Music changes overtime. New trend comes and goes like wind travels from one place to another. The rising popularity of the music industry began when British bands, such as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, greeted the world with their unique style of music in 1964. America also took the world by surprise when boy groups, for instance, Backstreet Boys and ‘N SYNC rose to fame in late 1980s. Eventually, the Western music industry became famous all over the world. As it stays popular until today, a new set of trend in the music industry begins storming in. The Hallyu Wave or the Korean Wave is a term used to refer to the advancing influence of the Korean music throughout the world. In the last two decades, Korean music has been rapidly growing and attracting the attention of many people across the continents. A sharp notice is when the song “Gangnam Style” by the singer Psy caught the eyes and ears of over 2.6 billion people on YouTube. Many Korean boy groups and girl groups, for example, EXO, BTS, Girls Generation, and BLACKPINK, have been known worldwide as well. Although historically, the Western pop is far more mature than the Korean pop, there is no doubt that both have become equally popular and dominated the world music industry. However, are they so well-known because they are one and the same? No. In fact, they are diverse in many aspects. This essay attempts to point out those fundamental differences and elaborate them thoroughly.
The first difference is the process of how singers and idols enter the music industry. In Western countries, such as Britain and America, especially nowadays, many singers are born from talent shows. To illustrate, One Direction, Little Mix, and Fifth Harmony are three out of the many boy groups and girl groups that began their singing career after competing in the X-Factor UK and America. There is also the case when singers are actively seeking record labels that are willing to produce their music and give them a chance to make a debut. Another case is when singers are taken in and mentored by famous singers to help them nourish their talent and prepare themselves before debut. This is similar to what happened with Justin Bieber when he was found and trained by the renowned singer Usher. Furthermore, boy bands and girl bands are not as many as solo singers. Most Western singers prefer to pursue solo career rather than forming group bands, for example, Justin Timberlake, Madonna, Mariah Carey, and Taylor Swift. On the other hand, idols in Korea, to become what they are today, have to survive years of strict training. Music companies often hold auditions looking for people, particularly those who are still in their teenage year, with potential talent to become entertainers. Those who are chosen by the companies have to sign a contract for a certain period of time. By doing so, the companies take full responsibility of them. During the time when they are under a legal pact with the companies, they receive several trainings on multiple areas. Different from the Western, idols in Korea are taught not only to be a singer, but also other professions in the entertainment industry. The companies also give them lessons on dancing, acting, hosting a TV show or radio, and others. The trainees develop numerous entertainment skills on various fields, hence the name idol and not merely singer. The time they spend on training camps depends on their improvement. A few of them make their debut after two years of training, but many of them get their debut after five years of training or more. As an illustration, each member of the girl group Girls Generation spent two to six years of training before the company decided to put them together under one girl group.
Another difference is the image, reputation, and prestige of the record labels. In Western music, the record labels do not get as much spotlight as the singers who have signed a deal with them. Many people are familiar with famous singers, such as Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, and Toni Braxton, yet they have little knowledge of which companies these singers have signed a contract with. This is a total different from the Korean music industry. There, the companies receive as much scrutiny as the idols. As a matter of fact, they are an important factor for people to consider when criticizing Korean idols. They hold a certain reputation, have their own prestige, and reflect the image of the idols that they help to promote. One example can be drawn from the South Korea’s top three most outstanding music companies, which are SM Entertainment, YG Entertainment, and JYP Entertainment. SM Entertainment is famous for its talented and good looking idol groups, such as Super Junior and Girls Generation while YG Entertainment is popular for its unordinary idol groups who have incredible singing skills and unique voices, such as Big Bang and 2NE1.
The third aspect of difference is the musical elements. English songs commonly appear to be full of meaning, and they require a certain techniques when being sung. One of the most challenging yet meaningful songs to sing is “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston. Korean songs, however, as quoted from an article in British website called The Week, have upbeat tunes, family-friendly lyrics, and catchy hooks. They usually come together with music videos that cost quite a lot of money to shoot and are featured with in sync choreography in front of elaborate sets. Korean songs are not expected to be as meaningful as English songs because the selling point of the Korean music is the dance and the songs’ cheerful and captivating melody. Two of the most popular songs with fetching tunes and easy to remember lyrics that have gone viral around the globe are Girls Generation’s “Gee” and Wonder Girls’ “Nobody.”
Live stage performance is another aspect that can be compared between the Western and the Korean performers. Singers of the Western music focus more on their singing and less on their dancing. Most of the time, they are accompanied by back-up dancers, and they interact with the audience more often. Additionally, they dress casually. Although there are a few who have a great sense of style and always put a big effort for their costume to appear unique, such as Lady Gaga, many others are often seen coming out on stage wearing jeans and long sleeves flannel or other types of casual clothing, for example, One Direction and Shawn Mendes who manage to dress simple yet still look stunning. In contrast, Korean idol groups are more put together, organized, and unified. The focal point of their performance is their powerful dance moves and their costume uniforms. Every time they launch a new album or a song, they make a comeback with a certain concept. Consequently, their performance on stage aligns with the type of concept they bring up for their comeback. To illustrate, the boy group EXO made a comeback for their second album with the song entitled “Growl,” and they portrayed a concept of high school boys who fell in love with a girl. Thus, during their promotion, they performed wearing school uniforms and danced passionately.
In conclusion, among many of the differences between Western pop and Korean pop, several of them can be clustered into four aspects, which are the beginning of their career, the record label, the musical elements, and the live stage performance. In the case of Western pop, singers are produced through talent shows while Korean idol groups are born through long and hard training. If the public barely gives a side glance at the record labels of Western music singers, music companies in South Korea are far more closely monitored by the people. Different from Western pop, which gives importance in meaningful lyrics, Korean pop highlights on upbeat and catchy tunes. Western singers show off their singing skill during a performance whereas Korean idols put their on-point dance moves and stylish costumes on the spotlight. In spite of all those differences, the Western and the Korean music industry have certainly enriched the music world with their own distinct appeals and qualities.
What is K-Pop? South Korean Music Goes Global. 2016, August 8. n/a Retrieved November 3rd, 2016, from http://www.theweek.co.uk/75331/what-is-k-pop-south-korean-music-goes-global