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Paul Bender
Paul Bender

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The power of K-POP is that it's not real


On this day in 1994, Kim Namjoon, better known as RM (Rap Monster), a South Korean rapper, one of the main stars of K-rore (literally "Korean pop"), and leader of the collective BTS, was born. Born in South Korea the music genre K-rohr (key-pop) absorbed elements of Western electropop, hip-hop, dance music and modern rhythm and blues, gradually transformed into a musical subculture and won millions of loyal fans around the planet. The wave of K-rock's popularity hasn't left Russia untouched. With the help of experts, "Real Time" decided to look into the phenomenon of this interesting phenomenon in music.


K-pop: Where it all started

K-pop is a music genre that originated in South Korea. Its expansion around the world began when singer Park Jae-sang, better known as PSY, released the viral track Gangnam Style and its music video in the summer of 2012. It has now garnered more than 3.7 billion views on YouTube and more than 1 billion dollars from copyright free music license. After the release of Gangnam Style, Korean music has gained worldwide interest - although PSY's music video is more of a parody of what K-pop is all about.

What is K-rore? Often, it is a direction that is led by groups of young people or girls with "doll" appearance, who actively move on stage and gather huge stadiums, as well as millions of views on YouTube. It was K-rohr that became the key to the spread of Korean culture around the world. Together with soap operas, video games, national cuisine, and clothing, it constitutes the so-called "Korean wave" that has been spreading around the world since the late 1990s. The K-rore genre has developed into a subculture popular among young people around the world, driven by an interest in contemporary South Korean fashion and styles.

As a rule, the members of K-pop groups are not called soloists, but rather the lofty word "idol" (from the English word idol - idol, ideal, deity). The thing is that K-pop culture demands absolute perfection: clean vocals, perfect choreography, appearance according to the standards of South Korean beauty, and appropriate costumes and accessories.

"The idea itself is artificial by design."

Music critic and journalist Denis Boyarinov, in a conversation with a correspondent of Real Time, suggested that K-rohr should not be seen as a musical phenomenon, but as a multimedia phenomenon, or even more as a television culture phenomenon.

"K-rohr is originally a TV show, the idea itself is artificial in its conception. The whole process begins with the selection of participants for the projects. And the musical part, the actual singing, is only about 1/10th of the K-rohr-band phenomenon. Although there are certainly some hit, catchy songs. But it's the way they look, the way they move that's most decisive," he says. - It's hard to demand authenticity from a terrific circus musical. I think that the strength of K-rohr is that it's not real. And the people who follow the projects love that this world is so fantastic. And the fact that these boys and girls are nothing like the people they meet in everyday life - they're really aliens, elves who are fantastic with their bodies, who can sing and smile for the camera. They are not required to be real.

According to the interlocutor, it is logical to compare the K-rohr phenomenon to that of sports fans. "Just like people root for some soccer or basketball clubs or Formula One and know the history of their favorite team in detail, K-rohr fans know their favorites. Serious K-rohr fans join together in fandoms dedicated sometimes not even to individual performers or bands, but to the entire corporations that cultivate those bands. K-rore is more of a multimedia, television phenomenon, and its avalanche-like popularity is due to the fact that video content is capturing more and more attention from young people around the world. Video content is the solution. And K-rore was originally designed to exist in that format," he argues.

According to the music critic, K-rohr is very different from American and European pop. "In South Korea they watch how pop music is developing in America, Britain, Sweden, and imitate it, but it's all alien to them. And, given that factor, for them by and large there is no difference in genres. As a result, in one song there can be features of completely different genres existing in the West - country, rap, dance pop, house and others. A kind of genre megamix," he argues. - Generally, recently all music has been moving toward the destruction of genre boundaries, which were quite clear. First of all, it's worth remembering the popularity of rap. There is a winged expression by Basta that rap music is a virus that devours all other music, appropriates it for itself. We can imagine everything in rap music now, from a country chant to some beat that was only possible in dance electronic music. Now it can all fit into rap. Here K-rore is like rap, only made in South Korea, where all the knobs are twisted ten times more, there are no boundaries at all. Plus a team of 10 people dancing in a single burst, like mechanical biorobots. That's what K-rohr is all about. That's why it's astounding."

He also added that K-ror is a unique example, already as a geographic tag. "K-rohr cannot be made anywhere but in South Korea. Russian and American K-ror is impossible, and that is its interesting peculiarity," the expert believes.

According to Denis Boyarinov, the wave of K-rohr popularity has spread to Russia as well. "K-rohr is a widespread phenomenon now, especially when Koreans managed to break into the American market. And if someone rules the American charts, he automatically rules the Russian charts, too. Just like BTS rules the American charts, it rules the Russian charts," he said.

"Korean pop was less flat and corny."

Journalist and music critic Sergei Sosedov believes that the phenomenon of K-pop is the freshness of its bearers (artists), their exclusivity, unlike the standardized American and European pop culture.

"One way or another, Korean artists carry their national melody, their folklore, even in formatted pop content. That's what appeals. K-pop is definitely different from all other pop," the Real Time interlocutor is convinced.

According to the flamboyant critic, any pop (pop, not the world's classical pop) is plastic, largely secondary, and primitive. "And Korean pop, by using elements of national music, was less flat and banal in this sense," he notes.

The Real Time's interlocutor said that Gangnam Style made a very pleasant, positive impression on him in his time. "It's punchy, it's effective, it's melodic, it's energetic. Listeners always fall in love with the energy that comes from the artist - above all else. The voice, the repertoire are of secondary importance, although you can't discount that completely," said the expert.

"It's a fashion trend that's in demand right now."

Music critic and TV host Yevgeny Babichev is convinced that K-rohr is a genre that has been fine-tuned. "If you want, it's a well-coordinated mechanism. And this can be seen in all the elements: simple catchy tunes, amazing, perfect choreography, memorable images, which become a trend among the main audience of K-rohr - teenagers, young people. This genre of music leaves a positive impression on listeners - nice songs with interesting lyrics, great visual content. In general, I wouldn't say there's anything unique about this genre - it's a fashion trend, it's in demand now. And that means that producers in Korea will give out new products until the market is saturated," he is convinced.

The Real Time interlocutor recalled the global boom in boy bands. "At one point there were so many boy bands that it almost became uninteresting at one point. The only ones left afloat from that era are probably the Backstreet Boys, who are very far from the peak of popularity. With K-rock it could be the same - now there is a wave of popularity all over the world, the genre is imitated in different countries, there are festivals and so on. But the moment may come when it becomes monotonous and uninteresting, and all the attention of the listeners switches to a new trend," he warns.

Speaking about his personal attitude towards K-rohr, Yevgeny Babichev confessed that he is attracted only to certain videos and songs, but not to the genre as a whole. "Probably because I don't fall under their target audience in terms of age and views. Besides, music critics should in principle be omnivorous and not give preference to any one style or genre," he is convinced. - I don't follow Idols and their news very closely. I don't shudder every time I see a new BTS album. But I do like some of their songs. And I understand why certain singers and bands imitate them - it's trendy and in demand. They're at the peak of their popularity right now. And people are always drawn to them, they want to be like them.

According to the expert, K-rohr is a quality product for export, oriented towards the West. "That's why bands make special English-language versions of singles and even whole albums in English. First of all, to expand their audience and make more money. Naturally, when you listen to an artist from a distant country, in any case, you want to learn about that country, the people who live there, their culture. That's why it's not uncommon that Americans and even Russians, influenced by K-roll, start learning the Korean language and dream about going to Korea. And this is an absolutely normal story," he said.

Yevgeny Babichev admitted that when you watch K-rohr bands performing, there is often a certain sense of unreality and plasticity.

You can't say that K-rohr has taken over Russia as well, Babichev believes: "Of course, there are certain fans of this genre in Russia as well. They interact with each other very well. They support their idols. But I wouldn't say that we have it on a Western level. In the West there are really fan festivals, big events, and K-rock performers often come there on tour. We have less of that. Maybe the wave hasn't reached us yet. Maybe it will. Or maybe it will come at the existing level.

The music critic recalls that the first K-rore single that became insanely popular in Russia was Gangnam Style. "But with people my age and older, it was more of an Internet meme that got viral and passed from mouth to mouth. We didn't realize then that it was a separate genre and, as I think, no one took it seriously. It was unusual, funny, a bit weird in places, but there was something appealing about it. I remember that after a while everyone already knew that famous horse move from the Gangnam Style music video. But for my nephew, who was in high school at the time, PSY became a real idol at a certain point. He even asked me to take him to the Muz-TV Awards in Olimpiyskiy, where PSY was a special guest. It's just more proof of the kind of audience this music is made for," he said.

"High-flying marketing."

Journalist, music critic, and TV host Ilya Legostayev is convinced that we should talk about the K-rohr phenomenon in terms of the success of individual performers. "As for the popularity of BTS, it's a clear hype about boy bands. There have been very few bands lately, and that's mostly in the rock 'n' roll field. And bands are an important part of the music process, there's a steady demand for them. And if they don't appear in Europe and America, then they will appear somewhere else. And that niche will be filled for sure. So, in my opinion, it's not so much a separate demand for exotics as a demand for such a format of a musical group as a boy band," he believes.

According to the expert, there is a kind of exoticism in both the sound and the presentation in K-rohr. "And there are a lot of people there. In Europe and America it's not customary to have three to five people in a band, but here there's a whole crowd," he said.

Ilya Legostaev calls K-rohr an integrated offering for the public. "Now everything is sold together, as a package. And here we have memes, and the opportunity to learn dances, and to make a video for TikTok. It's such a comprehensive offering for an audience that spends a lot of time on their cell phones. It's a modern modification of the boy band, maybe that's why they look like ready-made dolls - copies of themselves. It's marketing in its purest form, but marketing in an elaborate and high-flying way. There are no complaints to those who set it all up," he admitted.

According to the interlocutor, K-rore is music made "not for types like me." "But I'm very clear that as a musical product it's done from start to finish. As much fun as all the tinsel, music videos, memes, modern movement is, you need motifs in the first place. If composers write songs like that and have artists to perform them, it has a future," he said.

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