard pop genre. For introductory discussions, genre works as a simplistic way to quickly convey a general idea, but typically people’s interests are much more complex… yet nobody wants to hear a five hour lecture on the inner workings of the K-pop industry on the first date.