OK, maybe you think I'm about 46 million years behind where I should be, but let's talk K-Pop— Korean pop music. A while back, some chick posted one of the music videos on my tumblr feed and before I knew it I was hooked. At first I tried to preserve my dignity by watching the videos on mute and just appreciating the visual aspects, but I gradually regressed and now I have MP3s on my iPod. How embarrassing.
I guess it was probably 2NE1 that first had me hooked. They’re not necessarily the band that most accurately epitomizes modern K-Pop, but they’re outrageously over-styled and every single video is as good as the last.
The great thing about K-Pop - especially the styling of the bands - is that it’s fun, probably with an exclamation mark. If anybody in Dalston set foot out the door looking like these bands do, they’d be shot on sight. The styling is anything but on-trend and hideously overdone, but on super-cute K-Pop royalty, somehow it becomes acceptable. The bands are so heavily manufactured that most people would assume that they’re nothing more than brand endorsements, but actually it works the other way. So much time, money, and effort is put into the K-Pop music videos that focusing on the brands would compromise the look and reputation of the band.
Yang Seung Ho and Danny Lee, stylists of 2NE1.
Each band is always decked out in a massive variety of labels. The stylists are Korean and equally adored by the band's fans. One of the most prominent K-Pop stylists is Yang Seung Ho—he's been drafted into the Korean army now—but he came up with 2NE1's style direction before that. They're currently one of the most fashion forward K-Pop bands in the charts. Their "I Am The Best" video is an awesome example of their wild styling. When they’re not dripping in latex, leather, and studs, they’re wearing brands like Gareth Pugh and Cassette Playa.
While 2NE1 styling appeals to a western market, in Korea, I reckon the most on-trend K-Pop band at the moment are Girls’ Generation. They seem to be the band that are killing it. Their latest album went double platinum and in online polls they dominate the top ten of everything. They’re definitely the band that epitomize everything about K-Pop. They’re a little on the alien-clone side of things being identical in everything from height, body shape, and they're always styled in matching outfits, but they’re sweet, accessible, and girlish. K-Pop fans are far more dedicated than followers of western pop and it’s important that the fans can connect with the artists. On top of that, they’re all insanely beautiful—what’s not to love?
GD & TOP.
The boy bands and girl bands are often styled quite similarly, which can often make the men look pretty effeminate, because these male teen dreams are often quite slender too. There’s a definite sense of androgyny with K-Pop boy bands, although it’s not really intentional. The GD & TOP video is a perfect example. The boys aren’t styled to be masculine, but they’re surrounded by testosterone-heavy things—women, playboy bunnies, a serious amount of bling, game consoles, and even an army tank.
It might seem like fun and frolics, but the money that backs the Korean music industry is what transforms K-Pop from a candy-coated teen dream to serious shit. Launching a single performer can cost up to $400,000. Considering some bands consist of up to 13 members, producing a K-Pop band is a pricey business. Combined with the costs of choreographers, stylists, and extra marketing, a lot of stake is placed on the success of a band. There have been allegations of mistreatment of K-Pop artists since the late 90s, with talk of lawsuits and slave contracts in the Korean media. Despite that, the K-Pop music industry is hugely profitable with 2010's revenue for the three biggest record labels amounting to around £84 million. More than enough to keep the majority of K-Pop poster kids happy.
On the whole, K-Pop seems to be stuck wherever Western pop was back in the 90s. Every band is marketed to the extreme, mongering as much money and fame as they can. The best example of this is probably Rainbow, a seven-member girl group who are each named after a color. Their label produces merchandise not only for the band, but the individual members. Western pop hasn’t really seen anything like it since me and my friends used to fight over which Spice Girls we wanted to be.
THE K-POP VIDEOS
2NE1 - "I AM THE BEST"
Everything about this video is insane and in excess. Matching silver Gareth Pugh outfits, a girl walking a poodle wearing a latex catsuit, and more studs than a gang of pre-pubescent east Londoners.
GD & TOP - "KNOCK OUT"
When a man looks this good with lilac hair, he deserves some recognition.
LEE HYORI - "CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG"
South Korean Beyonce? A US flag jumpsuit in a video that begins with Hyori with a CGI alien head stepping out of a spaceship is not to be ignored.
GIRLS' GENERATION - "OH!"
The fashion in this video is so dire. Nobody should ever wear thigh-high pink PVC boots. But, the last five seconds of the video are tantalizing, with an evil version of Girls’ Generation looming in the shadows. Oh, and the song is awesome!
SECRET - "SHY BOY"
If you’re a die-hard K-Pop fan, you might not be so into this as, let’s face it, it is essentially a lot of Korean people trying really hard to be American. But doesn’t it make you hope that Grease is remade with a Korean cast just a little bit?
RAIN - "WAYS TO AVOID THE SUN"
OK, so it’s Rain. Since when did he not make it onto a list of top anything? As far as his style is concerned, I like that the fact that he’s always wearing a crucifix necklace. I’m pretty sure it’s religion-related, but I prefer to think of it as his own personal nod to western fashion.
KARA - "WE'RE WITH YOU"
Koreans love matching everything. Not only are their boots, the pleats in their skirts, and the horrible shiny fabric their tops are made of are all the same colour, but so is the room they're dancing in.