Gangnam Style, the worldwide hit song by Korean pop artist Psy, made K-pop a household name, but it’s far from typical Korean pop. The huggable solo artist is a 'Yin’ when most of the industry is 'Yang’ – young, fit, over-styled boy and girl bands that ooze clean-cut sexiness.
Bubble Pop, a K-pop classic by HyunA with 47 million views on YouTube says it all – catchy, bouncy, with a little English thrown in to make the saccharin sweetness even more accessible – there’s no antidote to its chorus: 'Bubble-bubble-bubble-pop! Bubble-bubble-pop-pop!"
Music is just one aspect of K-pop. While sweet to the ears, it’s also candy for the eyes; the genre is highly visual with each music video a mini-movie with quality production involving complex choreography and fashion-forward style.
The artists are fresh, fit and fabulous, and exude über-Asian-cool. Selected from idol quests, these teenagers are made even more perfect with years of voice, dance and etiquette training. Post-K-pop treatment, girls come out slimmer, look taller with innocent but arresting eyes that are now miraculously double-lidded. The boys, armed with chiselled jaws and smooth, rippling muscles, and draped in cowl-necked tops and skinny jeans, can make girls faint with a mere glance. You get a lot of manufactured candy, and five-member boy or girl groups are the norm. One of K-pop’s biggest exports, Girls’ Generation consists of nine members – whether brunette or blonde, long hair or short, oval or diamond-shaped face, there’s a dream girl for every preference.
This Korean wave, known as hallyu, is spreading around the globe with sold-out K-pop concerts across Asia, as well as South America, Europe and Australia. Sydney’s first big K-pop concert in November 2011 attracted more than 25,000 screeching, frenzied fans. While screaming and fainting, fans converged at the airport and staked hotels, hoping for a glance of their heart-throbs.
K-pop’s success outside Korea is credited to social media – catchy tunes and great videos have the potential to become online mega-hits thanks to Twitter, Facebook and especially YouTube. Gangnam Style, with more than 1.3 billion views, recently surpassed Justin Bieber’s Baby as the world’s most popular YouTube video.
K-pop is now also on Aussie TV. A year before Gangnam Style, SBS launched PopAsia TV, introducing mainstream Australia to the K-pop super-groups like Girls’ Generation, 2NE1, BIGBANG, Super Junior, SHINee, TVXQ and new up-and-coming chart toppers like NU’EST, EXO and B.A.P.
Advertisers are also getting on the K-pop bandwagon. Earlier this year, UM, one of Australia’s top media agencies, took up an SBS PopAsia TV sponsorship deal for a client.
Whether K-pop becomes a passing fad in the West, with Gangnam Style relegated to macarena status, is yet to be seen. Regardless, you won’t be able to get 'Bubble-bubble-bubble-pop! Bubble-bubble-pop-pop!" out of your head.