KPOP: Asia’s Popular Music

Play episode
"VIXX-00974" (CC BY 2.0) by mduangdara

Why is music from Korea becoming so popular around the world? Ryan Geertsma and Liz Waid look at Korean popular culture.

Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight, I’m Ryan Geertsma.

Voice 2 

And I’m Liz Waid. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand no matter where in the world they live.

Follow along on YouTube
Voice 1 

This song is called “Pop Pop Pop.” It is sung by the female music group Rania. Rania is a popular or ‘pop’ music group from South Korea. There are six girls in the group. They sing, dance, and create some of the most popular music in Asia. They also travel all around Asia and perform their music. Rania is a “KPOP” music group. The “k” in KPOP comes from the word “Korean.”  But People all over Asia listen to KPOP. The songs are top hits in many countries – countries as far away from South Korea as the Philippines. Today’s Spotlight is on KPOP.

Voice 2 

Korean Popular Music – or, KPOP – is similar to American and British “Pop” music. The term “Pop” music became famous in the 1950s. People used the term to describe popular rock and roll music.  Like early “Pop” music, KPOP uses a lot of very fast beats. The music often repeats and is very easy to remember.

Voice 1 

American hip-hop music has also had a large influence on KPOP. Hip-hop started to become popular in the United States in the 1970s. It had many influences – like jazz and rock and roll music. Hip-hop is different than most music.  In most music, the performer sings the words. But in hip-hop, the performer speaks the words to the beat. The first famous hip-hop song was called “Rapper’s Delight.” It was performed by a band called The Sugarhill Gang. It sounds like this,

Voice 2 

You can hear this kind of singing or rapping in many KPOP songs. It is even in the “Pop, Pop, Pop” song from the beginning of this program. The singer raps in Korean to the beat of the song:

Voice 1 

KPOP music is also very easy to dance to. The rhythm or beat is clear and easy to follow.  Restaurants, bars and dance clubs all over Asia play KPOP for people to dance to. It is rare to find KPOP songs that are slow. This is because making the song easy to dance to is extremely important. The beat and sound are often even more important than the words.

Voice 2 

KPOP shares many similarities with other kinds of global popular music. However, there is one thing that makes it unique or different. KPOP often combines the Korean and English languages. For example, there is a song called “Bad Girl, Good Girl” by Miss A. This song starts in English. It says, “You don’t know me, so shut up boy.” Then it quickly changes into Korean. Listen:

Miss A” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by kiki bondol
Voice 1 

This use of English in KPOP is not surprising.  Most young Koreans speak some English or are learning English. Often, they speak what people call “Konglish.”  Konglish is a mixture of Korean and English. Often Koreans will speak mostly Korean, but use some English words instead of Korean words.  Sometimes, they will even use long groups of English words.  However, these phrases will be highly influenced by Korean.

Voice 2 

Tory Thorkelson is a professor at Hangyang University in South Korea. He says that Konglish often borrows words from English. But sometimes these English words are given new, Konglish meanings.

Voice 1 

A good example is the word ‘meeting.’ In English, meeting means – the act of two or more people coming together.  A meeting can be for work, school, community or even religion. However, in Konglish, “meeting” means a particular kind of meeting. It is a meeting between two people. They are looking for love and they have never met before. In English, people would call this a “blind date.” In Konglish, it is just a “meeting.”

Voice 2 

KPOP’s international success is also changing how some cultures see South Korea. Sue Jin Lee is a Communications student at Elon University in the United States. She wrote a research paper about the Korean wave. The Korean wave is a term people use to explain the spread of Korean popular culture in Asia. She writes,

Voice 3 

“The clearest effect that the Korean wave has had is improving the Korean national image. South Korea is reinventing their national image. Countries in the world are always shaping and reshaping their national images. They do this as they compete with other countries for power and influence.”

Voice 1 

KPOP is a major part of the Korean wave.  And it has helped change the way Asian countries see South Korea.  Lee writes,

Voice 3 

“Many experts and news writers have questioned why Korean popular culture became such a powerful force in Asia. Most people like cultural products that are similar to their own culture. So, it is not surprising that Korean cultural products are successful. Asian people feel closer to Korean culture than to Western culture.”

Voice 2 

However, some people think KPOP and the Korean wave have given South Korea too much cultural influence and power.  Lee writes,

Voice 3 

“When the Korean wave first developed and moved into Asia, Japanese newspapers had a hostile attitude toward Korean issues. Chinese newspapers criticized the increase in Korean television shows and businesses…”

Voice 1 

However, no one can argue KPOP’s global appeal. It is crossing cultural divisions.  And it is building relationships between countries.

Voice 2 

In fact, the spread of KPOP has not stopped with Asia. Its influence is spreading around the world. Donika Sterling is a 15-year-old girl from New York City. She suffers from a disease with no cure. She cannot walk. And she has gone through many operations to fight her disease. Her life is different than many girls her age. But like many people her age, she loves music – in particular KPOP.

Voice 1 

Donika loves to listen to KPOP over the internet.  And in June of 2012, she went on a very exciting trip. She travelled to Seoul, South Korea.  There, she met members of her favorite KPOP music groups.

Voice 2 

This experience was powerful both for Donika and the KPOP groups she met. Donika told the Internet website KPOPstarz:

Voice 4 

“I still cannot believe I am in Korea. I thank everyone who helped me make my dreams come true.”

Voice 1 

SHINee is a member of the KPOP group Taemin. He told KPOPstarz,

Voice 5 

“I was happy to hear about Donika coming to Korea to meet us. I was very amazed to hear that Donika is encouraged by our music.”

Voice 2 

Do you listen to KPOP music? Why do you think music has the power to cross cultures? Tell us what you think. Write your comments on the script page of this program.

Voice 1 

The writer and producer of this program was Dianna Anderson. The voices you heard were from the United States and the United Kingdom. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at www.radioenglish.net. This program is called, “KPOP: Asia’s Popular Music.”

Voice 2 

We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

Question:

Do you listen to KPOP music? If you do, what do you like most about it? If you do not, would you want to? Write your answer below.

Join the discussion

10 comments
  • I don’t listen to the music, I only listen to the Quran, because I’m Muslim and I’m thankful to you for this spotlight

  • Unfortunately I don’t know about loop music before this article. I adore Arabic music and I am much interested in Old Arabic poem.

  • I love k drama, but I am not used to listening K Pop. I like one famous K-pop music called “Kill this love” by female group music Blackpink. K pop dancing has such a perfect performance extremely right, it’s so beautiful, but sometimes it’s so harmful to performers.

  • I hear Kpop everyday. In fact, I see the Kpops
    Kpop stars are so beatiful and their dances also are amazing
    I love Kpop for their bueaty

  • Yeah, I did hear it, this sons ware so popular sonce 2005, in mu country people sang them and dancing for 3 or 4 year, in mu opinion this music kpop is succesful because korean people is the same american people in The soul, in the body and in the dreams. I’m in Bogota – Colombia, from hear we see the same people.

  • SHINee is a member of the KPOP group Taemin
    –> Sorry but the true here is Taemin is a member of the KPOP group SHINee.

More from this show

Episode 4

Breaking Dance

Adam Navis and Liz Waid look at breaking, and the dancers who perform it. Breaking is popular in many places, but many people do not...

Episode 3