Recently, a girl group named IZ*ONE officially made their debut, after spending restless nights competing against one another in a survival program “Produce 48” on Mnet. The goal of this program was to let the public “produce” a multinational girl group by voting for their favorites out of a pool of 96 contestants from South Korea and Japan. The winning 12 contestants, who honestly could have been all-Japanese or all-Korean, would go on promotions as a “K-pop” group for two and a half years in the markets in both countries.
I did not watch the program, as I had personally grown tired of all these survival programs to pick the next idol group (Words out there say they are preparing for the next season of “Produce 101,” comprised of all-male contestants). But, more importantly, I thought it was a bit ridiculous that they wanted to make a K-pop group that has a chance of becoming a group with all Japanese members.
Consequently, it really got me to to wonder about the true meaning of K-pop. With all these foreign members and collaborations, what even defines K-pop anymore? If a song is in Korean, is that considered as a K-pop song? So if some band from a remote country far from South Korea released a song in Korean, are they singing K-pop?
When you look closely at all these idol groups debuting in the recent days, it’s really hard to find a group that is composed of all-Korean members.
The entertainment companies are even debuting groups that are all non-Korean members, such as JYP’s first all-Chinese boy group BOY STORY, and SM’s newest addition to the NCT team, NCT China. Don’t get me wrong; as a K-pop fan, I think it’s really great that Korean entertainment companies are expanding their territory, reaching out to the international fans through the diversity in their artists.
As a Korean, on the other hand, I couldn’t help but to get upset by thinking that K-pop is no longer a culture that belongs exclusively to the Korean society. I had felt that K-pop was something that only Koreans could be proud of – something that we can hold dear to our hearts and say this is our culture.
But now, with foreign members that call themselves “K-pop stars,” I’m not sure if we can still call it a Korean culture anymore. (Another disclaimer: I love all K-pop stars regardless of their nationality. This is a fact.)
In my opinion, in the process of combining members from different cultural background and grouping them all into one K-pop group, the music genre has lost its unique identification.
By definition, K-pop is an abbreviation of “Korean Pop,” a popular music genre in South Korea. Only looking at the name itself, many people will assume that only those songs in Korean, sung by Korean artists is considered K-pop.
Then, it is likely that people who are very new to K-pop could get confused with all these foreigners in Korean groups. In other words, when these people see a “K-pop” group with all-Chinese members, it’s no longer K-pop for them simply because there’s no Koreans.
I guess it’s only natural to adopt foreign members into groups because it makes an easier gateway to enter music markets in other countries. By doing so, K-pop did in fact receive much recognition from countries outside South Korea, mostly Japan and China. And I genuinely thank all foreign members who helped this phenomenon to take place.
My question is, where’s the limit?
For example, BTS managed to break through the Western pop music industry like no one else has done in the history of K-pop. Sure we give credit to PSY, who blew a sensational wind through the international music industry with “Gangnam Style” in 2013, but it’s also safe to say he was a one-hit wonder. Most importantly, BTS did so with all-Korean members. They did not need anyone who spoke other language than Korean (except for R.M., our dearest translator. God bless his soul) to represent their music.
I was also very proud of them when I saw their “IDOL” music video, for which they incorporated many traditional cultural elements of Korea with their music. In a way, the group decided to use their power of influence to a good cause and represent the culture they were proud to call their own.
This is what I would like to see more in the industry of K-pop. I would like to see artists who can stand as advocates of the Korean culture – someone who can use their fame to let others know about Korea as a country.
I did think it was really cool when the industry started introducing foreign members, like when Lisa became the first foreign artist at YG Entertainment. It was sensational, and who would want to miss out on a talent like Lisa?
All I’m trying to say is that as more people come to know and become curious about K-pop, it’s really important that the industry finds something that is unique in its definition. For now, the only definition it holds is the fact that it’s an abbreviation of “Korean Pop.”
Maybe this is me, as a Korean, speaking. But we don’t need a K-pop group that entirely consists of non-Korean members. K-pop needs to take a breather, and prove that it’s bigger than just songs with Korean lyrics.
Like, what are your thoughts on EXP Edition, who claim to be an American “K-Pop” group?
by. Dasol Kim
Disclaimer: The opinions or views contained in this article may not represent the opinions or views of Kpoplove, The Korea Daily, its employees, agents or affiliates.