Question Of The Week: Can You Imagine A World Without Music Genres?
This isn’t a kpop review or recommendation. It’s not even specifically kpop. But I do feel it is incredibly relevant, especially given the number of times I’ve seen arguments between those kpop fans who view “pop” as a genre and those who view it as a measurement of an act’s, well… popularity.
I think one reason why kpop fans specifically are particularly concerned with this issue is because so many of our conversations go a little something like this:
“What kind of music do you like?”
“Uh, I actually really like kpop.”
“Oh, you mean like Psy!”
“Well, yeah, maybe, but I like a lot of different kpop 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 with limited exposure to it feel comfortable making sweeping assumptions about it. This is something many kpop fans struggle with when trying to explain their interest in Korean music to non-kpop-fans.
And yet, the kpop industry isn’t too different from that of the West. Take a look at the top 40; many acts 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 standard pop acts like Lady Gaga and Justin Timberlake.
Because standard kpop acts tend to be highly exaggerated, people sometimes want to draw the distinction between stereotypical kpop and k-rap, k-rock, k-ballad, etc. But various genres aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive with pop, and neither are the Zion. T-like genre-benders.
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. Some people like trying to be hipsters. (I am speaking as a frequent offender, here.) Sorry, no, nobody in America knows who 10cm is, but if you go to Korea…
Basically, my point is that many fans find using “kpop” as a genre to define their interest tends to be a particularly frustrating experience. For introductory discussions, genre works as a simplistic way to quickly convey a general idea, but generally people’s interests are much more complex. And nobody wants to hear a five hour lecture on the inner workings of the kpop industry on the first date.