K-pop (abbreviation of Korean pop; Hangul: 케이팝) is a music genre originating in South Korea that is characterized by a wide variety of audiovisual elements. Although it includes all genres of “popular music” within South Korea, the term is often used in a narrower sense to describe a modern form of South Korean pop music drawing on a range of Western styles and genres, such as Western pop music, rock, jazz, hip-hop, R&B, reggae, electronica, techno, nu metal, folk, country and classical on top of its traditional Korean music roots. The more modern form of the genre emerged with one of the earliest K-pop groups, Seo Taiji, and Boys, forming in 1992. Their experimentation with different styles of music and integration of foreign musical elements “reshaped Korea’s music scene”.
K-pop “idol” culture began with boy band H.O.T. in 1996, as K-pop grew into a subculture that amassed enormous fandoms of teenagers and young adults. After a slump in early K-pop, TVXQ and BoA started a new generation of K-pop idols that broke the music genre into the Japanese market and continue to popularize K-pop internationally today. With the advent of online social networking services, the current global spread of K-pop and Korean entertainment is known as the Korean Wave is seen not only in East and Southeast Asia, but also Latin America, India, North Africa, the Middle East, and elsewhere in the Western world.
Although K-pop generally refers to South Korean popular music, some consider it to be an all-encompassing genre exhibiting a wide spectrum of musical and visual elements. The French Institut national de l’audiovisuel defines K-pop as a “fusion of synthesized music, sharp dance routines, and fashionable, colorful outfits.” Songs typically consist of one or a mixture of pop, rock, hip hop, R&B and electronic music genres.
Systematic training of artists
Management agencies in South Korea offer binding contracts to potential artists, sometimes at a young age. Trainees live together in a regulated environment and spend many hours a day learning music, dance, foreign languages and other skills in preparation for their debut. This “robotic” system of training is often criticized by Western media outlets. In 2012, The Wall Street Journal reported that the cost of training one Korean pop idol under S.M. Entertainment averaged US$3 million.
Hybrid genre and transnational values
K-pop is a cultural product that features “values, identity and meanings that go beyond their strictly commercial value.” It is characterized by a mixture of Western sounds with an Asian aspect of performance. It has been remarked that there is a “vision of modernization” inherent in Korean pop culture. For some, the transnational values of K-pop are responsible for its success. A commentator at the University of California has said that “contemporary Korean pop culture is built on […] transnational flows […] taking place across, beyond, and outside national and institutional boundaries.” Some examples of the transnational values inherent in K-pop that may appeal to those from different ethnic, national, and religious backgrounds include a dedication to high-quality output and presentation of idols, as well as their work ethic and polite social demeanor, made possible by the training period.
Many agencies have presented new idol groups to an audience through a “debut showcase”, which consists of online marketing and television broadcast promotions as opposed to radio. Groups are given a name and a “concept”, along with a marketing hook. Sometimes sub-units or sub-groups are formed among existing members. An example subgroup is Super Junior-K.R.Y. which consists of members Kyuhyun, Ryeowook, and Yesung, and Super Junior-M, which became one of the best-selling K-pop subgroups in China.
Online marketing includes music videos posted to YouTube in order to reach a worldwide audience. Prior to the actual video, the group releases teaser photos and trailers. Promotional cycles of subsequent singles are called comebacks even when the musician or group in question did not go on hiatus.