Before PSY broke the unprecedented YouTube record of one billion views on the site with “Gangnam Style,” a legion of dedicated global fans were already supporting him and his K-pop peers. South Korea has 50 million people, but the videos from the country’s shiniest, glossiest pop stars, who sing mostly in Korean, were ranking millions of views past that on YouTube. It wasn’t just Koreans watching K-pop music videos — an international network of fans were watching and listening (and subsequently re-watching and re-listening) to a genre they had no access to other than via the Internet, and largely, YouTube.
A major indicator of how the genre has been able to cross into other cultures — ones extremely different from the Korean heritage — comes in the music itself. K-pop is a combination of different genres popular Western music. Everything from electro-pop to R&B to piano ballads to hip-hop to soul music can be heard in K-pop hits. But a major specialty of K-pop is in its ability to blend these into hybrid, pop confections completely in their own league.
Sound intimidating? Get an introduction to K-pop with five popular songs broken down to make any music fan understand the different elements at work. These artists, producers and songwriters obviously don’t jack the different sounds; there are just similarities that K-pop and Western fans can bond over in order to better understand each other’s musical language, even when their actual languages differ. K-pop expert Jeff Benjamin does the math.
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