By Benjamin Akpan
There’s no denying the influence of Korea in western culture. Korean soap operas have become a staple ever since Netflix began offering Korean dramas on its platform in 2008. And never forget the ever-alluring 10-step Korean skincare routine currently sweeping the beauty industry. Amidst all the toners, serums, and sheet masks comes Korean music, K-Pop.
In 2012, the world’s attention was turned to Korea following the release of PSY’s ubiquitous dance song Gangnam Style. Over the course of its insanely successful run, Gangnam Style became the first YouTube video to hit one billion views and remained the most watched video on YouTube for almost five years. Gangnam Style also spurned a dance that took the world by storm. Before the ‘whip and nae-nae,’ there were ‘Gangnam Style’ dance mobs held all over the world. The dance also found fans in former British Prime Minister David Cameron, and US President Barack Obama.
© Officialpsy | Youtube
Following a slew of moderately successful and forgettable singles, many were quick to tag PSY a one-hit wonder. But very few can deny the legacy of Gangnam Style, and the increased attention the song brought to K-Pop. With five years sitting atop the list of most viewed YouTube videos, PSY was merely preparing to pass the baton on to what would become the world’s biggest K-Pop band: BTS.
BTS has amassed a level of success that many artists aspire to attain. With 20 million followers on Twitter, a mention of their name is instantly followed by myriads of retweets and engagements. They were the most tweeted-about celebrities of 2017 and 2018, and hold the Guinness world record for most twitter engagements. Their success goes beyond social media though; they are the first and only Asian group to surpass five billion streams on Spotify, and became the first group since The Beatles to score three number one albums in the US in less than a year (They have two number one albums in Canada).
I’ve had my reservations about K-Pop for the longest time, mostly because I pride myself in being ahead of the curb. I would rather not follow a trend than be late to it. As a result, the wonders of K-Pop have eluded me. Why on earth are they so successful? Why is everyone so obsessed with them? I decided to make a foray into the world of K-Pop, as represented by BTS and their newly released record MAP OF THE SOUL: PERSONA.
© Ibighit | Youtube
The album starts off with a pure rap Intro, before segueing into three back-to-back pop bangers led by the album highlight Boy with Luv, featuring American alternative artist Halsey. Boy with Luv is undeniably addictive, with a bouncy hook and light beat perfect for a summer earworm. It embodies everything a pop song should be – catchy, repetitive, fast, and danceable.
What follows is HOME, a trap song that, if written in English, would’ve probably found a home (pun intended) within an Ariana Grande record, while Jamais Vu is a solid ballad about heartbreak that plays safe production-wise. There’s also a rock song somewhere in there. The band attempts to squeeze in as many musical genres and styles as possible into this seven-song project, and as a result, it lacks a certain cohesion necessary to elevate it from an alright record to a good one. Still, BTS exudes a certain level of confidence and charisma on the record that they’ve now become known for.
But the success of BTS – and K-Pop in general – goes beyond the quality of music. In the era of streaming, music has become more universal than ever. Music is nothing but a shared language that transcends cultural boundaries. Irrespective of culture, it is able to evoke deep emotions and feelings that are at the foundation of shared human experience. Spotify and YouTube make music much more accessible to everyone, regardless of age or location. We live in a time where 14 year-old girls and 65 year-old men stand side-by-side at Taylor Swift concerts; in a time when a random country song by a black 19 year-old from Atlanta blocks songs from Justin Bieber, Ed Sheeran, and Taylor Swift from hitting the top spot on charts worldwide. K-Pop is just one more step forward in challenging the rigid norms of what constitutes musical success and quality.