Whether you love it or hate it, K-pop has become a massive part of the music industry. Its popularity has risen, and it seems there’s no stopping it. With this trend, K-pop is a term we’re more likely to hear more of in the next few years. But what does K-pop stand for?
What does K-pop mean?
K-pop is actually an abbreviation for Korean pop music coined during the 1990s. It is a term used to identify music originating from Korea, produced by Koreans, and targeted towards a Korean audience. There may be some exceptions, but these are generally the main criteria.
K-pop is considered one of the world’s most popular music genres specific to South Korea. It is usually characterized by catchy songs, colorful videos, and good-looking idols. Different styles and genres influenced K-pop music: pop, dance, electropop, hip-hop, rock, R&B, and electronic music.
It is common for any genre of music to be given a name based on the country of origin. That said, you can call K-pop a genre the same way that you consider American pop and British pop as genres. There is a typical sound, but it varies widely and evolves over time.
Like other pop music, K-pop has transcended the usual Korean market as it has increasingly become a global phenomenon. It has also grown into a popular subculture resulting in widespread interest in the fashion and style of Korean idol groups and singers.
As of date, there is no official way of writing the word “K-pop.” It can be stylized as K-pop, K-Pop, kpop, or KPOP.
K-pop music vs. K-pop idols
Although “K-pop” is an easy way to describe Korean pop music, many Americans think of K-pop idols when they hear the term K-pop. That said, K-pop music is different from what others call K-pop idols, which has become the most widely exported form of Korean music.
K-pop idols are trained in singing and dancing by an entertainment company for months to years before their debut. Non-idols can also make K-pop music and are usually called “indie” or “underground” artists.
Perhaps the closest American equivalent to the Korean idol is the idea of a Disney star. Artists like Justin Timberlake, Miley Cyrus, and Selena Gomez grew up appearing on Disney Channel productions. At the same time, Disney groomed them to break out into a much bigger music scene. In Korea, this type of grooming system is spread across the entire industry.
When did K-pop start?
K-pop began in 1992 when Seo Taiji and Boys performed their song “I Know” at a music talent competition. They didn’t win that night, but the song attracted a devoted group of listeners excited by the unique blend of Western hip-hop with less intense traditional Korean pop. The song stayed at the top of Korea’s music charts for 17 weeks. It paved the way for the broader fusion of modern American pop music with traditional Korean pop music.
When the members of Seo Taiji and Boys disbanded in 1996, they’d left a legacy that would help shape South Korea’s musical and performance landscape for years to come. They paved the way for more experimentation and boundary-breaking from other artists. This development led to new music studios, which replaced prior models centered on radio broadcasting.
Since the mid-1990s, various music studios have been created in South Korea, including SM Town in 1995, JYP Entertainment in 1997, and YG Entertainment in 1998. One Seo Taiji and Boys member, Yang Hyun-suk, created YG Entertainment. Together, these studios began deliberately cultivating what would become known as K-pop idol groups.
What made K-pop explode all over the world?
K-pop has spread throughout the country and is one of the most popular music genres among fans worldwide. It’s also the most profitable music industry in Asia, with an average profit of over $1 billion per year.
There are distinctive features that make K-pop visible and unique in pop music. It’s easy to recognize because of its high-quality performances and polished aesthetic. It also has its in-house studio production method that constantly churns out fun, infectious, and memorable K-pop hits.
Similar to other great pop music, K-pop transcends language barriers. K-pop artists frequently release songs in multiple languages, including Japanese, Chinese, and English. Their lyrics also often feature snippets of English and other languages. Because K-pop songs are so catchy, non-Koreans find the songs easy to sing or hum along, even if they don’t know the words.
Some K-pop terms you need to know
If you’re new to K-pop, you may be wondering what K-pop fandom words such as bias, idol, and comeback mean. This list of K-pop words will guide you in familiarizing yourself with their slang terms.
- Trainee – Before K-pop artists become idols, they’re considered trainees first. Trainees are students at K-pop entertainment companies who spend several years training in dancing and singing before they debut as solo artists or as part of a group.
- Idol – A term used to describe K-pop stars. Idols can be solo artists or band members, but the word is often used to refer to an artist who has debuted and is no longer a trainee.
- Bias – A bias (often referred to as ultimate bias) is what fans call their favorite idol in a particular band or someone they like above anyone else in the culture. A fan may have multiple biases depending on what groups they follow.
- Bias Wrecker – Refers to a fan’s second favorite in a group who has a good chance of surpassing their bias and replacing it as their new favorite.
- Debut – Usually the first performance of a new artist on a TV broadcast or the first performance of a certain song.
- Comeback – Any time a single, mini-album, or album is released and the artist does TV broadcasts/performances to promote them.
- Visual – Often used to describe a member who is considered the most attractive based on Korean beauty standards.
- Main – Frequently used to refer to a group’s lead singer, rapper, or dancer. The term describes the member with the best vocals, rapping technique, or dancing ability.
- Aegyo – The act of showing any sort of childishness, cuteness, or innocence through facial expressions and body language, often in an exaggerated manner.
- Maknae – The youngest member of a group or family. In the Korean social hierarchy, age is a crucial aspect. They are conceptually allowed to be more childish, act cute, and display ‘aegyo.’
- Oppa – A female’s term for a close older male. It can be used for actual brothers as well as close friends. It can also be used alone or after their name, like all Korean honorifics.
- Unnie – A female’s term for a close older female that can be used for actual sisters and close friends. It can be used alone or after their name.
There you have it! Simply put, K-pop stands for Korean popular music. The word was coined to separate the genre from any other music is typically perceived as. In addition, K-pop is more than just music – it’s an art form and a culture. So the next time you hear a K-pop song, don’t just listen to the sounds. Instead, have fun appreciating its overall production, the visuals that augment it, and everything else that makes it so special!
Eduardo Perez is a multi-instrumentalist with over 20 years of experience playing instruments such as piano, guitar, ukulele, and bass. Having arranged songs and produced music in a recording studio, he has a wealth of knowledge to share about analyzing songs, composing, and producing. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Musical Studies at Berklee College School of Music. Featured on Entrepreneur.com. Subscribe to his YouTube channel, or follow him on Instagram.