Alright here it is: I’ve been a Kpop fan since late 2008. Yes, that was 8 years ago (long before Gangnam Style appeared on the scene. I was a Freshman in college at the time and just starting to discover the awesomeness of YouTube. One day, my friend and I stumbled across the song “Mirotic” by top boy band at the time DBSK. For some reason, it took one viewing of that music video for me to want to know what Kpop was all about and ever since then, I’ve been trying to figure out the global sensation that is Kpop.
Now during my time as a Kpop fan, I’ve seen a lot. Fans of Kpop are known to be a little crazy (to say the least). From new school Koreaboos to old school Sasaeng fans I know very well how misguided, stubborn and persistently blind Kpop fans can be. After living in Korea, I can no longer sugarcoat the effects that Kpop has on kids in Korea (especially young girls). Keep that in mind as you read:
Kpop can be polarizing to foreign people who make the journey to live and work in South Korea. Here is this mass produced, seemingly innocent, group dominated music genre that plays everywhere you may go in Korea. Kpop idols start training at a young age, and during their popular years, they work their behinds off to be “successful” (which doesn’t necessarily mean rich). These idols have to withstand grueling diets and extreme schedules to make it in the Kpop world. If there is even one negative moment, or one scandal, it can be career ending (thanks to those crazy fans I mentioned before). For many foreigners, the hype that seems to follow Kpop seems foolish.
Of course, there are the foreigners who are not only fans, but believe that Kpop is somehow the innocent and perfect choice of the musical world. They believe that Kpop is the very way music should be done. They also believe that Kpop is not as violent and sexually explicit as western music.
So is it true? After being a long term Kpop fan and teaching in Korea for a year and a half, would I say that Kpop is as innocent as some believe?
Here’s my honest answer: Kpop is full of sex, but it isn’t presented in the same way that we are used to seeing in western music. Kpop girl groups still dress in sexy outfits and they still do sexy dances. I’ve found, however, that since Korean women are not as curvy as the likes of Nicki Minaj, they tend to get a pass on their sexy dancing and skimpy outfits. Kpop male groups still thrust their pelvises harder than Michael Jackson, but because they aren’t considered “thuggish” or “too aggressive”, they also get the Kpop Innocent Pass.
The funny thing is, Kpop songs tend to be full of sexual innuendos and it only takes a look at the English translations of some songs to see it. In recent years, there has been a rise in “sexy” concept music videos where seemingly innocent girl groups have changed their images to become more sexy.
While we can argue that because Kpop doesn’t blatantly discuss sex or violence, it is indeed more innocent than western music, you have to remember who the main consumers of Kpop truly are: My sixth grade female students and the millions of kids just like them in Korea. In Korea, Kpop is kids’ and teens’ music. These kids have no concept of western music’s concepts of sexuality and only see what is presented to them by their favorite girl and guy groups in their home country. As much as I would like to say Kpop is innocent, I can’t. The first time I had to turn off a Sistar video in my upper level afterschool English class for being too damn sexy, I knew I could never look at Kpop the same again.
When you see Kpop through the eyes of young people who are still trying to figure out their place in their society (and what loving, sexuality, and dating will mean to them), you realize that Kpop is just as powerful as the western music we listen to and that our western opinions over its innocence are pretty much pointless. What matter most are the opinions of the parents and adults in Korea who are attempting to guide their kids through the process of consuming media and growing up into Korean citizens.