Unless you live under a rock, chances are that the words ‘BTS’ or ‘K-Pop’ have definitely popped up on your social media feed in recent times. Having exponentially gained traction over the past few years, Korean Pop has now evolved into a phenomenon that has taken the global music scene by storm. And no, it is not just another fad that may sizzle out; it shows no signs of going anywhere anytime soon.
For those shrugging at the term ‘K-Pop’, don’t y’all remember grooving to the catchy beats of then-viral hit ‘Gangnam Style’? India, like most parts of the world, probably had its first brush with K-Pop in 2012 with this hit by artist PSY. Breaking YouTube records and becoming an instant bopper, Gangnam Style pretty much paved the way for future forays that K-Pop groups made into the international scene.
Interestingly, before they became a part of the mainstream in India, K-Pop bands like BTS, BP, EXO, TWICE, Girls Generation, SHINee, Ateez etc.had already captured the global imagination by way of their super catchy tunes, colourful and impeccably choreographed videos, compelling concepts, and of course; the highly attractive and very fan-friendly members.
But more than just these factors, it is the fact that these songs strike a specific chord that has the desis hooked. Essentially, K-Pop is made up of a variety of concepts that come together to form a complete package telling a compelling story. To explain this better, in BTS’ 2018 interview at the Grammy Museum, band member Suga had remarked how instead of being perceived as a genre, K-Pop can be better approached as ‘integrated content’. K-pop includes elements that do not just include the music but also the clothes, makeup, choreography, sets, designs, concepts, storylines etc, all of which gets integrated together in a visual and auditory content package, thus setting it apart from other music genres.
Furthermore, K-Pop also talks about and delves deep into insightful conversations about mental health, the societal pressure that the youth has to deal with, woman empowerment, and other such issues that deserve a ‘voice’ in the music scene. Despite being stereotyped as ‘highly colourful, synthesised, and brainless’ by many, K-Pop is fast gripping hearts and resonating with the fans on different levels.
One of the most appealing factors of K-Pop is the vast online presence and fan service culture, which makes each fan feel like they belong to a community, a family. And as a result, Indian K-Pop fans have established their presence on social media as well! For instance, within minutes of Rolling Stone India’s interview with BTS’ leader RM back in July 2017, the magazine’s website had so many visitors that its servers crashed. More recently, several thousands of Indian BTS fans took to Twitter within minutes of the Grammy 2021 nomination announcement using hashtags like #BTSinGrammy, #WhatYoongiWantsYoongiGets, #IndiaLovesBTS etc., quickly reaching among the top spots on the global trends list.
Despite being branded by the masses as ‘insane’, these highly dedicated fandoms do not restrict themselves to drooling over posters or purchasing merchandise and concert tickets. Most fan accounts, in fact, systematically organise charity projects in the name of their respective idols and bands. Some of the act-specific Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages that Indian K-pop fans congregate on include Bangtan India (for BTS), EXO-L India (for EXO), etc. along with the more general platforms like Destination K-Pop India.
The only thing still missing from this vivid picture is the actual breakthrough of live K-Pop performances in India. At present, there are some hindrances such as the high costs involved in setting up a K-pop concert which includes high production values, performance fees, artist hospitality etc., a fanbase that is largely too young to have significant disposable income, the COVID-19 pandemic etc. that makes this difficult. But with a rise in online concerts during this lockdown period, the genre’s rapidly increasing profile in the country, and the broadened perception of Korean entertainment agencies towards India as a potential future market, that day is not too far either!
Be it the music, the aesthetics, the content, the message behind, or the ‘family’ that one gets to be a part of; K-Pop is not just a music genre but a lifestyle in itself. And from the looks of it, K-Pop is here to stay. After all, as is widely said among the fandoms, “Once you fall into it, there’s no getting out.”